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.