A win for sense experience!

Magic Realism Illusions by Rob Gonsalves - Einstein

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



    • Not surprising. I need to block-out some time to watch the whole thing. Or, I could find a more useful use of my time! The latter option would not be too difficult.

      Of course, we all appeal to authority. As John Henry Newman well recognized, most of our knowledge is received and untested by personal validation.

    • Yes, indeed. Yet, incredibly, we have heads of major seminaries (SBTS in Louisville for example) who advocate YEC and the worldview-ism that goes with it, or a version of OEC that is barely indistinguishable. So, I am routinely compelled to engage the debate and address it on the blog occasionally. Fight the good fight, as they say.

    • I’ve succeeded in ignoring it. I got so much YEC material growing up and put so much energy into reading about how to refute evolution that I’m just exhausted by it now and don’t care to put much effort into the other side (fortunately I’m not in a position where I need to).

      • I am sure that I’ll be at the exhausted level soon. My pastor (trained at GCTS in the 70’s under Kline, Nicole, etc.) is a solid evangelical, and he is amazed that this debate is still going strong…moreover, that it has experienced something of a resurgence thanks to TGC and like-minded networks. This recent phenomenon is what motivates me the most, because it is a cheap appropriation of the Reformed tradition (i.e., minus the catholicity and depth).

      • What just astounds me is the complete lack of knowing (a) how science works and (b) what it is. I mean, it’s not that difficult to find a great popular science book – I’m not that smart and certainly no scholar, and I’ve got a *decent* understanding of the how/what of science. The will to believe, i guess. It knows no bounds. As an example: last night, a guy asked me if I’d ever thought about how mathematics works. He proceeded to tell me that mathematics works because we’ve seen that if we add one of something to one of another something, we get two somethings, and we’ve seen this often, and because of God, we know that this regularity will be universal.

        Mathematics as a posteriori. That’s where creationism leads to.

      • The will to believe, yes. The best explanation for the relative success of YEC, in America at least, is the appeal to moral/cultural values. It has been several years since I’ve seen YEC material, but I distinctly remember the moralistic overtones. And if you ask an average Joe creationist to explain his rejection of evolution, it will invariably include — if not solely — an appeal to morality and “biblical” values.

      • So far, the main points offered by creationists with whom I’ve talked:

        (1) Science and scientists are inconsistent and contradictory – every time they look through the telescope and see something new, they rewrite the textbooks! (that was almost verbatim what one guy told me).
        (2) “Darwinism” is popular because it doesn’t have a hell, a God, and lets you be immoral
        (3) Scientists don’t start with scripture, which is WRONG.

  1. That’s true, the “inconsistent and contradictory” line is popular. So much of the “science” at Creationist websites is merely pointing to where scientists have revised or reworked previous models or (gasp!) admitted their limitations. This is because, of course, Creationists do not actually do their own science, so they can only poke at the existing scientists. It’s the height of immaturity.

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