Update (02/04/2014 6:40 pm EST): The debate has started. To follow, scroll down for live updates and/or just click here to watch the debate live on HuffPost Science.
The highly anticipated debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham isn't scheduled to begin until 7 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Feb. 4. But scientists are already sounding off about the appropriateness of the debate, in which America's beloved "Science Guy" will defend evolution--a theory universally accepted as fact among mainstream scientists--against the dogma of young-earth creationism.
"I am thrilled that people will clearly see the contrast between a Biblical creation view and an atheistic evolutionary one," Dr. David DeWitt, director of the Center for Creation Studies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., said in a written statement. "This will be a very well watched debate and I think there will be people surprised at how much evidence there really is that supports creation."
But as you might expect, mainstream scientists aren't inclined to agree with DeWitt, given his affiliation with a conservative religious institution whose mission is "to research, promote, and communicate a robust young-Earth creationist view of Earth history."
Dr. Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, called the debate "pointless and counterproductive'' in an article posted on his popular blog, Why Evolution Is True.
"If Nye wants to further acceptance of evolution, he should just continue to write and talk about the issue on his own, and not debate creationists," he wrote. "By so doing, he gives them credibility simply by appearing beside them on the platform."
Coyne's comments echo those made by Dr. Richard Dawkins, the world-renowned evolutionary biologist and a public intellectual who has made it his policy to reject invitations to debate creationists.
"Inevitably, when you turn down the invitation you will be accused of cowardice, or of inability to defend your own beliefs," Dawkins wrote in a 2006 article entitled Why I Won't Debate Creationists. "But that is better than supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science."
Whether or not Ham's views find much of this oxygen during the debate, there's little doubt that they lie far outside the scientific realm. According to NBC News, Ham believes that Genesis is literally true--that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days--and that the universe is about 6,000 years old. But overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old.
Complicating matters for Ham is the fact that, according to a 2013 telephone survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Americans say that "humans and other living things have evolved over time."
Still, Coyne acknowledged his concern that Nye might run into trouble when he squares off against Ham at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. on Tuesday night. Coyne wrote on his blog that he was convinced Ham was preparing furiously for the "Ham on Nye" debate, adding that "I pray* that Nye is doing likewise."
What's the asterisk for? At the bottom of the post, Coyne--like Dawkins, an atheist--explained:
"I am praying metaphorically."
"The 'debate' largely focused on science vs creationism rather than evolution vs creationism. There was a lot about estimates of the age of the earth and geology. Not enough about the molecular, fossil, ecological, behavioral and experimental evidence for evolution. Many people might argue that it's pointless to debate someone like Ham. That's true, in that his beliefs are entrenched and he will not accept evidence that contradict them. However this is not for him. If others (especially children) who have never heard any counter-arguments to new-Earth creationist theology were exposed to something new today that made them re-think what they've been taught, then it's worth it." -- Dr. James Higham of New York University's Department of Anthropology
"I was very surprised by how Biblical/religious Ham went - usually the creationists/ID people try to hide behind the veneer of fairness, inquiry, etc." -- Dr. Todd Disotell
"Everything in the Bible that fits Ken Ham's current viewpoints is fact. Bill Nye confirms that the Earth is in fact ancient. I'm still stuck on Ham's acceptance of his 'kinds.' This 1) represents an emphasis on types, not variation, and therefore is the wrong way to think about things, including human variation and the exact thing that Ham attempted to pin on evolutionists-- race-- and 2) suggests to me that Ham is only a small step away from abandoning creationism and accepting evolution (although I'm sure he would never admit that)-- his giant leap was accepting that similar species can be descended from a common ancestor-- it's only one small step to the acceptance of humans as part of the animal kingdom." -- Dr. Scott Williams, assistant professor at New York University's Center for the Study of Human Origins
Nye defeats Ham by: posing better questions, emotional appeals, confidence, staying on debate topic #creationdebate— justin barnard (@justinbarnard) February 5, 2014
Bill Nye is a wonderful communicator of science, a fairly good debater, and a terrible judge of whether a joke will land. #creationdebate— Matt Kirshen (@mattkirshen) February 5, 2014
Bill Nye: "We have to keep science education in science classes."
children. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)
"Ham: 'I don't know of any other religion where the religious text starts like this one.' Ummm, I'm pretty sure the Old Testament is not restricted to Christianity..." -- -- Dr. James Higham of New York University's Department of Anthropology
"'Survival of the fittest'-- that's almost as bad as the phrase 'missing link.' Let's not resurrect these misnomers and misapplied phrases." -- Dr. Scott Williams, assistant professor at New York University's Center for the Study of Human Origins
Nye taking Ham to task for cherry picking the bible 'fact' vs 'poetry'. Nye is having smoked Ham for dinner. #hamonnye— Chris London (@chris_london) February 5, 2014
Science and religion compatible? Bill Nye should've asked for definition of god #creationdebate— David W. Freeman (@davyfreeman) February 5, 2014
What if some zeros fell off bible scrolls & it says earth is 6,000,000,000 yrs old. Ham gone be so mad when he get to heaven #creationdebate— DNLee (@DNLee5) February 5, 2014
Member of Center for Inquiry: "It means he picks and chooses what he wants"
"It's a long time since they discussed evolution. They've been focused for a long time on geology and physics - the age of the Earth, the Universe, plate tectonics....is this what the creation vs evolution debate is actually about then?" -- Dr. James Higham of New York University's Department of Anthropology
"Ken Ham is the worst kind of Creationist-- the kind that makes his fellow Christians feel guilty for being logical and accepting evolution and/or the ancient age of the earth." -- Dr. Scott Williams, assistant professor at New York University's Center for the Study of Human Origins
This question means everything. Ken said NOTHING would change his mind, and Bill said simple evidence would. #creationdebate— Emma (@EmmaMammaJamma) February 5, 2014
Crowd at Center for Inquiry live-stream viewing party cheers and says "Thank you" in response to Bill Nye's comment, "The earth is not a closed system."
If Ken Ham doesn't "believe" in evolution - can he please stop using modern medicine that depends on bacterial mutations? #creationdebate— Bhaswati Chattopadhy (@BhaswatiChat) February 5, 2014
"Oldest rocks on earth, not asteroids, dated to almost 4.5 billion years old." -- Dr. Todd Disotell
Ham: what's the point of joy of discovery if when you're gone you're gone? good Q, but not a science Q #creationdebate— DNLee (@DNLee5) February 5, 2014
The combatants are still going strong two hours in.
Overheard: "You can believe the Bible is authoritative without being an idiot about it." #PubTheology— Bryan Berghoef (@bryberg) February 5, 2014
Is this really happening? in the 21st Century? Coming to a debate with ONLY a book w talking serpents, Noah's Ark vs. science?— Brian Malow (@sciencecomedian) February 5, 2014
"You can't observe the past, yet you are reading an ancient book?" -- Dr. Todd Disotell
An explanation of 'Weeds' from the museum. Before 'Adam's Sin,' no plants grew in inappropriate places:
This is just one big commercial for the Creation Museum. On that I gotta give Hamm credit for figuring out how to get free press..— ProfB (@AntheaButler) February 5, 2014