In the Beginning

Earlier this evening, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham had a debate over creation as a valid model for the origin of man. The recorded debate can be viewed online; the remainder of this assumes that you have seen it. I felt that, all in all, the debate went well. Nothing is perfect, though, and Monday-morning quarterbacking - well, that's probably what a good portion of the Internet is for, so here we go.

(Full disclosure - I have rather strong beliefs on this topic, which will probably come out in these thoughts. I'm doing my best to be impartial, but that's kind of how bias works; you don't know you're doing it.)

  • I was glad that the debate occurred at all. For a long time, mainstream science has marginalized or even ridiculed anyone who dares to disagree with Darwin. While, toward the end of the debate, I feel that both men missed opportunities to answer each other's questions or assertions, the debate itself was a great first step towards understanding. Personally, I learned something from both men. I hope the model is repeated, maybe on stage again, but in the day-to-day lives of all those who love learning about our world and universe.
  • The question of the debate (I guess it can't be called a resolution, as it wasn't a declarative statement) was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?” Were I scoring the debate the way we were scored back in high school, they'd both get a few dings for topicality, but they'd probably also get a pass on them, as most of their discussion was at least tangentially related. Also, the Ken Ham presentations of the gospel and Bill Nye's appeals to voters and taxpayers seemed to balance out.
  • Building off my first thought - Bill Nye almost kept the snark turned off. Somehow, “creation” became “Ken Ham's model” that was from “the Bible as it was translated into American English”; both these were repeated often, and are where the snark came through just a bit. Both of these are also distortions; the model being debated is the Biblical model, not the “Ken Ham Theory of the Origins of Species”, and I'm pretty sure that creationism (as opposed to evolution) was developed based on a Bible that had been translated to Shakespearean English. I completely get that Bill may not understand the whole “history as history, poetry as poetry, prophecy as prophecy” thing; a good number of Christians don't understand that! Those two changes, though, struck me as unnecessary spin.
  • Ken Ham made a moderately convincing argument. Yes, the Bible is the source for the model whose viability was being debated, but for those who do not recognize it as absolute truth, I feel that a stronger scientific argument should have been made. He failed to address two key arguments made by Bill Nye, the main one being the predictive capabilities of creation science. There are arguments to be made here, the easiest of which is that creation as the origin of life does not contradict natural laws, so creation has no effect on the predictive nature of currently-observable science. Every time Bill asked for predictive science, Ken responded with confirmational science. It's kinda cool, if you've ever studied it, but it doesn't answer the question.
  • The age thing gets its own thought. One of Bill's main arguments is that what we observe today couldn't have come to be in 4,000 years, and Ken never really answered that either. This, too, has a pretty easy explanation (that requires no more faith than creation already requires); if God created Adam as an adult, does it not make sense that He would also create the earth with age? Created 6,000 years ago is not the same thing as 6,000 years old. And, several times Ken said that the dating process was flawed, but he never provided a specific example of one that he felt was better, and why that is. What reason do we have to believe that the atoms behaved differently then than they do now?
  • Presentation-wise, and particularly during the Q&A, I believe Bill had the edge. His responses were more directed at the actual questions. Ken gets dinged here for completely avoiding one question. He spent the first 1:30 of his two minutes dissecting the assumption behind the question, then stopped talking; what's the answer? This was also where they started talking past each other, when I felt that they could have addressed the others' assertions more directly.
  • Bill Nye's explanation of science was pretty awesome, IMO. I loved his description of the search for knowledge, trying to fill in the gaps, eager to find something that contradicts what we thought. I hope the climate “scientists” were watching. (Disclosure - even I can tell that the preceding sentence contains a little bias.)

I understand the format, so I understand why some of the detail I was looking for wasn't there. But, as I mentioned above, while Ken's line “You know, there's a Book…” was funny, mainstream science is not going to be convinced with “because God said so.”

(More disclosure - this is the part where I stop trying to be objective.)

A belief in Creation as the origin of the universe is not incompatible with science. Ken started to make this point, but didn't really see it through, and if Bill had made the point, it would have contradicted his dire characterizations of what would happen if we teach people about it. There is a lot in our world that scientists of all beliefs have in common; theologically, we call this common grace. “The sun shines on the just and on the unjust.” I've said before that I do not have enough faith to believe in evolution as an answer for the origin of the universe. There are things for which we simply cannot find physical proof in this world; what mainstream science often cites as proof is extrapolation, which assumes facts not always in evidence. (I'm not against extrapolation as a technique; I'm against the belief that gives a 100% answer.) My praise for Bill's description of science applies here as well. Yes, as Christians, we believe we know what's coming at the end; but, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't have the same curiosity about His creation that the rest of the world has.

To be sure, this is one of the big worldview issues, from which many other issues proceed. Take abortion as an example. If we are created by God as creatures in His image, and He makes laws for His people that state that anyone who causes a miscarriage through striking a woman should be killed (Exodus 21:22-24), we probably shouldn't kill babies in the womb. If we evolved by chance from a big bang, though, abortion is just “survival of the fittest” (particularly as Bill described it, in a way I'd never heard it described before) - the baby didn't fit.

As I said at the top, I'm glad the debate was held; I hope this is the first of many dialogues with people of faith around many issues. I'm convinced that neither “side” has an accurate idea of the arguments on the other “side,” and changing that is an important first step in turning back the polarization and coarsening we've been witnessing for decades.

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