Thursday, February 6, 2014

Evaluating the recent Ken Ham vs Bill Nye debate on Evolution vs Creationism

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Introduction: On Tuesday night, February 4, 2014 a major debate took place between two public figures regarding the question: "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's scientific era". Tom Forman from CNN moderated the debate, Bill Nye "The Science Guy" (pictured on the right) advocated the position that creation is not a viable model for origins. Ken Ham, CEO of "Answers in Genesis Ministries" (pictured on the left) represented the affirmative answer to the question. The point of today's post is to simply evaluate the debate along the lines of their respective approaches to origins and science, the overall strengths and weaknesses of each side's position with a final section on where this blogger stands on the issue.

1. Bill Nye and Ken Ham's respective approaches to origins and scienceWhen we examine the approaches Nye and Ham take on the issue of origins and science, we find obvious differences and a surprising similarity. Bill Nye of course advocates that the universe, life and humanity arose from materialistic processes. Such a position, called "materialism" or "naturalism", is the majority report among the scientific community. Ken Ham on the other hand takes the position that the universe, life and humanity arose from the intervention and creative abilities of The All-Powerful, Intelligent God as revealed in the Bible.

As the debate began, each man had 30 minutes to lay the ground work for their respective approaches. Ken Ham made the distinction between "origins science" and "operational science". Such a distinction, according to Ham, recognizes that whatever events transpired in history to originate the universe, life and humanity were not witnessed, nor are repeatable, and thus frame how we will interpret the data and evidence of science. For Ham, two views of origins science were represented in the debate: his view of creationism vs Bill Nye's naturalistic narrative of origins.

It was clear that Nye disagreed with Ham's two-fold distinction and rather opted for placing origins and the everyday task of the scientific method together. Hence, throughout the debate Nye clearly equates naturalism with science, and science with naturalism. In the course of the debate Nye clearly demonstrated that the Big Bang theory and the biological reckoning of evolution sit upon the same naturalistic premises.

Towards the end of the debate, Bill Nye quite ably spelled out how evolution is a "bottom's-up" approach, meaning that by the mechanism of natural selection, the universe and life itself proceed from the less complex to the greater complex, with the best and strongest out-doing the lesser and the weaker. Ken Ham likewise did an excellent job in summarizing his stance as the "Top-down approach", talking about how God is the Ultimate origin of the universe, life, humanity, man, woman, marriage, sin, death and government. Essentially Ham re-produced from memory a working outline of the first 11 chapters of Genesis as the basis for his approach to origins and science.

As I said a moment ago, both men clearly had differences in their respective approaches to origins and science, however there was one clear point of similarity that is worth pointing out to the reader. In the study of the respective positions held on the relationship between science and Christian theology at the worldview level we find four major views, with two of them representing extremes and two representing middle approaches.

The first is that the worldviews undergirding science and faith are in conflict. The second view, a mediating position, states that the realms of science and faith are somewhat compatible. The third view, another mediating position, states that both are in concordance or in a high-level of compatability with one another. Then the fourth, which represents the other extreme opposite of conflict, is that both the realms of faith and science are essentially one and the same or what is called a compromise. In this fourth viewpoint, faith or theology is to be revised in light of the latest scientific discoveries. The four views can be diagrammed below with Nye and Ham identified as fitting under the conflict position:

A diagram of Science & Theology at the worldview level - an overview of how their relationship is viewed 

Bill Nye & Ken Ham hold to a conflict view. Let the reader note this similarity since it explains why both men were at many points talking past one another. In typical debates on the subject of origins, whenever both opponents hold to a conflict view, the likelihood of each one convincing the other (outside of the Holy Spirit's illuminating work of course) is diminishingly small.

2. The strength's and weaknesses of each side's presentation
In reflecting on various portions of the debate, the weaknesses of each side will first be noted, followed by a few strength's on each side. In regards to Nye's weaknesses in his position, the repeated statement of the earth being only 4,000 years old as his basis for critique of Ham was an oversight. As this reviewer kept listening to his side and watching the visuals he presented, I kept wondering if he had in mind the 17th century Bishop James' Usher's calculation of the beginning of creation as being 4004 b.c. As this was a major weakness for Nye, the related weakness of Ham not pointing that out to Nye was also notable.

About two hours into the debate when asked about the issue of the origin of human consciousness, Nye's inability to give an answer to that question clearly shows the limitations of his naturalistic worldview to account for consciousness' existence. There was a point in the debate where Nye challenged Ham to explain how the Ark could had made it through a year-long world-wide flood by citing the construction of a 19th century wooden schooner that sank in the high seas. Ham could had cited findings conducted on scientific studies of the Ark in showing how it was built to withstand such pressures that are contained on his website. Unfortunately Ham ended up not addressing Nye's point. Flood Geology and the belief in a worldwide flood represents a cornerstone in the Young Earth position. Most likely the time constraints of the debate explain why Ham did not further silence Nye's objections.

Other points could be cited from each side in regards to weaknesses here and there, however let me note something to the reader about what can happen in the context of a public debate. Having participated in public debates in the past, there are those moments and opportunities that are easily missed. I know some other people in commenting on the debate have leveled undo criticism against Ken Ham. To counter-balance my above assessment on the weaknesses of each man's presentation, I can testify first-hand that both men are probably thinking through what they could of said but didn't.

With regards to the strengths for each side, Ham did a fantastic job of answering Nye's point of the problem of reconciling the age problem of cosmic distances and the age of the universe by pointing out that Big Bang Cosmology also has the same problem. To me that was one of the smartest and most strategic moves in the debate. Ham's video interviews of legitimate and published scientists who were creationists demonstrated, at least indirectly, that creation science can both explain and predict, something of which Nye chose to ignore. Nye's choice to not include statements from such evolutionists as Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens was wise on his part, being that those men are far more corrosive in their public outcry against creationism than Nye.

Nye of course kept challenging Ham to produce one example of creationism making consistent predictions about the course of biological life or outcomes of physical processes in the universe. Ham had of course early on in the debate shown that certain creation scientists, with earned PhD's and tenured positions and peer-review had invented things such as medical equipment and satellites.

Both men seemed at one point in the debate to be lobbing list upon list of evidences for their respective positions. It was very clear that both men at times were talking past one another, however both men were able to avoid the ad hominem or attack on each other's character that can typically characterize such exchanges. Though some may not agree, Ham's repeated presentations of the Gospel and showing the redemptive direction that creation points towards was clearly a major strength in his case from a Christian perspective.

So did Ken Ham demonstrate that creationism is a viable model for origins in today's scientific era?

So much more could be pointed out about the 2 hour and 45 minute debate. Of course the big question is: so who won? When assessing a debate, its not like looking on a score board to determine a winner or a loser. Rather we must consider the original question that framed the debate and determine whether or not the question was successfully answered by Ken Ham. Many people felt that having the debate at the creation museum was a major disadvantage for Bill Nye. However the burden of proof laid on the shoulder's of Ken Ham, and so in reality having the venue to be Ken Ham's creation Museum was fitting when considering the topic for that night.

If we refer back to the original question that framed the debate: "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's scientific era?", then it would be the assessment of this Blogger that Ken Ham demonstrated that creationism can indeed explain and predict. The high point in the debate for Ham's presentation has been already mentioned: namely in how he dealt with the question about the origin of human consciousness. Nye's inability to answer the question and to brush it aside demonstrates that Ham's creation model is indeed a viable model for origins in the 21st century context.

With Ham's numerous examples of what creationists have done in recent times as well as citing creationist scientists of the past (such as Isaac Newton, James Maxwell and Michael Faraday), Ham made his case. Ham did an excellent job in representing the young earth creationist position and defending it against a seasoned and articulate spokesperson for the often-times militant viewpoint of naturalistic biological evolution.

3. Where this blogger stands on the issue and conclusion
I will make my comments brief in this final section, being that the point of this post is to assess the recent debate. For quite a number of years I had held the belief that the universe, life and humanity itself was billions of years old. I was at one time an advocate of Big-Bang Cosmology and yet never embraced the evolutionary account of origins as articulated by Bill Nye. Thankfully the Lord began showing me through the scriptures the inconsistency I had in advocating Big Bang Cosmology on the one hand and belief in a world-wide flood and denial of naturalistic biological evolution on the other. Years ago I abandoned my particular position on old earth creationism in favor of the young-earth model that is similar to the one articulated by Ken Ham. I mention this to state that there is no such thing as a position of neutrality on this subject.

One's worldview will function like a pair of tinted glasses when viewing a given body of evidence. Does that mean we can never know the truth whether it be in theology or science? No. But what it does mean is that we must take into account that one's worldview does shape one's approach to life and knowledge. Truly whichever worldview is able to most comprehensively and coherently account for why things are the way they are is the worldview to embrace. For this blogger, a worldview built from scripture, with particular emphasis on the young earth perspective, is the best account for the origin of the universe, life and humanity. The Ultimate Cause for all things derives from One All-powerful, all knowing Triune God of scripture.

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