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[Stay tuned for a wrap up!]
A good friend of mine suggested that I put a little of my rhetoric muscle to use live blogging the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham in just a few hours.
Before I get started, you should know that I am a full time novelist with a degree in Rhetoric and Writing from the University of Texas at Austin. I studied critical thinking, public argumentation, and persuasion during my time there, and I will be using those techniques here to comment on the debate as it happens, with a post-debate wrap-up to follow. Let’s start by looking at their opening salvos though.
Let’s begin with Bill Nye, who threw the first punch, arguably, with his video entitled “Creationism is Not Appropriate for Children” which you can see here:
Rhetoric Score: 89%
Why It Works: Bill Nye keeps the dialogue largely centered around himself and his own experiences. He presents his own beliefs, and the reasons he believes it is important to educate young thinkers to his way of thinking. He argues that it opens up certain understandings and advocates for moving forward from these understandings.
Why It Doesn’t Work: Nye does not do an adequate job of characterizing his opposition. He doesn’t address their position, and while you might argue that since he wasn’t intending debate but expression of position he was alleviated of the persuasional burden, I would judge that the original video was presented, from the title onward, as an attack on creationism, rather than a support of evolution education. That means that in order to be persuasive, Nye needed to spend time really ethically demonstrating that he understands and can address the concerns raised by creationists.
And now for Ken Ham and co.
Rhetoric Score: 47%
Why It Works: Ken Ham raises some interesting points. He demonstrates a strange understanding of Bill Nye, but at least he makes an attempt at ethical characterization of the opposition. He uses specific examples from Nye’s video and from Nye’s body of work to raise concerns about what Nye states, and he creates a useful distinction between historical science and observational science which surprises me in that it permits Nye to retain a modicum of respect (he knows this other KIND of science) without necessarily resorting to calling him a quack or an idiot.
Why It Doesn’t Work: The largest problem arises in the “so what” phase of the arguments presented here. I think there are some good points raised about History versus Observation, however the conclusions DRAWN from these concerns (IE that because there are problems with Evolution, Creationism deserves equal time) are not very sound. But because the concerns sound reasonable, the proposed solution does as well. However, by this same logic, ANY theory could be taught in the classroom so long as evidence against the prevailing theory were sound enough. What I’m saying is they don’t make an effective argument for why Creationism is the SOLUTION to their raised concerns. They just point out “here is a problem with Evolution, so Creationism should be taught side by side”. Also, they do not address the fact that Bill Nye is not making an argument that information about Creationism should be limited, but rather that is should not be taught alongside Science in the CLASSROOM. At no point does Nye state that he wants Creationism banned. He simply states that he wants to see science classrooms focused on science and the theory of evolution is a huge underpinning of science.
I could go on with problems with the reasoning of Ham, but I think the major rhetorically objectionable points have been made. Stay tuned for my live blog, which will begin at 7:00 PM EST.