Update (02/04/2014 6:40 pm EST): The debate has started. To follow, scroll down for live updates and/or just click here to watch the debate live on HuffPost Science.
The highly anticipated debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham isn't scheduled to begin until 7 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Feb. 4. But scientists are already sounding off about the appropriateness of the debate, in which America's beloved "Science Guy" will defend evolution--a theory universally accepted as fact among mainstream scientists--against the dogma of young-earth creationism.
"I am thrilled that people will clearly see the contrast between a Biblical creation view and an atheistic evolutionary one," Dr. David DeWitt, director of the Center for Creation Studies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., said in a written statement. "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."
But as you might expect, mainstream scientists aren't inclined to agree with DeWitt, given his affiliation with a conservative religious institution whose mission is "to research, promote, and communicate a robust young-Earth creationist view of Earth history."
Dr. Jerry Coyne, a professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, called the debate "pointless and counterproductive'' in an article posted on his popular blog, Why Evolution Is True.
"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. "By so doing, he gives them credibility simply by appearing beside them on the platform."
Coyne's comments echo those made by Dr. Richard Dawkins, the world-renowned evolutionary biologist and a public intellectual who has made it his policy to reject invitations to debate creationists.
"Inevitably, when you turn down the invitation you will be accused of cowardice, or of inability to defend your own beliefs," Dawkins wrote in a 2006 article entitled Why I Won't Debate Creationists. "But that is better than supplying the creationists with what they crave: the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science."
Whether or not Ham's views find much of this oxygen during the debate, there's little doubt that they lie far outside the scientific realm. According to NBC News, Ham believes that Genesis is literally true--that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days--and that the universe is about 6,000 years old. But overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that the universe is about 13.8 billion years old.
Complicating matters for Ham is the fact that, according to a 2013 telephone survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Americans say that "humans and other living things have evolved over time."
Still, Coyne acknowledged his concern that Nye might run into trouble when he squares off against Ham at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky. on Tuesday night. Coyne wrote on his blog that he was convinced Ham was preparing furiously for the "Ham on Nye" debate, adding that "I pray* that Nye is doing likewise."
What's the asterisk for? At the bottom of the post, Coyne--like Dawkins, an atheist--explained:
"I am praying metaphorically."