A Commentary on the Bill Nye, Ken Ham Televised Debate of Monday Evening February 4th 2014

Reprinted from Reports of the National Center for Science Education Vol 34, No 2 (2014)

By John W. Patterson
Emeritus, Iowa State University
April 2014

On Monday February 4th two well-known figures debated the question, ”Is young earth biblical creationism scientifically viable in today’s world?”

Ken Ham repeatedly insisted that it is; that the universe as we know it was created by God in six 24-hour days some six thousand or so years ago. Ham presides over the AIG ministry (Answers In Genesis—the debate sponsor) and over the for-profit Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, where the debate took place.

Bill Nye, widely known TV’s “Science Guy,” presented the “unpopular” view that Mr. Ham’s biblical creationism is not scientifically viable at all. (I say “unpopular,” because creationists in the audience likely far out-numbered Nye’s supporters.) To the scientifically literate, however, Nye clearly won the debate by patiently outlining many reasons why the overwhelming majority of competent scientists today Ham’s faith-based creationism as scientific nonsense. So successful was Nye, in fact, that Pat Robertson, the famous TV Evangelist--whose presidential campaign back in the 1980s was heavily supported by young earth creationists—said the following in a clip aired after the debate by Lawrence O’Donnell on his MNBC program, The Last Word:

“. . . to say that it all came about in 6000 years is just nonsense. . .
I think it’s time we’d come off of that stuff and say, this isn’t possible. . .”

Having followed creationist debates since the late 1970s—and debated in six or more myself—my assessment of the debate will differ from those who, to my astonishment, seem completely unaware that creationism is still being taught as science in many of America’s public schools.

First and foremost, Mr. Ham’s honest candor sets him markedly apart from any of the creationist debaters I have listened to or debated in the past. Previously, creationist debaters would insist that neither debater should make any reference whatever to religion or the bible. With this precondition in place, they then proceeded to deliver unsettling barrages of thinly veiled apologetics, polemics and code phrases that, to the delight of creationists in the audience, provided indisputable support for such nonsense and The Genesis Flood (TGF) interpretation of the geological column and an age of the universe the order of 6,000 to 10,000 years. The presentations were invariably couched in scientific-sounding words and phrases, often incorrectly applied, then supplemented with numerous out--of-context quotes deliberately fashioned to misrepresent the scientific authorities being quoted. With all this in place, the entire community of anti-creation scientists would be ridiculed as a group. (Three of the more notorious creationist debaters, in my view, were the late Henry M. Morris and Duane T. Gish of the ICR (Institute for Creation Science) and the still-active Walter T. Brown, who is Director of his own CSC (Center for Scientific Creation—now headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona). All this explains why anti-creationist groups such as the NCSE (National Center for Science Education) and especially academic scientists consider such debates to be counter-productive at best. But again, this debate was completely different and I for one applaud Ken Ham for being the first creation science debater in my experience to be honest about the biblical basis for all young earth creationism. Also he did not rely on the misquoting of renowned scientists, preferring instead to honestly quote credentialed creation scientists.

However truthfulness has its price. Ken Han’s candor spared Nye the burden of having to refute the kinds of obfuscations and distortions that debaters like Morris, Gish, Brown and others typically have used in the effort to direct attention away from the biblical basis for creationism. Because of this, some will say that Mr. Nye should have done much better than he actually did. I think Nye deserves the benefit of the doubt here; in my opinion he chose to be much more gentlemanly than a lesser man would have been under the circumstances.

That said, I think the February 4th debate will unleash unprecedented divisiveness within the creationist movement. Their traditional ministries such as the ICR, CSC and the less visible CRS (Creation Research Society, now also headquartered somewhere in Arizona) will condemn Ham’s candor as a harmful blunder. Why? Because their less candid polemical debate strategy had been so successful for so long. Now there will be far less public confusion about the distinctions between evidence-based legitimate science and the faith-based biblical varieties so successfully propounded by debaters from the ICR, CRS and CSC, among others. In this connection, the more recent ID (Intelligent Design) variety of creationism stirred consierable dissention when it abandoned the young earth timeline in favor of modern science’s deep time perspective. But, like the young earth ministries whom they left behind, the proponents of ID also strive mightily to disguise the theological-apologetical nature of their Seattle-based Discovery Institute. But Ham’s approach lays so bare what’s really behind all creationism, I suspect a particularly vicious kind of internecine dissention will result from widely promoted TV debate streamed from Petersburg, Kentucky on 2/4/14.

The one thing I wish Nye had not left out, has to do with the why modern science so completely ignores God and supernaturalism in general when striving to explain natural phenomena. In science, interpretations and explanations are deemed credible according to their predictive capacity and how much mystery and fearful bewilderment they eliminate. Nye spoke to the predictive poverty of creationism, but failed to point out that explanations involving supernaturalism (and God especially) necessarily increase the amount of unfathomable mystery and bewilderment beyond anything that ordinary nature can entail. In science, supernatural explanations are considered worse than none at all for two reasons: First they tend to stifle meaningful inquiry by any who accept such fruitless explanations. Second and more important, religious explanations do the opposite of what genuine ones are intended to do. For creationists a felt need for salvation the fearsome mysteries of this world is a good thing. Modern science, by contrast, seeks the opposite. Science seeks to enhance the human understanding and control of nature, not only by eliminating as much mystery and fear as possible, but also by opening new vistas to explore and devising new methods for exploring them. Frequently scientific endeavors lead to unexpected new understandings of fascinating new phenomena and in many cases to a certain betterment of the human condition.

Article Comments

Submitted by Richard Faussette on Mon, 05/18/2020 - 19:20


"The one thing I wish Nye had not left out, has to do with why modern science so completely ignores God and supernaturalism in general when striving to explain natural phenomena. In science, interpretations and explanations are deemed credible according to their predictive capacity and how much mystery and fearful bewilderment they eliminate."

My question to you Professor Patterson is why would we leave it to scientists to determine correct Biblical exegesis? Why assume Genesis, for example, does not contain any science, just because scientists say so? There is science in the fall of Adam and Eve, which records the transition from instinct to learned behavior, a very simple deduction to make when you consider that Jesus "wrote the Law on his heart." (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The scientific way of saying "write the law on your heart" is to "make your learned behavior intuitive." Scientists cannot make that connection because they don't understand what it is "to write the Law on your heart." But you know, and now you know how to return from the Fall. Abraham abandons infanticide and becomes a pronatalist. Jacob adopts assortative mating for intelligence when he prefers Rachel over "dull-eyed" Leah. As proof that Jacob practices eugenics (not dygenics) the Genesis author depicts Rachel's son Joseph rising from the bottom of a well to become counselor to the pharaoh while all of "dull-eyed" Leah's sons make bad choices (cataloged in Jacob's blesses and curses in chapter 49).
J.D. Crossan spoke of a life tradition and a death tradition in the Birth of Christianity. The kingdom of God on earth was the life tradition and the one in heaven for the resurrected body was the death tradition. Has the life tradition and its practices and benefits been plumbed to its depths? Is the death tradition allegorical? Is its message hidden as priestly allegories are hidden in Genesis? There is a lot of work for Biblical Studies to tackle. Does the ancient nature and persistence of priestly communities indicate the relevance of the Torah? God promises life and these orthodox Jewish communities have had life for thousands of years. Isn't the secret to everlasting life the domain of Biblical studies?
Don't be fooled by scientists. They do not have billions of followers to lead to eternal life, they are not bound to lead people to the kingdom of God be it in heaven or on earth, it is not their domain, so they don't bother plumbing the depths of the allegories. They have not plumbed the depths of religion and so their critique is necessarily shallow and in their eyes, conclusive, but their scope is narrow. It is the job of Biblical Studies to determine religion's affect on Darwinian survival, an aspect of Crossan's life tradition.

" You shall observe my institutions and my laws: the man who keeps them shall have life through them. I am the Lord." Lev.:18, 1-5
Stop and consider the italicized words above, perhaps for the first time:
“The man who keeps them shall have life through them.” God is speaking of the Levitical prohibitions. Lev 18:19-24
He will have life for himself and his descendants, each life a link in a chain of endless life. Strictly observing the sexual prohibitions of Leviticus in a barbaric tribal environment ensured your survival, and not simply your innocence. The prohibitions were a vital hedge against total conquest and extinction. Attacking an enemy tribe’s reproductive capacity was a strategy of ancient warfare. If you were a nomad, you scattered your tribe’s communities so they wouldn’t compete with one another and couldn’t all be killed in one fell swoop (see Genesis 13:1-12), and you kept your birth rates high to replace those of you who were murdered, castrated, and enslaved (see Exodus 1:7-8)."

That is a sample of Darwinian exegesis. It is simple and straightforward. I have a page on academia.edu. I am followed by many theologians,
faculty, emeritus, and anthropologists from all over the world. One of my papers on Sodom and Gomorrah is recommended by a philologist alumna of the Sorbonne in Paris.
I tell you, Biblical Studies will grow as soon as you apply some basic Darwinian exegesis and expand your scope to the earlier religions that left their legacy in yours. Only in that context will you come to appreciate what you have and lead your billions of followers to salvation. Get the scientists out of your way, expand your scope and the students will come to you. I am home schooled and do not have half the mental capacity of the least of you. Look what I have done with a Darwinian perspective. In fact, Darwin led me to the greatest discovery I will ever make. He was a lapsed seminarian who abandoned God when his daughter died, but in On the Origin of Species, first chapter Variation under Domestication, in the section Principles of Selection Anciently Followed and their Effects, he writes:
“From passages in Genesis, it is clear that the colour of domestic animals was at that early period attended to.”
It was Darwin himself who left us the key to Darwinian exegesis of the Torah.
How can we go wrong?

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