LOUISVILLE, Ky. - TV's "Science Guy" Bill Nye said he underestimated the impact of a February debate in Kentucky on evolution and creationism that drew a massive online audience.
When Nye agreed to the debate at The Creation Museum with its founder Ken Ham, he said he believed it would draw about as much attention as presentations he makes on college campuses.
But the Feb. 4 event was widely promoted by the museum, "and soon it seemed like everyone I met was talking about it," Nye wrote in a 3,000-word letter published in the May/June issue of Skeptical Inquirer.
"I slowly realized that this was a high-pressure situation," he said.
The event was streamed live on the Web and it was widely discussed on Facebook and Twitter, alongside the witty hashtag #HamonNye. The Creation Museum said its metrics showed that 750,000 computers logged into the debate, and thousands of groups gathered to watch, putting the viewer estimate into the millions. About 70 media representatives attended, and Nye and Ham were interviewed on network and cable news shows.
Nye wrote that despite no score being kept during the debate with Ham, by "a strong majority of accounts, I bested him."
Nye also addressed criticism he received from fellow scientists who said the debate would only promote Ham's ministry and creationism, which teaches the origin story of the Bible as natural history. Ham and his followers believe the universe was made by a creator about 6,000 years ago.
"But, I held strongly to the view that it was an opportunity to expose the well-intending Ken Ham and the support he receives from his followers as being bad for Kentucky, bad for science education, bad for the U.S., and thereby bad for humankind ..." Nye wrote.
In a posting on his Facebook page last week, Ham took issue with that passage, questioning how Nye "can decide what is 'bad' or 'good?' "
"Bill Nye wants his anti-God religion of naturalism imposed on generations of students. Now that's what's bad for humankind!" Ham responded. "Sadly, Bill Nye wants generations of kids to be told they are just animals that arose by natural processes, thus ultimately, life is without meaning or purpose."
Nye said he strategized ahead of the debate with colleagues who were seasoned in the evolution-creationism wars. He traveled to Oakland, Calif., to meet with staff at the National Center for Science Education and had lunch with other scientists.
"I am by no means an expert on most of this," he wrote. "In this situation, our skeptical arguments are not the stuff of Ph.Ds. It's elementary science and common sense. That's what gave me confidence."