The former Trendshedder returns in a new column: this time discussing the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate about creationism
Whilst Alex – formerly Leviathan – has now belatedly put his Trendshedder series to bed, fear not; he’s back immediately with his new column Critical Mass. Here’s the first entry, discussing this week’s internationally watched creationism debate.
Hurrah, hooray and hoopla. We’ve all born witness to an historic moment, folks. Bill Nye has taken up the mantle of logician-in-chief and tried to stave off the wilfully ignorant tides of creationist rhetoric in that most noble and dignified of forums: The debate.
Did you watch it? I did. Not in the name of academia or for the rush of witnessing an intellectual sparring match, however. No, I tuned in for the same reason drunk frat guys watch interspecies erotica: morbid curiosity.
I knew it was going to be a redundant stalemate of science vs. blind faith. I suspect Nye did as well, being the pragmatic, forward thinking man of the universe that he is. From the moment he stepped into that auditorium the entire thing was one big exercise in futility. Our beloved science guy would offer poignant, verifiable observations based on researched data and empirical evidence, and professional fairy-tale-defender Ken Ham would bray like a distressed mule while offering virtually no insight beyond “cause the bible says so”.
This bums me out and enthuses me in equal measure, for a few reasons. Chiefly, it bums me out because it was a monumental waste of time. Bill Nye could have been doing anything in the world that night, but instead he opted to waste his breath and squander his mind on what could easily be likened to explaining gravity to an open can of brown paint.
Nye: “any two bodies in the universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them!”
Paint: “[continues being paint]”
It’s also exciting to me though, because it was exactly the kind of one sided logical shit-kicking I knew it was going to be. It’s not like I was worried that creationists had some kind of trump card like angel bones or the testimony of Jesus Christ via Skype up their sleeve, but it was certainly an affirmation of my opinions on the matter to see that the only defense they could muster was the one they’ve been using as a slogan all along, namely: “God did it.”
I’ll take a moment here to clarify that I am in no way against or intolerant of religious people. I grew up surrounded by them, maintain strong friendships with many of them, and can’t walk more than 3 feet in my Mom’s house without running into some representation of my homeboy Jesus of Nazareth.
Dude, isn’t rocking a crucifix a lot like wearing your own merch? Also, how are you a white guy?
Yes, I am an atheist. But I take great pains to avoid being one of those pretentious, bell-ended atheists that viciously attacks people’s privately held beliefs as if it’s my lot in life to stamp out faith wherever I encounter it. It is for this reason that I tend to downplay my status as a nonbeliever, or simply not get involved in debates of belief where avoidable. It’s because militant atheism embarrasses me.
Somewhere along the line the simple process of not subscribing to any religion or theology became sort of a religious rite all its own. Suddenly anyone who looks up at the sky and says “Probably not, yeah?”
is automatically drafted to team ‘Fuck God’ and is expected to righteously attack anyone who doesn’t agree with what they’ve decided are the facts of life, the universe and everything. It’s not enough to simply not believe, you’re expected to propagate the disbelief, and save as many ignorant fools as possible from their own primitive stupidity. Sound familiar?
“Pardon me, sir. But do you have a moment to talk about the good word of absolutely nothing?”
This is not to say that Bill Nye was in any way out of line to involve himself in the debate to begin with. Much to the contrary, he stepped in not as a detractor of faith, but as a defender of science, which I believe to be a fundamentally important distinction. He wasn’t there to tell Ham and his cadre that they were fools for believing in god, he was simply underlining the logical fallacy of doing so while claiming to be students of science, as the two tend to contradict each other more than a bitter married couple arguing in Walmart.
And indeed, Bill was as respectful as he could be to the faith of his hosts. He took care not to show any ill will toward their belief system while simultaneously explaining that while fine and good in our private lives, religious texts simply have no place among the scientific community because they exist on speculation, assumption and outright error, things science tends to see as icky and gross.
“Unproven theses have cooties. “
On the other side of the debate stood Ken Ham, Australian beard-haver and impressively smug blowhard extraordinaire. Rather than approach the discussion with the same measured, calculated aplomb his opponent took, Ham instead opted to snidely crack dismissive jokes to refute hard science and maintain an overall disposition of insufferable self-assuredness, even when faced with unquestionable facts.
Moreover, for every direct point and statement of hard fact he was presented with, Ham squirmed away from having to look logic in the eye and instead repeated the battle cry of a confronted zealot by simply believing even harder that his was the true way of thinking. This is where all possibility of an actual exchange of ideas stagnated, as Ham and his ilk had already decided long before that they were unshakable in their opinions, even as Nye emphatically reiterated that he’d gladly bend or change his if faced with even the most microscopic bits of evidence to the contrary.
“Seriously, guys. Anything. Anything at all.”
It is for this reason that the esteemed Mr. Nye deserves an arc-load of credit for simply holding himself together through the entire debate without frothing at the mouth and calling everyone in the building retarded. I don’t know about you, but I would’ve lasted approximately ten seconds into that cyclical pseudo-debate before slamming my fists, flipping the podium and screaming “DINOSAURS, MOTHERFUCKER!” until I passed out from pure, frustrated rage.
But Bill was cool and collected. He maintained a strong, assertive presence, even as the disdain of his audience became palpable, and somehow managed to continue respectfully disagreeing with his opponents outlandish claims without fitting himself with a pair of concrete shoes in anticipation of the next old testament style flood.
This was because Bill Nye doesn’t hate religious people. He doesn’t even dislike them. Sure, he might privately believe they’re a little silly and misguided for blindly following an ancient and much-diluted text to the letter, but he wasn’t there to steal people’s God from them. He stepped onto that stage as a man of science, with the intention of doing nothing more than presenting the evidence he and much of the world has come to accept as truth in the hopes of separating the drastically divergent institutions of religion and the pursuit of scientific understanding.
Predictably, he was met with mockery and derision. All of his carefully worded statements and commonly accepted points of fact were ignored and subsequently dismissed like so many ill-fated Fox sitcoms. But did anyone, least of all Nye himself, really expect things to go any differently?
“I wish I could tell you that Billy fought the good fight…”
No. The deck was stacked against him from the start. Going up against creationists on their turf trying to gently disprove their fallacious world view is a suicide mission, and Bill Nye walked into it knowing that full well, not because he thought he’d change anyone’s mind, but because he intrinsically knew how important it was to try. This was not about disproving god or cementing evolution as the one true theory of life’s progression. This wasn’t even about two men respected in their fields battling divergent opinions. This was, for Nye at least, nothing more than a heartfelt plea to keep the two worlds apart.
If you watch the debate again, which I don’t recommend unless you’re a fan of being uproariously frustrated, try to count how many times The Science Guy quietly takes the cap off his pen as his opponent speaks and diligently writes down a reasonable response. Keep a running tally on how many times he pleads for the divorce of faith and science, not for any personal agenda, but to keep pure the process of curious inquiry and unbiased analysis. He shows dignity, grace, and genuine concern for the future of humanity in every word, action and subtle movement throughout the proceedings.
Now try to keep tabs on how many times Mr. Ham dodges or outright ignores something he knows he can’t refute, instead opting to plug his website, which in turn plugs the bible, it of course being the Rome all of his roads inevitably lead back to. Count how many times he deliberately steers the debate away from yet another hole in the block of Swiss cheese that is his paradigm. Try not to lose all faith in humanity entirely as you tally up how many fair, balanced statements he Ham-fistedly (pun intended) denies with a smarmy joke or casual dismissal.
Actually, Bill. If you check my website, it clearly states that everything I say is more right-erer than you, and God approves of my website. So, yeah. You lose.
Where Nye came at the discussion from an open minded, factually-based perspective, Ham had already won the debate in his mind, and as such, all the supposed ‘facts’ and ‘scientific evidence’ were merely irritating afterthoughts presented by an ignorant nonbeliever. Under no circumstance could Nye have ever budged him an inch because his mind was already closed to any new idea or perspective, which by definition fails to define him as either a scientist or a scholar of any kind.
This is what frustrates me most about creationism, and the extreme religious wing in general. It’s not that they’ve chosen to build their lives around a system of beliefs that is at best questionable and at worst completely made up, or that they choose to impose their narrow and scarcely defined set of ethics and morality on the world around them. I mean, yeah, that’s goofy and all, but what really grinds me about it is the steadfast refusal to acknowledge fallibility.
They’ve taken the blue pill and they’ll be damned if any free-wheeling science guy is going to swoop in and inconvenience them with the truth. That’s why the whole thing was a depressing waste of everyone’s time. The God people have their dusty book and the science people have their data and conclusions, and never shall the two worlds comingle comfortably. There can be no consensus among those who refuse to give any ground, and there will be no agreement among those who refuse to subscribe to a blatantly disproven ideal. When you’re arguing with someone who refuses to hear you, it’s always a stalemate.
“Lalalalalalalala I can’t hear you, god created everything.”
Now that we’ve established that the whole thing was rigged from the start by preconceived opinion and rigorous adherence to established thought, let’s take a moment to admire the proud, almost regal way with which Bill Nye handled being mocked by someone who doesn’t even meet the standard of a peer.
I consider the demeanor and poise with which Mr. Nye conducted himself an exemplary win for moderate atheists everywhere. Through every remark he conveyed a casual and candid tone, measuring each word and gesture with practiced ease. He was unflappable, earnest, and most importantly, steadfastly passive throughout; even while being openly lambasted.
If there’s anything to take away from that debate, it’s how to conduct oneself with tact and class in the face of unreasonable obstinacy. He didn’t once lower himself to the petty churlishness of schoolyard politics. He met everything they threw at him with the steely resolve of a man that knows better.
Bill Nye doesn’t give a shit what you believe, he just doesn’t want you to fuck with actual facts because of it. So pray to whatever deity you please in the privacy of your own home, but keep that shit out of the lab, bitch.
We’re doing science in there.