Bill Nye’s duels with creationist Ken Ham have greatly benefitted both of them. Nye’s new starring role as the public adversary of bible-thumping creationists has reinvigorated his career. Most recently he capitalized on this status by presenting a recap of the debate at a glitzy conference in Las Vegas.
What did Ken Ham get out of the deal? Ham has admitted that the high-profile evolution debate he had with Nye in February revived his floundering Ark project. Aside from the undisclosed financial returns from the debate itself Ham has gathered in $60+ million from wealthy donors who were motivated by the spectacle to invest in the Ark Encounter project in northern Kentucky.
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.