[Note: This article is also available on the Huffington Post.]
It’s unlikely anybody’s mind was changed by the creation debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.
Ham behaved pretty much as expected, largely skirting the scientific argument and framing the debate as one of competing worldviews. He attacked evolutionary theories from 1836, rather than address the current science head on. His diversionary tactics were probably enough to keep the largely sympathetic crowd at the Creation Museum from getting too restless.
For his part, Bill Nye picked away at the logic of young-earth creationism, using the very thing Ham accused evolutionary theory of lacking: observational science. Among other things, Nye highlighted a number of famous trees whose age puts them on the earth long before the cataclysmic flood in Ken Ham’s chronology.
It seemed to me the debate went pretty badly for Ham, especially considering that it took place on his home turf. But then again, I have no problem believing that God is the “ultimate authority,” as Ham puts it, AND that evolution was the means by which God brought the universe into being.
To me, the “age of the earth” debate is fairly straightforward. We know the speed at which light travels. We can calculate the distance between us and other galaxies, including one that’s a whopping 60 million light years away. Which means the image of this galaxy captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 took 60 million years to get here.
Unless you want to argue that God designed the universe to look older than it really is — that is, that God wove dishonesty and deceit into the very fabric of his creation — then it seems to me that young-earth creationism has a big problem on its hands.
The question of human origins is, admittedly, a bit more complex for Christians. But the religious implications of us descending from a bunch of apes are not insurmountable, as Peter Enns demonstrates in his book, The Evolution of Adam. Besides, as Bill Nye pointed out a couple of times during the debate, there are billions of devoutly religious people on this planet who don’t insist on a young earth or a particular view of the origins of the universe.
But what struck me more than anything about the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye was the very different posture each took toward the pursuit of knowledge and the virtue of curiosity.
More than once, Bill Nye addressed the audience directly, urging them to get out there and explore the universe for themselves. “Let’s keep looking,” he said. “Let’s keep searching.”
If Ken Ham had a recurring catchphrase during the debate, it was, “There’s a book about that, and it already has the answers.”
(For the record, the Bible is not a book about science.)
At one point, Ham and Nye were asked if there was anything that could ever change their minds. Ham’s answer was, in effect, no. Bill Nye, on the other hand, said he needed just one piece of evidence.
One of these two men was there to nurture curiosity. The other was there to stifle it.
One of these two men demonstrated a desire to keep on learning, to be shaped, challenged, and inspired by new discoveries. The other took a more defensive posture, treating scientific exploration with suspicion, hostility, even contempt.
I know which of these two men I want my daughter to emulate — if not with regard to faith, then with regard to intellectual inquiry. I want her to cultivate an insatiable hunger for knowledge, an unrelenting curiosity that propels her out into the world, an inner voice that says, “Come on! There’s more to discover.”
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to attend a Christian college that had made peace with the science of evolution. I remember what our president used to say: “We’ll turn over every rock in search of truth, because we’re confident that nothing’s going to jump out from underneath and eat God. And if something does, we should worship that instead.”
That’s a journey Ken Ham doesn’t want us to go on.
And that’s why Bill Nye won the creation debate. Even though he’s agnostic, it seems to me that he is closer to the creative, fearless, adventurous heart of God than Ken Ham has ever been.