I missed last week's big media event. Despite all the hype, chatter and anticipation, I flew in from out of town, sat at my desk preparing for the dreaded job of doing taxes and just forgot about the whole thing until it was over. I know. Hard to believe. But it seemed to be my pattern for the week – I didn't see the Super Bowl, either.
The big media event, in case you missed it, was the debate between Bill Nye (of “Science Guy” fame and one of my favorite TV personalities) and Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis. For nearly three hours, they debated the validity of the creation model of origins. I ended up watching the whole debate on YouTube in a couple of sittings.
I've been asked by a number of people what I thought of the event, and I can now say that I loved it. I thought both men did a great job of communicating their beliefs and perspectives. I thought both maintained a remarkably respectful attitude, even when visibly struggling with frustration at times. And, as someone who understands both sides of this issue, I thought the critical issues were discussed about as clearly as could be done in such a format.
That said, anyone who was looking for simplistic answers was probably a little disappointed. In my opinion, the debate was carried on as it should have been, by seeking answers in content and concepts rather than through personalities or accusations. And for that I am so thankful to both of these men. They ended the exchange with nothing that should be retracted, and they attempted something very difficult and were willing to risk failure rather than turn to the simplistic and disingenuous.
An Evaluation of Bill Nye
There has been and will be lots of commentary on the debate, so I am freely offering my thoughts as simply what I took away from the event.
First, I deeply respect and enjoy Bill Nye’s love of science. His final line from Carl Sagan — “When we are in love we want to tell the world” — should be convicting to all of us. He is a man clearly and sincerely in love and it is fun to watch. I think everyone sensed his genuine concern to bring good to individuals and our country through developing a love for science. And he genuinely and humbly was afraid that a belief in a supernatural creation was a threat to good science. Though I don’t hold his view, I respected him more after the debate than before.
It was also true (as I observed it) that Mr. Nye had a very limited understanding of the creation-science position. All of his questions were good and important questions, but all of them have already been asked and most of them answered. It was a great encouragement to me that, on every single point or question he brought up, I myself knew the answer or knew of papers or books addressing that subject. Assuming that Mr. Nye has a grasp of the important questions or objections from an evolutionist’s perspective, I came away with a reinforced confidence that the creationist position, which seems so solid to me, really is as I perceive it. I would guess that he has been bombarded by emails from creationists giving him answers to the objections he raised. I also believe he will look at those responses and consider them.
Mr. Nye also displayed almost no knowledge of the Bible, either in its content or how that content has come through history. He believed that it was a troubling matter that the Bible had been translated into English, and claimed that the Bible is a book that has been translated many times over thousands of years.
Unfortunately in both the content of creation-science and in the content of the Bible, Mr. Nye was stuck in a stereotyped view that is often found in an anti-religious worldview. I was grieved to see him perceiving them as he did when there is so much information that could give him a more accurate understanding. I had the sense that he never got to debate what I believe, because he doesn’t really know what I — or Ken Ham — believe. And if the reality of the Bible and creationism did fit the stereotyped view he holds, I would hold the very criticisms and concerns he holds. Perhaps if he understood both of those in their current state he would still disagree, but the communication would have been more informative for those with an knowledgeable interest in the creation question.
Again, I want to stress my respect for Bill Nye, both for the concerns he has (given his understanding) and for how he communicated, given the significance and stakes of those concerns. It made me sad to realize he doesn’t, and may never, know the answers that have been given to his good questions. It was also sad to me that his understanding of creationism leads him to believe someone like me could not do good science. And yet we both share such a love for it. It was a reminder to me to be careful not to confuse the truth of what I know with the whole truth about a situation.
An Evaluation of Ken Ham
Now to the other side. I really appreciated the balance of Ken Ham’s communication between science and confessing Christ and the gospel. I thought Mr. Ham seemed a little nervous, especially in the beginning. I know that is how I would feel standing on a stage with Bill Nye.
Ken Ham was my home team, and I did a fair amount of armchair quarterbacking. Several times I thought I could have made a point better, or wished he would have brought this or that piece of information forward. But overall, the content of what he shared was excellent, and I was humbled by his simple and honorable communication about Christ and the Bible’s message. Often as Christians, we yield to the temptation to talk about the apologetics for our beliefs without communicating the beliefs themselves. It was clear that Bill Nye loves science, and it was clear that Ken Ham loves Jesus and the truth Jesus has given us. He was not pushy or artificial, but he was straightforward and clear.
Again and again he tried to establish the distinction between operational science and origins science. Bill Nye never grasped what Ken was trying to communicate, and instead thought Ken was talking about the laws of science being different in the past. This was a very unfortunate miss, because it was a crucial foundation that would have allowed them to dialogue on the subject they both wanted to cover. Perhaps many people not familiar with this distinction also missed it. It is a critical distinction that allows the naturalistic evolutionary view and the supernatural creationist view to be compared based on their respective merits, which is what I think both men wanted.
I think Mr. Ham did a good job of showing that many scientists are also creationists. This is easy to show, because many scientists are creationists. He also gave good examples of important technology developments done by creation scientists. Mr. Nye asked for scientific predictions based on the creation model, and Ken Ham spoke of the reality of one race genetically (not necessarily predicted by evolution) and all languages originating out of the Middle East through the tower of Babel. To this I could have added many more, as I’m sure Mr. Ham could have. I think the predictive power of the creationist model is one of its great strengths. Ken also talked a little bit about information theory and made an essential point about Lenski’s E. Coli experiments, which are often sited as undeniable evidence for evolution. Michael Behe and others have shown this to be nothing of the sort, but rather good evidence for what creationists are claiming. However, once the argument enters that level of detail most people in the audience are not able to follow.
There are, of course, many other points each man made that could be commented on. But I just want to end by again commending both of them for doing so well at what they were supposed to do. If this subject was addressed like this on a regular basis, misunderstandings and stereotypes would soon melt away. What would be left would be agreement or disagreement on the real issues that make this an important question.
It’s about Love
I also want to ask: Are we doing our part? So often we want simplistic answers that can be easily grasped while still leaving us time to watch and do every other thing that catches our attention. God wants us to love seeking him as Creator, learning about what he has done, engaging with the physical world and finding him again and again. That, of course, doesn’t mean we have to directly study science; we can find God in the flower, in the mountains, in the baby’s face. But when we feel our faith being challenged in subjects related to science, we have no excuse for not investing the time to answer those questions. Scientific evidence for God as our Creator is now so widely studied that the material is overwhelming. Websites like answersingenesis.org or creation.com (to name just two of many) are full of articles, DVDs, books, video clips, audio messages and more that talk about every subject under — and beyond — the sun.
Our heart follows where our time and money go. I have so many things I could get excited about. I specifically choose not to get excited about some things. I want that love left for something else. For Someone else. Where have you let your heart settle and grow? Is that where you want it to put down roots? What questions, if answered, would make you love God more? I want to be in love like Bill Nye. I want to be in love like Ken Ham. Because in the end, its not about science. It’s about who or what we love.