Big Surprise in Ken Ham vs Bill Nye Debate

Surprises in the Ken Ham vs Bill Nye Debate?

With the exception of what I thought was THE big surprise below, the debate panned-out pretty much as predicted in my post before the event,


6 Reasons Why Ken Ham vs Bill Nye Gives Truth a Black Eye”, with a few surprises, at least one of them pleasant – Bill Nye was careful to point out that it was “Ken Ham’s creation model” that he, and the evidence, have a problem with, and NOT that of other Christians who didn’t have a problem with an old earth or evolution, e.g., Francis Collins.

So, the debate was not the extreme FALSE dichotomy I had feared.  Ham’s YEC was the polar extreme and the debate had none of the end-all-religion-at-all-costs rhetoric so often heard from some outspoken atheist scientists. That’s not to say Nye affirmed scripture. He didn’t.

With my power back on after the ice storm, we’ll look at a few of the surprises, recommend some related links for fact-checking, and then look at what I think was THE big surprise in the Ken Ham vs Bill Nye debate that occurred Tuesday, February 4th, 2014.

Bill Nye’s cause, the credibility of science in America, while important, pales in comparison to the cause felt by many evangelicals, including me – the impact to the credibility of our witness for the Gospel brought on by young-earth creationist (YEC) arguments, like Ken Ham’s.  But, as a former scientific creationist for over 34 yrs (initially YEC), I cannot throw stones or accuse Ham of anything but the best intentions, however tempting that might be at times.  I know why I couldn’t see it (story coming soon).

There Is Another Choice

This perspective is coming from that of an evangelical Christian evolutionist.  Yes, I know – that label sound so wrong…still getting used-to-it myself.  But, armed with a PhD in one of the biological sciences, hundreds of hours of focused (some would say obsessed) study over the last four years have convinced me to side with some very notable and popular evangelical theologians who support evolutionary creation (formerly theistic evolution).

Most evangelicals I talk to are surprised that Billy Graham (see quote in my pre-event “6 Reasons Why Ken Ham vs Bill Nye Gives Truth a Black Eye” post) as well as popular evangelical theologians and apologists, actually endorse/support/hold-to an evolutionary creation view.  Why not listen to them instead?

Evangelical Theologians/Apologists Supporting Evolutionary Creation Include:

  1.  J. I. Packer (author of Knowing God)  See Packer’s glowing endorsement right on the cover of “Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?”, as well as Unpacking J. I Packer on Genesis 1 & 2, and here and here.
  2. C.S. Lewis (see last chapter of Mere Christianity)
  3. John Stott (author of The Cross of Christ)
  4. Bruce Waltke (OT professor who had to resign over the issue)
  5. Tim Keller (to some degree – see Keller’s posts on the BioLogos site)
  6. Alister McGrath
  7. Denis O. Lamoureux, DDS PhD PhD (last-but-not-least and my favorite, whose online Science and Religion course (FREE to view) made sense of it all for me and has helped a great many evangelicals come to term with the evidence – see Intriguing Science and Religion Course Opportunities!)

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND what Genesis 1-11 expert, John Walton, and what other voices of reason say in the BioLogos follow-up of the event, Ham on Nye: Our Take.  I thought that post was excellent and will try not to repeat.   Here’s just a few outakes from that article that I don’t think should be missed.

“…Young Earth Creationism is certainly viable for millions of Christians. It’s not viable for millions of other Christians…At BioLogos we are not just seeking to defend what seems reasonable to us, but we’re seeking truth from Scripture and from the natural world to form a coherent picture of God’s action in the world…”  Jim Stump (BioLogos Content Manager)


” …it was evident that Ken Ham believed that all evolutionists were naturalists—an identification that those associated with BioLogos would strongly contest.


But both speakers also showed assumptions about the Bible that provide opportunity for analysis.  Bill Nye repeatedly returned to the idea that the Bible was a book translated over and over again over thousands of years. In his opinion this results in a product that could be no more trusted than the end result in the game of telephone. In this opinion he shows his lack of clear understanding of the whole process of the transmission of texts and the textual basis for today’s translations. The point he should have been making is that any translation is an interpretation. That is the point on which to contest Ken Ham’s “natural” readings of Scripture. We cannot base the details of our interpretations on translated (and therefore interpreted) text. We have to interact with a Hebrew text, not an English one. Nye also tried to drive a wedge between Old Testament and New Testament—a non-productive direction. The point he was trying to get at, but never fully exploited was how dependent Ham’s position was on interpretation…”  John Walton (Wheaton College)


“…overall I had the general feeling what is really needed for the conversation on evolution among brothers and sisters in Christ is twofold. First and foremost, evangelicals need a deeper understanding of the Bible, especially the Ancient Near Eastern context and setting of the original audience of Genesis (for which I am glad for the work of others with expertise in that area, such as my colleague John Walton). Secondly, evangelicals need a deeper understanding of how science works in general, and specifically how the lines of evidence for evolution converge on a robust picture of how God used this means to bring about biodiversity on earth. While I am of little help with the first point, the second is the goal of the Evolution Basicsseries I have been writing for the last year… ”  Dennis Venema (Fellow of Biology)


BTW, “reason” and “reasonable” are NOT four letter words for evangelicals as they appear to be for some fundamentalists.  Also, BTW, my pre-med son and I got to meet and talk at length with Dennis Venema (featured in the BioLogos post) last summer.  His love for God and family was very apparent.

Predictions that Rang True:

Bill Nye pretty much did make bacon out of Ham over the evidence

  • Christian old earth creationists (OEC) thought Bill Nye pretty much nailed it on the geological evidence for an old earth.  This OEC post is a great fact-checker on that point.  Of course, I’d disagree with the OEC adherence otherwise to scientific concordism.
  • Frankly, I think the debate could have ended with Bill Nye showing geological column chart of the gradual increase in the complexity of living organisms shown in the fossil record from the lowest strata to the highest (see video at 1 hour, 3 minutes and about 51 seconds).  No flood can account for that.  No fancy footwork about lion’s teeth being analogous to bears teeth can change the fact from the fossil record that physical death was in the world ages before higher organisms with more advanced functions and features appeared.
  • Venus flytrap carnivorouse plant_365x200Or I suppose we are supposed to believe that carnivorous plants, like the Venus flytrap plant, were either originally vegetarians or adapted a complex trigger-hair mechanism to eat insects in just 4,000 years  ;-o).
  • Nye didn’t even get into the evidence I consider to be so overwhelmingly convincing — the new molecular evidence for evolution from the human genome project, but, for those FULLY engaging with the evidence he presented, i.e., other than to argue against it (was my tendency), I think he offered irrefutable evidence for an old earth and physical death long before man came on the scene.  He included the evidence that such a general audience could relate to and should know by the time one finishes high school.
  • Nye didn’t but could have have asked the question that troubles so many young geology students, “How can every mountain on Earth be covered with water — where did all that water come from — where did it go?

No amount of evidence would change Ken Ham’s mind

  • As predicted, almost every follow-up article or post of the event noted that this was born-out in the debate – no amount of evidence will change Ken Ham’s mind.  It doesn’t come out in so many words but Ken Ham uses the formula:

Any weak argument + God’s Word (literally interpreted with scientific concordism) = an irrefutable argument!!!

  • Despite the black-eye that this gives to the credibility of our witness to the gospel, an upside of the debate is the hope that this issue will get more Christians thinking, “Was that was God REALLY said?”  Our interpretation isn’t inerrant — so is a literal scientifically concordant interpretation really what God wants us to believe?  Is Scientific Concordism REALLY a Feature of the Bible?

Few minds changed as each side preached to their own choir.

  • Al Mohler (YEC), who had a front row seat, had an interesting perspective but was unphased by the evidence and seems bent on forcing a FALSE dichotomy on a number of points, including “reason” vs “revelation”.  It isn’t either/or.  

I’m just an armchair theologian (why I rely on Lamoureux & other EC theologians), it seems obvious to me that Dr. Mohler is conflating the revelation of spiritual truth from God (which all Christians believe in) with revelation of pre-history about origins and supposed scientific facts thousands of years before modern with scientific instruments.  Wouldn’t revealing the later confuse the ancient audience to whom the Bible was written (Bible was written for us, but not too us, as Walton & Lamoureux point out) when those “facts” were merely INCIDENTAL to the all-important spiritual truths?  That wouldn’t be the best way to communicate to an ancient audience!  And they wouldn’t have had categories for deep time, evolution, etc.  Without modern scientific instrument, it might have made them doubt the credibility of the all-important spiritual truths.

THE Big Surprise in Ken Ham vs Bill Nye Debate

THE Big Surprise for me was the conspicuous absence in the debate over so-called macro-evolution from Ham.  Ken Ham didn’t seem to have a problem at all with a 1,000 or so “kinds” undergoing speciation since his alleged global flood 4,000 years ago to become the millions of species alive on the earth today, not to mention the billions that have lived and become extinct.  What’s up with that?

Let me repeat, Ken Ham didn’t seem to have a problem at all with a 1,000 or so “kinds” undergoing speciation since his alleged global flood 4,000 years ago to become the millions of species alive on the earth today.  Don’t other YECs have a problem with that?

Never mind that all that happened in a mere 4,000 years, according to Ham, a feat no evolutionary biologist could believe could happen so quickly – the fact that Ham didn’t even challenge all those new species forming is HUGE in my mind.

Do you remember where you were when you first believed in microevolution?  I do, it was the mid-‘80s, and I was reading Michael Denton’s, Evolution, A Theory in Crisis, which I think is about when I went from YEC to OEC.

IDK, I haven’t been on the AIG site extensively in a while but conceding, not only adaptation, but speciation through evolutionary processes seems like a huge retreat for the YEC camp.  It appears all their eggs are in the basket of a young-earth and a spontaneous de novo creation of those 1,000 or so original kinds.

You can’t argue against an evolutionary mechanism without proposing another that can accomplish speciation of the kind Ham proposes.

Keith Furman, PhD


  1. Hi Keith, this embracing of evolution (super fast or evolution on steroids) has been in the works for quite a while not but it was fascinating to see Ham make such explicit statements. I don’t think most of his followers realize just how radical this change is and what it means. I dont’ think Ham does either but they have taken a tactical position that think allows them to have their cake (claim they believe in natural selection, mutations and adaptation) and eat it too (claim they don’t believe in what they call macroevolution/human evolution). I’ve been writing about it for a while but the last two years their journal has published papers that have every broadened the definition of a “kind” to the point that now 1000s of species are in a kind.Thats a crazy amount of evolution.
    What really got me in Ham’s presentation was his use of the figure that showed God creating just one species in each kind then they speciated before the flood and then God slelected just one of those species to represent the entire kind on the Ark. After the flood of course that pair then speciated like rabbits. Nye was right to point out that this should mean that species formation should be happening before our very eyes in just a few generations. But this view that the pair was just a select pair from many species is a massive genetic bottlenck. Ham went on to say that there so much variation in a pair of animals but had they already speciated before the flood there would have been to variation carried through the flood.
    I can count the number of YECs on one hand that have any amount of genetic training and none of them have come close to proposing a mechanism for all this change and yet Purdom in the post debate interview kept saying that natural laws don’t change and that they aren’t saying that miracles were happening right and left during the flood or after. So how exactly did all these species form then?

    • Fascinating, Joel. Thanks for bringing me (and, as you say, probably many YEC) up to speed on the details of their superfast evolution. I can only shake my head – just crazy! I don’t think it will help them maintain their YEC position.

      They also want to have their cake and eat it to with regard to natural laws. On the one hand they want to give Christianity credit for initiating science because Christianity believed in consistent God-ordained laws (natural laws) and then they say radiometric dating is unreliable because you can assume those laws don’t change. They can’t have it both ways.

      I’m taking an online course on Human Evolution from the U. of Wisconsin that several Twitter friends and about 30,000 other people signed up for. Nye is right that they have a great many human/humaninins transitional fossils as he showed in another figure.

      It’s also telling when and would have bolstered Nye’s case even more to show the plot the gradual increase in cranial capacity over the last several million years from all those fossils showing the increase from a chimp size skull to modern humans, e.g., .

      • I’m glad you made the point above. I noticed that massive inconsistency on Ham’s part. While he wants to point to the RELIABILITY and UNIFORMITY of natural laws as evidence for God, he doesn’t seem to mind completely contradicting that argument when it suits his purposes, such as when he says you can’t prove that natural laws have always been…RELIABLE and UNIFORM (!!). Well, if you think that they may have changed between the past and today, who’s to say they couldn’t change tomorrow?? And Nye (if I’m interpreting his comments correctly) rightly points out that if things WERE different in the past (let’s say, the rate of genetic mutation and speciation), then there would be real consequences in the realm of “observational science” (one of Ham’s “categories” of science), i.e., we would OBSERVE 11 or more species coming into existence every day!

  2. What YECs don’t seem to realize is that you can’t just invoke a miracle whenever the physical evidence doesn’t support your theory. That’s just not science! I mean, yes, you can squirm out of accepting anything by invoking a miracle [“Maybe the speed of light was FASTER at the beginning of creation!” or “Maybe the genetic mutation rate was higher after the Flood!” (see my above post)], but even aside from the fact that if such scenarios were true, there would be evidence left behind of it (unless THAT was miraculously erased so that it LOOKED as though the speed of light has always been the same, etc.), at some point, such ad hoc, pious-sounding handwaving has to be called for what it is – childish thinking. These “miracles” aren’t convincing to anybody but the YEC choir to which they’r preached.

    • Great comments, Alan! They do a lot of, Well, what if this? or What if that? …anything to give a grain of hope so that they don’t have to change their rigid one-book scientific concordist interpretation of scripture. The Bible isn’t a book — its a library (John Polkinghorne in “From the Dust” video).

      I’ve often thought that, if all of evolutionary history happened in just 5 minutes, no one would have a problem with it. They seem to be taking an approach like that.

      “Why so long?”, was actually one of my biggest hurdles until I realized that a long time doesn’t matter to God — a thousand (or million, billion, etc.) years is as a day.

  3. I was talking to a YEC, who replied to by sentiments above by saying “Well, YOU can’t prove the genetic mutation rates WEREN’T faster 4,000 years ago!”, as though this were the end of the argument. But I pointed out to him that at least evolutionists had some “observational science” grounds (i.e., TODAY’s mutation rates) on which to base their assumptions of the past mutation rates. Creationists have NO “observational science” grounds to stand on!

  4. “Why so long?” I agree, God’s concept of time is completely alien to us, since He stands outside of time (whatever THAT means?!) and we are time bound.

  5. I think this is my first time on your blog… didn’t see the full debate myself, but have read summaries before this one… Yours goes a bit deeper. Indeed, the entire YEC process is a fascinating one for me as a “psychologist/sociologist of religion” (not by “terminal degree” but lots of study and pertinent experience), and of Christianity in particular, having long been Evangelical myself.

    It was partly Process thought (theology in particular) and partly a broader/deeper look at science, including parapsychology (yes, I see it as valid science when properly done) that allowed me to move away from most assumptions of modern orthodoxy (though not the entire categories). In Process theology, it is significant that God is seen, as we see it also in Genesis 1, as creating out of chaos, not “out of nothing”… a mistake of orthodoxy fairly early on. I’m wondering if this is the same as similar to your view, and if you’ve looked at the philosophical/theological underpinnings that Process provides… not just re. evolution and creation, but for helping science and faith to be viewed in harmony and science fearlessly pursued??

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