My Thoughts on the Bill Nye & Ken Ham Debate

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26 responses to “My Thoughts on the Bill Nye & Ken Ham Debate

  • Greg Johnston

    Gotta link to a manuscript or is it something one sits through?

    • timgombis

      I think it’s next week. I don’t know how to catch it, and I frankly won’t take the effort to do so. I’m just not interested.

      • gjohnston2244

        I would be interested if I thought that Ham had something going for him other than a dogmatic agenda. Not just a few in my church are adherents to the YEC/ICR cult. I’m trying to get them to tone down their rhetoric.. I read a bit about the debate (including the Huffington Post article you linked for Craig) after I finished reading your initial long-winded reflections on the debate. I discovered it’s scheduled for March 4 (if I remember correctly).

      • timgombis

        Yes, GJ, it does seem that the agenda is everything. That makes it an “all-or-nothing” enterprise . . . not conducive to give and take, genuine conversation, mutual blessing. That is to say, the postures toward others that God wants from us are ruled out from the start in this sort of thing, making it a hopeless enterprise from the get-go.

      • gjohnston2244

        Posture is the right word, in my opinion. Posture is everything with regard to our presence and polemics in public forums and arenas. The cause of the gospel has much to lose and almost nothing to gain from this debate (and I not just referring to the Nye-Ham installment).

        We have our intellectual credibility and integrity to lose. We have our reputation as gracious and conciliatory, meek and humble peacemakers to lose. And we have almost completely lost both.

        We have precious little to gain in that (1) the debate is not winnable (even if they were reading Genesis correctly) and (2) it is irrelevant to the Genesis narrative, the gospel and Christian mission. It’s an unwinnable battle for the wrong hill.

        Or so it seems to me.

      • timgombis

        Absolutely. There’s nothing to gain from this. Christians honor the Lamb on the Throne when they engage outsiders graciously and with cruciform postures of self-giving love, peace-making, generosity, hospitality, laughter, and the hope of life-giving conversation. Debate and combative dialogue run in precisely the opposite direction.

  • Craig Benno

    I turned off the Hammites a while back, when they tried to tell me a literal belief in 6 day creation was the foundation for my faith. They argued with me when I said the foundation of my faith is in Christ himself.

    Sigh! Like you, I’m not really interested.

    • timgombis

      The move he (and others) have made is a radical reconfiguration of Christian faith. It’s had disastrous consequences for many young people who were shaped by that logic. As they engage more widely with others, they imagine that if there’s any budging at all on a strict, scientific reading of Genesis 1, they imagine that they must be walking away from the faith entirely. It’s a tragedy.

      Have you seen this, Craig?

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-macmillan/bill-nye-ken-ham-debate_b_4651407.html

      • Alex Durbin

        Thank you for recognizing this. I have struggled deeply with this. I don’t think Hamm or those of his ilk are by any means dunces but I have doubts about YEC and these doubts have shaken my soul. Is there room in the faith for people who simply aren’t sure of how Genesis 1 is to be interpreted? I hope to God.

      • timgombis

        Hi Alex, indeed, the YEC construal of the relation between faith and science and the nature of Genesis 1 is only one option among many others. Further, it is recent and doesn’t represent the history of the Christian tradition. Sadly, many Christians are led to imagine it’s the only way of thinking (and Ken Ham and the AIG folks have done their part to make it an all-or-nothing scenario), but that’s terribly unfortunate and simply isn’t true.

        I’d recommend you pick up John Walton’s very helpful and readable little book called ‘The Lost World of Genesis 1′. It’s a very simple introduction to reading Genesis 1 in its ancient context and sheds loads of light on how the Bible can be read as Scripture and not as a science text.

      • timgombis

        This is a more faithful way of reading Genesis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOnsqCVq42A.

        See other links where John Walton lays out a reading of Genesis in its ancient context.

  • Craig Benno

    Thanks for that link. He has done well to in working through his faith.

    I think the faith issue is interesting, in that many others go through a similar storm: Charo’s / Cessationist, Reformed / Armin etc when journeying to the other side.

    Our faith will always be shaky if we build it on anything else except Christ.

    • timgombis

      That’s exactly it, Craig. I think it’s so tempting to make other things “the foundation,” or “the issue,” in an effort to gain certainty or to guarantee outcomes. That is, idolatry is always and forever the temptation of the human heart. Building lives and communities on Christ alone is always and only risky and runs against the grain of our perverted desires and longings.

  • Brian LePort

    lol, this or someone yawning!

  • Betsy

    I do think we have to be careful here! This is being taken seriously in my community. We have to be patient and kind and not boastful as we approach this debate. I work among very new Christians in a small (somewhat) closed community. I think our approach with knowledge should be always tempered with love, kindness and patience. That would be why I recommend that one listens to this debate….because this debate is where many people are….

    • timgombis

      Indeed, Betsy, there’s no room for anyone to be developing arrogance for any reason. I just don’t know that there’s anything good that can come from this debate. It’s a combative atmosphere that orients participants towards postures of aggression and defense with the aim of triumphing over the other. So, both sides are behaving as non-Christians and there’s no way that anything that works for Christian faithfulness to come from it.

      It may indeed be a good opportunity for Christian ministers, leaders, and teachers to help Christian people to decouple Bible reading strategies from modernism, however. So, we can help people understand how it’s easy for us to want to read Genesis 1-2 as something like modern science rather than as literature.

      Or, it may be a good opportunity for us to help others understand that the logic of the faith does not rest on this or that view of origins — or even this or that view of Genesis 1. Christian faith stands upon Jesus Christ and the promises of the one true God.

      In many ways, the view that Ken Ham represents does indeed find resonance in certain communities. But it does so for many bad reasons: it’s immediately accessible offering a simplified view of everything; it easily and clearly marks out who is ‘right’ and who is responsible for all the bad stuff.

      But I agree with what you’re saying — I’d say that the fact that this reading of Scripture and this conception of the faith is quite common means that Christian teachers need to be patient and kind with those who see the world this way. But it certainly means that we need to discern how we can foster growth.

      Because this is our aim, I see this “debate” as more of a hindrance to Christian aims — though it does provide us with opportunities to shepherd communities in unique ways. And, as always, without arrogance or a judgmental spirit!

  • Trevor Bryant

    Reblogged this on Longing For Redemption and commented:
    I’m both excited and nervous. Unfortunately, I don’t believe many people’s views will be changed either way (and certainly neither Bill Nye or Ken Ham will cede and ground on their position), though perhaps it will be a good opportunity for civil discussion and broadening of our thought processes.

  • Dan Magee

    Hi Professor Gombis. Hope all is well with you. I have no doubt that Christians frequently and unfortunately take an improper tone when engaging unbelievers on the difficult topics our society is concerned about. But what percentage of the text of the four Gospels capture Christ engaging in “debate and combative dialogue”? As in many things, it seems a balance between the extremes may be desirable. I thought tone-wise, Ken Hamm was fine tonight and didn’t hurt our cause. The content, delivery, and structure of his arguments left much to be desired unfortunately.

    • timgombis

      Hey Dan, you’re right, Jesus is indeed in vigorous and direct dialogue with the Pharisees in the Gospels. But that’s mainly because Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and the Pharisees are representative of the Jewish culture he’s calling to repentance. So, just like a Jewish prophet calling Israel back to faithfulness to Israel’s God, Jesus confronts them (among others), calling them to return. But does this mean that Jesus and the Pharisees sets the pattern for how the Christian church engages outsiders? Well, in my opinion, I don’t think so. I think a better model is something like Paul in Acts 17. There’s lots there to consider about deference, respect for others, being winsome.

      If it were the case that the discussion was about important matters of what our society is concerned about, that’d be one thing. But an encounter where both sides are trying to “win,” invites all sorts of unhealthy dynamics that can only be destructive.

      And personally, I would not use the expression “our cause” when it comes to my consideration of Ken Ham. I don’t find I have common cause with him in anything.

  • gjohnston2244

    Tim, your reply is spot on, in my opinion. There is no instruction or precedent (that I know of) for a confrontational and combative polemic with those outside the people of God. Jesus’ aggressive (often defiant) confrontation with the synagogue and temple cults of his day was one leading to judgment, so that “seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not hear,” It is a serious misreading of the gospels to apply Jesus’ rhetoric and tone with Israel as an appropriate posture for Christians among unbelievers, whether they be evolutionists, abortionists or homosexuals. Our apologetic among those outside the faith should be in meekness and fear.

    • Dan Magee

      Let me start by saying I am not endorsing Ken Hamm. Your blog post popped up on my facebook thread when someone shared it. I asked the question about Jesus’ ministry because I was, and am, worried that your post and the ensuing comments will work to validate a saying that many Christians have unfortunately grown quite fond of: “preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” I believe many, myself included, often use this as a crutch to quietly live a good life. I frequently dismiss the “if necessary” part by convincing myself it is never the right situation to use words. The fact is, we are called to use our words to spread the Gospel. See Mark 16:15 and Romans 10:17. Certainly, as was my point in my original post, there must be a balance. I firmly believe building relationships with others and showing them love is essential.

      Jesus’ ministry was certainly unique. So asking what percentage of his ministry was devoted to confrontation and combative dialogue may not have been the most appropriate question. I just get nervous when we start talking about evangelism in a way that suggests confrontation is to be avoided at all costs. At some point, you have to engage people. You have to confront them with the Gospel, offensive as it is.

      It is interesting that you brought up Acts 17. I had that same passage in mind when I made the original post. Acts 17:17 says “he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews…” I admit, reading that passage again, specifically verses 22 on, there seems to be less debate and more proclamation of the Gospel.

      In the end, I admit you can’t necessarily convince someone into believing Christ is Lord. That idea is inherently paradoxical. So I’m not championing Ken Hamm’s methods. At the same time, I appreciate Hamm’s willingness to engage someone who represents a widely accepted worldview. He also did present the Gospel clearly. And as I stated in the beginning, his tone wasn’t offensive.

      Finally, when I referred to “our cause”, I assumed you, Ken Hamm, and I were believers that are all called to “go and make disciples.” So my reference to “our cause” was the salvation of others. In this portion of my post, I was referring to our testimony and reputation among non-believers. My point, in referring to our cause, was that I did not believe Ken Hamm’s tone was harmful to our call, as you assumed it would be when you originally published this post.

      Gjohnston,
      I’m struggling to find anything in the Bible that suggests we should witness in fear. Ephesians 6:18-20 seems to suggest exactly the opposite. In terms of meekness, I agree we should be humble when presenting the Gospel.

      Perhaps combative is too strong a word for our witness and should be reserved for Christ’s unique ministry.

      • gjohnston2244

        Hello Dan. I have a few things to say, but this is Tim’s blog, so I’ll yield to him. When I suggested our apologetic should be in “meekness and fear,” I actually had a text in mind (1 Peter 3:15-16), although some translations use the words “gentleness and reverence.” Also consider 1 Corinthians 2:3).

      • timgombis

        Hey Dan,
        Thanks for this. A few thoughts in response:
        First, why do you feel it’s unacceptable to merely live a quiet and good life? Why is that a bad thing? Read 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. Is that not what God calls us to? I’m not sure what you think is missing.
        I’m also familiar with the pressure that many feel to evangelize regularly. As you say, “The fact is, we are called to use our words to spread the Gospel.” I know this is commonly assumed, but I wouldn’t use those texts to support such an assumption, nor would you find much biblical warrant if you looked for other passages.
        You say: “I just get nervous when we start talking about evangelism in a way that suggests confrontation is to be avoided at all costs. At some point, you have to engage people. You have to confront them with the Gospel, offensive as it is.”
        I wasn’t talking about evangelism. The post was about the debate, which is very possibly the worst conceivable form of what might pass for evangelism. Further, I don’t know that confrontation should be avoided at all costs, but why do you feel that “you have to confront people with the Gospel, offensive as it is?”
        Are you articulating this from the standpoint of an offensive and confrontationally-addicted evangelical mindset? This certainly isn’t reflective of Scripture (though undoubtedly certain texts are often marshaled to endorse such a posture toward people).
        It seems to me that based on common perceptions of Christian people, we’ve done a fairly good job of convincing everyone that we’re offensive and confrontational.
        Again, I do not imagine that I share any common cause with Ken Ham or AIG. Their mode of engaging the wider culture is sub-Christian, in my opinion. Further, their advocacy of an unprecedented revision of the structure of the Christian faith is breathtakingly arrogant and tragically wrong.

      • gjohnston2244

        I second all of this. The most sober and critical reflection on evangelism I’ve read in a long time. I think evangelicals seriously misread the texts they traditionally use to derive the doctrine that every believer should be aggressively involved in evangelism, including the Great Commission and the commissioning texts in Luke-Acts. In my opinion, a whole lot more than a universal command to evangelize is going on in those texts. Not to mention the one in Mark 16.

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