Ignoring denialism is best



When Bill Nye agreed to debate Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham on the viability of Young Earth creationism, some were concerned that Nye would botch his presentation of biology or that Ham would prevail with polemical tricks. Neither happened.  By any reasonably objective metric, Nye won the debate.

But the fact remains that objective metrics have little to do with it, and Nye was wrong to accept the challenge.

Those who consider the debate a success based on Nye’s good performance are overvaluing the role of reason in creating public opinion. If reason made the difference between science acceptance and science denial, then denial would more or less evenly spread across fields of research.

The reality is quite different. People accept most scientific knowledge with nary a second thought, but deny that which offends their ideological preferences. This occurs even among the most knowledgeable, intelligent and reflective people — more so, in fact, as research on the mechanisms of motivated reasoning has found. Instead of using rational thought to determine our ideology, we typically use it to justify the ideology we have already adopted, and so greater mental abilities magnify our bias rather than tempering it.

Denialism promoters like Ken Ham do not need to use sound reason in order to convince their devotees, and so reason is not an effective weapon against them. They disseminate talking points, of course (such as Ham’s bogus distinction between “historical” and “observational” science), but these are needed only to maintain a facade of plausibility that allows their position to seem respectable from a distance. The real accomplishment of deniers is creating the widespread perception of a meaningful controversy.

Without an ongoing public debate fueled by ideological motivation, denialism fizzles out. And when public debate is continually stirred up and enabled by journalists striving for “balance” and well-meaning science advocates engaging the deniers, no amount of reasoned argumentation will settle it. In short, the communication environment is the key, rather than the elements of communication occurring within it.

That is why people like Bill Nye should not provide additional spectators for people like Ken Ham. Few minds were changed on either side, but Answers in Genesis gained prestige and publicity, the key ingredients for a sustainable controversy. It’s time to start fighting denialism with the only thing it cannot weather: a collective shrug of dismissal.


Zack Truelson is a senior psychology major from Sioux Falls, S.D.


Science needs defending



Currently, about 46 percent of Americans believe that the world was created less than 10,000 years ago via intelligent design. This statistic should be both shocking and concerning to the rest of the country.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with faith. It provides a real sense of guidance for a large portion of the world. There is something very wrong, however, with fabricating your own facts. Ken Ham, president of the Creationism Museum, has become very adept at throwing around an incredible amount of fake logic and dressing it as science.

This is why it is important for the rest of the scientific community to debate men like Ken Ham, to try and pull the reins on any further vandalism of actual science. Ignoring this type of pseudo-science has not had any effect on this wave of creationist ideology. Even as the number of nontheists increases in this country, creationism is still gaining strength.

Many say that the scientific community should just let Young Earth proponents be, that they are harmless road bumps in the quest for discovery. Things described as minor irritations, though, don’t often successfully insert their own changes into scientific textbooks. We are not making any headway by refusing to put up a fight.

Upon listening to these debates, when both sides display their own reasoning, viewers will be able to decipher which viewpoint contains real, hard science and logic. Creationists have a large history of using manipulative and illogical techniques when debating scientists, such as the “Gish Gallop.”

Using a technique made famous by Duane D. Gish, the debater will spit out as many lies and logical fallacies as possible in his or her opening statement, knowing that there is no possible way the opponent could refute them all in the time allowed. It is painfully obvious and awkward to watch this type of tactic, and it makes it near impossible to have a clear, honest debate.

This type of exploitation of science cannot be accepted by evolution advocates, and men like Bill Nye (who is experienced in both his field and in public entertainment) can encourage viewers to educate themselves on the sides of this controversial argument.

Sitting back and taking this abuse and entertaining this slanderous desecration of science are not viable options for the scientific community. If creationists are spreading their word, no matter how confused and illogical that word might be, evolution advocates must do the same—for the sake of the future of this country’s advancements in reason and knowledge.


Claire Avery is a freshman from Minneapolis, Minn.