Evaluation of the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate PART 3

Now that we’ve looked at the opening statements of each debate participant (in Part 1 and Part 2), we come to the main presentations. I’ll begin with Ken Ham’s, and in Part 4 of this series, I’ll analyze Bill Nye’s.

Ken Ham’s 30-Minute Presentation

Rather than analyze Ham’s entire presentation, I’d like to point out some of the good, important points he made and then I’ll discuss where I think he went seriously wrong.

Good Points:

Ham rightly claimed that whenever anyone carries out the practice of science, be they religious or not, they are borrowing from the Christian worldview. They must assume human rationality, the laws of logic, the laws of nature, and the uniformity of nature in order to have science in the first place. I agree. The scientific revolution gained much momentum from the great scientists who based their belief about the intelligibility of the cosmos on the existence of a creator, of a rational mind behind it all. Otherwise, why should we expect the world to be orderly, for there to be laws and regularities? Furthermore, why are human minds capable of scientific discovery in the first place? Why do our mathematical constructs map onto the natural world with such magnificent precision? Where did the laws of mathematics and logic even come from? Saying that they’re simply brute facts seems like a cop-out. Rationality is not a product of chaos.

Another very good point Ham made was in regard to the many “trees of life” we observe in nature, as opposed to one tree of universal common descent. Even though the fossil record is woefully incomplete, there truly seems to be this distinct “lawn” or “orchard” pattern that is not harmonious with the Darwinian idea of all animal life being related to an original universal common ancestor. Ham showed a good graphic to illustrate this concept.

Ham posed a direct question to Bill Nye: “Can you name one piece of technology that could only have been developed starting with a belief in molecules-to-man evolution?” Excellent point, and one that needs to be repeated in response to the neo-Darwinian accusations that teaching children that there is a Creator threatens the progress of science.

A short video featuring Dr. Andrew Fabich, a microbiologist, debunked the claim that E. coli adapting to citrate-containing growth medium is an example of support for a “molecules to man” evolutionary history. Dr. Fabich explained that all the experiment demonstrates is how a certain genetic “switch” can be turned on or off in response to the environment and there is no NEW genetic information that has evolved in the bacteria.

Ham rightly explained the link between naturalistic theories of man’s origin and moral decay. This isn’t just idle conjecture; it can be incredibly well-supported using examples from history. Whenever man is seen as just another animal, he is devalued, seen as disposable, replaceable, just a commodity. But if man is seen as different from the rest of living things in KIND, not simply in DEGREE, we must identify what gives him unique dignity and preserve human life at great cost.

Finally, I was glad Ham highlighted the problem with the popular media using abrasive and degrading rhetoric when discussing creationists. Often, a dichotomy is drawn between “academics” or “scientists” and “creationists,” when there are individuals who are all three. Ham’s video profiles of various scientists drove this point home. (Oftentimes, advocates of intelligent design, old-earth creationism, and young-earth creationism are all lumped together under the pejorative “creationist,” which is inaccurate and confusing–sometimes intentionally so.)

Problems with Ham’s Argument:

Ham pulled out one of his most favored lines: “You don’t observe the past directly.” He used the Grand Canyon as an example, explaining that none of us saw the layers being laid down, so the origin of those layers is subject to our interpretation, be it “secular” or “biblical.”

There are serious problems with this argument in terms of science and in terms of Christian apologetics. First, not having directly observed how a natural phenomenon, such as a canyon, came to be doesn’t mean that we don’t have excellent evidence for reconstructing its history. We can observe natural processes and make reasonable inferences about a historical event. Ham loves to give the impression that anyone who believes that evidence overwhelmingly supports an old earth is just giving a naturalistic interpretation, that if they were evaluating the data honestly, without naturalistic presuppositions, they would see tons of evidence for a young earth instead. This simply isn’t true. For one thing, there are former young-earth creation scientists who have investigated the data for themselves only to discover that it really does point strongly to an old earth. I’ve met such people personally. I have also met scholars who hold to a young-earth interpretation of Scripture but openly admit, “Science is not on our side. We can only hope to one day be vindicated by yet-to-be-elucidated scientific principles.”

It should be noted that the data for an ancient earth and universe comes from several different scientific disciplines, so we have independent corroboration of the conclusions. If this was all simply about interpretation of the data by “secular scientists,” we should not see the data from completely separate areas harmonizing so nicely (tree ring data and ice core data line up extraordinarily well, for example). Occasional anomalies in data are par for the course in any field, and we can’t use those to say, “See! The theories are totally wrong!” Ham particularly overstates the inconsistencies that happen with radiometric dating methods. (An excellent resource on this is “Radiometric Dating: A Christian Perspective” by Dr. Roger C. Wiens).

Second, Ham’s argument about the un-observability of the past is highly detrimental to the project of Christian apologetics. In order to present a case for the truth of Christianity to someone (such as Bill Nye) who doesn’t believe the Bible to be an authoritative, true account of the past, we necessarily rely upon neutral, extra-biblical evidence to build a case for past events that we did not witness ourselves. The point is, we must acknowledge that evidence outside of the Bible is crucial and has to be used to support biblical truth in a NON-CIRCULAR way. We cannot say, “I believe this evidence should be interpreted this way because of what the Bible says, and when I interpret it this way, it shows that the Bible is true!!” See the problem? Christians, please, please don’t do this.

Third, Ham rightly asserted that all of the major Christian doctrines are rooted in Genesis, but he failed to acknowledge the complexities at play when discussing essential doctrines and science. Genesis teaches us that God created all things, that man is a special creation made in the very image of God, that we were created innocent but fell into sin through purposeful rebellion, and we need blood redemption to be reconciled to God. Indeed, these are some essentials of the faith. However, they do not require young-earth creationism to be true. Old-earth creationism preserves these doctrines beautifully. In fact, these doctrines are even upheld by particular theories of God-guided evolutionary common descent, where God used evolution as a creative tool and the creation of the historical Adam’s soul, his “ensoulment,” happened differently and at a later time than the evolutionary creation of his material body. This is not the view I hold, but I think it’s very important to recognize that in terms of doctrinal essentials, that theory doesn’t fare too badly (I recognize that it has secondary theological difficulties).

Finally, Ham spent several minutes talking about how Answers in Genesis is “teaching [kids] the right way to think,” that they value critical thinking rather than naturalistic assumptions. The problem is, AiG doesn’t leave any room for critical thinking about the young-earth interpretation of Genesis or their own assertions about what is or is not “biblical.” They like to use the phrase “man’s word or God’s word,” but the fact is, interpretations of scripture are made by men. We must test and try our interpretations to see if they hold up in terms of context, history, and real-world observations. God has given us his special revelation, the Bible, but he has also given us his general revelation in nature (Romans 1:20).

I believe, without reservation, that God’s two revelations to us are in complete harmony. If we find places where they seem to conflict with each other, it’s only because we have incomplete information about one or the other, or we’ve made an interpretive mistake or premature judgment regarding one or the other. I do not endorse hyper-skepticism. I believe God wants us to search out the truth about his word and his world, that’s why he made us rational creatures. The pursuit of truth is a key part of our journey in sanctification. But, we shouldn’t consider our interpretation of Scripture infallible, nor should we think our interpretations of scientific data are. Just as science can become an idol, especially in the religion of naturalism, one’s favored interpretation of a passage of Scripture can become an idol. Both Scripture and science should be approached with humility, honesty, and a sincere desire to know the truth.

Unfortunately, I’ve met many creationists of one persuasion or another who viciously defend their own view, calling dissenters “gospel compromisers” or accusing them of “interpreting the Bible to suit their own preferences.” This type of unfounded slander is not Christ-honoring, ladies and gentlemen. In fact, it can be a sign of idolatry.

As the famous saying goes: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.”

PART 4