Ham on Nye Pre-Debate Coverage: Interview with Dr. Jack Collins.

(Once upon a time, I went to seminary. I had awesome professor by the name of Jack Collins, smart, educated, faithful and a theological badass. Jack also wrote a book called Science and Faith; Friend or Foes, an amazing book that I reread on a regular basis. He’s also a bit of smart alec, which is why he was, hands down, my favorite professor in seminary. As scientist and evangelical scholar, he is able to give a good, reasoned and passionate point of view on this whole evolution/creation controversy.  This is what he had to say about the upcoming HamOnNye Debate)

1) Why do you think the issue of evolution/Creationism still stirs up so much controversy? 

There are several factors at work.

Christians want to be sure that God’s word tells them the true story of where the world came from, and how we got to where we are now. Unfortunately, some folk are insisting that, if the Bible is to be taken as true, we must read it in a “literal” fashion. And of course, read this kind of “literal” way, it comes into conflict with what the scientists think is the best description of the history of the world and of life. In the face of such conflict, you have to choose sides.

Of course, the better thing to do is to ask whether the Bible really should be read in this kind of “literal” way, and what its own authors were trying to do with the story they tell. But neither of the “sides” really considers this alternative, except to dismiss it.

Some science popularizers, building on what I have said above, make it sound like “science” refutes our faith. Some “creationists” — namely the kind who think that young-earth creationism is the only true kind — think that their reading of the Bible is the only bulwark we have against our children falling prey to unbelief.

Third, and related to the second, is the uneasy feeling that many traditional Christians of all stripes have, namely that much in our contemporary world is wandering rapidly away from God and his directions for good living. If a science popularizer tells us that we are just developed apes, and that there is no true and universal morality, we might suspect that it was the scientific theory that drove him mad. That is, sensible people recognize the distinctive features that all humans share with each other, which separate us from the beasts, and they wisely don’t believe anyone who tells us that these distinctions are illusory, or just a product of mindless nature.

A fourth aspect, which shows up especially in evangelicals, is the idea that the Scriptures are intended for everyone, and not just the specialists; and this leads people to think that the most straightforward reading of a text is the right one. (Of course, I would point out that we ought to seek the “straightforward” reading in the ancient context, and that requires the work of specialists. I would also point out that we really ought to be modest in our notion of Scriptural clarity, applying it to the main outline of the Biblical story.)

2) You’re a scientist with a degree from MIT and also a Hebrew professor. How do you approach the issues of origins?

Let’s make that two degrees from MIT, shall we?

I have some idea of how scientific research works. I know why it is so much fun, and I also know how easy it is to overstate both the level of confidence we have a right to in our results, and the implications our results have for so many other realms of thought. I also know from the inside that those who practice the sciences, and high-level engineering, tend to think of themselves as the truly objective types because of our insistence on numbers and empirical testability.

But I also respect well-established results, and distrust anyone who dismisses them as coming from “a darkened mind.” That isn’t how it works!

As a Hebraist, I have been especially interested in how texts convey meaning, using their literary and grammatical features. I also know that we can overstate the level of confidence that we have a right to in this discipline as well. C. S. Lewis, in particular, has been a wonderful guide for me in learning to read texts on their own terms. He has a marvelous essay on “The language of religion,” which helps us to appreciate how rarely the Bible writers employ “scientific language,” and how rarely they engage in what we might call “scientific theorizing.”

In other words, I have some sense of how both the sciences and the Biblical texts are aiming to talk about the world, and thus can be brought into fruitful interaction. That interaction should respect the way each of these talk.

3) According to Ken Ham, you can’t believe in the Bible and Evolution. Do you agree with him? If not, why? 

So much depends on the meaning of the word “evolution,” doesn’t it! Spokesmen for Answers in Genesis have tended to describe everything except their version of young earth creationism as “evolutionary,” and thus would apply the term to people as diverse as Mike Behe, C. S. Lewis, Hugh Ross, and Francis Collins (and Jack Collins too!).

Now, this is not entirely their fault. The two main science teachers’ groups in the USA, the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) and the National Science Teachers’ Association (NSTA), have definitions of “evolution” that don’t really agree. Both think of evolution as the idea that changes have taken place in the universe, and in living things, over the vast stretches of time for which they have existed. But the NSTA does not commit itself to any particular notion of where those changes have come from (thus leaving open the possibility that the process is governed by God, with varying degrees of directness), while the NABT insists that only natural processes may be invoked to describe the process. That is, the NABT rules out the visibility of God’s activity from the start (which is actually a philosophically questionable move).

Now some Christian indeed fall in line with the NABT, and simply say it was God’s “natural” process and we have to take that on faith. I think it’s hard to square that with the Bible; but I join C. S. Lewis in observing that it’s inadequate for dealing with human distinctiveness, so it isn’t really the best scientific theory!

When I read the Bible, I don’t see it saying just how the varieties of “kinds” came about. Those who think Genesis gives us ancient science really need to get acquainted with ancient science (such as Aristotle presents), in order to appreciate the difference between that and the Bible! That’s why, if someone wants to explore a notion of evolution along the lines of what the NSTA has described, I’m not bothered, so long as he or she keeps his or her wits about them, and doesn’t go beyond what they’re entitled to conclude.

4) Why do you feel so troubled about the upcoming Nye/Ham debate? 

I do not think this “debate” will really do much to help people think more clearly. I think it is more theater than anything else — and that’s fine, so long as everyone knows what it is and approaches it accordingly.

I like critical thinking, and I learned a lot of it from my one-time mentor, Al Drake (who taught probability at MIT). He used to insist that if we want to decide between options, we have to make sure the items in our list are “mutually exclusive” (that is, they don’t overlap at all) and “collectively exhaustive” (you’ve actually got all the possible options). And I don’t see that Ken Ham and Bill Nye offer me the only two options; nor do I think that all forms of “evolution” necessarily contradict human uniqueness.

This “debate” cannot help but be seen as “science versus the Bible,” and I don’t think that does justice to either.

5) How can evangelicals encourage scientific discussion in their own church communities? 

Well, we need to recapture the Biblical emphasis on the goodness of creation, and of the worthiness of creation for human study. (That probably means we have to ditch some of our hymns, namely those that devalue the creation; and sing more of the ones that treasure the world, such as “This is my Father’s world,” “All creatures of our God and King,” and “For the beauty of the earth.”)

We need also to ensure that we help people who are intellectually capable really to value the life of the mind, and to know that is honorable of them to pursue it.

And everyone needs to learn a lot more, and better, critical thinking. (I have seen a manual for critical thinking for evangelical home-schoolers that really fails to help people assess critically their own simplistic reading of the Bible. Blecch!)

Beyond that, I would encourage families to talk freely about the things they see in their own gardens: the rocks, with their histories; the plants, with their needs; the animals, with the varied diets and interactions. Foster the children’s natural curiosity. And visit zoos and museums, like what we have in St Louis. Read books and watch films. Take nature walks. Get to know the natural world, and like it!

And finally, in those we allow to teach the sciences to our kids, we should expect both a solid education in science or engineering, and some experience actually doing such work. It would be worth our while to pray for our teachers, and not only for the ones in our own churches!

Check out Dr. Collins’ book, Did Adam and Eve Exist? Who they were and why you should care.

About Jonathan Ryan

Jonathan Ryan is a novelist, blogger and columnist. His novel, 3 Gates of the Dead, published by Open Road Media, is in bookstores everywhere. The sequel, Dark Bride, will be out in April 2015

  • Bernie Dehler

    You don’t need god(s) for biological evolution; it made god superfluous.

    • John Hanna

      Bernie, actually, God – ultimate, personal, transcendent, immanent, creating, sustaining, relating, revealing truth and goodness – is necessary in so far as every aspect of physical reality. Naturalistic explanations, though rich and substantial, are always woefully inadequate and incomplete. This is not because of some inexplicable gap in them, but because the entire thing is inexplicable otherwise.

      An imperfect analogy is that of a medical surgery. It’s possible to provide an entire account of the intricacies of the surgical process without any reference to the surgeon. And it could all be true and scientifically precise. And it would be a type of “complete” explanation in its own right, which could be studied on its own. However, it would of course be woefully inadequate and false to claim it as a full explanation of what took place apart from the surgeon, and to insist that any reference to the surgeon must be excluded as “religious” and “unscientific.” The entire thing wouldn’t be possible without the surgeon’s active participation every step of the way. The “how” and the “what” are vital and interesting. But they don’t tell us the “who.” Furthermore, they are inexplicable apart from the “who.”

      A little different type of comparison is that of a book. Can we find the author in a book? Where is the evidence of his existence? He’s actually nowhere to be found. The characters, the story, the setting, all certainly seem to have a life of their own and are getting along quite nicely without the author. Yet, the evidence is of course the entire book itself, not a single infinitesimally small fraction of a letter of which exists apart from the author. Ah, “but books don’t write themselves,” you say. Well, the evidence for God is the existence of an entire universe. In that regard, it’s worth noting that neither time nor chance have any creative powers, since they aren’t actually “things.” Time is the medium in which events take place, and chance simply refers to probability.

      So, it’s not only the case that there are certain things that are outside and beyond physical, naturalistic reductionism – being, life, truth, goodness, love, numbers, mathematics, language, meaning, beauty, personhood, identity, etc. – it is the case that the naturalistic processes themselves depend on God.

      This from one of Jack Collins colleagues at another seminary, Vern Poythress also enriches our understanding of science’s dependence on God:

      “Scientific law displays the attributes of God himself, such as omnipresence (the same in all places), immutability, immateriality, invisibility, transcendence (above the particular phenomena), immanence (touching on the particulars)…(some)scientists sometimes evade this testimony to God by trying to think that the laws that they investigate are impersonal, a kind of mindless mechanism… But (these) scientists still believe that the laws are fundamentally rational, and fundamentally language-like, so that they can be described in human language and thought through with human discourse. Rationality and complex language ability belong to persons, not to rocks and plants and worms. Scien(ce)clearly rel(ies) on the personal character of law.”

      • Bernie Dehler

        “It’s possible to provide an entire account of the intricacies of the surgical process without any reference to the surgeon.”

        Bad analogy because everyone agrees about the existence of a surgeon for surgeries. The only evidence for the existence of your god is in your imagination. It is a delusion… the God delusion. Been there, done that.

        • ClintonKing

          If the only evidence for God is in my imagination, then what else exists only in my imagination? This computer? My desk? The sun?

          • Bernie Dehler

            “If the only evidence for God is in my imagination, then what else exists only in my imagination? This computer? My desk? The sun?”

            If someone else can verify the existence by observation, then you are on the right track; but even then could be mislead (such as by a mirage in the desert). A computer, desk, and Sun are easy things to get independent verification for. But when it comes to the gods, everyone has their own, made from their own imagination. That’s why there’s so many different versions of Christian mythology.

      • Bernie Dehler

        John Hanna wrote : “Naturalistic explanations, though rich and substantial, are always woefully inadequate and incomplete. This is not because of some inexplicable gap in them, but because the entire thing is inexplicable otherwise.”

        There is nothing inadequate about naturalistic explanations… certainly nothing that could be helped by believing in magic and superstition (Christian mythology).

      • Bernie Dehler

        RE: “”Scientific law displays the attributes of God himself, such as omnipresence (the same in all places),…”

        Trying to understand how laws came into existence is beyond our knowledge. To say that an “unknown” is evidence for god(s) is the logical fallacy “appeal to ignorance.” No one knows- so it isn’t evidence for either side. Admit what you don’t klnow, rather than claim everything we don’t know is evidence for the existence of god(s). That is classic “God of the gaps” thinking.

        It is a logical fallacy, even if it is stated by a Christian philosopher or mythologist with a Ph.D.

  • Bernie Dehler

    Jack Collins said:
    “So much depends on the meaning of the word “evolution,” doesn’t it! ”

    Not really. There’s no need to posit that biological evolution is god-guided. First, there’s no evidence for it (no direction, but evolution seeks out every possible ecological niche). Second, if it was, what a cruel god it would be. You need to look at nature to see how “red in tooth and claw” it is; hardly the idea of a so-called all-loving god. The ‘fight for survival’ is not pretty. J. Collins should know better to try to pass off a statement like that.

    For evangelical Christians, it is hard to even get them to admit to evolution, in that humans evolved from other animals. Seems like most evangelicals are young and old earthers, both of which deny that humans descended from other animals. Some, like Francis Collins (a different Collins), can fully accept evolution; but then they offer no guidance on how to integrate it with theology; for example, the problem of evil. They have admitted to such.

    • Caribou Cleaner

      “hardly the idea of a so-called all-loving god” – they blame the fall.
      “how to integrate it with theology” – they offer the tree of knowledge as symbolizing the moment of the age of accountability during evolutionary development.

      You got to bring better arguments. This was weak sauce; won’t stand up in a debate against a well prepped creationist.

      • Bernie Dehler

        Hey, “anonymous Caribou Cleaner,” the fall never happened, so that isn’t a real answer. Evangelical Christians that accept human descent usually don’t use that explanation (because there’s no such thing as a “first human” in evolution, as if a non-human gave birth to the first human). And those that don’t accept human descent are scientifically ignorant. So yes, lamesauce, but not on my part.

        • Joe Slabotnik

          The only answer that will quench your thirst for truth is when you stand before your Creator and give an account. Bon courage!!

          • Bernie Dehler

            “The only answer that will quench your thirst for truth is when you stand before your Creator and give an account. ”

            The only place that will happen is in your imagination… the only place your God also exists.

    • kaffikjelen

      First, there’s no evidence for it

      There’s no evidence for the assertion that it is fully naturalistic and unguided, either. It depends on whether you think there is a God.

      Second, if it was, what a cruel god it would be.

      It wouldn’t be your childhood happy bearded man in the sky, but I don’t think he would be cruel. It seems to me that there is too little information to say that. You’d need to know (or be reasonably sure of) all of God’s motives, how things would turn out had something different happened, &c.

      Evolution is perfectly compatible with a Christian faith (though despite desperate, pseudo-intellectual attempts to save it, not the inerrancy of the Bible).

      • Shannon

        The majority of people have been lead by false religion to believe that God is presently ruling the world. This teaching would indeed imply that God is wicked.
        The scriptures explain otherwise- 1John 5:19; this is one of many accounts that explain that satan/the wicked one is the present ruler. The bible also expalins why this is being allowed and just as importantly, that this system of things under Satans rule will be ended.
        When will “The End” come? The bible explains that there is an activity that will come to a completion before the end comes- Mathew 24:14
        Perspective is everything, but you do have to search.

        • kaffikjelen

          False.

          To suggest that the world is actually out of his control, seems silly, but I recognise that you view it as the truth. So I would say: Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the Almighty. He is sovereign. This does not mean that he is wicked, for reasons I posted above. You’d have to know all relevant factors, and you don’t.

          Any talk in the New Testament about Satan being the ruler of this world, does not entail that God has lost control. It just means that Satan has great impact on rulers and nations, and God allows that to happen.

          I’m curious, just how do you find comfort in your little, weak god? I’d just find him pathetic. Poor guy.

          • Shannon

            Slow it down cow boy and re-read what I wrote. I never said or in any way implied that “God has lost control.” God has always allowed things to take there natural course for an amount of time that He is completely in control of. The bible contains several accounts of this being the case. Jesus Father knows that day and hour and Jesus does not. Mark 13:32
            The teaching that God is controlling the present system of things is a false teaching that turns people away from God. I repeat God will remove Satan from this position at the time decided. No loss of control.

          • Shannon

            Funny, reading what the two of us have written we’re actually pretty close to being on the same page! I have a cold, so please forgiven cloudiness.
            My efforts in the post replied was for people( it sounds like yourself not included) not to understand god as cruel because of their false interpretations from Christendom.

    • Joe Slabotnik

      As an evangelical Christian I believe in micro evolution but not macro. One simply has to look at nature with all its checks and balances to know that it just didn’t happen . . . there had to be an intelligent Creator. If you take a disassembled watch and lay the parts on a table and show a 100 people the end result, how many of them would say that all the parts just magically came together to form the watch? Even if you believe that the parts could somehow form the end product, how would you explain that every part came from nothing? The evolutionary process of man coming from a sub-human form breaks down quickly.

      • Bernie Dehler

        “As an evangelical Christian I believe in micro evolution but not macro.”

        Then you are not up-to-speed on modern science. It is like a young earther saying they believe in a 6,000 year old universe because the Bible teaches it. Step 1 is learning that the Bible is in no way a scientific book and that the Bible is useless for learning scientific facts.

  • Ulises

    Some fossilized questions for a transitional and healhty debate, for instance: is there evolution if there is no time? How will evolutionary biology meet new physical paradigms about time, space and so on? Will new conceptual changes deny evolution? Or on the contrary, will it become a more extraordinary process, full of astonishing implications? If so, will past human beings and the rest of living beings become something different as science progresses? After all, is life something fix-finite-defined? That is, can one understand it by means of using a flesh brain and its limited words? Does the whole of life fit inside a bone box? Indeed, will science add indefinitely without understanding completely, is there an infinite pool of ignorance waiting for us? Otherwise, will religions use the word God forever and ever, as if it were a death thing, a repetitive thing? Besides, do those who speak about God know something about it? In order to think and speak about God, are they using his limited brain or do they use unknown instruments? Along these lines, there is a different book, a preview in goo.gl/rfVqw6 Just another suggestion in order to freethink for a while

  • Shannon

    False religion of course has an inaccurate understanding of the Scriptures. The account of the creative days in Genisis does not refer to 24hr days. At the end of the account the 6 days are referred to as A day and the 7th day of Gods rest started then and as Hebrews 3 indicates has not yet ended. It IS importatnt to sincerely search for answers in order to define yourself as objective.
    In order for scientist to claim they are indeed objective, they SHOULD insiist on considering the numbers to then claim empirical evidence.
    There is NO evidence to date from the labs to endless archeological searching that even suggests the possibility of one specie changing to another through either macro of micro evolution.
    Science examines probability does it not? Here is some incontrovertible evidence:
    Researchers have learned that for just 1 cell to survive that 3 complex molecules must be present. DNA, RNA and proteins.
    RNA – is required to make proteins —, yet proteins are involved in the production of RNA. How could either one arise by chance, let alone both?
    The probability that just one protein containing only 100 amino acids could ever randomly form on earth has been calculated to be about one chance in a million billion.
    RNA is required to make proteins, yet proteins are involved in the production of RNA. What if, despite the extremely small odds, as in EVEN MORE unlikely than 1 in one-million billion (as in multiply that) both proteins and RNA molecules did appFalse religion of course has an inaccurate understanding of the Scriptures. The account of the creative days in Genisis does not refer to 24hr days. At the end of the account the 6 days are referred to as A day and the 7th day of Gods rest started then and as Hebrews 3 indicates has not yet ended. It IS importatnt to sincerely search for answers in order to define yourself as objective.
    In order for scientist to claim they are indeed objective, they SHOULD insiist on considering the numbers to then claim empirical evidence.
    There is NO evidence to date from the labs to endless archeological searching that even suggests the possibility of one specie changing to another through either macro of micro evolution.
    Science examines probability does it not? Here is some incontrovertible evidence:
    Researchers have learned that for just 1 cell to survive that 3 complex molecules must be present. DNA, RNA and proteins.
    RNA – is required to make proteins —, yet proteins are involved in the production of RNA. How could either one arise by chance, let alone both?
    The probability that just one protein containing only 100 amino acids could ever randomly form on earth has been calculated to be about one chance in a million billion. Again:
    RNA is required to make proteins, yet proteins are involved in the production of RNA. What if, despite the extremely small odds, as in EVEN MORE unlikely than 1 in one-million billion (as in impossible multipied by impossible) both proteins and RNA molecules did appear by chance in the same place at the same time? How likely would it be for them to survive and replicate? What about these completely impossible odds haven’t even yet included the 3rd and much more conplex element, DNA.
    If you have enough blind faith to believe in life and the elaborate universe coming into existence with out a creator then you also would believe the much more possible odds of an elaborate house coming into existence by means of a tornado :) ear by chance in the same place at the same time? How likely would it be for them to survive and replicate? What about these completely impossible odds haven’t even yet included the 3rd and much more conplex element, DNA.
    If you have enough blind faith to believe in life and the elaborate universe coming into existence with out a creator then you also would believe the much more possible odds of an elaborate house coming into existence by means of a tornado :)

    • Shannon

      My phone is glitching!

  • Shannon

    The majority of people have been lead by false religion to believe that God is presently ruling the world. This teaching would indeed imply that God is wicked.
    The scriptures explain otherwise- 1John 5:19; this is one of many accounts that explain that satan/the wicked one is the present ruler. The bible also expalins why this is being allowed and just as importantly, that this system of things under Satans rule will be ended.
    When will “The End” come? The bible explains that there is an activity that will come to a completion before the end comes- Mathew 24:14

  • Shannon

    My phone is doing some crazy glitching

  • Peter

    Nice interview. My only quibble is that it is wrong and misleading to call Collins a scientist. He doesn’t have a Ph.D. in science, nor a degree in natural science. His master’s degree from MIT is in engineering, I believe. Granted, he has far more scientific knowledge and training than your average pastor or seminary professor, but he is in NO way a scientist and should never be called that. I am sure he would agree!


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