Three Things I Want to See Come Out of the Bill Nye-Ken Ham Debate

Tuesday, when I opened my laptop I began to see the same link pop up on my Facebook feed repeatedly. It was for the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate coming up on February 4, 2014. The link was being toted by both my Christian and non-Christian friends, particularly those who are in a scientific field professionally, or those who are agnostic/atheist.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, Ken Ham is the founder of the Creation Museum which resides in Petersburg, Kentucky, is a proponent of a literal interpretation of the Six Day Creation narrative of Genesis 1, Young-Earth Creationism (Earth being about 6000 years old), and has an epic beard. Bill Nye is a former television host for a children's science show called Bill Nye the Science Guy, has been a consultant for the most recent Mars Rover landing, and is the best bow tie proponent outside of Matt Smith's Doctor Who (yes I know you all probably know this, but hey, I'm trying to be responsible in this post and cover everything).

So what caused the debate? Evidently, Bill Nye has said that Creationism is not a valid model for the origin for the universe, and that while he respects the right for people to believe whatever they want to, it (Creationism) should not be taught to children. Ken Ham, upon hearing this, has publicly decried Nye, saying that Nye, "still doesn't understand the difference between historical science and observational science," and later challenged him to a debate about the validity of Creationism as a viable model of origin. Personally I would rather see a Dragonball Z-like battle between the two, but debate is cool too.

Events like this debate are always interesting to me, specifically because I am curious how people will comment or react to the event pre and post. In our internet culture, people love hype, and will tout their beliefs and/or slander as the event approaches, openly and without care of how it affects the other side, because those folks are on the other side of their belief wall and therefore out of digital earshot. It's fun to watch, sometimes hurtful if you are on the receiving end of a careless Facebook Comment Mortar (FCM), but I am always curious to get to the bedrock of why people believe what they believe about that particular issue.

In this case I'll feel some hurt either way because I ideologically straddle this particular event. I am a Christian, and as a teenager I went to a Christian high school, where I was taught Young Earth Creationism. After high school I wanted to be a teacher and pastor so I went to a small Bible college (300 students), which happened to be the same Bible college attended by Ken Ham's daughter. She was there as a freshman when I was a senior in 2001, and, as a result, I have sat through several lectures conducted by Ham (one of them impromptu) when he came to visit. I then went on to a conservative baptist seminary from 2002-2003, then from 2006-2009 to pursue my Master of Divinity. I did not complete this degree for personal reasons, but needless to say I spent a lot of time in the world of conservative Christianity and its beliefs (particularly Young Earth Creationism) and have some friends who ascribe to that belief system.

At one time I considered myself a Young Earth Creationist, but I no longer ascribe to that particular belief system. I will go into more detail later as to why, but to put a label on my belief, I identify with an Old Earth, theistic-evolution stance. I believe in God, and that he oversaw creation through natural means and that the universe is very old. Many will stop reading at this point, but for those of you still with me, I want to go into why I believe what I believe, while at the same time saying what I want to see come out of this debate.

1. I Want There to Be No Mudslinging.

There is a phrase that is told by one of my favorite authors when it comes to mudslinging. He says, "When you sling mud at others, all you do is get your hands dirty." I think that this is something that both sides can stick with, particularly Ham who seems keen on attacking Nye publicly about his understanding of science.

I want to say, Mr. Ham, the guy ran a science show for kids. He's not the devil, even if you believe what he says is of that particular ilk. Respect the man, and the vast majority of his knowledge, because when you throw mud or make accusations as to his understanding of his field, it looks as if you have to yell to get attention, which to some in Nye's field, is exactly what it looks like. So be civil.

2. I Want People to Realize That Science Is Not the Enemy of Religion and Vice Versa.

When I discuss religion or the history of religion with my non-Christian friends, they point out that religion, Christianity specifically, has not always been kind to scientists, which is one reason why they reject it. They paint Christians as people who are afraid of science, because they think that science will ultimately debunk God or the idea of "God" in general, so they avoid it out of fear.

Pop culture does this as well. The villain in the movie Angels and Demons is a priest who is angry about research into the "God Particle" and is willing to kill to prevent its further research. He views it as arrogant, and wants everything about it destroyed.

Stand-up comedian Chris Hardwick, in his show Mandroid, puts this "religion v. science" another way:

In "religion v. science' I always go science. Religion has had to constantly ebb it's definitions to account for scientific discovery and that has never happened in reverse. You've never turned on the Discovery Channel where they're saying: 'We used to think that the moon was held in place by the moons gravitational pull, and now we just know an old bearded man blows on it... to keep it away from the sun, which research suggests is a pack of angry fire horses!

In looking at his quote, I agree that when it comes to the earth orbiting the sun, gravity and other beliefs, yes, there was push back from Church (big "C") leadership. But scientific definitions have had to be amended as well. Like in Proverbs 6:6 denotes ants with the female pronoun, yet were believed to be male until the 1800s where naturalists like Huber identified them as female (The Natural History of Ants, pg. 92).

In response, I would point out to those who believe that Christians are always the enemies of science that the Eastern Roman Empire, which was Christian and which operated until the mid 1400s had many scientific advances in medicine and architecture. While Western Europe descended into the dark ages post C.E. 476, this eastern Christian culture had a literate society where bakers would debate theology with priests, had a preserved civil code, a system of care for the sick, and buildings like the Hagia Sofia, which still stands today.

They, as Christians, embraced advances in technology and science, and when Byzantium fell in 1453, many of the educated refugees fled to Italy and Western Europe to help bring about the beginning of the Renaissance, along with freethinkers already in Western Europe (read more about this in Lars Brownsworth's, Lost to the West). Was it perfect? No, but Christians as a whole were not afraid of these changes, it was leadership of the Church who pushed back, and lets be frank, powerful people are always afraid of losing power to progressive ideas. Yes, there has been rejection of birth control and other advances (especially during the Renaissance) by Catholic church leadership, but again this is only one half of the coin, and mostly perpetuated by some of those in leadership and not that of the whole community.

Perhaps as a result of the debate people would see that religious people are (in the majority) not fearful or the enemy of science. The past will be too much to overcome right away, but with time, hopefully that will change. 

3. I want to see Christians start to look at the Bible as a theological narrative, and not as a scientific textbook.

People ask me, "Why did you start to believe in theistic evolution after so many years of being taught something different?" It kind of came down to a seminary course on the theological framework of Genesis 1-11. The premise being the entire theology of the Bible could be surmised in Genesis 1-11. By examining how the language of Genesis and how it is written, you can begin to see how the theology of the book is framed, and the conclusions are not what everyone has been talking about for so long.

For instance, the point of the text of Genesis 1-3 is not the literal six day creation of the world, rather, it was to show that, there was no form, God made form, wanted to share His creation, he made man and communes with him, man sins, God judges, then God forgives and provides a redeemer to come. Then Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. God loves man and give him children, Cain sins, God judges and then shows mercy by not killing him and giving him a place to grow and prosper. Then the parenthetical story of Noah in Genesis 6-9 has the same pattern. Then in Genesis 11 you see the same pattern emerge for the last time. The whole story culminates with the Abram in Genesis 12 which starts the line which points to Christ. The whole point is redemption of man and hope of it to come.

It kind of blew my mind to consider that the point of Genesis 1 could possibly not be a literal six day creation. The professor was saying that he, himself did believe in a literal six day creation, but Genesis does not go into great detail about the creation of the world itself. It almost flys through it. It is setting a framework for something else entirely. Why? Well, because when you want to tell a story, you want to get to the point. The creation of man is only the intro to the point, even though the story is beautiful. The point is to talk about man and his need of the Redeemer to come, because this world sucks and is in need of a Redeemer.

As I began to examine this theory more I began to realize that The Old Testament is, well, old. It was written by men with limited time and resources in less than perfect conditions. If you're writing a message with limited papyrus, vellum and ink (or on stone) you're going to write down the most important points, and leave a lot of ancillary details out (like say, the means and length of creation) because that is the most efficient means of writing. Early biblical narratives were written this way and preserved because it was a Dragnet style of "just the facts" and because they were like this, it was easy to pass down the narrative, and drag the reader to the point of the text as well.

I began to read more about evolution, and it became not a point of division, but rather another means for God to create. As I said before, I believe that God created the world, but how he created it is up to Him. I could care less. That's not the point. I wasn't there, and to be honest, if evolution is being proved in laboratory settings through observational means, then so be it. It does not shake my faith.

The Bible is not intended to be a science textbook. It is a theological book. For some, theology has no place in science, but for Christians like me, we can have a theological framework that runs our lives, but also enjoy exploring and educating ourselves scientifically and glorifying God at the same time.

I reject the notion that evolution has to be "evil" and literal six day creation is the only "good" science. If the earth is old, who cares? If the world came about because of a big bang, how awesome would it be for God to work out those physics? If we can believe that he made the sun stand still for a battle in Joshua 10 (which if you examine the physics of, would blow your mind), why can't we believe that he can make a Big Bang create the universe?

Ultimately, I think that this debate will be an interesting one. It is one that should make us start to ask tough questions about how we view science and religion. It should make us explore and educate ourselves about this world in which we live. For some of us, it is a world created by God, though some of us disagree as to how he did it. For others, it is all by natural means, and God should not have, or didn't have any part of it.

It is an argument that will rage on for centuries, but if you examine yourselves, you're going to have to decide some things. I've made my decisions, but I'm in flux, and am open to learn as long as I keep Christ at the forefront of it. That is what I want to see after this. An openness from people no matter what side to learn and grow, and hopefully find happiness and become more educated. I hope you, if you are doing that, enjoy the ride.