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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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

5 Simple Things You Can Do To Ensure Your Writer (Or Artist) Friend Succeeds

Dear Readers,

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus recently.  Between finishing the first draft of Book One in The Marvelous Adventures of Sebastian Smith, and moving between states, I’ve been a little preoccupied.  However, I’ve also been doing a lot of learning about self-publishing, platform building, and the art of selling yourself in 2013 with the help of my brilliant Denver based Writer’s Group [Name and Website To Be Developed Soon]

It occurred to me, as I was doing all this lovely learning, that a bunch of this information would be very useful to provide to the people who support my career and my success.  There are plenty of simple actions that they can take which they might not realize have become very important in the current wave of social and technical revolution.

It also occurred to me that there are probably a ton of people out there who love and support a writer or an artist that might not know the best way to help them succeed, or even that they themselves are a critical part of that success.  So I’ve put together a handy dandy list of five simple things you can do for your writer friend that will make a huge difference in their success.

You may not realize it but you, YES YOU, every single person reading this, have the power to contribute to the success of your friends and family.  And it ain’t even gonna cost you a single dime, neither.

That’s right, none of these steps involve giving your friends money.  If you have money to give them, disregard this list and just go give them money.  Duh.

A Brief Word on Platforms

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No, I’m not talking about bitchin’ shoes.  I am talking about what every writer or artist or consultant or student or (really) person has to build in today’s interconnected work place.  Namely everyone needs a platform.  This is especially true for the creative type, who has droves of perfectly dandy work just sitting around collecting cyberdust on a hard drive somewhere.

What is a platform?

Platform is the word used for your combined social media presence.  It is how people find you and your work in the online environment.  It consists of loads of different pieces: Facebook author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs, Instagram, and any other subscription based social media outlet you can imagine for starters.  These things combined are the tower on which you stand to put your face above the sea of other faces in the crush of cyberspace.  And being seen directly correlates to being paid.  At least, if the work is good.  But the internet can’t really make your work good.  Well, ok, it can.  We’re splitting hairs here.

How does a platform work?

Platforms don’t necessarily work like you think they will.  Not everyone can aspire to be George Takei, lording over his monarchy on Facebook and getting 10,000 likes every time he so much as clicks a link.  And the good news is, a successful platform doesn’t have to be the best to bring success.  A successful platform is more like a good audition piece for a publisher or client.  It shows interested parties that more than just your mom and her cats think you have talent, and it shows that you are capable of  refining and leveraging your unique persona into a marketable format.  The critical levels vary based on your industry and who you talk to, but the important thing is that every creative type needs to have a significant social platform to stand on.  But those platforms are not in competition with each other.  They’re a threshold you have to pass, not a contest you have to win.

Anyway, on to the list!  To find out what you can do, hit the jump!

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Confessions of a Desperate Writer; Amazon and Integrity

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Dear Readers,

This week I have been very involved in work on my novel, so I haven’t been updating the blog much.  Even today, we’re taking a break from the DLWS curriculum to talk about something else that came up for me recently.

One of the reasons that I have been so focused on my novel, is because of a meeting I had recently with some folks called The Book Doctors.  I participated in Nanowrimo this year (National Write a Novel in a Month) and the folks at The Book Doctors offered a promotion, whereby if you purchased their book, The Essential Guide To Getting Your Book Published, they would include a free 20 minute consultation with one of the authors.  I jumped on board, and ended up getting a ton of encouragement from the person I spoke to.

After our meeting, I was sent a nice followup email, and I received a request to purchase and review the author’s personal work on Amazon.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to think.  Being a new author, unaccustomed to the wider world of serious publishing, I was suspicious, and a little worried.  My biggest fear was being made a fool of; to believe in my wide-eyed way that someone who know publishing thinks my work is worth reading, when in reality I’m just being sold a line.

However, I didn’t feel that I could turn down the request.  So I went and I purchased the author’s latest book.  And you know what?  I liked it.  I genuinely did.  I had great fun with its dark comedy, and I found that I looked forward to pooping because I got to read it more (yes, I do confine certain literary works to dominion of the porcelain palace).

But I also had some objections and concerns.  It was funny, but treated some serious issues in a way I found disrespectful, not to me, but to others I know how struggled with those issues.  It relied on stereotypes which aren’t accurate, and as a rhetorician, I know that these sort of crass representations reinforce those stereotypes in way that can be socially harmful.  Basically, there were good things and bad things about the novel.  And there were a few issues of craft which could have been improved upon.

When I finally finished the book, after a long night with bad fish left me stranded in the throne room longer than I anticipated, I went to write the review which the author had requested.

Immediate anxiety set in.  What sort of review should I write?  Had this been a “wink-wink nudge-nudge” exchange, wherein the author expected a glowing five star review?  If I gave my real opinions, would it hurt my big shot at getting published?  Was this even my big shot at getting published?

In that dark night, whether it was true or not, I gave in to my fears.  I, who publish writing lessons centered around the value of honest critique, fudged my own reviews.  Now, do I know if the author really wanted this?  No, and in fact, I doubt in the light of day that he did. I think he was genuinely interested in my opinion.

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But I was scared.  I think, more than anything, the specter of publication has proved to me how desperately deep my dreams of being a real author descend.  They exist deep in the very most fragile core of my being, and the fear of losing that shot was enough to convince me to do anything to keep the dream alive.

I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true, mind you.  The things I liked, I really did like.  I just didn’t raise any concerns.  I didn’t express my opinions fully.  And when I woke up the morning after, I felt dirty.

Of course, I discovered quite happily that Amazon allows editing of reviews, and so I did.  I included at least some of my concerns in my revision.  I felt better.

But I will never forget what I wrote that night.  Fixing it in the morning doesn’t change the fact that I submitted the first review which wasn’t completely honest.  I think sometimes, we as authors don’t like to share how vulnerable validation makes us feel.  We all know how to react to criticism.  We don’t take it personally, we move forward and fix what we can, and we let the haters fade into the background noise of life.

But validation?  Oh, that is infinitely more difficult to wrestle with.  It can paralyze you.  It can drive you crazy.  It can steal your integrity.

But I think talking about it helps.  So there is my confession.  For the fleeting possibility of introductions to a few agents, I twisted myself into a ridiculous psychological pretzel (when I probably wasn’t even expected to in the first place!) and convinced myself to sacrifice my integrity.

What are some of your confessions?  Have you ever struggled with the rush of validation?  Leave me your stories in the comments below!

PS:  If you are curious, the book I reviewed is Mort Morte by David Henry Sterry.  It is actually a really fun read, and despite my criticisms, I would recommend it highly as an excellent example of what happens when an author sits down and says to him/herself, “How much fun can I have on this page?”

PPS:  The book which Mr. Sterry co-authored, The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published is ALSO an excellent read, and I have found myself going back to it time and again for little tidbits and encouragement.

Don’t Believe In Yourself

“Just who the hell do you think I am?!”
http://www.zerochan.net/172049

Dear Readers,

Wizard here.  I thought, post election wrap up, that there were some interesting theories circulating during the inevitable come down off of victory highs and defeat depressions.  And it got me thinking some.  I saw a lot of finger pointing, which isn’t uncommon before or after or during an election.  Fingers just get pointed all the time.  And some of it makes sense.  Sure, Republicans are going to have to change tactics to remain viable in an electorate that is increasingly made up of people they have traditionally demonized or blamed for problems as a way of motivating their own base.  Yes, the Democrats are going to have to find some backbone otherwise they’ll never be leaders, merely the “lesser of two stupidities”.  But during all of this, other questions were bouncing around in my head; questions that didn’t have anything to do with who sits in the White House for four more years.  I had questions about what this elections cycle reveals about humanity, and on a very personal note, what it teaches us about what it means to be human. Continue reading