It’s like calling your friends and arranging a game of football in a huge grassy field, only to bring a tennis ball and racket instead. If you’re going to stand and propose an argument about the science of Creationism, you must argue on scientific terms. You have to play the game by the same rules. For Ham to arrange an event like this and then build the majority of his argument on Biblical texts is just, well, unfortunate. Not because I don’t believe in the Bible – I absolutely do – but because he organized a football game, invited his friends, and brought a tennis racket.
Who wants to play ball after that?
That’s a big problem when your game is supposed to be two hours long. Oddly enough, you could argue that that’s exactly what happened last Sunday… I digress…
Yes, there is a lot to be said for the fact that many of the principles of Science are rooted in Christian worldview assumptions – that the universe is orderly, and our faculties for reason can be trusted, for example – but that doesn’t change the fact that the intent of science is to operate only within observable, repeatable, and predictive data – and that Science can and must change its interpretation as the data changes (Nye actually made this point). This is something the Bible won’t provide. Not because it isn’t true, but because it wasn’t meant to. The data, in this case meaning the Bible, doesn’t, won’t, and shouldn’t change. It’s a beautiful story with surprises and all.
Much of this debate wasn’t scientific at all, but philosophical, which makes it about as bad a miscasting as Nicolas Cage in almost anything. And the irony of it all is that in one sense they are both playing for the same team. Both speakers seem to agree, in classic Post-Enlightenment fashion, that the principle emphasis of any data set, including the Bible, is that of material structure: “How did we get from non-matter to matter”? Both are attempting to extrapolate from their respective data an answer to the question “how was the world made?” But, this is a uniquely modern question:
“…we can often identify the questions the text addresses by familiarizing ourselves with ancient literature rather than by letting our culture dictate what questions the text addresses or how it answers questions…we cannot feel free to try to transform “in the beginning” into either a scientific statement or a theological treatise. It is not a covert reference to the Big Bang any more than it is proof of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing).”
– John H Walton, NIV Application Commentary
Though Ham is a 6-day creationist, believing that Genesis tells us that matter was created from non-matter in six 24-hour periods, and Nye is a naturalist, believing that nothing exists beyond the natural world, they are both asking a question that is, as best I can tell, different from that of the Bible’s human authors or the questions of their day. In his answer on whether he approaches the Biblical text ‘literally’ or ‘figuratively’ Ham referred to Genesis as a “typical historical narrative”. But ‘typical’ of what era? A modern work of history is most likely an attempt, at least in principle, to provide objective data. This is very different from the typical mythologies of the ancient near-east. We simply cannot forget that the Israelites had only recently left Egypt when Genesis was written, and this is a book written in the middle of a clash of narratives – this is Gods story for His people, and Genesis 1 a description of the functional ordering of the cosmos and mankind’s role within it. If God’s principle concern in Genesis was that this revelation of the Created order would stand as scientifically accurate within the cultural context of its day, given the ever-shifting nature of science, this would have required of us something like omniscience (the knowledge and understanding of all things) or, at the very least, regular updates to the text as we learn and our perspective on the natural working of things shifts.
Instead, God is clearly willing to work within our context, with us knowing only half the story, and give us a story to run with nevertheless. In the beginning of God’s story, mankind is given an important role to play within the well-ordered cosmos – and quite a different story from the chaotic God vs. Man stories of nearby ancient myth – we are to bear His image: reflecting his own Holy nature back to Himself in loving relationship, stewarding and working within Creation as it sings of his glory with every passing day. Paradise. Order. Care. Love.
This whole thing feels like an exercise in missing the point, which highlights the problem with debates like this. It too is a philosophical one: who gets to decide the nature of truth?
The very fact that the Bible’s ability to use Israelite modes of thinking poses such a problem for us demonstrates how significantly we have been influenced by certain aspects of our culture. We have been persuaded to believe that truth about origins can only be packaged in scientific terms; that the only cosmological reality is a scientifically informed reality; that if a cosmological text operates outside of the scientific realm, it ceases to be truth. We too easily accept the dictum that the only absolute is science. This presupposition causes us to think that the Bible’s authority would be jeopardized if its revelation fails to address origins in terms that reflect our worldview. This modern arrogance that insists that revelation must be packaged in our terms to be true betrays us, because even scientific thinking is in constant flux.
– John H Walton, NIV Application Commentary
It seems to me to be an important thing to remember: the truth of the Bible goes beyond our ability to contextualize it within the confines of literal, scientific terms. This isn’t a debate on whether the Bible is true or not (I fundamentally believe that it is absolutely true) it’s a debate on whether all truth is scientific and material. And while it seems a simple answer to me, I have to say that that would be a debate worth watching, I just don’t know that Ham and Nye are equipped to have it.
In the meantime, we watched them argue from the same side of the fence. Ham could have argued the merits of tennis in addition to football, but instead he awkwardly tried to play football with a tennis racket.