05 February 2014

Reflections on the Creation Debate

Last night, at debatelive.org, Ken Ham of the Creation Museum and Bill Nye the science guy debated one another loosely regarding the question, "Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?" I wasn't going to watch it.  I have spent a lot of time over the last several years exploring questions regarding the intersection of faith and science and whether Christians who hold to a creation model can in fact be scientists. Though I am assuredly interested in these questions, I anticipated that I would be more irritated than enlightened by this debate. My wife said she was going to watch and several people from our church also were planning to gather to watch the debate.  Rather than watch re-runs of 7th Heaven, which is what I did during the Superbowl, I thought I would take in the debate.  Turns out, I was one of over a half-million people who tuned in.  Since last night, I have had a number of thoughts triggered by the debate that I want to share.  This will probably turn out to be a long post, so bear with me.

First, I was pleasantly surprised with their willingness to treat one another rather cordially.  Part of the reason I was reluctant to watch is that Ken Ham has developed an unfortunate reputation of being aggressively dogmatic, though last night I saw less of that than I typically have when I have seen or read his materials in the past.  He clearly holds to a specific point of view, but he was generally engaging last night.  Bill Nye too is dogmatic in his belief and yet he also engaged reasonably well.  Closer to the end of the debate, they began to become a little more aggressive, but overall, it was reasonably peaceful. 

Second, they were unfortunately talking past one another much of the time. Ham was attempting to make his point that historical science differs from observational science. Nye tried to assert that in order for the United States to stay competitive, they need people trained in science and engineering, but stayed away from the notion of whether Christians may fit there.  The longer the debate proceeded, the less they were listening to each other, but were doubling down on their positions. When people only talk and don't listen, no real dialog can take place.

This relates to another point.  Most people who watched the debate last night already hold a certain viewpoint on the issues that were discussed. I doubt that many people changed their minds, but I did pray for that last night.  Before Jesus was crucified, he was mocked by a whole battalion of soldiers, which was about 500 men (Mark 15:16); however, when he was crucified, a centurion standing by (presumably a part of the battalion), said "Truly this man was the son of God" (Mark 15:39).  One of the 500 turned. May it have been so last night. 

Third, Christians hold to different viewpoints on the creation of the world. Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, and his Creation Museum represent the young earth creationism viewpoint.  However, there are other believers who believe the earth is quite old, but otherwise are biblical creationists.  One example is Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist, who founded Reasons to Believe. A third subset include those who hold to theistic evolution, such as Francis Collins, head of the NIH and others in the Biologos community. There are other viewpoints as well that are often less discussed (e.g., framework hypothesis, gap theory).  Science is complex.  Hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation, is also complex.  Simple answers will never suffice. 

Unfortunately, it seems to me that many in the science community treat all Christians the same and vice versa. This can lead to the problem of talking past one another as I indicated above.  The only way to know what viewpoint a person holds is to ask them and deal with their perspective, avoiding ad hominem attacks. 

Fourth, there should have been a clearer acknowledgement of presuppositions. Christians operate from the perspective that God is true and therefore the supernatural is true. Because we believe in the supernatural, and an intervening God, miraculous events can occur.  Materialists, by their worldview, reject the supernatural a priori and so do not allow for an intervening God, even when it explains their data better than their worldview can.  They are more inclined to produce fanciful theories (e.g., the multiverse theory, directed panspermia) that also require faith, rather acknowledge God. Romans 1:18-32 actually predicts this suppression of the obvious. 

Fifth, I have some specific criticisms of Bill Nye.  Bill Nye clearly operates from a worldview of scientific naturalism. For him, science is king. Unfortunately, this leads to a gross denial of history and of reality.  Nye failed to acknowledge that historically, science emerges from a Christian worldview.  The God of the Bible is not an impetuous, ever changing deity, but a God of reason.  Because early scientists believed that God ordered the universe, they were able to develop a system of experimentation and replication.  Indeed, most scientists through history have been theists including some of the most influential in history.  A strict reliance upon science also fails to account for the metaphysical realities of inquiry.  Ham attempted to get Nye to address issues like meaning, morality and origins, but Nye could not respond well because these are not really under the purview of observational science.  Not everything is scientifically provable and without a foundation in the philosophy of science, which is sorely lacking, it is impossible to consider some of these metaphysical realities.  Just once, I would like to see a scientist acknowledge that though they understand science well, they are not philosophers.  As just one example, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow wrote a book a few years ago saying that philosophy is essentially dead, then they made philosophical assertions to try to make their point.  I discussed that here

Bill Nye also began to make assertions about biblical interpretation.  In doing so, he was out of his element.  One example is that he claimed the Bible is thousands of years old and has been interpreted over and over.  English translations are made from the earliest texts available, not from existing English translations. It is not a game of telephone. There are existing texts dated within one generation of Jesus. Further, the number of early biblical manuscripts eclipses the number of any other writing of antiquity.  We have very good manuscript evidence that is surprisingly consistent.  The tenacity with which scientists approach their fields of inquiry is similarly held by biblical scholars and textual critics to make sure they get it right. 

Another thing about Bill Nye that I disliked was his increasingly pejorative approach as the debate proceeded. He kept referring to things like "Ken Ham's model", though this was the model held by the majority of people through history. He also made off-handed references to the "people of Kentucky", which I think was an indirect jab at them.  Alternatively, he kept referring to himself as a "man of reason".  This is a common ploy among atheists.  They characterize themselves as reasonable, with the unstated assertion that those who do not think like they do are by necessity, unreasonable.  There are many theists who are able to reason quite well.  Indeed, I would pit JP Moreland or William Lane Craig against Bill Nye any day when it comes to "reasoning" ability. 

Bill Nye misstepped. when he talked about the Big Bang. Yes, the big bang is an accepted scientific fact; however, the Big Bang supports the notion of a creator.  There was an absolute starting point to the universe.  The typical response of scientists has often been that at some point in the finite past an infinitely small, infinitely hot point in the nothingness exploded expanding outward rapidly.  Where did this come from? Theists confidently state this came from God, who is ever existent.  William Lane Craig makes this argument compellingly in the Kalam Cosmological arugment.  Or, as Greg Koukl would say, "the big bang needs a big banger." 

I also had some criticisms of Ken Ham.  One of the first things is his appeal to authority. He shared videos of several scientists who are young earth creationists.  This may be one useful technique, but appeal to authority on its own merits is a shaky foundation. He is lucky that Bill Nye did not trot out the scientists who disagree with young earth creationism because then it would be an issue of my expert versus your expert. And they have a lot more. Unfortunately, appeal to authority does not indicate whether something is true or reasonable. 

Ham also had a tendency to dodge questions, which I don't like. For example, he was asked a question that was something to the effect of "what would it take to change your mind?" He responded by saying something akin to "well, I'm a Christian and this is what I believe, so my mind won't be changed."  I wish he would have taken a different tack. If I was asked that question, I hope I would have responded by saying, "if Christ had not been raised from the dead, I would consider changing my viewpoint." To my believing friends, 1 Corinthians 15 is so important here.  As Paul is addressing them, he tells them that he delivered to them of first importance, that Jesus was crucified and resurrected in accordance with the scriptures.  And then, he comes to this section:

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.-1 Corinthians 15:16-20

Do you see what is of first importance?  It is not the age of the earth or by what means it was accomplished. It is that Christ died for our sins and was raised again from the dead, bearing the burden for our iniquities so that all who call upon him will be saved. Christ is the center.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Besides Jesus, nothing has any significance. He alone matters."

So perhaps the earth is young; perhaps the earth is old, but I believe the evidence for a Creator God is compelling. 
Philosophically, it is hard to explain the beginning without Him.
Scientifically, there will be a struggle to explain life from non-life.
Morally, good and evil are meaningless without a moral law giver.
Anthropologically, your worth comes because you were created in the image of the One who made you.  You are so much more than a self-aware blob of cells.  You are an image bearer of the King and, regardless of your view of science, He wants you to come to Him. 

For those who are further interested in this topic, may I also suggest the following videos: 

John Lennox vs Richard Dawkins on the question "Has Science Buried God?"

Stephen Meyer and Eric Metaxas on Darwin's Doubt

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