What I learned moderating the creation/evolution debate
Creationist Ken Ham makes a point in Tuesday's debate with Bill Nye, the "science guy."
February 5th, 2014
08:49 AM ET

What I learned moderating the creation/evolution debate

By Tom Foreman, CNN

CNN's Tom Foreman moderated the "creation debate" Tuesday night in Petersburg, Kentucky, between Bill "the Science Guy" Nye and creationist Ken Ham.

(CNN) - It says something when a person shows up at the Creation Museum wearing a top that says, "This is my atheist T-shirt."

At least that's what I think it said. I saw it in a blur as she passed in the parking lot; a thirtysomething with a young boy in tow, striding through the bitter winds of Kentucky to visit a place that proclaims those who deny the existence of God are dead wrong.

I thought about chasing her down to ask her what had compelled her to come, but it would have been a foolish question.

She was here to see a fight. And I was here to play the referee, to moderate a debate on a question that has raged for well over a century: Was humankind created by God in a rush of divine power, or did we evolve over time with only nature to take the credit?

Or as the organizers put it: "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?"

About 900 people snapped up tickets to this event just a few minutes after they went on sale, and I was told they expected at least "hundreds of thousands ... maybe a million or more" to watch as it streamed online.

It was not just the topic drawing the throngs. For this crowd, the debaters really mattered.

On the left (literally for the audience, and figuratively in every other way) was the champion for the evolutionary side.

Bill Nye, "the Science Guy," made fundamentalist Christian heads snap recently when he declared it was flat-out wrong for children to be taught creationism.

I met him in a room behind the stage as the audience milled around, waiting for the event to begin. Having just spoken to an adoring crowd of science fans at a university the night before, he feared he was in hostile territory.

MORE ON CNN: 'Creation debate' recap: Science, religion and terrible jokes

"I think my agent is the only one on my side," he said, only half-joking. "I think the other 899 people in here don't really see it my way."

It was hard to tell. Aside from the woman with the T-shirt, there were others wearing pro-Nye gear, but no good way to count them.

Still, it looked like his supporters were probably in the minority, and I mentioned to him that some scientists were grousing online he was validating the creationist argument by even showing up. "So why are you here?" I asked.

"I'm here for the U.S. economy," he said. "See, what keeps the United States in the game for the world economy is our ability to innovate, to have new ideas, and those inventions come from science."

"And you see creationism as sort of poisoning the well for science?"

"Yes. I mean, I'm all for (creationism) in philosophy class, history of religion class, human psychology class," but bring it into science class, and Nye gets upset.

And that is what disturbs Nye's debate opponent. Ken Ham is a rock star in the creationist community who is quick to point out his own educational credentials and those of other scientists who support creationist views.

He is one of the founders of the Creation Museum, where dinosaurs are depicted as living alongside humans and the Great Flood of Noah is an indisputable fact.

He believes it is fundamentally unfair of folks like Nye to push creationism further into the educational shadows and to deny what Ham sees as its scientific components. (Ham concedes, though, that the great number of scientists and citizens agree with Nye: evolution is real.)

I first met Ham back when the museum was being built, and he greeted me Tuesday night in his affable, Australian manner just outside the room where Nye was waiting.

"I must admit I'm a little nervous," Ham told me looking out at the audience. "I want to passionately present my case and defend what I believe, but we never imagined it would become this big. It's amazing. Just shocked all of us."

It was impressive to see how much interest the event generated. A riser with a phalanx of production cameras sat in the middle of the room, 70 or so journalists were clustered to one side of the stage, and security officers seemed to be all over the place.

I was told that metal detectors were being used to screen the audience, and I saw what I presume were explosive-sniffing dogs quietly working the hallways.

Both sides in this debate know the subject matter can spur extreme feelings, and they did all they could to make sure extreme actions didn't follow.

Just the same, one organizer pointed out a corner some 30 feet behind my spot on the stage. A door there opens to the parking lot, he said, "just in case, for any reason, you need to get out fast."

The advice was appreciated but unnecessary. The crowd proved to be polite, attentive and admirably restrained through the entire 2½-hour debate.

So were the debaters. Although they were firmly on opposite sides of the fence, Ham and Nye presented their arguments calmly and respectfully. Neither tried to shout the other down.

I spent my time listening to what they had to say, watching the clock to make sure they got equal time and trying to ensure people in each camp felt their man was treated fairly. Both debaters shook hands at the end to rousing applause. It was not a fight after all.

MORE ON CNN: Ken Ham: Why I'm debating Bill Nye about creationism

Considering the depth of feelings people have about this issue, I asked both men before we began if they expected to change anyone's opinion.

Ham said, "I will present (my information) trying to change people's minds, but knowing as a Christian it is God who changes people's minds, not me."

Nye said, "Here is my hope: I will remind Kentucky voters that this is a serious issue and that it is inappropriate to include creationism as an alternative to ... the body of knowledge and the process called science."

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

By the time the debate was done, a fierce winter storm had settled in. I waded through the Creation Museum parking lot ankle deep in snow, with sleet pelting down. And I think it was a worthwhile evening - a debate humankind was created to have, or to which we evolved.

- CNN Belief Blog

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

soundoff (3,342 Responses)
  1. ga2

    It all comes down to faith. You either believe life sprang miraculously from nothing or you believe life sprang miraculously from nothing with the help of a creator. Neither can be proven or disproven. The only real difference is one holds you accountable for your actions in life.

    February 7, 2014 at 11:07 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      So you had best be certain that your heart weighs the same as a Shu feather or Ma'at will make your afterlife very unpleasant indeed.
      Treat cows with respsect or you'll get reincarnated as a dung bettle.
      Learn the masonic hand shakes, special sealings and magic password to enter the highest levels of the Celestial Kingdom.
      Strive to die gloriously in battle, bathed in the blood of your vanquished foes so that you may enjoy the magic, endless bacon feast in Valhalla.

      February 7, 2014 at 11:11 am |
    • tallulah13

      I hold myself accountable for my actions in life. I don't understand why anyone needs a supernatural father figure in order to be a decent person. It sounds very irresponsible to me.

      February 7, 2014 at 11:17 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      First you don't know that neither can be proven. With time it is possible it could be proven. Imagine if hundreds of years ago humanity decided 'no one can know why people get sick, it just happens'. We would be living in medical ignorance and you would be content with your ignorance.

      Second, your religion does not "hold people accountable" for their actions. All you have to do is say you are really sorry, believe your religious dogma, and all is forgivin. That is the exact opposite of "holding people accountable".

      February 7, 2014 at 11:18 am |
      • Eric Thimell

        RE: accountability in Christianity. You have a piece of the gospel, but only a piece of it. It is not merely saying you are sorry. There was a price paid for that forgiveness. An infinite price for cosmic treason. If some do not wish to avail themselves of this freely proffered precious gift it is not forced on them. They can spend eternity away from the One Who is all beauty, life and goodness. Professing themselves wise they became fools worshipping the creature rather than the Creator.

        February 7, 2014 at 5:47 pm |
        • redzoa

          "If some do not wish to avail themselves of this freely proffered precious gift it is not forced on them."

          When the "gift" is flanked by a promise of eternal reward and the threat of eternal damnation, it's not really a "free" choice.

          February 7, 2014 at 11:32 pm |
    • Madtown

      ...one holds you accountable for your actions in life.
      How can something that cannot be proven(your words) hold you accountable for anything? Aren't you just holding yourself accountable?

      February 7, 2014 at 11:20 am |
    • The Running Twit

      My all-time favorite is Jimmy Swaggart´s "I sinned against you my lord".

      So, he is going to hell?

      February 7, 2014 at 3:57 pm |

    I learned nothing....I´ve always known religious people arrive at their aswers anyway they want ...no evidencet or proof of ANY KIND NEEDED...all they have to say is god did it BECAUSE GOD wanted to and he CREATED THE UNIVERSE....there is no way through their arbitrary answers.....they just open their mouth and say anything and believe it to be true....these people are techinially insane.

    February 7, 2014 at 11:06 am |
    • The Running Twit

      Ask the unicorns

      February 7, 2014 at 3:58 pm |
  3. ME II

    I assume "Babu G. Ranganathan" was dropped for blatant commercial spam, as opposed to just being horribly wrong.

    February 7, 2014 at 10:54 am |
  4. Doris

    In the debate, Mr Ham referenced Andrew Snelling a few times. Snelling has worked for the same organization that Mr Ham worked for (the Institute for Creation Research) supporting the young-earth view. People should know that while working for that organization, Dr Snelling, who received his credentials as a geologist dating rocks at billions of years old, also sold his consulting services to organizations such as the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

    One article about this dichotomous behavior from Dr Snelling has asked "Will the Real Dr Snelling Please Stand Up?"

    Dr Alex Ritchie wrote in his article Flood geology: a house built on sand:

    "If any geologist were to be caught salting a deposit, falsifying results or engaging in other forms of behaviour likely to bring his/her discipline into disrepute, they would be promptly dealt with by their peers.

    In my opinion it is equally abhorrent for anyone claiming to be a professional geoscientist to indulge in deliberately misleading and deceptive conduct aimed directly at lay audiences and especially at young people."

    Evidently, for the right price, Dr Snelling will tell certain people what they want to hear.

    February 7, 2014 at 9:17 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Liars for Jesus


      Liars for money

      Is there really a tangible difference?

      February 7, 2014 at 9:26 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        "The profession of shaman has many advantages. It offers high status with a safe livelihood free of work in the dreary, sweaty sense. In most societies it offers legal privileges and immunities not granted to other men. But it is hard to see how a man who has been given a mandate from on High to spread tidings of joy to all mankind can be seriously interested in taking up a collection to pay his salary; it causes one to suspect that the shaman is on the moral level of any other con man. But it is a lovely work if you can stomach it."

        – Robert Heinlein

        February 7, 2014 at 9:28 am |
        • Science Works

          WOW and WOW a double MOD ?

          February 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
        • Science Works

          Triple and the black hole ?

          Carbon Dating on Camel Bones Contradicts Bible's Accuracy


          Oh and .....

          The Largest Structures In the Universe by David and Linda Harris ? (old ICR stuff)

          February 7, 2014 at 4:58 pm |
    • Science Works

      Doris or FUNNY ism stories from the ICR .

      Evidence of a world-wide flood from a study of the dinosaurs by Mace Baker (ICR old stuff)

      Starts like this – Initially the theory of evolution rested upon the theory of uniformitarianism. (funny ism

      February 7, 2014 at 10:58 am |
  5. Charm Quark

    Can ay one educate me on what Mr. Ham means by "kind" when talking about the number of animals paraded into the ark? I would ask Topher or L4H but it is almost impossible to get a direct answer from either.

    February 7, 2014 at 8:53 am |
    • Charm Quark

      Can anyone...

      February 7, 2014 at 8:55 am |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        He tried to equate it with "Family" on the usual classification scale. Really, I think he wanted to push it back sufficiently far that no one would ever have a chance to see something of one "kind' evolve into another before Jesus comes.

        February 7, 2014 at 8:59 am |
        • Charm Quark

          Thanks Tom
          I thought it was something like that. I wonder if our creationist friends can explain if a pair of lions was the only representative on the ark of the Felidae family how they could evolve into the hudreds of different hind of cats large and small in 4000 years?

          February 7, 2014 at 9:08 am |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          When *magic* is part of the equation...anything becomes possible.

          February 7, 2014 at 9:15 am |
        • The Running Twit

          As always, and sufficiently established on this blog, creationists take some data here and there that match their beliefs. They consider the rest as fallacies and contrary to what their book says.

          Science is reviewd and compare by millions of scientists. As with any computer program, it can be refine indefinitely.

          February 7, 2014 at 4:03 pm |

      There are no direct answers to fantasy.....anything goes....you don´t know that?

      February 7, 2014 at 11:08 am |
    • Eric Thimell

      KInd refers to creatures that can successfully breed together and are not sterile. The science is that such creatures actually share the same basic DNA but that characteristics for hair, teeth, size, etc. are quite variable. This is easily observable in dogs for example. It goes beyond house pets to wolves, coyotes, dingoes, etc. These all breed together though some far less frequently due to differences in habitat and so on. if and when such creatures complete genomes are mapped it will be seen that they all carry the information for the other members of this Kind but certain characteristics have been switched off or on in the DNA. These switches have only recently begun to be understood as they were previously thought to be "junk DNA." However attempting to get a cow out of a whale will not work because the whale does not carry the information for a land animal. But cows and buffalos do carry each others information. This is one of those creationist predictions that Bill Nye begged Ken Ham to produce. And the science on this is beginning to mushroom. One forensic bit of importance of this is that you need far less "kinds" on the ark than you do "species." For further research see baraminology.

      February 7, 2014 at 12:37 pm |
      • Alias

        You need to research 'species'

        February 7, 2014 at 12:41 pm |
        • RB

          Divide and conquer.

          February 7, 2014 at 1:00 pm |
      • RB

        That is good Eric, thanks.

        February 7, 2014 at 1:05 pm |
      • Sungrazer

        "the whale does not carry the information for a land animal"

        One, they have hind limbs. Two, whales swim by moving their bodies up and down, not side to side as fish do.

        February 7, 2014 at 1:44 pm |
        • Pete

          And they breathe air, and are considered mammals.

          February 7, 2014 at 1:48 pm |
        • G to the T

          Yup – live birth, lactate to feed young, warm blooded, the list goes on and on. Ironically we have a better record of whale evolution in the fossil record than we do for most other groups. A clear line of descent from land mammals to semi-aquatic mammals (think mammal crocodile) to fully aquatic mammals.

          February 7, 2014 at 5:13 pm |
        • Eric Thimell

          Whales cannot interbreed with cows just because they breathe air, lactate and are mammals. The information for cow is not in their DNA! The fairy tale about whales bearing cows is worse than mermaid stories! Talk about lack of empirical evidence! This is wishful thinking.

          February 7, 2014 at 5:57 pm |
  6. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    What I Learned From the CNN Belief Blog
    (Or how I learned to stop wondering what happened after 9:48 last night)

    Don't engage in a serious debate on any topic touching on the Holocaust and objective moral standards.

    February 7, 2014 at 8:46 am |
    • Doris

      Is that why all those posts were deleted, Tom? There were even quite a few after that more on topic with the article that were deleted.

      February 7, 2014 at 9:03 am |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        Who knows? Perhaps it was the will of Daniel Burke.

        February 7, 2014 at 9:06 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      No kidding, I have no problem with decent moderation but there does not seem to be any reason for the wholesale dumping of topics. Honest discussion is obviosly frowned upon.

      February 7, 2014 at 9:05 am |
    • Sungrazer

      I still see them (or at least some of them). Is this because I was the one who started one of the threads? Thank you, Tom, Damocles, BATCH, and others who took up the mantle. I couldn't stay around and listen to that garbage. We were getting a lesson in morality by someone with a serious deficiency in morals.

      February 7, 2014 at 10:06 am |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        I don't see any of what was posted. I understand when the discussion just turns to name calling, ect. but I didn't see that in those posts. I am just curious as to the reason. It would be nice if the "moderator(s)" let us in on their policy.

        As to the discussion, I love it when "Objective Morality" is only objective and univeral to a point....like when God goes against it...then it becomes "God can do what he wants because he's...God". But they won't admit that makes morality subjective.

        February 7, 2014 at 10:22 am |
        • Sungrazer

          I wonder if it really was the moderators. We have a troll that pops up now and then and abuses the "Report abuse" link to delete thread after thread. So maybe it was someone who found the discussion offensive or embarrassing. If it was the moderators, they were overstepping their bounds.

          February 7, 2014 at 10:35 am |
        • laststonecarver

          From observations on Shunning (er, moderations)
          1. If someone clicks Report Abuse on the original post, only the poster will see the string – that date/time slot is just vacated to other viewers – the post count remains the same –
          2. A reply to a post, that is moderated, will not be seen by others, although the stream continues –
          3. Whole weeks worth of discussions were basically deleted by Abuse zealots – check post count and page count
          4. Some posts are Reported because of the posters name, as many of mine have been in the past –
          5. If there is an unacceptible word, the post will not appear – highlight and save your post, before posting, so that you can locate the offending term –

          February 7, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
        • laststonecarver

          There are more than just one troll, on the belief blog –
          Just one of whom used dozens of monikers/names –
          They will eventually use yours, if you post long enough, and say outlandish tripe, that you would never say –

          February 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm |
  7. Pamela R.

    Tom, I want to give you credit. I thought you did a wonderful job of moderating the debate. I'm so used to (and tired of) moderators putting their own biases into debates, but you were very fair to both sides. And, for the most part, you stayed out of the way and let the two men debating do the talking. I thought it was a very good debate, and I personally hope they do it again! There is so much on this topic worth discussing and debating.

    February 7, 2014 at 8:42 am |
  8. Reality #2

    It is time to replace all religions with a few rules like "Do No Harm" and convert all houses of "worthless worship" to recreation facilities and parks.

    And for the new members:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc.) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    February 7, 2014 at 8:22 am |
  9. tensai13

    Religious delusion is a type of almost incurable mental disorder much like a teen-age girl suffering from an eating disorder. No amount of forcing them to look at themselves in the mirror will convince them that they are in fact skeletal and not fat. Atheism is a critical evaluation of all dogma from Catholicism to Communism. Atheism usually rejects the corpses of dogma in favor of the living truth. Atheism is the last best hope for the human species.

    February 7, 2014 at 3:34 am |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      Tensai, from what I can see ,Atheism deals with the pragmatic view of life and our surroundings, What you can see, smell,taste , touch, and feel. And like Spock , they reject as unlogical, any thing they can't sniff,see ,feel, or prove scientifically . There fore no imagination, no dreams, no suppositions, no probablies , no couldas. It seems a pretty flat surface type of existence where if you didn't see something happen,or hear it happen, then there is no proof that it happened. Therefor anyone who said it did is an idiot.

      February 7, 2014 at 11:50 am |
      • Philosophy

        Fine to a point, sooner or later you will have to discuss qualia and unanswerable questions.

        February 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm |
  10. Joel Suggs

    Mr. Foreman, You did a great job...like good refs in a game, no one is even mentioning you after the event!!! I'm serious...Thank You Very Much!!!

    February 6, 2014 at 9:48 pm |
    • The Running Twit

      He got lots of praise on this blog, browse the pages.

      Great moderator, with some humor.

      February 6, 2014 at 9:53 pm |
  11. Daniel

    Are you, Tom Foreman, allowed say what you believe?

    February 6, 2014 at 8:50 pm |
    • The Running Twit

      In all fairness to Tom, he should remain neutral

      February 6, 2014 at 8:55 pm |
      • Akira

        Which should be the goal of all debate moderators, IMO.

        February 6, 2014 at 9:54 pm |
  12. tony

    No-one seems to want to rush in and credibly answer this these straight forward questions.

    1 Why do you believe in only a single creator. What evidence is there that it is just one?
    2 Why couldn't god kill the Egyptian army until the day after they caught up with the Israelites?
    3 Who or what is god jealous of in the ten commandments?
    4 Where in the bible does it say what the evidence is that a graven idol is not as effective at answering prayers?

    February 6, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
    • MK

      Once you ask questions with any specificity as to "why" God did or didn't do something you are headed in the wrong direction.

      February 6, 2014 at 6:57 pm |
      • Damocles

        How so?

        February 6, 2014 at 7:00 pm |
    • lngtrmthnkr

      Tony, Only one creator because if more than one they would never get anything done,ie congress. He probably waited until the People could see him destroy the Egyptians so their faith in him would be increased. Jealous of their belief in other deities because he wants their full attention and no distractions. Idols made of wood or gold can neither think nor talk, nor create nor kill the persuing Egypytions.

      February 7, 2014 at 12:08 pm |
  13. tony

    I was really impressed with the point about all the summer-winter snow layers in the ice cores.

    Clearly the hundred thousand plus layers absolutely refute (and confound) the number of years since "Noah's Flood" "calculated" by bible scholars.

    Clearly no upright and trustworthy god would go in for wholesale fraud. So the debate was over for me at that instant. And I suspect for everyone else, except those who don't want to upset their friends.

    February 6, 2014 at 6:51 pm |
    • The Running Twit

      They think these are not winter summer cycles, but intervals between snowstorm. Go figure.

      February 6, 2014 at 7:26 pm |
  14. niknak

    What I learned watching the debate......

    Creationists will never let go of their stone age belief's regardless of the insurmountable evidence that they could not be more wrong.

    But that museum is a must see. I don't think there is a comedian alive that could give me more laughs then walking thru that POS.

    February 6, 2014 at 6:26 pm |
    • The Running Twit

      I learned they got a good worldwide publicity stunt, just like raël when they said they clone humans a decade ago!


      February 6, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
  15. RichardSRussell

    Congratulations to Tom Foreman on doing a fine job as moderator.

    And I'm glad to see that, after a 2-month absence, the Belief Blog is up and running again.

    February 6, 2014 at 6:10 pm |
    • Akira

      I agree that TF did an admirable job, but what do you mean by a two month absence?

      February 6, 2014 at 6:15 pm |
  16. Science Works

    Ham and not science !


    February 6, 2014 at 5:59 pm |
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About this blog

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.