Feb 25, 2014 | By

Ken Ham v. Bill Nye – A Non-Creative Debate

On February 4, 2014, there was a televised debate between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, President of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.  While some interesting information was provided by the presenters, the quality of the debate was disappointing due to its focus on one of the weakest of tenets of Christian religious beliefs – that the world was literally created in seven days some few thousand years ago.  On this point, creationism offers a very inadequate explanation – there is no confirmatory physical evidence and many contrary findings in natural science in fields as diverse as geology, biology, hydrology, genetics, anthropology and genetics.

Ken Ham’s response on these points is evasive and defensive – for example, nitpicking on the difference between “species” and “kinds” or on the variety of methods for dating geological materials that show different results.  The only affirmative argument he is able to offer is the infallibility of the book of Genesis.  This, unfortunately, provides Bill Nye with a perfect Straw Man, which he employs to good effect, while avoiding more challenging questions about the limits of scientific knowledge and the ideological nature of secularism.

Completely absent from the discussion is the perspective that I would call the religious center – the perspective that there is no conflict between science and religious belief (see the Recent Post).  The teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg sit squarely in this center.  According to Swedenborg, the first twelve chapters of Genesis are not a literal description of creation, but a spiritual one, and that description addresses both the creation of the universe and the journey each human makes from a merely natural to a spiritual life.  Its importance, therefore, is not as a story about the natural world but as a story about the spiritual world and the spiritual life of each human; it offers knowledge about the universe and life which secular science simply cannot reach.

For some wonderful materials presenting Swedenborg’s teachings on the story of creation, you might be interests in:

Video from The Left Eye – “What Was Created in Seven Days?

Book: Sermon from the Compost Pile, by Ed Sylvia

Educational program:  Seven Practices of Peace, from the New Church.

2 Responses to “Ken Ham v. Bill Nye – A Non-Creative Debate”

  1. George Gantz says:

    I think the problem for Christian fundamentalists is the fear that allowing any part of the “Word of God” to be allegorical rather than literal calls into question the validity of every other part. This is the “slippery slope” argument, and given the trajectory of the last four hundred years of Western analytical thought (e.g. rationalism, materialism, relativism), that fear is understandable. On the other side, many atheists also seem to exhibit fear in their vociferous and angry rejection of God – some perhaps driven by disappointment or disillusionment, some by fear of religious fundamentalism, and some by fear of an external controlling influence. These fears are also understandable.

    Here’s a thought: The best antidote for fear is love (and hope). Perhaps we can try to be more loving (and gentle) to the fundamentalists on both ends of the spectrum. Moving away from a literal belief in the Word of God does not need to lessen one’s faith in God’s infinite love and mercy – indeed, it takes faith in God to do so. On the other hand, acknowledging the beauty of creation and the wondrous experience of joy and love does not mean that one has to relinquish one’s sense of self or the grounded validity of our natural experiences – we just have to be a bit more humble about
    how others choose to express such acknowledgement.

  2. Stephen H. Smith, M.D. says:

    The “debate” would have been much more interesting and intellectually satisfying had it been Ken Ham vs. George Gantz, Ian Thompson, Edward Sylvia, Michael Hogan, or Alan Laidlaw. What is puzzling is that while sincere Christians feel that the Word of God must, axiomatically, have a spiritual message, by clinging to a purely literal interpretation they essentially deny any such message. Does one think that God really is interested in teaching us a geology lesson in the seven days of creation?

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