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Ham on Nye: Not my Favorite Philosophical Sandwich

Bowtie science guyI must confess, I did not watch the recent televised and much talked about creation debate between Answers in Genesis founder, Ken Ham and, local TV legend, Bill Nye the science guy…aside from a few clips here and there. I did, however, read a good deal about it from both secular and Christian sources.

It amused me that both sources were in agreement that Ken Ham soundly defeated Bill Nye, if not on Scientific grounds, then according to the principles of debate. Nye came into this debate underestimating the knowledge and skill of his opponent and did not know Ken Ham’s position well enough to properly exploit its weaknesses.

This debate was, however, a head on collision with two men who each suffer the same fundamental problem. Each thinks that his position is the ONLY possible reading of the evidence, without recognizing their philosophical starting points.

I have nothing personal against either player in this drama. I grew up on Ken Ham videos and have always appreciated his creative ability to scientifically challenge the status quo selectivity and interpretations of collected evidence. Just so, I have always loved Nye’s way of teaching science to children and have kicked around the idea of using similar techniques for teaching Scripture and theology… Now, If I could only find the right bow tie.

Bill Nye, for his part, however, seems to think that “scientific facts” speak for themselves and that the only reasonable conclusion is that modern scientific claims are true. The earth is billions of years old and human life originated from a spontaneously existent cell that evolved into every known form of life over part of this time. He does not see himself as an individual who is committed a priori (a fancy word meaning he made his mind up before looking at the evidence) to philosophical materialism (i.e. There is no God… only stuff.), interpreting every piece of evidence (which never speaks for itself, by the way) through this lens.

Ken Ham, for his part, seems to think that Genesis creation accounts speak for themselves and that the only reasonable conclusion is that fundamentalist claims are true. The biblical creation story tells us that the earth is only about 6,000 years old and was created in 6 literal days. He does not see himself as an individual who is committed a priori to material ontology in his reading of a text whose content is among the oldest known stories in human societies, interpreting its evidence (which also does not speak for itself) though this lens alone. He simply will not entertain the notion that the ancient author could have thought about creation through any other mental lens than his own. He seems to have made, not Christ, and not Scripture in general, the center of his theology, but has, rather, made a strict literal 6 day interpretation of Genesis 1-2 the center of his theology… his only lens for seeing the world.

Here lies the problem. The ancient writers did not share either Bill Nye’s or Ken Ham’s worldview—they are both material ontologists. They both conceive of creation as an issue of material origins. They ask, where did all the stuff come from? How old is it? What was the process by which all this stuff became better stuff. A worthy investigation… but not the interest of the biblical authors.

The ancient writers were NOT material onologists… they were functional ontologists. Their interests in creation are not so much about when and how stuff was fashioned, as about who created all that is… what he created… why he created it. They want to disclose how he created it to function, and how can they function best within it.

Creation stories are, thus, a form of wisdom literature. Understanding the means by which the world that the biblical writers inhabit came about, the divine character and divine designs behind it, fashions the foundations of their thinking about life under the sun. We could discuss many things about these stories in detail, like the power and purpose of the imagery used to tell them, or how Genesis 1-11 forms a single theological creation unit, but, today, I merely want to properly lay that first brick in a whole course of bricks, setting the line upon which the rest of the discussion of Genesis and human origins should follow.

Science has its arena of expertise, subject as it is to a priori philosophical starting points and limited as it is to human observation and speculation based on observation. Scripture may pose questions for us to investigate scientifically, and I applaud those who, like Ken Ham, take up this challenge, but issues of science need to be debated based on those processes alone. Scientists and Scientific methods are not some kind of universal almanac for the meaning of life.

As far as the ancient text is concerned, however, any interpretive theory that demands that the ancient writer follow modern scientific modes of thought, that demands that the ancient writer be a material ontologist in his telling of creation is a brick laid off course. The Gap theory, the Day Age theory, and a super strict literal 6 day creation theory all demand that the Genesis author(s) speak according to our modern scientific mode of concern.

I reject them all without buying into Bill Nye’s worldview.

3 thoughts on “Ham on Nye: Not my Favorite Philosophical Sandwich

  1. John Carnes says:

    Hey Andrew,
    Thanks for your great comments. I really hope that you will continue this theme and explore the creation topic a bit. My biggest thought about the topic that however God created the universe does nothing to stop the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross. It has nothing to do with my salvation. So whether or not he created in 6 days or a millenium, I can place my trust in Christ. 🙂
    Thanks again brother!
    John

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