The Non-Scientist’s Guide To Bill Nye’s Creationism Debate

Last night is a debate that shouldn’t have happened. But Bill Nye is a defender of science, and there are people who insist creationism is science, and Bill Nye, being a nice guy, tried politely to explain why they were being dumb by talking about fish sex. Here’s everything you need to know about last night’s debate about creationism.

I know who Bill Nye is, but who was he debating?

Ken Ham, the founder of the Creation Museum. To be fair to Ham, he’s not just some rube: He’s got a bachelor’s of applied science from one of Australia’s top universities. That said, he’s lucky Bill Nye doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, because Nye could have completely destroyed him last night.

I don’t follow this stuff closely; recap creationism for me?

First, it’s worth sorting young-Earth creationism, which is what was being debated, from Intelligent Design. Neither are science, but the former is the belief that, essentially, the Bible is literally true and the Earth was created six thousand years or so ago, give or take a few centuries. Intelligent Design is just basically a softer version of that, arguing that there must be some guiding force to the universe that shows life was “planned.”

Wait, you just said neither are science?

Nope. Both intelligent design and young-Earth creationism don’t stand up to the scientific method, because you essentially can’t prove the hypothesis, which is that God exists, in a lab. There aren’t any experiments you can even run: All of intelligent design boils down to, essentially, “This stuff is too complicated to just happen by random chance. BOOM! ROASTED!”

A common fallback for creationists is that “Well, you can’t make evolution happen in a lab, either!”, although that’s not been the case for a while. And actually, we’re seeing animals adapt to changes in their environment all the time: More and more elephants are being born without tusks and fish are adapting to staggeringly poisonous environments.

We have yet to see a hand come out of the clouds and dump a new animal in the Hudson. So the scientific theory of evolution kind of has the edge here.

To win the debate, Ken Ham had to come up with a new, fresh, and compelling argument that creationism is science?


Did he?

Ham essentially spent the entire debate whining about how words have meanings, those meanings don’t agree with what he thinks, and that’s not faaa-aaaair. He literally opened his remarks by claiming science had been “hijacked” by secularists and spent a lot of time arguing about how he and other creationists are noble free-thinkers fighting the establishment.

Keep in mind, when confronted with the question of whether or not he takes the Bible literally, which is the entire basis of the philosophy he’s espousing, Ham said he takes the Bible “naturally.” That should really tell you all you need to know about how this debate went, philosophically. Ham presented nothing that you haven’t heard before, which boils down to “God’s real, you’re wrong, so there.”

What did Bill Nye respond with?

Essentially Nye spent most of his time pointing to the facts, from bringing out a rock that he found outside to discussing the many, many points of evidence supporting evolution. He does raise a few points, noting, for example, that if kangaroos somehow arrived in the Middle East and went to Australia, even if this happened during Pangaea, we’d have kangaroo fossils all over the place. But mostly, Nye just pretty much points out the basic problem, which is that there’s literally zero facts to support anything in creationism.

Dammit, tell me about the fish sex!

Nye mentions “traditional fish sex” at one point. Here’s what he breaks it down as: Fish could simply reproduce by themselves. Instead, they choose to have sex with other fish. Why? Because they evolved to: Sexual reproduction.

But yeah, people are stuck on that, because, come on, it’s the scientist of your childhood saying “traditional fish sex.”

So Nye won?

In the sense that he had the facts to back him up and actually presented an argument, but it seems unlikely anybody would have come away convinced if they were on the opposite side.

Can I watch this debate?

Sure can: Here’s all 160 minutes, and of course we’ll embed it.