Mechanics & Meaning: The Nye-Ham Debate

Recently there was a highly publicized and mostly disappointing debate between the Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, Founder of the Christian organization Answers In Genesis.  Now in the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you that I love Bill Nye and appreciate all that he did for Science Education back in the day.  Likewise, I am a huge supporter of the Answers In Genesis organization and really appreciate all they have done to bring Science into the Life of the Church.

So leading up to the debate I was excited about the prospect of two even-tempered men whom I respect deeply discussing the scientific merits of Intelligent Design as a viable option for the explanation of first causation in the universe.  And I have to say that with regard to the merits of having a civil dialogue; it was refreshing to see these guys not degenerate into the disappointing kind of juvenile name-calling and scoffing that seems to plague those on both sides of this topic.

Unfortunately, it is here that the merits of this debate ended for me.

Nye’s position was clear from the beginning and while some might take issue with his rhetorical ability claiming that he suffered from going up against a slick- science denier, I found him to be compelling in the humble and unassuming way he presented what to him is strong enough evidence from which to infer his conclusions about origins.  Perhaps the problem for Evolutionary theorists was that Nye is not enough of an anti-theist for their taste, having referred to himself at one point as an Agnostic.

Unfortunately, Ham’s position going in had been clearly stated as trying to help people see that Biblical Creationism (One perspective on Intelligent Design) is a valid option for first causation based on the scientific evidence we have, but once the debate started apparently something changed.  Instead, Ham seemed bent on showing the world that Creationism is an alternative to Science; for while Nye was linking the evidence to his conclusions, Ham was linking the evidence to his premise.  Thus they spent the evening reinforcing the false narrative that science and faith are in conflict.

Here is the problem as I see it:

If you are going to debate the merits of theology informing science education and you wish to focus on the theological aspect of the discussion then debate a theologian, but if you are going to debate a scientist you have to focus on the scientific aspect of the discussion.  As a theologian, I can appreciate the conviction that nothing could cause one to doubt the Biblical text, but this debate was not supposed to be about personal philosophical convictions, it was supposed to be about the fact that the scientific evidence doesn’t warrant the abandonment of such convictions.  If you tell people that no evidence can move you from your convictions then you mark yourself as a biased, non-critical thinker, “proving” to your detractors that those who adhere to positions like yours actually fear Science and essentially nullify whatever progress debates like this one stand to make with those skeptical of your position.

The basic issue is one of Mechanics & Meaning:

True science concerns itself with the mechanics of things; trying to understand how stuff works and then using the evidence to infer new theories, testing those theories and making advances that call Humanity forward into the future.  Philosophy concerns itself with the meaning of things; trying to understand the why of the universe.  Science can not explain the WHY any more than Philosophy can explain the HOW.  When Philosophy attempts to control the HOW, history has shown again and again that scientific discovery is hindered and everyone suffers for it.  Likewise, however, when Science attempts to explain the WHY, Humanity itself suffers from the loss.

The Key is this:

If the Bible is just a storybook as some claim, then it doesn’t deserve anyone’s trust.  If it is nothing more than a collection of fairy-tales and myths which need to be explained away so as to maintain the comfort of organized religion without offending the sensibilities of contemporary society, then the Church should be abandoned straight away.  In fact, if this describes you then I am begging you to abandon the Church and go live your life in whatever way seems best to you.

But if the Bible is of Divine origin, if it truly is the Revelation of the Sovereign Maker-King of all things, then there should be no point at which the scientific evidence will contradict the text.  And if one begins with this premise and finds a seeming contradiction, then one of two options is at work.  Either the evidence is not as conclusive as it is being presented or else one’s understanding of the text is wrong.

Either way, if the Designer can’t be trusted to not contradict Himself, then faith is madness.

Thus, in hindsight, I wish that Ken Ham would simply have let Bill Nye explain why he believes what he does, and then simply asked: “Why not a Designer?”  For those whose belief in science is really just anti-theism, this would not have been sufficient; but for those whose commitment is not to their ideology but to the evidentiary pursuit of truth, I think it would have gone far towards developing common ground.

Remember, I am a Biblical literalist specifically because I am first a skeptic and a scholar. As I have written previously [cf. Science & the Faith], after all these years I have yet to find anything in the Biblical text which demands we abandon true science and I have yet to find a single true scientific discovery which forces us to choose between the Biblical text and the evidence.  These demands come not from Science or the Scripture, they come from ideologues who need mutual exclusivity to solidify their baseless authoritarian demands on Men’s allegiances; and those who bend to such demands, whether because they desire to be among the enlightened or the faithful, do so to their own tragic psychological mortification… a completely unnecessary break of the mind and heart and will.