The Ham and Nye Debate

On February 4th, 2014, Ken Ham (of “Answers in Genesis”) and Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) engaged in a debate about modern science and young-Earth creationism. It is estimated to be the most widely advertised and watched debate on this topic in history. The saddest part of the attention given to this debate is that it only furthers the cause of those who Ken Ham is ardently striving to combat.

Ham and those like him, who tie the gospel message so forcefully with their own beliefs about science and creation, are driving far more people away from Christ than they are drawing. When he teaches his brand of creationism, he is preaching to the choir. Most of these people already have a saving faith. If they want to spend tens of millions of dollars on creation science materials per year (apologetic materials, homeschooling materials, Christian school textbooks, movies, television broadcasts, and political lobbying) … well, it’s a free country. That’s fine for them.

But what of the millions of people who never give the Bible a chance in the first place simply because they associate the gospel message, as a whole, with false scientific teachings? Public debates like this, especially making Christianity and science and either/or proposition, actually harm our goal. This is the saddest state of affairs for our evangelical communities and it is ultimately the reason why I write on this topic. Why do we needlessly place stumbling blocks in unreached people’s path to Christ? How can we be effective at reaching young people in our Christian teaching and in our ministries on pressing issues like the sanctity of life and sexual purity, and ultimately about the Gospel itself, when the world rejects the validity of the pseudoscientific balderdash that is coming out of the other side of our mouths, and rightfully so? Furthermore, is this how we are teaching our own children to defend their faith when they witness to unbelievers and are challenged by them? Creation science ministries are the blind leading the blind down into a hole, sometimes never to return. The Barna Group, a Christian research group, published a study in 2011 that evangelical churches’ antagonism to science is one of the main reasons that young people are leaving the church today.

Two lessons from the Bible come to mind.

Very rarely did Jesus express anger in the Bible. Jesus demonstrated His anger for those who turned the Temple into a money-making opportunity for their own businesses. And Jesus’ harshest recorded words were for the Pharisees, those who politicized their religion for their own glory rather than God’s and who made the written Scriptures their idol. Not all members of the Pharisee sect were bad. But let’s be very clear: many of the Pharisees worshiped the writings rather than the God who inspired those writings, elevating the veneration of the letter of the Law above all else. They studied and memorized the words, holding to a letter-by-letter idolization of Scripture. And yet, when the Word Himself was standing plainly before them, they failed to recognize Him! For all their studying of the words, they failed to know God, because they didn’t discern the true meaning of what they had been studying. They took their love of the literal Scriptural text to their graves. In Matthew 23, Jesus calls them, variously: snakes, brood of vipers, white washed tombs, self-righteous, hypocrites, blind guides, sons of hell. In verse 13, Jesus says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (NIV) Unlike the Pharisees that Jesus is describing, I am sure that many of today’s creation science proponents are brothers and sisters in Christ, that they know Him as our Lord and Savior. We all share a love God’s Word and keep it in our hearts. However, their bibliolatry, their infatuation with a flawed understanding of some portions of Scripture, is a stumbling block that they have placed before many others who would otherwise come to know Christ.

The second lesson that I have on my heart is from the OT.

In Exodus chapter 32, Aaron, lacking the presence and the wisdom of Moses, told the Israelites to build a golden calf. The people brought their gold and cast it into an idol. In verse 23, we see that “Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.” God was ready to destroy them, such was His anger. Moses pled with God to withhold his judgment, and God relented, sparing the majority of them. But at God’s command, 3000 of the Israelites died at the hands of their own. I see the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter as none other than modern day golden calves, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. The Ark Encounter is financed partly by junk bonds, with no promise of return, relying on the faith of its investors. These “science” museums are idols, a waste of resources, a poor witness to unbelievers, and ultimately, cause more strife than good. Mark Noll, in his loving but grim picture of modern evangelical Christianity “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”, tells us that we are desperately searching for leadership in our evangelical movement. Our Moses has gone up the mountain, and we are left with the Aarons of the world. Ken Ham, Ray Comfort, and Kent Hovind are our Aarons. They mean well, but they are turning people away from God.

Ken Ham and the most strident, Christian-bashing atheists can agree solidly on one thing — that Christianity is deeply incompatible with modern science (or at least historical science, as Ham would call it). I cannot disagree more. In the debate, Ham mentioned that many of history’s great scientists, such as Isaac Newton, were creationists. First of all, Newton lived long before the theory of evolution. And modern science and evolution are NOT incompatible with creationism. Only with Ham’s brand of creationism. Newton was a great scientist, he was a Christian and he gave glory to God for his discoveries. He lived long before the theory of evolution was developed, and it’s unclear what he would think about the mechanism God used for creation of life if he lived now.

Over 300 years ago, Newton discovered the laws of gravity which describe the attractive force between all objects. Newton’s laws of motion predicted the orbits of the planets around the Sun. Because he used approximations when calculating the forces of the planets upon each other, he came to the conclusion that the orbits are unstable and would decay after thousands of years. Newton suggested that God occasionally intervened with a miracle, by sending a comet or other object with just the right direction, size, and velocity, to gravitationally nudge the planets back into their correct orbits. As it turns out, Newton was wrong. Years after Newton, Pierre Laplace found better methods to solve Newton’s equations, showing that the planetary orbits are indeed stable. When asked by Napoleon, “Monsieur Laplace, why wasn’t the Creator mentioned in your book on celestial mechanics?”, Laplace replied, “Sir, I have no need for that hypothesis.” Laplace was likely an atheist, but we know that his findings about planetary motion were true. If he were a believer, he could have just as well said, “We don’t need to explicitly invoke God’s miraculous intervention when describing planetary motion.” Two hundred years prior, John Calvin wrote, “If the Lord has willed that we be helped in physics, dialectic, mathematics, and other like disciplines, by the work and ministry of the ungodly, let us use this assistance. For if we neglect God’s gift freely offered in these arts, we ought to suffer just punishment for our sloth.”

In the one area where Newton inserted God’s supernatural action as part of a scientific explanation, he was later shown to be wrong, and to add insult to injury, he was shown up by an atheist. “Intelligent Design” proponents leave out this detail when they talk about Newton.

I think this is a good lesson for us regarding what methodology to use in discerning the truth about how God created the diversity of life on Earth. I believe in the Intelligent Designer. His design of the universe brought about mankind, made in His image, that we would come to know Him. And He upholds the universe day by day. It is appropriate and productive to discuss Intelligent Design in a philosophy classroom. But Intelligent Design is not a science, and it should not be taught in any science classroom, Christian or otherwise. I believe this movement causes much unneeded confusion and tension between scientific and Christian communities.

Thankfully, there are a few Christian organizations out there which gladly accept the teachings of modern science (when practiced with integrity), don’t see them as incompatible with a righteous reading of the Bible, and give glory to God for allowing us to even have a glimpse of the mysteries of creation.

For a list of such organizations, and references for the statements made above, see the resources at the end of the main page at