The Root of the Problem
There has been a lot of chatter in the past week over the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate that happened at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. From supporters and naysayers on both sides of the argument the debate has created a lot of buzz from mainstream media outlets and bloggers all over the world, eager to doll out a winner and critique the performance of both debaters. There were many critics of Bill Nye in the science world for even obliging Ken Ham in what many (including myself) saw as a fools errand. Typically the premise of any debate starts with a set of facts that we can universally agree upon and then the debate centers around the interpretation and conclusions drawn around said facts. However this “debate” fails to follow that basic construct as one person is making arguments based in evidence and the other is just spewing baseless proclamations.
The debate was widely criticized in the science world before it ever began, due to this discrepancy and the fact that it appears to give credence that Mr. Ham’s assertions are somehow on par with Nye’s. When there are trees older than what Ken Ham believes the age of the earth to be, it’s hard to take him seriously yet find reason to waste your breath debating him, however entertaining it may be.
Although after re-watching the debate for a second time I feel like the discussion was not a complete waste of time as it does provoke many interesting questions of faith vs. fact. Questions that may prompt audience members and listeners to probe further into topics they’ve never been exposed to or pondered. However at the heart of this debate and why I believe Bill Nye decided to take it on was to promote the importance of teaching real science within public education. Ken Ham clearly took on this debate to push his political agenda as he mentioned several times throughout the debate, his frustrations with getting the creationist point of view integrated within school curriculum. Prior to the debate he is quoted in an interview with CNN stating the following.
“Most students are presented only with the evolutionary belief system in their schools, and they are censored from hearing challenges to it. Let our young people understand science correctly and hear both sides of the origins issue and then evaluate them.”
Getting Science Education Back on Track
Ham may be a little off his rocker but he’s by no means a dumb person. Creationists like Ken Ham understand that they’re not going to dissuade anyone in the scientific community that the bible is somehow a better source of scientific truth that what we can measure and observe in our own backyards. The purpose of these kinds of public displays is to rather build a case for getting their religions viewpoints integrated into the broader education system, thus influencing the least likely demographic to think for themselves; Children.
According to a report published by PISA [Program for International Student Assessment] the US is significantly down in math, science, and reading. When compared to other industrialized nations we are one of the lowest performing countries within these subjects, coming in at the bottom of the list. According to Paul Peterson, the director of Program Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School, beyond bringing up a generation of ill-informed youths these kinds of results will also yield a very tangible economic impact. If figures continue to trend this way we will eventually forgo about a half percent of the GDP growth in future times. As we move forward and attempt to compete and interact with a global economy in the years to come these kinds of educational results will really start to poorly impact our already fledgling numbers in these crucial subjects.
There are obviously many factors that contribute to teaching sound science in schools including state and local systems of education, the federal government, teachers unions, etc. Many things need to improve in order to help get test scores higher and prepare our kids to compete in a more skilled and specialized workforce of the future. So when creationists like Ken Ham are given a public soapbox to attempt to push their nonsensical fantasies within classroom curriculum, it is detracting and not adding to the conversation. Creationists will whine saying it is only fair to include faith into science classrooms along side facts rooted in evidence, for the purposes of “teaching the controversy.” Yet from these dismal statistics in science, math, and reading it is clear to see that we don’t have time to waste going off on classroom tangents for the sake of being “fair” to every Ken Ham out there.
What do you think? We’d love to hear you sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!