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Ham on Nye: the deeper problem

I realize the news cycle on the Ham vs. Nye debate has moved on. It is just that someone sent me this and I realized that the evangelical conversation continues, and it is into that conversation that I wish to contribute.

Disclaimer: I did not watch the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham “debate” although I have read parts of the transcript. The first thing that needs to be said, and I’m am not the first to do so, is that this was not a debate. It was two individuals speaking totally different languages. Ken Ham’s piece (linked to above) illustrates it well. He says,

“What I found really unfortunate is that after presenting my stand on God’s Word, there were a number of Christians who were more complimentary of Bill Nye than of me because Bill Nye was defending evolution and billions of years.  You would think these Christians would be thankful that I presented the gospel at least three times during the debate. But it seems these Christian critics are more concerned about what I believe in Genesis than about people hearing the gospel.”

There it is: one of these speakers was talking about evolution and one was talking about the Christian gospel. It appears, and if I am wrong please help me see that, but it appears to me that Ken believes the only way you have a “gospel” — the Good News of the saving, redemptive work of Jesus to restore Shalom to all of God’s creation, is to read Genesis literally: six 24-hour periods within which God created the world and everything in it; Eve formed from Adam’s rib; Adam and Eve being the only mated pair of human beings from which the human genome derives; no death of any animal until after the Fall, and so on.

I would further suggest that the reason Ken has a literal interpretation of Genesis is because he believes that a literal reading of the Bible is the only legitimate reading of the Bible.  The Bible is either literal-and-true or literary-and-a-sham. And so we have a bifurcation:

Literal reading of the Bible                    Literary reading of the Bible
Therefore Creation                                   Therefore Evolution
Therefore Gospel                                       Therefore Fairy Tale
Therefore Christian                                  Therefore Non-Christian

From this vantage point, the subtext then of the Ham & Nye debate was all about whether the Bible ought to be read literally, or for believers, whether Christians can read the Bible in a non-literal fashion, with, for instance, sensitivity to literary genre, rhetorical function, and Ancient Near Eastern context, and still be professing Christians.

The problem I have with Ken Ham presenting his gospel message is that he is doing so ONLY within his side of the bifurcation which logically requires that if a person is to accept the gospel (according to Ken Ham), that person must then also buy into a literal interpretation of the Bible. The flip side of the Ken Ham gospel, for professing Christians, is that questioning a literal genesis threatens to unravel (or so they believe) their entire faith and leads irrevocably to apostasy.

This discussion — on science and faith, on literal interpretations of Scripture, on how the Bible ought to function for Christians —  is a robust and engaging one, and if you are interested in jumping in let me know and I can point you to some places to get started.

All I want to say — to my Christian friends as well as to those who are atheists or agnostics or however they self-identify: I have questioned a literal Genesis, a literal reading of the Bible, a literal Adam and Eve. I have actively engaged scientific discussion about evolution and fossils, about a universe and an Earth that are billions of years old. I have pondered what happens to Paul’s view of Jesus when Adam is not an actual being created out of dust in a literal garden with a talking snake.  I have felt enormous dissonance in the face of these questions, in my own soul and in discussions with other people. And still …

  • I am a Christian
  • I am not a Biblical literalist
  • I think God exists and is personally in charge and deeply engaged in our world
  • I think evolution answers the question of how life on earth began and diversified
  • I follow Jesus, trusting in His atoning, redemptive work on my behalf
  • I am more captivated by the Holy Scriptures than ever before
  • I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and is authoritative in my life
  • I love science and the curiosity it foments in me

My faith doubts. It grows as it questions, and it is God who accompanies me in the tension, who challenges me to resist tidy resolution as the basis for my faith.