David Russell Mosley
5 February 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Dear Friends and Family,
Well, its taken me nearly all day, but I’ve finally finished watching the Ken Ham-Bill Nye debate over creationism (as defined by Ham) as a valid model for a scientific explanation of origins. For any of my non-American readers who don’t know who Bill Nye and Ken Ham are: Bill Nye is television personality who had a popular TV show during my childhood called Bill Nye the Science Guy (he does in fact have a Bachelor’s in Engineering). Ken Ham has a Bachelor’s in biology and is the curator of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Ham believes the earth was created in six literal days and is around 6000 years old. Nye believes in Darwinian evolution.
There, the stage is set. I could give you a blow-by-blow of the debate and then show you all the problems on both sides, but I don’t think that will be necessary. At the end of the day there is a more fundamental issue that both gentlemen have ignored. When they talk about origins they tend to talk about two different things. Towards the end of the debate, Nye is asked where the atoms that existed in the big bang came from. His answer? It’s a mystery. Ham responds glibly, ‘There’s a book that tells us the answer to that, it’s called the Bible’ (roughly paraphrased). I suppose ultimately, I agree with Ham on that question. Namely, that the opening chapters of Genesis are concerned with giving us a story about why there is something rather than nothing (and what created beings with free will did with that something).
The problem is, Ham has bought into the notion that Science is the Queen of the Sciences. Nye certainly believes that. His constant imploring of voters and tax payers to keep science scientific and his exhortations for young people to become scientists so that America won’t get left in the dust proves that. Only, Ham shouldn’t agree. He shouldn’t, as a Christian, agree that science is the end all be all. While I don’t agree with most common dichotomies between science and theology/philosophy (religion as Nye called it), I do agree that a doctrine of creation, especially one of creation ex nihilo (out of nothing), is not a scientific claim. That is, it is not a question that is subject to science, but this is because I think theology, and her handmaiden philosophy, ought to stand at the top of our disciplines. It is out of these that we seek to know and learn more (as a t-shirt I once read says: Science can teach you how to make a dinosaur; the humanities can tell you why it might be a bad idea). This is the conclusion Victor Frankenstein ultimately comes to all to late in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Neither Nye nor Ham seem capable of understanding this, however, as they talk at rather than to each other.
There a few books I would have both gentlemen read to see why their debate was ultimately pointless: First and foremost, they both ought to read Hart’s The Experience of God, so they can understand what the definition of God is before they discuss the nature of that God’s having created. Second, I would have them read Conor Cunningham’s excellent Darwin’s Pious Idea so that they can see the pitfalls creationists and ultra-darwinists fall into and what a Christian account of evolution looks like. Finally, as both men like to talk about physical and natural laws, I would have them read the section G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy entitled The Ethics of Elfland, to be given a little humility about laws and predictability.
The debate will be available online for a few days so feel free to watch it if you have two and a half hours to spare. At the end of the day, I think both men get it wrong, which is why I believe in creation and see no real contradictions between it and evolution, particularly since one concerns true origins (why is there something rather than nothing) and the other deals with development.
Have you watched the debate? Are you a Young Earth Creationist (or Old Earth), or an Atheist and I think I’m just plain wrong? Let me know.
The Debate Itself:
David Russell Mosley