Now That the Smoke Has Cleared: A Summary of Christian Responses to the Nye/Ham Debate

It’s now been two weeks since the big debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. Everyone who watched has an opinion about who won and why. And most all of them, it seems, have blogged about it. Everyone who didn’t watch the debate also has an opinion about who won and why, and a lot of them have blogged about it too. What I’d like to do in this post is to classify the self-affirmingly Christian responses into four categories in such a way as to explain the differences of apologetic methodology at play. Here goes:

  1. Some hoped that Ken Ham would listen to the science guy as an expert in his field, abandon his young earth position as scientifically untenable, and adjust his hermeneutic for the sake of preserving the goodwill of the community of naturalistic, God-disinterested, deistic science. Those who hoped for this to happen were frustrated with Ham, even angry, and were very swift to distance themselves from and even to ridicule Ham as an intellectual embarrassment.
  2. Others (a majority of grass-roots young-earth creationists, I’d hazard, though I have no way of proving this) hoped that Ken Ham would out-science the science guy in point-counterpoint fashion, answering Nye’s every objection with plausible young-earth explanations. Those who held out this hope came away bruised and disappointed. Ham did some of this, but what little he did do was spotty and not very compelling. Ham had some chances to do more of this than he did, and one might argue reasonably that he missed a good opportunity here—after all, the apologist is supposed to spend at least some time answering the fool according to his folly to keep the fool from becoming smug (Prov 26:5). Clearly, Nye’s confidence (some would call it arrogance) never abated at any point during the exchange. But Ham made it fairly clear from the outset that he didn’t want the debate to unfold in point-counterpoint fashion. He wanted to take the debate to the level of worldviews, offering a worldview other than and superior to Nye’s, lest the faithful become like the fool himself (Prov 26:4).
  3. One might expect, then, that young-earth creationists in the presuppositionalist community would have been most favorable to Ham’s performance. In one sense they were—they were agreeable to his intention to defend the biblical account of creation presuppositionally. Unfortunately, those most favorable to Ham’s method were fairly uniform in kindly suggesting that Ham could have done a better job. To be fair, some blame for this falls on the governing question and format of the debate, which favored a point-counterpoint exchange on the fool’s home turf. Still, Ham missed several golden opportunities to identify Nye’s unargued assumptions (natural laws, laws of logic, etc.), to point out glaring inconsistencies in Nye’s own worldview (his non-uniformitarian explosion of matter out of non-matter and, later, of life from non-life), and to expose Nye’s surprising (but not totally unexpected) nod to Christian ethics as a pragmatic and utilitarian check on his otherwise lawless system.
  4. A final group enthusiastically declared Ham the winner, and would have done so no matter what happened during the debate. They cheered for him despite a certain perplexity that Ham acceded to the debate at all. And that is because for this group of believers, science and religion are antithetical: we accept the Bible even though doing so is totally irrational. In a provincial sense, this response is laudable: I accept the Bible even when I can’t harmonize it with some intricacies raised by the scientific community. Scripture is, after all, the norma normans non normata and the queen of the sciences, and thus has full warrant to “norm” scientific conclusions that are at odds with its own truth claims. But this response takes on an entirely new and dangerous countenance when it takes the form, “We should all accept the Bible even though it is irrational to do so.” The Bible is eminently rational (or to use Nye’s term, eminently “reasonable”). The standard of Christian reason, however, is a theistic one, and not Nye’s atheistic one. Or, to say it another way, Nye’s unstated supposition that “science is reasonable and religion is not” is untrue; instead, the Christian religion informs science such that both science and religion are together manifestly reasonable. This fourth group may hold the right view, but the fact that they don’t know why and how they are right is far from praiseworthy.

It probably comes as little surprise that I find myself in greatest agreement with view #3. To that end I recommend the reviews here, here, and here. I commend them to you with the hope that God will grant more opportunities to successfully defend the Christian worldview both privately and in the public square.

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One thought on “Now That the Smoke Has Cleared: A Summary of Christian Responses to the Nye/Ham Debate

  1. Steve Drake says:

    Apologetic methodology. I like the emphasis. Thanks for posting the 3 very good links. As Mohler, Phillips, and DeMar point out, we need more emphasis on the underlying philosophy that determine the secularist’s worldview. This worldview of naturalism has philosophical assumptions that cannot cohere into a whole. Utterly bereft of supporting axioms that logically comport into a viable system of belief (or one that doesn’t ‘borrow’ or ‘steal’ intellectual capital from another), the Christian apologist must learn how and why this is so and lovingly challenge unbelief at every opportunity our gracious Lord gives us.