Many have weighed in already on the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. The issue, probably because of the social and cultural implications, arouses intense passions. I don’t claim to have the last word, but I’ll just offer here some scattered thoughts and perhaps they’ll serve as an explanation for why I said the other day that I just don’t think much good can come from encounters like this one.
First, the debate may leave the general public with the impression that there is only one way that Christians configure the relationship between science and Christian faith. This isn’t the case. There may indeed be one view whose proponents are most vocal, but there’s a range of conviction among good Christian people on how science relates to faith.
Second, the debate probably left many Christian people with the impression that they must choose between scientific conclusions and the Bible. That is, one either believes in what God has said or in the opinion of humans.
This isn’t quite right.
More accurately, a certain interpretation of Genesis 1 is set against a certain interpretation of phenomena in the world (i.e., “science”).
That is, a human interpretation of God’s word is set against a human interpretation of God’s world. Two rival human interpretations are set against each other. This is not a situation in which God stands against scientists or the Bible can be set in opposition to science.
The consequences for getting this wrong have been tragic among many young people who have had their consciences loaded up with the overpowering notion that they must choose between God and science. And many young people, if they become convinced of certain scientific conclusions, imagine that they must reject the Christian faith in order to avoid intellectual suicide.
Third, I cringed at the notion of this debate because in my opinion Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis are wrong about how Christian people ought to encounter the wider culture. There’s much more to say here, but I think their posture represented by this billboard is unfaithful to the way of Jesus.
It is sadly the case that because of our conflicted American culture, many people imagine that Christians are rude, confrontational, abrasive, combative, and unkind. I worry that the debate and its subsequent discussions may stir up an already agitated culture, reinforce a negative perception of Christians, and turn people away from the faith.
In my opinion, God is not made known in the world through people who behave in such abrasive ways. God is faithfully made known in the world through his people taking on the cross-shaped character of Jesus to engage joyfully in patterns of self-giving love for one another and humble service to those outside the church.
I don’t think the debate the other night had anything to do with that mission.