Protesting the Ark Encounter: a Personal View

Ark Protest

A couple of years ago, after the debate between Bill Nye, the science guy, and Ken Ham, the Answers In Genesis CEO, I started blogging, under the perhaps foolish notion that I had something to contribute to the chatter. When I heard about the opening of the Ark Encounter, I looked for a protest to join, and found one organized by the Tri-State Freethinkers.   On Thursday morning, I headed off to the event, armed with my home made sign, a copy of the New Testament, and a few local Ordovician fossils.

I knew I was getting close when the traffic sign warned me to expect delays at next exit.  However, there were no delays.  In fact, for a grand opening, traffic seemed pretty light all day.

As I exited the highway about 15 minutes before the protest was scheduled to begin, I saw the protest gathering on the left of the exit ramp, just before the T intersection with the state route.  I found my way to the small graveled parking area up the hill and walked down to the protest area with a group of about a dozen. We were greeted by a volunteer who gave a safety talk: don’t get too near the road, don’t talk with people in the cars, because that would hold up traffic, don’t engage with the counter protesters over there, because we don’t want any trouble.  They talked about a possible “civil discussion” tent, but I don’t think this was ever set up.

I registered my presence at the main tent.  Appreciative of their efforts organizing the event, I donated some money but did not ask to join. Evidently, the money was considered membership dues anyway, and I am now an accidental member of the Tri-State Freethinkers.

We held up signs for the people on the exit ramp to see.  Some drivers honked approval, some looked the other way, or gave us a thumbs down.  No middle fingers that I saw.

2016-07-07 Ark Encounter Protest Me

A lot of the signs objected to taxpayer funding of the “Genocide and Incest Park”.  One guy had a life size cardboard cutout of the guy in the #ohnoahhedidnt sign.  My own sign, “Don’t Bury the Bible in Ignorance,” was too subtle for some, who were not sure which side I was on until they say my t-shirt from the “The Origins Centre”, a souvenir from South Africa.

Several people wore pink t-shirts saying “Thou shalt not mess with women’s reproductive rights.  Fallopians 4:28.”  For fun, I tried looking the verse up in Philippians; it ends with 4:23.

A guy stood up in a loud voice and said that he had an expert on the Constitution with him, and asked if anyone wanted to talk with him.  Nobody was taking the bait.  After a while, I said that I would start.  He asked me why I was there, starting off on taxpayer support.   I mentioned that I was not happy with the taxpayers of Kentucky supporting the ministry, but that was not why I was there.  He tried to correct me on the taxpayer support, which is murky, indirect, and has passed a test in court.  It was a little while before I got to why I was there: I showed my sign. He said “well I could say the same thing about you, that you were burying the Bible in ignorance.”  Meanwhile people at my side were telling me not to engage him, that he would just edit it to make me look dumb.  I had noted the video cameras, and said “I know that.”  However, it was clear that I didn’t represent what most people wanted, and I allowed myself to be guided by their supposed wisdom.  After I left to rejoin the sign wavers, the guy with the Satanic beard did exactly what he had told me not to do, and engaged in a heated debate.  I don’t know what he said, but he cheers from the on-lookers.  The interviewer, turned out to be Eric Hovind founder of Creation Today.  Here and here are his posts on the counter protest.

After a while, someone passed out a song: “Ark Encounter is a sham, E I E I O” etc.  Group protests like this are not the place for nuance.

As who thinks Young Earth Creationism is ignorant, I had plenty of company.  As a someone who calls himself Christian, I was at odds with pretty much everyone there.

One protester asked me further about what I believed.  Not enamored with dogma, I always preface my answer to such questions with prevarication:  I do not base my life on my notions about that which is beyond my understanding.  After a while, he tried to pin me down, asking whether I was an Old World Creationist.  I said that I was not really a creationist of any kind, but that I did not have a problem with Old World Creationists because they did not have to war with modern science.

I met one person who had a nasty sign about the Bible.  She had read it all the way through (I confessed that I haven’t) and has a visceral hatred of it.

I spoke with another very dogmatic protester: all religion was bad, all the scriptures were bad, I was part of the way there because I didn’t believe every word of the Bible, but the truth was whatever it was that he had figured out (I am sure he would object to me using the word “believed”).  I found in him the same arrogance I see in some evangelical Christians, eager to tell you what they know, not eager to learn anything from your experience or point of view.

2016-07-07 Ark Encounter Protest groupI spoke with one young man who asked me  what I thought was important in the Bible.  I pointed to the teachings of Jesus, particularly “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.  He asked “What does that mean”, and someone else responded with something like “jerk off your neighbor.”  The young man questioned further, “ ‘Honor thy father and mother’ what does that mean, really?”  I was surprised by the question, and without a quick answer. I was taking his question seriously, contemplating  in good Quaker fashion how to respond, but, unaccustomed to such pauses, he wandered away.

Any time I look around and see only one African American, I see it as an obligation to make sure that he of she feels welcome.  In this case, the man happened to be an officer of the state patrol, there to ensure order.  I introduced myself, with the observation that I was a little surprised that he was only black person there.  He said, “There’s plenty of us around.”  I thanked him and his colleagues for being there.  I think we both found it a bit embarrassing.  For me, it is the same embarrassment that I feel in some religious settings, where there are very few blacks.

Toward lunchtime, I encountered Harold, a volunteer about my age from Answers In Genesis.  He was there without cameras, or any group of followers.  He seemed genuinely interested in learning what our point of view was.  We talked for quite a while, finding points of agreement and of contention.  I mentioned one of my favorite Bible verses, which I quoted (not quite word for word, too many translations in my head)  “… what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  “Yes, Micah 6:8” he replied.  We spoke about the age of the universe.  I talked about the expansion that is going on, that light from the most distant stars will never reach us.  He sees that as a key to the thinking of Answers in Genesis.  I didn’t try to contradict him.  In the protest, I was making my voice heard against the ignorance of the ark, but in this conversation, I was there to find out who he was, and how he thought, and help him similarly understand my point of view.

Harold believes in a infinite God, whom he places first, above anything that man has devised.  He wants to have a firm foundation, and God’s word revealed in scripture gives him that.  I think that when Martin Luther used the Bible to free us from a corrupt and apostate church, he did a wonderful thing, but he did it without contradicting the scientific understanding of his day.  However, science has progressed, and his scientific assertions are no longer viable.  Harold thinks that since God’s word is eternal and unchanging, he should be able to rely on the same basic conclusions as his forefathers.   I also suspect that, to Harold, if the theology his forefathers relied on was flawed, their eternal salvation was in question as well.

Harold questioned me about my foundation.  I replied that my goals were a little more humble than that: I want to know what God would have me do.  We agreed that Micah 6:8 was a good place to start.

I told him that I know that he might not consider me a real Christian, but that wouldn’t bother me a bit.  However, that I fall short of following Jesus’s commandments, therein lies a judgement that I care about.  “But we all fall short of that” he replied.

Harold headed off to get some lunch.  The counter protesters had brought some food from Chick fil A which they offered for free, but since that chain has made a stance the LGBT finds abhorrent, the free thinkers would not accept the offer of free food.  Harold, however, was hungry.  I told him to enjoy his lunch.  I saw him still at the protest hours later when it was breaking up.  He was still smiling, and he had apparently enjoyed himself.

Toward the end of the protest, I had a similar encounter with Sarah, a young AIG volunteer who I think might be Harold’s daughter.  She had stopped by the Ark Encounter on her way home to Iowa from the National Education Association convention in Washington where she had manned the Answers in Genesis booth.  I joined a conversation already in progress that included an archeologist.  Again, it was a respectful exchange among people trying to understand each other.  Sarah did not pretend to have pat answers for everything.   When the archeologist asked about carbon dating, Sarah  deferred to experts and the web site.

Later I asked her about her experience of Jesus.  She retreated a bit and relied on the teachings of the Bible.  After talking for a while, including my reservations about dogma, I found myself called to make some dogmatic assertions: the view of the Bible expressed by Answer In Genesis is idolatrous, the Bible was never intended to be the kind of book they made it out to be, and their assertions about the age of the earth are absolutely false.  I then apologized for my inconsistency in making such a pronouncement within the context of our conversation.

Both Harold and Sarah require a firm foundation for their life.  They are grateful for the sacrifice that Jesus made for their sins.  My sense of the Bible as an inspirational text, but one that you have to pick and choose from, is fully unsatisfactory to them.  They see it as a whole, the inerrant word of God.  Their experience of the divine seems to be second hand, though they might object to me describing it that way.  They have accepted a teaching, and want to share that teaching with the world.  Both of them showed a humility and an openness that was completely lacking in many others who were there, both among the protesters and the counter protesters.

As the protest was breaking up, I asked about the rally being held at UC. It was really for members, and I (mistakenly) thought that I was not one. I talked with one person, who asked someone, and came back with a statement that I wouldn’t really be welcome. As I got the car, I happened to speak with someone in the parking area, who asked me whether I was coming to the rally. I told him that I thought I was not welcome. He called someone, and said something about “someone in the middle”. The upshot was that they did not want the event to be disrupted. Knowing that I was a theist, he thought I would hear a bunch that I wouldn’t like; I responded that I was not trying to live in an echo chamber. I said that if there was an opportunity to ask questions, I might make my position known, but I had no desire to make a nuisance of myself.

Later in the evening, I went to the rally which was broadcast live by Dogma Debate.  I learned about the background of the Tri-State Freethinkers, and later about the Young Skeptics.  This information I found helpful and interesting.

Jim Helton, President of the Tri-State Freethinkers, told us I the full story of the port-a-potties.  During the protest, there was someone who periodically would gather together a carful of people for a bathroom run.  It turns out that the Freethinkers had contracted with someone to provide a port-a-potty at the site of the protest, but on that morning, when the company realized that it was going to be at this protest, they declined to fulfill the contract, not wanting to have their brand associated with these atheist weirdos.  So, the freethinkers improvised, and found a location not too far away that had a port-a-potty available.  The port-a-potty turned out to be from the same company, so people took selfies of themselves with at the port-a-potty with the company logo to post on the web.

Aron Ra and Jim Helton

Aron Ra, Jim Helton and Family at the Ark Encounter

Typical of the other speakers was Aron Ra, of American Atheists.  He began his talk with an interesting exposition of the Mesopotamian sources for the flood myth.  However, it soon devolved into long catalog of what was ridiculous about the Answers in Genesis position on the Noah myth.  Another speaker went through the sources of the races, according to AIG, from the children of Noah.  People seemed to like it, but I found it boring.

One person suggested a web site devoted to refutations of everything that Answers In Genesis asserts.  Although that seems to be an interesting project in the abstract, it runs into two problems: the overwhelming size of the mountain of manure that these people produce, and the colossal boredom of actually shoveling out from in under it.

I was surprised in a gathering of freethinkers that there was no time for questions.  It was packed full of one presentation after another.  As it entered the third hour, I left.

There are a few conclusions that I draw from the experience.  First, both the Freethinkers and the fundamentalist Christians are most concerned about being able to pass their values on to their children.  For example, David Smalley, the host of the radio show, went on a free tour of the Ark, with Eric Hovind serving as docent.   He enjoyed much of it, until he encountered the children’s section, which he found almost frightening.  Another instance is the Young Skeptics, founded explicitly to provide an alternative to the after school programs offered by Good News Clubs.  Because we have a public education system, this struggle of ideas has a political dimension.  Both sides want to control the curriculum.  The creationists want to teach the controversy; the  overwhelming majority of scientists think the controversy was resolved over a century ago and don’t want any part of the Bible presented in science class.

Secondly, I found people on both sides that I could have conversations with, and engage with on a personal level.  However, with the leaders, those with a public face, conversation was difficult.  They had their agenda, their conclusions, and their debate points all lined up, and nuanced engagement was pretty much impossible.

Finally, both sides see the argument as binary: either you are for God and this inerrant Bible, or you are for science and reason.  In this, I was on an island, attached to neither continent.

Jim Helton pointed to a number of things that he thought the protest accomplished.  Of these, the most cogent was that they changed the story: the media no longer talked just about the Ark, but also of the the protest against this simplistic rejection of modern science.

I was also there to change the story.  I wanted people to see that the choice was not limited to  godless rationalism on the one hand or mindless dogma on the other, and that the Bible, though not a good science text, is a wonderful book.  In this, I largely failed, but I was energized by the attempt.

 

Open Letter to Protesters at the Ark Encounter

FreeThinkers ArkFree Thinkers:

To begin, let us pause for a moment to bask in the superiority of our own understanding.

<—–>

Wasn’t that fun?

Now, can we put aside the ridicule?  Young Earth Creationists have been enduring such mockery since the Scopes Monkey Trial almost a century ago.  If you have paid attention, you might have noticed that it accomplishes nothing.  It just makes them feel persecuted, and they love that.

And this noise about genocide and incest in the Noah story is also pointless.  Yes there are plenty of horrible things in the Bible.  Try taking a look at the book of Judges for example. But I don’t believe you care about that.

Another question: what is the harm?  People have the right to believe whatever they want.  Here, however, you have a point. In a democracy, people have power, and if a large number of us are misguided, it effects the whole society.  In a world as dependent on technology as ours, where our collective actions impact the environment of the entire planet, we absolutely need for the public to have a certain basic scientific literacy.  Instead, we put in power congressmen who think large chunks of the current scientific consensus are “lies straight from the pit of hell.”  Because of the success of groups like Answers In Genesis in this country, both our politics and our science education are a mess.

Their dogma also poisons religion.   They take this beautiful gift, the Bible, full of the wisdom of the ancients, especially the teachings of Jesus, and bury it in a mountain of idolatry and ignorance.  They hide the insights and beauty in the  scriptures with this elaborate pseudo science.  They  present God as deceitful: using our God given gifts of observation, we can see the world appears to be billions of year old, but the Young Earth crowd  insists that this is illusion.  They make it appear that Christ is opposed to Truth.  Just what kind of God are they serving?

There is in this an  emotional whirlpool that Answers in Genesis and its predecessors have long relied on, and one that the free thinkers are easily caught up in.   Creationists see their literal reading of the Bible as essential to true Christianity, and everything else falls into a tarpit of secular humanism or, worse, outright atheism.  Many have felt what they consider to be God’s presence in their lives.  They have witnessed people transform from selfishness to service, from disorder to discipline, and from despair to hope.  They are not about to give that up.  They will grasp at any straw to maintain a hold, no matter how tenuous, on the beliefs of their forefathers. What you might see as a choice between logic and faith, they see as choice between heaven and hell.  Answers in Genesis wants this to be the choice that its followers face, so they are happy to have free thinkers protesting their new theme park.

It is this mindset among Creationists that needs to change.  I believe that this can be accomplished by acknowledging the authenticity of their experience, perhaps even approaching them with enough humility that we admit the possibility of learning something from that experience.  However, validating their experience does not require adhering to obviously false doctrine.  Getting them to this point is the key to helping them separate from what is false and make peace with modern science.

I believe (there’s that word again) that no matter how far science progresses, we will still be faced with the reality of living in society as semi-rational beings.  In this, the teachings of Jesus and the message of redemption at the heart of Christianity and are a good place to start.

So, there is great harm in Young Earth Creationism, and this theme park means that the harm will continue for some time.  It is important that we register our opposition to it.  Eventually, we need to put Answers In Genesis where it belongs, along side the Flat Earth Society, a small, and mostly harmless anachronism.

I plan to join you in protest.  I will bring a Bible, a few local Ordovician fossils, and my sign:

Don’t Bury

the Bible in

Ignorance

See you there.

in peace,

jp lund

P.S.

https://jplund.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/to-young-earth/

https://jplund.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/willful-denial/

 

 

 

Open Letter to Young Earth Creationists

michelangelo-creation-of-adam  If you have welcomed Divine Love into your heart, Hallelujah! Please believe that I have no wish to get between you and Jesus. What you have experienced is yours, and no mere argument, no matter how logical or scientific, can diminish the transforming power of your experience in any way.

However, you have entombed the Living Word in a tower of pseudo scientific babble. Answers in Genesis, for example, displays admirable inventiveness, craftsmanship, and intelligence, but the entire effort is misguided, mocking the ancient wisdom of the Bible by transforming it into a collection of propositions that, though they sound scientific, are obviously false.

hs-2001-12-c-small_webMartin LutherThe observations of modern science show the earth to be billions of years old, and the universe to be billions of years older. There are raging debates in science, but the idea that the earth is a few thousand years old was discarded long ago.

Relying on Biblical authority, Martin Luther and others freed much of Europe from the corrupt, apostate church of Rome. In so doing, they opened the door to a world where ordinary people realized that they could learn the Truth, the universal Truth that applies to all places and all times. In many ways, this made the scientific revolution that followed possible. However, while science continued to develop, thinking in some parts of Christendom ossified. Scientists have discovered much more about so many things that adhering to the sixteenth and seventeenth century ideas about origins appears silly. I expect that in a few hundred years, people will see the ideas of present day scientists as rather quaint in some respects. But people will still read the Bible.

We may no longer think that the earth is flat, with heaven above and hell below, or that our little planet is at the center of everything, or that our species is quite so unique, but the essential human condition has not changed. It is here in our everyday lives that the ancient, divine wisdom of the Bible is invaluable. “Love one another, as I have loved you” is needed just as much now as ever.

In attempting to transform ancient wisdom into a fake science, Answers in Genesis undermines the authority of the Bible. This has devastating consequences. It makes it appear that Christ is opposed to Truth. It leads many to reject the Bible and indeed all religion, thinking that it has nothing to offer in our modern age. Worse, those who subscribe to Young Earth Creationism find themselves at war with modern science, casting scientists, who are simply searching for the truth, as villains, instruments of the devil. This imaginary war is poisoning the politics in America and making it nearly impossible for us to be good stewards of the earth or address any of the other challenges facing our nation.

Expulsion_from_EdenIt appears that the crux of the problem is the Fall of Man. Some Christians seem to think that if we acknowledge that the story of Adam and Eve is mythic, the human condition, which we have experienced directly all of our lives, would somehow be changed.

Let me describe my own version of the allegory of the Fall of Man. Before the Fall, we were like the beasts in the Garden of Eden, fully engaged in the present, without an awareness of our own mortality, and, though capable of doing harm to others, innocent of sinfulness, in the same sense that a lion asserting dominance over his pride is innocent. As our amazing brain developed, the complexity crossed a threshold. We woke up. We consumed the forbidden fruit of knowledge and awareness. We developed language. We planned for the future. Suddenly, mortality was not just a flight or fight reflex in a moment of danger, but a constant reality. Sin and selfishness entered into our experience. Into this world, Jesus Christ came, taught, and offered his precious sacrifice.

I do not assert that my understanding of the Fall is the correct one; my insight is limited, flawed. However, you don’t need to believe the particular details of the account in Genesis in order to find evidence of the Fall of Man. It is all around us, and throughout written history. (There is evidence of an essential goodness of man as well.)

BibleThe Bible is a wondrous gift. We need it today. Science is never going to adequately address the questions as to how to live in peace with one another. We need to open our hearts to the Divine. We need the teachings of Jesus. Do not undermine the authority of this wondrous gift by attempting to make it into a bad science text.

If the Bible has helped bring you to Christ, rejoice! Thank the Lord that your life has been so transformed! Believe the Truth of your experience. Do not turn this blessing into a curse by adhering to what is false. Cease this abominable war with modern science.

May we live together in the peace of God, which passes all understanding,

blessings,
jp lund

Willful Denial

Taung_SKULL_011BT-V1

Taung Child Fossil

Answers in Genesis describes the crux of the problem this way: “Willful denial of God’s Word (2 Peter 3:3-7) lies at the root of many disputes over historical science”.  They are right about the willful denial, but totally misguided about who is denying what.

I recently came across a delightful example of what the creationists call “historical science” in a Radio Lab article on the Taung Child fossil, a 2 million year old skull found in southern Africa in 1924.  Raymond Dart identified this as a new species of extinct hominid, which he named Australopithecus Africanus.  He referred to this find as “the missing link”.  The Radio Lab chronicles the history surrounding this object, including some conclusions that are relatively recent.  Here are real scientists at work, imperfect people wading though preconceived notions, ethnic prejudice, flawed analysis, and an outright hoax, to get ever closer to the truth.  Throughout the controversies, the Genesis creation stories never came up, not because of a willful denial of the Word of God, but because, among scientists, even as early as the 1920s, such an idea was ridiculous.

In rural America in the 1920s, however, it was not ridiculous.  The same year that Dart was publishing his findings on the Taung Child, Tennessee prosecuted John Scopes for teaching Evolution in public school.  One can sympathize with the citizens of Tennessee at that time. Darwin’s ideas, still relatively new to rural America, directly contradicted the myths preserved in Genesis, sacred myths that these people placed at the very foundation of their faith.

However, since then, we have had a century of incredible progress in the sciences.  Whole new fields of investigation have emerged.  We know much more about our universe as a whole, about our planet, and about our species than Darwin could ever have imagined, and yet his basic premise has survived.

In the face of this mountain of evidence, the Young Earth Creationists cling to the scientific conclusions of religious leaders from the sixteenth century: the earth, in fact the whole universe, is approximately 6,000 to 10,000 years old. They have the Bible, which they believe is the inerrant, divine revelation of God.  They view everything through this Biblical lens, seeing nothing that contradicts their reading of the sacred text.  They put the evidence of the Bible, which was obviously written by man, selected by man, translated by man, and interpreted by man, over the evidence of Nature, the Earth, and the stars, which they believe were created by God.  They would rather believe in a devious God, a God that created a world appearing to be billions of years old but really quite young, rather than acknowledge that the stories of creation recorded in Genesis are myths explaining the human condition and not scientific explanations of origins.  They have constructed a vast pseudo scientific catalog demonstrating how everything from dinosaurs to distant galaxies came into existence in the last few thousand years.

At the heart of all of this is willful denial, denial of the same ilk as shown by the Flat Earth Society, which is still active in the twenty first century. Because we live in a democracy, because these zealots are so numerous, and because science is so important to our modern society, this willful denial is significant to all of us.

To be clear, there is nothing in the Bible that requires this foolishness.  Old Earth Ministries, for example, finds no conflict between their Biblical Christianity and modern science: “The scientific evidence of this world and universe can be used to understand how God created.”  It is only the insistence on the young earth that presents a problem.

Naturally, people who adhere so ardently to a false dogma see those who are seeking the truth as the enemy.  Willful denial turns to spite, as shown in an editorial in the June, 2014 edition of Creation Magazine:

winning-war

Creation Magazine illustration

“There is a war on! And it seems the opposition isn’t so much interested in debating what Christianity teaches about origins, but rather in suppressing it—just as you’d expect from Romans 1:18. They want to silence the Christian voice (proclaiming creation), and replace it with their own (promoting long ages and evolution).”

It is true that scientists are not interested in debating what Genesis teaches about origins.  Among scientists, this debate was over long ago, notwithstanding the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham side show.  It has also been decided in courts, where creationists have repeatedly failed to demonstrate that their ideas have any scientific foundation at all.  Of course, scientists want to suppress the teaching of ideas that have been thoroughly refuted, unless, taught to show how science has progressed, rejecting explanations, like spontaneous generation, that once seemed plausible but were eventually refuted by the evidence.

However, the war rages on, not only in the local schools, but in the halls of Congress.  Here is what Paul Broun, the Chairman of the US House Science Subcommittee on Oversight, has to say:

Paul Broun

Paul Broun

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. …It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

The election of such misguided people is going to continue for some time to come: fully one-third of Americans, and a majority of those who consider themselves evangelical Christians, reject the theory of Evolution.

We are facing tremendously complex problems in our modern world, and, since we live in a democracy, we need a scientifically literate public to participate in evaluating our situation and deciding what to do.  Care for the environment, i.e. climate change, presents a particularly difficult challenge, but there are other issues facing us as well.  How can we successfully address such challenges when so many people believe that those  best able to inform them about the threats and the solutions are in league with the devil?

This war between scientific truth and ancient myth is poisoning the political environment in this country.    The war is certainly not with the teachings of Jesus, but with a twisted Christianity that idolizes scientific theories conceived during the Reformation, before modern science had developed.

I believe that, eventually, Truth will prevail and the young earth creationists, like the flat earthers, will gradually dwindle in number, though never quite disappear.   However, people like me would have said much the same thing at the time of the Scopes Monkey Trial.  With all of the unbelievable changes that have taken place since then, who would have thought that this debate over the Genesis myths would still be going on?  No proof, no matter how clear and obvious, seems powerful enough to overcome the willful denial of people whose faith is based on this misguided reading of the ancient texts.

 

 

 

What Bill Nye Missed in the Debate

Debate Stage

The Skeptical Enquirer recently published an interesting article by Bill Nye, the Science Guy, where he discusses the big debate with creationist Ken Ham.  Nye points to the YouTube video, Bill Nye: Creationism Is Not Appropriate For Children, that prompted the challenge from Ken Ham.  Ken Ham has responded, with a somewhat different version of the events.  Of course, Answers In Genesis had already created their own YouTube video, Bill Nye, Creationism is Highly Appropriate for our Children.

Nye also explains his strategy for handling the encounter. The article is full of cogent observations about the nature of such an  event, which is more of a television show than a debate.  I particularly appreciate  “My actor’s preparation helped me keep things civil and be respectful of Mr. Ham despite what struck me as his thoughtless point of view.”  For the readers of the Skeptical Enquirer, the scientific debate was a slam dunk, and Nye slammed his points home with authority.

However, the most important point, to my way of thinking, was one he totally neglects in his comments.  In the debate, he made reference to Christians who believe in evolution, but he was really not very effective in delivering this message.  Perhaps, he had not included this in his preparation.  To Nye, a man of science, the question is whether a given theory is a reasonable explanation of the evidence, not whether a Christian can accept a reasonable explanation.

However, to the Creationists in the audience, it is the the salvation of their souls that is most significant.  Their experience of life has been been transformed by Divine Love.  This is what they want to pass on to their children.  So, when someone like Nye, who evidently doesn’t give a damn about his eternal soul, says that “Creationism is not appropriate for children”, they rise up in fury.  They see fundamental precepts of their faith undermined in the name of science and atheism forced down the throats of their children.

For both Nye and Ham, the debate was about a well crafted question:  “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?”  Ham is devoting his life to maintaining the illusion that there is a scientific question to be answered.  Nye looks at Ham’s answers, and sees nonsense dressed up as science.

However, for the Evangelical Christian, the real question is not about science at all.  It is religious: “Can I be saved, even in this modern era?”  I suspect Nye would respond to this with a puzzled look, perhaps followed with a reference to Biologus.  Ken Ham’s answer to this question is a resounding “Yes!”, but only if you embrace the willful ignorance of his pseudo-scientific doctrine.

It is the Young Earth Creationists’ religion, not the pseudo-science, that is the source of the problem.  They have exalted the scientific conclusions of men who lived during the Reformation, when Biblical Christianity first began to take shape, lifting these human concepts to the high altar of Divine Revelation.  This is idolatry.  It has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus, or his death on the cross.

As one who believes that the Truth will triumph in the end, I am confident that this misbegotten theology will eventually dwindle and die.  However, I don’t know how much damage they might do in the meantime.

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.