Last night was the much anticipated debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and the head of the “Creation Museum” Ken Ham. I watched the debate, chatted and tweeted about it as it was underway. Bill Nye can’t be anything but nice and even Ken Ham seems like a friendly well meaning individual. However, nice guys or not — facts are facts. And Ken Ham’s world view us low on facts and science and extremely high on a particular brand of Evangelical Christian theology.
Most of Ham’s points had little to do with science. He was clearly out to win souls for Jesus, not debate the finer points of the Biblical creation stories. And therein lies one of the problems. If you are not willing to honestly engage with the texts, the world views of those who wrote the texts, and be honest enough to admit that reading a bad English translation of a 3000 year text may not be an accurate representation of what the creation stories actually mean, then why should we take your arguments seriously?
Bill Nye did a fairly good job. I liked the way he spent most of his time asking questions (as opposed to giving answers). It was a good approach but he was in way flawless either. However, I think his goal was to try and get people to think for themselves. His greatest point was to ask why it is we should take Ken Ham’s view of an English Bible as THE correct one? With that said, I do wish Nye had been a bit more knowledgeable about the Bible itself. I wanted Ken Ham to be called out on a number of things — like why it is he completely ignores three or four different creation stories (all found in the Bible) and only focuses on ONE of them? Forget the fact it’s not entirely clear WHICH creation story he is focusing on. Is he talking about Genesis 1? Or Genesis 2 and 3? Let’s pretend that they ARE the same story (again, they aren’t, but let’s pretend.) Bill Nye pointed out that believing an English translation of a 3000 year old text — no matter how inspired — is at best a stretch. And he’s right.
In fact, I’ll say that it’s ridiculous! According to the Bible, the sky is made up of a solid dome of hammered metal!
God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. [Gen. 1: 3-6] Do you doubt any part of that? If you’re a person living on this planet today, I’m sure you do. While some English translations use the word firmament rather than dome, the Hebrew word clearly “refers to a piece of metal that has been hammered flat. Here, the function of the sky is to separate the waters above (which fall as rain) from the subterranean waters.”
A simple ride in a jumbo jet will debunk this ancient observational assumption. Yet, let us give credit where it is due. The ancients weren’t stupid. In some ways, their conclusions were not that far-fetched. The sky does appear rather dome-like. Given that the sky is blue and that water (rain) falls from it, it is quite logical to infer that there might be an ocean “up there” somewhere. “Such a view of the world is not the product of stupidity but rather of shrewd and careful observation. The unaided eye and mind could not be blamed for thinking that was what the world was like” (Price and Suominen 2013, 49). Sure, these ancient inferences are terribly wrong, but we are talking about people from the Bronze Age!” — Charles Shingledecker. Freedom to Doubt (Kindle Locations 952-957). Tellectual Press.
There is an entire chapter dedicated to Creationism in Freedom to Doubt. Obviously a single chapter or a single debate will not change anyone’s mind. I don’t think Bill Nye was trying to change anyone’s mind. He just wanted people to think for themselves and not be afraid to ask the questions that people like Ken Ham are afraid to ask. I know many of my Creationist friends will say they DO ask questions. But ask this of yourself: if you are a Creationist, do you ask questions in hope of finding a way to harmonize things you don’t understand in the Bible, or are you asking questions in hope of finding answers even if those answers contradict the Bible? If you think the actual answers cannot contradict the Bible, then you’re not really seeking truth. You’re seeking a way to harmonize two contradictory things.
The Bible is NOT a science book. It predates science. The much quoted “scientifically accurate” parts of Genesis 1 are not science. I do not believe they were ever intended to be science. They were “an attempt (by the author) to distance “himself [and ancient Israelite beliefs] from Near Eastern creation mythology by taking a polemical stand against the two primary Mesopotamian deities, the sun and the moon.” That’s why the author goes out of his way to claim what is utterly nonsensical, namely that “vegetation sprouted at God’s command on the third day (Gen 1: 11-13),” before the creation of the sun (Tarazi 2003, 82) — Freedom to Doubt (Kindle Locations 979-982).
In other words, Genesis is not an account of how it all “really” happened, anymore than Psalm 74 is. What is Psalm 74? What do the Psalms have to do with Genesis? Quite a bit, given that Job and the Psalms contain the most ancient Israelite creation story. (More ancient than the one found in Genesis.) In the Psalms we read stories of how God [YHWH] slayed a fire breathing, cosmic dragon-god of the sea named Leviathan, crushed his heads, cut him into pieces and used the carcass to create the cosmos.
And yet, just as Genesis 1 is a polemic against the Babylonian sun and moon gods, Psalm 74 (along with Job 41) are polemics against the Babylonian creation story in which the god Marduk slays a cosmic dragon-god of the sea named Tiamat and creates the world out of Tiamat’s body.
Of course, as I write in Freedom to Doubt: “Genesis 1 emphasizes that the God of the Hebrews is the creator of “everything that has the breath of life” (Gen. 1: 30), including “great sea monsters” (Gen. 1: 21)— just like Tiamat. In fact, the author is so insistent on this point that, in a chapter consisting of only 31 verses, he credits the God of the Hebrews with creating everything of “every kind” twenty-three times.” Charles Shingledecker. Freedom to Doubt (Kindle Locations 1005-1008). Tellectual Press.
Get it? It’s a theological argument against the ancient belief that Marduk was the god who created the world. The Israelites are saying that it wasn’t Marduk but their god YHWH because “our god is bigger than your god!”
None of this has ANYTHING whatsoever to do with what “actually happened” in the physical universe. It’s all theological polemics. Not science.
Unfortunately Ken Ham doesn’t seem to understand any of this. And I don’t really have a problem with him not understanding. However, as someone who LOVES the Bible and takes it (along with its authors, the people who lived and died throughout the centuries etc) I find Creationism offensive. Not because Creationists are “bad Christians.” They’re not. Most Creationists are better Christians than I am. But that doesn’t mean they know or understand the Bible better than I do or better than the early Christians, who by the way, often didn’t think Genesis was “literal” history.
Origen thought that a literal interpretation of Genesis was utterly absurd and wondered how anyone could be foolish enough “to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree?” (On First Principles 4.16). The man was ahead of his time, even if he took some things (like becoming a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven) a bit too literally. St. Gregory of Nazianzus believed that the tree of Knowledge was not a literal tree but “contemplation, upon which it is only safe for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter” (Orations 38: 12). And modern-day Eastern Orthodox theologians “tend to follow the fathers in paying scant attention to the question of the physical historicity of the Paradise of Genesis 2-3, focusing rather on its existential significance” (McGuckin 2011a, 436). — Freedom to Doubt (Kindle Locations 1051-1058). Tellectual Press.
It is perfectly acceptable for any private individual to believe Genesis is a literal account of “what actually happened.” However, I still have never heard a Christian argue that God slayed Smaug’s great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather then created the world out of its carcass. But why not? That story is in the Bible too!? What’s the difference? You think one is an allegory and the other isn’t? What if your criteria? Do you even have a criteria, or are you a Creationist simply because you think “real” Christians are supposed to be Creationists?
In the end, the Nye/Ham debate will probably solve very little. Creationists will continue to search for ways to shoehorn the Bible into how they view the world. Evolutionists will continue too look at the evidence and draw radically different conclusions. But what of those Christians (or even non-Christians) on the fence? I believe that is who Nye was attempting to reach out to. I have no idea if he was successful. However, I will give my personal thoughts on that question.
I was once a dyed in the wool Creationist. I remember when Ham was first building the Creation Museum. I remember the days prior to Ham with another superstar Creationist named “Dr. Dino.” I remember thinking the Bible said one thing and one thing only. But the truth is the Bible is far more complex, fascinating, and in depth than ANYTHING someone like Ken Ham has to offer. Again, I’m not trying to bash Ham. He seems like a nice person. Someone I’d like to sit down with and talk about almost anything. But not science. And not the Bible. Ham recently said that Christians who accept science are damaging to Christianity. Well, in my book, reading things into the Biblical texts that aren’t even there (like modern day Creationism) is damaging to Christianity. As Augustine once predicted, if science disproves Genesis, and Christians don’t change their minds, it will make them look like idiots. Well, Augustine was right. We Do look like idiots.
We live in a marvelous time and place. We KNOW more about the cosmos than all previous generations combined. To me this is wondrous not something to be mourned. Nor does it mean we need to twist the Biblical texts to mean something they don’t mean. The Bible is NOT a science book and “the creation stories attempt to explain why (in the existential sense) the universe exists, not how it exists. If you’re a Christian who wants to know how everything came to be, you need to study science. If, on the other hand, you’re a Christian who wants to know what it all means— well, that is the role of faith.” – Freedom to Doubt (Kindle Locations 1072-1076).