Perhaps there was no winner, as this was not a scored debate. Nevertheless by all, or a strong majority of, accounts, I bested him. The fundamental idea that I hope all of us embrace is, simply put, performance counts as much or more than the specifics of the arguments in a situation like this. I admit that, for me at least, it took tremendous concentration. I was and am respectful of Ken Ham’s passion. At a cognitive level, he believes what he says. He really means it, when he says that he has “a book” that supersedes everything you and I and his parishioners can observe everywhere in nature around us. I respected that commitment; I used it to drive, what actors call, my “inner monologue.” I did not choose, as I was advised, to attack, attack, attack. My actor’s preparation helped me keep things civil and be respectful of Mr. Ham despite what struck me as his thoughtless point of view. I’m sure it influenced the countless people who’ve written to me and come up to me in public to express their strong and often enthusiastic support. Thank you all.
This artist’s rendition* shows the scene inside the South Carolina state legislature, where creationist lawmakers recently blocked a bill put forward by an 8-year-old girl to make the wooly mammoth the official state fossil.
I bet you can’t guess why!
(it’s actually Charles R. Knight’s “Font du Gaume" but I want to bang my head against that cave wall after reading this story)
Apparently telling people they are distantly related to fish is not a popular thing to say?
That’s the impression I get from reading the comments on this week’s It’s Okay To Be Smart video, anyway. If you haven’t watched it, check it out. And if you have a strong forehead and feel like smacking hand, check out the comments (just wait 30 minutes after eating and be polite before jumping in). I knew it would get some anti-evolution reactions, but wow.
The funny thing is, as evolution goes, the video I made this week is pretty tame. I mean, I could come up with a LOT more controversial topics to talk about if that was my goal (which it isn’t… my goal is to inspire people to learn and help them connect to the beauty of the natural world around them).
While it certainly doesn’t make us happy to do it, I think it’s important that we regularly remind ourselves how many people out there still think that their beliefs, whatever they may be, mean that they aren’t allowed to make science part of their life.
There’s as many points along the line connecting science and spirituality as there are people on that line, and there’s views hitting every extreme in all directions. We may never all be able to find common ground on what we believe in in the spiritual sense, but there’s one thing I’m sure of when it comes to the science: There is magic in reality, and understanding the world we live in, and how we came to live in it, and all the science that informs that story, it can only enrich your life… no matter what you believe.
Also, we have fossils and stuff. So there.
Bill Nye Debates Creationist Ken Ham Tonight, Watch At Link Below
Bill Nye is debating creationist and religious scholar Ken Ham tonight, on whether “creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era.”
I’ve already explained, at length, why I think this is a really bad, awful, no good idea, but Bill’s the one who gets to wear the bow-tie, and he’s doing it. So I’m gonna support him 110%!
Looks like this is gonna be a big deal. There’s already 17,000+ people watching the livestream link and there’s still FIVE HOURS to go before it starts.
I’m not going to watch, because I think this is a huge publicity stunt for Ken Ham and his efforts to chip away at science, but you can choose for yourself. If you so desire, tune into to the live YouTube broadcast here, tonight, Feb. 4 at 7 PM Eastern.
Q:Are you excited for Bill Nye VS. Ken Ham?
LONG POST DISCLAIMER: I know when you asked this, you weren’t expecting a treatise, but you’re getting one anyway, because I have Thoughts on this. Strap in.
For those of you just tuning in, Bill Nye has (allegedly, no confirmation from Bill yet) agreed to debate noted creationist Ken Ham on Feb. 4th, the topic being “Is creation a viable model of human origins?”. (I can end this debate very quickly: “No.”)
To answer your question succinctly, no, I’m not excited. I don’t know why Bill agreed to do this. To make it even weirder, he’s doing it at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. That’s Ham’s home court. When you walk into a room where dinosaurs stand next to early humans, you have to understand that logic and reason might not walk in next to you.
Bill shouldn’t be worried about losing the debate on scientific grounds, but he might still lose, just by showing up. He really shouldn’t be having the debate in the first place. NASA scientists don’t agree to debate whether space exists or whether we actually went to the moon. Physicists don’t agree to debate whether gravity actually exists. Because there is no debate. Life arose on Earth from some previously inorganic, self-replicating system. Through the evolution and selection of systems so complex and time so vast that we are quite literally unable to fathom them, Earth’s living world ended up looking precisely like it does today, which is not necessarily the only way it could have ended up.
We don’t understand every step of that process, and scientists readily, even happily admit that, because it means they still have jobs. We haven’t traced life’s origins with certainty. What we know know, and what we don’t, is simply the limit of our understanding, not a lack of it. We may never be able to definitively describe the transition from an abiotic (“non-living”) to a biotic (“living”) Earth, although theories like this one are bringing us tantalizingly close, perhaps as close as we may ever come, or perhaps just closer to taking the next step out of the fading darkness of ignorance and into the nourishing light of discovery, which feels so good on your skin.
I think that religious faith and its attendant traditions can be wonderful, enriching pieces (maybe even corner pieces!) in this complicated puzzle we call human culture, and you should absolutely make them part of your life, but only if you want to. Those traditions should not be confused with real science. When you turn to creation stories as the actual, for-real, “this is what really happened” version of events, you are cutting yourself off from a vast portion of the world, and by “world” I mean the actual stuff of dirt, water, rocks, air, and life. You are choosing to deny logic, observation, and the scientific method. Our knowledge of the living, breathing Earth, its rich history and continuing evolution and its unknown future … that is more satisfying than any creation story, because no matter if you think the world around you is molded by a deity’s hand or simply the wondrous result of improbable chemistry, accepting science adds to your understanding of this beautiful existence, while millennia-old, unchanging creation myths insist on limiting that beauty, and replacing it with stories that by definition, and with great irony, have not evolved for thousands of years.
So that’s one reason I don’t think Bill should be having this debate.
Beyond all these flowery words about watering the rose of your intellect, there’s plenty of other reasons to think this debate is a bad idea. For one thing, the audience will likely be full of people who already squarely land in one camp or the other, ready to eat the proverbial popcorn, and each paying a $25 admission fee, which, since this is taking place at the Creation Museum, I can only assume will go totes into the pocket of Ken Ham and associates. In addition to free money, Nye is giving Ham free publicity, publicity that Nye doesn’t need (he was already on Earth’s premiere ballroom dance show for crying out loud!) and that Ham couldn’t buy in his wildest dreams with a suitcase full of wild dream money. Next, when you sit on a stage to debate, rules usually call for equal time, and that gives the impression, which is horribly mistaken in this case, that the two sides are on equal logical footing. If I was organizing this debate, I’d let Ham say maybe three words, and let Bill talk for the remainder of the time, because that’s how the scientific consensus is weighted against creationism. Instead, Nye will probably spend the time on the defensive, refuting ridiculous claims like that Ham invented the question mark.
Finally, who is this going to convince? I was chatting with Elise Andrew of IFLS about this yesterday (<- humblebrag alert), and I am genuinely curious about this. Are there large numbers of people who are on the fence about whether evolution or creationism is the One True Way? And I mean really, truly “on the fence” in the sense that they could be tipped to one side by the words of either a hero of their elementary school afternoons and Tumblr memes and bow-tie-shipping, or … that other guy? Maybe there are a lot of people out there who squarely straddle that fence, which I imagine must be a painful place to be, but I kind of doubt it. Read a little about confirmation bias and motivated reasoning and maybe you’ll understand why I feel that way.
A poll recently came out from the fine pollsters at Pew, showing that a certain conservative political party’s belief in evolution has dropped 11% since 2009. That could be viewed as bad news, or it could mean that fence-sitters have already jumped on over to munch on the verdant grass of science and left their political party with it.
I firmly believe –scratch that– I know that people can change their minds on this stuff, because I’ve seen it happen. I just don’t think this debate is the way to do it. “So, Mr. Science Man,” you’re surely asking, “what is?” Well, that same Pew poll contained this (look at the last three lines):
More education goes right along with greater acceptance evolution. The more effectively we educate people, all people of all colors and classes, the more people we have on Team Darwin.
THAT’S the plan I’m going with. Join me?
Cargo Cults and Creationists
Cargo cults are one of my favorite anthropological phenomena. They arose on tiny isolated Pacific Islands during World War II, when the Japanese and American militaries used the islands as landing strips and supply caches. All of a sudden, the islanders, who had been using primitive tools and technology, were confronted with an industrial culture and military. The islanders were given food and trinkets which seemed to magically appear from the sky as ‘cargo.’ Given their previous total isolation, they had no way of comprehending the situation. Many islanders believed the visitors and the goods were gifts from their gods. As suddenly as the foreigners appeared, however, they disappeared when the war was over, and the islanders were left without the excitement - and more importantly, without the foreign riches. Thinking they had fallen out of favor with the gods, the islanders decided to mimic exactly the foreigners, who were clearly blessed by the gods, in hopes of bringing the cargo back. And so they did - they took up marching, with sticks instead of guns, and they built elaborate replicas of things like radios - not with metal and silicon, but with materials from the island. They believed that these material objects and demonstrations were the source of American power - missing, of course, the true sources of American and Japanese wealth.
So what’s the relevance? I was reminded of cargo cults this week when I read about a controversy surrounding a leading creationist organization, the Discovery Institute (DI). They released a video criticizing population genetics, narrated by their developmental biologist standing in front of her lab. Or so we’re led to believe. In fact, the ‘scientist’ was standing in front of a green screen, and the lab was a stock image from Shutterstock. The fraud was pointed out by a number of science bloggers, and the defiant DI responded by releasing an actual picture of Ann Gauger in her lab, complete with a petri dish, some parafilm, reagent bottles, and even a small hood.
They’re completely missing the point. The real joke wasn’t that the creationists used a green screen when they had an ‘actual lab’ (although that’s pretty funny in its own right). The joke is that the DI thought showing off a fancy lab was going to grant them scientific legitimacy. It might have impressed some science-illiterate yokels, but it’s not fooling a single academic. The pictures of squirt bottles and jars in a lab are the equivalent of the cargo cult’s palm frond version of a fighter jet. This controversy shows the creationists want to look like scientists in lieue of acting like scientists. Doing science doesn’t mean having expensive or flashy equipment; you can do science with just a curtain and your hands. So clearly science is not the sum of your lab stockroom. To do real science, the DI would need to collect evidence and then proceed to a hypothesis to explain the pattern, instead of starting with a belief and then seeking the evidence to prove it; conduct actual research, instead of putting forward untestable predictions; and address all relevant evidence, instead of only picking out facts they can distort to support their worldview.
For some reason, though, I suspect we’ll be seeing a lot more cargo cult science than journal articles coming from the DI in the future.
A New Gallup Poll On Americans’ Belief in Evolution Is Out Today …
… and it’s full of rather sad figures. A full 46% of those surveyed believe that God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years. The number has essentially remained unchanged for the past 30 years (44% in 1982).
You can check the Gallup report for the detailed results, but a few things jumped out at me:
- Among people who never attend church, a full 25% still subscribe to creationist views.
- There’s only a 17% difference (58% vs. 41%) between Republicans and Democrats
- Almost four out of five Americans believe God had a hand in creating humans in some way
Now, I’m not bothered by the existence or acceptance of religion, when used for good. Nor do I believe that accepting evolution means that you must deny all other religious beliefs. Sure, the more one learns about science and the universe the more one will experience the pangs of cognitive dissonance and questioned faith. But those feelings and questions are part of the human journey. They carve the unique facets of your identity that make you truly you.
What bothers me is that evolution is at the core of so much of science, and to dismiss its truth is akin to a mathematician dismissing that 1 is half of 2 or a chemist refusing to acknowledge the existence of electrons. You simply can not fully immerse your brain in the workings of our living world without evolution. Medicine, biology, nature … any of it.
And in thirty years of bloody knuckled work to bring science into people’s lives, it feels like we still haven’t gotten anywhere.
Creationists Accidentally Validate Human Evolution
The above table summarizes the conclusions of about a dozen creationist essays, classifying hominid fossils as either humans or apes. If, as creationists claim, the ape and humans species were created spontaneously and distinctly, there should be no issue grouping a fossil in one group or the other. As shown above, creationists can’t even agree among themselves which species each fossil corresponds to, inadvertently supporting the evolutionary theory of human origins.
Bachmann’s not the only one who gets evolution wrong
In regard to a post from earlier this week about GOP Prez candidate Michelle Bachmann’s laughable stance on intelligent design …
It’s easy to pile on Michelle Bachmann, because she spouts the cray-cray with Old Faithful-like dependability. But you can’t win the dodge-ball game just by aiming at the slow kids. It’s important to note that the other GOP hopefuls (but not all) are equally guilty on supporting ID in schools. Some actually (at least at some point in the past) have at least semi-logical views on the subject (if not incomplete):
- Tim Pawlenty actively supports teaching creationism as part of the school curriculum, although he tries to defer the decision to “parents and local school districts”.
- Mitt Romney is what we call a “theistic” supporter of evolution, meaning that he supports the science of evolution but views it as a process used by an intelligent creator.
- Newt Gingrich (in 2006) stated that he thinks evolution is the best explanation that we have, but that it isn’t a complete one. While saying that evolution is supreme for science classes, he leaves the door open for discussing ID outside of science classrooms.
- Ron Paul is unique in kinda sorta debating the strength of evolution, but being firm that government shouldn’t be deciding this for schools in the first place.
- Rick Santorum tried to get an education bill passed with an amendment demanding the teaching of creationism. They even named the amendment after him! ‘Nuff said.
- Herman Cain - I can’t find any specific quotes from Cain on evolution, but judging from his hyper-Christian and anti-Muslim stance, I can take a pretty good guess.
- Rick Perry has been a long-time supporter of getting creationism taught in schools, as his appointments to the Texas State Board of Education have shown ad nauseum. Emphasis on the nauseum.
- Rudy Giuliani is a breath of fresh air here, expressing strong support for evolution and allowing that theology and science can exist in peace, one day, in a land made of cotton candy.
- Jon Huntsman also supports the superiority of evolution in science classes, stating in 2006 that creation debates should be left to religious settings and college-level philosophy classes. He also agrees with climate scientists about global warming, so taken together these guarantee that he won’t get the GOP nomination.