If your Facebook feed or Twitter account is like mine, you probably heard about a debate held this week between young-earth creationist Ken Ham and evolutionist “Science Guy” Bill Nye. You probably heard about it a thousand times. But, since lengthy debates like that are a big time commitment, you probably didn’t tune in. And I don’t blame you.
I had very low expectations for this debate, for four reasons:
Ken Ham is not a qualified theologian.
Bill Nye is not a qualified theologian.
Ken Ham is not a qualified scientist.
Bill Nye is not a qualified scientist.
Okay, you might dispute one or two of those, but that’s my sense of it and I’m certainly sticking to it. It doesn’t bode well for a debate when neither advocate is really a very qualified representative of either view.
I want to say a few things about this debate, but before I do I should give you some other resources to check out as you have time and opportunity.
Al Mohler’s write-up after the debate is definitely worth reading. I think he’s probably guilty of a little wish-fulfillment. I don’t think the “central worldview clash” was on display as much as he wishes it was. Don’t misunderstand me: Al Mohler is drawing out that clash, but I’m not so sure it was so obvious from the actual proceedings.
I’ve written a number of things on science in the past couple of years:
And, last but not least, Andrew Ferguson’s brilliant essay, “The Heretic” in The Weekly Standard.
Okay. So, I’ll cut to the chase: the question that ought to be debated is whether the cosmos is created or not created. There is a designer or there is not. There is metaphysics or just physics. There is an “on purpose” or there is an “accident.” That’s the divide, folks. That means the following topics are, well, off topic: the length of creation days, the age of the universe, the age of the earth, the historicity of Noah’s flood, when dinosaurs lived, and radiometric dating practices. Every minute of the debate talking about those things is, frankly, the waste of a good minute. I’m not saying they aren’t interesting questions in and of themselves that are worth thinking about. They surely are. But they are not the questions at issue when we are dealing with the question of whether the universe is a creation or something else.
There is an unhealthy conflation rampant today: “Creationism” means, in popular imagination, belief that in a span of six ordinary days 6,000 years ago God made everything. And evolution means, in popular imagination, belief that “God doesn’t exist.”
The sociology of this is complex and interesting, but strictly speaking neither is true.
And each debate participant did the grave disservice of fostering this confusion. Ken Ham apparently believes that creationism simply is his 24-hour day, 6,000 years ago view (everyone else is compromising). Bill Nye apparently believes that evolutionism simply is a denial of God’s existence (everyone else is compromising). Yes, lots of creationists believe Ken Ham’s other views about how long ago it was, many don’t. Yes, lots of evolutionists believe Bill Nye’s other views about God’s non-existence, but many don’t (the non-materialists).
The question, again, is whether the universe was created, which implies that there is a Creator and raises all sorts of other interesting issues about the Creator’s knowability (revelation), nature and character, and so forth. In other words, if it is creation, then theology is a legitimate and necessary discipline. (No wonder so many want to avoid this.) If the universe is not a creation, there are only two other options: 1) the universe is eternal, or 2) existence spontaneously came from non-existence. Although many philosophers in the past have believed in an eternal cosmos, modern scientists cannot because they are committed to the Big Bang theory. As much as they might want to sing along with Carl Sagan’s doxology, that the cosmos is “all there was, is, or ever will be,” they know for a fact that the universe had a definite starting “moment.” So that leaves us with (2): existence spontaneously generated out of non-existence. It is an uncomfortable thing when people whose whole method is based on the impossibility of miracles are forced to believe in the Granddaddy of all miracles at the very outset of their enterprise.
And, if you dig a little bit, you’ll find that this is exactly what they believe. Richard Dawkins: “An apparently (to ordinary human consciousness) miraculous theory is exactly the kind of theory we should be looking for in this particular matter of the origin of life.” Did you know he wrote that? I’ll wager you didn’t. By the way, I love the parenthetical, (to ordinary human consciousness). Is his own consciousness not “ordinary” or “human”? How can he tell whether something is only apparently a miracle or really a miracle? Would he not have to transcend the limitations of “ordinary human consciousness”? The answer is yes. And the answer is no, he cannot.
This is where the sterile, thin worldview of materialism gets you. Banish all the beautiful miracles out the front door while sneaking a tramp called Lady Luck in through the bedroom window. How I wish I could see a debate where the materialist was forced to defend this charade! The “miracle” of the creationist has at least this going for it: it has rationally explanatory value. Let me put it this way: It’s a meaningful relationship that stands the test of time because the purpose and design the "miracle" supplies is acknowledged and embraced. (Stephen C. Meyer’s new book might be a wonderful place to start exploring the fruitfulness of seeing intelligence, purpose, and design.) But the “miracle” of the Neo-Darwinian is irrational. The tryst with Lady Luck is a meaningless relationship because he dumps her the second she isn't useful anymore (i.e., when he needs strict materialism to take over!). Dawkins even goes on to say (in direct contradiction to his premise that everything is governed by the laws of physics and chemistry) that the cosmos is just a really old, really weird place where really, really weird things happen. Like, say, conveniently enough for him, the spontaneous appearance of self-replicating DNA.
This belief in a really weird cosmos where really, really weird things happen (including, happily, all the important stuff we need for our scientific paradigms) is not science, no matter how loudly a Dawkins or Dennett or Hitchens or Nye shouts it. It’s a religion.
Could we rustle up that debate, please?