Last week, I took the time to watch the debate that took place in February between Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Ken Ham, a young-Earth creationist based in Kentucky.
I’m going to agree with much of the media that the debate was a disaster for science and a triumph for Ken Ham. The slick podiums with the signatures of the participants superimposed over their beaming faces; the impeccably dressed moderator brimming with even-handed smugness, delivering the Creation Museum’s telling underhanded strike at the end when he told the audience to review the entire debate at debatelive.org, a webpage prominently titled: “Debunking Bill Nye’s Arguments.” Nye took the whole affair lying down, rather like Gulliver, the Lilliputians tying strings across his chest.
The whole event lent to creationism a completely undeserved space for credibility. Ken Ham and his colleagues had jumped at the chance for that space, and spent the night revelling in its glory. In many ways debate itself was their victory.
With that context acknowledged, however, he debate mattered too. And my opinion here is that Nye’s strategy was a complete failure. Why? Because he talked facts and science. Ham, on the other hand, talked worldview.
In his own words, Ham said that “the creation/evolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews.”
He’s right: the evolution/creation debate is not about facts. If it were, we would all acknowledge evolution. As it is, the reason almost half of us are literal Bible believers is that we’ve been brought up to see belief in creationism as inseparable from our deepest values of life, truth, family, and God. With that fundamental assumption unchallenged, we will hold on to our values and dismiss any kind of facts that come our way. And Bill Nye forgot that if you’re going to go to Rome, you should debate as the Romans do.
Ken Ham carried the day by creating an image of himself as a scientist. He took the time to put his foot on Nye’s ground and pretend it belonged there. Nye barely took any time to debate about evolution and religion, probably because he’s not religious himself. But imagine if he were, and had said: “Do you really believe it’s possible that God, who is infinite, would ever confine himself to the single pages of one book? That he would offer only one, and not many, ways of salvation to his people? Shouldn’t his truth be like a deep well that springs up in many different places?”
Many creationists will go on reading the Bible literally for the rest of their lives, but perhaps some are on the fence. And if we’re going to ask those people to consider tearing their philosophical house down, we should be able to offer another with as much, if not more, meaning than the first.
I doubt that this is impossible. I’m thinking now of another one of Ham’s statements, when speaking about the Christian conception of the universe: “a perfect creation, it will be perfect again in the end.”
One doesn’t need literal belief in the Bible to find this theme in spiritual tradition all across the world. It was described to me once by a rabbi who quoted Kabbalah’s saying: “In the beginning God was one, but it was lonely. He wanted a friend; so he split himself.”
In those three final words one can picture the immeasurable burst of form and light from the Big Bang: God-essence divided, spewing itself through the darkness to form galaxies and nebulae, giving rise to life and conscious forms. Beings arose who could rediscover their essence as God, the Universe, Himself, embodied in each other and their capacity for self-less love. The story of the return to the divine is told in the Kabbalah of Judaism, the poetry of Rumi, even in Jesus’s fable of the lost son returning to his father, who now loves him more than before.
Interestingly enough, Nye touched upon this worldview when he said, “It is a wonderful and astonishing thing to me that we are … one of the ways that the Universe knows itself.” I wonder if he knows how close he came to really winning the debate.