The Missing Voices in the Bill Nye v. Ken Ham Creation-Evolution Debate

What we believe about humanity’s origins and the creation of the world matters.  We can’t claim to have a complete worldview or a coherent opinion on the meaning of life without having some opinion on where it all came from.

downloadA Biblical worldview acknowledges God–Yahweh–as the source of all that exists.  Genesis 1 lays out the order in which he caused things to be (which happens to line up with the progression that science reveals as well).  It also subdivides these acts of creation into six “days.”  Through the poetic device of personification, Proverbs 8:22-36 tells us that God exercised perfect wisdom in each of these days, fashioning the world with care and rejoicing in the existence of humanity.

Tonight, in a highly promoted event, Bill “The Science Guy” Nye and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis are going to debate each other over whether it is reasonable to believe this story, or whether the only objectively reasonable worldview is one that says humanity is the result of mere evolutionary processes unguided by any divine being.  The debate hasn’t happened yet as of this writing, but we all know how it will go.  Both debaters will land some zingers that please their core audiences, and both audiences will feel like their guy won.  Ham’s adherents will pity the godlessness of materialistic evolutionary belief, and Nye’s fans will mock their opponents for being clueless deniers of scientific facts.

Regardless of how well either man debates, however, this event won’t actually answer the question of whether it’s defensible to believe that God created the world.  That’s because Ham will present–and Nye will attack–only one narrow version of what “creationism” means.  Ham is a “young earth creationist,” which means he believes the six days of Genesis to be 24-hour days, resulting in a world that is roughly 6,000 years old.  That’s the most extreme interpretation of Genesis, and the one that presents the most points of conflict with what scientific observation tells us about the world.  Naturally, therefore, that’s the version that Nye most enjoys debating.

But that’s not the only view on what Genesis means.  It’s not even the only literal interpretation of Scripture, because the word “day” (yom, in Hebrew) can literally be used to mean 12 hours, 24 hours, or an indefinite period of time, just like it is in English.  (Ever notice that in the King James Version, Genesis 2:4 summarizes the creation story by saying  “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens”?)   There is a robust and growing body of literature from scientists who accept the same laws of science and nature that Bill Nye does, and the same estimated age of the universe (about 14 billion years), and yet apply the same scientific method he uses to conclude that creation, and not evolutionary theory, is the best explanation for the world we observe.

Of these many scientists, none (in my opinion) does a better job of articulating and defending this view than Reasons to Believe, founded by Dr. Hugh Ross.  Just like any other scientists would do, they have proposed a comprehensive creation model to explain their position, and continue to perform empirical research to support it.  Their views will not be represented in tonight’s debate, but they have published a (polite) statement comparing their position to ones you’ll hear argued by Nye and Ham.

In addition to these groups, there are those who advocate a theistic evolutionary view, in which God used the mechanism of evolution to guide humanity’s development.  (Incidentally, although many adherents of young earth creationism equate all “old earth” views with evolution, that is inaccurate.  Reasons to Believe, for example, does not accept the evolutionary explanation, and has explained at length why the passage of billions of years does not make evolution any more plausible than a shorter time frame does.)

A comprehensive examination of the creation story would investigate all of these views before reaching a conclusion.  You won’t get that in tonight’s debate.  Objective observers would also respect the dignity of those they disagree with.  We may or may not see that displayed tonight, but there is far too little respect given on this issue–especially (and most disturbingly) between Christians who make their disagreement over the interpretation of a single word far more divisive than it should be.

So watch tonight’s debate, if you choose to, for what it’s worth.  But remember–there’s more to the story.