On Bill Nye, Ken Ham, and talking to those we disagree with

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Bill Nye

Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and Executive Director of The Planetary Society received the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry's "In Praise of Reason" Award at CSICON 2011 in New Orleans, LA, USA. Photo courtesy Brian D. Engler, via Wikimedia Commons.

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When I first heard that Bill Nye and Ken Ham would be debating evolution and creationism at the Creation Museum, I thought it was a big mistake. But as the Nye-Ham debate set the Internet ablaze, I couldn’t help but think of one of the only people I know who has actually visited the Creation Museum.

  • Atheist Max

    The only problem with the NYE/HAM debate is there aren’t enough of them.
    They should meet again next year and rehash this same topic on a bigger stage.

    Debating with religious people is almost never a waste of time.
    Minds don’t change right away, but many do eventually.

  • Paul Rossi

    Your editorial here is lovely and quite sensitively written. I think though that we need to keep a perspective on the changing nature of reality and the issues confronting us, because ignorance or denial is not a neutral attitude. It can be quite destructive. Currently we are facing one of humanity’s greatest survival dilemmas in climate change. This has been denied strenuously by a large percentage of people on “the right” (and I apologize for the generalization) in the US, including the purposeful misleading of many and the dissemination of false information on the issue. Unfortunately too often people either deny the reality of climate change, though the science is essentially settled, or they leave it “in God’s hands”, bringing about a delay in action and or an incapacity to confront this issue while we still have time. The denial of science is a form of ignorance more than anything else. It offers no credible replacement, even when seen through the prism of true religious faith, or even the bible itself, which we know was rewritten and restructured by people for various reasons over the history of Christianity. Personally then I consider their attitude to present a direct threat to my children’s future. Generally I would not impose on the sanctity of another person’s faith. However when that person or persons’ belief system begins to impose on others in a dangerous fashion, debate begins to be borderline unacceptable. Sometimes to debate with someone is to pay them the compliment that their arguments are worth listening to.

  • SandraL

    A well-written, thoughtful post.

    I wonder if the “Red Sea” evidence your uncle sent was about this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11383620

    Basically, it offers compelling evidence that such a “parting” was at least scientifically possible at a particular spot at that time in history. If correct, it means that the Moses Red Sea story could have been based, at least in part, on something that actually happened. (Doesn’t mean it *did* happen, but it could have. As someone who is interested in mythologies of all types and their origins, I find that fascinating.)

  • Jim

    Chris, you sound like you’re real fun at parties. /s

    You say your uncle’s view are “hurtful and harmful”. How is the phrase “Christ’s precious blood.” harmful? How is a ban on gay marriage harmful? You know what your family members are doing at the gatherings you refuse to attend? They’re having fun and probably ignoring you. They want to talk about family stuff, not constitutional amendments. Your uncle’s views are backwards, but it’s *your* actions that are alienating. Get off your high horse and stop taking your family for granted.

  • Jon

    While I agree with the open nature of your response to this debate, I disagree with Dr. Nye having taken part in it. It’s (1) a nearly impossible conversation to have and (2) I hate seeing such an institution (the creation museum) garnering any sort of attention.

    1) Scientists and creationist approach the world through completely different lenses. One “believes” and has “faith” while another objectively gathers empirical evidence with which they statistically support observed phenomena. They just aren’t on the same page, it’s not so much a debate as two simultaneously occurring lectures.

    2) Creationism is dangerous. They most profound, productive, intelligent thing anyone can say is “I don’t know”. This, firstly, is a sign of confidence, and secondly, it is the opening phrase for every discovery humankind has made. It leads to technologies that improve our lives, discoveries that blow our minds, and just good old productive science. Creationism claims to have one book, that explains everything. It takes away the option for someone to say “I don’t know” and it places all the “answers” in their hand. This is dangerous, and I hate to see a man of science, like Dr. Nye, lending any credit to this institution by humoring this debate.

  • SandraL

    Jim, you asked, “How is a ban on gay marriage harmful?”

    I ask, how is *not* harmful? Seriously, how can you even ask that question?

    Have you dehumanized LGBT people to the point that you believe that telling them that they are second class citizens, that their love isn’t worthy of respect, and that they don’t deserve the same rights taken for granted by the rest of us is NOT harmful?

    And please don’t respond with nonsense about “civil unions” – aside from the fact that those do not include all of the rights granted to married people, the fact is that the doctrine of “separate but equal” does not and has never worked to create equality.

  • Janet

    @ Paul Rossi: “Sometimes to debate with someone is to pay them the compliment that their arguments are worth listening to.”

    Beautifully stated. My family is devided on science versus religious theology, as is the author, Chris Steadman. I watch the intellectuals feel attacked by the ‘believers’, and fear that the Creationist Evangelicals fear for ‘scientifically inclined’ souls.

    I believe there is something of merit on both sides. Debates need not be approached as a WAR – as are so many issues, historically. How similar we all are, actually, is as defining as how different we are.

    I would love to believe that as 21st century modernists, we could all change the course of history by debting, llistening, and agreeing to disagree, with reciprocal respect. More laws, taboos or further fracturing into more religious groupings perpetuates conflict.

  • Mark Urban

    “Currently, we are facing one of humanity’s greatest survival dilemmas in climate change”….YIKES! Sounds even scarier when you say it that way. I do wish the climate would “change” from the -F temps in the upper Midwest, though.

  • Janet

    About same-sex marriage ban: Since there are MANY fiscal and societal advantages offered in marriage, the banning of same sex unions seems unconstitutional. Why are only heterosexual partnerships offered legal family plans in trust, estate matters, pensions and health benefits, for example?

    {Insert sarcastic tone, here.} If one is asexual, single or simply ugly, is he/she automatically excluded from marriage or any fiscal union benefit? FOOD for THOUGHT.

  • Mark Urban

    ….soooooo, gay people, because they cannot get married, are being harmed in your eyes because of that…..what? How about a bi-sexual person who wants to be married to a man AND a woman at the same time. Why just stop at two people in a marriage? They all want their love “worthy of respect” too, right?

  • Nate

    It feels a lot like the closed minded bigot between you and your uncle is actually you:
    “When that [being passive aggressive] didn’t satisfy me, I confronted him.”
    “I sent a mass email to his side of the family that culminated in an ultimatum:”
    “My uncle actually did demonstrate a willingness to listen to my perspective”

    You’re questioning the wisdom of having open, honest discussion. It seems to me that the marketplace of ideas is never a bad process, and that whenever you shut that down, everyone loses.

  • Jim

    You’re putting words in my mouth. When have I “dehumanized LGBT people”? When did I advocate for “separate but equal” rights? I would say LGBT people deserve equal rights, but you told me not to respond with that “nonsense”. I’ll say that the government should get out of the marriage business, but you’ll probably argue with me about that too since you think you know me.

    Anyways, you completely missed my point that the author was being an ass, and don’t respond with any nonsense saying he wasn’t.

  • Kem

    Bisexuality is not the same as polyamory. The first term deals with sexual orientation. The second deals with having multiple simultaneous relationships that have the depth of monogamy and incorporating honesty in those relationships with everyone involved. You can be bisexual and not polyamorous. You can be polyamorous and not bisexual. You can be polyamorous and never have (or want) a threesome. You can be polyamorous and have orgies. Bisexual couples with the traditional combination of XX and XY chromosomes can get married in all 50 states. Polyamorous couples (assuming that marriage is something they might want) can’t get married anymore (it was common in the Bible), but that’s a debate for another time… it involves particularly tricky legal questions when it comes to divorce/child support/custody/alimony/etc… .

    If you’re going to maintain the position that only straight people should have the benefits of marriage that gay and lesbian (and bisexual couples who love one another like me and my partner, for instance), you should at least take the time to familiarize yourself with the people you want to deprive of their rights, and what it means to have their families tell them they are evil for being true to who they are. They look a lot like you, and deserve more than a dismissive assumption that they’re just being mean to their family. You have no clue what kind of passive aggressive or outright abusive backgrounds they have had to endure until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

  • Kem

    Chris, I’ve dealt with similar issues in my family, and just wanted to say thank you for writing this.

  • Brent

    While it was impossible to change Ken’s mind, as evidenced by his insufficient and delayed response to “What evidence could convince you that Creationism is false?”, Bill Nye, I believe, was there for a different purpose. His purpose was simply to show viewers and the audience why curiosity and questioning everything is so important for science. He succeeded.

  • Inis Magrath

    Chris – since you say you regret cutting off all relations with your uncle I suggest you reach out to him and try to rekindle a relationship. You’re older and seemingly more mature now than you were then, and maybe you can find a way to be at all those family gatherings and share the warmth and love that families are supposed to enjoy. If it turns out that dear uncle is too unpleasant to be around, you can always walk away but this time have the opportunity to do it quietly with dignity and without creating any bad blood.

  • Re: “How is a ban on gay marriage harmful?”

    It’s “harmful” because it purposely denies an entire class of people the ability to do something and gain both legal and societal benefits that accrue from it.

    Re: “Your uncle’s views are backwards, but it’s *your* actions that are alienating.”

    Most rifts of this sort don’t occur without the involvement of both parties. In other words, as the saying goes, “It takes two to tango.” Blaming one side or the other for a family rift is usually not accurate, and frequently unhelpful.

    Re: “Get off your high horse and stop taking your family for granted.”

    Why is it solely up to the writer to “get off his high horse”? Why can’t his uncle … or any other militant Christian vehemently opposed to someone’s “gayness” (for lack of a better word) … be asked also to “get off [his] high horse”?

    Speaking only for myself, I still have not been able to figure out how or why anyone else’s “gayness” is anyone else’s business. No one has provided me a cogent, rational explanation for widespread anti-gay sentiment. It’s not my bag, and I guess it’s not a lot other peoples’ … but really, in the end, what does that matter?

  • Public debates and indeed many private ones should be presumed intellectually suspect. People interested in defending their positions have put finding the truth in at least second place. People trying to convince 3rd parties are on the same level as any commercial– just trying to sell something, with minimal reference to the problems in their particular premise and rarely an “I don’t know”. Debates about evolution with fundamentalists are usually sterile; there seems a notion that by defeating these strawpeople atheism proves itself. I would be more interested in hearing some discussion of various numerous experiences that have treated in a very scientific manner over the years by very religious people. There are thousands of years of life wisdom and discussion and extreme insights that just get ignored because on one side people think the Flintstones is true and other side points to these equivalents of 5 year old little leaguers and says look who we defeated– Major League Baseball has no talent!

    No debates without each side first expressing what set of facts, if true would lead them to change their mind. Then we can talk fruitfully and maybe even learn something.

  • jeff

    It’s not too late, Chris. Reach out to your uncle. And good post.

  • Hellsgift2u

    Repent, for what in nature do you follow? Nothing, while the love between you two is god, the lust between you two is of the snake. If you want to stand blameless before god, then quit the sex, and hold your partner as your witness. Unless you and him fall into temptation and therefore are unworthy of. You know what you do, and therefore to you that is a sin. Have you learned nothing? No forgiveness and no compassion, you dwell within your own passion and neglect your family’s, when they have followed natural path and created you. For you cannot create life, so what you know and love is death of the body and death of your soul. For you not know how many others follow this example, again I say repent and stand firm, hold to the truth and the order. as if it has to be said for it to be known. Eyes that do not see, ears that will not hear. Double minded at best..

  • This whole debate is a sorry sideshow to the authentic dialogue going on between science and religion. Here is a link that’s a convenient entryway into the productive work being done:


  • Larry

    When it comes to disputes with people I follow an old adage:

    You can stop seeing friends.
    You can divorce your spouse.
    But to get rid of family, you have to kill them.

    You are not going to get rid of your uncle by shunning him. So the choice is either 1) be miserable, be left out of family affairs or 2) at least come to some sort of cease-fire agreement.

    Civility with an underlying veneer of hostility is an essential part of dealing with family. Don’t fight it.

  • Doc Anthony

    And the best part is, that’s a TWO-WAY street.

  • Doc Anthony

    Wonder why the liberals stopped calling it “global warming.”

  • Doc Anthony

    Gay marriage remains an oxymoron. The gay-marriage activists are winning but it’s still a mess and a sin, spiraling individuals, families, and nations (starting with THIS nation) straight downward.

  • dominic

    Chris, I love how bravely and generously you share parts of your life to give these important questions support . You have achieved such a great deal in your work already- I watch with warmth, your continued progress .

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  • Trying to debate creationism using literal accounts and 6,000 year earth is only giving the evolutionists and advantage. If we look at genetics and how some diseases like cancer are created ( http://www.kyrani99godnscience.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/the-big-c-cancer-explained/ ) and the fact that biology is purpose driven we have a good chance to show that some sort of creationism has taken place.