Wednesday, February 5, 2014

My Reflections on the Bill Nye and Ken Ham Debate

By Pastor Stephen Feinstein

Last night, February 4, 2014, a monumental debate took place between an evolutionist and a creationist. A man beloved by Christians, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, took on Bill Nye the Science Guy in a debate that centered on one question: Is biblical young earth creationism a viable scientific model for modern man? Ken Ham argued that it is, and Bill Nye was convinced that it is not.

There was a lot of hype going into this debate as some declared it to be Scopes Part 2. Christians were very excited about it, especially since Answers in Genesis is one of the most loved creationist institutes available to us. Many evolutionists were angry that the debate even happened, since they believed it would give credibility to a view that they see as invalid.

I was one of the Christians that watched the debate with great enthusiasm. I am a committed Presuppositionalist, and I know that Ken Ham leans on that approach in his apologetic methodology. So I had high hopes. And certainly, Ken Ham made some great points in his 30 minute presentation. These were points that should force everyone to think about presuppositions and unproven assumptions. Yet, at the same time I was pleased with some aspects of Ham’s presentation, I was also very disappointed in his overall argument. I think he could have made a much stronger case, and I believe he could have shut Bill Nye down with relative ease had he driven home certain points. Of course, I want to make it clear that I love the work of Ken Ham, and I am not trying to be critical of him. His ministry has blessed me greatly. I am a fan. But even as a fan, I have to be honest when evaluating his debate performance last night. I do praise God that Ken was able to deliver the gospel to such a huge audience, and I am thankful that the Lord raised Ken up for that moment last night.

With that all said, let me state the good, the bad, and the ugly. I also want to address some of the fallacies of Bill Nye. Quite honestly, the man demonstrated a great ignorance of philosophy, history, linguistics, and textual criticism.

Let me start with the good. I thought it was magnificent that Ken Ham debunked the idea that belief in evolution has any relationship whatsoever to the advancement of technology. Even though Nye wanted to reject the difference between observational science and historical science, he could not. Ham even showed secular geology textbooks that made the same distinction. For that, bravo Ken! The fact that Christians operating off of biblical assumptions can create wonderful things like satellites and MRI machines is great proof that observational science performed in a lab is very different from scientific theories that attempt to describe what occurred in “deep time.” By focusing on this, Ham destroyed Nye’s greatest fallacy. Bill Nye had previously argued in a YouTube video that Christians are inconsistent when we use medicine and enjoy technology, but at the same time reject macroevolution. Well, Ken Ham demonstrated that this simply is not true.

Ham also did a great job on at least introducing the fact that presuppositions dictate how one interprets the evidence. Autonomous reasoning is impossible, and the scientific community has not evolved past the logical positivism of the early 20th Century. Creationists do not ignore evidence. We look at the same evidence that the evolutionist does. One’s assumptions determine how they interpret evidence. When the evolutionist assumes that enough time allows chance to create life spontaneously, and that stars and planets evolve through uniform processes that do not change over time, he is making an assumption that he can never prove. Yet, all of his conclusions based on the “evidence” depend first on these assumptions. If you remove his assumptions, then you remove his conclusions. This is basic philosophy. Bill Nye did not seem to grasp this. Ken Ham did the world a favor by pointing it out.

The problem, however, is that Ken Ham did not follow it through far enough. All of Nye’s “evidence” would have been meaningless if Ham would have demonstrated that Nye’s assumptions are impossible. Had he done so, then Nye’s conclusions based on his interpretation of the evidence would have been invalid. Ham did not succeed at this. He simply asserted that the biblical assumptions are true and necessary for operational science to be done in the first place. He also stated that evolutionists unwittingly borrow our assumptions in order to do science. This is great because this is true. But Ham did not demonstrate this. Thus, I believe it fell on deaf ears with unbelievers, and probably did not make a lot of sense to Christians either.

Another problem is Ham did not spend enough time on the preconditions of intelligibility. This is what would have made his case airtight. The preconditions of intelligibility simply refer to the things necessary for science to even be possible. For example, science cannot happen if nature is not uniform. It must not be arbitrary. If natural law changed randomly, then science would be meaningless since it depends on repeatable results. Nature is uniform, thus science is possible. The question is what is the necessary precondition for a uniform nature? Could an accidental chaotic universe that is based on chance ever be a precondition of uniformity? No, they are opposites. Ham should have pushed this antithesis with great tenacity. He should have demanded that Nye account for a uniform nature in a random universe. Nye would have no choice but to dance around the issue and not answer. Ham could have then used this point to prove that atheists use the biblical worldview to do science. They assume that an orderly and predictable world exists by which the senses are reliable, the laws of nature do not change, and the human brain can accurately understand data in this world. The biblical worldview proclaims that the universe is the grand design by a creator that is both transcendent and immanent, and this is why it is not random. The biblical worldview proclaims that God made man in His image, and it is for this reason that we are capable of understanding the created order, whereas other animals cannot do science or philosophy, and they cannot study history and make predictions. In other words, the unbeliever silently assumes the world is the way the Christian says it is, but he vocally declares the universe is random and that time and chance are ultimate. Ham could have capitalized on this.

He did bring up the laws of logic, but he should have demanded that Nye account for them. In other words, the laws of logic are not material. You cannot pull them out of a closet. You cannot kill the laws the logic, nor can you cook them, swing them around, pat them on the back, etc. It is because they are immaterial, and yet we cannot learn truth without them. Deduction is necessary for all kinds of human knowledge. So once again, Mr. Nye, how can you account for the immaterial laws of logic when you insist that all reality is made of matter? Even your arguments presented in the debate still require immaterial logical thought. So your actions deny what you state with your mouth.

Examples like this could go on for hours. Whenever Nye made a moral argument (he made many), Ham should have asked him to account for the existence of morality on an atheistic evolutionary worldview. In that worldview, might makes right. Yet, Nye was convinced that certain things were absolutely wrong. If you watch the debate with a careful eye and attentive ear, you will see all of the moral absolutes that Nye appealed to. Thus, if he said with his mouth that morals are relative, his actions show otherwise. Ken Ham knows all of these points that I am making. This is why I say it was unfortunate that he did not use them. He could have driven them home. Then Nye would have to justify his evidence on his presuppositions of randomness. This would have been impossible for him to do.

Now I move to the ugly. During the back and forth part of the debate, I personally feel like Ham did not answer the direct questions leveled against creationism. Furthermore, that was a perfect time to debunk Nye’s century old unoriginal evidences. These all have easy explanations, but they were ignored, or they at least seemed to be ignored. Furthermore, he allowed Nye to repeat major fallacies again and again. In fact, Nye is a master of the fallacies of Poisoning the Well and Slippery Slope. Ham also allowed Nye to make moral statements, and yet he did not press Nye to justify them. He pretty much allowed Nye to frame this entire argument into a picture that made Christianity look ridiculous. I truly wish Ham would have answered Nye’s questions, debunked his “evidences,” and provided the examples of fossils that are found swimming upstream. I also wish he would have exposed Nye’s fallacies. So these are the areas that I was most disappointed. Once again, I love Ken Ham and I am thankful for what he was allowed to publicly present.

Of course, this would not be complete if I did not evaluate Bill Nye as well. I must say, I enjoyed listening to most of what he had to say. There is a reason he was a successful host of a TV program in the 1990s. He is pleasant in his demeanor and he appreciates rationality. I find myself akin to him on such matters. Nye also presented evidence, which is something that is expected in debates. I agree with Ken Ham’s view on the use of evidence, but after he proved the presuppositional nature of evidence interpretation, he should have offered some evidential arguments. Nye at least did offer some arguments. This left the impression that evolutionists have evidence and creationists do not.  

However, Nye demonstrated a great amount of ignorance on anything outside of science. For example, Nye seemed flabbergasted at the notion that Noah could have built such a large ship. Nye cited his ancestors who failed to construct such a ship around the year 1900. Therefore, Nye concluded that Noah could not have built the Ark. All this argument proves is that Nye’s ancestors were not as great of ship builders as he thinks. He seems unaware that in the First Century, Roman Emperor Caligula had a giant barge ship constructed that was 361 feet long and six decks high. The sunken vessel was discovered in the 20th Century. That ship is almost as large as the Ark would have been. Just under 600 years ago, the great Chinese sea voyager Zheng He sailed a large fleet all over the Pacific Ocean, and his treasure ships were 416 feet long. So apparently, Nye’s grandparents in 1900 were not as skilled at making large ships as the Chinese were in the 1400s and the Romans in the First Century. Nye’s historical ignorance is inexcusable.

Another problem from Nye is that he kept insisting on creationism as being an interpretation of a 3,000 year old document that has been translated into modern English. His goal with this was to cast doubt on the fact that we can know what the biblical text actually says. Well, this demonstrates an utter lack of knowledge about ancient language, textual criticism, manuscript evidence, syntactical studies, and the science of interpretation (hermeneutics). Ancient Hebrew is so well known and studied that there are not many words that we are uncertain of their meaning. It is possible for a seminarian to take numerous Hebrew advanced exegesis courses and to then be able to understand quite clearly what Genesis 1-11 means in Hebrew. The grammatical rules and laws of the language are well known and documented, and so it is not difficult to understand what the ancient text means. We can achieve such an understanding with a great degree of certainty.

Had Nye learned Hebrew, he would know this. He would know that scholars understand the differences between the Hebrew of Moses and the Hebrew of Malachi. After all 1,000 years separate the two works. My point is simple. Scholars know the difference between vocabulary usage and syntax within this one language at different times in its history. With that being said, it is easily possible to read the Hebrew and translate it into English in a manner to where the Hebrew meaning is clearly conveyed. Therefore, Nye showed great ignorance when he argued that creationism is Ken Ham’s personal interpretation of a 3,000 year old text translated into American English. The Hebrew has specific grammatical rules that dictate exactly how any given text (such as Genesis 1) is supposed to be interpreted. A literal Hebrew reading of Genesis 1 that takes into account the syntax (not just vocabulary studies) only allows for a sequential chronological understanding of the text.

Related to this, Nye accused Ham of arbitrarily interpreting some parts of the Bible as literal and other parts as figurative. This demonstrates an ignorance of literary genre. The Bible has narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, prophecy, epistle, and apocalyptic literary genres, and each has its own agreed upon rules of interpretation. It is just like American poetry. When a young man writes his girlfriend a love letter and says that his love for her caused the earth to spin, everyone understands he is not to be taken literally. But when that same young man writes a research paper on World War II for his college history class, then everyone knows his words are to be taken literally at face value. Well, Genesis is historical narrative, and thus what it says is meant to be taken at face value. It is not a matter where any given person’s relativistic interpretation is equally valid.

In conclusion, I deeply wish that Ham would have addressed these points. Atheists all over the world are probably sneering at the fact that these ridiculous arguments made by Nye went unanswered. I love the fact that Ken Ham admitted his presuppositions upfront. That made him the only honest man in the debate. However, since he did not adequately show that Bill Nye was not admitting his presuppositions, it made Ken Ham look like a man appealing to faith as opposed to Nye who looked like a man appealing to reason. In reality, both men appealed to faith. That faith is what directs both men’s reasoning. The sooner Christians can get the evolutionists to see this, the better off we will be.

Please pray that God use the debate for His glory.

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