In an article on Ars Technica, Ham on Nye: The high cost of “winning” an evolution/creation debate Nate Anderson presents the case that debating with Young Earth Creationists (YEC’s) is a losing strategy.
It appears the greatest fear of mainstream scientists is that by appearing with YEC’s they will somehow legitimize that worldview.
To make this point, Anderson presents several arguments by scientists and science writers, like the following:
“Scientists should not debate creationists. Period,” wrote Dan Arel in a piece published on the Richard Dawkins Foundation website last month. “Creationism is a worthless and uneducated position to hold in our modern society and Nye is about to treat it as an equal, debatable ‘controversy’.”
I don’t agree.
I agree it is true that Creationism is not a scientific viewpoint, but the fact remains that a large percentage of people believe it. If one ever hopes to improve scientific literacy, one must be willing to “evangelize” the great unwashed. Arel’s position reeks of arrogance. Looking down your nose in condescension is utterly useless as a means of changing the viewpoints of those holding a “worthless and uneducated” position.
To fear “legitimizing” ridiculous viewpoints by talking to those who hold them is irrational. Ignorance is defeated by intelligence; and that can only happen through dialogue. Silence does nothing except highlight the scientific community’s inability to educate regular people.
True, you’ll probably never convince the committed advocates of the opposition. But winning is not the point. Getting the message to those on the fence, or willing to fairly consider alternatives should be the focus.
I think of all the people who watched the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, there were undoubtedly some who were (or will eventually be) swayed towards the naturalist position. It was to those people that Nye was reaching out.
In religious circles, it’s called “planting seeds.” Nye may never see his arguments take root, but by interacting with creationists, he has most certainly placed ideas in some minds that will someday flower into nascent critical thinking. Who knows where that will lead?
One thing is certain. By ignoring what we think are ridiculous ideas, we give them freedom to grow.
We need more Bill Nye’s reaching out to the world without condescension or arrogance; and enlightening the masses through respectful and creative dialogue.