Last night, at the “state-of-the-art” Creation Museum (where guests can “see the scaffolding, smell the freshly-cut timbers in the busy work site of Noah’s Ark,” catch a performance of Men in White — in which two angels descend to help a confused teen named Wendy to assure her that “God invented everything the whole enchilada!” — and, if feeling peckish after spiritual rebirth, grab one of Noah’s famous cappuccinos or “gluten-free” options at Noah’s Café) Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham the Creationist Guy debated the fundamentals of their polarized and wholly irreconcilable beliefs. Indeed, both arguments are so contradictory that the debate was mostly immobilized by its opposition.
The biggest points of contention were the “scientists’” (the quotations are here aimed at Ham) battling ideas about “dating systems.” To my dismay, this was not an argument in which Bill Nye defended the infallibility of Tinder while Ham ballyhooed his excavation of hot tail on JDate; rather, essentially, Nye asserted that we can scientifically look into the past through observing fossils, plants, the heavens, etc. while Ham claimed we can look into the past by checking out the life-sized model of a chunk of Noah’s Arc on display at his museum. Of course, before the debate, Ham and Nye flipped a coin to see who would speak first, and we can deduce that Ham’s luck in this department is a sign from God, and His hinting that evolution and gay marriage don’t really exist. In case, however, you’re wondering what Bill Nye the Heretic Warlock had to say, here are some of our favorite quotes from the 2 ½ hour debate.
In his opening statement, wherein Nye sexily invokes CSI to prove that we came from apes, but misses a golden opportunity to talk about Russell Crow’s upcoming portrayal of Noah: “On CSI, there is no distinction made between historical science and observational science. These are constructs unique to Mr. Ham. We don’t normally have these anywhere in the world, except [the US]. Natural laws that applied in the past apply now. That’s why they’re natural laws, that’s why we embrace them. CSI is a fictional show but it’s based on real people doing real work. When you go to a crime scene, and find evidence, you have clues about the past, and you trust those clues and you embrace them, and you move forward to convict somebody. Mr. Ham and his followers have this remarkable view of a worldwide flood that influenced everything we know now. A 500-foot wooden boat, eight zookeepers, 14,000 individuals, every land plant in the world under water for a full year. I ask us all, is that really reasonable? You’ll hear a lot about the Grand Canyon, I imagine, which is a remarkable place, and it has fossils, and the fossils in the Grand Canyon are found in layers. There is not a single place in the Grand Canyon where the fossils of one type of animal cross over into the fossils of another. In other words, when there was a big flood on the earth, you would expect drowning animals to swim up to a higher level. Not any one of them did. Not a single one. If you could find evidence of that, my friends, you could change the world.”
In which Nye tries to keep us from having to use rosaries as Google-Glass eyeglass chains: “What keeps the United States ahead, what makes the United States a world leader, is our technology. If we continue to eschew science, and try to divide science between observational science and ‘historical science,’ we are not going to move forward, we will not embrace natural laws, we will not make discoveries, we will not invent.”
In which Nye accidentally brings about a tree genocide committed by spiritually confused adolescents: “There’s a famous tree in Sweden — Old Tjikko — that’s [over 9,000] years old. How could these trees be there if there was an enormous flood just 4,000 years ago? You can try this yourself, everybody — and I don’t mean to be mean to trees – get a sapling, and put it under water for a year. It will not survive.”
On the questionability of a land-bridge or oceanic kangaroos: “This giant boat — this very large wooden ship — [allegedly] went aground safely on a mountain in what we now call the Middle East, and so places like Australia now are populated by animals that somehow managed to get from the Middle East all the way to Australia in the last 4,000 years. Now that, to me, is an extraordinary claim. Somewhere between the middle East and Australia, we would expect to find evidence of kangaroos!”
In response to Ham’s assertion that the finding of old rocks atop young trees undermines all scientific dating methods: “If you find 45 million year old rock on top of 45000 year old trees, maybe the rock slid on top. [Makes “duh” gesture] Maybe that’s it. That seems a much more reasonable explanation than ‘it’s impossible.’”
To Ham, in response to the notion that the Bible is a more apt scientific text than, you know, a science book: “I understand that you take the Bible, as written in English, translated many many times over the last three millennia as to be a more accurate, more reasonable assessment of the natural laws we see around us than what I and everybody in here can observe. That, to me, is unsettling.”
In response to the notion that animals were vegetarian before sin entered the equation, leading them to become carnivorous: “Were the fish sinners?”
Debating Ham’s claim that science shouldn’t apply to the past: “You can’t observe the past? That’s all we do in astronomy, that’s what it is — looking at the past. By the way, you’re looking at the past right now. The speed of light bounces off of me and gets to your eyes. And I’m delighted to see that the people in the back of the room appear [makes minute gesture] just that much younger than the people in the front.”
Getting rightfully huffy at the cyclicality of the debate: “I don’t see how we’re ever going to agree if you suggest that natural laws have changed. It’s magical.”
Whipping out his knowledge of feline dentistry: “Your assertion that all the animals were vegetarians before they got on the arc, that’s remarkable. I haven’t spent a lot of time with lions, but I can tell you that they’ve got teeth that aren’t set up for broccoli. I give you lion’s teeth, you give me verses translated over 30 centuries.”
Suggesting that Ham’s a megalomaniac: “I want everybody to consider the implications of… [accepting] Mr. Ham’s point of view, that the Bible, as translated into American English serves as a science text, and that he and his followers will interpret that for you, I want you to understand what that means. It means that Mr. Ham’s word, or his interpretation of his other words, is somehow to be more respected than what you can find in nature.”
In which Nye makes all writers of Nye/Sagan erotic fan-fic swoon: “As my old professor Carl Sagan said so often, ‘When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.’ And I base my beliefs on the information and the process that we call science. It fills me with joy to make discoveries every day of things I’ve never seen before. It fills me with joy to know that we can pursue these answers. It is an astonishing thing that we are — you and I are one of the ways the universe knows itself.”
Concluding by appealing to the competitive nature of Americans: “I want to close by reminding everybody what’s at stake here. If we abandon all that we’ve learned… if we abandon the process by which we know it… if we stop looking for the next answer, we in the United States will be out-competed by other countries, other economies. That would be okay, I guess, but I was born here, I’m a patriot, and so we have to embrace science education. We have to keep science education in science.”