On Tuesday, my small corner of the internet erupted with controversy and emphatic support of polarized ideologies, when the famous creation apologist, Ken Ham, debated Bill Nye “The Science Guy”. I’ll admit that there was also a healthy degree of cynical dismissal of the event too. I know I contributed my fair share of passive-aggressive cynicism. Although this event has already been thoroughly blogged and debated by people much more qualified than myself, I thought I would still contribute my proverbial two-cents on the issue. After all, what is social networking for, right? Ideally, I pray that this post will help others think through all of the implications a debate such as this can create.
In short, I believe that this event was entirely unhelpful and alarming in several areas. I pray that, as Christians, we would become faithful disciples of Christ and shrewd students of scripture, in order that we may rightly discern a proper posture of grace and humility toward inflammatory events such as this debate. One could write an entire book–and many have–on the exegetical issues concerning Genesis and it’s application in modern society, particularly its relevance with evolutionary science. For answers to these questions, I refer my readers to check out John Walton’s phenomenal book on Genesis called, The Lost World of Genesis One. Instead, I’m more concerned about this event because of its questionable motives and the complete lack of credentials that were displayed by both presenters.
It seems to me that the general posture of this debate was couched against the backdrop of a culture-war heavily propagated by AiG(Answers in Genesis). Although I think AiG has some helpful material on origins and biblical studies, I sometimes fear that their methods and rhetoric are a bit extreme. AiG is known for being very defensive and keen on pointing out dangers within cultural trends, events, and particularly in other Christians (after all- what is more scandalous than having “one of them” among us–the correct ones?).I feel that these activities help them to fuel and propagate a culture of fear and weave a an “us against them” narrative or mentality.
From what I understand, this debate originated because of some comments made by Mr. Nye about evolutionary education. These comments and the fact that he’s a former children’s show host, make him a perfect “figure-head” for AiG’s culture war narrative. “This insidious person is out to get your kids…” and based on one of Ham’s book title’s it may too late, they could be, “Already Gone”. This is what scares me most, that a Christian organization uses another human being for hidden agendas because he “fits their profile”. Of course I can’t prove this but it seems to fit the circumstances form the outside, why not get some other more qualified no-name biologist? Because they don’t fit the profile.
The AiG website did a review of the debate and decided that, “the overarching victory for Christians in this debate was that the gospel of Jesus Christ was shared with millions of people watching the debate”. I can’t help but wonder if this was the most effective way for AiG to share the gospel with millions of people. It seems to me that displaying the “intellectual dominance” of our cause by crushing a former children’s show host is a pretty anemic way to preform Christian discipleship. I’d be interested in seeing how many people were persuaded by “the otherside”, instead of being further polarized into their perspective “camp” on the issue. This raises another set of questions regarding the validity of using a debate over science to convert someone. If AiG’s agenda was evangelistic in nature, I believe they ran a clinic on “how not” to do evangelism (or even positively influence people for that matter) by using worldly methods of, sensationalism, extravagance, dominance, superiority, and influence. These ideas seem to counter the way of the cross that St. Paul illustrates in Philippians 2.
Secondly, I think that if AiG actually cared about the quality of the debate, they would have chosen different presenters–but they didn’t, which leads me back to the questionable motives, but I digress. Ken Ham has a bachelor’s degree in biology, a teaching certificate, and a few honorary degree’s from various Christian institutions. I think Ham tried to compensate by using video of “qualified people” in an attempt to say, “hey look at all these smart people that agree with me”! Bill Nye has a degree in mechanical engineering and also has a few honorary doctorates, but by no means is he consider a current or legitimate leader or professional in his field. So why these two? It seems like a Biblical historian and an actual evolutionary biologist would have been a better fit. That is if AiG was actually interested in facilitating a dialogue that would provide helpful insights into either field. Instead, AiG chose two men that are figure heads for their perspective agendas, which makes this debate nothing more than mere propaganda. Viewers were told they were getting a debate, but instead they got pre-planned and agenda driven scripts from both sides, which ultimately ended up talking right past one another.
I think a more helpful conversation would have been between Mr. Ham and someone like Francis Collins. Francis Collins is an evangelical Christian that mapped the human genome and won the nobel peace prize for his efforts. Collins is an evolutionary biologist that still holds to scripture as his final authority. Now that would have been a debate worth watching, but maybe this wasn’t really a debate after all. Maybe it was just a propaganda driven publicity stunt that was meant to incite mob mentality and inspire donations “for the cause”. Maybe it was just a way for Christian’s to display our dominance and our “rightness” for all the world to see. Or maybe I’m just a cynic.
Soli Deo Gloria