According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ken Ham & Bill Nye's Arguments between Science and Religion

Bill Nye v. Ken Ham: giving credibility to nonsense
(or, walking into an apologetic war machine)

Select Comments from the
Biologos Community


Those who follow the activities of BioLogos—including seekers, scholars, scientists, and pastors—probably won’t be surprised that we haven’t been too optimistic about the potential consequences of yesterday’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. As scientists and science aficionados, we’ve been concerned that the rhetoric employed by Ham would seem to undercut the validity of evolutionary theory for those without a strong grasp on the body of evidence supporting it. As Christians, we’ve worried that our faith will be presented to the world as a tree with only one branch, rather than a rich community of believers with diverse views on origins and God’s ongoing relationship to creation.

But perhaps even more distressingly, we’ve anticipated that one of the lasting effects of this debate will be to further alienate Christianity from science in the public consciousness. As BioLogos president Deb Haarsma wrote recently, constant struggle, argumentation, and debate about worldviews is not the only way to view the relationship between science and faith!

So who won? How did it go?

Of course, we at BioLogos agreed with both debaters at various times throughout the debate and were pleased to note an atmosphere of (mostly) civility and courtesy between both parties. It’s impossible to encapsulate two and a half hours of intense conversation in a single blog post—and only time will tell what effect this event will have on the public conversation on creation and evolution. We anticipate much commentary in news and blog outlets in the coming days regarding who “won” the debate and what was said by both debaters.

Since we are more concerned with how this event will affect the acceptance of evolution in the evangelical community and the accurate representation of what a Bible-believing Christian looks like to the general public, our response to the debate is not a blow-by-blow of the arguments made but rather a series of “big picture” reflections by BioLogos scholars.

From John Walton, BioLogos advisor:

In general I appreciated the cordial and respectful tone that both debaters evidenced. Most of the debate was about scientific evidence, which I am not the one to address. The only comment that I want to make in that regard is that it was evident that Ken Ham believed that all evolutionists were naturalists—an identification that those associated with BioLogos would strongly contest.

But both speakers also showed assumptions about the Bible that provide opportunity for analysis. Bill Nye repeatedly returned to the idea that the Bible was a book translated over and over again over thousands of years. In his opinion this results in a product that could be no more trusted than the end result in the game of telephone. In this opinion he shows his lack of clear understanding of the whole process of the transmission of texts and the textual basis for today’s translations. The point he should have been making is that any translation is an interpretation. That is the point on which to contest Ken Ham’s “natural” readings of Scripture. We cannot base the details of our interpretations on translated (and therefore interpreted) text. We have to interact with a Hebrew text, not an English one. Nye also tried to drive a wedge between Old Testament and New Testament—a non-productive direction. The point he was trying to get at, but never fully exploited was how dependent Ham’s position was on interpretation.

I commend Ken Ham’s frequent assertion of the gospel message. His testimony to his faith was admirable and of course, I agree with it. I also share his beliefs about the nature of the Bible, but I do not share his interpretation of the Bible on numerous key points. From the opening remarks Ham proclaimed that his position was based on the biblical account of origins. But he is intent on reading that account as if it were addressing science (he truly believes it is). I counter by saying that we cannot have a confident understanding of what the Bible claims until we read it as an ancient document. I believe as he does that the Bible was given by God, but it was given through human instruments into an ancient culture and language. We can only encounter the Bible’s claims by taking account of that context.

One place where this distinction was obvious was that Ham tried to make the statement in Genesis that God created each animal “after its kind” as a technical statement that matched our modern scientific categories. We cannot assume that the same categories were used in the ancient world as are used today (genus, family, species, etc.). Such anachronism does not take the Bible seriously as what it “naturally” says. In the Bible this only means that when a grain of wheat drops, a grain of wheat grows (not a flower); when a horse gives birth, it gives birth to a horse, not a coyote.

The fact is that Ken Ham rejects scientific findings because he believes the Bible offers claims that contradict science. He believes that he can add up the genealogies to arrive at the need for a young earth. He never stops to ask whether it is “natural” to read ancient genealogies in that way. In the ancient world genealogies serve a very different function than they do today, and numbers may well have rhetorical rather than strictly numerical value. He believes that there could be no death before the fall because he has interpreted the word “good” as if it meant “perfect.” That is not what the Hebrew term means. Furthermore, if there was no death before the fall, people would have little use for a tree of life. What is a “natural” interpretation—our sense of what it means or the sense that an ancient reader would have had? Ham actually made the statement that we have to read the Bible “according to the type of literature” that it is. Yet it was clear that he has done no research on ancient genres and how parts of the Bible should be identified by the standards of ancient genres (after all, our genre categories are bound to carry some anachronism and therefore cannot be applied directly). Reading the Bible “naturally” cannot be approached as casually as Ham suggests.

When Ham was asked what it would take to change his mind, he was lost for words because he said that he could never stop believing in the truth of the Bible. I would echo that sentiment, but it never seemed to occur to him that there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis, or maybe even ones that could garner stronger support. He stated that no one can prove the age of the earth, but he believes that the Bible tells us the age of the earth. Nevertheless, it is only his highly debatable interpretation of the Bible that tells him the age of the earth. What if the Bible makes no such claim? There are biblical scholars who take the Bible every bit as seriously as he does, who disagree that the Bible makes a claim about the age of the earth.

In the end, then, while Ham kept challenging Nye about whether he was there to see this history that he claimed, Nye should have been challenging Ham about what makes him so certain that the Bible is making the claims that he thinks it is. What appears to Ham as a “natural” reading, is extremely debatable if one attempts to read the text of Genesis as the (God-inspired) ancient document that it is.

From Dennis Venema, Fellow of Biology:

Dennis Venema photoI was surprised that Nye did not delve into genetics– I was hoping for a good discussion of genomic comparisons between humans and other species, for example. Modern comparative genomics is one very strong line of evidence for evolution in general, and human evolution in particular – and one that I have written about extensively on the BioLogos Forum. So, from my perspective it would have been nice to see Nye press Ham with this evidence. For example, why do humans, as placental mammals, have the defective, fragmentary remains of gene for making egg yolk in our genome exactly where one would predict it to be based on examining the genomes of egg-laying organisms? Why is it that we share many mutations in this defective gene with other placental mammals, to say nothing of the many other defective genes with the same pattern of shared mutations? Did the exact same mutations happen over and over again in many distinct species (species that even Ham would agree are separate “kinds”) or did those mutations happen once and then were inherited by species that later went their separate ways? This line of evidence could have been brought to bear to show how compelling the case for human evolution is when looking at our genome and further highlight, as Nye did, that evolutionary biology is a predictive science – a theory in the scientific sense. This would have also shown that Ham’s position – that of independently created “kinds” of organisms – has no support at all from a comparative genomics perspective. As such, it’s not surprising that Ham didn’t bring it up, but I expected Nye to do so, and to argue it forcefully.

The only discussion of genetics was a brief mention of the work of Richard Lenski, a microbiologist who has been performing a decades-long experiment on the evolution of bacteria (E. coli) in his laboratory. One key result of the Lenski experiment was to catch an evolutionary innovation “in the act” and then tease out the many genetic changes that were required for it. Specifically, Lenski and his colleagues documented the basis for the bacteria to acquire a new function – the ability to utilize the compound citrate as a carbon source in the presence of oxygen. The genetic details of how this new function arose are complex and fascinating, and certainly not the simple case, as Ken Ham claimed, that “nothing new” had arisen and that it was merely the case that “a gene that was previously present was suddenly switched on”. Indeed, this is a well-documented case of a new function, with new genetic information, arising through evolutionary mechanisms – and one that I have written about extensively for those interested in this fascinating story.

Despite these particulars, overall I had the general feeling what is really needed for the conversation on evolution among brothers and sisters in Christ is twofold. First and foremost, evangelicals need a deeper understanding of the Bible, especially the Ancient Near Eastern context and setting of the original audience of Genesis (for which I am glad for the work of others with expertise in that area, such as my colleague John Walton). Secondly, evangelicals need a deeper understanding of how science works in general, and specifically how the lines of evidence for evolution converge on a robust picture of how God used this means to bring about biodiversity on earth. While I am of little help with the first point, the second is the goal of the Evolution Basics series I have been writing for the last year. This series is intended to bring the average layperson “up to speed” on evolution – a resource that I hope will be useful for many who watched the debate and came away with questions.

From Deb Haarsma, President of BioLogos:

Deb Haarsma photoWhile the debate pitted two extreme positions against one another, I was glad to hear references to other options. Bill Nye repeatedly pointed out that many religious people, including Christians, accept the evidence for evolution and the age of the earth. Nye even mentioned our founder, Francis Collins! Ken Ham pointed out that the scientific method grew out of the Christian context of medieval Europe and that the faith is in harmony with the process of science. He even shared a love of technology with Nye! But several times we here at the office groaned in frustration, like when Ken Ham made false scientific arguments or Bill Nye turned to science to answer questions of meaning and purpose. When Ken Ham was asked something like “If science were to show conclusively that the earth was older than 10,000 years, would you still believe in the historical Jesus?” I wished he would have simply said “yes.” Our belief in the Bible and Jesus is more fundamental than our views on science. When Bill Nye referred to religion as a source of social connection and comfort for millions, I wished that he had a deeper understanding of what Christianity is all about. Our faith is much more than a social club; it’s about absolute truth and salvation from sin through Jesus Christ. The highlight of the night for me? Seeing people discover the resources at BioLogos from our tweets during the debate.

* * * * * * * *

The debate was available to view online via live stream. The full debate can be seen below in HD online for free in the Youtube video below for a period of time. It can also be viewed on

The Ham vs Nye live debate tickets for the 900-seater hall sold out within two days of tickets going on sale. Many churches and schools have organized to watch the debate live.

* * * * * * * *

The Best Quotes of Bill Nye’s Evolution
vs. Ham's Creationism Debate

Feb 5, 2014

I am an Evangelical Christian. I believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. I believe that Jesus is God in the flesh who died for the sins of the world and rose again bodily on the third day. And yet, according to Ken Ham in his historic debate with Bill Nye tonight at the Creation Museum, because of my belief in Evolution, I cannot be who I am. I cannot be both a follower of Jesus Christ and someone who believes in the evidence presented by the vast majority of scientists worldwide. Or at least, it is a very unlikely fit. Even though I insist on a theistic evolution model that includes God as the beginning point, the uncaused cause of the universe. Even though I affirm all of the core doctrines of the Christian faith and even though I have had an undeniable experience with Jesus Christ, according to Ken Ham, it must be difficult for me to be a Christian. I am deceived and adhering to one of the greatest Satanic lies ever created. All because I believe what the majority of people on planet earth do — that our beautiful planet is millions of years old and that all of life has common origins and undergoes a process of evolution that helps us to adapt, progress, and survive. Makes sense…

Those of us in the Evangelical world understand that Ken Ham represents a very small minority of Christians worldwide. The amount of Christ followers that believe in his version of creationism is waning and the reality seems to be that most millennial Christians are discovering balance between scientific fact and the experience of our faith. These are very exciting times. But tonight, thousands upon thousands tuned in to watch Ken Ham speak for “Christianity” or at least “Evangelical Christianity”, both of which I identify with. Thousands upon thousands were exposed to a man who can barely be called a scientist let alone a theologian who represented the perspective of Christianity against Bill Nye’s scientific agnosticism.

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