Against my better judgment, I decided to watch part of the Nye/Ham debate last night. For the uninitiated, Ken Ham is an influential leader within the Young Earth Creationism (YEC) movement, for decades now. Science and history are selectively determined according to one’s prior commitments, not the objectivities of nature itself. Ham’s YEC is eerily similar to traditional Mormon apologetics and historiography. His opponent, Bill Nye, is the beloved “Science Guy” from our childhood, teaching untold numbers of kids about the excitement and adventure of exploring our world. Nye is not a religious man, but he manages to uphold the intelligibility of creation better than his YEC adversaries.
There are many people who opposed the debate for the simple reason that it gives legitimacy to YEC. There is some truth in that. YEC does not care about science and has no impact whatsoever upon scientific dialog today, so why treat it as a legitimate dialog partner? The answer must be practical — purely practical. If we ignore it, the insularity that fosters these cultic manipulative strategies, and credibility from within, will go unabated. This is not to say that Nye actually changed many YEC minds, but every little bit helps. (I surely speak for many other evangelical students on this.) I have some, perhaps small, hope that last night’s debate may have actually opened, however little, the door for some evangelicals — especially college students — who are struggling mightily for their faith, in an unnecessary struggle wherein cultural idols have merged with the gospel.
From the bit I observed of the debate, I was pleasantly surprised by Nye’s cogency and demeanor. YEC apologists have deftly honed their “skills” over decades of mastering misdirection and red herrings, so I was not sure if Nye would be prepared. If Tyler Francke’s review of the debate is accurate, as I have no reason to doubt, then Nye was prepared and handled himself well throughout the debate. This is a win for sense experience! I am not a Thomist, but we all need a little Aristotle.
Tyler’s description of Ham is a nice summary: “His presentation was childish and moralistic….” Ham’s success has little, if anything, to do with his “science.” Rather, he appeals to the moral and cultural values of his audience, manipulating their emotions in the process.
Image: “Einstein” by Rob Gonsalves