Bill Nye vs Ken Ham Post Debate Wrap Up: The Holy Ghost of Carl Sagan Moves Among Them

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Last night was the controversial debate between international science superstar Bill Nye the Science Guy and international man of ridicule Ken Ham.  You might have noticed I live blogged the debate as it was happening.  That was quite an interesting experience, and I wasn’t sure at the time what I would have to say that I didn’t say more concisely in a timestamped one liner.

So I sat with it.

I feel before I go on that I should reveal that I am not really on either side here.  I firmly agree with Mr. Nye that science should be taught in science classrooms, and that it is a failure, not only of our education but our competitive spirit to allow religion of any brand to bully its way into the minds of kids dressed as anything other than what it is.

However, like Mr. Ham, I don’t have any strong objection to the idea existing that an Intelligent Designer might have had a hand in setting this whole circus we call reality in motion.  I think such ideas are better discussed in philosophy classes or humanities, or even metaphysics.  That’s about as close as I can come to Mr. Ham, and as kind as I’m likely to be to him in the remainder of this wrap-up.

The more I sat with the debate, the more what really stood out to me was the compassion with which Bill Nye treated the whole affair.  He was cordial but firm, and he used his time at the podium rarely to attack the ideas of creationism and more to point out the wonder and complexity of the world revealed by science.  His simple question, throughout the entire night, was “can your ideas reveal the same wonder, and lead us to discover new wonders, with any reliability?”

I think we all knew that neither side in this debate was going to win, partially because reconciliation between the two is all but impossible because they do not rely upon the same measure of truth.  Mr. Nye relies upon testable data and watching whether ideas are useful in predicting undiscovered natural phenomena.  He is comfortable with uncertainty (a fact he displayed over and over again during the question and answer phase where his answer was as often as not “I have no idea!  Isn’t that exciting?  You’ve just asked a great question!  Maybe a kid from your state might one day find out the answer??”)

Contrasting that is Mr. Ham, whose premise is that all the answers ultimately are the same, which is “God did it”, and that uncertainty is detrimental to the fabric of society.  The fundamental and irreconcilable difference between the two positions is that one treats questions as indications you are making progress, and the other classifies questions into those which are permitted and those which are dangerous.

However, I continue to come back to Mr. Nye’s compassion.  I was stunned when during his closing statement, as he quoted his mentor Carl Sagan casually and without credit, saying, “We are a way for the universe to know itself” that I had tears in my eyes.  It was then that I began to suspect why Mr. Nye had arrived on that stage, and why he spent his time mostly offering new information, rather than directly attacking his opponent.

Bill Nye didn’t come for the creationists.  He came for their children.

Let me state that in a way that sounds less creepy.  What Mr Nye’s stated reason for engaging in the debate was to bring a spotlight to the critical importance of science education to the future of America.  He repeatedly stated that in order to stay at the forefront of innovation and industry, our young people would have to embrace and be inspired by science.

And then he spent almost every moment on that stage holding out the hand of opportunity to his opponents, saying, “Come with me!  We’ll figure it out together!”

I was raised in a pretty Christian home.  I wouldn’t say it was “crazy” but I know that as a young Christian I would probably have been made to watch this debate at some point, by my parents, by my church, or through a Christian media outlet.  Because Mr. Nye was so kind and so neutral, these Christian outlets will feel comfortable showing their kids the debate.  Whereas had he been brutal the debate might have just gone into an archive.  But now, what I predict will happen is that an entire generation of kids raised in homes that treat intellectualism like a corrosive acid to the mind who might not otherwise be permitted to be exposed to the complex and marvelous world of science Mr. Nye holds up will get that taste, and in turn, be able to ask the hard questions that lead to discovery.

Bill Nye swallowed his pride as a scientist to do exactly what a science educator is supposed to do: he inspired minds.  He didn’t express vitriol, he didn’t treat his opponent with disrespect, he didn’t come armed for bear with a bullet for every argument presented by Ken Ham.

He came with the wonder of science, and the questions that make that wonder possible, and held out a hand to everyone in that room, and everyone watching.

Contrast this to what Mr. Ham used his time to do.  From the beginning Mr Ham’s agenda was clear.  Rather than answering the question of the sufficiency of creationist worldviews to predict and meaningfully contribute to scientific advancement, he used his time to prove two things: Creationists are being persecuted unjustly, and evolution is a religion not a science.  He used his time as a platform, not for scientific inquiry, but for politician style stumping.

It wasn’t surprising at all.  It wasn’t a shock that he couldn’t answer the questions the moderator, the audience, and Nye himself asked of him.  But I think it is useful to point out some repetitive flaws in Mr. Ham’s reasoning.  I do this so that one day, if someone is looking for cogent critiques of the debate, they have a record not just that Mr. Ham was wrong, but the way in which his REASONING went wrong.

I do this because I am not a scientist but I love science.  I am a writer, and a rhetorician, and this is the best contribution I can make to this debate.  My own mentor, a brilliant woman (and incidentally a Christian), Trish Roberts-Miller, spends most of her time researching and interacting with some of the most heinous arguments and reasoning on the planet.  She publishes book on Pro-Slavery rhetoric and Nazis.  And do you know what she taught me?  The answer to bad rhetoric is not to silence it.  The answer is more rhetoric.  Bad speech should be responded to with good speech.

This is my attempt at good speech in response to Ken Ham.

Read my critique after the jump

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The Rhetoric Guy Live Blogs Bill Nye vs Ken Ham

Hey Readers!

[SCROLL DOWN FOR LIVE BLOG]

[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.

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Is Merida From Pixar’s Brave The Worst Role Model For Girls Ever?

 

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Dear Reader,

The answer to the question in the title of my blog post is: No, but she is pretty bad.  Lemme set up the question first though.

I was thinking about the Disney Princess catalog recently due to an article someone posted on my wall about how Drag Queens make better role models for young girls than Princesses.

Drag Professors at RuPaul's Drag U!

Drag Professors at RuPaul’s Drag U!

It’s a sentiment I definitely have some agreement with.  I think Drag Queens are amazing, I’m looking into the possibility of becoming one myself, and RuPaul is basically my Oprah.  However, this put me in mind of the state of literature for young girls overall, and the article raised the specter of some troubling thoughts I’ve had recently regarding role models for young girls.

Specifically, what I have noticed, is that in much of the newest media, a female heroine is not highly thought of (by the sorts of people who make pronouncements about what female heroines are good and bad for girls to view) unless she is, for lack of a better word, butch.  The girls these days have to be as tough as boys, as outdoorsy as boys, as athletic as boys, as crude as boys.  It’s like all the female heroines suddenly have to be Hyenas (if you don’t get that reference, go google Hyena clitoris.  I’ll wait.)

Case in point...

Case in point…

It was something that I started thinking about, honestly though, after I saw the Pixar film Brave in theaters.  I dug up a rant I posted to my writing group about the film, and I’m polishing it up and posting it here.  It is a little late to the party, but I’d like to express the opinion nevertheless.  To see the thoughts, hit the jump! Continue reading

Time Enough To Be Fantastic: A Letter to 20 and 40 from 30

A brief note to readers:

This is my first post in some time.  It is a personal post, and I don’t expect many of you to finish it.  But it is my own choice.  My own decision of how to spend the last moments of my twenties, and the first of my thirties.  I post it here not so much for you, but for me.  Because for me, saying it out loud makes it so much more real.  Thank you for all your support.  But first!  Pics of my twenties for those of you who want something…visual.

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Dear Self,

I wanted to take this time for us, you and I.  There is just enough time, I think, for one more deed, one more musing, one final communication from our twenties.  This post is written in that last moment, the twilight between the decade that was and the decade that is dawning.  I chose to write it because I have been thinking recently, about us, the old me and the new me, and the me that is.  And I think it is quite natural, when all is said and done, to face the question of “What have I done with my time?” or “Has my life been worth something?”

That’s a complex question for us, I don’t have to tell you.  And I know that we’ve been caught up recently in what we like to say is “planning for the future”.  But of course, we both know what we’re really doing when we are “planning for the future”; we’re judging our past.  We’re looking to avoid repeating mistakes already made, or to improve on previous successes.  It isn’t even unreasonable to want to be better tomorrow than you were yesterday.  But there’s something nasty lurking underneath those plans isn’t there?

So, I’ve decided, me, that the very last act we take in our twenties, and the very first in our thirties will be one of love.  Love of self.  Because the truth is, we deserve to be loved.  And that is such an important change from where we were back at nineteen wasn’t it? Continue reading

An Open Letter to DC Comics RE: Superman and Orson Scott-Card.

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(**NOTE:  This letter is in address to DC Comics decision to hire Orson Scott Card to write the Superman comic series.  At the time of this publication, Mr. Card was an outspoken anti-gay activist, and the letter addresses this.  Also, as a point of ethics, when I wrote this I did not realize how small Mr. Card’s purported involvement with the Superman franchise was, and have since discovered he will only be a small guest author for a side series.  However, I stand by my statements still)

Dear DC Comics,

I’m writing to you to discuss your decision to hire Orson Scott Card as a writer in charge of some of your Superman titles.  I have to admit I am a little bit conflicted.  But before I talk about that, I want to be clear about what I intend this letter to do.  I don’t want this letter simply to be another protesting email you receive.  I want this letter to start a conversation, somewhere, within your organization.  I want my conflict to become your conflict, because I think we can fight together, not against one another.  But, in the end, that is up to you.

Let’s get this out of the way first: I’m gay.  More than that, I am a gay consumer of your media products.  When I was young, I’ll even confess that I often stole your products from Grocery Stores and Comic Stores and Garage Sales; that was because I grew up without a lot of extra money, raised by a single mom, in a pretty religious home.  But your comics were some of the only fantastical things I was permitted to own, and my mom never could keep track of how many I was supposed to have.  I also want you to know that I apologized to the star superhero of every comic I ever stole or read without buying as a child, because I knew they wouldn’t approve of my actions.

I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that I am not just some gay guy who is generically appalled, for political or moral reasons, that a major corporation would hire someone as openly anti-rights as Mr. Card is.  I want you to know that I am a gay man, who from the time I was very smallest, believed that super heroes really do matter.  I believe, like so many other children and adults do, that the make-believe worlds populated by grown men and women in silly outfits with outlandish powers, is actually a deeply important part of our cultural identity.  I believe what you do is important, is what I’m trying to say.

So, you hired Orson Scott Card; to write what is, ostensibly, your flagship character (although I can feel Batman fans bristling).  And of course, I have a reaction.  Orson Scott Card is notoriously anti-gay.  He once sat on the board of directors for NOM, the National Organization for Marriage, he penned this essay (which seems to be about courts taking away democratic process, but spends an awful lot of time after that “proving” why gay’s aren’t normal and why gay relationships don’t qualify as marriages).  In a response to criticisms of that essay, he has been quoted, regarding gays and the idea of their legal right to marry, as saying:

“Inclusion” is an empty word when used as a general virtue. Its value depends entirely on what is and is not included. Every inclusion of one group is an exclusion of another. I think even Mr. Herman would agree with me that there are certain groups that should be perpetually excluded from civilized society. Where we differ is only on our list of those groups, not on the principle.”

Of course, what he means in this statement is that, in his worldview, gays should be perpetually excluded from civilized society.

I want to be fair to Mr. Card here though.  I know that he personally does not “agree” with what I would define as my “humanity”, and that in his world view I am not deserving of the legitimate rights afforded people who contribute to meaningfully to society.  But his protestations to the legalization of gay marriage seem to stem more, in his reasoning, from the perspective that courts and single individuals should not mandate major changes to our American society, no matter how “good” those changes seem.  And further, that if gay marriage is to be included in our society it should find its way there through the legal action of Congress and voters.  As a result of that view, I can see why you might have chosen him to write Superman, who often has to deal with the ethical ramifications of individual liberty, democratic process, and the fair use of immense power.

Further, as a writer myself, I can even see how Mr. Card would be uniquely qualified to tell some really killer Superman stories.  He has the commercial success, and wealth of experience that might really reinvigorate the stories being told about one of the most iconic and beloved heroes of America and even the world. His own personal experiences and viewpoints would undoubtedly really inform and nuance his tales.  I think this is part of why you must have hired him, and why you have stood by your decision, carefully stating that the personal views of your employees are not the views of DC Comics.  I appreciate that statement.  I also appreciate the courage it has taken for you to include homosexual portrayals of your characters in your comics, which you have done to one degree or another since the late 1980s.

And as a writer, I can also reasonably look at the stories which are told about Superman, and I can see where Mr. Card’s viewpoints on homosexuality will probably never be something Superman is forced to face.  Believe it or not, even though my rights and my struggles are very important to me, and to those who care for me, I can see where they are not of overwhelming importance when faced with say, global poverty, or human trafficking  or North Korean nuclear armaments or, you know, super-villains   These are the sorts of challenges I expect Superman to face.  As a writer, I think having him become suddenly a champion for gay rights would feel contrived.  It could be done, if you wanted to.  I’d be thrilled if you did!  But I don’t think Superman’s story arc will necessarily put him on the path to the equal rights discussion.  So it stands to reason that Mr. Card’s views about people like me will likely never come out of Superman’s mouth.

Here is my conflict though. Continue reading