Brief reflections on the creation debate

The creation debate just ended. I do not plan on giving an extended commentary and analysis of this, but here are some of my initial impressions:

1. Ken Ham has an unwavering commitment to biblical authority and to the gospel. I admire that about him and do believe him to represent the most compelling position. I am grateful that he is out there fighting the good fight. He’s one of the good guys.

2. Bill Nye believes that scientific innovation will die unless creationists abandon their beliefs and embrace Bill Nye’s view of science. That is why he treats creationists as a hindrance to the public good who must be stopped. The only problem with this belief is that it is empirically and verifiably false. As Ken Ham demonstrated, there have been and are many great scientists who have innovated from within a theistic/Christian worldview. Nye’s public service announcements warning Americans about creationists were therefore more condescending than helpful. Regardless of your view of creationism, Ken Ham showed that there is no opposition between Christianity and scientific innovation.

3. Bill Nye came across as a more impressive speaker than Ken Ham. Nye has a delivery and presentation style that many will find very compelling. I’d be interested to see if anyone actually scored the debate on points. It seemed like Nye probably won on that measurement.

4. Ken Ham was cordial and winsome throughout. Bill Nye was combative and condescending throughout. I doubt that Ham won many converts through his cordiality, and I’m certain that Nye didn’t win any with his condescension.

5. I doubt that either of these men persuaded anyone to switch their view one way or the other. If you watched this debate as a naturalist, you probably weren’t challenged to change that worldview. Likewise, if you watched the debate as a theist, there was nothing here to undermine your worldview either.

6. Bill Nye does not appear to have even a rudimentary understanding of the Bible or theology. When he ventured into questions of hermeneutics or biblical interpretation, he was way out of his depth.

There’s much more that can and should be said about this debate. I’m looking forward to reading post-debate commentary and analysis from others. Mine ends here. I encourage you to watch the debate for yourself above.

37 Responses to Brief reflections on the creation debate

  1. Lauren Law February 4, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

    That’s interesting. I would have scored Ham as the winner of this one. Bill Nye did appear combative and “unsettled” through most of the debate. He appeared satisfied with “mysteries” and not interested in having or knowing “answers.” Ham brought up a lot of evidence that could cause one to question Nye’s assertions: the 4,500 year old tree imbedded in 4,500,000 stone….the layers of ice over the missing planes in Iceland. I thought Nye actually contradicted himself when he questioned that animals traveled mysteriously to other continents and then told of the rhinoceros bones in North Dakota. Nye also made the statement “We invented science…” showing who he believes his real god to be…man! I appreciated that Ken Ham was gracious, unflustered and most of all that he continually pointed out the Truth of the Scriptures…and preached a gospel message to some who may never have heard it before. Will people change their minds based on this debate? I agree with you…probably not. But as a Christian who gets tired of hearing that we’re supposedly uneducated and incapable of having clear thinking on any issues, it was nice to be represented by the intelligent and clear-speaking of Ken Ham.

  2. Tony Kummer February 4, 2014 at 11:40 pm #

    I’m still wondering why Ham makes the young earth model a “hill on which to die.” I felt a little sad for my non-religious friends. If only… they could have started with the Resurrection and worked their way back to poetic first chapter of Genesis.

    • Scott Christensen February 5, 2014 at 11:50 am #

      The unbeliever rejects the resurrection for the same reason he rejects the creation account of Genesis – both are supernatural events. BTW, Genesis contains none of the marks of Hebrew poetry. It is historical narrative as OT scholar Walter Kaiser pointed out years ago.

      • Don Johnson February 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

        I think that early Genesis is narrative, but it has many unusual aspects to it, many of which are obscured in translation and some of which are obscured by translation choices that harmonize the stories. I see all of Genesis as extended covenant preamble to the Sinai covenant found in Ex-Lev-Num.

      • Nell Parker February 8, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

        I thought you might be interested to know that Walt Kaiser is not a believer in a young earth and actually debated against Ken Ham a few years ago.

  3. Jim G. February 4, 2014 at 11:49 pm #

    Denny, have you ever looked at the statement of beliefs on the Reasons to Believe website and/or heard our brother Hugh Ross speak. He is rock solid in his faith from what I’ve seen and I would say the same about you. Anyway, here’s a snipet from the Reasons to Believe statement of belief page:

    Scripture
    We believe the Bible (the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments) is the Word of God, written. As a “God-breathed” revelation, it is thus verbally inspired and completely without error (historically, scientifically, morally, and spiritually) in its original writings. While God the Holy Spirit supernaturally superintended the writing of the Bible, that writing nevertheless reflects the words and literary styles of its individual human authors. Scripture reveals the being, nature, and character of God, the nature of God’s creation, and especially His will for the salvation of human beings through Jesus Christ. The Bible is therefore our supreme and final authority in all matters that it addresses.

    Creation
    We believe that the physical universe, the realm of nature, is the visible creation of God. It declares God’s existence and gives a trustworthy revelation of God’s character and purpose. In Scripture, God declares that through His creation all humanity recognizes His existence, power, glory, and wisdom. An honest study of nature – its physical, biological, and social aspects – can prove useful in a person’s search for truth. Properly understood, God’s Word (Scripture) and God’s world (nature), as two revelations (one verbal, one physical) from the same God, will never contradict each other.

    See more at: http://www.reasons.org/about/our-mission

    Anyway, they are NOT young earth creationists and yet they believe that the Bible is God’s Word and is fully reliable. I think Christians are not “rightly dividing the word” when they insist on saying that the Bible demands a young earth view. Neither God’s word nor his creation (and He is Lord of all) demand a young earth creationist view.

    • Andrew Orlovsky February 5, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      I am a huge supporter of RTB myself. I am an Engineer who was not raised in an Evangelical home and they have been extremely helpful to my spiritual growth.

      I am a but dissapointed that even the Reformed wing of the SBC still seems to cling to Young-Earth Creationism so furvently. I am potentially looking to join a reformed church (I currently attend a rather generic Evangelical church). I am a credo-baptist but I love how the PCA seems a lot more open to old earth views.

      • Scott Christensen February 5, 2014 at 11:56 am #

        Andrew I am not sure the so-called Reformed wing of the SBC is committed to YEC, but even if that were the case why would it disappoint you? Do you think RTB/ PCA’s OEC position is any more credible to the unbelieving world?

        • Andrew Orlovsky February 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

          Dr. Mohler (who I agree with on almost every other issue) is definitely committed to YEC, and I have not seen others in the SBC challenge him. The pastors of the only reformed SBC in my County are also big AiG supporters. I’m sure there are OECs in the SBC but it seems not many have made their views public.

          As a new believer, I did find the RTB”s position much more credible than the YEC position. Prior to becoming a Christian at age 20, I was actually not aware that anyone (except maybe the Amish) still disputed evolution. Granted, I grew up in a town that was overwhelmingly Catholic and had little experience with any Evangelicals prior to college.

          • Andrew Orlovsky February 5, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

            Also, Walt Kaiser, who you cited in your other post, is an old earth creationist who has actually teamed up with RTB president Hugh Ross in debate against Ken Ham and Jason Lisle.

            • Scott Christensen February 5, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

              Yes that is true about Walt Kaiser which makes his case more compelling that Genesis 1-2 is not poetry. He knows that he must add something else to his interpretation of the text to make is speak of long ages and thus he must read between the lines and import something the text does not in fact say.

              Any straightforward reading of the text yields an account of literal days. In order to make it read eons of time you must either (a) import something beyond and in addition to the historical text that it does not say or (b) distort the text as unhistorical and thus force it to say something it doesn’t (e.g. like changing the genre or assuming some ANE background the text is adopting).

              Why is all this done when it had never been a controversy before the 19th century? Because the modern scientific consensus has greater authority than the text of Scripture to such interpreters. But in order to save face as it were with regard to honoring some degree of inspiration and Scriptural authority, such interpreters have to do something with the text in order to make it conform to the more authoritative perspective of the modern scientific consensus. To one degree or another the authority of the plain text is being compromised in an unwitting capitulation to anti-supernatural/ anti-theistic/ anti-revelation worldviews espoused by the modern scientific consensus. I have yet to be convinced otherwise.

              BTW, it is interesting to me that once you abandon the plain reading of the text, suddenly its interpretation becomes a free for all. So you have Kline, Walton, Sailhamer, Collins, et. al. all espousing different interpretations indicating that it is not plainly obvious what the text is saying when you abandon a straightforward reading.

              • Bruce Symons February 7, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

                And Augustine …?

  4. James Stanton February 5, 2014 at 12:33 am #

    “Bill Nye believes that scientific innovation will die unless creationists abandon their beliefs and embrace Bill Nye’s view of science. That is why he treats creationists as a hindrance to the public good who must be stopped.”

    I think this helps me understand Bill’s condescension. He’s fairly typical of the anti-creationism crowd in that there is an incredulity that evolution is not accepted by many Christians and therefore any engagement is tinged with hostility. Add to that defiance amongst many on the scientific consensus about climate change. Nye’s activism probably has a lot to do with his role as a famous educator and teacher. He sees traditional Christianity as a threat to his version of truth.

  5. Michael Awbrey February 5, 2014 at 1:10 am #

    Thanks for these thoughts. I disagree with Nye being the better speaker. He was combative, condescending, and disorganized. I had a few reflections I posted as well at michaelawbrey.com.

  6. Don Johnson February 5, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    http://biologos.org/blog/ham-on-nye-our-take
    Various people at Biologos including John Walton give their assessment.
    Biologos teaches that Christians can accept all of modern science.

    • Don Johnson February 5, 2014 at 10:19 am #

      My take is the debate was between holders of the 2 extremes of a spectrum of possibilities, that includes at least 4 options: atheistic evolution, evolutionary creation, progressive creation, and young earth creation. After reading Gerald Rau, I favor his 6 option model that gives some more granularity to the EC model. By having the debate between the extremes, the middle ground got excluded from most of the discussion and mostly presented a false dichotomy between faith and science.

  7. Curt Day February 5, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    I’ve seen the urgency to disprove Creationism/Intelligent Design before. It is well intentioned but authoritarian as well. And it is the authoritarian way of speaking which helps/hurts anyone’s presentation depending on the audience. However, we should be careful not to depreciate the other things people say or do just because of their presentation style.

    • Chris Ryan February 5, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

      That’s the problem w/ the culture wars, there’s so much condescension. I certainly think there are Evolutionists who disdain Fundamentalists as knuckle draggers, but there are also Fundamentalists who disdain Evolutionists as pointy-headed effete academics. Its frustrating for me, personally, b/cs I have close friends in both camps so I’m always in the cross fire…I actually don’t see why people get so hung up on the debate. The origin of the universe is fascinating, but ultimately I really only care that Christ died on the cross for me. The rest of it is, as they say, academic.

      • Curt Day February 5, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

        Chris,
        I agree with you and feel your frustration.

        • Scott Christensen February 5, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

          That is unfortunate you both feel this way. In your view it would appear that what God has revealed concerning creation is superfluous, perhaps he made a mistake in doing so.

          • Chris Ryan February 6, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

            What percent of sermons are preached on Creation? How many people are called to salvation and repent of their sins because of the Creation story? How many Christians can recall exactly the order in which God created the universe? Are those who can’t destined for Hell? And would it matter one whit to you that when the Creator of the universe said, “Let there be Light” that there was immediately a Big Bang? It wouldn’t matter to me. I wouldn’t worship our Creator any less if he used an Ice Age to form the Rocky Mountains than if He reached down with His hand and piled the dirt up Himself. 2 Peter 3:8 tells me that humans can’t begin to comprehend God; nor God time.

            btw, science can NEVER prove/disprove God. Just because Albert Einstein couldn’t split the Red Sea doesn’t mean Moses didn’t. It just means that Moses’ splitting of the sea doesn’t fit with natural processes. But why would it? The Bible isn’t a Science book, its a Salvation Book! 🙂

            • Scott Christensen February 7, 2014 at 11:50 am #

              I appreciate your zeal, but I think you are missing several points..

              First of all, creation ex nihilo via divine fiat is the very foundational work that demonstrates the glory of God and establishes God as a God of order, purpose and design. IOW, the whole histotical plot line which encompasses redemption begins with creation and God’s purposes in it. The supernatural manner in which He brought the world into existence is of supreme importance in manifesting the very character of God and Christ (cf. John 1:1-4).

              Secondly, the whole debate would be superfluous to many people except for one important point which some either implicitly or explicitly acknowledge, and others assume unknowingly. It is the question of authority. What serves as the authority by which we justify truth claims including the origin of the universe? God or man? Biblical revelation or modern science? That is an immensely important question that shapes a great deal of one’s worldview.

              God clearly revealed the manner of creation which conflicts with the modern scientific consensus, so one must decide which to believe – a supernatural event conducted over the course of 6 days in the recent past or a series of purely natural events unfolding over eons of time. Many evangelicals want to straddle the fence here – one foot in the supernatural world and one foot in the naturalism world and it simply doesn’t work. First of all, the Biblical worldview doesn’t allow it; and secondly, the exegesis of Genesis 1 is crystal clear and doesn’t allow it.

              More could be said, but these two underlying issues make one’s view of creation critical if they take the Biblical worldview and faith seriously.

  8. David Powell February 5, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    Full disclosure, I am a YEC. If I were scoring the debate, I thought Bill Nye carried the night, but only because Ken Ham faded away late from his early strongholds. He was adamant early about defining the terms “creation,” “evolution/naturalism,” and “science,” being careful to class the first two as worldview/belief systems, while holding science apart from either one as a discipline of study. I thought that by the end of the night, while he had not abandoned these claims, he failed to keep them at the forefront and allowed Bill Nye to re-cast himself as the “reasonable man,” merely following the evidence (the scientific body of knowledge) to its obvious conclusions (naturalism/big bang/evolution, etc.).

    I was also disappointed that Ham did not challenge Nye on philosophical/epistemological/theological grounds (which is, in my opinion, where Biblical Creationism grinds Naturalism/Materialism into a fine powder) and on some of the nuggets from the Intelligent Design guys, but I am guessing this had a lot to do with where the parameters of the debate had been drawn beforehand.

    I thought both guys were courteous and respectful, but Nye’s body language was far superior to the slumped shoulders and appearance of near resignation in Ham by the end of the debate. I think maybe that Ham had a night similar to what Barack Obama went through in the 1st Presidential Debate in 2012–body language all wrong, mind not completely engaged or firing on all cylinders–the sort of night that we have all been through at points along the way. It was just unfortunate that this happened on such a big stage as this.

    Nonetheless, God is good and remains enthroned in majesty. As to the list of predictions proceeding out of Scripture that Bill Nye was looking for…
    -Fallen man will remain desperately wicked;
    -The message of the cross will remain foolishness to those who are unspiritual;
    -Israel is still here (while the Jebusites, Hivites, Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, etc., have passed on into distant memory). And they will hang around until God fulfills His purposes for them;
    -Jesus is coming soon;
    -This earth will pass away;
    -We will all stand before the Judgment Seat one day.

  9. Curt Day February 5, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

    Finally listened to the whole debate. Both used induction to show that the approach to science they take contributes to further scientific discovery.

    The age debate went to Nye. While Ham challenged that in general, he gave few specifics to challenge all of the evidence with regards to the age of the earth and universe. Also note that Nye is not as bothered by Creationists who do not hold to a literal 6 day creation.

    Ham makes a good distinction between observational and historical science. Ham overstates the significance of his exegesis of Genesis to show Biblical support for a literal 6 day creation.

    Too much of the debate was about non-science. That I found to be manipulative.

  10. Curt Day February 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    Forgot to mention two other points,

    Nye was weak on Biblical manuscripts. They started as oral traditions. What Nye did not say was that stories passed down in societies that rely on oral tradition don’t suffer the same whisper down the lane distortion that societies that rely on written traditions do.

    Also, the key weakness of Nye’s position is that his approach cannot prove that life can come from inanimate material. That has never been observed. And then there are ethical problems that come from saying that life can come solely from inanimate materials. If there is no difference between animate and inanimate material, then we have the ethical problems. If there is a difference, how did that change occur in a world in which regularity rules? If we say by chance, then how do we have regularity?

  11. buddyglass February 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    “Bill Nye believes that scientific innovation will die unless creationists abandon their beliefs and embrace Bill Nye’s view of science. […] The only problem with this belief is that it is empirically and verifiably false. As Ken Ham demonstrated, there have been and are many great scientists who have innovated from within a theistic/Christian worldview.”

    Without endorsing Nye’s view, the existence of great scientists who have innovated from within a theistic/Christian worldview does not contradict the claim that scientific innovation is negatively impacted by a theistic/Christian worldview.

    That claim is much harder to disprove. (Or to prove, for that matter.)

  12. James Bradshaw February 5, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    I really never thought I’d agree with Pat Robertson on anything but … well, here you go:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/pat-robertson-to-ken-ham-lets-not-make-a-joke-of-ourselves/

  13. Jim Ottaway February 5, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

    I agree with you totally on this Scott. Chris and Curt: I think many people start out saying they don’t need to accept the Bible’s position on how the universe came to be. Later, they find that their softness in Genesis leads to being uncertain about other parts of Scripture, and eventually of the nature and work of Christ.

  14. Daryl Little February 6, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    I listened to the debate yesterday and found it illuminating on 2 levels.

    One: I’ve listened to many debates and seminars on the science of 7-day creation and the flood. It’s all been compelling to me and (to my non-research scientist mind) helpful and accurate. This is the only, or one of the few debates I’ve listened to where the Christian made the issue about world-view and philosophical assumptions. I found that most helpful and, to Mr. Nye (although he won’t recognize it right now) the most life-giving. That is, It seemed to me that Ken Ham did not pass up as single opportunity to present the gospel. And isn’t that the real issue that Bill Nye needs to understand?

    Two: Bill Nye’s a priori assumptions were on full display, not least because he clearly did no preparation in order to understand the Christian view-point and seemed almost shocked that he (He!) could have brought any previous beliefs to his scientific table.

    Those two things alone almost make the science of it superfluous. I don’t think it is superfluous, I think that 7-day/world-wide flood science is as air-tight as science gets (which is to say that there are questions remaining, but no show-stoppers), but particularly for a guy like Bill Nye, who seems to have not much more than a high-school or under-grad understanding of the science the whole issue really is world-view, not atoms and stars.

    Ken Ham was a gentleman (contrary to what so many said he was prior to the debate) and careful in his explanations and, I thought, showed a real concern for Mr. Nye.

    Could the science have been better dealt with? Oh sure. But when you have 2 non-scientists debating evolution, would that really have been the right angle to take?

    And, at the end of the day, for Christians who watched the debate, a call to stand first and most firmly, on Scripture, to the exclusion of all competing ideologies, I think it was a needed and helpful message.

  15. Don Johnson February 6, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/02/06/the-great-debate-nye-vs-ham-rjs/ is a one page analysis of the debate by a scientist who is a Christian and knows both well.

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