Science Guy Bill Nye Debates Creationist Ken Ham

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Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," and Ken Ham "Answers in Genesis" squared off Tuesday night at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. The debate between the two men on the origins of the universe had been highly-anticipated.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A famous trial in the 1920s tested the question of creationism. That question is still open for many people, and an argument over creationism versus evolution can sell a lot of seats. Last night at the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky, its president, Ken Ham, was pitted in debate against TV personality and science educator Bill Nye. The event sold out in a matter of minutes. As Devin Katayama, from member station WFPL in Louisville, reports, a debate is not likely to change many minds.

DEVIN KATAYAMA, BYLINE: Jonathan Reiter is a Christian who says he used to watch Bill Nye the Science Guy when he was a kid. At the same time, he was attending private school.

JONATHAN REITER: So I was being taught one thing at school and then hearing his stuff on his show, which is totally different. So it made me really think, OK, I really have to choose what I'm going to believe.

KATAYAMA: Reiter chose to believe creationism and that the world was made in six days, as the Bible says. And psychologists tell us he likely won't change his mind since our minds like to reinforce what it already believes.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

KEN HAM: I believe it's the creationists that should be educating the kids out there, because we're teaching them the right way to think.

KATAYAMA: Ken Ham argues the creationist belief is more likely than evolution because humans weren't around to observe the evolutionary process. But he says the Bible tells the story of the Earth. Bill Nye says that's no substitute for science; and says science requires predictions based on our understanding of the world, like calculating the time it takes starlight to reach Earth.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

BILL NYE: There are billions of stars. Mr. Ham, how could there be billions of stars more distant than 6,000 years if the world's only 6,000 years old?

KATAYAMA: Evolution is the scientific concept that Nye and a majority of scientists agree with. It's also being taught in schools; and when you get older, studies show, the more education you have, the less likely you are to believe in creationism. Will Gervais is a psychology professor at the University of Kentucky. He's studied the relationship between evolution and religion, and says it's tempting to look to a higher power on complex issues.

WILL GERVAIS: That's kind of a trick of how our brains work. But the more and more we learn about the world, the more we're finding that our intuitions, as compelling as they are, they're not always right.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

TOM FOREMAN: What, if anything, would ever change your mind?

KATAYAMA: That's CNN's Tom Foreman, asking Ham a question from the audience. Ham didn't say he would ever change his mind but instead, simply replied he's a Christian.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

HAM: The Bible is the word of God. I admit that that's where I start from. I can challenge people that you can go and test that.

KATAYAMA: While the arguments were respectful, Nye repeatedly asked for evidence.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBATE)

NYE: We would just need one piece of evidence. We would need the fossil that swam from one layer to another. We would need evidence that the universe is not expanding. We would need evidence that the stars appear to be far away, but they're not.

KATAYAMA: Some experts who study how people think don't expect any winner or loser from Tuesday's event. Michigan State University professor Rand Spiro says the real question this raises is, are children being taught to think critically>

RAND SPIRO: We wonder why kids get out into the world, and they can't apply the knowledge from school in the world. It's because the world isn't like what we do in school. The world is more complex. The world doesn't go in a line; it's not organized in chapters; it doesn't have a single right answer.

KATAYAMA: Back at the Creation Museum, Calvin Perry, from Ohio, says he believed in God until he started taking science classes in college.

CALVIN PERRY: The concepts that the Earth can only be 6,000 years old didn't make sense to me and everything I learned about evolution.

KATAYAMA: At the same time, Jonathan Reiter says he's currently taking college science classes, and says while the class debates have been heated, it's not enough to change his beliefs.

Are you still open to changing your mind?

REITER: No, not at this point.

KATAYAMA: For NPR News, I'm Devin Katayama.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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