Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Toasted Ham on Nye OR Adding Noise to the Origins Debate

I issued a soft invitation to members from my church to congregate in my home for the live debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. Only one person accepted. I should have offered snacks (Toasted Ham on Nye would've been apropos), but I only promised food for thought.
The debate went better than I suspected. I feared the medium would overtake the message. I had reason to be anxious: Two times during my college career, I heard Ken Ham lay out his case for creation. The fast talking Aussie did not take a breath, turning over twenty-six transparencies a minute. His words-per-second produced a dizzying effect, as if I were part of a rapidly expanding universe. Ham's sprint from Slide 1 to Slide 2 to Slide 68 never gave the critical, evangelical mind a chance to digest.

Last night, his speech marched onward. But Ken Ham has evolved since my college years. The mouthpiece of Young Earth Creationism (YEC) had abandoned the outdated medium of overhead projectors, adopting instead the sleek presentation powered by Apple. (Even he could not deny this forbidden fruit.) The constant glow of the Macbook's icon made a case for progress.
My second fear regarding the debate was that Christians would mindlessly cheer their representative (mind you, I know the YEC view is the minority among Christians, I just happen to come from one of those that "reads the Bible literally"), without giving consideration to the reasons the Reasonable Bill Nye objected to creation's viability. As a pastor trained in the ways of the Jedi, I subscribe to the theory that you should listen to opposing points of view, so as to fine-tune your own convictions. Timothy Keller encourages readers of The Reason for God to take a "leap of doubt," since exploring doubts can develop a powerful antidote to atheism.

While I doubt the debate saved many souls or swayed many opinions, it certainly created some virtual noise. Given enough time and chance, the online dialogue may evolve into something more complex. More likely it will die. Snow will fall. March madness will begin. Gas prices will rise. Justin Bieber will debut another video. We, the most intelligent creatures on the planet, will digress.

Until then, I thought I'd add to the virtual noise. Now, to the finer points:
  • I applaud Ken Ham for initiating this debate.
  • I applaud Bill Nye for accepting the invitation.
  • Bill Nye should know that my daughter, who has been exposed to him at her secular, public school did not find him to be near as winsome in the debate as on his television show. She is 8.
  • I give the rhetoric edge to Ken Ham. He boasted the superior accent (and was not afraid to admit it) and avoided extreme language, as compared to Bill Nye whose overuse of the words incredible, troublesome, remarkable, and, especially, change the world, made him appear grasping.
  • I will, however, give a rhetoric point to Bill Nye for consistently calling the YEC view, "Ken Ham's Creationism." That clever devil. Unfortunately, I have to subtract the point for calling the Flood "Ken Ham's Flood." Genesis 6-9 attributes the flood to God (cause) and Noah (conqueror).
  • Of the two opening arguments, Bill Nye's was more amicable. He told an effective parable about the bow tie, implying YEC is an uncertain story.
  • Bill Nye should not have cocked his head sideways and looked nefarious when Ken Ham spoke. (Proponents of the YEC movement can thank the camera men for that angle, as shown above.) 
  • Ken Ham should not have sat down when Bill Nye gave his second rebuttal. He looked uncaring.
  • I think the men should have hugged at the end. Ken Ham, reach out!

Now to the lingering questions:
  • Did these guys listen to each other? It appeared to me that they were speaking past one another.
  • Has Bill Nye read the Bible? He seemed to confuse the Fall (a word not used in Genesis 3, but implied by later authors like Paul) with the Flood.
  • Is Ken Ham's distinction of Historical and Observational Science tenable? I'd be curious how more scientists respond to his categories. Ham bases YEC viability on this distinction.
  • Was Genesis written to be an Answer Book? I've always felt a bit uneasy about the namesake of this organization. I appreciate their mission, but it does create a canon within a canon. Moreover, it does not answer the question: If all the answers are in Genesis, why the rest of the Bible? More importantly, what does the science say about the irruption of a New Creation, of which Jesus is the first fruits (1 Corinthians 15:20ff)?
  • How trustworthy is modern science, if it continues to evolve? Both speakers recognized natural law, but theories of origin and destiny continue to change. I appreciated Ken Ham's statement that the fact of the flood does not change over time, but theories of how the flood (its effects, how it worked) continue to incorporate new information. I would have liked examples of how theories have developed there, but I'm sure there's a paper on their website somewhere.
  • This Flood was pretty important, huh? According to Genesis 6-9, the flood destroyed everything. God then re-created the earth. YEC suggest a 4000 year span, based upon genealogies (Gen. 10 and 11). Was this enough time for peoples, plants, and animals to spread across the globe? Certainly the account at Babel explains the advent of nations and the dispersion of people (Gen 11). What about the proliferation of animal species? And could the plants buried beneath the deluge have resurrected, their seed maintaining its potency? If we understand the genealogies in Genesis to be partial, does this somehow prove God errant?
  • Does evolution explain the evidence? Evolution makes a compelling case for disorder, death, and abuse in the world. Progress for one species comes at the cost of another. Moreover, one who does not believe in God, but ascribes her origin to natural causes is not necessarily relegated to a life of meaningless despair. Rather, she may feel triumphant. While other species have died off, she has survived. She may view herself as tough, strong, and determined. What evolutionary theory does not explain well is the advent of softer virtues: kindness, love, laughter, generosity, temperance, and love. Our lure for beauty, want for justice, and pleasure of community easily fit into the picture of a human made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). Christians, nonetheless, should be careful of assuming all naturalists are all secretly mired in depression or incapable of compassion. Common grace and the imago Dei touch everyone.
  • What is the Gospel? Jesus' earliest witnesses affirmed God as creator. In fact, they included the Holy Spirit and Jesus in the act of creation (e.g., Colossians 1:15-20). The author of Hebrews lists God's fiat creation as a test of orthodoxy (Hebrews 11:3). But the foundation of the gospel is not Creation; it is Jesus' work of redemption -- life, death, resurrection, return (1 Cor. 15). Even a casual reading of the sermons in Acts (2:14-36; 3:11-26; 7:1-53; 13:16-41; 14:15-18; 17:22-31) shows the apostles ignore the creation account. In fact, the first five sermons begin with Abraham (Gen. 12-25), not Adam (Gen. 1-5). Perhaps this was an example of knowing your Jewish audience and their assumption of fiat creationism, because to the pagans Paul paints God as creator (Acts 17). Nevertheless, the good news about Jesus transcends dates for creation. Re-creation is the focus. And as much as I appreciate Ken Ham's commitment to Scripture and clear presentation of the need for salvation, I think he failed to answer Bill Nye's greatest question: What can you predict?
  • What can we predict? Jesus is coming (Rev. 22:20) and people will scoff at this claim (2 Pet. 3). God will restore the world to Himself. The greatest era of discovery has not yet dawned! If finding new things drives scientists more than any other aim, they should look to the one who promised "Behold, I will make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).


Lee Compson said...

Returning the favor by commenting - I'd also add that I would actually highly recommend the Creation Museum for your family. Excellent facilities and would be very entertaining for your kids.

Abe Wright said...

Great post, Tim. I appreciated your lingering questions, and would like to add two more. "Does our faith stand or fall depending on whether or not there is compelling evidence that suggests that evolution is true?" Also, "Can you believe in evolution and still believe in a creator God and in Jesus' redemption?"

Sprained Ankle said...

Thanks for asking, Abe. Regarding your first question: Faith should be reasonable (1 Peter 3:15), but it reaches deeper, into what is unseen (Hebrews 11:1-2; 2 Cor. 5). My primary reason for following Jesus is not because the scientific evidence for age of the earth aligns with Genesis 1, but because I find all counter-explanations for the resurrection of Jesus wanting (1 Cor. 15:19. I lean on history to support my faith more than science. I am certain one can be a Christian and believe in evolution. Theistic evolutionists believe God used the mechanism of evolution to bring the world into existence. They would understand Genesis as something less than a scientific/historic record, and more as a polemic against other creation accounts. Those are plausible interpretations for Genesis 1-2, but I find they create two great difficulties. First, when/how did God select the 2-legged human predecessor to become an image-bearer, thus distinguishing him from the rest of animal creation. Second, how does theistic evolution affect one's understanding of Jesus as the Second Adam, who was apparently understood by 1st Century Jews to be a real person. I'll be presenting a paper on that second question in two months, so perhaps I'll have some stronger opinions. Redemption comes from faith in (or faithfulness to) the person and work of Jesus. There are surely Christians who follow Him and consider evolution the way of God's creation. I, however, would not put myself in the theistic evolutionary camp.