Before the Debate: I am Excited
It is 3:00pm Eastern time, February 4, 2014. I am trying to write some literature that we will be using for Sunday School material, but it is all in vain. The countdown clock at debatelive.org tells me that in a mere three hours, the biggest smack-down debate since the Scopes Monkey Trial is going to be broadcast live on the internet.
I am full of nerves about this spectacle. I find myself in the awkward spot of liking Bill Nye better than Ken Ham, even though I very much disagree with Bill Nye. Bill Nye is the guy that made science fun for kids and made a sun dial for the Mars Rover. I appreciate that, but he is also the guy who said that parents should not teach their kids creationism. I did not like that very much at all.
My thoughts on Ken Ham are different. I don’t like his methods, and I do not like how he tends to ostracize those who disagree with how he understands and interprets Genesis. I also do not think that science is capable of proving that a young earth is what we have, yet it seems that his apologetic is based on the ‘evidence’ of science for a young earth. I think that is impossible, just as it would be impossible to convince a scientist that a newly created Adam was only a day old when he appeared thirty years old.
I need to make sure we have popcorn at the house to see how this one turns out.
After the Debate: I am Kind of Sad
This debate did not turn out like I thought it would. I expected to be unmoved by the end of it. I expected Bill Nye and Ken Ham to say things that I have already heard a thousand times. I was half right. I had heard a great deal of what they had said before, but Bill Nye got to me. His plea for Ken Ham to talk about the fossil record, to demonstrate that his view of science had any predictive power, and his challenge to demonstrate a single fossil that had “swam up” and gotten into a layer of fossils with more advanced creatures went unanswered.
I wanted to watch this debate to enjoy the spectacle. I wanted to take it lightly, but when I saw that over 500,000 people were watching this, and when I saw that some of the atheist celebrities that I follow on Twitter were watching it, it became too serious for me to take lightly. When I saw Bill Nye’s passion to pursue truth, I wanted Ken Ham to have a great answer for him. I believe that he did, but not a science answer. Ham spoke to Nye about the gospel, but the gospel is not a thing of science; it is a miracle of the highest order.
Ken Ham believes that the world is 6,000 years old. Indeed, he believes that the entire universe was only created 6,000 years ago. This is scientifically (or better yet, naturally) impossible for several reasons. Bill Nye demonstrated that we have layers of ice that show at least 680,000 years of layering. This was unanswered. He talks about the fact that we have stars that are billions of light years away that we should not be able to see if the universe is 6,000 years old. Nye demonstrated that we have trees living today that appear older than Ken Ham thinks the universe is!
Ham’s main point, which he made over and over again, was that ‘historical’ science, which is science of the past, cannot be known for certain because it cannot be observed. This assertion understandably frustrated Nye. Nye believes that natural law must be consistent; if it isn’t, the scientific method cannot work. If light begins to speed up or slow down arbitrarily, if things start falling up instead of down when we drop them, if sediment layers are getting laid down willy-nilly, if carbon isotopes are not decaying at a consistent rate, then almost everything we know about science and nature is simply not going to work.
For me, the quote of the night came from Bill Nye’s answer to Ham’s insistence that historical science is different from observational science. Nye said:
This idea that you can separate the natural laws of the past from the natural laws that we have now is at the heart of our disagreement. I don’t see how we’re gonna agree on that if you insist that natural laws have changed. For lack of a better word: it’s magical.
I believe that Nye is almost exactly right in this. Except the word he was looking for was ‘miraculous’, not magical.
That was the thing that saddened me about this entire exchange. Ham cannot defend his 6,000 year old model on science alone, in fact, I believe it is scientifically untenable. It contradicts what we observe in the world around us. The only explanation for a young universe is a miracle of the highest order, and we cannot measure miracles with sediment layers or Geiger Counters. When Ham insisted that we cannot extrapolate what happened in the past, what he called ‘historical’ science’, he meant that there are times when God over-ruled natural law. God made the universe out of nothing. He may have done it in six literal days. But if God did that, He did not use any natural processes that we have ever observed or can duplicate.
I came away from this debate with some thoughts about young earth creationism, some truths that I have to stare in the eye if I am going to hold to such a position (a position that I am not convinced that Genesis 1 demands, and I have a degree in Biblical languages). First, I have to admit that the universe was created ‘mature’, as Adam was in the Garden. I can never prove that this happened scientifically. It is a matter of faith. Second, I do not think debating a ‘reasonable man’ who is a scientist about this particular thing using science only is going to be very persuasive. We are asking him to do something with science that it cannot do: explain a miracle. Third, I am more convinced than ever that without the power of the Holy Spirit to enlighten us to His presence in creation, we will never find Him there.
I hope the kind of dialogue that we saw in this debate continues, and I hope that more voices are added to it. I hope that we get to hear from some Old Earth Creationists who believe that Genesis 1 allows for an older earth understanding. For now, I am content that the debate was cordial and informative, and that both men did a great job of underscoring why this discussion is important for the future of science and souls.