HOW DID WE GET HERE? Bill Nye’s Scientism vs. Ken Ham’s Creationism Face Off Tonight in Sold-Out Debate

Bill Nye The Science Guy and Ken Ham, Creation Man, will face off in a debate this evening that’s garnered a lot of attention on the Internet and in local communities.

Tickets for the debate in the 800-seat auditorium at the Creation Museum in Kentucky sold out within twenty minutes after they went on sale yesterday.  The debate will air at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time on NBCNews.com and MSNBC.com, or via debatelive.org.  And some folks I know are gathering at local churches to watch on a big screen as the guru of science dukes it out with the guru of creationism.

Their theme? Creation vs. Evolution. Or Religion vs. Science. Or, more exactly, the question which each will try to answer:

“Is Creation A Viable Model of Origins in Today’s Modern Scientific Era?”

But here’s the thing: There’s another way.

See, Bill Nye, a militant atheist, believes that science holds the explanation for everything, and that the Big Bang or something-or-other caused the earth to appear here and evolution caused primitive animals to emerge from the primordial soup and stand erect and gradually turn into humans. Nye would deny the existence of a Creator God, relegating all of the mysteries and complexities of the universe to chance, implausible chance.

And Ken Ham, founder of the young-earth apologetics organization Answers In Genesis, takes a fundamentalist view of Scripture which believes the earth was created in just six days and is actually only several thousand years old.  He insists on the literal interpretation of Scripture, denying the possibility that a “day” actually refers to a period or an era–even though we often use the word that way in our modern “day” conversation.

The debate tonight, as it’s constructed, ignores the possibility—even the likelihood—of another, more reasoned position:  that a Creator (Whom we call God) created the world and infused it with meaning, that we are more than happenstance, that there is a purpose to our lives, but that He need not have done so in a rigid six-day format. The theory of Intelligent Design fits nicely here (although it is not the only possible answer).

EVOLUTION IN THE NEWS IN GREAT BRITAIN

Tonight’s debate is actually not the only pop media event to consider theories of creation this month.

Simon Cape and Bentley Browning, participants in the UK’s “Faith Swap”

In the UK, the reality show “Faith Swap” featured Bentley Browning, a comedian and committed Christian, who switched religious practices for a month with Simon Capes, an atheist comedian. During that month, Christian Bentley Browning stopped his practice of daily prayer, church attendance and other faith rituals. Capes, who had avoided religious practice altogether, committed to attending church and devoting time to prayer.

The two have recently completed their quest, and have begun to speak about the experience. Was either converted? No—but they do seem to have achieved their goal of greater understanding.

Browning tweeted about how difficult it was for him to stay away from the God upon Whom he relies:

And,

Capes, for his part, wrote of his experience,

“I’ve been exploring Christianity now for nearly a month. I’ve met some lovely people and witnessed some very supportive communities, I’ve even had some of my preconceptions and predjudices blown away. But, and yes there is a but, I haven’t found Jesus or God, yet.”

Perhaps he will.

What is the Catholic Church’s teaching with regard to creation and evolution?

Well, first, the Church does not have an official position on how the universe was created. Did the stars, nebulae, and planets come into being in the aftermath of the Big Bang?  If, as modern cosmologists explain, this was the way the world was created, then the Church holds that this must be attributed to God and His plan.  The Scriptures read:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host [stars, nebulae, planets] by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6). 

What about various life forms?  Did animals develop over time, from lower, unicellular creatures and invertebrates, to more complicated life forms?  If they did evolve, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to Him.

But what about man?  Regarding human evolution, the Church has a more definite teaching:  It is permissible to believe that man’s body developed from more primitive life forms, under the direction of God. However, the Church avers the special creation of the soul.

Pope Pius XII declared that

…the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36).

So whether the human body developed gradually as a result of evolution, or whether it was specially created, we are required to hold as a matter of Catholic faith that the human soul is specially created; it did not evolve, and it is not inherited from our parents, as our bodies are.

And while the Church allows a wide range of belief regarding evolution and special creation, it specifically denies atheistic evolution, such as the theory promulgated by Bill Nye.

What about time?  How long did God take to create the universe?

The Catholic Church has infallibly determined that the universe is of finite age–that it has not existed from all eternity.  However, it has not infallibly defined whether the world was created only a few thousand years ago, or whether it was created several billion years ago.  This is a matter on which Catholics are free to disagree.

The events told in Genesis 1 are, the Church teaches, real occurences, not mere legend.  However, they may be told in a style of historical writing that Westerners do not typically use, and may not conform to the six-day schedule espoused by Ken Ham.

And, the Church insists, Adam and Eve were real people.  The story of the creation of Adam and Eve and their fall from grace in Genesis 2-3 is a matter of faith.  Some scientists have speculated that there was actually a pool of early human couples (a teaching known as ‘polygenism’), rather than original pair of two human beings (a teaching known as ‘monogenism’).  Pope Pius XII clarified the Church’s stance on that, stating:

“When, however, there is a question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty.  For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.  Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written in a style familiar to modern readers.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

“The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.  Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390).

Pope Leo XIII, writing in Providentissimus Deus 18, explained that despite the rejection of faith that is common to Bill Nye and the New Atheists, there is no real disagreement between the theologian and the scientist, provided each keeps within his own limits.   Rather, Pope Leo explained,

“…If nevertheless there is a disagreement…it should be remembered that the sacred writers, or more truly ‘the Spirit of God who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men such truths (as the inner structure of visible objects) which do not help anyone to salvation’; and that, for this reason, rather than trying to provide a scientific exposition of nature, they sometimes describe and treat these matters either in a somewhat figurative language or as the common manner of speech those times required, and indeed still requires nowadays in everyday life, even amongst most learned people”.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 159) explains more fully:

“Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of the faith derive from the same God.  The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are”.  

So the Catholic Church is not afraid of science or scientific discovery.  All knowledge will, in the end, reveal more about the wisdom and the majesty of God.


  • oregon nurse

    I won’t be wasting my time watching this debate – it’s too predicatable and no one will come away the least bit smarter or enlightened. Each debator will be denying huge swaths of truth to prove their point.

    • SR Ruger

      you are just too smart for the res of us it seems
      what “huge swaths of truth” will each side be denying…
      please enlighten us dullards

  • Joe Boyd

    How is Bill Nye a “militant atheist”? He may be for all I know, but the only statements I’ve seen him make on the subject involve keeping religion out of the science classroom, something that I wish everyone would support, irregardless of their personal beliefs.

  • nannon31

    Mainly conservative Germain Grisez in the imprimatured, nihil obstated “Way of the Lord Jesus” (1983) well after Humani Generis, was open to polygenism if persons could explain it’s being compatible with original sin teaching in that tome…page 340 of Volume One. He says Popes Pius XII and Paul VI were not speaking as to the matter being definitively settled. We need color coding for Popes’ sentences wherein different color words are definitive, others infallible, others de fide, others private opinion, others common teaching. These authority levels are part of the confusion. You need a Phd in Dogmatics to know what statement is as strong as it sounds initially. But is a Phd. enough…that’s only 3 or 4 years of reading and writing.

  • guest

    Bill Nye is not a militant atheist, by his own words, he’s an agnostic.

    Also, there was no ‘first human being’. We evolved gradually from apes. At no point was there an offspring who was a different species from its parents. And DNA evidence suggests there were never less than 10,000 people on the planet.

  • Fr. SMC

    Dear Kathy…the same Leo XIII that you mention above clearly taught that Adam was made from the dust and Eve from his rib in the Papal Encyclical, Arcanum. Pope Pelagius I, the Council of Cologne, and every Father of the Church without exception taught that Adam was made from the dust and Eve from his rib. Evolution could be studied, stated Pius XII, under certain conditions. But this allowance was in no way an endorsement. Bl. John XXIII allowed the study of the contraceptive pill. I hope that you don’t think that this was an endorsement of it?

    • kathyschiffer

      When the pope came to the subject of the scientific merits of evolution, it soon became clear how much things had changed in the nearly fifty years since the Vatican last addressed the issue. John Paul said:

      Today, almost half a century after publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.

      Evolution, a doctrine that Pius XII only acknowledged as an unfortunate possibility, John Paul accepts forty-six years later “as an effectively proven fact.”

      http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/vaticanview.html

      • Fr. SMC

        Thank you, Kathy, for fully admitting that the Church, upon revisiting the matter of evolution and human origins, realized that she had got the issue wrong in the past. Thank goodness now that we are so enlightened and have evolved in regards to doctrine. But wait a minute…evolution in dogma?…Oh, that’s right…such a position is condemned by the Church as being the main instrument of the modernist heresy.
        So let me get this straight, you would compare a simple papal audience to a bunch of scientists or a non-magisterial report of the International Theological Commission with a Papal Encyclical, a Creedal Statement of Pope Pelagius I, the Council of Cologne, and Vatican I which all state that Adam and Eve were formed immediately by God without parents? I think you need to do just a bit more studying and look into levels of teaching authority. The statements of some modern popes on the topic of evolution carry absolutely no weight of authority and bind no one. They are simply opinions of men not statements of Peter.
        As a final note, theistic evolutionists, and I hope that you would not be among them, must hold that God purposely willed death, disease, and mutation as part of His Original Plan, until He brought about a body fit for a soul after going through millions of corpses. This is the god of evolution or the god of death. But the Bible tells us…and I assume you except the Word of God…the good Book tells us that God did not bring death into the world. What does Ash Wednesday mean to you? Is it just a game when father says, Remember man you are DUST, etc.? And what does Good Friday mean to you when we remember that our Lord’s Sacred Side was opened and out came Blood, Water, and the New Eve, all pre-figured in the rib being pulled from the side of the Old Adam. Or is this just a myth, too? Evolution, be it of the theistic or atheistic version is pure blasphemy.


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