Ham on Nye: Beyond the Debate

Having been party to an extremely brief and insignificant debate with Ken Ham in these pages over the account of his Creation Museum in my 2011 book Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden, I can attest that to him the facts matter not, the debate is all. Having followed Ham’s organization Answers in Genesis for several years, which duly notes any speaker or supporter with so much as a PhD in electrical engineering, I can also imagine just how big a grin was on Ham’s face when Bill Nye, one of science’s biggest public faces, accepted an invitation to a now-infamous debate at the Creation Museum.

To Ham and other young-earth creationists, the semblance of science is of prime importance. That’s what all that “teach the controversy” is about. Except there isn’t a controversy to teach, just pseudoscience with political motivations, as our friends at Religion Dispatches have been articulating for years. None of that should really be news to anyone at this point.

So while I’d like to give poor, naïve, bespectacled Bill Nye a hug and a shot of whiskey or something for bravely surviving the debate, I can’t help thinking that the inevitable media flurry of back and forth between “creationists” and “evolutionists” is just perpetuating that false controversy. There are subjects that benefit from debate, surely, but this isn’t one of them. Neither, as Nathan Schneider wrote here recently, is the existence or non-existence of God. Nobody wins, and an opportunity for real discussion is obscured in the theatrical smokescreen of who “won” or “lost.”

Bill Nye, may God bless him, says that he agreed to participate in this debate to call attention to the need for better science education in the United States. In that spirit, I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to my favorite science educator, one who has been operating as a peacemaker in the science-and-religion culture wars for years as a professor of science education at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

You heard me, Alabama. Dr. Meadows began to hear from elementary-school science teachers that their evangelical students come into class terrified to learn the theory of evolution; or even come to class armed with tracts from their church. For those teachers, Meadows wrote The Missing Link: An Inquiry Approach to Teaching Evolution for All Students.

That “all” is key. Meadows has come under fire from scientists for appearing to take the beliefs of creationists seriously; and from fundamentalists for not being one; actually what Meadows takes seriously is kids, who deserve to be taught science without fear no matter what religious background they come from. His appropriately titled blog “Never Give In” follows education regulation in Alabama, and you can hear his inspiring TEDx Birmingham talk here.

Rather than two people at battling podiums, Meadows is for small groups of students, working together in a question-based investigations of evolutionary questions in the classroom.While we all work to make sure that the political aspirations of creationism and its cousin, climate-science denial, continue to lose influence in the halls of power, let’s support Lee Meadows in his quiet quest to reduce the harm already done by this unending culture war.

Brook Wilensky-Lanford is the author of Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden (Grove Press, 2011). An editor of Killing the Buddha, she lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Follow Brook on Twitter: @modmyth