“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Bill Nye the Science Guy vs. Ken Ham the Creationist Bloke

Whatever you do, don’t go watch the entirety of the three hour debate that Bill Nye and Ken Ham just had at the Creationist Museum in Kentucky. Total waste of time. If you are interested in the “Science and Religion” dialogue, do watch at least the last 4 minutes. Here is a link. Fast forward to 2 hours and 38 minutes and listen to Ken Ham profess his faith in the creation story of the Bible, followed by Bill Nye’s inspiring scientific rhapsody about our place in the cosmos.
Overall, I think Nye did a great job remaining reasonable in an impossible conversation. But then at about 2:41 you’ll hear the same defense of science Nye repeated all night (my summation): “yeah, yeah, aside from being true, the universe story is emotionally thrilling and wonderful and all that–but ultimately the reason we should teach it to our kids is that it will make the American economy more competitive.”
So there you have it. The take home message of this very well publicized and widely watched debate is that, when it comes down to it, science is better than religion because it will make the resolution on our smart phone cameras a megapixel or two higher every few months.
Nye is a great communicator of science, but what worries me is how easily he was able to marshall evolutionary cosmology as an apology for industrial capitalism. It worries me because I don’t want the universe story to be co-opted by the techno-capitalist narrative of endless growth and progress.
Where does Nye go wrong? How is someone so committed to doing something about the ecological crisis so blind to the role of techno-capitalism in creating the problem in the first place? The religion of capitalism is just as absurd and in fact way more destructive than that of creationism.
It seems to me that we (the spiritual “post-nihilists,” if I may) need to shift the cultural conversation in a different direction, a direction as far away as possible from the sensationalized dichotomy “materialism v. creationism” that gets most of the air-time these days.What would this new sort of conversation sound like? I wonder how Nye (and Ham for that matter) would react to the cosmologist Brian Swimme‘s “The Journey of the Universe” film.

If anyone else didn’t read my advice in time and suffered through the whole debate, or if you just watched the last 4 minutes as I suggested, I’d be curious to hear your reactions.



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10 responses to “Bill Nye the Science Guy vs. Ken Ham the Creationist Bloke”

  1. Paw Son Avatar

    I’ve watched only the last four minutes because on the whole I’m fed up with both atheistic scientism and “Creationism” thought by American fundamentalists and some Evangelicals, which imo are scattered bs without any fundamental philosophical reflection.

  2. William@TWG Avatar

    What else could Nye have said in defense of science that wouldn’t have added so much controversy that it might have derailed the discussion entirely?

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      What could he have said to Ken Ham? I don’t think there is any point in debating him in the first place. I think Ham’s outright dismissal of what he calls “historical science” is unwarranted, but on the other hand he does have a point regarding the historical emergence of natural science out of some rather Christian metaphysical assumptions. It’s my opinion that contemporary science needs to re-examine its classical metaphysical foundations to avoid falling victim to some of Ham’s criticisms about the origin of laws of nature and logic, etc. Scientific materialism owes more to a supernaturalist worldview than is usually acknowledged. I hope to make a video soon that addresses this issue.

      1. William@TWG Avatar

        I don’t know if you were ever a serious Christian (Evangelical or otherwise), but that place can be an intellectual ghetto. I didn’t read anything significant about evolution or the age of the earth until I was 21. If a few hundred in the crowd engage in some reading later maybe Nye figured it was worth it.

  3. William@TWG Avatar

    Also, what do you recommend reading about alternatives to capitalism?

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Start with Herman Daly and John Cobb’s book “For the Common Good”: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0807047058

  4. Dean Avatar

    Reblogged this on Re(-)petitions and commented:
    My thoughts exactly–Matthew Segall does a great job explaining the real problem in the Nye/Ham debate. In the end, capitalism reconciles every opposite.

  5. posthumousman Avatar

    Slavoj Zizek and Alain Badiou suggest the ideological struggle of our time is not that between materialism versus spiritualism/religious fundamentalism/whatever, but between two forms of materialism, democratic versus dialectical. Democratic would refer to a type of materialism following Fukayama’s End of History logic, and dialectical, of course, would follow the path of German Idealism and its inheritors.

  6. Joy Margo Avatar

    Matthew, first off, I found your discussion of cognitive science/neurophenomenology/intersection with whitehead really fascinating and hope you write more on the topic and in general.

    Secondly, I’d like to add that Nye also made an appearance in the Gate’s foundation newsletter, representing “science” and made what in my view (as a researcher in antibiotic science and having worked briefly on a Gate’s connected project for HIV) were some highly questionable assertions on infectious disease. One such insinuation was that the category of infectious disease was like a list to be crossed off – ironically, like a creationist’s categories of static “kinds”, another that climate change does not and will not significantly tax the economy.

    I too would like to know how to “bridge the gap” so to speak. A democratization of the sciences and a greater emphasis on aesthetics, maybe.

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