Ken Ham and Bill Nye Debate Creationism, and the Winner Is…

Standard

By Roger Erdvig and Lynn Swaner

On Tuesday night Ken Ham, prominent creationist (CEO of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum), engaged in public debate with Bill Nye (of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” fame) on the topic of the validity of creationism as an explanation for the origin of the universe. There were not many surprises in the debate– Bill Nye did not “convert” to a belief in creationism, nor did Ken Ham capitulate on his strong stance against evolution.

But really, public debates of this nature are not for the purpose of changing the mindset of the debaters. Rather, debates offer the public the opportunity to listen to two (or more) thoughtful individuals engage in a disciplined, well-reasoned dialogue about an important issue. Observers should come away with a greater understanding of the overall issue and of the opposing viewpoints. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people think of debates only in terms of the angry exchanges on talk radio and television news shows. These spectacles are not true debates. By contrast, last night’s debate was a thoughtful public discourse, and we can applaud both Nye and Ham for being respectful (for the most part) and being willing to debate in the first place. To look for a winner is to miss the point of such a debate (and if we are honest, most people’s opinions on who “won” will most likely be derived from their starting view of evolution versus creation).

So what was the point of the debate, especially if we cannot objectively and decisively declare a winner? We think there are three points.

The first point is that despite what we may have heard or read, the question of origins is still alive and kicking. The debate put this issue smack dab on the front page of CNN.com (which summarized the debate as “Nobody knows” vs. “It’s in the Bible”) and other national media outlets. The debate even received decent international coverage. Both sides may label the other position absurd, outlandish, and/or offensive, but the matter is far from “decided” culturally — according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, about two-thirds of Americans believe in evolution, and one-third believe that humans have always existed in their present form. Despite this reality, public science education accepts and teaches evolution as the only viable (and “established”) way to view origins. The debate reminded us that people not only have the right to ask where humans came from, but also the right to open dialogue on that question.

The second point is that the debate underscored the importance of “worldview.” If you watched the debate, it couldn’t be clearer that what we believe about origins is central to our understanding or “view” of the world, and our place as human beings in it. The debaters themselves recognized this, often using the term “worldview” to describe the opposing position. The Bible itself, in Hebrews 11:3, acknowledges the role of worldview as it relates to origins: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Likewise Paul, when preaching in Acts 17 to Greek philosophers, used creation as his starting point to explain the “Unknown God” of the Athenians; he began by saying that God, “who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth…” (v. 24) is the One who “gives to all life breath, and all things” (v. 25) and “has made from one blood every nation of men” (v. 26). Without this understanding of origins, little else in the Bible (including salvation) makes sense or can be claimed as true — a point upon which both Bill Nye and Ken Ham agreed and demonstrated. Everything hinges on worldview.

A third point of the debate – and another point of agreement among the debaters – is that education is a primary agent of worldview development in children’s lives (we witnessed Ham asserting that public school textbooks deprive children the chance to consider creationism and thereby push a secular worldview, and Nye begging that science education be kept “pure” and “free” from the influence of “religion”). Make no mistake about it — the debate was as much about what our children should be taught about origins as it was about what we believe individually. As educators and parents ourselves, we need to take the cue from Ham and Nye and ask the important question of how our children’s worldviews are developing. We need to scrutinize carefully the primary, educational shapers of that worldview. Specifically, we need to think critically about the type of schooling our children receive, the worldview of the adults who provide the schooling, and the curriculum and materials used in that schooling. The implications for our children’s worldviews — and thereby what they believe, who they are, and what they do — are profound.

Given these three points, here’s our final opinion on the debate last night: We think it was wonderful. Even though a number of the answers were not fully satisfying and seemed rushed, we loved every minute of it — and delightfully, there were over 150 of those minutes. We were with a group of over fifty people who stayed engaged for the full debate, and in this age of sound-bite sermons that must be wrapped up in a half hour lest “you lose the congregation,” it was refreshing to see so many people, young and old, listening to sometimes heady dialogue for that long. We cannot all agree on a decisive winner, but the debate helped us understand the strengths and weaknesses of our own arguments, and assess the strengths and weaknesses of others. It also keeps those issues that matter most — our beliefs about where we come from, which in turn influence who we are and what we do with our lives, and the way we shape those beliefs through education — on the front burner of our culture.

For those reasons, Ken Ham and Bill Nye are to be commended for engaging in this critical conversation, and allowing us to listen in. They have helped to educate all of us.

Roger Erdvig is the Superintendent and Lynn Swaner is the Assistant to the Superintendent for Academics at Smithtown Christian School.

To watch the full debate from Tuesday, February 4, 2014, visit www.debatelive.org.

Advertisements

The Trial of Frank Schaefer

Standard

article-frankschaefer-1119If headlines from major news outlets are any indication, the whole country has been captivated by the trial and conviction of Rev. Frank Schaefer by the United Methodist Church, for performing the gay wedding ceremony of his son.

Besides the fact that gay marriage is one of the hottest topics in the news, the media and general public are also likely intrigued by the fact that church bodies actually conduct trials. In today’s post-postmodern culture that values relativism and rejects any concept of objective truth, the notion that doctrine is something to be upheld and defended must sound antiquated at best and “intolerant” at worst. This is bolstered by the fact that when churches have held trials, history has rarely proven kind.

To those inside the church, recent happenings sound somewhat reminiscent of Martin Luther: a German pastor taking a stand against the church’s teaching, for which he shows no remorse, and from which he won’t recant. Continuing and extending the typology, supporters of Pastor Frank Schaefer overturned chairs upon the verdict’s reading – symbolic of Jesus overturning the moneychangers’ tables in the temple.

To those both inside and outside the church, then, the trial has been framed with all the trappings of reformation. Given the emotional dimensions of this case, along with the shifting tide of our culture – moving beyond gay rights, now to pro-gay policy and education – it is easy to understand why it has captured Americans’ attention.

But I became intrigued in this case for another, more personal reason. Pastor Frank was, at one time in my life, a dear friend. We ate together, played tennis together, worked together, and led worship in a small church together for a few years back in the early 1990s. Over the years our lives followed different paths – geographical, vocational, denominational – to that regrettable but inevitable point where our families dropped off of each other’s Christmas card lists. I used to think that time was all that had moved our families apart, but as I watch the news, I realize that much more than years separates me from my friend.

As I suspect it is for many Christians, the issue of how the church should address homosexuality has hit closer and closer to home for me. Within days after I first heard about Pastor Frank’s dilemma, I heard from another friend of mine about his decision to support his own child’s coming out. I have ended up in that difficult position that is becoming more common in the church: being quite literally torn between our love for friends and relatives, and our love for the truth of God’s Word. The church’s response to this heartbreaking conundrum is often bewildered and indecisive. We find ourselves able to do little beyond asking, “How did we get here so fast?” – with no small measure of resignation.

But here, at this intersection of the personal and cultural, I find that I, too, “cannot remain silent anymore,” as Pastor Frank is frequently quoted as saying. It is with greatest sobriety—and not without personal risk — that I can no longer be silent while the sound bites and commentary in the media cast Pastor Frank as a modern Martin Luther or Jesus Himself, risking it all to stand alone against what he perceives as a rigid and oppressive religious establishment that has lost touch with God’s heart.

Speaking out on this issue is hard – almost as hard as correcting someone’s theology after they’ve tearfully spoken at a loved-one’s funeral. How do you tell a grieving wife that the spirit of her husband is not actually walking next to her, guiding her every move as she rebuilds her life? Telling the truth in this case is easily perceived as cruel and heartless, even if we seek to do so in the gentlest, most loving way possible, and at an appropriate time. Wouldn’t God’s priority be for her to feel love and comfort? The answer is yes, but not at the expense of truth: allowing someone to live comfortably with hope based on a lie is equally cruel. Assuring someone who is gay that God accepts their lifestyle is offering hope based on untruth: it’s not real hope. God’s true hope, and God’s true comfort, will always be exactly that – rooted in the truth.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21. The ruler asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and the Bible records that “Jesus looked at him and loved him” – and then told the young man the truth (Jesus told him that he needed to sell his possessions, likely because of the idolatrous position they occupied in the young man’s life). In this passage, Jesus demonstrates for us that truly loving someone – even when what’s at stake is a person’s eternal relationship with God – means telling them the truth about their condition. And Jesus did this, even knowing what the negative outcome would be – that the young man would turn his back and walk away. As hard as it may be for us to grasp from our fallen, human standpoint, from a Biblical perspective, this is what true love looks like. In order to truly love our friends and relatives who are gay or claim the homosexual lifestyle as biblically acceptable, we need to speak the truth. And we have an encouragement from scripture that it’s possible to do so in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Yet even if we aim to follow Christ’s example and speak the truth in love, we will inevitably come up against varying claims about what the “truth” actually is. Supporters of “gay Christianity” routinely offer re-interpretations of the Bible’s view of homosexuality. One view I’ve heard from the trial of Pastor Frank is that since Jesus doesn’t talk about homosexuality in the Gospels, the issue is obviously not really important to Him. Consequently, it should not be a focus for the church, either. To an increasingly biblically illiterate church and society, this neatly settles the issue: If homosexuality (or transgenderism, or bi-sexuality) wasn’t important enough to Jesus for him to talk about it, then the church probably shouldn’t be making such a big deal about it either.

Is this really true? First of all, this statement is called an argumentum e silentio, or “argument from silence,” and is a very weak rationale upon which to build a case. The same argument could be made in support of just about anything else that Jesus didn’t address directly in the Gospels, including abortion. But at a deeper level, everyone who believes that Jesus is the living Word of God should be taking great exception to this. Since Jesus is the Word (see the first chapter of the Gospel of John), everything in the Scriptures actually is a direct quote from Him. God’s Word contains many direct statements and clear inferences concerning the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. As Jesus is the living Word of God, Jesus therefore has a lot to say about homosexuality. Buying into this argumentum e silentio ultimately requires denying the divine origin of all scripture and that Jesus is the incarnate Word of God.

This particular reframing of “truth,” which features prominently in the coverage of Pastor Frank’s trial, is by no means the only reframing out there. Some proponents of gay Christianity claim the Old Testament laws dealing with sexuality are irrelevant for those living under the New Covenant. Others claim the divine retribution visited on Sodom had nothing to do with “normative” homosexual practices, but rather violent acts that were homosexual in nature. Parents, church leaders, and Christian educators must proactively engage this debate, and offer sound arguments and counter-framing on this critical issue. One valuable resource that has proven helpful to me is an article by Wayne Grudem, posted on WorldMag.com on April 6, 2013, called “The Bible and Homosexuality.”

Where individuals and churches fall on the issue of homosexuality will be recorded in church history books as one of the defining decisions of our day. Given the national attention on Pastor Frank Schaefer’s trial and conviction, it’s clear the media and larger culture recognize this. It’s time for all of us in the church to recognize this as well. What is at stake is no less than where we stand on the truth of the Gospel, and how we speak the truth in love– to those who may very well be the closest to us. Anything less is tantamount to keeping silent.