Saturday, February 08, 2014

As Pat Robertson Says?!

To viewers of the online debate (most of it, below) Tuesday night between Bill Nye, the Science Guy and Ken Ham, CEO of the Discovery Museum in Kentucky, Bill Nye clearly won.  But it matters not to the objectives of young-earth creationists  that Nye was the better debater nor that he proved- insofar as it can be proven, which it cannot- that the earth is older than 6,000-9,000 years.

Throughout, as Salon's Sean McElwee seems to understand, "Bill Nye would accept ambiguity and Ken Ham simply substituted ambiguity for absolute and uncompromising and entirely unfounded certainty."   Salon's Elizabeth Stoker captured the flavor of the encounter when she wrote

Nye referenced wide swaths of research on rocks, land forms, trees, and ice; Ham produced alternative explanations for some of Nye’s claims and not others, all the while roundly declaring that the past is essentially unknowable to us. From time to time, Ham refused to engage with Nye or the opposing side altogether; when presented with an audience question asking how he would respond to a hypothetical world in which evolution was proven to be true, Ham merely replied that such a thing could never happen.  

It would be easy enough here to call Ham’s intelligence into question and berate him for so thoroughly and publicly missing the point of a hypothetical. But this evasion was only one of many refusals of engagement, which calls into question why, if Ham is convinced of the shoddiness of evolutionary science, he would avoid delving into the particulars of its problems. Indeed, the two men talked past each other for the entire evening: if Ham were really crusading to reveal the utter bankruptcy of evolutionary science, why would he let that happen?  

The answer has to do with the category of project Ham’s activism falls under. It is not a scientific project, nor even one much related to knowledge of the natural world, scientific or not. Ham’s project is rather best understood as an ethical one. 

At one point in his speech, Ham produced a PowerPoint slide with two opposing columns. On the left, “man’s ideas” gave rise to moral relativism, which in turn tossed the concept of marriage into confusion, allowed for euthanasia, and encouraged abortion. On the right, “God’s word” gave rise to moral absolutes, which support biblical marriage, the sanctity of life, and the notion that human life begins at fertilization.  

Though this graphic contained no direct reference to evolution (it was subsumed under the evil heading of “man’s ideas”) it nonetheless explains most clearly why Ham is willing to challenge the idea so relentlessly and so publicly. Evolution, in Ham’s mind, provides for the possibility of a world without God, in which human beings are imbued with no special purpose. Alternatively, in the creationist frame, human beings are made, which means they are made for some things, rendering certain ethical practices superior and others inferior.  

This was not a faceoff between Bill Nye and Ken Ham or even between evolution and creationism. It was a debate between science and ethics. Salon's (is there a pattern here?) Natasha Lennard notes "From time to time, Ham refused to engage with Nye or the opposing side altogether" because the disagreement is not over science but "about whether or not goodness can be argued for outside a Biblical literalist framework."   Evangelical blogger Ezra Byer argues

...we do not play the game on their terms; we play on God’s terms. At the end of the day, we are not called to win debates or humiliate the wicked. We are responsible to present people with this simple question, What will you do with Jesus? 

As Christians, we love to get caught up in debates! I’ll admit it, I find them probably too enjoyable at times. But what Ken Ham showed us tonight is that sometimes the best way of winning a debate is not through burying your opponent. The best way to win is through doing what God has called you to do. And this is to prepare, present, and then step back and make much of Jesus and allow HIM to cause the true transformation. His message is always greater than ours anyways! 

With over a half million people watching over the Internet, Ham succeeded, as Byer notes, in part because "he raised huge awareness about Biblical Creationism on a mammoth scale."  Additionally, Byer credits Ham with having "articulated very well the inconsistencies in an old earth model while still trusting Jesus as Savior."

But that is not unlike crediting Gus Bradley with effectively coaching the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars to a 4-12 record in 2013 after a year (with another head coach) at 2-12.  Bradley did a heck of a job, but had little to work with. So it was with Ham, yearning to prove that if one believes in Jesus as Savior, he/she must suspend all scientific reasoning and accept the young earth model.

That is a false premise, as indicated by Reverend (or televangelist, when I disagree with him) Pat Robertson (video below), whom the Raw Story reports

responded to the recent debate between Young Earth creationist Ken Ham and Bill Nye, a.k.a. “The Science Guy,” by reiterating his disagreement with Ham’s form of creationism.

“Let’s face it,” Robertson said, “there was a Bishop [Ussher] who added up the dates listed in Genesis and he came up with the world had been around for 6,000 years.”

“There ain’t no way that’s possible,” he continued. “To say that it all came about in 6,000 years is just nonsense and I think it’s time we come off of that stuff and say this isn’t possible.”

“Let’s be real, let’s not make a joke of ourselves.”

“We’ve got to be realistic,” he concluded, and admit “that the dating of Bishop Ussher just doesn’t comport with anything that is found in science and you can’t just totally deny the geological formations that are out there.”

Last November, Robertson raised the ire of Young Earth Creationists when he made similar statements. The hosts of “Creation Today,” Eric Hovind and Paul F. Taylor, attacked Robertson for claiming that dinosaurs could exist, because the world isn’t, in fact, only 6,000 years old.

“Pat Robertson is claiming, then, that 6,000 years comes from Ussher’s book and not the Bible,” Taylor said. “The point is, where did Ussher get his figure of 6,000 years?”

“Now, then, Pat Robertson,” he continued, “are you claiming the Bible is not [divinely] inspired when the Bible clearly tells us that the world is 6,000 years old?”

No, Paul Taylor, he is not.   And in the words of the proverb (not Proverbs), even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day.

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