Bill Nye and Ken Ham Debate: No, it is not un-Christian to criticize the event

A couple of nights ago, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Creation Museum founder Ken Ham squared off in a highly publicized debate.  I had an Aquinas class until 9 p.m., but I’m going to be frank: Even if I did not, I probably would have watched the Texas-TCU basketball game instead.  Gasp!  Is that not arrogant?  Do I think I’m “too good” for a debate like this?  Doesn’t God use the foolish to shame the wise, so it is no big deal that Ham is not William Lane Craig or Ravi Zacharias?  Shouldn’t I be happy about this debate because, regardless of what happened, “the Gospel was preached?”  Isn’t that the whole point?  How dare some elitist punk like me criticize the event.

Or maybe I actually think that Ken Ham is a Christian brother and Bill Nye is a funny guy, but I failed to see why so much attention was given to these speakers when so many others don’t get any despite having higher academic credentials.  Maybe I genuinely think the theistic worldview could have received a better presentation.  Now, does having academic credentials mean that someone is automatically smarter and right?  No; ultimately, whether you’re listening to a professor or a dude playing laser tag, you evaluate what they say and not their degrees.  Still, academic training can give an indication about the level of skill and expertise a person brings, and while Ham gave an eloquent presentation and made several good points, I believe the debate was a missed opportunity.

Debate review

I actually watched a recording of the debate today on Youtube (so nobody can accuse me of not giving it a shot).  To be fair, as I hinted above, Ham made several good points that Nye often glossed over.  Ham’s best point was showing how many careless secularistis like Nye equate observational science and historical science when there is no basis to do so.  Nye’s assertion that believing in some sort of creation is somehow inconsistent with riding airplanes and using cell phones is laughably silly.  We can observe potassium blowing up in water; we can’t observe eons of evolution.  That doesn’t make Darwinism wrong, but those two things certainly should not be equated.  Ham continued to point out, correctly, that this stems from a naturalistic bias that many secular scientists are either unwilling to admit or completely blind to.  This was a very important point that Nye never really answered well, punting on the challenge that Ham gave to name one piece of technology that would have been impossible to make in a non-naturalistic framework.

Still, I thought Ham made a few mistakes that a more seasoned debater would not have made.  First, while I understand Ham was trying to show that many effective scientists believe in creation (therefore refuting Nye’s ridiculous claim that one cannot do experimental science outside of a Darwinian framework), he spent way too much time showing videos of creationist scientists, as if that would somehow persuade in itself.  Second, he got caught up chasing rabbit holes like Noah’s ark, which leads to the third and most important complaint I have: Instead of presenting a broad view of creation, Ham focused way too much on young-earth creationism.  I understand that’s his view, but he would have been much better served to hone in on the main issue, which is whether or not it is unscientific to infer an intelligent cause of the universe and life.  The fine-tuning argument did not come up, an extraordinarily important one.  More frustratingly, Ham let Nye use big bang theory to support a naturalistic worldview when the big bang is a big problem for atheists because of its unavoidable conclusion that the universe had a beginning, as argued by Christian philosophers (who are well-versed in the science of it) such as Craig and Robert Spitzer.  Many theists out there, including Bible-believing Christians, do not hold to a young-earth model, not because they are acquiescing to culture but simply because they are not convinced that Genesis 1 was intended to be literal history, an interpretation that is attested in church history long before Darwin came around.

Because of Ham’s narrow focus, he sometimes got caught up on in-house church debates on interpretation and theology, such as whether there was animal death before the Fall, rather than actually engaging the naturalistic worldview.  This was a huge mistake and deflected attention from the central point of a debate like this.  This is also why a large part of the debate was about the age of the earth/universe when it is perfectly compatible with a theistic approach to science to believe that they are several billion years old.

Intellectual and skilled preparedness is not wrong to ask for nor contrary to Gospel-sharing

A pastor friend of mine wrote a blog article about why he did not bother to watch the debate, citing the fact that neither Nye nor Ham had the credentials for such a high profile event.  He got slammed by many Christians in the comment section that called him arrogant and pompous, and some accused him of somehow saying that you need certain credentials to share the Gospel when clearly God used all sorts of people in Scripture.  This greatly misses the point.  No one is telling Ham he can’t share the Gospel because he isn’t some hotshot philosopher or professional scientist.  I love Scripture and I’m a big believer in teaching biblical truth and the Gospel, whatever your background is.  However, discernment is needed in how to go about doing that.  Douglas Groothius has a good quote on this debate:

This may shock some of you, but it is true. Some posts are glad that Ken Ham gave a “clear presentation of the Gospel” in his debate with Nye. That was not the point of the debate. It was a question of origins, of science. Ham giving the Gospel only reinforced the idea that Christians only care about one thing. We should care about all truth, and especially those truths that directly support the biblical worldview. A debate on whether God was involved in the history of biology should throw all its energy into that topic.

In fairness, this is a bit simplistic because Ham did talk about some science, but the point is this: Everyone should share the Gospel, but blind Gospel sharing is not always the clearest way to do it.  Missionaries don’t just drop in on a culture and bark the Gospel at people (good ones don’t, anyway).  Instead, they learn the culture, live in it, adopt a few customs so long as they are not unbiblical, and then share the Gospel to the people by engaging them in their worldview.  Similarly, everyone is called to worship, but it makes no sense to make someone who has no musical ability the worship leader.  There is nothing wrong about wishing that someone who is more skilled and trained in these topics to have a famous debate representing an alternative to the naturalistic worldview.

Remember this: Many people out there wrongly believe that modern science actually disproves God or somehow makes belief in him fundamentally irrational.  What’s better, simply quoting the Bible to them or engaging their worldview and pointing out that there is room for God even in their understanding of science?  They’re not even going to listen if you do the former.  However, if you are able to show that, contrary to the efforts of even great physicists like Stephen Hawking, big bang theory leads to the conclusion that there was a beginning point of the universe, you can show that believing in a supernatural cause is far more rational than believing that the universe popped straight out of nothing.  You can also talk about the extremely narrow parameters for our universe to even have a chance at producing life, parameters for constants such as the strong and weak nuclear forces, that make it irrational to believe it all happened by chance.  Then you have started a discussion and can share the Gospel when they are open.

The best example of this comes from none other than Scripture.  In Acts 17, Paul engages the philosophers of the time and then points to an unnamed God that some believe in (well before this, readers of Aristotle may know that he came upon a singular God in his philosophy, though obviously he couldn’t go farther than that).  Paul uses that as a launchpad to share the Gospel.  Some scorn him, but others are curious and ask him more questions and come to believe.  Paul was well-versed not only in his own faith but in how to engage the Hellenistic culture.

Somehow, many Christians here in the West resent it when they are told that they need to read more, become more versed in apologetics, and think more critically.  They think that this is some sort of “high intellectualism” that is only for arrogant people and that true faith doesn’t need it or want it.  They neglect their responsibility to engage the people around them, and given our time and culture, it is irresponsible to think these intellectual issues don’t matter.  Nobody is saying everyone has to become a scholar, but ultimately, we are to love God with all we have, including our minds (Matt. 22:37).  Bristling at the suggestion that more training and reading is required to be more effective says a lot more about what is wrong with church culture than it does about the suggestion.  At least Ham could go up there and make a case, even if I thought he should have had a better approach.  Many Christians who are trying to shield him from criticism only show their great misunderstanding of the role of training and learning when it comes to doing duties in God’s church.

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