Letter: To Bill Nye, apologising about Ken Ham

Meredith Doig / 03 February 2014

Dear Bill,                                                                                              Sunday 2nd Feb 2014

We’re sorry. We’re really sorry.

We know how you American rationalists think of us Aussies. You think we’re all so busy clinging on to the bottom of the world with our fingertips that we don’t have time to waste concerning ourselves with silly creationist ideas – that we’re a haven of straightforward logical thinking, secular education, free healthcare and good-looking half-clothed beach bunnies.

But we’re really sorry, Bill – Ken Ham is our fault, and it’s time we took responsibility for him. We, the people of Australia, have allowed our zealots to escape to your fair shores. It’s not just Ham, either. Fine specimens like Gary Bates, who left for the forgiving climes of Georgia, still manages to send his tentacled pods back over the Pacific and feed our kids rubbish about how the earth is only 6000 years old – a particular head-scratcher for our Indigenous population, whose families have been here since 50,000 BCE. I mean, talk about breathtakingly rude.

We’ve been slack, Bill. Our practically secular society let us get complacent; we didn’t notice years ago, when the scripture classes that had slid in sideways last century were commandeered by proselytising evangelicals who set about “making disciples” of our children. We let slide our government handing over of wads of tax dollars to create a raft of fundamentalist religious schools who teach kids the kind of hogwash that you will have to endure from Ken Ham in your debate.  In fact, Bill, just this week, when Professor Marion Maddox nailed a copy of her exemplary new book Taking God To School to our doors, it was a stark reminder of just how much we’d let our secular-ish, sunburnt paradise go.  And now, any attempt to reverse the process has been met with squealing about “our Christian heritage” from people who often don’t understand either Christianity OR heritage.

To our shame, decades of preoccupation with things like Olympic medal tallies and football players has made Australia into the “Typhoid Mary” of Creationism: we were rubbishing America for its anti-evolutionists and didn’t even notice that we were the ones exporting young-earth evangelism to your great nation, where unfortunately there is no tariff on craziness. We are so, so sorry.

So on Tuesday, when you’re roasting the Ham and his patently ridiculous ideas on the rotisserie of logic, tell him you’ve got a message from Australia. Tell him from us that we used his state-issued Akubra hat to cover a hole in the national chookhouse shed, that he is no longer entitled to use his formal Australian name (Kenno) and that he is now forbidden any Tim Tams – ever again. Also, that whenever his name comes up at Christmas, while we sit around drinking white wine in the sun, there will be a formal awkward silence of twenty to forty seconds, until someone brightly offers everyone pudding. And if you could manage to kick him in the shins and tell him and his ilk to leave our kids alone, Bill – we’d owe you one.

Best Regards,

Secular Coalition of Australia (SECOA)
on behalf of the sensible people of Australia.

P.S. We take no responsibility for Ray Comfort. He’s a Kiwi.


Why did we write this letter?

As Australians who value the proud secular heritage of our Commonwealth, and who, perhaps more than any peoples, owe our prosperity to the values of the Enlightenment and a passion for scientific discovery, we can no longer remain silent in the face of an increasingly obscene role Australians play in spreading the backward beliefs of “biblical creationism” and the insane idea that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

This apology, on the eve of the embarrassing spectacle of Bill Nye’s debate with Australian Ken Ham, is intended to admit the pernicious role Australians play in destroying children’s understanding of our world in favour of fundamentalist dogma based on the idea that the Bible is literally true and that the events described in Genesis hold scientific explanatory power.

Most educated people falsely assume that Americans are the primary source of the contagion of biblical literalism. However, the facts show that Australians are a major vector of this contagion, both at home and, even more inexcusably, in many other countries, including America.

The “Creation Museum” was founded by Ken Ham, who earned a Bachelor of Applied Science, with an emphasis in Environmental Biology, at Queensland Institute of Technology and a Diploma in Education from the University of Queensland.  This “museum” is by far the most embarrassing, but not the only, example of Australian “anti-knowledge” wrecking the public understanding of science by promulgating the absurd beliefs of creationism.

Equally baleful is “Creation Ministries International” (CMI), which maintains its headquarters in Brisbane, Queensland, but is run by Gary Bates from offices located in Georgia, where it produces a torrent of science denial aimed at children, and maintains the leading creationism website.

Since its founding in 1977 by Adelaide’s Dr. Carl Wieland, CMI has worked tirelessly to destroy children’s conceptual understanding of the natural world.  Other Australians have also created epic works of ignorance, with profoundly negative impacts on education, such as the influential book, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis by Australian, Michael Denton, which inspired the founder of the Discovery Institute, Philip Johnson.

The truth is that Australians have been a kind of “Typhoid Mary”, spreading a disease which appears to not infect them (though that is changing) and which has virulent and debilitating impacts in other countries.  Even though our scientists raised a warning about the teaching of Intelligent Design in 2005 (in a brief moment of alertness before they dropped the ball again), our nation has effectively ignored this scourge or pretended it wasn’t our problem – or even a problem at all.

Perhaps least excusable, from the perspective of Australians, is that the beliefs of creationists deny the heritage of the original inhabitants of this continent, who science has discovered to have continuously lived here on the order of ten times longer than Australian creationists think the earth has existed!

No belief could be more insulting to the Indigenous people of Australia than denying children knowledge of the facts about the heritage of the first peoples of this land.  We acknowledge and give our respect to the elders past and present of these people whom Ken Ham erroneously interprets through the Mosaic account – as opposed to the scientific one.

Therefore, as Australians, we must admit the trespasses committed against science, both here and abroad, by Australian born vectors of this pernicious disease – and apologise for the vigour with which they work to destroy children’s understanding of our world.

We also recognise the revelations contained in Professor Marion Maddox’s new book: Taking God to School  (Allen & Unwin Jan. 2014) which raises important questions about the role the Australian government plays in funding groups who seek to undermine the public understanding of science.  We call on our government to apologise for the disinformation spread in schools – both here and abroad – by those who are blinded by their dogmatic fervour into denying even the basic facts of existence of our first peoples.

We can only confess shame in causing Bill Nye and others to have to confront this in their own country due in large part to Australia’s carelessness in the provision of education that has produced and exported such horrific human ignorance.

We trust that Americans will not judge all Australians by the appalling spectacle Bill will be faced with in Kentucky, and we hope Bill will not allow Ken Ham to avoid atoning for his denial of our Aboriginal heritage or the rich biodiversity that is explained only by evolutionary science.

We are with Bill Nye and other American educationalists in solidarity, and will commit ourselves to working for better hygiene in our schools and in doing our part to stop the contagion so carelessly spread – and, until now, allowed to go largely denied.

All the more reason.