“Ham on Nye” Debate Doesn’t Reflect Reality

“Ham on Nye” Debate Doesn’t Reflect Reality February 5, 2014
Click on the photo to check out the debate and additional coverage on NPR

Whenever I hear about someone else making a case for New Earth Creationism in the name of Christianity, I’m embarrassed, once again, to associate myself with them. And people wonder why many of us prefer to identify as “Jesus followers” or “Spiritual but not Religious” rather than be lumped in with the Ken Hams of the world.


The thing is, a healthy number of us who consider ourselves to be Christian embrace science. We think critically. We accept the likelihood that much we think we understand about the world, the universe and about our faith can (and should) change as we learn new things. We understand that faith is more about questions than answers, and that the prime mover in our faith practice is to be more like Jesus in our own daily walk, rather than focusing so much on making others more like us.

The desire of a vocal minority (yes, that’s what I said, and I meant it) of Christians to cling to a notion that the entire universe is a few thousand years old, despite the clear physical evidence to the contrary, points less to a reasonable alternate view of the observable world. Rather, it points to a desperate attempt to maintain a dying voice in the cultural conversation.

Its the sound of Christendom losing its grip on the chair at the head of the table. It’s the sound of a culturally dominant voice trying to resist its own marginalization to the fringes of a society who values the pursuit and evolution of human thought.

You’d think that the whole Copernicus thing might have taught us that trying to reconcile Biblical literalism with a historical account of anthropology and cosmology doesn’t work out so well for the church. And it’s not just because we’re becoming more secular and Godless.

Science figured out something long ago that religion still struggles with. Built into the scientific method is the assumption that all hypotheses and theories should be held loosely, and ultimately, released in exchange for new ones when the evidence before us calls for it. Religion, on the other hand, tends to carve out a position and defend it tirelessly, from generation to generation, sometimes to the death.

Never mind if it’s clearly absurd, counterintuitive and based in bronze-age thinking. It’s what a “good Christian” does.

The media is responsible for its share of fanning these flames in the public forum, though. The fact that National Public Radio would have someone like Ken Ham on air to debate the origins of the physical universe rather than, say, John Caputo, Marcus Borg or Diana Butler Bass points to a healthy does of willful myopia about what Christian faith in the 21st century looks like for hundreds of millions of us who don’t require the Bible to be literally, factually true in order for it to contain life-giving truth.

I might expect Bill Maher, Fox News or MSNBC to foment such empty punditry, but not NPR. So let’s have a thoughtful, nuanced conversation about our origins.

Let’s talk about, while science focuses more on responding to “how,” religion should focus more on “why.”

Let’s talk about how both science and religion benefit from a sense of open-ended mystery and curiosity, which inherently requires a willingness to change.

Let’s talk about how not all Christians believe there’s some invisible Sky Wizard sitting up in the clouds who got lonely and creates us as His playthings.

Let’s talk about how, at the heart of the faith of many Christians, is a poetic, aesthetic sense of something greater than ourselves, one that cannot be explained or agued to a definitive conclusion. One that requires a sense of intellectual humility and an openness to alternate realities. One that joyfully makes room for the coexistence of multiple truths.

And let’s talk about how many of the greatest scientists have held much the same mindset when entering into the most compelling questions at the hearts of their own research.

Let’s talk about how theology should help reveal without trying to fully and decisively explain, and how good science concedes to an overwhelming evidence.

Let’s recognize that, at the heart of a more full human experience is the logical, observable world as well as the sublime, the ineffable, the mysterious that draws us forward toward….who knows?

Moreover, let’s stop trying so damn hard as people of faith to be something we’re not. Jesus is no less Jesus if the universe is billions of years old. “Love God, Love (ALL) neighbors and serve the world” is both critical to Christian practice, while also not being an exclusively Christian value.

Science is more about seeking answers, while faith is about asking questions. Science dwells in the “how” while faith explores the “why.” And both only work if, beneath it all, we keep the notion that it’s very likely, if not inevitable, that much I think and believe is true today will change tomorrow.

And that’s okay. It’s part of being human.

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  • Daniel Wolpert

    Certainly agree. I thought it was a huge mistake for Nye to participate in this absurd experience. Also, for those who might wish further exploration on how we might talk about Christian faith in the current age, check out my new book: “The Collapse of the Three Story Universe, Christianity in an Age of Science”

    • James

      Nye’s goal was simple: to expose children who where raised in a cult and taught not to question, to questions. He exposed them to the simple truth that evidence matters; predictions matter; repeatable results matter. Science exposes us to awe; it does not diminish it. And there is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know” – but there’s a lot wrong in saying “I do know” when one does not. And in this sense, Nye was triumphant.

  • Whether someone wishes to believe that God orchestrates the process of evolution, or that God provided the divine spark from which life on Earth first sprung 3.5 billion years ago, or that “Let There Be Light” is a metaphor for the Big Bang, is really none of my concern. But the archaeological, biological, and genetic evidence for evolution is simply overwhelming.

    I don’t think Christians do themselves any favors by throwing their lot in with “Young Earth” creationists like Kenneth Ham. To accept that all of Creation took place only 6,000 years ago causes everything we know about astronomy, physics, and even higher mathematics to become meaningless at best, and an elaborate Satanic deception at worst.

    The Bible provides a moral and ethical framework within which we might conduct our lives with decency and humility, but the Bible is NOT a science textbook. Why not let theologians and philosophers debate the WHYS of Creation, and leave it to scientists to puzzle out the HOWS?

    • J. P.

      Except for the reality that the myth “that all the living forms in the world have arisen from a single source which itself came from an inorganic form”(this fiction: http://bit.ly/18b2Jxe http://bit.ly/12K0jnv) is shorn of any demonstrable , quantifiable , empirical , testable or replicable evidence . The reasoning here is this requires millions upon millions of years – which absolutely no one has actually observed since , well , it needs millions upon millions of years. Nevertheless the fossil record , which ought to demonstrate a string of infinitesimally progressive adjustments from one being to another over a course of millions of years , reveals the complete opposite . . . but it’s anticipated that ( one day , someday ) the “missing” fossils of those intermediate species are going to eventually be discovered . In short , the only evidence for evolution is the presumption of evolution . If that’s not lunatic fringe circular thinking , just what is ?

  • Lausten

    Maybe YOU should debate Ken Ham. The only Christian vs Christian debates I know of result new splinters of Protestantism. The trend seems to be shifting toward consolidation instead of more denominations, so this debate has to happen eventually.

    • Christian Piatt

      I’m available.

      • Lausten

        I don’t think they will be calling you. Frank Schaeffer wrote about how evangelicals hide behind their theology in a post titled “Do Evangelical Leaders Really Believe There Own BS.” If someone were practicing a discipline that I had worked hard to learn, but they were doing it all wrong and getting paid ridiculous amounts to do it poorly, I’d want them to account for themselves. I’d want there to be reviews by an organization with some oversight. But Christianity doesn’t have such a thing because if you question them, someone else is going to question you.

  • Erik Merksamer

    Loved this!

  • ReformedChristian

    Questions. Given that for all practical purposes, Marcus Borg is an atheist who would you have him debate? and Why do you value relevancy so much ? Is not the gospel by its very nature counter-cultural ?

  • Daniel Graham

    I wish I could agree with you that this conversation does not reflect reality, but unfortunately it does. Bill Nye understands that a growing number of conservative states are pushing for Creationism to be taught as an equally regarded position next to Evolution. This is being taught to our children. This is not some dying fringe position, this is a growing mainstream movement, and I am confused as to why you do not see this. This problem is not going to go away, it is being nurtured and fed by extreme conservatives that know how to make people feel obligated to agree. A new generation of Americans are being taught this junk, and Bill Nye has provided a forum whereby the scientific viewpoint can be heard. It scares me that you think this discussion is not vitally needed. The fact that large numbers of Christians support Evolution is immaterial. There is a dangerous and powerful lobby successfully promoting Creationism in our schools. That is the problem and the debate addresses that problem far better than this article.

  • Clint Schnekloth
  • Jason

    I have a degree in Biology and after I had taken my evolutionary classes, I was more inclined to the creationist view than the evolutionary view. To be honest, the Christians that believe everything scientists “throw out there” as in theories and such, I am actually embarrassed to be associated with them. So, I have to respectfully disagree with your comment. But at the end of the day, we shall both stand in front of the Father and the truth shall come out.

  • Nikki

    This statement “I might expect Bill Maher, Fox News or MSNBC to foment such empty punditry, but not NPR.” is why NPR is having the conversation. It’s not just about the few “loud” Christians anymore. NPR is talking about a point because Creationism is being taught in schools as science using taxpayer dollars. And more states are passing laws to continue this. We are on the verge of raising a generation of children who are only taught creationism as science. So NPR NEEDS to be talking about this. We need tax paying, informed, American voters to strike down insane laws in states that are threatening to remove science from textbooks in favor of only using Mr. Ham’s point of view. Is this what we want?

  • Charles Ragland

    Christian, you and your readers may find useful and interesting Robert T. Pennock’s “Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism.” Pennock is a Christian and he carefully deconstructs “creationism” (aka “intelligent design”) with a learned, lively, and enagaging style. He zeros in on the truth that “creationists” oppose evolution because they are scared of the following: “If we were formed by the puposeless processes of evolution and not by the direct, purposeful creative will of a divine intelligence” then there is no meaning in life. He counters this unfounded fear with the truth that “…God could give us purpose no matter how we came to be.” He also points out that to admit “creationism” into the public schools would open the door to the abridgement of religious liberty because sooner rather than later, someone will object to allowing the Creation stories of Hindus, Native Americans, Raelians, et al to be heard….Of course, what makes God smile is when those in love with God do the good they can do for God’s children (which is all of us) and for God’s world. On February 4 God paid MUCH, MUCH more attention to that Christ-follower who brought a warm cassarole to a bereaved father and children than to what was said during or is being said about a “debate.”

    • J. P.

      And how does Penncok deal with Christ’s own explicit teachings in defense of Special Creation by God Almighty?

  • ContraBullshit

    If you think that Ken Hams version of Christianity is a barrier to otherwise, sane reasonable people deciding to accept Christ as their Savior then you definitely are not seeing the forest for the trees.

    Here’s the number one reason that people like myself reject the Christian religion:

    Because the idea that two thousand years ago in the Middle East desert some ethereal ‘Being’ decided to turn itself into a man and trot around among a small group of superstitious, ignorant, illiterate peasants–perform a few magic tricks while leading them to believe that the world was about to end– and ultimately and most importantly to allow his own creation to nail him to a tree and savagely beat himself to death as some kind of a barbaric blood atonement for the forgiveness of their supposed sins. A blood sacrifice of himself to himself at the hands of his own creation. Sins that were inherited when a man picked some fruit from a magic tree in. a magic garden four thousand years earlier.
    This belief is, without a doubt, the single most preposterous, outrageous, absurd, asinine, ignorant pile of Stone Age lunacy that the human mind has ever concocted in our entire history on planet Earth.

    A blood sacrifice offered up to the Diety in the sky!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????????

    Are you kidding me!!!!!????

    Christians, until you have the courage to face the outlandish cave man nuttery that lies at the very heart of your religion, and explain how it is not staggeringly absurd to believe that the blood of some god/human hybrid hanging to a tree in ancient Palestine has some magic powers, then you are NEVER going to be able to have an honest dialogue about your beliefs.

    You need to understand how preposterous that your religion sounds to many people.

    And stop accusing non believers of describing a ‘caricature’ of your religion.
    The Christian religion is found on the primitive ignorance of an ancient, goat sacrificing culture who believed in the magic of blood sacrifice. It already IS a caricature!!!!!!!!!

    • J. P.

      The dilemma could in fact be exemplified with a pan for baking a loaf of bread . If the pan has a dent on it , what will happen to each and every loaf of bread baked in the pan ? Every single loaf has a dent , or a flaw in it . Correspondingly , every human being has acquired a “dent” of imperfection from Adam . This is the reason why every single one of us is condemned to grow old and then perish .—Romans 3 :23 .

  • Josh Magda

    A few quick thoughts on the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye at the Creation “Museum.”

    -After watching it, agree with most humanist commentators that the debate was a mistake, given Mr. Ham’s totally outlandish factual claims and the legitimate and ongoing threat of replacing science education with theocracy in many places in the US.

    – Both gentleman’s conjugal worldviews deny Immanence, or the literal presence of God at work in our universe, Mr. Ham’s vehemently so.

    -Mr. Nye seems to think that religion is primarily important because of the comforts and sense of community it provides to many people, not also as a vehicle of transformation of the heart, or as part of an overall search for Truth with metaphysically significant things to say about the human condition.

    -The near total rhetorical fusion of science education to the technocratic rationality of global capitalism by Mr. Nye, and the similar relegation of the spiritual significance of empirical science to the merely technological by Mr.Ham, is troubling. Immanence and its disruptive challenge to the current global economy remains unaddressed.

    -Mr. Nye’s love of Creation and the bottom up nature of the Divine Immanent, and his Love of reason and trust in humanity, is commendable; Mr. Ham’s deep longing to belong to a meaningful universe that is cosmically secure, optimistic, suffused at least externally with intelligence and meaning, with the possibility of true redemption in the face of Nature’s legitimate tragedies, is equally commendable from my perspective. Both men have large souls, which is what matters most.

    -The overwhelming empirical support in the direction of mainstream science (and Mr. Nye’s position) must be balanced with the legitimate critique by Mr. Ham (and more intellectually satisfying others) that modern science itself has many perspectival, subjective elements alongside its objective ones, and, significantly for spirituality, has an underlying set of working hypotheses that, when turned into a complete philosophy of Nature (as happens in modern humanism and missional atheism) precludes the Nonempirical Sacred from playing any real role in the genesis and sustenance of Nature.

    -The robust spread of Christian options in theology that would address these concerns never come up, as always, and Biblical literacy seems to be at an all time low. The ongoing cultural contest between exclusivistic supernatural theism and profane (wthout reference to the Sacred) materialism continues to demonstrate why the third, healing way of religious liberalism (AKA traditional, mainstream religion) is so vitally needed in the public discourse of today.

    The tensions between the two worldviews are basically resolved by an open hearted, mystically-infused anaysis of both scientific facts and the sacred texts in question, when seen in their true depth, as intended by the authors.