When I heard about Bill Nye the Science Guy's plans to debate Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, I thought it sounded like a publicity stunt on both ends.
What would we gain listening to a children's television personality argue Darwin with a man certain dinosaurs and man coexisted? For those who believe one way or the other, evolution and creationism are sacred truths, not political debate.
Scientists also bristled about the impending debate, insisting Nye, a mechanical engineer by degree, lacked the qualifications to speak on behalf of their esteemed community. Why give credit to a mythology when science is infallible, said many, including Richard Dawkins.
On the other hand, creationists seemed excited by the idea, viewing it as a platform.
"All this achieves is to give creationism some sort of credence that it does not deserve," said Jonathan Smith, co-founder of Florida Citizens for Science, a group dedicated to improving science education.
Regardless, on Tuesday night, Nye and Ham took to podiums at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., prepared to answer the question: Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?
The debate, which streamed live online, began with opening five minute statements, followed by 30 minute individual presentations and subsequent rebuttals. It lasted 2 1/2 hours. More than 800 people attended. Ham won a coin toss and spoke first.
"I believe the word science has been hijacked by secularists," Ham said.
Ham said there are two types of science: observational and historical. In regards to the latter, creationists believe the world is 6,000 years old. They accept Scriptures such as the story of Noah's flood as fact. Still both creationist and evolutionists use observational science to make advancements in the modern world, Ham said. He presented scientists who believe in the young earth model, including Raymond Vahan Damadian, the inventor of magnetic resonance imaging or MRI.
Students are being indoctrinated by naturalists, Ham said, ultimately leading them away from biblical teachings on issues including marriage and abortion.
Yes, he went there.
Nye, wearing his signature bow tie, argued that scientific findings make Ham's theories implausible. His topics ranged from minnows reproducing to stars, radioactive decay and the fossil record. In response to a statement Ham made that disease came as a result of Adam and Eve and original sin, Nye asked, "Were the fish sinners?" He called the idea disturbing.
"Please, you don't want to raise a generation of science students who don't understand how we know our place in the cosmos, who don't understand natural law," Nye said.
"Nature is bottom up," he later said. "It's compelling and complex, and it fills me with joy and it's inconsistent with the top down view."
The debate sparked a, well, debate among my religiously diverse female friends.
"The fact that there is even a debate is crazy," said Summer Blankenship. "Science is based on facts, evidence, research and data. When 99.9 percent of science agrees, you don't get two sides. You get a very probable majority and a very illogical minority."
"I am not swayed," said Megan Ross McLemore, who attends First Baptist Church of Temple Terrace. "I am very sound in my beliefs. If it's only 99.9 percent proven, 0.1 percent should be researched with an open mind."
Following the webcast, Jonathan Smith said Nye did better than he and fellow scientists expected.
"Did anyone win?" Smith said. "I think Ken Ham failed to answer any of Bill Nye's questions. … Ham's mind-set is that he has all the answers in his book and then he tries to fit his world view to match the book. That's not how science works.
"Bottom line for me and many of my colleagues — Nye cooked the Ham."
True or not, a recorded 250,000 people visit the Creation Museum each year.
The 27,000-square-foot facility features dozens of exhibits, from dinosaur bones to a planetarium, designed to debunk evolutionary science.
According to an advertisement preceding Tuesday's webcast, children will love it.
Sarah Whitman can be reached at [email protected]