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Evolution vs. creationism: A Ham on Nye sandwich

A handful of science Grumpycats warned Bill Nye to not do it. Don’t get onstage and debate that creationist guy. It’ll lend credibility to the anti-science crowd.

Nye went ahead with it anyway. Tuesday night he crawled into the den of ignorance, defending evolution against Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum, right there on Ham’s home turf. A so-called learning center in Petersburg, Ky., that suggests dinosaurs and humans once lived side by side. For me, this was must-see Internet.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is one of my heroes.  He speaks truth to lunacy.

For more than two hours, in what was generally a civil debate, Nye and Ham went at the question of whether Ham’s claim that creationism is a realistic explanation for the existence of mankind. The combatants each got a five-minute opening statement, followed by a half-hour slot to plead their case. I’ve included the entire video here, including the 13 minutes of pre-show New Age music to calm you down.

Ham started, and presenting a slide show of murky logic, the most obvious point being his contention that there are two kinds of science: Observational science and historical science.If I understood Ham correctly, observational science is what scientists can see today. Historical science is stuff that happened in the past. Since we’re not there, he argued, we don’t really know, do we?

The yawning hole in Ham’s logic here is enough to sail an arc through: If “not being there” refutes scientific data – such as counting tree rings to see how old the tree is – doesn’t that also refute using The Bible as a historical record? It isn’t an extemporaneous document. It’s authors didn’t know Adam and Eve.

Nye countered with fossils, geology, the stars. Science facts that add up to the Earth being 4.6 billion years old, not the 4,000 to 6,000 that Ham believes it is, as a literal interpretation of The Bible suggests. Nye went after the physical impossibility of a worldwide flood, and the logistical improbability of a Noah’s Ark. He pointed out that the sharp teeth of lions shows they weren’t vegetarians during Noah’s time, as Ham claims. The further Ham got from his opening half hour, the more ragged his argument grew.

The final portion of the debate was questions from the audience. They were a tough audience. They wanted to know, how do life forms develop a conscious state? Nye admitted he didn’t know some of these answers. He didn’t know what was there before the Big Bang, and the creation  of the universe. No one does, he said.

“There’s a book that has the answer,” was Ham’s reply to those big questions.

Bill Nye the Education Hero said several times during the debate that we can’t allow a generation or two of American kids to go though school with an improper science foundation. We’ll fall behind, he said. We must invest in research. America must continue to innovate. Faith and religion can be a wonderful thing, but they doesn’t create life-saving medical procedures. They don’t create the Internet, they don’t create the advances in farming that allow the Earth to feed seven billion people. The Bible may be inspirational literature, but it doesn’t have all of the answers. Moses wasn’t splitting atoms.

The scientists who pissed and moaned about Nye going onstage with a creationist don’t understand that he’s standing up to forces that want to spend our increasingly limited resources on religious dogma. And it has to be their religious dogma, not that of any of the thousands of gods who have walked the planet for centuries.

Nye is standing up to the people who would cut NASA funding in favor of vouchers for charter schools whose curriculum are irradiated with dubious academics. The anti-science Neanderthals are dangerous. Today, one out of every three Americans do not believe in evolution.

What was perhaps Nye’s most-brilliant comment of the night seemed to pass unnoticed, after he admitted we don’t have answers to many of the world’s mysteries. Some day, he insisted, perhaps we will, if we keep working at it. Nye came off as a man delighted by the wonder and mysteries of the universe. Ham, as he pointed out, is simply satisfied with the answers that he reads in The Bible.

The Critical Mass

Bill Nye. Or maybe the guy on my bus, I'm not sure.

Bill Nye. Or maybe the guy on my bus, I'm not sure.

Bill Nye, I’m proud of you

Until a few weeks ago, I had only a passing familiarity with Bill Nye, who in the ’90s was “Bill Nye the Science Guy” to kids watching public television. I never saw his show there, being too old to learn by then. A couple of years back, I’d catch a glimpse of him as the environmentally concerned fusspot neighbor of Ed Begley  Jr., on the cable reality show Life With Ed. Nye and Begley spent a few half-hour episodes trying to one-up each other in the race to see who could fit more solar panels on his roof.

Nye was just a funny little fella with a bow tie  who I wouldn’t know if he sat down next to me on the bus ride home. In fact, there’s a guy on my bus who I now realize looks a lot like Nye.

A few weeks ago Nye was on, of all things, Chris Matthews’ talk-and-yell show on MSNBC. Matthews can be insufferable. There are times when the only sound he hears is his own voice. And he loves that sound. He rudely talks right over his guests, rephrasing his own question two or three times, like a narcissist incessantly combing his hair, until he’s satisfied that these are words worthy of being carved in marble. But other times, Matthews is listening closely, ready to pounce on a guest’s unsubstantiated utterance. And if you say something interesting – something that’s not a talking point – you’ve got the microphone.

Nye made two points that I’d never heard properly articulated in the past. He was asked why so many Americans didn’t think climate change is a reality. His response: When you live in a place like Oklahoma, and the nearest neighbor is a mile away, it’s hard to grasp the concept that human beings could actually change the face of the planet.

Then he addressed a second question. Why do so many Republican politicians believe in creationism, and not evolution? Nye’s response: Creationism is what a lot of them were brought up to believe.

But then Nye got to the real issue. People may believe what they choose. But we can’t allow them to choose the school curriculum. That’s dangerous, Nye said.

Here’s how he explained it to The Associated Press this week: “If we raise a generation of students who don’t believe in the process of science, who think everything that we’ve come to know about nature and the universe can be dismissed by a few sentences translated into English from some ancient text, you’re not going to continue to innovate.”

A Gallup poll taken in June reported that 46 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Answers in Genesis, a pro-creationism group, says that Adam and Eve and dinosaurs walked the earth together.

“The Earth is not 6,000 or 10,000 years old,” Nye said. It is, in fact, 4.5 billion years old. “And if that conflicts with your beliefs, I strongly feel you should question your beliefs.”

With states like Tennessee and Louisiana legislating their students into stupidity by allowing faith to dilute science, where are the leaders of our country, coming to the defense of truth?

They are afraid to defend the intellect of this country. The country that put men on the moon, and invented the Internet, is OK with students being assured by authority figures – their adult teachers – that, yes, dinosaurs and man walked the earth together.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is a 56-year-old mechanical engineer. And like our fearful leaders, he has a career to protect. But unlike them, Nye is a very brave fellow, because the forces of ignorance in this country are very powerful.

The Critical Mass

Luke, look at the size of that head!

I saw a reflection of myself in the bus window this morning. I thought, in a few years, that long hair will be a tangle of gray. That face will be lined from the intense heat of the barbecue flame. I’ll look like David Carradine, pacing the sidewalks, chattering to myself, an empty bag of mysticism.

Men recovering a typical giant skull.

Men recovering a typical giant skull.

For the past two weeks, distractions have gotten the best of me, weakened me, and dimished my role as an informed citizen. My news consumption became erratic. I have not been able to read The Sunday New York Times for two weeks. I have drifted into the territory occupied by the folks that political pollsters like to refer to as “Low Information Voters.”

Must… fight… back….

Good lord, what was all of that Anthony Weiner excitement about? Did he murder someone? I turned on the TV news one morning for a few moments during my accidental exile and baby-faced MSNBC correspondent Luke Russert was complaining that the New York congressman had lied to him. OK, Luke, here’s some Journalism 101: All of those politicians you interview? They’re lying to you every day.

I did check a few news web sites while out patrolling the Oort Cloud, just to make sure some key city hadn’t been wiped out by a tsunami or tornadoes or the raging Mississippi River. I noted that a new scientific study warns that the ecology of the oceans is much worse than anticipated, and mass extinctions can be expected. National Public Radio reported that climate change is accepted by fewer Americans now than it was five years ago, and that most people in this country are unaware that 97 percent of American scientists agree that it is a threat to our planet.

One news site reported that only two contestants in last weekend’s Miss USA pageant believe in evolution. And one of them was Miss Alabama, hailing from one of  the country’s third-world states.

Theoretically, we should be getting smarter. We’re not. I blame:

3, Fox News. 2, The Internet. 3, The mainstream media.

Fox News, because its falsehoods are computer chips in the brains of its viewers. Honest, hard-working people who believe that the president is a Kenyan. That the health insurance law creates “Death Panels.” That climate change is a myth. And Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. My mother – a coherent, 83-year-old nice lady – believes all of this because she heard it on Fox.

The Internet, once heralded as giving everyone a voice, has become a morass of lies and misinformation. Any point of view that you want to believe in can be substantiated on the Internet. You want to proof for your suspicions that giants once walked the Earth? It’s true! Click here: Big Dudes.

The mainstream media, because it doesn’t fight back. Rather than leading, investigating and reporting the truth, it simply follows. Each day’s news seems to be constructed around by one common phrase: “A new poll says….” As if Miss USA knows anything about evolution.  Except you, Miss Alabama.

Luke, don’t just repeat what they say to you, like you’re passing on a conversation in the health-club locker room. Present facts, not opinion. When John Boehner says we can cut the national debt by not raising taxes, ask him, “Mr. Boehner, when in the history of all of the world’s governments has that ever happened?” The answer: Never. Be a reporter, not a gossip columnist.

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