It's a mistake to say "Either scientism or creationism is true." If those are the only two options, then of course a religious person must be a young-earth creationist, holding that the earth is only 6000 years old, because that is the sum of all of the ages attributed to key characters in the scriptures of the Old Covenant. But there is a third alternative: Catholicism.
Saganists and creationists agree that if there is evolution, then there is no God.
- Creationists believe that because God exists, they are obliged to deny the evidence for the evolution of one form of life from a parent form of life.
- Saganists assert that their theory of evolution--random mutation and natural selection--is a matter of fact and then claim that this fact means that God does not exist.
By contrast, Catholics believe that if science shows that all forms of life come from a common ancestor, then we must conclude that God created an evolving universe. Science studies what God created. Truths found by the right use of reason operating on the information give us by our senses cannot contradict truths revealed to us by God through the Body of Christ. God is the author of the whole universe, God is the author of the powers of reasoning by which we know scientific truths about the universe, and God is the author of revelation.
- if the scientific story of the Big Bang is true, there is no God, and that
- if evolution takes place, there is no God.
We don't have to be creationists in order to deny those absurd arguments from the saganists. We may object to the false philosophy of science which holds as a non-scientific belief, "The success of modern science means that there is no God." The existence or non-existence of God is not a finding of physics, chemistry, or biology. Interpreting data from the natural sciences as support for or evidence against theism is a philosophical decision, not a scientific decision.
- 1 Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye
- 1.1 Ken Ham's Views
- 1.1.1 Naturalism is a secular religion
- 1.1.2 Creationism is the only viable model of science
- 1.1.3 God is the lawgiver
- 1.1.4 Observational science is different from historical science
- 1.1.5 Both theists and atheists can do good science
- 1.1.6 Doing science requires faith
- 1.1.7 Genesis must be taken literally
- 1.1.8 The Body of Christ is Noah's Ark
- 1.1.9 The universe reveals the glory of God
- 1.1.10 No lawgiver, no laws
- 1.2 Bill Nye's Views
- 1.2.1 Natural laws operated in the past as they do now
- 1.2.2 All the clocks agree that the earth is old
- 1.2.3 Noah's ark wouldn't have survived
- 1.2.4 The Big Bang is credible
- 1.2.5 The Telephone Game shows that the Scriptures are unreliable
- 1.2.6 Standards of proof are not self-evident
- 1.2.7 "A book translated into American English"
- 1.2.8 Science as knowledge
- 1.2.9 Agnosticism
- 1.2.10 Intelligent Design
- 1.2.11 The Gospel of Saganism
- 1.3 Reflections
- 1.4 Some concluding remarks
- 1.1 Ken Ham's Views
- 2 References
- 3 Links
Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye
- Debate Topic: "Is creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?"
Ken Ham's Views
Naturalism is a secular religion
I agree very much with Ham's view that "the word 'science' has been hijacked by secularists" and that approach to teaching evolution mandated by the states forces the religion of naturalism on students. Atheism is presented as scientific and theism as ignorant.
The atheists are guilty of bait-and-switch when they argue from easily observable changes (micro-evolution with an already established form) to unobservable changes (macro-evolution--a new species emerging from a parent species).
The evolutionary tree is a matter of belief, not observation. "Certainly there's change, but not the change that's necessary for molecules-to-man."
"If you teach creationism in public schools, that's religion. If you teach evolution, that's science. ... Actually, it's public school textbooks teaching a belief [in the unobserved "tree of life"] and imposing it on students."
"... imposing a naturalistic religion on students."
In my view, any vision of reality that answers all of the questions of religion is itself a religion. Ham is right that Christianity and naturalism are two very different philosophical worldviews that are in conflict with each other: "It's really a battle over worldviews and starting points. It's a battle over philosophical worldviews and starting points."
Creationism is the only viable model of science
Ham says, "Creation is the only viable model of historical science confirmed by observational science in today's modern scientific era."
I object very strongly to Ham's use of the word "creation" as if it means "a model of historical science." I use the word "creationism" instead for biblical literalists like himself who believe that the only model of creation is that given by a literal reading of Genesis 1 (six 24-hour days, roughly 6000 years ago).
God is the lawgiver
Ham asked Nye, "How do you account for the laws of logic and laws of nature from a naturalistic worldview that excludes the existence of God?" Nye never addressed this question. This is not directly taken from the Bible, but is part of the arguments advanced in natural theology. I understand it as a variation of the Fifth Way of Aristotle and Thomas.
- C. S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity
- Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.
Observational science is different from historical science
Ham made a sharp distinction between two kinds of science:
- Observational science: done in the present.
- Historical science: beyond the range of observation. We were not there "in the beginning." We do not observe the past directly. We can't observe God creating. The only way to know about the beginning of everything is to take God's word for it.
It seems to me that reasoning from effects that are observable to causes that are not in themselves observable is one of the key features of science. We cannot see energy fields directly (electro-magnetic, gravitational, quantum); what we see is the effects of those fields acting on observable forms of matter and energy. Some of the great philosophical arguments for the existence of God in natural theology depend on effect-to-cause reasoning.
I find the view of science proposed by Nye on this score much more satisfying. It is true that science is no substitute for history, and vice-versa, but from looking at the world as it is now, and by making the assumption that the laws of nature have been operating unchanged for most of the history of the universe, we do get a "natural history" of the universe that makes very good sense.
This is not the kind of sense that is available from a witness who could say, "I was there. I saw it with my own eyes." But that it is not one form of knowledge that we value does not mean it is not another form of knowledge or that it is not valuable.
Both theists and atheists can do good science
Ham introduced a number of creationists who have solid scientific or technological credentials. Nye conceded the point. One's theology or atheology is practically irrelevant to observational science, experimentation, and invention.
Doing science requires faith
That science is itself a faith-based undertaking is one of my favorite themes in the epistemologies of John Henry Cardinal Newman and Michael Polanyi. The faith required to do science is not religious faith, but faith in one's powers of reason, faith in the laws of logic, faith in the stability and intelligibility of the universe, and faith in the work done by preceding generations of scientists. No one can "prove everything." The first principles of thought must be taken for granted in any proof; we cannot doubt those principles and at the same time use them to resolve our doubts. It is possible to recognize that the principles are undeniable by understanding that it is self-referentially inconsistent to deny them, but that is very different from having the kind of proof for the first principles that comes from taking them for granted.
I agree with Ham that the saganists "don't want to admit that there is a belief aspect to what they are saying. ... I challenge the evolutionists to admit the belief aspects of their worldview." The glory of science is the knowledge we can acquire through the use our intelligence operating on the information our our senses give us about the physical universe. Those methods cannot be used to support the thought that "science operates on knowledge while religion operates on belief." "Science" is not an object of science. "Science" is not one thing among many physical things. It is not a form of matter and energy found within the realm of space and time. "Science" is not known through the senses, nor can it be broken down into elemental constituents or made the subject of physical experimentation. "Science" is an abstraction, a metaphysical reality. It can only be known by the methods proper to philosophy.
Similarly, the error of those who think that the methods of science can or should be the norm for settling all questions is in supposing that there is nothing else except the physical universe. The thought that "we should settle all questions scientifically" is not an idea that can be tested scientifically. It is not an observation from physics, chemistry, or biology; it cannot be quantified; it is not a conclusion from an experiment in which all variables are controlled; it is not self-evident; it does not itself meet the standard it sets for all other ideas. It is essentially a religious conviction--part of the creed of the religion of science.
Ham says many times that scientists cannot prove that the earth is old because they were not eyewitnesses to the event. This is an absurd standard of proof which, if applied uniformly to the articles of the faith, would require us to deny Jesus, among many other things. I was present at my birth, but I cannot testify that I was born or that Mom is my mother because I had not developed sufficiently to experience and remember the event. If Ham's standard is correct, I must be doubtful that I was born and that Mom is my mother. I am not going to endorse that way of thinking about proof!
I follow Aquinas and Aristotle: the sufficient reason for my existence had to have existed for me to exist; I exist; therefore, there was a cause that had the power to bring me into existence. From the science of biology, I know that cause was the union of my father and mother, and I also know that they themselves were caused in the same way by their parents. I was not there when my parents were conceived--or when they conceived me--but I know that these historical facts are true.
This kind of reasoning from effect to cause is normal for human thought. There is nothing wrong with scientists following the chain of caused causes all the way back to the Big Bang. Their arguments and observations make good sense, even though scientists may and do disagree with each other about many details in the story.
Genesis must be taken literally
Ham said, "I take Genesis as literal history, as Jesus did." While I fully endorse the use of Genesis 2 to establish the foundations of marriage (one man, one woman, united by God for life), neither Jesus nor I take the Genesis story literally. Genesis 2 does not literally say "What God has joined, man must not separate" (Mk 10:9). Jesus draws that lesson from the story, but those words are not in the story at all.
If you adopt Ham's interpretation for Genesis, you're committed to it for the whole of the Bible. All of his Protestant theology of sola scriptura and the infallible bible come into play.
Ham believes that there was no death at all among any animals until Adam sinned. This is an unwarranted claim on both scientific and biblical grounds.
I accept the claims of science that the universe is vastly older than the 6000 years calculated by Ham from a literal reading of the Scriptures. I think there is excellent evidence in the fossil record that countless animals died before humans appeared on the earth. Ham believes that all of the fossils are from the Flood.
The Scriptural passage from Paul deals with death as the punishment given to humans as a consequence of their disobedience to God. The passage does not literally say what Ham says it says. It is only about the human experience of death, not that of all animals. It is clear from the context of the passage that those who are punished are all who have sinned. That excludes animals from the group being punished by death, because all other animals besides humans are incapable of sinning.
- Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned--for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.
Ham believes that all of the animals were vegetarians until the Fall. To me, this just seems ludicrous. Although there may be a great deal of disagreement among the dating methods, as Ham says at several times in the debate, they are in 100% accord in placing the lives and deaths of multitudes of animals long before the human era. For me, the teeth of ancient animals--sharks, T-Rex, sabre-tooth tigers--found in fossils tell me that they were meat-eaters long before Adam and Eve broke our relationship with God.
The Body of Christ is Noah's Ark
I do not believe in the literal details of the story of the flood and Noah's ark as told in Genesis. It seems to me to be a theological parable: after the Fall, where humans go, sin goes, too; there is no innocent family (or church) from which the whole human race could be reconstructed. The Body of Christ is the true Ark, and the great flood that is destroying sinners is sin. Anyone who wishes to survive the flood is welcome on the New Ark. Anyone who prefers sin will be destroyed by their sin. The reality of this spiritual flood cannot be perceived against our will. "Those who have eyes to see will see. Those who have ears to hear will hear."
Ham says that Noah and his family were saved by passing through the door of the ark and that now we know that Jesus is the door to salvation. I agree with his application of the Noah story to the reality that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.
Ham quoted Paul: "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom 10:9). Notice that this saving act of faith does not literally require reading the Scriptures literally. The act of faith is focused on the revelation given to us in Jesus and through the ministry of the apostles. It is not necessary to be a young-earth creationist in order to believe that God the Son became human in the Virgin Mary's womb and lived and died for us.
The universe reveals the glory of God
Ham and I agree that the immensity of the universe reveals the infinite greatness of God. This is a common theme in the Scriptures. Wherever there is beauty, there is God; wherever there is goodness, there is God; wherever there is truth, there is God; wherever there is love, there is God; wherever anything exists at all, there is God. These are the grounds of natural theology.
The success of science testifies to God's greatness. He has given us minds perfectly suited to understanding His work in creation. Science is methodologically atheist, and many scientists are philosophically convinced that the meaning of their discoveries proves the truth of atheism, but their philosophical and theological errors do not prevent them from being good scientists.
No lawgiver, no laws
Ham argues that the existence and action of God is necessary for the existence and action of science--God is the author and guarantor of the laws of logic and the laws of nature. I think that this is a profound truth. Notice that it does not come from a literal reading of any passage in Genesis. It is a philosophical insight that is consistent with the whole of the Scriptural tradition.
It is not possible to make someone see this truth against their will. The mantra of the saganists is that order can come out of disorder by accident, life can emerge from the random combination of chemicals, and that the entire universe can pop into existence out of nothing at all, for no reason whatsoever. "The fool says in his heart that there is no God." The signs that point toward God must be read correctly, as with any text. The fool says, "There is nothing on that page but a random collection of atoms and molecules." The person who knows how to read the book of nature says, "This is a love letter from God."
Bill Nye's Views
Natural laws operated in the past as they do now
This is a bedrock assumption of science, and it seems to be to be a thoroughly reasonable assumption, until we collect evidence using this assumption that would causes us to doubt its truth.
On this assumption, every event in astrophysics can be explained back to the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. During that first brief moment of time, the natural laws whose operation we have traced back to just after that moment fail to explain what seems to have happened in that moment. The theory of "inflation": "
- In physical cosmology, cosmic inflation, cosmological inflation, or just inflation is the expansion of space in the early universe at a rate much faster than the speed of light. The inflationary epoch lasted from 10−36 seconds after the Big Bang to sometime between 10−33 and 10−32 seconds. Following the inflationary period, the universe continues to expand, but at a slower rate.
We have no physical standpoint outside the physical universe from which we can physically observe and measure what happened in the physical universe from the beginning of time. Our scientific, observational, empirical standpoint is always inside the universe itself.
No camera can photograph its own construction. Until the essential components are in place, it cannot take a selfie. That means that the process of construction is necessarily hidden from the camera's lens. In the same way, the process by which the universe was created cannot be recorded in the universe until the universe has unfolded sufficiently to be able to preserve "pictures" of its early state. Those pictures are in the cosmic background radiation, and they date from perhaps 380,000 years after the Big Bang. It takes insight to make inferences from the pictures we have to guess what conditions existed before the pictures were recorded in the unfolded universe. We are entitled to be skeptical, though not filled with unreasonable doubt, about scientists' guesses about where everything began.
Stability in the laws of nature is essential for human freedom. It is because we expect the laws of matter to remain unchanged that we use matter to communicate with each other, to build buildings that we expect to stand safely, to design machines that we expect to work the way similar machines have in the past, and so on. If the universe does not have its own nature, then we cannot predict the outcome of our actions and we cannot be credited with virtue or held accountable for wrongdoing.
Of course Ham is correct that an all-powerful God could change the laws of nature in such a way that we could not tell the difference between a universe that is really only 6000 years old but that has the appearance of being 13.8 billion years old--but if this is what God has done, then it follows that we cannot tell that the universe is really only 6000 years old by looking at the physical evidence. In other words, the only way to know the age of the universe is to read the Scriptures the way in which Ham reads them--which is doing theology, not science.
If it has pleased God to fool our senses, then we are deceived and no information given us by our senses can correct the error. But this means that God cannot rebuke us for relying on the evidence that we have from our senses to do science. On this hypothesis, the one Who gave us our senses has decided to frustrate them so that they lead us into error instead of into truth. This kind of God may be appealing to Ham, but not to me. There certainly is no verse in the scriptures that backs up this theology of the God who lies in nature.
All the clocks agree that the earth is old
- Millions of layers of fossils of ancient forms of life, most of which would have lived 20 years on average before dying and becoming fossilized.
- 680,000 snow-ice layers in the Arctic, suggesting 680,000 alternations between summer and winter.
- A tree in Sweden that is 9,550 years old.
- Various forms of nuclear decay.
- Isolation of one age of fossils from another age in sedimentary layers.
- No land bridge from Asia to Australia in the last 4000 years to allow kangaroos to cross over from Asia.
- 2000 to 7000 kinds on board Noah's boat would require 11 to 44 new species to be formed every day in the last 4000 years in order to reach the present conservative count of 16,000,000 species of animals.
- Redshift in light from remote galaxies.
- Rate of rock formation through sedimentation.
- Rate of erosion of rocks.
- The pyramids are more than 4000 years old.
- The first written records are more than 4000 years old.
Ham said that the nuclear dating methods disagree with each other, but that is pretty normal for science. They all agree on date for our solar system and for events on earth that are vastly older than 6000 years. Not one nuclear clock suggests anything remotely like a date that early.
Noah's ark wouldn't have survived
No wooden boat that size could hold together.
E.g., the Wyoming: 6 masts, a steam engine, twisted, leaked like crazy, sank: "Wyoming was a wooden six-masted schooner, the largest wooden schooner ever built."
It was three-fifths the size of Noah's ark.
- Hmm. This doesn't prove Nye's point directly. The ship sailed profitably for fifteen years before sinking. But the Wyoming needed bilge pumps powered by a steam engine to stay afloat.
- Wyoming's designers had likewise stiffened her with internal steel bracing, but she was too big. She still bent and twisted at sea. Gaps opened in her planking and let water in. Normally her pumps could handle the leakage, but the Pollock Rip storm was too much. She sank, taking thirteen sailors down with her.
The Big Bang is credible
I agree with Nye that the general theory of the "Big Bang" is the right way to understand the history of the universe. Scientists disagree with each other on practically every detail of the story, but the differences between them make no difference in the basic account: everything we now observe, that is to say, all of space-time and matter-energy in the universe, came from a "singularity"--sometimes called "the God Particle" or "the Cosmic Egg"--and has been expanding and cooling ever since.
The theory of the Big Bang does not live or die on the strength of one piece of evidence. Many threads of observation and inference are woven together in the theory. It makes good sense out of what we see today: galaxies and stars at great distances from us that appear to be receding at an accelerating rate. If they are closer now than they will be tomorrow, that suggests that they were closer yesterday than they are today. Following the movement of the starts backwards points to a single origin in an astonishing dense "particle."
The Telephone Game shows that the Scriptures are unreliable
Nye adverted to this argument, but did not present it coherently. In the form in which he characterized it, it is nonsense. Nye claimed that the Scriptures have been "translated" for over 30 centuries, which is false. We are not dealing with a translation of a translation of a translation of a translation ... of an original. Modern English translations are from Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic manuscripts that were copies of copies of copies of copies ... of an original. We know that there are some scribal errors in the copies, because we have letter-by-letter comparisons that show the differences between one extant manuscript and every other extant manuscript of the same book. We know what percentage of the text is affected by these scribal errors (or emendations). The Dead Sea Scrolls give us a peek back into the manuscript tradition by providing manuscripts that are eight or ten centuries older than our oldest Hebrew manuscripts. The accuracy of the newer manuscripts is excellent when compared against the ancient scrolls.
The Telephone Game is about oral tradition, not written tradition. Nye's misunderstanding of the problem of textual criticism of the Scriptures and his misapplication of the Telephone Game to a written tradition is an example of the kind of garbling that the Telephone Game illustrates.
Standards of proof are not self-evident
Nye said, "The fundamental thing we disagree on is the nature of the thing you can prove to yourself."
Standards of proof are metaphysical realities. They are not studied by physics, chemistry, or biology, the natural sciences based on sense observation and controlled experiments. Standards of proof are used in the physical sciences. An argument that begins with a bad premise may be just as logical as an argument that begins with a sound premise--logic cannot decide whether statements about the physical world are sound or unsound.
We have to make assumptions in order to reason.
No one can test all the assumptions involved in scientific reasoning. The first principles of thought must be taken for granted in all of the inferences that we make. If we do not take those principles for granted, we cannot make any inferences about anything.
It is possible to point out the inconsistency on the part of anyone who would deny the first principles of reason by showing that those would deny the first principles of thought must use them to fashion the denial, but this is not the same thing as proving that the principles are true and reliable.
Not even mathematics has been proven to be true. It is the supreme example of what can be learned by the application of deductive logic, but all mathematical certitudes depend on making assumptions. If a mathematician makes some assumptions, then some conclusions follow logically from those assumptions. But no one can force another mathematician to make the same assumptions as another mathematician.
The situation is ever so much more complicated in physics, chemistry, and biology. I accept the observation of nuclear decay as a matter of fact and therefore I am inclined to accept the timelines developed from various and sundry rates of decay as reliable guides to the age of the universe, plus or minus some degree of uncertainty. In the years that I have been paying attention to cosmology, estimates of the age of the universe have ranged from 13 to 15 billion years. More recently, I've noticed that scientists may be reaching some consensus that the age is 13.7 to 13.8 billion years. Plus or minus a billion really doesn't bother me; it doesn't change the essential story line that all we see now unfolded from a hotter a denser universe and is heading toward a cooler, darker condition that will finally terminate in heat death.
The fires that came from the high energy of the Big Bang are burning out. The galaxies are moving further apart from each other. The stars are dying. There is no free lunch. There are no renewable resources through which we can relight the sun after it goes nova, incinerates the earth, and subsides into a dwarf star. The universe is finite, and we can see that it is running out of steam. Entropy increases.
- A. S. Eddington, "The Nature of the Physical World"
- The practical measure of the random element which can increase in the universe but can never decrease is called entropy. Measuring by entropy is the same as measuring by the chance explained in the last paragraph, only the unmanageably large numbers are transformed (by a simple formula) into a more convenient scale of reckoning. Entropy continually increases. We can, by isolating parts of the world and postulating rather idealized conditions in our problems, arrest the increase, but we cannot turn it into a decrease. That would involve something much worse than a violation of an ordinary law of Nature, namely, an improbable coincidence. The law that entropy always increases--the second law of thermodynamics--holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations--then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation--well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
"A book translated into American English"
I agree with Nye that we should determine the age of the earth by observing the world around us. With him, I criticize the creationist belief that the Scriptures can and should be used as the standard by which scientific findings are to be judged. But I am dead set against the grounds of Nye's rejection of Ham's exegesis: "Your conviction rests on a book translated into American English over thirty centuries."
- The Bible is not a book. It is a collection of books, a library. There are 39 to 46 books in the scriptures of the Old Covenant and 27 books in the New Testament. Each book and each part of each book must be considered on its own merits and must be read according to its own literary genre. It is a mistake to read a law book like a poem or a poem like a law book. The Scriptures use many figures of speech and literary devices to make a point; if readers do not understand the kind of speech being used, they will miss the point.
- Nye implies that there is something defective in "American English" that does not allow it to express sacred truths. He offers no reasoning whatsoever about the impossibility of translating from Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek into American English.
No verse in the Scriptures prohibits translating the Scriptures into other languages. The legend that seventy (or seventy-two) rabbis translate TNK into Greek gives assurance that the translated version of the Scriptures is just as inspired as the original Hebrew. The manuscripts of the scriptures of the New Testament are all in Greek, which shows that the Jews who preached Jesus and composed those Scriptures were not wedded to Hebrew as the sole language that God uses to speak to His People.
There is nothing more difficult about translating from Hebrew and Greek into English, whether of the American or British or Australian style, than in translating from any other language to English. Our modern translations are generally superb because of the splendid technical resources of the developed world. Anyone who wishes to check the translation can learn Hebrew and Greek, and can compare texts and translations with far greater ease and accuracy than in the days before the invention of the printing press (1450 AD in Europe).
Besides the fact that texts and translations have become more accurate in the last five centuries, there is also the symbolism of the day of Pentecost to be taken into consideration for those who are willing to go beyond the mere letter of the text and open their minds to the spirit of the Scriptures. One of the miracles of the coming of the Holy Spirit was that each person whose native language was foreign to Jerusalem "heard [the apostles] speaking in his own language" (Acts 2:6-12):
- They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?”
This passage does not contain the words, "The inspired Word of God can be heard in every human language," but that seems to me to be a reasonable moral to draw from the story.
Nye's throwaway line that Ham is relying on "thirty centuries of translation into American English" is either pure prejudice or an incomplete argument. He does not make the premises of his argument clear, if it is an argument at all. So far as I can tell, he would have to use some ideas like these to make his case:
- All translations are unreliable.
- No one can translate from ancient languages into American English.
- Thirty centuries of translation will lead to increasingly poor translations rather than increasingly refined translations.
- If there is a God, He cannot make Himself understood in American English.
- No truths about the world can be expressed in American English.
As far as I'm concerned, Nye's use of this phrase several times in the debate shows his lack of critical thinking. It is one thing to say that translation is difficult or that some parts of the text are obscure or in doubt; it is another thing entirely to suggest that we cannot render the meaning of the Scriptures in human language.
Science as knowledge
Nye says that science is a body of knowledge as well as the process by which scientific knowledge is generated. I have no problem with that statement whatsoever. It is a ringing endorsement of the role of philosophy in our lives. The two statements, "science is a body of knowledge" and "science is the means by which scientific knowledge accumulates," are not findings of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, or logic. They are not derived from empirical observations nor are they confirmed by controlled experiments. They are generalizations made from thinking about the nature of science. The word "science" itself is just such a philosophical abstraction as the two propositions in which the word appears. We cannot see, hear, taste, touch, or smell "science" in and of itself. We cannot purify "science" and assign it a place on the periodic table, nor are there laws of combination by which scientific propositions may be taken apart and put back together as with chemical compounds.
Knowing what science is and knowing how science works is a philosophical undertaking. If it is true that "science is a body of knowledge" and that "science is the means by which scientific knowledge accumulates," then it is also true that there are other non-scientific methods by which truth can be known.
Nye identifies himself as an agnostic. He does not make it clear whether he is simply reporting his own inability to know that God exists or whether he believes that no one can know whether God exists. To say "I don't know whether there is a God" is his prerogative; To say "No rational thinker can judge that there is a God" is a philosophical generalization about the limits of knowledge and is either a belief that has no rational foundation or a belief whose rational foundations have not been articulated by Nye.
This was not a major topic in the debate. I have no objection to Nye reporting that he does not know how to make up his mind about the existence of God. I do object to him telling me--if this was his intention--that I cannot make up my mind differently from him.
Nye calls "intelligent design" a "misunderstanding of the nature of nature."
Before attempting to come to grips with Nye's view in detail, let me note that in this sentence he has ceased to be "The Science Guy" and has entered into the field of philosophy. "The nature of nature" is a philosophical abstraction that cannot be studied in the laboratory using the techniques of natural sciences--what some people lamentably call "the scientific method." Some aspects of nature come under the purview of the physical sciences, but not "the nature of nature."
Nye alludes to a classical example of the argument for an Intelligent Designer. If someone walking through a field spots a watch there, they would be right to think that the watch was created by an intelligent designer and lost by an unintelligent or careless owner rather than to imagine that nature had brought the watch forth by natural processes.
Nye asserts that this is "not how nature works. Evolution is a process that adds complexity through natural selection. Nature has is mediocre designs eaten by its good designs. The perception that there is a Designer that created all this is not necessarily true because we have an explanation that is far more compelling and provides predictions and things that are repeatable. ... Nature is not a top-down structure; it is bottom-up. ... This is inconsistent with a top-down view."
- "This is not how nature works."
- This is the assertion that stands in need of proof. Nye does not criticize the foundation of the analogy, which is that complex machinery like watches does not turn up as the product of natural forces in a field but is the product of human intelligence and had to have been brought into the field by some sequence distinct from the work done to produce the watch.
- "Evolution is a process that adds complexity through natural selection."
- "The perception that there is a Designer that created all this is not necessarily true because we have an explanation ..."
- "... we have an explanation that is far more compelling ..."
- "... we have an explanation ... that provides predictions and things that are repeatable."
So Nye is saying not just that the watch in the field appeared by accident--random natural processes--but that the minds that created the watch (scientists and technologists, material, applied) that their minds all just happened by accident. That's the great claim of atheist evolution. No rhyme or reason. Came from nothing, going nowhere. From nothing we came, to nothing we shall return.
The judgment that random mutation and natural selection is "far more compelling" than Intelligent Design is a matter of taste, not a scientific judgment. I would think you were taking me for a fool if you insisted that I should think that the watch in the field happened by accident. I don't find that theory the least bit compelling. In the same way, I don't find the belief that the human mind appeared in the universe by accident at all compelling. My experience of random behavior is that pieces don't accidentally fall into place. I can't imagine any kind of random motion that would cause 1500 puzzle pieces to assemble themselves into the complete puzzle, even though they are designed to fit together only one way.
Life is based on the cell. To have life that is capable of reproduction, mutation, and selection, the very first cell had to have:
- a semi-permeable membrane that would admit nutrients and expel waste
- organelles that could metabolize nutrients
- a nuclear membrane
- DNA within the nuclear membrane containing the blueprint of the cell
- RNA to help produce all the proteins that would make up the structures of the cell
On the atheistic interpretation, all of these ingredients had to be available in a primeval soup, ready to be caught up together by the closing of the cell membrane around them--and all by accident. I just don't find that thought "compelling."
The Gospel of Saganism
Nye quotes Carl Sagan: "When you're in love you want to tell the world."
That is certainly true.
Today's atheists are in love with their philosophy of science. They have organized as never before to promote their gospel. I don't object when they make their case on philosophical grounds. I do object when they speak as if their philosophy of atheism is required by science.
"Creation" is not a "model of origins"
The question for debate was whether creation is "a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era."
My immediate answer is "no" on the grounds that the religious dogma or philosophical judgment that one God created all things is not a model of origins. The thought that there is a sovereign Creator leaves open the question of how God unfolded what we now see all around us. There are many different models that are consistent with this theological and/or philosophical conviction.
A model is essentially a simplified imaginative representation of a larger or more complex reality. Model cars imitate the shape of real cars but not the size. Model aircraft that are capable of flight usually are not constructed of the same materials as a full-size aircraft. Some model ships are capable of floating or are used in tank-testing to predict how full-scale hulls will perform; others are designed merely to please the eye.
The doctrine of creation is that God created all things ex nihilo, which is Latin for "out of nothing." We can model (picture, imagine) this in different ways.
- God is the Author of the Big Bang
- In this model, God is the direct or indirect cause of the Big Bang. Some scientists speculate that there are an infinite number of universes. If so, the theistic view is that God created all of them. There is no theological difference in the dogma of creation in either case. If God created all physical realities, it does not matter whether the domain of physical realities is far greater than what we can observe now from our vantage point within this universe. The infinite, eternal, all-present, all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful Being whom we worship is the cause of "all that is visible and invisible" (Nicene Creed).
- The deists imagined that God simply created the initial conditions of the whole universe, like a clockmaker building a clock, then wound it up and set it running deterministically, with no further participation in the process. I am opposed to determinism, but not to the thought that God did create the natural laws that make the development of life possible.
- Progressive Mediate Creation
- "Progressive Mediate Creation" is the view, based on Genesis 1, that God created the raw materials of the universe immediately from out-of-nothing (ex nihilo), and thereafter He created mediately by working (both naturally and supernaturally) through natural processes and existing materials.
- [Creation/Evolution/Design is] my commentary on creation, evolution, intelligent design and the evidence for Christianity being objectively true. I am an Australian Christian old-Earth creationist biologist who accepts universal common ancestry (but not evolution).
- Things Miraculously Pop into Existence All at Once
- The model here is based on a belief in God's miracle-working power. The picture is that the universe as we know it is brought into existence all at once 6,000 years ago, with all of the stars and galaxies spread out as if they had moved into those positions by normal physical processes. They have the appearance of being ancient but really are young.
- As a Christian, I believe that God is all-powerful and can do whatever He wills; if the Resurrection of Jesus did not take place, my religion is false and deserves to be condemned in no uncertain terms. Although I concede that, in principle, God could instantaneously create a universe that seemed very old (13.7 billion years, according to Nye) but is really young (6,000 years according to Ham), I am not attracted to the picture of an instantaneous creation.
The Scriptures are not scientific text books
- "The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."
Some concluding remarks
Scientists close their eyes to God and then loudly announce that they don't see God. They make a metaphysical decision not to engage in metaphysics. That is not a finding of physics, chemistry, or biology, but a prerequisite of how we do science today. "God" is not a proper answer to the questions raised in the natural sciences:
- Why retrograde motion?
- Why do apples fall from the tree?
- Why is the sky blue?
- Why is grass green?
- Why are there rainbows?
"Because God made it that way" is a theological answer, not a scientific answer.
Deciding whether there is or is not a God is a metaphysical activity.
Science vs. Creationism
- What is necessary to get started in understanding the scientific view of the cosmos:
- - physics
- - quantum mechanics
- - nuclear physics: fission, fusion, decay
- - electromagnetism
- - gravity
- - interferometry
- - laws of conservation
- - laws of thermodynamics
- - physics
- - astronomy
- - retrograde motion of the planets
- - Copernican trigonometry
- - Kepler's laws of planetary motion
- - Newton's laws of motion (based on Galileo)
- - Newton's law of gravity
- - stellar parallax
- - Hubble's constant
- - dark matter (?)
- - dark energy (?)
- - astronomy
- - chemistry
- - the periodic table (atomic mass, electron shells, isotopes)
- - laws of chemical combination
- - chemistry
- - geography
- - stratigraphy
- - paleontology
- - geography
- - biology
- - biochemistry
- - cellular structures
- - cellular processes
- - organs
- - biological systems
- - organisms
- - ecology
- - biology
- What is necessary to understand the creationist view of the universe:
- - God wrote it. I read it. That settles it.
- MARK LEHNER, Archaeologist, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and Harvard Semitic Museum, "How do we know how old the pyramids are?"
- 1928. The Gifford Lectures 1927, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK, 1933, reprint, pp.74-75). Emphasis in the original.