As many probably know there was a debate on Tuesday, this one with Bill Nye, The Science Guy, vs. Ken Ham, The Bible Guy. The debate is, for a time at least, readily available on YouTube. I was busy Tuesday and couldn’t watch live, but listened to the entirety Wednesday night. The debate was interesting, entirely civil, and rather predictable.
Ken Ham emphasized (repeatedly) that historical science must be separated from observational science. We can’t know anything about the history of the universe from science. Observational science in the present tells us about the here and now. Our knowledge of the here and now is sufficient for all practical science. There is a book, however, that tells us everything we need to know about the past. He spent a fair bit of his time giving a gospel message. Ham’s view of the sweep of scripture rests upon a particular “natural” reading of scripture. Genesis is history and is to be taken as history, creation, flood, Babel and beyond. In fact, while recognizing that many Christians disagree with his view, he finds the requirement of death before the Fall an absolute killer.
Ham steered clear of the multitude of scientists who are Christian and disagree with his view. I found it particularly interesting that he highlighted Craig Venter (noting that atheist worldviews don’t prevent good observational science) as one who sequenced the human genome, while ignoring (i.e. never mentioning) the NIH human genome project led for many years by Francis Collins, now director of the NIH. And, of course, he steered clear of the large number of orthodox Christian Old Testament scholars who disagree with his reading of Genesis.
Bill Nye gave a nice presentation of some of the scientific evidence for an earth much older than 6000 years. He misrepresented Christian views of scripture, but overall was respectful of the fact that many people around the world (he placed this in the billions) have no problem reconciling science with religious belief. Late in the debate he referred to the current director of the NIH as one of those who see no problem. One of the pieces of evidence provided by Nye was an ice core in Antarctica which provides evidence for hundreds of thousands of seasonal cycles. These the layers – as many as ca. 680,000 – would require something like 110 seasonal cycles a year in a young earth scenario; 150 to 170 seasonal cycles a year if they date not to creation, but to the catastrophic flood. The picture to the right shows one such core.
Bill Nye equated the need for good science with the future prosperity of America. This point Ham, in my opinion, refuted well with his examples of Christian inventors who also hold to a young earth view. Observational science (Ham’s definition) is sufficient for most day-to-day engineers and many scientists.
Ken Ham didn’t answer the question raised by the ice cores, but did address radiometric dating (it is unreliable and requires assumptions of the past that we cannot know in his view) and the issue of the number of kinds on the flood. He sets the number of kinds at about 2000 kinds which subsequently differentiated into the millions of species we see today. Nye pointed out that this requires rather rapid evolution over the last 4000 years – something like 10 or more new species a day, a rate the most committed “evolutionists” find extraordinary. I’ve commented before on the super-speed evolution required by a global flood some 4000 years ago. Not only does Ham’s view require super-speed evolution, it also requires super-speed plate tectonics. Answers in Genesis doesn’t deny that the continents were once united and have subsequently split apart, a view they find support for in scripture. But the plates split apart in a few thousand years, not millions or billions – super-speed! Ham also addresses the vegetarian origins of animals we now know as carnivores, replying to Nye’s question about lions. Sharp teeth do not equate to meat-eating but may be required to rip apart plants.
There are answers to the science coming from Answers in Genesis. I try to touch on it from time to time on this blog. Joel Duff at Naturalis Historia does an absolutely fantastic job of dealing with the science that contradicts a young earth, anti-evolutionary view of origins. Joel is a biology professor and a committed Christian. He understands the issues. Joel has also teamed with two others, including a geology professor at the University of Mississippi, at Solid Rock Lectures to convey the science to Christians. They have funding to present the material in workshops at seminaries, and are also available for other venues.
The answer is quite clear. The creation model preached by Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis is not a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era. Frankly the science is not at issue. The stretches required to fit even observational science into a young earth view strain credulity.
Creation itself, however, remains a viable model of origins in the modern scientific era. Science (historical science even) tells us a great deal about the world and the universe. Ken Ham returned at every opportunity to the need to rest one’s view on Scripture as the authoritative word of God. But the reading of scripture advocated by Answers in Genesis is not the only one out there. There is an alternative that involves neither distorting science nor abandoning Christian faith. Many Christian scholars are pointing out the alternatives and wrestling with the deep questions involved. John Walton, Tremper Longman III, Pete Enns, Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright, and the list goes on. I’ve reviewed and discussed a multitude of books over the years dealing with these issues, with no end in sight.
I agree with Ken Ham on one important issue. Within the church we need to confront and answer the creeping natural materialism in our western culture. Naturalist secular humanism and reductionist materialism are the ruling paradigms in many sectors. I disagree with Ham on the approach. In fact his approach does far more harm than good. Attacking science as he does, with the weak and incredulous arguments put forth, and then equating this with the gospel story is a destructive mix.
There is an alternative, one that neither dismisses scripture or distorts science.
What do you think?
If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.
There is also an excellent discussion at BioLogos responding to the debate and the questions raised by Ken Ham concerning both science and scripture: Ham on Nye: Our Take. All is good, but John Walton’s discussion of Ham’s view of the Old Testament is especially useful.