No doubt most of us were aware of the highly promoted debate over origins at Answers in Genesis’s Creation Museum last night, even by those who had no intention of tuning in. Well, I did tune in, and here are a few thoughts about it.
The Debate. I’ve been concerned that Ken Ham would demolish Bill Nye since they announced the debate a few months ago. After all, Ham is an engaging speaker with a unique accent who has spent the last 30-odd years polishing his rhetoric regarding this issue, while Bill Nye, like most scientists, has been doing a lot of different things with his time instead of doggedly repeating the same information. My fears were confirmed when Ham basically trounced Nye. Debates are measured by rhetoric and argument, not by who is “right.” And in this case, Ham won. He was better organized, better spoken, and seemed on top of his game. Nye, on the other hand, seemed scatter-shot, at one point meandering his way through five complex scientific arguments in only two minutes, jumping from topic to topic without logic or clarity, and bringing up information that AiG has spent a lot of time and money providing detailed “answers” to (what about the Ark? The Missoula flood? The Grand Canyon? Mount St. Helens? Etc.). Nye also couldn’t resist the bait to jump into Biblical interpretation and expose his ignorance of theology even more, which accomplished little more than reinforce in the hostile audience’s mind that he wasn’t taking them or their Bible very seriously.
The Problem. I was really conflicted by the debate. I share a faith in common with Ken Ham and so I wanted to be loyal to the Christian debating the atheist. But at the same time, I share the scientific convictions of Bill Nye, and so I wanted him to do well enough to show the many Christians who blindly accept AiG’s teachings on Genesis that there are other choices, and to be open to new possibilities.
Of course, that was impossible. Bill Nye is an atheist, and he is in no position to offer alternative readings concerning Genesis. But I was at least hoping that Ham would be bested scientifically once or twice, enough to start cracking the invincible armor of fundamentalism in his audience. But ultimately that’s the problem with the creation vs. evolution debate. Both the atheist and the creationist depend upon Genesis being literal history – the creationist in order to feel secure, and the atheist in order to be free to reject it as ridiculous.
The Solution. This was a debate in which the vast majority of people were excluded. We had a debate between the relatively small group of atheists and the relatively fringe group of Christians who believe in a young earth, both of which are fighting over whether taking Genesis-as-history is insane or reasonable.
To me this misses the point entirely. Because the whole debate turns on whether Genesis is history, or at least history as defined by modernism. Once we realize there are other options, once we inject the conversation with other possibilities, the whole fight is seen for the silliness it is. What if Genesis isn’t history? What if ancient Hebraic writers in the Near East were inspired by God to record an origins account after the fashion and in the genre of ancient Near East cosmological world-pictures? Well, suddenly we’re in a whole new realm in which the opening of Genesis is written to conform to a well-known and well-researched ANE literary genre that is not intended to be taken as precise history, but is rather intended to set up a certain people for a certain task and a certain way of living. And there are strong indications that Genesis conforms to this kind of literature. The world model depicted in Genesis (heavens above, abyss below, earth in the middle, with the waters above and the waters below, etc.) is a world model that is common in the ANE, though there are also substantive differences in the Israelite version.
Once this is realized, we can ease off the “science vs. faith” confrontation. The atheist can’t use Genesis to excuse their disbelief if Genesis was never intended to be taken as factual history, and the Christian can no longer use Genesis to harm the cause of Christ by arguing insane things. Because we need the absolute faith of Ken Ham and the science of Bill Nye to work together for the glory of Christ, not work against each other. Those two impulses, redirected in harmony toward the world and for the good of the world, is a powerful thing that can move mountains.