Why was the Ham/Nye debate audience so white?

February 14, 2014 in Theology · 0 comments

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Elizabeth Dias, in her Time magazine piece about the Ham/Nye debate, What You Missed While Not Watching the Bill Nye and Ken Ham Creation Debate, made the following observation:

2 minutes. Nye, in his signature bowtie, and Ham, with his Aussie accent, hop on stage, shake hands, and ready themselves behind their respective Apple laptops (only Nye’s has stickers). Nye stands on the left. Ham is on the right. The cameras pan to an all-white audience.


Ken Ham took umbrage with this description, demanding a retraction for the “blatantly wrong statement” that “The cameras pan to an all-white audience.”

Here’s the scene Dias is describing, the first clear view of the audience given to debate viewers:

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Looks pretty white to me.

Dias goes on to say:

36 minutes. Students are being indoctrinated by the confusion of terms. “You can’t observe the age of the earth. You can’t see that.” The camera finally finds the first African American face in the audience.

Here’s the shot that prompted that statement:

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Yes, it turns out that a couple of African-American gentleman are watching the debate.

Dias is entirely correct that the first audience shot was entirely white. But she did make a mistake: the camera actually was able to find “the first African American face in the audience” much earlier in the debate, at the conclusion of Nye’s opening segment:

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The only other African-Americans that appear in the audience are seen in the second row of this shot (two of whom I’ve already made note of):

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By my count, that’s a total of four African-Americans in an audience of over 800. If the debate audience were to accurately reflect the racial diversity of the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area (where the debate was held), one would expect to see about 671 whites, 108 African-Americans, 12 Asians and 9 Hispanics.

Instead we find an audience that is overwhelmingly white. Even if there were a few overlooked non-whites in the audience, we’re clearly looking at a group of people that is 99% white. Here are all the front-facing audience shots that we’re treated to:

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To be clear, I don’t think that Ken Ham is a racist and his organization does profess that “biologically and biblically, there is only one race.” But Dias raises an important point that Ham’s rebuttal fails to address. His refusal to acknowledge the reality of the problem is as troubling as his denial of the facts of evolution.

The ever-observant Hemant Mehta also took notice of this controversy. He rightly thinks that Ham is just attempting to drum up attention by being obstinately oblivious to the nature of Dias’ live-blogging. And while Mehta poses some important questions about the over-abundance of whites in the audience: “Does it mean people of color weren’t interested in seeing (or able to see) the debate live? Does it say more about the demographics of that part of Kentucky?”, he doesn’t press the point further.

But shouldn’t we pursue the issue? Shouldn’t we find it disturbing that there where only a handful of non-whites in attendance? Are only whites interested in debates? Do only whites care about creation and evolution? Do only whites feel comfortable attending an event held at Ham’s museum?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but rather than remaining content with Mr. Ham’s trite protestation that there were in fact a few African-Americans in attendance, shouldn’t we push for better answers? To appropriate a response that Bill Nye gave during the debate: “This is what drives us, this is what we want to know. Let’s keep looking, let’s keep searching.”

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