4 Thoughts on the Ham/Nye Debate

Let me just put this out there:

I don’t know where my Christian beliefs and Science meet when it comes to the Origins of the world.

I know I am created. By God. I know that mankind is created in his image (by observation…see what I did there?), and I know that as such, he has authority over his creation. He is king. It’s that simple.

But how creation came about is another issue. That is what Ken Ham, CEO of Answers In Genesis, and Bill Nye (yes, they Science Guy) got together to debate tonight.

The debate did nothing to land me in either camp. Maybe I’l explore that here, along with the various ways Christians have offered to make sense of the apparent discrepencies that fueled tonight’s shindig. But here are a few thoughts I had surrounding the debate.

1. Presuppositions matter

I think this was Ham’s biggest point, and it may have gotten lost in some of the other noise. There is a certain amount of faith that comes with a naturalist position and that faith can be easily under-estimated. It is dishonest for Nye to stand up and say that his presuppositions that there is nothing supernatural simply because it can’t be tested and repeated doesn’t shape his frame of reference for research. No one is neutral.

At the same time, Ken Ham was asked point-blank if there was anything that could make him soften his stance on young-earth creation explanation of the world’s origins. His answer was no. His presuppositions that the Bible is trustworthy is the guiding frame through which he views the data we have available to us today.

So since they are both colored by presuppositions, does that mean neither can be right? Absolutely not.

Let’s not come to a false conclusion about presuppositions. Their presence does not eliminate the reality of truth. Someday, we will die and we will see (or not, I guess, if we just decompose and that’s it) which side of this debate is true. We will see if the Universe was created, or if it just “happened to come about” from natural processes. One side will be right. Or both will be wrong.

But they can’t both be right.

Therefore, we should examine the data and find a position we can passionately  defend. I’m not quite there yet, but that just means I have more work to do, not that both are “equally valid.” We need to look beyond natural sciences, too. To morality and philosophy, to archaeology and other disciplines. If you haven’t done it before, read the Bible for yourself. But understand that in our postmodern world that wants truth to be subjective, one of these men will have been right and the other wrong.

God exists or he doesn’t. And whichever side you fall on will have consequences to the way you live, act and—yes—think.

2. Tonight’s special is Red Herring, with a side of debate.

I don’t know if you caught it. It was subtle and sneaky, and meant to deceive. But then, all fallacy is.

Red Herring is a fallacy—a faulty way of reasoning in debate—that responds to an argument by making a separate, irrelevant argument to draw attention away from the argument at hand. And Red Herrings were everywhere. It was like breeding season, with all of ’em swimmin’ upstream like that!

Here are some examples.

Bill Nye repeatedly called himself “A Reasonable Man,” which is a type of Red Herring known as an “ad hominem” argument. It is an attack on the arguer, not the argument. The implication, each of the several times Nye made this claim is that Ham is clearly not reasonable. It is the equivalent of “I know you are but what am I?” or maybe, “My name’s rubber and your name’s glue!” It took his argument and posed it as the “reasonable” position, and any other argument as the “unreasonable” stance.

This is related to Bill Nye’s “Appeal to Authority” Red Herring where he calls “us on the outside [of this silly creation-talk]” the “legitimate” scientists, the “traditional” scientists, etc.

Ken Ham’s opening presentation with scientists who were also creationists also seemed to me to be a fallacy. Maybe along the line of a straw man, where he sets up a misrepresentation of his opposition’s view just to knock it down. I’m not sure anyone was saying that those who believe in Creationism can’t be scientists. The debate was whether that specific view that those well-respected scientists held is indeed an adequate explanation of the Universe’s origins.

We could include Nye’s repeated questioning Ham to make a prediction, which he did, and then outright refusing to accept it.

We could include Nye’s many appeals to emotion, from the shunning that others who hadn’t heard Ham’s view feel (in light of their impending condemnation, according to Nye), to the many appeals that “it’s just ridiculous!” (as with Noah building a satisfactory Ark).

We could include Ham’s frequent use of the word “hijacked”

I could go on. I thought the debate was couched in these arguments that didn’t really stand on their own and, frankly, I saw Nye employing them WAY more often than Ham.

3. The Bible and the “Science” of Textual Criticism

Bill Nye is a Scientist. He accepts that we can look at things as they are now, and make certain assumptions about how they always must have been. Those assumptions are then shaped by the ancient evidence we find, and theories become laws, etc. He is a scientist.

So it baffled me the many times he attacked the Bible as “an ancient document, translated thousands of times into modern American English,” and scoffed that such an ethereal cloud of unclarity could ever be understood in the first place, let alone interpreted.

Herein lies Bill Nye’s Biggest fallacy of the night. He accepts the scientific process, but failed to acknowledge the scientific excellence that proves the Bible we have is, by and large, the original text written by the original writers. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 65,000 manuscripts from the Bible dating to the 1st century BC for the OT, and the early 2nd Century AD for the new (second place in antiquity is Homer with about 650 manuscripts from 400 years after he supposedly wrote it). Let those numbers sink in. We have an amazing number of copies of the text of the Bible. Those copies are not all identical: they have errors, just as if you or I hand-copied something a bunch of times. But we a) know where those discrepencies are, b)know the nature of most of the discrepancies and c) through comparing and contrasting translations, by listening to voices outside the Bible, by looking at archaeology of the region, we can determine the best variant to take. And most bibles (both Greek/Hebrew AND English) will offer the variant.

Textual Criticism is a Science. To suggest that we can’t look back at ancient Hebrew and know what it means is ridiculous. To think we can’t look at the way a “dead” Greek word used to be used by looking at all the Greek writing we have is absurd. There are men and women who have devoted their lives to looking for patterns and laws, and analyzing language the way Mr. Nye studies astronomy. To suggest (as he did) that choosing what is taken as poetry and what is taken as history is not a subjective exercise, but one that has been undertaken over the years through the studying of Greek and Hebrew prose and poetry.

Yet Mr. Nye wrote this off several times as being “unreliable.”

This doesn’t make the Bible true, but it shows his scientific bias toward even accepting the text as a reliable text.

4. I am sad for Bill Nye

My heart breaks for a man who denies God. A man who looks into the cosmos, sees the grandeur (not finitude), the order (not randomness), the life (not inanimacy), the consciousness of man (not brute instinct), and end up worshiping the created things, rather than the creator himself (Romans 1:25).

By heart breaks for a man who honored his faithful colleagues by acknowledging the “religious people” of the world could be great scientists, but who—in the same breath—called any religious systems that believe in a God “made up.”

I mourned tonight—genuinely—over a man who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the only salvation for our sins against a creator to whom we owe our whole lives.

I mourn because I know what Scripture says happens to those whose faith is not in him.

Tonight’s debate was never about creation and evolution. It was about presuppositions.

And my fear is that Bill Nye’s presuppositions are leading him to an end he doesn’t believe in, even though in the course of tonight’s debate he heard the good news of Jesus at least a few times.

Sometimes we can get caught up in the details, when what is really missing is a glimpse of the big picture.

4 thoughts on “4 Thoughts on the Ham/Nye Debate

  1. Great points Brian. Though Hamm had some weak points, Nye’s arguments were also far less powerful than I had expected and often just plain silly. However I was pleased that Hamm did effectively portray the Good News that God has made a way to restore our broken relationship.

  2. Genesis. In the beginning, GOD… How He did it (Big Bang or not), when He did (6000 yrs or not) is not for us to debate. That He did it and why He did it is remarkable! Bill Nye (so far) has not been called to “know”. If you believe in a sovereign God, then love him and pray for him. You cannot save him but pray the Holy Spirit may soften his heart to His truth. As a Christian we grieve for friends and others, but often they just say it’s foolishness what we believe. Be strong and of good courage

  3. I liked what Albert Mohler concluded in this: “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.” Mohler’s complete blog on the debate can be found at albertmohler.com

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