Sandwiched in between the Super Bowl and the Olympics this week is the event those of us in the science and religion business are compelled to follow—what has been dubbed the “Ham on Nye” debate. We’ve already gone on record saying we’re concerned that an event like this persuades too many people that they have to choose between their Christian faith and sound scientific explanations. So on the one hand, we’re not entirely thrilled about drawing more attention to it; but on the other hand, our ignoring it will probably not keep many people from watching anyway, and we keep getting asked for our take on the debate (for example, see this story from the Religion News Service interviewing President Deb Haarsma, picked up by the Washington Post). And like those other sporting events, part of the show is the analysis by the talking heads. So here goes our contribution to the big game.
Pre-Game Analysis: Keys to the Game
We suspect that Ham’s strategy will be the attempt to discredit evolutionary theory as merely “historical science” rather than “observational science.” As such, Ham will claim that evolutionary theory consists only of a few ambiguous evidences and then some major assumptions that cannot be tested observationally. Hopefully Nye will show that evolutionary theory rests squarely on observations from the natural world, and that there are many predictions from these observations that can be tested through further observation of the evidences that evolution has left behind. But then we’ll also need to pay attention to whether too much is claimed for science by Nye. We think science is a tool for understanding the natural world, but we don’t think science can explain all of reality. Accepting the science of evolution does not have to lead to scientism.
Next we’ll be interested to see how the word “creation” is used. The debate has been billed as addressing the question of whether creation is a viable model for origins. But remember all of us Christians believe that God is the Creator. To this extent we agree with Ham. But too often the word “creation” is used to refer to the idea that God must have created the earth and life less than ten thousand years ago. We believe “creation” is best understood as a theological term—that God is the “Who” of creation—not as any of the particular scientific theories for “how” God created. Scientifically, we accept evolution as the best description of the process God used to create the diversity of life on the planet, so we have embraced the label “evolutionary creation” as our position on origins.
We doubt that biblical interpretation will have much of an overt presence in the debate, since Nye is not concerned with that at all. But those of us who are Christians are very interested in Scripture and how it informs our thinking on origins. Will Ham’s position assume that we can understand the full message of Scripture without considering its cultural context? God used human authors to convey his message to us, and they believed some very different things about the world than we do. It doesn’t appear that God revealed modern science to them before inspiring them, so God’s message comes through the medium of another culture and thought-world. Taking Scripture seriously demands that we do the hard work of understanding that medium before confidently concluding that it makes scientific predictions.
Finally, watch to see whether the debate encourages the opinion that science and Christianity are at war. As we said before, we don’t think you have to choose sides. Both nature and Scripture are revelations from God. Humans’ scientific explanations of nature and interpretations of Scripture will sometimes conflict. But we believe the most robust science and the most faithful interpretations of Scripture can be in beautiful harmony.