A distraction for the species

A debate of epic proportions took place last week. Streamed live via the Internet, the audience was massive and motivated. Each debater was bolstered by their respective armies of supporters and intellectual warriors. The concepts being addressed were critical to all humanity — or so the hype would have us believe. Evolution or creationism, which is the more viable option?

On the science side, Bill Nye. The Science Guy is in fact not a scientist at all. Rather, he’s an entertainer who has honed an ability to share highly technical information with non-scientific audiences and make the quest for knowledge sound appealing.

On the creationism side stood Ken Ham, president of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., which hosted the engagement. Ken believes the book of Genesis can and should be taken literally.

It should have been a pay-per-view event. Interest in the discussion was certainly high enough to have brought a windfall to both speakers and their causes.

Yet, like so many purportedly great events, it fizzled. Neither debater was swayed by the other. Few, if any, viewers were inclined to switch affiliations based on what they saw and heard, either. What it all came down to in the end was two men defending their beliefs as strenuously as possible. That’s a good thing. Bravo for both debaters.

Not everyone holds that position, of course. In fact many in the scientific community wince at even the suggestion of this debate taking place, ever, between any two debaters.

They’re wrong, of course. Debate is good. Not only is it good, it’s necessary.

Debate allows for an exchange of ideas, both good and bad. It is this airing of perspectives that leads to learning, understanding, and ultimately a new sense of wonder that pushes humanity forward to new inventions, new technology, and new ways of perceiving our place in the universe.

No debate is too stupid to allow. Send the participants to their podiums and let’s get rockin’. If physicist Stephen Hawking gets the opportunity to debate comedian Pauly Shore about the likelihood of earth being swallowed by a black hole in the next decade, and both parties are willing to engage in the verbal sparing, they should do it. Really. Imagine the audience attracted to that intergalactic donnybrook.

The hubbub about the Nye/Ham debate continued to rage after the debate ended. Those who backed Ham suggested he’d won. On the other side, Bill Nye has taken a bit of a beating for not convincing the audience at the Creation Museum to lose their faith, convert to Darwinism, and embrace the idea of an earth that is many hundreds of millions of years old. Seriously? Does anybody think that was a reasonable expectation given the audience and the venue?

Who won is unimportant. The fact that they participated is what it’s all about. The only thing that could have made it better for me would be if they had debated a better question — a question that actually matters.

Consider this: Let’s imagine that instead of a worldwide audience, Nye and Ham were debating in a closed room. Their only audience consists of the three hosts of the Fox Business News program, The Independents. Kmele Foster, Kennedy, and Matt Welch attend with open minds, ready to adopt the position that’s best represented. Nye knocks it out of the park, virtually proving that Darwinism is the correct answer. Ham does equally well making that case that Genesis can be taken literally as a description of how life on earth began.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Kmele buys Bill Nye’s position hook, line, and sinker. He becomes a dedicated disciple of Charles Darwin and the theories he expressed in Origin of the Species. Matt Welch goes the other way, adopting Ken Ham’s creationist perspective completely. Their counterpart and big ol’ ringleader, Kennedy, hangs on the fence, intrigued by aspects of both arguments, but not enough to be swayed one way or the other. She vacillates like a cheap tabletop fan.

All of this begs the question, so what? Would Kmele’s belief in the scientific method make it impossible for him to attend religious services at his leisure? Would Matt’s alleged embrace of theology keep him from experimenting with photo-voltaics and possibly discovering a new, lighter weight, higher output crystalline structure that would make solar panels cheap, efficient, and plentiful? Would Kennedy’s indecision prevent her from showing up at the studio tomorrow morning where she knocks out an epic program on Los Angeles’ most astounding alternative radio station? No. Their beliefs about where we came from don’t have a thing to do with what we’re doing now, and even less to do with where we’re headed.

Debate is important. It allows us to participate and even compete in the arena of ideas. Yet, what matters is not the topic or even the outcome of the debate. What matters is that the debate happens.

When the purveyors of two divergent trains of thought meet, interact in a respectful manner, and part ways again, we all win. That’s true whether the topic is evolution, creationism, raising the sales tax, or lengthening a runway.

Talk may be cheap, but it matters. Let’s not become so entrenched in our positions that we lose sight of what really matters — our ability to interact productively with other people — even with other people who hold very different beliefs from our own.


  1. Dan Vigesaa says

    Thank you for your comments, Jamie. Thank you for choosing the work you are doing. Our industry desperately needs more people like you. Your CFI credentials assure solid understanding of general aviation while your A & P certificate assures me that you are tuned into the machines that I trust with my life. Your thoughtful articulation of things that matter a lot to aviation are always good and always helps reign in the hysteria of those who don’t see value in general aviation or who don’t think little airplanes have a future.

    Unfortunately you laid an egg when you said that what a person believes “about where we came from . . (doesn’t) have a thing to do with what we’re doing now, and even less to do with where we’re headed.” History is packed with stories about people who changed their minds because of effective argument and went on to change the world.

  2. Walter Hawkins says

    This really is a “big deal” because we are talking about two different world views. The evolutionist does not value life because, if we came from nothing and return to nothing, there is no such thing as ethics, except as we make them up to suit ourselves as we go along (abortion, anyone?). By the way, since when do we get to pick and choose what parts of The Bible are true and which are false. Since I am just a simple guy and believe that God meant what he said and vice versa, I’ll stick with God, not science “falsely so called.” Finally, if you happen to be a Christian and a scientist, see how far that gets you in the “open-minded” scientific community of today!

      • Walter Hawkins says

        Since you have nothing constructive to say, you resort to typical liberal name-calling to cover up your lack of support for your position. By the way, God loves you and wants to have a personal relationship, anyway…it’s called being born again!

        • Anonymous says

          My position is strongly supported by huge number of invisible friends.
          By the way I did not know that tooth fairy is typically liberal.
          When I grew up I lost god. It was a sad day just like the day when I lost Santa but this is how adults live. No BS stories, no magic.
          If I die dude in the sky is not waiting for me and I am not getting any virgins either.

          • Walter Hawkins says

            What a shame that you have to get so sarcastic. You are really telling me how desperately lost you are! I was, too, until I accepted Jesus Christ 33 years ago. Please don’t blaspheme God with your nasty remark. Also, Christianity has nothing to do with Islam, which you were referring to with your “…virgins” remark. I will pray for you.

  3. Anonymous says

    Anyone who knows history cannot be serious about creationism. Early attempts to fit nature into biblical framework failed. Scientists tried real hard to put facts in a way that would prove bible right but that did not work out. Nowadays however we do not remember how evolution theory was developed and we treat discussion between creationist and evolutionist like a serious one. Actually it is not a serious discussion. We could have the same type discussion about math between college graduate and guy without any education. It just does not make sense.

  4. Jim says

    FWIW, Nye has a BS from Cornell in mechanical engineering, and worked at Boeing. Beckett’s characterizaton of Nye reflects his bias. Why would the quest for knowlege not be appealing. Understanding our past scientificaaly is foundamental to future scientific progress.

    • says

      I appreciate your reading into the post, Jim. But my characterization of Nye as a non-scientist is accurate. I suspect it’s a view even Nye would agree with. That’s not to say he’s not smart, capable, interesting, and maybe even right. But he’s not a scientist.

      Secondarily, a written argument loses a lot in translation when misspelled words become the reader’s focus, distracting them from the message you intended to convey. Write, read, edit, repeat. That’s a good way to go when you’re commenting in public.

      And finally, you’ve misinterpreted your feelings about my post (or me) as evidence that supports insight into my personal bias. You’re pretty far off the mark on that one, I can tell you. But I appreciate you reading and commenting all the same.

      I wonder if you’d care to share your impressions of the actual theme of the piece? Can we make progress when working with others who hold different views than we do on religious, political, or economic grounds? I’d like to think so. What are your thoughts on that?

  5. lindsay petre says

    Interestingly enough, this appears to tie into the item I recently saw concerning a Wisconson tv station preparing a “report” on the negative aspects of a local GA airport, based on emotions without allowing reference to the positive financial benefits to the community, which may not be evident to a casual observer.

  6. Greg W says

    Jamie, this may well be true for a simple debate such as Creation vs. Darwinism :). But try that at the local airport and the airport people won’t stand for it. Next thing you know you could have turbines and LSA’s in the same hangar,gasp! Aviation has seemed to turn us all into seagulls each screaming MINE,MINE,MINE. As for any type of compromise try to say that mogas is a FAA approved fuel and all it takes is a third tank/truck. Try that and you will get the airport factions to work together, they will pull you apart between a jet A truck and the 100LL truck.

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