My daughter once danced with Bill Nye. She grew up on Bill Nye the Science Guy. So, when Nye appeared at a local swing dance, she plotted with the young man she was dancing with to surreptitiously work their way over to Nye before the next dance started. It worked – Bill Nye asked her to dance. She said Nye could really shake a leg!
1. The Ken Ham vs Bill Nye Debate is Over the Wrong Question — A FALSE “Either/Or” Dichotomy
“Good, I hope Ham vs. Nye shakes a little sense into Ken Ham!”, was my first thought and inclination when I first heard about the Ham vs. Nye debate. But, my evolutionary creation (EC) Twitter friends quickly set me straight – nothing good can come from a debate that focuses on the wrong question, “whether creation is a viable model of origins?”. It isn’t Creation or evolution. It isn’t Creation vs. evolution! That is a FALSE dichotomy, i.e., “a logical fallacy in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are others” (Christian M Schmidt, that’s @CMS_ on Twitter).
The truth rarely lies in polar extremes and focusing on the polar extremes as if those were the only two answers is a sure way to obfuscate whatever is true. Ken Ham is a young-earth creationist (YEC) who believes that the book of Genesis, written thousands of years ago, should be read like a modern science book and like a modern exacting history book and taken as God’s pronouncement that the earth was indeed created in 6 literal days only a few thousand years ago.
On the other end of the false-dichotomy spectrum, notorious atheists like Richard Dawkins, and I expect Bill Nye (an agnostic), like to point out that natural evolutionary processes in biology account for what used to be argued as one of the strongest arguments for a supernatural spontaneous de novo creation of the various kinds of living organisms. I agree. But, so what?!? The conclusion that there couldn’t then be Creation is a metaphysical (beyond the data) one — it doesn’t come from the data. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t part of a Plan.
Fully expounding on the alternatives here is beyond the scope of this post, but that doesn’t mean evolution couldn’t be the Purposeful tool of a Creator who invented the natural order and seeded or front-loaded the Creation with all the right stuff to inevitably produce life, high intelligence and an advanced civilization. See, “What if Evolution Meant High Intelligence and an Advanced Civilization Were INEVITABLE???” Beauty, complexity and functionality in nature still begs the question of (but doesn’t prove) an ultimate Plan and Purpose — biological evolution couldn’t have happened without all-the-right-stuff.
While I don’t agree with everything in their book, Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler in Who Made God?: And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith are all over the Big Bang as an argument FOR belief in God! When did that endorsement happen? Times they are a-chang’n. Even YECs accept microevolution and adaptation now. Do you know where were you when you first believed in micro-evolution? I do.
After a long conversation with my wife and I a few months ago, my pastor (large conservative evangelical church) heartily commended me for my rational approach to my faith. A few days later, I got the same encouragement from an atheist on Twitter — that I had “gone from rash to rational”. You know, times-they-are-a-chang’n when an evolutionary creationist (EC) gets the same encouragement in the same week from both his conservative evangelical pastor and an atheist for being rational.
Just because the truth isn’t creation in the literal 6 day spontaneous “poof” sense of Ken Ham, doesn’t rule out Creation — it doesn’t mean evolution wasn’t God’s invented, initiated, ordained and sustained Creative tool. It doesn’t mean God’s essential design isn’t simply further back, e.g., front-loaded in the in the initial exquisitely finely-tuned initial conditions and natural physical laws at the beginning of our universe only to inevitably produce Desired results through evolutionary processes over a long period of time — time that is incidental to God (“…with the Lord…a thousand years [or million or billion years] as one day” (2 Peter 3;8)).
Ken Ham excludes such possibilities. That exclusion is utter nonsense. So is it nonsense to think and speak of the laws of nature and the physical world as if they were in opposition to God instead of as the invention and Creation of God with all their possibilities and inevitabilities. “God is either in all of nature or none of it” (John Polkinghorne). The “natural” world and “nature’s laws” are God’s Creation.
U.S. scientists almost unanimously accept evolution, but 40% of them believe God is behind it somehow.
With Nye an agnostic, it’s not likely he’ll even entertain the idea of a Creator if Creation means it has to have been done in 6 days a few thousand years ago.
So, the question debated in Ham vs. Nye is a lose-lose proposition for getting at the truth – both in terms of the scientific data and what metaphysical (our beliefs beyond the data) conclusions we might draw from it. False dichotomies destroy the credibility of the pursuit (scientifically, theologically, philosophically) of what really is true.
But, that’s not the only problem.
2. Ham Doesn’t Speak for Evangelicals, in General
Why listen to Ken Ham instead of Billy Graham? Billy Graham has preached the gospel to billions and was, perhaps, the greatest evangelist for the gospel, ever. Here’s what Billy Graham has to say about evolution:
“I don’t think that there’s any conflict at all between science today and the scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we’ve tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren’t meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. …Either way is by faith and whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man’s relationship to God.”
In all fairness, like theologian (and scientist) Denis O. Lamoureux, I was a young-earth creationist (YEC), initially, and then a scientific creationist (OEC & ID Theory) for over 34 years. I once (late ’70s) put great hope in Ken Ham’s views and wished I could work for Gish and Morris’s Institute for Creation Research. So, I get it. I do. But, now I think Ham’s hyper-literalistic and scientific concordist interpretation of the Bible does great harm to the credibility of our witness for the gospel.
So do a great many other evangelicals. Ken Ham also doesn’t speak for a large and growing number of evangelicals who are extremely concerned about anti-science sentiments in the church and what that sentiment is doing to our young people (more on that below), especially when young-earth creationists (YEC) dogmatically hold to an unreasonable literal 6 day creation just a few thousand years ago. That simply isn’t credible anymore. As the Barna Group recently found, the #3 reason young people are leaving the church is because Churches come across as antagonistic to science – 25% embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science”.
Evidence that young-earth creationism is not where many evangelicals are really at can be seen in the topics of recent talks at the 65th Annual Evangelical Theological Society meeting last year and the recent release of Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) and Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), both by the conservative Christian book publisher, Zondervan Publications, Inc.
According to historian, Ron Numbers, young earth creationism and a hyper-literal interpretation of scripture didn’t even begin to take off in America until 1962 with the Henry Morris et al. flood book. Before that, Christian fundamentalists, at least according to written record, were essentially all old-earth creationists (OEC). Christian fundamentalists had come to terms with an old earth and the overwhelming evidence against a global flood. See, “Why is Creationism so popular in the USA?”, talk given by historian Prof. Ronald Numbers. According to Prof. Numbers, even fundamentalist William Jennings Bryan in the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial was clearly OEC. For instance, see this portion of the Q&A of the text of the day 7 of the trial where Bryan gives the answers:
“…Q–You think those were not literal days?
A–I do not think they were twenty-four-hour days…
…Q–Do you think those were literal days?
A–My impression is they were periods, …”
It was 4 years ago that I was first challenged with what the impact would be to the credibility of our witness for the gospel if we have been wrong about evolution. What if we are wrong? What impact would that have on the credibility if our faith? Reading Francis Collin’s book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief” in one weekend, I finally FULLY engaged (i.e., other than just to argue against it) with the now overwhelming convincing new molecular evidence for evolution. All the evidence for evolution, evidence that I had encountered over the years and conveniently put on a back shelf in the corner of my mind every time every time it started to become convincing and I moved on to another scientific creationist argument, suddenly came front and center. In that one weekend I had to admit to myself, as a matter of intellectual integrity and for the sake of the credibility of our witness, that I had been wrong about evolution for over 34 years. Hundreds of hours of study later, I adopted an evolutionary creation (EC) view.
But, that being said, I also understand why so many Christians are YECs because, while its true that, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (T. Dobzhansky – a Christian, BTW), NOTHING in life makes sense except in light of the gospel!!! There are plenty of atheists who disagree with us but the power of the gospel to radically transform lives is undeniable to evangelicals. After being a small group leader for over 25 years in my evangelical church, it is undeniable to me. The reality of God working in my own life and that of my family of 7 is also something I cannot deny. The gospel makes so much sense to me and those who live by it that it really isn’t all that hard to believe like Ken Ham believes — God can do anything. And Ham’s view is a quick fix for some issues that otherwise might require a lot of work and thought. And who has time for that?
Ken Ham and young-earth creationism ASSUMES (you know what you get when you assume) every one of the 66 books in the Bible is supposed to be read in a straight-forward manner and interpreted with scientific concordism in a one-size-fits-all literal hermeneutic just like the New Testament eye-witness gospel accounts. But, is that the way all of the Bible is supposed to be read? Or could that be a grave hermeneutical error?
3. Ken Ham Doesn’t Speak for God or the Bible
This may sound harsh but the harsh reality is that, frankly, Ken Ham is not academically qualified to debate or lead on this this topic — he has no earned degree in theology.
In principle, if there really is a personal God (as I’m rather absolutely convinced that there is) and God really did say it and meant it literally in a scientific concordist way, then we’d have to believe it that way. But, just what God was saying in the Bible, especially Genesis, and how to properly interpret that is where many Christians would sharply disagree with Ken Ham. Ham argues that it is unfaithfulness and unbelief NOT to believe the first chapters of Genesis as literally true — God can do anything. Yes, I expect God can, but, this isn’t about what God can do, but what God did-do. It is about accurate interpretation. It is about being reasonable and rational in light of the evidence.
Bottom line, regardless of the sense you hold scripture to be inerrant, our interpretation is NOT inerrant! According to the two book model, the book of God’s works and the book of God’s Word, these books cannot disagree. If they do appear to disagree then our understanding or interpretation of one or the other, or both, is in error. Given that our interpretation is not inerrant; our interpretation is the place to start when the scientific evidence overwhelmingly contradicts our understanding of scripture. But, Ken Ham ASSUMES his interpretation is inerrant.
Beware the tragic misconception that science is atheistic. Not so. Science simply investigates data about the material world and natural laws and is bound by those limits. Science, per se, as a discipline, makes no conjectures of causes outside the material or natural world and the natural laws that it can investigate. By the nature of what it is as a discipline science cannot propose God or look to the supernatural for answers. That isn’t it’s job! That’s not to say that faith can’t be completely consistent with modern science. It certainly can. I believe mine is. But science ceases to be science if it goes beyond the data and natural explanations that it can investigate.
Combine that easy-to-make misconception with the prevalence of outspoken media atheists who try to use science (partly in reaction to anti-science sentiment) to make and promote metaphysical conclusions that God doesn’t exist or point out that God hasn’t been revealed by science (which, by its very nature, it cannot do) and it is easy to see why people tend have the impression that science is atheistic and why people of faith often react negatively against it. Regrettably, science is a sufferer from this warfare model.
Note that the Barna Group’s finding that 25% embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” and that this is the #3 reason young people are leaving the church flies in the face of Ken Ham’s position in his new “Six Days…” book, i.e., that young people are leaving the church because we have not held to a literal interpretation of Genesis.
The real cause of decline is trying to make people hold to a 6 day creation a few thousand years ago as well as as deny the now overwhelming molecular evidence for evolution. In so doing, they are asked to check their brain in at the door when they enter the church. That isn’t what it means to be a fool for Christ. It is especially tragic when that default one-size-fits-all literalistic and scientific concordist interpretation of all 66 books in the Bible is a actually a grave hermeneutical error (see, for example, Billy Graham above and the free-to-view online Lamoureux Science & Religion course).
Today, I expect there are now billions, literally BILLIONS, who won’t even listen to the gospel largely because they see Christians as soooo out-of-touch-with-reality over the evidence for evolution – evidence that they now know to be overwhelmingly convincing! There are now 3 “convinced” atheists (910 million) for every evangelical (287 million) in the world. If you include self-described “non-religious” (1.6 billion) that ratio goes to 9:1 (see http://bit.ly/1cU4mPx and http://bit.ly/13Tjz0M ).
4. Ken Ham Knows Enough Science to Be Dangerous
Maybe Ken Ham is qualified to comment on the science aspect of the debate? Well, no, not according to his own AIG site. Ken Ham’s only earned degrees are a bachelor’s degree in Applied Science and a diploma of education. I expect that is only enough science to be dangerous when talking at these levels.
On a topic of such importance where expertise is of the essence, why do we listen to Ken Ham on science? For that matter, why look to Stephen Meyer (Discovery Institute), who argues against biological evolution to mass audiences from an ID Theory perspective, but doesn’t even have a bachelors degree in a biological science? It’s true. But, that is another story. For a better perspective on how intelligent design (NOT intelligent design theory) is a pointer to God consider, CAN AN EVOLUTIONIST STAND-IN-AWE OF GOD’S DESIGN IN NATURE?.
Yet, is there any wonder why the world sees a huge credibility gap in our witness for our otherwise rational Christian faith?
Now, if you really want to understand the new molecular evidence for evolution from a Christian, the definitive book on that definitive evidence is in a new Cambridge University Press book by Greame Finlay, PhD, entitled, “Human Evolution: Genes, Genealogies and Phylogenies“, recommended for those with some background in molecular biology, which might be High School biology, these days. See my review on Amazon.
5. No Amount of Evidence is Going to Convince Ken Ham
NO evidence is going to convince Ken Ham of any other position because, as a young-earth creationist (YEC), he’s married to the formula:
Any weak argument + God’s Word (literally interpreted with scientific concordism) = an irrefutable argument!!!
NO amount of evidence is going to persuade Ken Ham from his position because he presupposes that when the Bible says the world was created in 6 days, that it was a literal 6 days and scientifically & historically concordant, i.e., that, in addition to inerrant messages of faith, Ken Ham ASSUMES part of God’s revelation in the Bible include true facts about material origins thousands of years before modern scientific instruments — facts that should be born-up by modern scientific investigation, i.e., assuming scientists interpreted the data correctly. Ken’s is the more extreme form of widely-held interpretation called scientific concordism.
Like most evangelicals, I held to some form of scientific concordism (also including old-earth creationism (OEC) and/or ID-theory) for 34 years because I didn’t know there was any other theologically acceptable interpretation until 4 years ago. We need to ask ourselves, is scientific concordism really a feature of the Bible?
I’ve since learned that noted NON-concordists include, in addition to Billy Graham, J.I. Packer (author of Knowing God, etc.), John Stott (author of The Cross of Christ, etc.), N.T. Wright, Denis O. Lamoureux (whose hermeneutics I heartily endorse), and others. See endnote  in Introduction to the Interpretation of Genesis 1.
6. Our Witness for the Truth of the Gospel Will Lack Credibility
Will Bill Nye be able to hear the gospel? Or will anyone else, for that matter, after hearing this widely publicized debate? How can anyone hear the gospel after hearing those who evangelize it argue for a 6 day de novo creation only a few thousand years ago?
That is so utterly absurd in this day and age. It doesn’t just strain credibility, it crushes it.
In 2009, Bill Nye was boo’d for saying the moon reflects the sun. Some folks were offended by him saying that the moon’s light is just a reflection of the sun. That’s because they interpreted Genesis 1 literally and in a scientific concordist manner when it includes the moon as one of the two great lights God created.
The gospel speaks for itself but the truth and Truth gets a black eye if no one will hear it when our interpretation of scripture doesn’t square with reality.
So, did God lie in Genesis? No, He simply accommodated to an incidental ancient science in order to most effectively communicate to an ancient people (Bible written for us but not to us) revealed messages of faith and spiritual truths, as taught so well in the Science and Religion courses of Denis O. Lamoureux DDS, PhD, PhD.
Conclusions and Predictions:
Scientists shouldn’t debate Christians unless the Christian has to sense to admit that their potentially fallible interpretation of scripture could be wrong if data is contrary and convincing. That was the clear lesson of Galileo that Ken Ham clearly hasn’t learned. Otherwise, such debate will be an exercise in futility because no amount or veracity of evidence will be convincing — the truth loses.
These are my Ham vs. Nye predictions:
- Nye will make bacon out of Ham over the evidence.
- But, Ham, largely through controlling fear of unfaithfulness to a literalistic interpretation of the Bible (actually a hermeneutical error), will convince his followers to deny that evidence, put hope in his weak arguments, and little will change.
- The science vs. faith false-dichotomy-war will be fanned into flame.
- Nye will remain agnostic, if he doesn’t become an atheist from the encounter.
- And all Christians and the credibility of our witness for the gospel will get a black eye by association.
What do you think?