PETERSBURG, Ky. — Why are we here?
That simple but seemingly unanswerable question will be the central topic of discussion Tuesday night in Petersburg, Ky. as two of the most outspoken participants in the evolution vs. creationism debate will take part in a special conversation at the Creation Museum.
Museum founder Ken Ham and famed pop scientist Bill Nye “The Science Guy” have agreed on the prompt "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?" CNN correspondent Tom Foreman will moderate the debate, which begins at 7 p.m.
Ham is a leading creation apologist, best-selling Christian author and president/CEO of Answers in Genesis (AiG), the Bible-defending organization behind the museum and sponsor of the event.
A former science instructor who immigrated to the United States from Australia 27 years ago, he and other creationists contend the universe and living organisms originate from specific acts of divine creation, as in the biblical account found in the Book of Genesis, rather than by natural processes such as evolution.
Nye, a former host of the popular "Bill Nye the Science Guy" TV program for children, supports the idea of evolution, the belief that different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth. The theory of evolution was popularized by Charles Darwin in 1859 by way of his book, "On the Origin of Species."
Nye is also the current executive director of the Planetary Society and a frequent guest on TV and radio interview programs on science topics like evolution and creation.
"A debate with Mr. Nye, nationally known for his children's TV program and for promoting evolution, will be one of our major 2014 events that will highlight how children and teens are being influenced by evolutionary thinking," declared Ham in a statement.
"This year our AiG theme is 'standing our ground, rescuing our kids.' Having the opportunity to have a cordial but spirited debate with a well-known personality who is admired by so many young people will help bring the creation/evolution issue to the attention of many more people, including youngsters."
Ham, who took part in a series of similar talks at Harvard University in the 1990s, says he and his organization are willing to hold public evolution-creation debates with serious evolutionists because they are rare these days.
However, while some willing opponents have come forward in past, they are often “mocking, strident evolutionists” who don’t take the creationist point of view seriously so their requests were not considered, Ham said.
Nye’s challenge was accepted, Ham said, because he is a “serious advocate for his beliefs” and his “opinions carry weight in society.”
"I hope to show Mr. Nye and our debate audience that observational science confirms the scientific accuracy of the Genesis account of origins, not evolution," Ham said of Nye, who developed a cult following in the ‘90s for preaching the scientific method and reason to a generation of American children.
An email inquiry to Nye's assistant was not immediately returned. The museum had been hoping to attract bow-tied celebrity scientist after he said in a YouTube video that teaching creationism was bad for children.
"I say to the grown-ups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them," Nye said in the video posted in August 2012, which has amassed nearly 6 million views.
The two will debate in front of more than 900 people at the sold out Legacy Hall auditorium at the museum. It took less than two minutes to sell out the venue, according to spokesperson Melany Ethridge.
Each participant will deliver what he believes is the best information currently available for his case. Each then has an opportunity for rebuttal and afterward answers questions submitted by the audience, which will be comprised of people from 29 states and the country of Belize.
The attention the event has received has drawn comments from notable names on both sides of the argument.
Dr. David DeWitt, director of the Center for Creation Studies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., said in a written statement that he is "thrilled about the debate."
"I am thrilled that people will clearly see the contrast between a Biblical creation view and an atheistic evolutionary one," said the president of the university that conferred an honorary doctorate on Ham. "This will be a very well watched debate and I think there will be people surprised at how much evidence there really is that supports creation."
While some mainstream scientists voiced support for the debate, others aren't sure how much good will come from it. Dr. Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, called it "pointless and counterproductive.''
"If Nye wants to further acceptance of evolution, he should just continue to write and talk about the issue on his own, and not debate creationists," he wrote in an an article posted on his blog, Why Evolution Is True. "By so doing, he gives them credibility simply by appearing beside them on the platform."
In addition to those taking part in the event in person, well more than 1 million people are expected to watch online on various websites, including WCPO.com, Creation Museum officials announced in a release.
The expected number of watchers is an estimate based on the more than 10,000 churches, schools, colleges and organization that contacted to the museum to let them know they plan to stream the debate when it airs live Tuesday night.
Liberty University -- the conservative religious institution with a mission "to research, promote, and communicate a robust young-Earth creationist view of Earth history" -- will show a live stream of the debate at seven campus locations, including a 1,500-seat auditorium at its main location.
Museum officials believe the actual number will be much higher than the projected total, especially after Wednesday, Feb. 19 when C-Span re-broadcasts the event on radio and TV at 8 p.m. ET.
Immediately following the conclusion of the live debate, Nye and Ham will walk inside the Creation Museum next door to be interviewed for the "Piers Morgan Live" program on CNN for a 9:45 p.m. post-debate analysis. During the 10 p.m. hour and inside the museum, MSNBC TV will conduct a one-on-one interview with Nye.
For the debate, more than 70 credentialed members of the media will converge upon Northern Kentucky. Journalists from news outlets such ABC, NBC, CNN, NPR, Scientific American magazine, the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, Al Jazeera America, The New Yorker and WCPO will be in attendance.
The attention placed on the event has led to an exponential increase in Web traffic for the museum’s website as well as the website of the parent ministry that runs the museum, Answers in Genesis. Officials say their numbers are up 80 percent, totaling about 2 million visits in January alone.
Information on this creation/evolution debate can be found at www.debatelive.org.