I did not watch the debate myself although I did follow it on Twitter. I’ve never been to the Answers in Genesis museum myself. I have read a lot of Ken Ham’s quote and seen video of him speaking. I know I’m hardly an expert on his opinion, but I think I’ve encountered enough to understand some major problems with his thought. Without even getting into the science, here are a few:

Bad Bible Study

We could go at the most surface level at point out that Ham doesn’t really know how to study the Bible. We could point out that the Hebrew word yom does not necessarily mean a 24-hour day but simply means a period of time. We could also point out that Hebrew genealogies were never meant to be a detailed history of every generation, even if we do presuppose that everybody in them are literal figures, so we can’t simply add up the numbers of generations to conclude the age of the Earth.

We could go a little deeper than that and point out that Ham has absolutely no concept of genre, or if he does, he seems to think that he gets to dictate which genre a book is despite all evidence to the contrary. For most of Church history, those studying the creation narrative understood it as an allegorical text rather than a literal historical/scientific one. Any biblical studies professor worth his or her degree would also understand that it was written in an Ancient Near Eastern context. It’s clear, I think, from its poetic genre and its context that the concern of the text was to answer the who and why of creation (Yahweh out of love vs warring gods) rather than the how question that won’t even have been asked for another 2500 years (6 days or evolution over a long time).

Augustine on Creation

Quote from the 4th Century. Long before evolution, many Christians didn’t believe in reading Genesis 1-2 as a scientific account.

Bad Approach to the Church

We could point out how incredibly disrespectful Ham is toward Christians who disagree with him on this question that really is peripheral. From what I read on Twitter, Nye repeatedly pointed out that many Christians disagree with Ham’s interpretation. Ham essentially said we aren’t really Christians. This attitude is a disgrace to the body of Christ, of which I am a part just as much as he is. I guess Ham’s literalism doesn’t extend to all of the passages about maintaining unity.

Bad Theological Methodology

If we go deepest, we could point out the biggest problem of all: Ham seems to have built his approach on fear. His primary arguments against evolution is that it will result in all kinds of other things which go against his worldview. This is quite possibly based in a fear (not reverence, but real fear) of God.

When asked what would change his mind, he replied that nothing would. I wonder if this is because he fears God would punish him for his “lack of faith,” by which we really mean less than absolute certainty in a particular proposition about a peripheral issue. On the other hand, Nye said he would change his mind based on evidence. Some skeptics might claim that this is the difference between science and religion. That would be incorrect. It is, however, the difference between science and fundamentalism.

A good theological process shares much with a good scientific process. The specific methods of learning differ – science is strictly observational natural data while theological method as a relational study involves more complicated sources of information – but each when done right are based in a genuine desire to learn the truth. Ham does not have a genuine desire to learn the truth. Instead, he has a genuine idea to reaffirm that what he already thinks is true actually is. That’s a very dangerous place to be in and it is easy to see why he simply ignores any evidence against his perspective. The big problem is that he manages to sell that fear to others, making it clear that we are not good enough and God cannot really love us if we don’t think the same as he does on this particular issue.

To that, I simply give thanks that perfect love, that perfect love which God is at all times in all situations no matter your scientific position, casts out fear. Ham’s fear will never defeat God’s love.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

2 Responses

  1. AffableDaffy says:

    Bill Nye is not even a scientist. Neither men are. What kind of debate was this? A sham.

    • Nye does have a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and some background using that professionally, and he definitely used much more actual science in the debate from everything I heard.

      But yes, I think you’re generally right. It was never meant to be a real discussion. It was never meant to be about science. It was a chance for Ham to rile up his followers against the heathens. Nye fell for it and I think Ham won because of that, although there may have been some listening who were genuinely wondering and appreciated the science he explained.

      Now, an actually good discussion would be between two legitimate scientists who were both Christians. But nobody would pay attention to that because that’s boring. We much prefer to create false dichotomies (faith vs science, good person vs bad person, etc.).