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Lessons From The Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate

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Last night I was blessed with the opportunity to drive to Cincinnati with my wife and parents to attend the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate. The debate was very interesting, and I wish to share with you my thoughts, along with four relevant lessons for all Christians.

Unfortunately, debates (like last night’s Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye) are rarely won by the man who provides better evidence. Debates, especially in our sound-byte addicted, entertainment oriented culture, are won by the man who is the most animated, articulate, funny, and passionate. Sadly, from this perspective, Bill Nye arguably won the debate. He had more debate experience and connected more with the audience.

A Night Of Missed Opportunities

If I had to summarize the debate in one sentence, I would say, “It was a night of missed opportunities.” Bill Nye gave Ken Ham some very good opportunities to respond with some very challenging arguments. Yet Ken Ham did not answer very many of them. Perhaps my biggest disappointment was Ham’s answer to, “What would cause you to change your mind?” He gave a weak answer about how he would always believe the Bible (and thus didn’t really answer the question). In so doing, he helped fuel the stigma that Christians are closed-minded and unwilling to reason with contrary views. A better answer, I believe, would have been, “If the Bible is proven wrong, I would change my mind.” That would have been powerful! Of course, the Bible never has been proven wrong (nor will it be).

The debate turned into a Creation vs. ‘Science’ issue, rather than a Creation vs. Evolution issue. Ken Ham could have done a better job in showing that Creationism in fact owns science, and that Christians support honest scientific research and achievement.

Perhaps Ken succeeded in showing the world that Christians are reasonable people. Arguably, he helped further the idea that Creationism is a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era. Yet, he failed to captivate the hearts and minds of the audience. Again, debates [sadly] aren’t about being right; debates are about developing and communicating a more effective argument.

Still, overall, Nye failed to do the impossible. He failed to paint the atheist worldview as the more attractive option. Creationism is the most reasonable explanation of human origins.

The Night A Childhood Hero Died

Bill Nye the Science Guy is the childhood hero of many people. My generation grew up watching him on TV. He made science fun! How? He was funny, charming, and always knew the how to explain complicated things on a child’s level.

But last night, my childhood hero Bill Nye died. He wasn’t the great man he played on TV. Instead, what I saw was a slightly snarky, sarcastic, anti-Christian man simply trying to push the secular agenda. He spoke of the Christian worldview in a derogatory way, often referring to God’s account of creation as the “Ken Ham creation model” or a “disturbing” story based on “magic.” Bill Nye is no hero.

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Four Lessons From The Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham Debate For Christians:

1. Don’t teach too much, too quickly. Ken Ham, in a national debate with a prominent atheist about whether Creationism is a viable model of origins, talked a lot about “sin” and God’s purpose in the Cross. He also introduced his false “new earth” theology. He made the classic mistake of bringing too much to the table. Instead, he should have kept the debate simple. Matters of sin and redemption are too much for people who do not even believe in God to accept. Once Creationism is recognized as the only reasonable explanation of origins, spiritual matters can be discussed. But only then. After all, “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psa. 19:1). Christians should follow the example of Paul during his sermon to the Athenian philosophers (Acts 17). He didn’t throw more at his audience than they could handle. Likewise, Christians need to make sure the people they are talking to believe in God and accept the authority of Scripture before engaging them with deeper theological issues.
2. Know your limits. The debate was stacked against Ken Ham from the beginning. The debate topic, “Is Creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era,” automatically put Creationism on the defensive. Additionally, Ken Ham was debating a famous cultural figure who had much more experience with debating in front of a camera and an audience. Christians, we need to make sure we do not bite off more than we can chew when discussing matters of faith and religion.
3. Your presentation is every bit as important as being right. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. I know Paul said, “I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:1). I’d want to be right rather than popular. Truth will triumph in the end, so we don’t need to mask the beauty of God’s Word with our own rhetorical ability. Yet, in today’s culture especially, we need to make sure we are enthusiastic, passionate, knowledgeable, and aware of our audience when we speak. We need to make sure that our presentation of the Gospel is as excellent and as personal as we know to make it. Bill Nye had an easier time winning the hearts and minds of the audience – not because his argument was stronger, but because he connected better with the audience.
4. Answer the arguments and questions the other side is making. Again, Ken Ham missed too many opportunities. Why? Partly because he had too many pre-prepared arguments. Christians, we need to make sure we are listening to the questions the other side is asking, not asking the questions for them. As we appeal to others about the truth of God’s Word, we need to make sure we are answering the real questions in a relevant way.

While I am somewhat disappointed in the outcome of the debate, I really admire the courage and conviction of men like Ken Ham for standing up to intellectual bullies like Bill Nye. I appreciate men who are willing to take a stand for Christ, even if – like Ken Ham – they have an inadequate conception of God’s scheme of redemption and obedient faith. What we need is more men like Ken Ham! Parents, speak highly of creationists and encourage your children to contend for the faith. Our world, more than ever before, needs men and women of courage.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged, even if they are in disagreement. However, please keep your comments relevant to the article. For my full comment policy, click here.

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17 Responses to Lessons From The Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye Debate

  1. Matthew French minister Church of Christ February 5, 2014 at 5:45 PM #

    Well said. good points to ponder.

    • Robert February 5, 2014 at 6:56 PM #

      Sounds like a very interesting debate. You are right no one ever wins a debate. Truth is the only winner.

  2. Russell Kline February 5, 2014 at 6:46 PM #

    This is an outstanding blog. Very insightful. I appreciate the points you made.

  3. Matthew French minister Church of Christ February 5, 2014 at 10:17 PM #

    what is his ‘new earth’ theology you spoke of? i didn’t catch the debate.

    • Ben February 5, 2014 at 10:59 PM #

      Ken Ham apparently believes the “new heaven and a new earth” of Rev. 21 to be a literal, refurbished physical earth, cleansed by fire. He usually alludes to this when he talks about “consummation” in his “7 C’s’ of creation.

  4. Matthew French minister Church of Christ February 6, 2014 at 12:38 AM #

    thanks for clearing that up.

  5. Mark Henthorne February 6, 2014 at 8:53 AM #

    This discussion also should tell us all as parents and teachers that we must arm our children and ourselves with the evidence that does surround us. Teach more apologetics and Christian evidences to our congregations. True science has never been more on our side or more available to us. But we must be trained in how to discuss it.

  6. Micah February 6, 2014 at 12:09 PM #

    Great points. It really stood out to me how much he relied on Biblical authority when defending Creationism. I kept thinking it weakened the position of Creationism as a legitimate science to those who have no knowledge of or belief in the Bible (as Nye clearly didn’t).

    It sounds odd to say, but he really should have kept the Bible out of the debate. By doing so, he could have relied on scientific evidence (a language Nye and those like him know and believe in) to support the Creationist model and highlight the shortcomings of the Evolutionary model. Paradoxically, by not relying on the Bible, he would have helped legitimize the Biblical view by speaking a language understood by atheistic (or at least agnostic) scientist. I thought your example of Paul at Mars Hill was a good parallel to this.

    He spent too much time trying to explain and defend the Bible and missed opportunities not only to respond to the questions posed (it bothered me that he never really addressed the fairly simple and continuous question of “predicting”), but also missed opportunities to go on the offensive.

    For instance, I never heard him ask such simple questions as “how can something come from nothing” as there is no viable theory currently out there to explain what banged and even some of the oscillating universe approaches don’t come close to being supported scientifically. Or, “Why, if laws of science are based on repeatable, observable outcomes and even then are still open to change, is Evolution considered a fact when there is no repeatable, observable evidence supporting macroevolution or a big bang.” In asking these questions, he could have at least gotten a reasonable man to admit Evolution is nothing more than an incomplete theory rather than an inarguable fact.

    Finally, I think you are taking a little too negative a view of Nye’s character by calling him a “bully.” I don’t know if he is or not, but in the context of the debate, he was passionately defending what he believed in and questioning something he did not understand. If anything, he got a bit frustrated at times, but I would too if someone was attacking my belief system and refused to answer questions that were important to me and helped me understand why. I don’t know why Nye focused on some of the topics he did, such as how creationist can use there method to predict, but that was clearly important to Nye and more or less ignored by Hamm. To me it was less bullying and more scrutinizing.

    I would have done way, way worse than Hamm, but I also didn’t agree to the debate. In talking with others after, we were thinking we would have liked to have seen Kyle Butt argue the Creationist position. While Nye was stronger in this debate, Hamm didn’t completely fall apart. A few years ago when Butt debated in Alabama on a related topic, he completely dismantled the guy. I actually had to stop watching. I would like to see two really strong debaters who know their stuff going at it toe-to-toe. I doubt either would “win,” but I would have a really strong understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the positions. Instead, these recent debates have left me unsatisfied because what stands out are the strengths and weaknesses of the debaters themselves.

    • Ben February 6, 2014 at 12:19 PM #

      Really great points Micah! Putting myself in Nye’s shoes – whether or not he is a genuine pursuer of truth – I would have gotten frustrated with Ham’s responses (or lack thereof). I can understand that. He is a passionate defender of the Atheistic worldview. Yet, he didn’t even have the decency to call the Creation Museum by its name; he called it several times (speaking to Ken Ham) “your facility.” I still think he was a bit of a bully in the debate. But it may just be because Ken Ham was so unaggressive.

      Hamm did better than I would have done, most certainly. But his performance made me appreciate our brethren even more, like Kyle Butt, who I think are capable of doing a much better job than what we saw on Tuesday night.

      I appreciate your thoughts! Thanks again.

  7. themarknessmonster February 6, 2014 at 10:02 PM #

    For the record, this is the first that I’m actually hearing about anyone agreeing with Ken Ham at all after the debate.

  8. Mark February 9, 2014 at 11:10 PM #

    Ben, you write that “A better answer, I believe, would have been, “If the Bible is proven wrong, I would change my mind.” That would have been powerful! Of course, the Bible never has been proven wrong (nor will it be).”

    Isn’t that just fancy wording for the exact same thing that Ken Ham said? If you don’t believe that the bible can or will be proven wrong, then doesn’t your answer serve just as well as Ham’s to prove “that Christians are closed-minded and unwilling to reason with contrary views.”

    Why take exception to Ham’s answer if you are going to say the exact same thing, ultimately? If you are looking to minimize or dispel the notion that Christians are closed-minded, the only way to do that is to allow for the possibility that the bible is not necessarily the answer – especially when science and observation supports that conclusion.

    • Ben February 11, 2014 at 10:56 AM #

      Fact: If the Bible is proven wrong, then I will change my mind.

      Fact: I am confident that the Bible never will be proven wrong, while still primarily maintaining an open mind about – and deep love for – the truth.

      It isn’t closed minded to be both confident in the Bible and dedicated to the pursuit of truth.

      “Science and observation” (somehow these are different??) have yet to support the “possibility that the Bible is not necessarily the answer.” The Bible has yet to be proven wrong, which is completely amazing. It is pretty remarkable that in a book written by over 40 inspired authors, over the span of 1500 years, skeptics can’t nail down one supposed contradiction that can’t be conceivably reconciled.

  9. gil April 23, 2014 at 1:27 PM #

    IF this debate shows one thing, it’s that debatable christian dogma can destroy not only your witness to a neighbor, but also so clouds one’s critical thinking that one loses the ability to apply even the basic rules of logic and debate when witnessing to the world on the internet.
    ( makes me wonder if he even had counsel from debate coaches before going into this, Ravi Zacharia would have been a good one)

    Hopefully Ken Ham will get back up and learn from this, but he’s so stubborn, it will probably take a miracle now that he has so much money invested in his theme park.

  10. gil April 23, 2014 at 1:34 PM #

    No it’s not the same thing Mark. It’s a challenge to all who hear those words to attempt to prove the bible wrong, and like so many others in the past, find God in the process.
    ( . . . for ye are neither cold nor hot, therefor i shall spit you out of My mouth . . . )

    You should study the art of Judo to learn how to use your adversary’s energy as a means to achieve your own positive end. That is what Ben, is in effect doing by suggesting a very wise answer to a try inquisitive question from a confused, lost and dieing world.

  11. Guy Merritt June 6, 2014 at 1:22 AM #

    There is no compelling evidence which suggests the existence of a Christian god, nor, any other god. A variety of faiths have religious texts proclaiming that their god is the real god, and, the only “evidence” which any of them provide are the claims of divine inspiration found within those very books. To argue that their stories are certainly true simply because they say that they are true is transparently ridiculous. The Bible proposes infinite torture for finite, earthly sins (with the punishments being meted out, somewhat paradoxically, by an all-loving God). Try to discuss the complete irrationality of religious faith with a “good Christian” and they inevitably simply quote the Bible, and, suggest that you haven’t studied it completely enough to believe, understand, etc…… I know that the most oft quoted proscription against homosexuality is found in Leviticus – the same book of the Bible which suggests that insubordinate children should be taken to the outskirts of town, by their parents, and stoned to death. There’s a post, above, from someone who says that they will stop believing when the Bible is proven wrong. Unless one selectively rejects a mountain of scientific research which has been proven accurate through replication and testing, the Bible was proven to be a lot of nonsense a long, long time ago. It actually frightens me that, in 2014, a considerable percentage of Americans believe that a fellow named Jonah was swallowed by a whale and survived, and, that the Earth is only ten-thousand years old (along with a lot of other horse manure). The Bible – contrary to what Christians will argue – is vague, and filled with contradictions and violence. When the Bible isn’t busy threatening people into faith/submission it’s just plain silly and reads much like “Jack and the Beanstalk”.

    • Micah June 6, 2014 at 11:32 AM #

      Guy,

      I would like to reply with a couple of quick thoughts (or long, we’ll see what happens).

      Firstly, I really like the idea of having a God who makes life worth it. What is the point of life if all we have to look forward to is death? Maybe there is some subtle pressure to find a greater purpose that leads people to search for a god out there. But the idea of a god is not ridiculous.

      I also do not find it completely irrational to use internal validity as a means of determining whether or not something is valid. I am curious how much Biblical knowledge you have. You sound as though you have some, but that what you know is from only the perspective of “the Bible is false, therefore, I will learn what I need to in order to prove that the Bible is false.” That is not a very scientific approach to determining the validity of a position. There is a lot of confirmation bias that occurs. I would agree that people who grow up as Christians have a lot of confirmation bias as well, just in the opposite direction. I don’t love that either. It is my opinion that everyone needs to sit down and read through the Bible for themselves with an open mind, and then discuss it knowledgeably with people of different positions with an ear toward the truth.

      I am not going to get into specifics, but there is plenty of evidence for the accuracy of the Bible. I can’t think of another religious book that was written by 40 or so people across 2,000 years that is as consistent as the Bible. In fact, most religious books are written by one or a few people working together at the same time, and those are less consistent. It is also interesting the number of prophecies in the old testament that play out, especially related to Jesus and his life. One example would be to read Isaiah 53, and then read the crucifixion accounts in the gospels (i.e. Matt 27). Or to consider that Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem, spend time in Egypt, and then live in Nazareth. Matthew actually spends a lot of time quoting the relevant prophecy in the Jewish text because he was trying to provide evidence that Jesus was actually the Messiah for which the Jews were waiting. There were a lot of prophecies, and Jesus met every one of them. There is also plenty of external evidence that the places and people in the Bible existed and existed long before Jesus was on the earth. And there is even evidence of some of the specific New Testament people referenced, as well as historical events, such as the destruction of the temple in AD 70.

      If I were to go along with the idea that there are inconsistencies in the Bible (which in my opinion often arise from taking specific passages out of context), then that in itself would not be enough to disprove God based on your own assertions in believing scientific evidence. Think about it this way, how many of the scientific theories in that “mountain of evidence” you support have independent researchers publishing literature that completely agrees in every way? How many can even explain why we are here? None. Nothing in that mountain can do more than speculate, and none of the speculation really makes a lot of sense from my perspective. I read an evolutionary scientist who said the worst thing a person can do is try and explain how something came from nothing because we simply don’t know. If there is no uncreated being who just always is, then where did the first something come from? There simply isn’t any logical explanation, so these evolutionary scientist must rely on blind faith that somehow it just did. Based on many scientific theories, the universe is expanding out. If you turn around and look the other direction, then the universe must be diminishing to a point of nothingness. Something cannot come from nothing. So it at least seems logical that there is some force that was not created that has the ability to create. From my studies, the most reasonable conclusion is that the force is God. (Hmm, maybe Christians should start greeting each other with the expression, “May the force be with you.”)

      At some point, whether you ascribe to God, some other god(s), or no God, your position is based on faith. There is no way of knowing for certain whether God exists, but to me, there is plenty of evidence that leads me to believe that makes more sense than any theory man has come up with. And no body of research does a better job of making its case than those who penned the Bible. The consistency and synergy of the Bible isn’t really clear unless it is really studied, which is why it is easy to reject in on cursory glances as a bunch of fairytales of an angry God and crazy people.

      I agree that sometimes Christians will use cop outs such as “proof texting” or “you need to study more” too frequently. However, it is a reasonable assertion to request that you study a theory before completely disparaging it. This goes both ways. Many Christians will only look at sources that poke holes in a theory, such as evolution, without actually attempting to understand the theory or the evidence that supports it. (Sadly, this even happens within Christianity as people set out to poke holes in doctrinal beliefs of others rather than seeking truth together.) I am suggesting that maybe you are doing the same, but in reverse. We could all learn a lot by weighing out the evidence for different positions with as unbiased an approach as is humanly possible.

      I would like to add that, while I believe homosexuality, along with all sexual immorality, does not please God, I do not like using the Leviticus passages as proof text. There are a number of reasons, such as the context in which the book was written, the context of the rest of the passages in which it is stated, and that it is part of the Law of Moses, which is not the law under which Christians operate (and hasn’t been since Christ, hence the name). That does not mean there is no value to the old testament in understanding God and man and God’s faithfulness and consistency compared to man’s – for lack of a better term – flakiness, but the specific rules of the Old Testament are no longer binding. A better area to study would be Romans, particularly homosexuality is discussed along with other activities that displease God in the second half of Ch. 1. I know you don’t care what God says at this time because you don’t believe in God, but you had mentioned this specific area in your comment, so I wanted to share the thought.

      Also, I would slightly disagree with your statement that punishment is being meted out by an all-loving God. God created us to be in a relationship with him; it is we who chose to leave the relationship; he wants to maintain the relationship but people keep deciding to do things their own way, much like my children who think they know better and can’t understand how limited and short-sighted their understanding is. The story of the Bible is that God sacrifices so we can escape the punishment we deserve, but he does not force us to be in a relationship with him. That has to be our choice. So I would say an all-loving God has done everything necessary for us to avoid eternal punishment that we have brought on ourselves, thinking we know better. That would be the Biblical perspective.

      I also would disagree that sins are finite. They might happen one moment, but that does not mean the consequences do not continue indefinitely. If you were to kill someone, the actual killing would be a finite act, but the consequences of the action would be everlastingly unchangeable. Think about it, that death not only immediately ends a person’s life, but might cause others to suffer, or even to never be born, not to mention the impact on the person who does the killing and those within his sphere. The consequences of that single act will continue through all time.

      Thanks for being honest, I hope my response comes across as continuing the civil discussion and not as ill-willed. It’s hard to guess tone sometimes in this format, so I thought I should add that.

      Take care,

      Micah

    • Micah June 6, 2014 at 11:41 AM #

      Sorry, one more thing. I was thinking of Psalm 22, which has more specific references to the crucifixion, such as the garments being divided and the piercing of the hands and feet, although Isaiah 53 is another of many OT passages referencing the future crucifixion, and several cite very specific elements.

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