How the Ken Ham-Bill Nye creation debate hindered pastors

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee
February 5, 2014

After the Bill Nye versus Ken Ham debate, pastors who want to love people from all viewpoints now have a harder row to hoe.

February 5, 2014

It is possible that some pastors hold the view generally promoted in scientific circles - ie, that young-earth creationists cannot do "science", or are "science deniers" (the view presented by Nye). I think the debate helped bust that myth.
Inventor of the MRI? A biblical creationist. And Ken Ham cited several others in his talk. Of course they do not represent a majority of scientists, but atheistic and theistic evolutionists alike generally would have us believe they do not exist at all. They do, and their absolute rejection of the evolutionary paradigm and their belief that science supports the Genesis account in no way hinders their ability to do great scientific work (contrary to the claims of former "Humanist of the Year" Bill Nye).
We hear a lot about the conflict of "science and faith", and many pastors might find themselves buying into that notion. Some say we need to work hard to integrate and harmonize "science and faith" (code for: "fit Darwinian Evolution into the biblical account somehow by modifying our doctrines of: Creation, the creation of Adam and Eve, the Fall, the Noahic Flood" - all events which Jesus Christ seemed to consider to be literal and historical, incidentally)
However, I think the debate shed light on the fact that there is no conflict between "science and faith" when "science" is properly defined. As Ham pointed out, observational hard sciences like physics, chemistry, etc. have no conflict with biblical faith. The incompatiblility arises when we start speculating about Origins through historical sciences like evolution or cosmology. Perhaps pastors could benefit from considering this important distinction, and be more prepared to discuss these topics with congregants on both sides of the issue.
And finally, this "spectacle" will be used by God to accomplish His sovereign will. Whether or not we think the debate was helpful, Ham used the platform to bring the saving message of Jesus Christ to millions who may otherwise have been insulated from this Truth. And he also made clear (after Nye alluded to theistic evolutionist Francis Collins) that salvation does not depend on belief in a young earth, but rather depends solely on faith in Christ. He cited recent creation, global Flood, etc. as issues of consistency and authority, not salvation, based on Jesus' words (especially Matt 19).
At one point (which some have described as the pinnacle of the debate) someone asked Nye "Where did Matter come from?", and another asked "How did consciousness arise from matter?", Bill Nye admitted "I don't know". Ham responded: (paraphrasing)
"You know Bill, there is a Book out there which answers both of these questions: it says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and He also created Man in His image."
That Book also testifies to the Truth of Jesus Christ and salvation through faith in Him. It is true from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation, and nothing in observational, experimental, repeatable science contradicts that fact - only disputed speculations about the distant past do. This should be both a challenge and a great encouragement to pastors.

February 6, 2014

People at Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis are pretty good at slipping in sweeping claims without substantiation. And lots of folks accept them uncritically. Two things from the above comment strike me in this regard: first, the bold claim that it’s just obvious from the Gospels that Jesus believed in a literal interpretation of Genesis same as Ken Ham and company (and if it’s good enough for Jesus . . .). But if you go through all four gospels, you will never find a reference from Jesus to Adam or Eve by name, never find a reference to the speaking serpent or the Fall narrative, never find a reference to any of the “days” of creation or how or when the creation came into being in any way, shape, or form. Only once does Jesus refer to the institution of marriage, tying together one verse from Genesis 1 and another from Genesis 2 to indicate that marriage is God’s institution for creation (cf. Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:7). Notice: Jesus references Genesis 1 & 2 just once. On one other occasion in Luke 17:26 Jesus refers to God’s judgment as it descended in the Flood and mentions Noah. The only other Genesis reference I see is to “the blood of Abel” in Matthew 23:35 when Jesus uses that reference to bring down judgment on the religious leaders who have shed the blood of prophets for so long. In other words, the basis on which to claim Jesus was akin to a Young Earth Creationist on account of how he always talked about Genesis is at best thin and at worst ambiguous. I myself have long held a non-literal view of early Genesis but this does not prevent me in sermons from freely referring to Adam and Eve, Eden, Noah and the rest because the theology being taught in those stories is important and true and useful to me as a biblical expositor and preacher even though, were you to press me, you’d find my hermeneutical take on those chapters to be quite different from Mr. Ham’s. So if someone quoted a reference to Adam and Eve from one of my sermons, it would be incorrect to claim this shows I buy the whole literalist interpretation hook, line, and sinker. Jesus’ own references to early Genesis are so sparse—and so different from how he referred with greater frequency to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and Elijah—that one can infer almost nothing as to what Jesus believed as the incarnate Son of God about early Genesis or what he knew happened at the dawn of time.
One other matter: Mr. Ham’s repeated recourse to observational vs. historical science is mostly overblown. Of course it’s true that scientists today cannot travel back in time to observe how things formed. But two vital points need to be made: first, the past has a way of leaving evidence that we can find and study in the present, thus filling us in on what pertained in even the distant past. Second, the universe’s stability and orderliness (which Mr. Ham, as a Christian, rightly attributes to the orderliness of the God who created all things and who is “the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow”) means that we can create reliable models for how things worked in the past and can even make predictions on how things went—predictions that have very often been verified via subsequent discoveries of past artifacts. When Ken Ham stands in front of me, I know I can learn much about him as an actual person and could find out more were I to swab his mouth and get a look at his DNA. Now, I cannot travel back in time to observe the day Mr. Ham’s parents met and I do have to infer that at some point they came together sexually to produce their son and the person standing before me in the year 2014. But it would be a wild leap of illogic to say that my observational science of this moment cannot possibly make any such predictions historically even as it would be even odder to say that because we cannot observe any of that, it’s an open question whether Mr. Ham came about in that way—maybe he was spontaneously generated, emerged fully formed from a hole in the ground, got beamed down to this planet by a passing alien spacecraft. The idea that we cannot know anything with decent certainty and to a high degree of probability just because it emerges not from directly observational science but through so-called “historical science” is simply false. Granted, science is a tentative enterprise full of probabilities and open to revision based on future discoveries (including discoveries of artifacts from the past) but to say we can know nothing reliable about cosmic origins because only God was there to see it is a convenient dodge designed to bracket vast tracks of evidence from multiple sources of attestation. And again, it’s the kind of claim that Mr. Ham and AiG again and again slip past the unsuspecting, as though it settles the matter, when it does no such thing.

February 7, 2014

Thanks for saying what I've been thinking all along, Scott...though I had failed to empathize with the pastoral difficulties this debate may have erected for local church leaders who will be invited to "weigh in" on the debate themselves. I think you're right, generally speaking: this debate had little to commend itself to the public. From the beginning minds were pretty much made up. What's more, it cast in unnecessarily black-and-white rhetoric a theological question that has many shades of gray among adherents of both Christian and non-Christian worldviews.

If there is one virtue to how Ken Ham handled the debate, in my humble opinion, it's this: at least he tried very hard (according to his own admission in an interview afterward) to keep the debate from devolving (no pun intended) into a fight over the supposed scientific "evidence." People on both sides of the debate are looking at the same evidence and reach two different conclusions. What I personally think Ham did right was attempt to educate audiences on how their decisions on this matter are ultimately informed not by the evidence, but by their unexamined assumptions about the kinds of authority they will accept in the first place. For evangelical Christians, that authority is the Word of God, even for those who are struggling to reconcile whether a literal hermeneutic demands the YEC interpretation of Genesis. For those who from the beginning reject as inherently "unscientific" any claim that cannot itself be examined by empirical observation, that authority is their own judgment. Alas, I fear this was too nuanced a concept for many who came to the debate more for mud-slinging ammo than for a civil conversation on a contentious issue.

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