Why I Wish the Creation / Evolution Debate Had Never Happened

February 5, 2014

I’ll be honest, I hated watching the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.  I couldn’t take much of it.bill-nye-ken-ham-debate

It’s not because I don’t believe God created the universe.  He did.

It’s not because Bill Nye is not a childhood hero of mine who helped develop in me a love of science.  He is.

From the moment I learned the debate would be happening, I knew I would not be able to stand it.  I have not been able to stand looking at the torrent of tweets being written in anticipation of it.  Yes, it was probably the strongest show of willpower I have exerted in quite a while to do anything except avert my eyes.

Maybe I failed as a Christian by not cheering my “team.”  Maybe I failed as someone who is supposed to be “informed” about current events.  But I’ll be honest, I think we are all poorer for this debate happening, not richer.  We have not gained deeper knowledge, sounder wisdom, or greater insight.

This is why I wish the debate had never happened.

Teaching an Old Bible New Tricks

The debate, televised in front of the entire nation, represents a watershed moment for American Christianity.

For decades now, the wedge has been driven deeper, between “orthodox” Christianity and modern science.  As science asks deeper and deeper questions about the universe, the average Christian has been confronted with a moral conflict between his faith in the scriptures and new scientific theories and discoveries.

The problem for the average Christian is that he has been taught to treat the Bible the same as he treats a science textbook.  And when you do that, the Bible starts to look like a textbook from a 1950s classroom, complete with a laughably outdated filmstrip.  The average Christian has not been taught to read the Bible in its true literary genre.  The literary repetition, beauty and grace of Genesis plant it firmly in the category of prose.  Yet, we make the text do somersaults and other logical gymnastics until we convince ourselves that it is science and is capable of disproving a modern scientific theory.  And when we do that, every Christian loses.

While we’re at it, let’s debate the merits of the number “two” versus the color “purple.”

The Fallacy of “Inerrancy”

Every Christian has been losing for a while though, not just last night.  Christians have been losing out on truth, ironically, since the modern movement of scriptural “inerrancy.”

See, “inerrancy” is just a word that was invented to combat Bible critics, liberals and evolutionists who weren’t so sure the Bible was accurate in all things.  Some Christians dug in their heels and said “No!  The Bible is completely true, accurate and complete in everything it says.”

The problem is the Bible never claims to be completely literal in all matters.

The Bible never spells out that God created the world in six literal days (because the assumption of the author was that the readers were literate enough to pick up on his literary symbolism.)  The Bible never says the rain fell on Noah’s ark for forty literal days (forty happens to be an important symbolic number.)

No, these stories do not have to be literally true in order to be truthful about the truth they are intended to communicate.  The stories are intended to communicate truth about God’s character.  The stories are not meant to spark debate about the meaning of the number “forty” or the word “day,” but about God Almighty.

But here we are, the defenders of “truth,” who actually miss out on the truth of the scriptures.  We have less truth because of our obsession with defending “truth,” truth that is trivial, tertiary, unimportant.

So, Has Anyone “Won?”

And so I cannot think of many things sadder than Creation being pitted against Evolution in a highly publicized debate.  I am saddened by the thought of young Christians thinking, “If that’s what Christians believe, than I cannot call myself a Christian.”  

I am saddened by Christians missing out on the real truth of the scriptures, because they are distracted by debates about specific days.  I am saddened that Christians are taught primarily how to defend their faith rather than love their neighbors.

I am saddened by the fact that although Bill Nye is surely a good man, the world of Science needed no more than a children’s television actor to defend it against Creationism.  That’s what happens when you make scripture do things it wasn’t designed to do.

And I think the saddest thing of all might be this fact: that though last night’s debate ended, the debate goes on, indefinitely.  The greatest minds of both fields know well enough to stay out, while those left wrestling in the filthy ditches declare “victory” over their feeble-minded adversaries.  The reality is, we all lost.

What do you think?  Did you watch the debate?  Was it worthwhile?  Was there a “winner?”

12 responses to Why I Wish the Creation / Evolution Debate Had Never Happened

  1. In general, I think debates are a pretty poor way to make up one’s mind about things. That the needle in a presidential election should move based upon a debate is rather disconcerting.

    I’m a theological conservative, but I don’t share Ham’s interpretation, and think it is damaging to the church at large to insist on the YEC (young earth creation) view.

    I had pretty low expectations for the debate, but I thought Nye was prepared for what was coming, and he brought up problems for Ham that were never answered. Better than that, though, he really only attacked one viewpoint (YEC), as he maintained a distinction between Ken Ham’s view and everyone else’s.

    That was a refreshing change from the more confrontational, antagonistic approach of ones like Dawkins, who argues more like Ham.

    However, the debate I would sort of rather see is Ken Ham vs. a good Old Testament scholar. I say sort of, because a debate doesn’t afford the time to work through all the nuance. Nevertheless, last night’s debate was two ships passing in the night, and if Nye had video footage of the Big Bang, it wouldn’t be enough. Ham’s recalcitrant YEC views aren’t his problem – they’re the symptom of his problem.

    This is a generalization, but there’s one other thing I’d like to point out about this issue: when you look at advocacy organizations like Answers in Genesis (or even climate change deniers), those who advocate for the non-mainstream viewpoint are familiar with and instructed in science, but they tend to have an engineering background. I think that is significant, because engineers solve problems. Unfortunately, the problem that AIG is solving is not “What does this evidence tell us?”, but “How can I defend the Scripture against evolution?”. I think that the YEC movement has been engineering an answer to the attack on that interpretation of Scripture.

  2. Yup. It seems the point of a debate is to polarize your audience. When do we get to move on to the part where we love people?

    Paul put it well: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”–2 Timothy 2:23
    Leslie recently posted..The Distrust of Doctors

  3. I watched about 10 minutes of it, skipped through and watched a little more then got bored and had it on while I was doing other things, realized I wasn’t listening and turned it off. I’ve been to Ken’s museum, I’ve heard him speak at homeschooling conferences, I watched Bill as a child, my kids have seen videos from both Bill and the Creation museum. I have a degree in Biology. I think it comes down to, I don’t know the answers and I don’t really care. I really love what you said about the Bible communicating truth about God’s character. That’s really what we need to focus on. It seems the creationists get scared that if the Bible can’t be proven to be literally true then it loses it’s power.
    Kate Hall recently posted..I Need Your Opinion on My Weekly Crap

  4. I watched the debate and wrote up a few words on it (see link below). One thought here on the Bible’s New Tricks: Ham’s point isn’t merely that the Bible says it so it must be true (though he does say that, sadly missing the reality that it’s his interpretation that says that) … his point is that, looking at the data, Young Earth Creationism is the best, most reasonable way to understand the evidence we have from science. So, I think you’ve missed a major aspect of the debate if you think his point was merely that “the Bible said so.”

    ~Luke
    Luke Holzmann recently posted..Luke’s Thoughts on the Nye-Ham Debate

  5. I have a few comments/questions. In you blog above you make the parenthetical comment: “because the assumption of the author was that the readers were literate enough to pick up on his literary symbolism.” Given that all scripture is is inspire by God (2 Timothy 3:16) don’t you think God would make sure that His word was communicated correctly even if it was penned by man, or that we as His creation would not ever become so “illiterate” as to not be able to properly understand the basics of scripture. Either way, at some point God has failed us by your logic in not properly communicating His word to us. Also, at what point exactly do you think book of Genesis makes the transition from prose to history. Do you think Adam was a literal person and if not, why then does Paul refer to him as a literal person in Romans 5. If Adam was not a literal person, then he did not have literal sin and therefore we do not need a literal saviour and then Christ died in vain. I do not believe that Christians read the Bible as a 1950’s text book. They should however read it as the authoritative word of God. While it is not intended to be a science book, it does touch on science and when it does, we can know that it is correct. There are copious amounts of evidence which support a young earth and the methods in the scientific community which produce very old ages for the earth and the universe are based on man-made assumptions about the past which can never be proven by scientific methods. That was the whole point of Hams presentation. We as Christians are just as capable of performing good science because science is what takes place here and now, in the laboratories of today as opposed to making assumptions and inferences about what happened in the past. Ham’s big point was that we cannot see Historical Science and Observational Science as one in the same, they are 2 very different things. The first based on man’s assumptions, the latter based on actual data. I do not think either man “won” the debate, and I do not even think that was the point of the debate necessarily. I do think that it is good that people are now talking about, researching the topic. I hope you will really take the time to investigate the information presented by Young Earth Creationists with an open mind and heart. I would highly recommend you search Kent Hovind’s 7 part Creation Seminar Series on You Tube and Chuck Missler on Genesis for starters. Love in Christ, Laura

  6. I love reading your blog because you usually bring up stuff to think about and consider. And isn’t that the REAL point of a debate, not necessarily to win or lose an oratorical contest, but to bring up ideas for people to consider over time. This thought just occurred to me because I was reminded of the passage in Acts where Paul is called to make a presentation to a bunch of Greek philosophers and at the end, they tell him they will consider his ideas. Unfortunately, we Americans always seem couch things immediately in “win” or “lose” categories, even things that shouldn’t be, like arguments. And the problem with only couching this in terms of winners and losers is that no one really thinks about the arguments that were made and if there were any valid points made by the opposing team because admitting the “enemy” made a good point would be admitting “weakness.” I made my kids watch it because I want them to see both sides of the issue. The next morning, I asked them what were good points that Bill Nye made and what were good points that Ken Hamm made. They were actually pretty upset at Bill Nye’s condescending attitude and statements that people who believe in Biblical creation are anti-science and initially had trouble coming up with anything for him, but I made them think it through and they came up with two–the fossil record doesn’t show proof of a flood and one other of his other points (sorry, can’t remember the other one) arguing against the flood were good. They thought Ken Hamm did a good job of showing that origin science is as much about history as about science and that neither evolution or creation will be proven by observational/experimental science beyond a shadow of a doubt because observational/experimental science requires direct observation. They also think he did a good job of proving that you can be a creationist and be a scientist by showing creationist scientists who are studying science and have been published/cited and scientists who have created new technologies. They brought up some fallacies that Bill Nye made in his presentation–like the fact that fjords aren’t exactly canyons, but they have the same structure as canyons and could have been formed by the flood. I need to make them think about problems with Ken Hamm’s presentation. This is what we SHOULD be doing, but the comments on Facebook that I read were pretty discouraging.

    My take on the debate is that Ken Hamm had a much better organized, clearer opening statement and initial presentation than Bill Nye, who seemed to ramble a bit. Bill Nye did better in the rebuttal and I have no comment about the question/answer session because I didn’t watch it. I have no respect for Bill Nye’s stated opinions about people who believe the Bible and my problem with Ken Hamm and other people of his ilk is that he is so dogmatic in his insistence in young-earth creation theory that he essentially insults those who believe in the Biblical account of creation but who believe that it took millions of years. My personal belief is that the Biblical account of God creating everything in the order that He created and how he created it, everything after its own kind, is non-negotiable. I also believe that God choses His words carefully and because the Creator of Hebrew grammar invoked a rule that a number next two the Hebrew word translated into “day” in most Bibles is a literal, 24 hour day and uses it in His creation account means that it was most likely a six day process. However, any Eternal Being who can create everything out of nothing, make it so complicated that it takes human beings 2000-4000 years of studying to still fail to totally comprehend it, can create it in 6 minutes, 6 hours, 6 days or 6 million years, which really, for an eternal being is probably equivalent to a 6 days. After all, Jesus did say that he was coming back “soon.” :-D.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. The best outcome would’ve been for Ken Hamm to be completely ignored and left as the footnote to history that he deserves to be. I was more disappointed that the debate even happened than anything else–no minds were going to be changed with this debate and Nye only gave this guy free publicity by showing up.

  8. Abby Normal…..

    I makes me sad to read such comments as you’ve wrote. Why in the world would you want to stifle debate? Contrary to your belief….. its never a good idea to refuse to deal with an opposing view. Richard Dawkins should set the tone of your opinion. The man is a blathering idiot.

    • @Charlie

      Oh, gee whiz, I made you “sad”– so sorry. Someone has an opinion you don’t like and it sends you into a funk. Maybe you should look into that.

      I have spent enough time dealing with people on the Internet and elsewhere to realize that there are certain times when a “debate” is actually an exercise in futility because one or both parties is so dogmatic that they are incapable of arguing in good faith. Ken Hamm is one of those people–I’ve had enough experience with his material to know. This stunt was never meant to present opposing viewpoints or even to foste any kind of understanding–it was to bring attention and glory to Ken Hamm (at least among his followers) and nothing more. It’s the equivalent of “feeding” and Internet troll.

      And you would do well not to bring up Richard Dawkins–I actually am a Christian and don’t have any great love for the way he argues either. Just because someone isn’t a YEC or worshipping in the cult of Hamm doesn’t mean that they are any less of a Christian. You would do well not to jump to those conclusions either.

      Oh, and just to get this out of the way–“How can you call yourself a Christian when you sound so ‘bitter'”? Well, let me tell you, when people use the God and Christ I believe in to promote abuse and ignorance, it makes me angry. Incredibly angry. Sorry if that makes you ‘sad’. But maybe the crappy stuff being done in God’s name ought to make you sadder.

    • @ Charlie Brown–

      While we’re at it, you might also want to look up “tone policing”. Telling someone that “I don’t like what you said because it made me sad” is a classic way to try to shut someone up without actually having to engage.

  9. @ Abby Normal
    I don’t know if you realize this, but you just took some credibility away from this article. If you reread “So, has anyone ‘won’?” section you’ll see he says “It saddens me or the saddest thing” 3 different times. I guess he’s trying to shut us all up, or is it possible that “it makes me sad” is simply another way to say “I’m disturbed, bothered, or unsetlled by?”

  10. I disagree that the science is moving even farther away from Scripture. Although I became a Christian at a young age and never doubted that God created the universe, I reasoned that if God wanted to create through the process of “evolution,” so be it. God was the one who made it happen. However, it is through SCIENCE that I questioned the Big Bang theory. Scientifically, it didn’t add up. When I discovered resources from true scientists that were not blinded by a pre-conceived idea of evolution, I could see evidence that my doubts were right. They were able to show the errors and flaws in the theory of evolution. Were they able to fill in the blanks with provable explanations. No. That’s were the faith element comes in–or the admission that we do not have scientific proof of origins, or for many, many other questions.
    On a scientific level, a problem occurs when, instead of describing what is observable or what can be accurately tested, people automatically add “why” and “how” when they do not really know.
    On a spiritual level, as I grew in my Bible study skills and a better understanding of passages individually and the Bible as a whole, I began to see that God created the world in 7 literal days.
    Some people will learn about errors and truth first through the use of science, and some will learn about errors and truth first through understanding the Holy Bible. It doesn’t matter where you begin (or where you are at this time) because if you keep searching you will find that they are not mutually exclusive. God is the Lord of both. The more we discover the more we find that apparent inconsistencies or discrepancies are neither. At the same time, as people, we must humbly admit that will never know it all, especially while on this earth. We must be willing to admit what we do not know and what we think we know may or may not be correct. This way we will keep searching (and keep marveling at new revelations) and gaining more understanding of the world in which we live and the One who created it all.