Watching this debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham made me realise that I was pretty close when it came to Ham's six-day view. I actually would really encourage you to check out this video, it highlights some of the incompatibilities well, along with some of the difficulties for folk like me who don't really agree with either position.
Before we get stuck into these four creationist arguments, I want to briefly point the finger back at Ken Ham (in a loving way of course!) when it comes to the high-jacking of various terms. He claims that "science" and "evolution" are high-jacked. That might be true, but every movement enjoys a bit of high-jacking, and creationism is just as bad. When people talk about "creationist views", they are not, as you might think, talking about views whereby God created the universe. The term has been well and truly high-jacked to mean a literal six-day creation according to the first of the two accounts provided by Genesis (the six-day version is a totally different source to the Genesis 2 account, where Yahweh suddenly is the key name). So because of the sad state of affairs in the world of "creationism", we must yield to the more commonly understood (high-jacked) definition and be careful what we mean by "creation", even if for millions like me, it simply means, God did it.
The first argument of there being no observable way of looking back is a pretty solid one. We have to work in the present and make assumptions about the past being like how we see it today. I think that is pretty solid, but it has some limitations. The one I considered and indeed featured in this debate, is that we know the speed of light. If it can be shown that certain observable galaxies are sufficiently far enough away that the light we perceive on Earth has taken longer than 6000 (or 7500) years to get here, then "creationists" seem to be in trouble. Another limitation that we must face as believers if we are to have a credible face in the world today is reasonableness. If I were to tell you that there is a prancing pink pony prancing along the rings of Saturn, what would you say to me? You're a nut case. However, what if I said back to you: show me the evidence it is false, have you photographed, simultaneously, every single square metre of Saturn's rings to show me that there is no prancing pony? Regarding the past, the ridiculous notion of the pony could be said of the past: we prancing-pony worshippers believe according to our sacred book that the reason we have all the different beautiful colours in Saturn's rings is that our beloved Pony pranced throughout them all at the dawn of time before entering the next dimension. Now you definitely cannot disprove that. Granted.
Secondly, I anticipated an issue with biblical interpretation, that as Christians we need to trust the one person, God, who was present to observe it all. This argument is not aimed so much at atheists as at Christians who do claim that the Bible is authoritative but not literal in some aspects of the stories. That argument was indeed put fourth by Ham, although it sounds like he adopts a 10-commandments-style, God writing the thing through human hands approach. Actually, if Nye had known more about theology, he could have picked up on this by illustration of the second, Yahweh-focussed creation account to illustrate the existence and use of multiple human sources to compile this joint-account. The only places where we have God literally writing, off the top of my head, are:
- 10 commandments (twice)
- "the writing on the wall" (Daniel 5)
- God through Jesus in the textually-disputed passage of John 8, with the woman caught in adultery.
Of course He gets quoted speaking a lot, always in the language of men, especially in the prophets and the book of Job. But there is no quoting going on in the key Genesis 1 passage.
Well this argument seems to hinge on the genre of Genesis 1. Ham conceded of course that there were multiple genres, and sometimes context meant we can interpret certain biblical prescriptions as only necessary for a certain time and place. However, as for Genesis, this remains a strictly historical account for him, hence his insistence that we treat it as such (although both debaters seemed oblivious to the textual issues). The problem he states for all the Christians who accept that scientific research points to a massively older world, is that they still have to come up with some kind of explanation as to why sin and suffering entered the world if the garden of Eden was more myth than reality. The question then needs proper treatment, but we must just leave it hanging for now: can God speak through myth?
Thirdly, I predicted that there are prominent scientific researchers who, although a minority, remain convinced that the Biblical dating method is consistent with the evidence we can gather. Well here I am afraid we can smell a big rat, and again Nye should have smelled it out. There is absolutely no connection between one's intelligence and how much people are affected by their past and beliefs. Take any high-level debate. Take any political debate, scientific debate, theological debate. In general these people are highly-educated, very smart individuals with radically opposed viewpoints, definitions and analysis of the relevant data. That is the first point. Secondly: WHERE ARE THE ATHEIST SIX-DAY CREATION SCIENTISTS? If that is where the evidence could be stacking up, then there should at least be some. Nye missed out on asking a key question: Which of these scientists you reference, Dr Ham, are not Christians? What fundamentalism sadly seems to fail to recognise in this debate is that scientific advance toward knowledge of the universe is not motivated by disproving the biblical perspectives. Much of the religious unbelieving scientific community is simply neutral toward faith unless antagonised.
Fourthly, "creationists" may think they can counter claims that they are theologically-motivated because their opponents (maybe atheistic evolutionists) could also be shown to be motivated by personal convictions, not necessarily arising from the data. My response to this point is a repeat of the previous: it is a mistake to assume that the unbelieving faith community are on some kind of charge to disprove the existence of God. You can really feel the weight of some of that assumption when you listen to Ham arguing.
I think it is clear we can have good grounds for being unconvinced and unconvicted by the literal six-day view.