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Bill Nye: Why I'm debating creationist Ken Ham
Science educator Bill Nye, left, will face off against creationist Ken Ham in Tuesday night's debate.
February 4th, 2014
01:17 PM ET

Bill Nye: Why I'm debating creationist Ken Ham

Editor's note: Ken Ham will debate Bill Nye on Tuesday at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, with CNN's Tom Foreman moderating. The debate will be live-streamed at 7 p.m. ET on CNN.com, and CNN's "Piers Morgan Live" will host both Ham and Nye at 9 p.m. Tuesday after the debate. 

Opinion by Bill Nye, Special to CNN

(CNN) - A lot of people have been asking why I accepted Ken Ham’s invitation to debate the origins of life Tuesday night at the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

In short, I decided to participate in the debate because I felt it would draw attention to the importance of science education here in the United States.

What keeps this country in the game economically is our ability to innovate. New ideas lead to new technologies, which drive new businesses and new opportunities.

Technological innovations absolutely cannot be created without fundamental understanding of science, the means by which we know nature.

How many young adults and taxpayers use mobile phones? How many of us rely on global navigation systems that use satellites high above the Earth’s surface to find our way around?

Even if you eschew smartphones, you rely on the system to keep airplanes in the sky and ships at sea on their routes. Modern farmers plant seeds in fields with extraordinary precision using information beamed from satellites in space.

MORE ON CNN: Ken Ham: Why I'm Debating Bill Nye 

For the United States to maintain its leadership in technology, we need well-educated science students. To allow our students to come of age without the knowledge gained through the extraordinary scientific insights and diligence of our ancestors would deprive them of understanding of nature and our place in the cosmos.

It would also rob our students of their future. Without scientists and engineers to create new technologies and ways of doing society’s business, other economies in other countries will out-compete the United States and leave our citizens behind.

Tuesday's debate will be about whether Ham’s creation model is viable or useful for describing nature. We cannot use his model to predict the outcome of any experiment, design a tool, cure a disease or describe natural phenomena with mathematics.

These are all things that parents in the United States very much want their children to be able to do; everyone wants his or her kids to have common sense, to be able to reason clearly and to be able to succeed in the world.

The facts and process of science have enabled the United States to lead the world in technology and provide good health for an unprecedented number of our citizens. Science fuels our economy. Without it, our economic engine will slow and eventually stop.

It seems to me that Ham is a fundamentalist. Around the world there are billions of people, who embrace the facts and process of modern science, and they enjoy their faith. By all accounts, their faith enriches their lives. These people have no conflict with their faith and science. Ham is unique in this regard.

Fundamentally, Ham’s creation model is not part of modern science. His idea has no predictive quality or ability. It provides no means to learn more about the world around us. It does not enable students to make consistent sense of nature.

So, we’ll see. We’ll see if his model stands up to traditional scientific inquiry: If a certain claim is true, then we would expect a certain outcome.

I’m excited and very much looking forward to the encounter.

Bill Nye is a science educator and CEO of the Planetary Society. The views expressed in this column belong to Nye.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Creationism • Culture & Science • Culture wars • Evolution • Science

soundoff (2,162 Responses)
  1. JW

    Belief in Evolution—An Act of “Faith”

    -Why do many prominent evolutionists insist that macroevolution is a fact?

    Richard Lewontin, an influential evolutionist, candidly wrote that many scientists are willing to accept unproven scientific claims because they “have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.”* Many scientists refuse even to consider the possibility of an intelligent Designer because, as Lewontin writes, “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”30
    In this regard, sociologist Rodney Stark is quoted in Scientific American as saying: “There’s been 200 years of marketing that if you want to be a scientific person you’ve got to keep your mind free of the fetters of religion.” He further notes that in research universities, “the religious people keep their mouths shut.”

    If you are to accept the teaching of macroevolution as true, you must believe that agnostic or atheistic scientists will not let their personal beliefs influence their interpretations of scientific findings. You must believe that mutations and natural selection produced all complex life-forms, despite a century of research that shows that mutations have not transformed even one properly defined species into something entirely new. You must believe that all creatures gradually evolved from a common ancestor, despite a fossil record that strongly indicates that the major kinds of plants and animals appeared abruptly and did not evolve into other kinds, even over aeons of time. Does that type of belief sound as though it is based on facts or on myths? Really, belief in evolution is an act of “faith.”

    February 4, 2014 at 7:28 pm |
    • jmb58

      Your statement is so wrong, and your understanding of evolution so flawed, there is no way to even respond. Except perhaps to point out that there are plenty of evolutionary scientist who are also Christian. They accept the science and keep their faith. I don't know how they reconcile, but some do.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:35 pm |
  2. Paul

    There simply is NO "debate" here. Science vs. atheism? Science wins every time!

    February 4, 2014 at 7:25 pm |
    • Mopery

      What about science vs. magic? Isn't it basically the same argument?

      February 4, 2014 at 7:37 pm |
    • Bob

      Where did atheism come into this this. Atheism v. Science? What is your point?

      February 4, 2014 at 7:39 pm |
  3. Now what...

    Ok, here we are Christianity is out the window and we are still all going to die one day.....

    Now what?

    February 4, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
    • GobillNye!!

      I guess we'll see......

      February 4, 2014 at 7:30 pm |
    • Mopery

      Live?

      February 4, 2014 at 7:35 pm |
  4. Ryan

    So far, Ham is using the time devoted to building his case to introduce other people who believe as he does, as opposed to presenting evidence that supports his argument. He is about to get so owned.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:20 pm |
    • Mopery

      Argumentum ad populum?

      February 4, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        And a whole lotta semantic chicanery.

        February 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm |
        • Mopery

          Tom foolery and balderdash, I say! Sheenanigans!

          February 4, 2014 at 7:35 pm |
    • JB

      This is a part of the brainwashing process. http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/brainwashing1.htm

      February 4, 2014 at 8:09 pm |
  5. Thomas

    I've been listening to this debate for 50 years. It's been going on for 1,000's. The same arguments are made and there's never a winner. I've decided it's a cats & dogs thing. Back a believer into an illogical corner and they say that's where faith comes in. Force an evolutionist to talk about spark of life in the very beginning and they suggest perhaps aliens caused it because it's a big universe and yada yada. Science is just a process that men sometimes corrupt to promote their own favorite theories (thinking of the earth science debates of the 19th century here). Religion is a real comfort for people in pain who don't find much comfort from grief in the perfection of math.

    I would give anything if one side could prove their point in such as way as to astound the world and end the debate. But you'll have to do it without logic, design, Phi, stats or quaint stories, Darwin or the Bible. Because people know all that and it has yet to change a cat into a dog. Meanwhile, science still can't grow my hair back and religion won't save me from a serial killer. I'm thinking both sides need to reassess with modern knowledge. There is something missing on both sides and I wish it was the same puzzle piece they seek and they'd be conjoined into a Unified Truth. Then again, breeding a cat and a dog together might produce the anti-Christ.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:14 pm |
    • George M

      Seriously, I can't even begin to have an intelligent conversation with anyone not believing in Creationism.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:17 pm |
      • Jim

        LOL! I seriously hope you're joking....not able to have a serious conversation with someone who does NOT believe in creationism?

        February 4, 2014 at 7:23 pm |
      • Mopery

        Would you be more comfortable if we Atheists spat out some random ancient name along with a couple of numbers every few minutes? Don't worry, we'd do our best to appear humble and zealous when doing so, got to keep up appearances, right? Yea then he who had returneth from the Circle K remembered the case of beer, and there was much rejoicing. -Gilgamesh 69:666.

        February 4, 2014 at 7:27 pm |
      • Jackson

        You want intelligence? Explain this.

        Creationists often argue that human beings are too intricate in design, and could only have been created by someone.

        So, wouldn't the alleged person with the power to create man be even more intricate in design? By the "intricate design" logic, if humans are too complex, wouldn't their creator be even more complex, and therefore, would have had to be created as well?

        That is where creationists arguments always break down.

        February 4, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
        • Mopery

          Who created the Creator's Creator? And who designed the Creator's Creator's Creator? And who designed the Creator's Creator's Creator's Creator? etc.

          February 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm |
        • Colin

          The Bible states that God is omnipotent and omniscient. IF you believe those premises, which I do, then there is no reason to believe he was created by anyone else because he already has all the power and could essentially "create" himself......you're describing a series of gods and creators of gods that would have an infinitely-increasing level of an already infinite amount of power and knowledge, which goes against the meaning of infinity. You can't multiply infinity by anything. I'm not trying to start an argument here, just doing my best to describe from a creationist's point of view why we believe that God was just...here.

          February 4, 2014 at 8:06 pm |
      • BibleLies

        LOL, I hope you're a troll.

        February 4, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
    • Live with Freedom

      I think it comes down to this:

      Science allows itself to search for what it's missing. Creationism thinks the problem is solved.

      That's why I side with science, but freely allow the religious to follow their own path...as long as they don't get in the way.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:20 pm |
  6. Live with Freedom

    I think this forum has missed the entire point of the disagreement. Science will never prove (or disprove) the existence of God, and religion will never prove (or disprove) the truth of science. Every individual strikes their own balance between the two, and the world goes happily on it’s path.

    But I offer this as an example of why scientific inquiry is important, whether you are religious or not.

    The bible, the cornerstone of religion, was written long ago. Before the discovery of most of what we know about biology, medicine, physics, or chemistry. Before we knew a lot about nearly everything.

    Imagine if the key component of “Creationism” was allowed to stifle scientific inquiry over the last thousand years? The concept that “God made it, so you shouldn’t question it.” You shouldn’t enquire further, you shouldn’t teach what you know to new students, and you shouldn’t build upon what has been learned before you. The answer is in this book.

    We would STILL be living in the dark ages. And what is worse, we would be condemned to STAY living in the dark ages for eternity. No new medical treatments, no improved crop yields, no sanitation. (Fill in your favorite important technology or discovery here).

    Now, I willingly admit that religion, (in general), has NOT been that stifling to all areas of scientific inquiry. Many areas are not covered in the bible, probably because we didn’t even know those areas existed at the time. Other areas were so dang useful, that religion allowed those advances to go forward without complaint.

    But why allow it to stifle the inquiry of evolution? Or if you don’t like the term, the inquiry into the changes that quite obviously have occurred over the lifespan of this planet? To deny those changes requires not just belief, but blind faith. And blind faith has never been a good thing. (I won’t site examples of religion gone awry, or science run amok…although examples of each could easily be listed).

    What Bill Nye is defending is the importance of open discussion, free inquiry, and an open mind. Maybe the study of pure evolution, (as opposed to biology, or medical research), won’t create anything of use to us. Maybe it doesn’t matter if man evolved, or was created. Maybe it’s all just trivia. But maybe it will help us understand a little more about ourselves, our planet, or ecosystem.

    Why stomp on that possibility just for the benefit of an old book? Why close your children off from looking into what makes this planet special, (for now)? If you want to lock yourself into the dark ages, I doubt anyone will try to stop you. But it would be a real shame to close off the entire society, and limit our own children’s potential for the sake of religion no matter how sacred you hold it.

    That is what Bill Nye, and many more with him, are trying to save.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:09 pm |
    • CaptainObvious

      This is such an ignorant post.

      There are VERY few religions today that would even attempt to suggest that the answers are only found in the Bible, not science. I would present the argument that many (if not most) religions today would argue that the answers to life's questions can be found through spiritual resources (i.e., such as prayer), but also can often be found through using our rational minds. Indeed, God gave a rationality in my opinion because he expects us learn as much as we possibly can about the natural universe - i.e., his toolbox.

      I myself was drawn to science and a scientific education BECAUSE of my religion, not in spite of it. The premise from which you and Nye are operating is no longer a relevant premise - hence the argument itself is irrelevant. For many (most?), religion, spirituality, God, and science are not combative elements; they are collaborative.

      This "great debate" between two non-Ph.D. holders is nothing more than an exercise in futility for any believing scientist.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:18 pm |
      • Live with Freedom

        I think in most areas of scientific inquiry, you are correct. Religion does NOT attempt to intervene, for the most part. I said as much in my post.

        The most prominant example where religion DOES attempt to exert influence IS Evolution vs. Creationism. Science and Religion are stepping on each others toes, and it often isn't pretty.

        February 4, 2014 at 7:24 pm |
  7. sybaris

    Let's say we wiped our memories of all religion and science

    Within time man would reinvent numerous gods and religions just like before in order to provide comforting answers to his questions.

    Within time some men would rediscover the same evidence as before that supported the answers to mankind's questions

    February 4, 2014 at 7:08 pm |
    • David

      Exactly. The exact same scientific laws and theories would be discovered. but the religious myths would not be the same at all

      February 4, 2014 at 7:34 pm |
  8. Bob

    If anyone is interested, the debate is streaming on CNN now.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:08 pm |
  9. elmo218

    Well, where do you think the science came from, or did it just appear without a source. That is what always baffles me about scientist that do not believe in a higher being, in my case it is God. I have yet to be presented with an answer by non believers that can explain the source of science. I'm not a scientist, but am aware that the science we live in is way too complicated to just explain it away as"it just happened". Most of the bible is based on parables so that the layman or non scientific person can understand how God used the same science that atheist use today, for creation.

    I think what frustrates most non-believers is that they can not quantify or explain faith. In this limited world that we live in there is no way to create a scientific formula for "faith" or the belief of God. Einstein, one of the smartest man to live was not an atheist, but he understood that his brain was limited in trying to fully explain God, so that is where "faith" comes in. In my life I've had too many unexplainable instances to say that they were all coincidence or by chance. The more I'm able to embrace my faith, the easier life becomes for both good and bad occurrences.

    Unfortunately, religion has clouded our understanding of God. The reason is that religion is man made, but God is not. There is a creator! Otherwise, then what is the sense in being...

    February 4, 2014 at 7:08 pm |
    • sybaris

      So you believe your god created everything out of ............... nothing

      February 4, 2014 at 7:10 pm |
      • elmo218

        Of course not. He used something, but it is not something that our limited brains could understand. The answers are out there, but it could take millions of years and an earth full of mega computers to even begin to understand more than we know today about the creation of life. Again, that's why it is much easier to say that God created earth in seven days, in terms that we can understand.

        For example, we count days by the number of times the earth orbits the sun. However, our creator would not consider a day in such a form. For God a day could be 100 of millions of our years. So we can not fully understand this. Therefore, perhaps maybe the question to ask is, do we need to know how we were created to feel fulfilled on this earth or is there something more to our existense..

        February 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
        • Mopery

          God is all powerful but unable to properly scale base 10 numbers...

          February 4, 2014 at 7:33 pm |
        • eric

          we count days by the number of times the earth orbits the sun.....
          wow.

          February 4, 2014 at 7:39 pm |
      • Mopery

        It were aliens!

        February 4, 2014 at 7:33 pm |
      • Child Of God

        Yes I do just look all around you. Look at the prophecies being fulfilled. The Bible isn't a fairy tale as some people say. I mean it says in the bible that Irael would be a state again and that the 12 tribes would return to Israel and both of those were fulfilled as the Bible says it would. And Israel is becoming a isolated state and other countries are wanting to wipe them off the earth as it states in the Bible. Not a coincidence like everyone keeps saying so please read the Word of the Lord our God.

        February 4, 2014 at 7:47 pm |
        • JB

          Nostradamus made predictions and prophecies. Was Nostradamus God? Should we add his prophecies to the Bible?

          February 4, 2014 at 8:15 pm |
    • snowdogg

      "the source of science"?

      I don't even know what you mean by that phrase.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:12 pm |
      • elmo218

        all of the components that makeup the science we are aware of today...

        February 4, 2014 at 7:25 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      God of the gaps argument...you can't plug a god in to it without providing evidence for that god's existence. Better to say we don't have all the answers and be honest.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:13 pm |
    • JE

      Very well said, elmo! I agree, wholeheartedly.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
    • JohnC

      "I think what frustrates most non-believers is that they can not quantify or explain faith". What frustrates me is that many believers DO try to quantify and explain faith (give proofs or at least strong evidence and such) when they can't. I'd be more willing to accept someone just saying they were divinely inspired in a clear, obvious manner and that's why they believe. But instead many will bend and twist and search for any fragment to try to justify their position in a logical way.

      BTW, science comes from the human tendency to be curious and from our fears (knowing how something works and how to avoid its dangers reduces fear). The academic subject simply provides more standard tools to be more effective at this quest for knowledge.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:32 pm |
    • David

      This debate is not whether or not god exists, it is creationism (a literal interpretation of the bible) vs. scientific facts. Science and god can co-exist. But creationism and science cannot.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:36 pm |
      • JB

        On the other hand to prove the point that Creationism is viable because the Bible provides 'Historical Science' passed down by God in the Bible hinges on whether or not the God that supposedly passed these words and knowledge on to human actually exists.

        February 4, 2014 at 8:13 pm |
  10. Snoopo

    Creationism is based upon the Bible which is not compatible with Evolution. If you believe in Creationism, you believe the bible which says God created man in his image around 6000 years ago then there was a big flood and all that. Therefore, to believe that God made the primordial soup with the expectation that we would evolve to where we are today, that is not Creationism, that is a new set of beliefs. It is amazing that we are still debating these things.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:07 pm |
    • Mopery

      Are you telling me that there's no such thing as a talking donkey or snake?

      February 4, 2014 at 7:19 pm |
  11. JimBoston

    Science is correct. Creationists are wrong because they misread the first two lines in the Bible. Genesis is the story of the planet earth being restored not created. I can prove it.

    First sentence- "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth".
    Look carefully at what it does not say. It does not say God created the universe. God is the English translation of the Hebrew word Elohim which is in the plural form. It should read literally, "In the beginning a group of individuals (going by the name Elohim) created the heavens (the sky, the atmosphere) and the earth (the ground). By the way, no mention of stars, the moon, or the sun.

    Second sentence: "And the earth was void." This line here is what all of creationism hinges on, and it's mistranslated according to every major bible concordance out there. The word translated as "was" is elsewhere in the Bible translated as "became." This line should read, "and the earth BECAME void." In other words, the earth was already in existence but became barren. Some kind of catastrophe occurred which wiped out the atmosphere and life. Asteroid? We don't know.

    The first few lines in the Bible tell of a story of how a group of individuals, terraformed the planet earth, reintroducing life on it, much like modern scientists discuss terraforming Mars by causing an artificial green-house effect, melting the ice on its polar caps, and thereby creating an oxygen rich atmosphere, and eventually introducing plant and animal life on it. If you continue reading the next several lines it becomes abundantly clear. The idea this was done in a matter of days is also contradicted in the Bible. Elsewhere in the Bible it states,"To God a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day." Apparently, they did not accomplish this within a matter of days. It took them thousands of years to do it.

    Science is correct and unfortunately creationists have been locked into their religious dogma more than their bibles.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:07 pm |
    • JE

      so you're saying we directly descended from spider monkeys, is this correct? just trying to get things straight in my head.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:09 pm |
      • JimBoston

        We share 99.8% of our DNA with chimpanzees. Allow me to ask you a question. If God created man in his image, and Y-DNA is passed down from father to son, and the first Y-DNA Haplogroups of A, B, C, D are all found among African men, does this not mean that God is black? Or is also totally against your religious beliefs?

        February 4, 2014 at 7:22 pm |
        • Billy

          It depends on how it is calculated Jim. I have seen results state 96-98%, and also read that a cat is 90% similar. Back to the .02%, isn't it amazing that it is possible to have such a small difference in code, but such a great difference in life? Think about the difference between lead and gold, or when poisonous elements are combined that make a tasty preservative- -NaCl- -I used think like yourself, but let suggest that if you reason that there are many curiosities that beg the question of a spirit existence, why not explore this. I am not talking about jumping on a comet, but trying an honest individual prayer. If- -and this is a true if for you, God is real, how can you say emphatically that He is not? I guess I could get preachy from here, but all I can say is that I prayed by myself in my room and the results converted me.

          February 4, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
  12. hjezek@hotmail.com

    There is no evidence for creationism being true, hence it must be put on the same level as any other belief that is not based on evidence.
    Debating unfounded belief is a futile undertaking because it can't be tackled with logic.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
  13. JonPeter

    The flaw in the creationist arguments is they make it all or nothing, ignoring other possibilities. Their argument is that if there is a creator and creation occurred, then evolution could not happen. This is an incredibly arrogant position, trying to define what the creator can do and ignoring all the evidence in the universe.

    If you believe in creation and take all evidence in the universe for us to learn, then evolution is the work of the creator. Evolution is happening today, it happened from the beginning, and if there is a creator, it is part of the plan.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:05 pm |
  14. Coolius Caesar

    God is a ego maniac and a sociopath

    February 4, 2014 at 7:05 pm |
  15. S Bstr

    What a waste of time! Jokers like Ken Ham shouldn't be given any legitimacy by anyone. It only gives them credence that there is something worthwhile to debate!! Ken can go and debate the relative legitimacy with a any number of other cults believing their respective myths.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:04 pm |
  16. Tom

    Truth has to struggle against falsehood because that's how truth is determined.

    February 4, 2014 at 7:04 pm |
    • bubba

      I would suggest replacing *truth* with *facts* since *truth* is in the eye of the beholder!

      February 4, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
  17. JL

    Evolution and common descent require that billions of organisms underwent this "grand" trial and error process and died out through the process of natural selection. This "driving force" of evolution means that we should find lots of fossils with evidence of degenerate systems, non-working limbs, half formed eyes, etc, etc, etc. Yet, everything we find is seems to have fully functioning parts. Where is the fossil evidence of these less fortunate organisms? And if there isn't much evidence, how has nature managed to consistently create organisms that so well equipped to survive in their environment?

    February 4, 2014 at 7:04 pm |
    • JayBee

      Fossil formation and the processes through which they are preserved is very precise, and highly sensitive initial conditions. Then there are the erosion processes, and there are many, many kinds of those. Water can leech off calcium in bones, breaking them down until they are no longer bones. That's just one. Even the earth's own crust is constantly renewed by plate tectonics, in one place a plate is subducted into the core, and is elsewhere, matter from the core is spewed back up, very slowly but surely the very continents shift and change. Then we have the matter recycling processes, again, many different kinds. Things are broken down by natural processes and reforged into new things. Dead plants and bodies nourish living plants, recycling energy, which cannot be created and destroyed back into a giant cyclical system. That's all just the tip of the ice berg, so to speak. For us to be up to our eyeballs in fossils going back billions of years, the energy trapped in them would have to escape the cycles all around us. Then there is the fact that fossil fuel, the stuff that you burn in your car, is essentially this evidence that you so demand. Please stop and think broadly before you discount.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:18 pm |
    • jmb58

      You clearly don't understand the science, and probably don't want to. The evolution of the mammalian limb and eye has been wonderfully described in hundreds of studies. You guys keep repeating the same weak critiques that just demonstate a complete ignorance of evolutionary biology.

      February 4, 2014 at 7:28 pm |
  18. Coolius Caesar

    So the Christians are telling me that god revealed himself only to a small group of nomads living in the desert and that is all? Why not all of humanity? Oh wait...because he is just as valid as Zeus or Thor or The All Powerful Flying Spaghetti Monster

    February 4, 2014 at 7:03 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.