Mike Greer, a retired Baptist minister, is a rarity: someone who seems to speak out about the abuses inflicted by people who claim to have God on their side. He writes for Religion Dispatches, but that doesn’t mean he’s soft on faith. You can see that in his new piece, “Did the ‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye single-handedly revive Noah’s Ark theme park?“
As you probably know, the “Ark Park” under construction in Kentucky was in financial trouble, in danger of not getting enough money from bond issues to build that Christian travesty. And then Bill Nye agreed to debate Ken Ham on the topic of “Is creation a viable model of origins?“, with the debate held at the Creation Museum, also in Kentucky. Ham’s organization, Answers in Genesis, is behind the park.
I didn’t like it, and kvetched several times about Nye’s bid for attention having the bad consequences of helping Ham raise money for the embattled park (see here, and here, for instance). I watched the debate, and it was pretty much what I expected: the two debaters talking past each other, with the audience on Ham’s side. But what the debate did was energize the flagging Ark project. As I wrote in a New Republic piece at the time, Nye finally realized what he had done.
The Ark Park had been in financial trouble because people weren’t buying its bonds, but if Ham isn’t lying—and one has to worry about that given his creationist mission—the debate got the needed interest to revive the park. As the Guardian reports:
Creation Museum founder Ken Ham announced Thursday that a municipal bond offering has raised enough money to begin construction on the Ark Encounter project, estimated to cost about $73m. Groundbreaking is planned for May and the ark is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016.
Ham said a high-profile evolution debate he had with “Science Guy” Bill Nye on 4 February helped boost support for the project.
And Nye’s response:
Nye said he was “heartbroken and sickened for the Commonwealth of Kentucky” after learning that the project would move forward. He said the ark would eventually draw more attention to the beliefs of Ham’s ministry, which preaches that the Bible’s creation story is a true account, and as a result, “voters and taxpayers in Kentucky will eventually see that this is not in their best interest.”
And now we know that, at the end of July, the state of Kentucky approved $18 million in tax breaks for the park, assuring its construction. Greer’s piece in Religion Dispatches points out what a bad idea the debate was, and gives a shout out to the prescient Professor Ceiling Cat (in bold below as some self aggrandizement):
When asked, Nye brushes off questions about whether he may rightly be criticized for taking part in a debate that helped to revive a creationist project he says he despises. Perhaps the correct question for Nye is, “Were you aware of Ham’s ulterior motives behind the staging of the February debate?” If Nye says he was not aware then it would only be fair to assume that Ham is light-years ahead of Nye when it comes to business acumen.
This isn’t just hindsight. A month before the debate University of Chicago professor of Evolutionary Science Jerry A. Coyne warned that Nye was making a very serious mistake and predicted it would resurrect the Ark Encounter project. If only Nye had listened to Coyne we wouldn’t be in our current predicament in Kentucky.
Before the debate Ham’s project was on the verge of collapsing. The necessary bond sales weren’t materializing and the state wasn’t prepared to make good on a promise to provide tax incentives and road funds—all of which changed after the debate.
Last week the Ark Encounter project broke ground. The Commonwealth is set to provide tax incentives and road improvement expenditures of $30+ million to a religious scheme that has grossly discriminatory hiring practices and promotes a state image of collective ignorance. Thanks Bill Nye. Thankfully, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is sending warnings that suing the state is an option if it insists on providing taxpayer support for this ridiculous venture.
So what should we all take away from this fiasco? A word to the wise. Those determined to take a principled stand against ignorance and bigotry ought to not only be aware of their own motives, but they must also make every effort to come to a seasoned awareness of the motives and goals of those they challenge. Otherwise, for all our good intentions, we risk being nothing more than pawns in the hands of those who will happily use us to forward their self-aggrandizing agenda.
Well, what’s done is done. But I do resent Nye’s overweening penchant for the spotlight, which led him into this debate. Further, Nye apparently is trying to become a spokesperson for science in general and evolution in particular. From what I’ve seen, he’s not doing a particularly good job of it. I never watched “The Science Guy,” and so I can’t pass judgement on that, but Nye, who clearly misses the public attention he got on that show, is trying to sustain it with a post-t.v. life as a science popularizer. I hope he does good things, but, based on his performance during and after the debate, I just don’t think he has what it takes to keep it going as a science educator. He needs to let Nye take a back seat to the science itself.