Naturalism vs. Creationism
I watched with much interest, the “Ham on Nye” debate this past week and because I have received an overwhelming number of queries and comments, I’ve devoted an entire article in response to the core issues raised by the debate. Following is my take on the debate.
First of all, I like Bill Nye and in many ways, I consider him a kindred spirit. I fully support and commend his cause of attracting more young people to careers in science and engineering. As a matter of fact, my first real paying “job” as an undergraduate Physics student was to bring donuts to a class on “phenomenological physics” taught by Professor Earl Zwicker at the Illinois Institute of Technology. I had the joy of helping Prof. Zwicker, the Bill Nye of his day, with positively impacting an entire generation of High School teachers and future scientists in the Chicago area.
From what I witnessed at the debate and in his other venues, Bill Nye possesses the same sense of wonder that Dr. Zwicker and I had during the late 70’s. Bill Nye asks the same questions we all ask, namely, where did we come from and how did the universe come into existence? In my opinion, this should have been the focus of the debate instead of secondary issues such as the age of the universe and geological strata.
Answering the key question of our origins necessarily requires investing some time into defining terms and understanding our individual biases and presuppositions. I commend Ken Ham for at least attempting to properly define the relevant terms. However, both Ham and Nye failed to go beyond their presuppositions to get to core issues of epistemology and the causal agent of creation.
How do we know what we know?
I have to confess, upfront, that I am also quite biased. As a youngster, I read everything I could put my hands on and after reading through the encyclopedia a few times, I turned my attention to some of the theological offerings from my church sitting on a dusty shelf adjacent to my sports, science, and weather magazines. Although I didn’t know it at the time, what I read in Article 2 of The Belgic Confession at age eleven provided my first profound lesson on epistemology:
We know God by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict humans and to leave them without excuse.
Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.
This claim purports that a Creator God provided mankind with two books, 1) the book of nature (or General Revelation), and 2) the book of the Bible (or Special Revelation). Both Nye and Ham accept to varying degrees, the book of nature so the core difference between Nye and Ham centers on the authority and veracity of the Bible. In essence, the core argument was an epistemic argument which neither side had the time or the proclivity to debate. That’s too bad because there is much to be gained in the exploration and proper exposition of the Biblical text in Genesis and elsewhere. Although I can’t do it justice here, there is overwhelming manuscript, archeological, and predictive evidence that supports that the Bible is divine in origin and not just a collection of fairy tales.
During the debate, it was clear that Bill Nye rejects the Bible as a credible source of truth largely based on his presuppositions and personal bias. Likewise, it was clear that Ken Ham’s dogmatic young earth stance did not help his cause because, along with other young earth proponents, he becomes an easy target for secular scientists. Instead of harmonizing the creation account in Genesis with recent scientific discoveries, both Nye and Ham became mired in their own presuppositions and missed the main point entirely, namely, “Where did we come from?” Furthermore, Nye clearly refuted Biblical authority and reproved anyone holding to a “literal” interpretation of the Bible. Although it would have been lost on Nye, I feel that a thoughtful discussion of proper hermeneutics (the science of interpretation) would have been in order at this point. In addition, as a self-proclaimed “rational outsider”, Nye repeatedly directed thinly veiled, ad hominem comments toward the people of Kentucky and elsewhere in the South implying that Biblical based beliefs are irrational. Which brings me to my second point.
Is it rational to believe in the supernatural?
Rational: Consistent with or based on reason; logical
Supernatural: Attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature.
Presupposition 1: Miracles are impossible and therefore do not exist / or
Presupposition 2: Miracles are unusual events caused by God
Definition of Miracle = “A less common kind of God’s activity in which He arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself.” –Systematic Theology p. 357 – Wayne Grudem
Once we assume that God exists, miracles (or the supernatural) are no longer a problem. The question regarding miracles ultimately boils down to whether or not God exists. Simply put, the same God who spoke the universe into existence would obviously have no problem interceding in his creation in the form of miracles or supernatural events. In theological terms, this attribute of self existence is called “aseity”. As I often tell my class, even if you forget the word “aseity”, remember the Julie Andrews’ song from the Sound of Music, “Nothing Comes From Nothing, Nothing Ever Could ....”
If you are more philosophically inclined, here’s the argument in a nutshell: The Law of Causality states that every effect has an antecedent cause. However, not every thing has an antecedent cause. Since the universe must have a cause, a self-existent being is both logically and ontologically necessary. In other words, there has to exist a being who can not not be. Therefore, it is indeed logical to posit that the universe was created by an uncaused first cause. This is called the classic cosmological argument. The Bible affirms this same truth in the book of Exodus when Moses asked God in his verbal exchange with the burning bush, “What is your name? What shall I say to them?” and God said, “I AM WHO I AM” – Ex 3:14 (See also Psalm 90:1,2, John 8:58, Acts 17:24,25)
In conclusion, there is nothing irrational about believing that the same God who created the universe can intervene in his creation at any time in the form of miracles. As we will see in future articles, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that supports ex nihilo creation by the personal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as described in the Bible.
Next time: Does the Bible teach “Blind Faith”?