A Few (late) Thoughts on the Nye-Ham Debate…


Yes. I know. Most of you have moved on to other important things, like Singles Awareness Day and such; but if I may a few thoughts on the much talked about debate between materialist Bill Nye and creationist Ken Hamm.

First, let me say, I have to agree with the post by biblical scholar Pete Enns which argued that in some respects this event was a flawed proposition to begin. Neither party represented the best their position had to offer; with Ken Hamm being neither concerned with advancing an actual dialogue; nor with actually getting off more than a few field-tested one-liners guaranteed to red-line his supporters and keep the coffers full. 

But more than that I am tired of this “debate.” In this corner we have materialistic-evolutionism and in this corner biblical creationism. Either the world is billions of years old and created by chance or thousands of years old and created by God. That’s it folks. No middle ground to be had here. Either you believe science or you believe the Bible. This was what I taught growing up. Embarrassingly enough I wrote a high school term paper defending young earth creationism (I am thankful to the English teacher that allowed me the freedom to explore an idea even if it may have been a flawed one- this is scholarship at its best). 

Yet like the hard right and left of the political world, the denizens of this brouhaha are intent on never letting on that there may be more sides to the debate. There are scientists and evolutionists who are Christians and attribute the natural world to God. And there are theologians and bible scholars who read Genesis and say, “hey, the passage can be understood as literally true without mandating a 6,000 year time frame or strict 6 day creation.” As a student and as a pastor I have been blessed to meet some of each of these and am greatly indebted to hours of discussion with them. Their ability to try and move beyond a simplistic x or y, us or them dynamic gives me hope for the future of the faith as handed down by the faithful to the faithful and of the academic pursuit of science. I would love to have seen an Oxford style debate which had perhaps incorporated a theistic evolutionist such as Francis Collins on the E side and an old earth creationist / Designist such as Michael Behe on the C side. That truly would have been something (and I think been a shock to the systems represented by the Nye-Hamm wings). That would have been good for the country and better for our minds. 

That said, much of my thinking on this subject has come down to two thoughtlines which I hope to sketch out here.

First, let me say that in many times in my life as a Wesleyan-Armenian thinker I have been accused of not having a sufficient understanding and appraisal of God’s sovereignty. Yet I would argue that the concept of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence is actually the calming lotion of the debate.  For me the question is this: “Is God (and in my case the Christian triune God as affirmed within the catholic creeds of the Church) truly sovereign and truly omnipotent?” If God is the sovereign master and sufficient upholder of the universe, can he not use material means to accomplish his ends? Let me put it this way: “who creates a baby?” Scripture tells us that God creates us (i.e. I knew you before I knit you together in your mother’s womb). Science tells us that when a man and woman come together in sexual union, things happen and babies are created from material provided by both male and female. Of course, this creation of a baby from male and female material can be recreated in a lab; apart from the sexual act further justifying the scientific position that a baby is created by a material means which can be explained.

Yet in our churches, even our most Fundamentalist ones we hear no preaching about the wrongness and evilness of those foul scientists who tell us that genes create babies. We have simply accepted that God superintends over the process of male and female material coming together to form a new being. Here’s my question. If we can accept that sperm and eggs create babies; but God is still sovereign over this creation; why not allow that perhaps in a similar way God has superintended another natural process, i.e. natural selection and the survival of the fittest species. 

If God is truly as omnipotent as we claim Him to be; can He not work out his ends through material means. We claim he does this every day of our lives. But God forbid, someone claim that this same providence was at work in creation of the world. He is God. He can do whatever He wants; however He wants.

This is the sticking point for many of my materialist friends. Evolution is supposed to be the reason against God. It is supposed to be the nuclear weapon in their arsenal against us. Yet just as I can explain the naturalistic and material causes of joy or depression in a human being without really providing a meaningful philosophy or artistic depiction of these events; so too in evolution. We can explain ‘how’ something happens; yes. But being able to explain how does not imply being able to explain why or what for. If I am saddened for my materialist friends; it is just here. I cannot understand or really live with just the ‘how.’ This seems a meaningless and paltry life. My struggle has always been with the ‘what for.’ I love the movie Contact (based on the book by the materialist Carl Sagan). During one scene the theologian played by Matthew McConaughey is discussing space with the scientist played by Jodie Foster. “If there is no other life out there,” he says, “It just seems like a waste of space.” I watch and I scream, “Yes!” What a waste if there is no meaning behind it all. If I am nothing but a chance accident with nothing to live for; why not just shoot myself tomorrow and be done with it. It does not matter. 

So if on a theoretical level we could assent to this; why not on a day-to-day level. And here is the sticking point for many of my Evangelical friends: the book of Genesis. We have been taught that to be properly biblical is to take plainest, most literal meaning of the text and assent to that notion. We do this without any discussion of literary context, literary genre, historical context, or any kind of historical understanding of the warp and weave of Christian interpretation of the text throughout the years. And worse, we don’t do this systematically. As many books and blog posts have pointed out in this post-modern time, we do this quite willy-nilly. Many Evangelicals eat shrimp regardless of the Mosaic law. Many Evangelicals do not follow any such NT worship laws such head coverings and hand raising. Just the most recent poke at this tendency came from a satirical repost by Rachel Held Evans (designated enemy of biblical hyper-literalists everywhere). 

I do not have time to jump into these deep waters here. But a historical study of Genesis may open some eyes. Church Fathers such as Augustine (4th century) would not be fit for teaching at Evangelical schools if the strict Creationist approach would be back-dated and applied to his time. Many great churchmen would be in grave danger of heresy if we applied the Ken Hamm test to their thinking. True they lived pre-Darwin and we cannot say what they would have said in response; but the ways in which they read scripture, particularly Genesis would not be kosher for Hamm. In fact I dare say most of the reading of Scripture pre-Reformation would not. And even a majority of the reading of scripture, pre-1880s when the idea of a Science vs Christianity conflict was first postulated. 

If being Orthodox means being in harmony with all the church, in all places, at all times. Many of us have a wide gap in our orthodoxy on these types of topics. 

I consider myself an agnostic at these debates. To me it does not matter; and really neither side can provide the preponderance of evidence it would take to settle the issue without a doubt. I agree with the statement I read somewhere (and unfortunately have lost footnoting for) that simply in the end when all is shown, and all is understood, there will be no debate in our minds that God and Science can and do coexist. Unfortunately that day of fullness is yet to come. It does not mean we cannot strive for greater understanding; but it also means that as a believer in Christ and as a follower of science, I understand this: all the evidence is not in and therefore all we have now are theories and hypothesis worth testing; but in the end unproven. 

Therefore on Sunday I will stand and recite with my congregation these words: ” I believe in God the Father… creator of heaven and earth… And in the Son… by whom all that was made was made.” And on Monday I will stand with my materialist friends and say, “I can’t believe the article about [insert scientific study here], is that not cool.” As long as possible to say both, I will be both. True one of these has a greater weight on my imagination; but still…

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