Science v. creationism 2.0 -- but this time, RNS stays at arm's length

Gold star for follow-up in the Religion News Service's story on scientist Bill Nye's visit to the Ark Encounter theme park. But a half-star for trying to do it by remote.

When last we saw Bill with Ken Ham, the developer of the replica of Noah's watercraft, they were debating creationism versus evolution.  As I wrote on Friday, RNS' onsite story outperformed national media like The New York Times.

What a great opportunity to lengthen its lede, eh? Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. The follow-up just pulls public statements, resulting in a follow-up with a detached, superficial feel.

Here is how the article tells it:

And it was "like the debate all over again but more intense at times," according to a blog post by Ken Ham, president and CEO of Answers in Genesis. Ham also posted on social media about Nye’s visit, which occurred on Friday (July 8).
"Bill challenged me about the content of many of our exhibits, and I challenged him about what he claimed and what he believed," Ham said on Facebook. "It was a clash of world views."

Just a Facebook post? (Actually, Ham also posted the story on Answers in Genesis.) Well, hmm. What content did they discuss? On what topics did they most challenge each other?  

Good questions for a phone interview, no? But if RNS tried one, it doesn't say. Further down, the article has Ham quoting Nye saying "not crazy to believe we descended from Martians." Ham answers, of course, that it's no more crazy to believe that "we descended from Adam and Eve."

And what did the "Science Guy" say about the visit? We get another non-answer:

"I chose to visit the Ark Encounter to see for myself the extent of its influence on young people," Nye said Monday in a written statement.
"The influence is strong. I spoke with a lot of kids (and took a great many selfies). Almost all of them do not accept that humans are causing climate change — and that is the Answers In Genesis ministry’s fault. Through its dioramas and signage, the organization promotes ideas that are absolutely wrong scientifically, while suppressing critical thinking in our students — which is in no one’s best interest, conservative or progressive."

You'll no doubt notice that the recollections don’t match.  Ham is still talking issues of creation versus evolution, while Nye is fretting about whatever influence Ham may have on the young. This is where some live questions would have helped.

But the most RNS gives us are two paragraphs on so-called young-Earth creationism" -- the belief in a literal six-day creation and that the planet is only about 6,000 years old. It also summarizes the secular scientific view of the Earth as 4 billion-plus years old and that life developed slowly, rather than being formed instantly.

All that background came from previous RNS stories on Ham and his Creation Museum. Is that what they talked about while touring the Ark replica? Ham could have told RNS, but again there's no indication that it phoned him.

Let's briefly note Nye's evident subjectivity. For one, he seems to assume that it's OK to hold beliefs he considers wrong only if you don’t get others to agree with you. For another, he accuses Ham of suppressing critical thinking about creationism, yet he's clearly trying to suppress critical thinking about evolution and climate change. 

To be fair, Ham is also biased, if he's still like he was in the 1980s. Back then, I talked with him briefly at a creationist conference, which was tellingly titled "Back to Genesis." I noted that the exhibits and lectures were all meant to prove the Bible. "There's no such thing as objectivity!" he shot back. "Everybody speaks from a viewpoint!" 

Those matters may be too much for a simple follow-up like the RNS piece on "Ham and Nye," as the debaters have already been dubbed. But there was still room for some questions. 

For Nye, RNS could have asked what the teaching of evolution has to do with climate change. I'd also like to know how it's the fault of Answers in Genesis when youths deny climate change.

And for Ham, a good question would have been why many Christians -- even those who are theologically conservative -- don’t share his literalist interpretation of Genesis. Past RNS stories have carried quotes from the Christian group BioLogos. As long as the follow-up article was quoting websites, it could have cited the various creationist beliefs summarized on the BioLogos site.

Again, I see no indication that RNS tried to call Nye, any more than they tried to reach Ham. And it wasn't from lack of space. The article ends with Ham praying for Nye, and Nye lobbing a snark: "On a hopeful note, the parking lots were largely empty, and the ark building is unfinished. We can hope it will close soon."

Cute ending, but not up to RNS' previous performance. Citing a website won't substitute for reporting onsite.

Photo: Ken Ham, left, with Bill Nye, from Ham's Facebook pageThumbnail Ark picture courtesy of A. Larry Ross and Associates. 

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