On Tuesday, February 4 an historic event took place in Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati. It was attended by more than 800 people and it was viewed live through Internet streaming by more than one million. Odds are, you already know what I am talking about. As I skimmed through comments on Facebook last night after the event was over it seemed that many people were referring to it simply as “the debate.”
The Debate was just that, an intellectual exchange of ideas between Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” and Ken Ham, co-founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis. Nye is an evolutionist and Ham is a young earth creationist. Their debate, at the Answers in Genesis Creation Museum, was over the question of whether or not creation is a viable model of origins in today’s scientific climate. To no one’s surprise, Ham believes it is while Nye believes it is not.
No doubt many individuals far more articulate than I will dissect the various arguments and elements of the debate, and no doubt from both sides. I can assert with equal certainty that individuals on both sides will also no doubt make derogatory comments about the individuals and the arguments on the other side, though history bears evidence that far more of these will come from the evolutionist side than the creationist side. I will leave the analysis of most of the nitty gritty details to others, and I do not intend to call anyone names.
On the contrary, I would like to commend both Mr. Ham and Mr. Nye for their willingness to engage in such a public exchange of ideas, placing themselves literally and figuratively in the spotlight on an international stage. Regardless of one’s convictions, beliefs and training, being on the spot, live, in front of millions, tasked with defending a belief system held strongly by millions as their sole at-the-moment spokesperson is not a position many people would envy or be willing to assume. The event no doubt benefited both men and the organizations of both men. Answers in Genesis, for example, reported more than two million visits to its web site in the month leading up to the debate. So sure, publicity was no doubt part of the motivation on both sides. I do not believe, however, that it was at the heart of either man’s willingness to participate in the debate.
As Albert Mohler pointed out in his blog post today, “Nye was criticized by many leading evolutionists, who argued publicly that nothing good could come of the debate.” Criticism is never pleasant, and when it comes from your own camp it is even less so. Kudos, then, to Bill Nye for his willingness to stand on a stage beside one of the world’s leading apologists for the biblical account of creation, and to do it on the creationist’s home turf.
The debate was well planned, well executed and–in a rarity for many debates these days–well moderated. Ham and Nye were civil to each other and respectful. Nye even told Ham after Ham’s initial presentation that he had learned something. (Interestingly, he never said what that something was, though, and it may well have been that Ham holds even crazier ideas than Nye originally thought).
I am a young earth creationist, as is Ham, and I believe that God created the world in six literal, 24-hour days. Odds are good that if you have ever read my blog before that you already knew that. If you are a newcomer, there you go–full disclosure, I agree with Ham. Actually, if you want truly full disclosure, I am a charter member of the Creation Museum and have supported both the museum and Answers in Genesis financially. So it will come as no surprise that I agreed with what Ham said in the debate and disagreed with much of what Nye said. That I went into the debate with my mind made up puts in no small company, though; the same can be said of both Ham and Nye as well as many, if not the majority, of the folks who watched the debate. As Mohler wrote, “If you agreed with Bill Nye you would agree with his reading of the evidence. The same was equally true for those who entered the room agreeing with Ken Ham; they would agree with his interpretation of the evidence.” No one expected Ham or Nye to be convinced by the other or to change his mind. Neither, I suspect, did either man expect to change the mind of the other. One thing that came through loud and clear in the debate is that reason will not change the minds of individuals devoted to either position. Sure, there may be people who have not made up their mind either way, and they may have been swayed, but the debate was more a presentation of data and dogma than an effort to win votes or converts. Ham, by the way, admitted that he would never change his mind, since his beliefs are rooted in the Word of God. Nye suggested that he would if evidence was presented to sway him, but he almost simultaneously stated that such evidence could not exist, so his seeming openness to change was not entirely legitimate.
There were a couple of things that the debate made clear to me that I will comment on. One is that Bill Nye has apparently never read the Bible. His comments about it, and his apparent shock when Ham stated that some of the Bible is history, some poetry, etc, served as proof positive that he is, at best, unfamiliar with the Word of God. One point in favor of those with a biblical worldview is that they are willing to listen to and even study the other side in their defense of their faith.
Two, Nye’s own comments made it clear that the evolutionist position relies just as much on faith as the creationist position does. There were at least two times during the question-and-answer section of the debate when Nye responded to a question by saying, “We don’t know.” Translation: no proof exists for what he believe on this issue, we just believe it. Interesting, given how strongly Nye and others on the evolution side of the argument criticize Ham and those on the creation side for clouding their understanding of science with “beliefs.” Ham made the point early in the evening that the evolution position is just as much a “religion” as the creation position; I never heard Nye comment on that statement.
Three, Bill Nye seems scared to death that schools might actually consider allowing creation to be taught in schools, or at least allow evolution to be questioned or “critically examined.” There were times during the debate when he sounded like a political candidate, appealing to voters to save the United States from falling behind in the world. This was not a new position for Nye; in a widely-seen video Nye made last year he said of those who believe in the creation position, “[I]f you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.” In other words, Nye is suggesting, if you believe in the biblical account of creation you cannot be an intelligent, practicing scientist. You cannot accomplish great things within the scientific community. This position was why Ken Ham made such a point of quoting, mentioning and even playing video clips from accomplished scientists who hold to the creationist viewpoint, including the inventor of the MRI machine. I confess, initially I wondered why Ham kept including these references and dwelling on this point, because it did not seem to be a major tenet of the argument to me. As Nye went on though it became increasingly clear that it is a crucial part of the argument and Ham knew what he was doing. Oddly enough, perhaps, it had never occurred to me that someone would think that if you believe the Bible you cannot also be good at science. How naïve of me!
Albert Mohler concluded his blog post this way: “The central issue last night was really not the age of the earth or the claims of modern science. The question was not really about the ark or sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the self-declared ‘reasonable man’ and the worldview of the sinner saved by grace.” I really could not say it any better. Nye insists he is reasonable, and by default that Ham is not (nor are those who believe as he does). Interestingly enough, the Bible describes godly wisdom as “reasonable.” James writes, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). I am thankful that Ken Ham demonstrated wisdom from above in his debate with Bill Nye; my prayer is that Bill Nye will come to know that reasonable wisdom from above some day, too.