So is everyone satisfied that debating a creationist about creationism at The Creation Museum, prominently displaying a man riding a dinosaur, is a waste of time? Was it everything you hoped, hearing a stupid person who believes that the Earth is 6000 years old make a bunch of nonsense arguments?
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Isn't it fulfilling to see a man attempt to take seriously another man who is utterly incapable of either logic or shame?

Part of the problem here is that most of us are raised to Be Nice about religion and religious people.

In general this is good advice.

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However, this is counterproductive with fundamentalists. The pseudo-noble desire to Listen to Both Sides and to give their point of view a fair hearing quickly crumbles under the weight of the utter stupidity, in terms of historical and scientific accuracy, of their beliefs. Not their belief in god or in Christianity, but in their Beliefs about things that are actually empirically testable facts. There is no point in, and nothing to be gained by, debating someone who has "beliefs" about things that are matters of fact.

What Bill Nye did on Tuesday evening was to dignify a ludicrous argument from ludicrous people with a debate, serving largely to give creationists a platform to throw their bullshit at a large audience and to generally create the impression that this issue is up for debate. The odds of someone being persuaded by the logic of Mr. Nye's argument seem to be lower than the odds of some gullible professional skeptic – the kind that buys into 9-11 conspiracy theories because of a 3-minute YouTube video – being persuaded by a snippet of "But radiocarbon dating is unreliable!" water-muddying from a group that combines the smugness of lobbyists with the terrifyingly dead eyes of a religious zealot.

59 thoughts on “SCREAMING AT A WALL”

  • you'll get no argument from me there. still it's the weirdest kind of amusing embarrassed feeling, watching a debate like that. about that… in 2014!

  • I am not so convinced by this argument.

    You ivory tower eggheads (read: educators, scientists, etc.), surrounded by your testable facts and empirical evidence and such on a daily basis, may be confident in your positions and pretty much impervious to the constant barrage of bullshit from media, politicians, friends, family, postman, butcher, etc, etc. Good for you.

    Those of us in what conservatives like to call Teh Real World can find it more difficult. We're out here in the shitstorm without a coat, trying to hold firm in the face of a howling gale of misinformation and flat out bullshit. Sometimes it's helpful to watch a giant walking brain like Nye pick these fools apart.

    Somethingsomething lie repeated often enough somethingsomething…

    Sorry, very tired and rushing this. I hope it makes some sort of sense.

  • Michael Bouchard says:

    Ken Ham is not the target here, it's the audience. This much should be assumed, however you don't seem to take that as a worthy justification of this debate. So here's my one data point. I was raised as a christian fundamentalist. Dinosaurs were on the ark level of fundamentalism I'm talking here. It's efforts like Nye's that got me to consider ideas I'd never been allowed to ever read, because they were finally presented to us! It's all those fence sitters. All those young minds who've only heard one side and were utterly restricted from learning another point of view, all those who haven't heard it in quite one way, that are at stake. So, here we have a debate, watched with eager anticipation by so many fundamentalist families, where their guy gets trounced. All the "Me's" that will ever see this owe Bill Nye a debt of gratitude, because, as it should be obvious to any teacher: You can't ignore fundamentalism (much less stupidity) away. You have to meet it, in some bad cases (read: fundamentalists) on their own ground. Bill Nye should be applauded for the actual good he does instead of being sneered at for hypothetically damaging effects that debating a fundamentalist on a flat platform might cause. Further, you know who thinks these things are worth debate? That entire Christian audience, who a few of themselves, if not their children, will be shaken by. Three cheers for Bill Nye. Those like him made this brick in the wall capable of being one of your readers.

  • On the other hand, it WAS pretty funny to watch Bill Nye shock the mostly-church-crowd audience with tales of "traditional fish sex" and refuse to call Ham's rube-bilking entertainment center anything other than a "facility" (definitely not a museum). Or his deliberate use of the words "traditional science" or "conventional science" with respect to the knowledge-generating work being done (as he put it) "on the outside."

  • Death Panel Truck says:

    If Nye changed one mind, it was worth it. One mind changes another, and then another, and then another. A glacier's pace, but better than no movement at all.

  • The thing is, I don't think anybody who was exposed to this creationist nonsense for the first time had a shocking moment of changed where the realized they'd been wrong all along. If even one person who WAS in that camp before starts to have doubts, though, then it seems like an effort the rest of us should be applauding.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Creationism sticks to its guns due to verbal adherence to the bible. It's a belief pushed upon the flock by its leaders to control the believers. You cannot debate that. Mega churches with their miracle cures are successful businesses providing their leaders with a rich life style. How do you debate that?

    Creationism isn't unique. Our lives are full of myth and stories that have nothing to do with reality. We start with the lies about the pilgrims. We go on with a democratic system intended to screw us all, except the rich, that we continue to elect. Our business community on Wall Street is treated as heroes instead as the criminals they are.

    The list is endless.

  • Like Michael Bouchard above, I was surrounded by a sea of fundamentalism growing up. The feeling that the creationist myth just didn't square with the world around was pushed down but it was an ember. It was repeated like a mantra and I recall watching the adults in our church go on and on about it (in the 80's) and thinking, something's not right here. Ohm…ohm….ohm…..

    Usually when you have a group of people repeat something so much, it's becuase the people telling you to say it, know it is bs. (see: "'Merica is the best country in history", "Because of Freedom", etc…).

    The first exposure I had to Nye-ish ideas as a teenager, i remember thinking, "I f&*&ing knew it!" But, in a more fundamental way, i had something to point to to say, "That's what they are afraid of". You know, "teh science" and "gee-whiz-look-around-you common sense".

    It was the first confirmation that my spidey sense of increasing weirdness in Sunday School wasn't my sinfullness but my having an independent thought.

  • The creationists are also making life miserable for moderate christians who are trying to maintain their beliefs and coexist with reality. Ken Ham is as much about coercion as creation. Bully for Bill Nye!

  • My whole family watched the debate, and friends joined us. It was a great exercise in knocking down logical fallacies (Ham) and thinking critically. For example, Ham avoided answering most questions, then circled back a few minutes later with, "As I explained…" Oh, no; you didn't explain, but you're hoping your audience didn't catch on to that.

    Nye also kept hammering home the point that we are curious about things, and it's wonderful to have an idea and have a framework to test it. That alone was worth the price of admission; some fundy kid watching it is going to realize that it's okay to think.

    Nye also got Ham to admit that he cherry-picks the parts he wants to believe and calls the rest "story" or "poetry". That was also a brilliant moment and I wish Nye could have had more time to expound on it.

    By the end of the debate, Nye had some of the one-sided audience actually listening to him.

  • I read something a while back [citation needed; wish I could find the exact quote] about a prominent academic who refused to have a debate on the subject of evolution, because he felt that no one's mind would be changed, but that people would come away with the impression that evolution was up for debate. That seems the smarter tack to take with these particular whackaloons.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    I was against this "debate" from the get-go.
    Why dignify absurdity with a responsible argument?
    Manichean faithful people don't, won't, or can't, accept any facts that don't support their position(s) based on their faith.

    But, after reading some of the other commenters here, I've done a 180 and am glad that Nye did what he did, where he did it, and in front of whom he did it.

    As @Death Panel Truck said, if you can change one mind, that mind may help to change other minds.
    And so on, and so on…

  • I didn’t get to see much of the debate, only one short segment of Bill Nye’s presentation.

    In his earlier, public pronouncements, Bill Nye struck me as just another smug, arrogant, condescending, contemptuous (of Christian believers) intellectual Liberal.

    In the long form (of the debate) he is much more three dimensional (perhaps like many of y’all.) I enjoyed his presentation and his genuine wonder about all of creation (if I can use that word.)

    I really like his example of ‘How did the kangaroos make it from Mt Ararat to Oz without leaving a trail of bones?’ and ‘Where is the evidence of that land bridge between Asia and the continent that is Oz?’

    I also agree with posters here that we Christians are dangerous because of mind control. Can you all imagine how much more dangerous, we could be if more of us would submit to the ‘mind control’ and started treating others in the manner we would like to be treated, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, relieving the oppressed, healing the sick, and raising the dead?


  • If you want to see creation scientists at work, choose any Hieronymous Bosch painting. Me, I prefer "The Extraction of the Stone of Madness".

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Your last paragraph is more like an ideal.
    And there are many Christians in America who do exactly what you're talking about.
    But not enough of them.

    My problem isn't with those kind of Christians.

    It's the ones who show more affinity for The Old Testament, and less to The New Testament.

    It's the ones who ignore what you wrote about, and instead morph the Jesus in the Bible into their own hateful, bigoted, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and homophobic, image.

    Watch most of the Televangelists, and you'll see what I'm talking about.
    Read-up on "The Prosperity Gospel" – which is about as un-Christian as anything I can imagine.

    Though I'm sure, bb, that you know who and what I'm talking about.

    Off topic – I hadn't seen you here in a while – or maybe I just missed your comments.
    Glad you seem to be doing ok. :-)

  • @cund

    I read G&T regularly.

    Although I think that many right of center people read G&T, I'm thinking they don't comment because they don't want the 'abuse' that comes with the territory (relatively mild by DU standards) or they don't always have the firepower to present a cogent argument on the topic and get smoked (that'd be some of my history)

    Thanks for asking


  • The saddest part of the whole argument is that neither faith nor Christianity is under assault by science. The only thing that's not holding up is the idea of Biblical inerrancy: the idea that it's the word of God, perfect, and 100% true. Which is a pretty new idea, actually: Catholics have always treated large parts of the Old Testament as metaphor, and chunks of the New are clearly described as 'parables', rather than the literal truth. Google 'errors in the bible' if you feel like wasting an hour or three.

    Inerrancy has been a lousy, illogical idea from the start, so it shouldn't be a surprise that all its defenders have are lousy, illogical arguments.

  • @BigH

    I agree with your position on inerrancy except for your strawman about parables.

    Parables are not covered by the categories of error or inerrancy. They are stories that use natural elements to teach spiritual 'truths' that the teller hopes to communicate. As such they can't be 'in error'. You can disagree with the ideas or positions that the teller takes, for sure.


  • My argument:

    If there were a supreme being who created this magnificent and beautiful universe don't you think She would want us to explore and understand it as best we can in order to fully appreciate its wonder. Honestly you religious folk have much in common with this other set of people called scientists whose respect for such things rivals your own.

  • I agree with the post, and Jacquie's comment said it best about the debate. The rest of the problem, for me, is that faith is like love — a thing of the heart, an emotional conviction that science can't prove, disprove, or affect in any way.

    Which is also the reason it must never, ever be taught in school or packaged as fact. Particularly when the historical source used to validate this movement is not solid evidence but poorly edited fanfic.

    I would much rather have seen Bill Nye take apart the cargo-cult-style process by which young-earth Creationists mocked up the "Creation Science" system than address any content therein. It's like arguing with a drunk, or a teenager who's in luuuurve, or teaching a pig to sing.

  • And bb, I agree with you about conservatives who hesitate to comment because of the lashing. I'm a bleeding heart liberal, but when I supported responsible gun ownership, there was a good deal of ad hominem insult along with the usual sneering. Let me just add that when I comment on conservative sites, I get a lot worse, including threats of rape, lewd accusations, and pious assertions that I am hellbound. Trust me, you don't want to be a bisexual atheist female in those fora. Not without your Nomex longjohns.

  • bb: cund gulag beat me to most of what I would say in regard to your comment about Christians following Christ's word–yes there are many—quite possibly a majority of Christians who behave in this manner. Sadly, the most vocal and visible are those fundamentalists and evangelicals who preach and live the exact opposite of what Jesus taught. I think that Christians like you need to step up and start pointing out that those phonies are not the true face of Christianity. Disown those bastards–they do the rest of you no favors–and end up chasing those who might consider religion away.

    I was also in the camp of thinking there's no point in "debating" a creationist about evolution–following the old teaching a pig to sing theory. But everyone here makes a good point: Ham invited Nye in the belief that he would trump all of Nye's arguments and ended up looking a bit foolish. If this planted a seed of doubt in any true believer's head, then it was all worth it.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    But the problem will be, if these people even make a peep about this back in their churches, the male grifter in the front will tell them that that's the Devil talking to them, trying to cast doubt on their belief, and that they must cast out the Devil, or be damned to eternal Hell!!!

    'Original Thought,' is far worse for the grifter's business, than "Original Sin."

  • So which God is more powerful?

    The magician that put in six days of work or the patient scientist that carefully crafted the Universe over billions of years.

  • Before actually watching the debate, I was sure it would be a disaster. Bill Nye surprised me, and I'm surprised to be surprised: he's comfortable in front of an audience, he's comfortable in front of television cameras, he knows his science, and he's used to explaining it to people with limited intellectual abilities and limited education (that is, to small children), so he actually did better with the Creationist audience than I had expected.

    @BB; a dear friend of mine is very much a bible-believing Christian, but she's of the sort that Jesus talked about, and I love her dearly as a friend. There are Christians like that out there–too bad they're so often lost in the loud din made by the other sort.

  • 'Original Thought,' is far worse for the grifter's business, than "Original Sin."

    Well, yes, there is that. But I don't want the doubter to go and try to find converts in his or her own church. It's enough for me if he or she just manages to not raise his or her children to be sheep.

  • @bb

    Didn't mean to denigrate the parables; my point is that they're stories designed to get an audience to think about morality, and hopefully learn something. "The Good Samaritan" isn't all that different from "The Three Billy Goats" in that respect.

    How much more of the Bible is lesson-as-myth, and not literal truth?

    And I've no beef with Christians, regardless of their extremity…until they start insisting that I live according to their rules. It's remarkable easy to spot the hypocrisy, too: the only bits of Leviticus they recall are the witchcraft and the gay sex. Not so much with the shellfish and tattoos and no-cooking-while-menustrating.

    But back to inerrancy: do you remember that irritating student that was always asking "Will this be on the test?" The inerrancy folks are like that: they want one set of rules that they can memorize so they'll be guaranteed to get an A. No gray ares, no doing the best you can. Black and white for them, good and evil, they're good, you're evil, have fun in hell, sinner. It's a mean-spirited, pinch-minded way to live, and it's a denial of mystery. It's turning away from the wonder of the divine, of acknowledgement that the unknown (and the unknowable) will always be larger than humans' comprehension. These clowns want God written down to five decimal places so they can memorize God for the final exam, and that's a bigger insult than not believing in God in the first place.

  • It would probably be fairest to call him an engineer, with a strong personal interest in science and education, as well as writing and acting.

    BS in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell, took classes from Sagan, so he wasn't entirely involved in Engineering.

    Worked as an engineer for Boeing for three years, and for other firms for another decade. At least three patents.

    Not exactly your typical actor.

  • @RobertP: I was taught effectively what you said. We can explore, marvel, wonder and make sense at the universe because it was created that way. From the minutiae of the sub-atomic particles (are we sure there's not a particle smaller than the Higgs-Bosun?) to the vastness of the cosmos (where Hawking is reconsidering his views on black holes). Yet some how it all fits together and works. Can think of anyone who could ever work out all of the intricacies to make this work? Yet out all this, is you. And the central theme is that you matter to the one who created it and keeps it running, and that creator wants a relationship with you.

  • @sluggo: Given the two scenarios you've painted, and given our understanding of the cosmos' vastness and intricate details at this point in history both sound equally powerful.

    To a person of faith what's at issue isn't so much the how, but the Who. To a person of faith, that Who is the Judeo-Christian Creator God. So whether it took 6 days, 6 pico-seconds or 6 google years is irrelevant. The final answer is God did this and did it out of nothing. All the rest are details. Does that make sense?

    Now from what I've seen thus far of the world and God, quite frankly God is rather boring and mundane. Could God do it in 6 pico-seconds if that's what He wanted to do? He's a powerful God yes He could. However, He probably didn't do it like that. Thus the long view.
    The theory of evolution—while commonly accepted as the best explanation has yet to be conclusively proven and therefore scientifically remains in the theory column—actually is not antithetical to God. In fact it displays a God who is intimately involved in his creation, and actually enjoys the process. This counters deism, aka the clock winding god. So you may reject the reality of God who created all of this, but to me he is truly amazing.

  • @Hank: I agree that hypocrisy is rife, however you didn't read the memo ;)

    The shell fish prohibition was lifted for Christians through implication from Jesus "It is what is in a man's heart that makes him unclean…" and explicitly by revelation to Peter in Acts.
    As for women and menstruation, that is covered by Jesus' encounter with a woman who touched him to be cured of vaginal haemorrhaging she'd been suffering from for 12yrs. She was cured and Jesus was unconcerned about being made "unclean".

    To compare apples to apples let's take homosexuality and adultery. Both were declared punishable by stoning (ie death) in Leviticus. In John 8: 1-11 people bring before Jesus a woman caught in adultery (where the bloke was…hmmm)*.
    At the conclusion is this exchange: "10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]]"
    So given like for like (a common form of hermeneutics) the proper response to both adulterers and homosexuals is that last sentence: "…go, and from now on sin no more."
    Therefore, it is not permissible by Christ to stone, beat, incarcerate, brutalise, etc. homosexuals.
    In Colossians, Paul places homosexuality in an listed order following "drunkenness" (alcoholism). Therefore, the Christian response to it should be akin to someone who suffers from an addiction. Ie alcoholism is a natural state for some, and like alcoholism it's not a good thing for the individual.

    *So to your charge of hypocrisy, has anything changed?? Sadly no. Also remember sex is low hanging fruit. It's either you're married or you're not. Greed on the other hand is far far easier to let slide.

  • BigHank53 February 5th, 2014 at 11:30 am
    "The saddest part of the whole argument is that neither faith nor Christianity is under assault by science."

    Only that science leaves little room for an all-caring, allmighty god in the biblical sense. At best, you have an unmoved mover who never showed his hand since the creation of the world.

    I've once read a few letters between Newton and Leibniz, that argument has been going since the first days of enlightenment.

    Apparently, Netwon wanted to belive that the Hand of God kept the planets on their trajectories.

    Leibniz compared Newton's creator to a clockmaker who has to readjust his clock more or less often depending on the skill of his work; a clock needing constant adjustmend is the sign of a bad artificier. Leibniz didn't want to believe that god's creation could be anything less than perfect. In which case it needs no further attention.

    Newtons response basically came down to "and I refuse to belive that god set the world in motion and then walked away from it". A ruler, be he ever so almighty and all-powerful, if he doesn't rule, he is no ruler at all and we could do just as well without him.

  • @Ken, re Bill Nye: "BS in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell, took classes from Sagan, so he wasn't entirely involved in Engineering.

    Worked as an engineer for Boeing for three years, and for other firms for another decade. At least three patents."

    And he wiped the floor with Ken Ham, who is nothing but a willfully-ignorant con-man who is damning a segment of society from ever being able to function in the world by innoculating them with a hatred of science and reality, in addition to shutting down their critical-thinking ability.

    Funny that bb feels the need to denigrate a man who has proven himself in the fields of science and education (his long-running tv show, Bill Nye the Science Guy, which was developed to help children learn about science but can also be used to help fundies learn). He also proved himself a surprisingly effective debater who miraculously managed not to burst out in hysterical laughter or rip the head off his pig-headed opponent.

  • If this is a created universe, the creator seems uninterested in worship, indeed, doesn't want the act of creation to be known at all, might even find us embarrassing. Looks like it just happened, until further evidence comes to light.

  • Great post Ed: best title ever.
    Fascinating thread.
    Another point: arguing is useless because … We've already won the war for reason. Patience, please. Actions speak louder than words, mostly. Consider what the dinosaur riders do,, other than talk: buy a house – inspection using tests and facts. Add on to a house – rely on engineers. Buy a car – look at consumer reports. And the big one, someone gets a lump – straight to the doctor (aka scientist). Maybe there's a trip to the preacher for counsel, or prayer, but what actually happens is from science, setting aside the faith-healing advocates. Skirmishes abound still, but the war is over. Reason wins.
    The rest is just people flexing the faith muscle, which is nothing but pulling the covers over their head at night cause it's spooky out there. That behavior can be disheartening and even dangerous, but it's not the whole deal. Arguing theology is useless. Pointing out areas of agreement, where reason is already generally accepted, is a better way.

  • started treating others in the manner we would like to be treated, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, relieving the oppressed, healing the sick, and raising the dead?

    bb, you seem to imagine that only Jesus Christ embodied those altruistic traits, instead of recognizing that they're characteristic of the better side of our human behavioral repertoire.

    And the lovely irony is, as is often pointed out, how conveniently those who label themselves as Christians completely ignore all that humanitarian stuff and go straight to self-righteousness and war – religion as a power trip. Screw humanitarianism, especially toward those non-people outside our tribe community.

  • When dealing with a young-earth creationist I like to point out the following:

    Finding oil is a very high-stakes issue for oil companies. Trillions of dollars are riding on it. When they look for the most likely spots to drill, do they use Flood geology, or mainstream? Which one actually delivers the goods?

  • Carl Sagan maintained that it is essential for scientists to debate the mystics, science denialists and BS artists. Failing to do so creates the impression that scientists have something to hide.
    I really liked that Nye cheerfully explained that, no science doesn't have all the answers (unlike the fundies) but it is a work in progress, always open to question and revission.
    Personally, contemplating a 15 billion year old universe with an uncertain beginning and end, the mass and size of your average star, what might be going on inside a black hole or the nucleus of an atom thrills me with awe for existance or God or whatever it is that makes this whole thing we are privilaged to expierience. If it's God, well thank you God. What did I ever do to be so lucky as to live?

  • They also charged $25 dollars per ticket for the $900 tickets they sold.

    I would light $50 on fire before I would give them $25 to hear such utter nonsense.

  • Who cares "how" we arrived at our cuurent state. Let's fix the problems we have NOW. When that's been accomplished we can discus how we got here. Jeeeesh.

  • First Xynzee brought up Paul's take on teh Gays. I am always amused that Fundies take Paul's words, a guy that never met Jesus, and to my knowledge never claimed to be channelling god, as being the same as God's words. He was merely writing his opinion to early members of the church on how he believed they should act. How that became the infallable word of the Lord simply escapes me.
    BB, I would cut Christians way more slack if they actually voted for candidates that represented Christ's views.
    I don't run into many fundies living in Suburban Chicago, and though after a great deal of study of the Bible, from a theologian's perspective, along with studying other religions and mythology from the past, I do not believe in the Judeo Christian take on "God", I personally do not try to convince those that believe in Jesus that they are wrong. Most people that I know that are religous do not use their religion as a cudgel to discriminate against those they don't like. They do, however; get great inspiration and comfort from their belief. So even though I could use a large quiver full (some might get that pun) of arguments, and examples that might show them that Jesus is a mythical character, I would never do that. It would be unkind, and although this fact escapes many fundies, you don't need the bible in order to know that intentionally hurting others is a bad thing.

  • @Mo

    You ought to take that mind reading gift you have to Las Vegas and secure your family's financial future…NOT!

    I imagined and said nothing about who exclusively has any traits.


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