Debating Creationists

“Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” After watching the video of the entire Feb. 4th debate between Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Ken Ham, CEO of the Creation Museum, and reading various responses ranging from Phil Plait to Answers in Genesis, I thought I had something to contribute to all this chatter.

The result was decided before the event began.  I don’t think either debater converted anyone. Some think “Not only did Nye annihilate Ham in the debate…, but he helped expose Ham, and in turn, his creationist model as being completely fraudulent.”  However, these people think that the question was resolved over a century ago.  Ken Ham managed to make his ridiculous point of view seem reasonable, and I am quite confident that people who accept Creationism were confirmed in that belief.  In my opinion, Ken Ham won the battle.

Particularly compelling were Ham’s references to people with bona fide scientific credentials who embrace the idea that the earth is around 6,000 years old.  At first, I thought it was incredible that, for example, an astronomer would find nothing in his field that would contradict the story found in Genesis.  But there are such people.

Think of the scientists working in the oil industry, or funded by the oil industry, or simply aware of how dependent our civilization is on burning fossil fuels, who deny that human pollution is contributing to a change in the global climate.  Or think of the scientists working in the tobacco industry half a century ago who spent years attempting to refute the proposition that tobacco was harmful and addictive.  They would hold to their position despite overwhelming evidence.  For these people, what was at stake was merely their career.

Now imagine that you believe that what is at stake is your eternal soul, that questioning  what you read in Bible, the Word of God, would lead to questioning the entire premise of the faith, and ultimately, to damnation.  Faced with such a consequence, wouldn’t you grasp at any straw that enabled you to maintain your faith?  Who are we to question God?  What evidence, what reasonable argument can possibly stand up to the divine revelation?  It is not surprising that there are people trained in the sciences who cling to  any argument, no matter how far fetched, that confirms their faith in the Bible and in Jesus.

Thus, for many, the topic of the debate could be rephrased: “Has modern science refuted Christianity?”.  Some answer a resounding “Yes!”; most of these people think Nye clearly won the debate.  However, to the Creationists, their faith is more important than science, and nothing Nye could say would convince them.

The choice presented in the debate was between godless science on one hand, and a ludicrous reading of the Bible on the other.  Obviously, those are not the only choices.  Although Nye, several times, said that there are Christians, such as Francis Collins, founder of Biologus, who fully support Evolution, he was not effective in delivering this message.  Nye seemed to think of religion as a sort a social club that provides support and comfort to its members.  Nye did not acknowledge the deep spiritual, transforming power of Christianity.

Thus, one of the most important reactions to the debate was by Pat Robertson, someone I almost never agree with. Speaking about the young earth theory at the heart of Creationism, he said “There ain’t no way. … Let’s not make a joke of ourselves.”

It is my hope that there will be more debates like this in the future, but ones where the point of view of mainstream science is presented by Christians who understand and believe the Bible.  It is these people who can speak to the Creationists where they live and who have a realistic hope getting them to realize the folly of this pseudo scientific fiction, without destroying their faith in Jesus.

In the end, Nye did exactly what Richard Dawkins warned about: he gave the Creationists “the oxygen of respectability in the world of real science“.  However, the Creationists have been smoldering without this oxygen for a long time, and they have been doing quite well.  Perhaps they need some oxygen in order to finally burn out.  Nye treated them with dignity and respect; this can have positive results.  Once the Creationists know that they have been heard, perhaps that they will be able to listen to reason.  So, although he was on a fool’s errand, Nye did good.