Updated Wed, Feb 5, 2014 1:40 am
To watch the full debate, click here
The Liberty Room in Kentucky's Creation Museum was full almost an hour before the start of Tuesday night's debate between scientist Bill Nye and Answers In Genesis CEO Ken Ham, but the real audience, the one that both men had the best chance of influencing, was the large one online.
Over 560,000 people watched the debate between Nye's evolution and Ham's creationism live on YouTube, and thousands more viewed it on the web platforms of CNN and the Cincinnati Enquirer, among others. Each man was given five minutes in an opening statement, a 30-minute presentation to explain his views, and 10 minutes of combined rebuttal time before a 45-minute question-answer session with those who submitted questions from the audience.
The discussion was moderated by CNN's Tom Foreman, who didn't need to do much presidential-debate-style policing because both Nye and Ham were respectful of each other and of the time allotted in each segment.
Ham spent much of his opening time attacking the verbiage associated with the two sides. He claimed that two words - science and evolution - have been "hijacked by secularists" who want the nation's children to learn evolution in school and not the teachings of the Bible. Nye used his opening time to say the audience "would be hearing two stories [Tuesday night], Ken Ham's versus the view from outside, of mainstream science."
Ham's presentation featured scientist after scientist who appeared in prerecorded videos to tell the audience that they had done great scientific work and also believed that creationism, the belief that God created man in his likeness, was the truth. Ham used those videos to combat the point made by Nye in his original viral YouTube video, which was that belief in creationism hinders the progress of discovery and invention by the world's citizens and scientists.
"Creationists should be teaching kids out there," Ham said. "Because we would be teaching them the right way to think."
Nye then followed with a presentation that was part science classroom lecture and part an attack on his debating counterpart's views. More than a half dozen times in the almost three hour debate, Nye gestured with his hands to the walls of the room. He would then use a phrase like "the way we do it out there" or "outside of here," as if to say that the only place Ham's theories were in practice was inside the building that housed the Creation Museum. Ham would readily dispute that, citing once again the bevy of world scientists who believe in creationism.
Much of Ham's rebuttal on the "Science Guy"'s presentation centered on the age of the Earth. Nye believes the planet is about 4.5 billion years old. Ham thinks it's much, much younger, and backed up his point by noting that "observational science" won't allow us to know how old the Earth is because there aren't any examples that we can see to make that claim a certainty. Nye quickly, and often, refused the "observational science" claim, stating that there are "countless" examples that show maybe not exactly how old the Earth is, but at least that it is millions of years older than Ham contests it is.
In the question-answer portion of the program, Nye got more and more forceful with his arguments to Ham and also to the global viewing audience. Nye frequently made pleas to "voters and taxpayers" to consider his presentation and the science behind it when they make decisions on what to teach their children in school. Nye asked over and over again in the last 40 minutes of the debate for Ham to present one piece of evidence to show that creationism was a viable theory, that "it had ground to stand on." Once, after Ham's response failed to meet his expectations, Nye produced a memorable quote:
"Thank you, Mr. Ham, but I am completely unsatisfied."
At a few points, Nye would admit that the scientific community "didn't know," or had yet to discover what existed before the Big Bang, or how consciousness came to be, and each time Ham would respond - to chuckles from the audience - with some variation of the phrase, "there's a book that tells us that," stating that the Bible explains everything in the world, from consciousness, to light and darkness, to fossils, and so on.
To everyone's credit, what could have easily been a contentious affair was relaxed and respectful with a few flares of humor thrown in, and while most minds won't be changed, the evening certainly was interesting for those in attendance and those watching online. No winner was declared, and while receiving the final word, Nye made one final plea for science educators to teach evolution.
"What's at stake here," Nye said. "If we abandon everything we've learned, our ancestors, everything they've learned about nature and our place in it...if we stop looking, stop searching for the next answer to the next question, we in the United States would be outcompeted by other nations and other economies. We have to keep science education in science classes."