The Great Debate – A Lost Opportunity

Today’s post is by guest blogger Leo Cloutier in response to the debate held earlier this week between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. It is lengthy but thorough, fascinating, and worth the read…

debate
Okay, what just happened there? For those who were expecting to watch a clash of the apologetic titans on Tuesday night, I’m afraid we’re still sitting shell-shocked in front of our sad little laptops. The great face-off between Bill Nye and Ken Ham broke no new ground, probably won no new converts to either side, and limped to the finish line 2½ hours after it started.

Sadly, both sides played right into the hands of the other and then each died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. You would think on such a huge world stage with viewership in the hundreds of thousands (at least) that each man would take EVERY opportunity to reach out to skeptics on the opposite side of the their argument. After all, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Neither man did so.

Ken Ham, left, and Bill Nye, debate science and creationism.On the Nye side, the assumption was that he would calm conservative Christians, and, to quote one blogger, “show them they don’t need to fear science; that science itself isn’t the enemy.” But instead of trying to build a bridge, he plunged straight ahead into the atheist stereotype abyss. “This book (the Bible) has been translated over and over for 35 centuries,” as if we don’t have the ability to go back to the original sources for our translations to validate its authenticity. It’s just a lot easier for critics like Nye to confuse the average Joe with references to the “telephone game”. He made this irrelevant point at least 3 or 4 different times as a way of saying, “You have way too much confidence in this really old book. It can’t be trusted!”

As the same blogger said, telling conservative Christians they shouldn’t trust the Bible is a little like showing up at Bible study in an “I’m With Satan” t-shirt. Nye walked right into the stereotype of “scientist-as-enemy-of-Christianity”, and nothing else he said after that really mattered.

And then, of course, there was his oft-repeated claim that a belief in God hinders science. The history of science, both past AND present, is a veritable Who’s Who of Christian inventors, explorers, scientists, philosophers and entrepreneurs. But let’s not let the facts get in the way. If you repeat something often enough the gullible public will accept it as fact. And that was clearly Nye’s motivation because the actual facts on the issue annihilate his claim. More on this in a few weeks.

Many of his arguments were of the “straw man” or “red herring” variety. I kept waiting for a better defense of his beliefs. I’m still waiting. I’ll die waiting.

hamAnd then there’s Mr. Ham. As I mentioned last Friday, his Achilles heel would be his insistence on shoving the Young Earth Creation theory front and center. But it was actually worse than that. Mr. Ham had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage actual scientific data to reach literally hundreds of thousands of people craving evidence of a God and directly address the topic of the debate, “Is creation a viable model of origins?” And what did he do with his opportunity? He shanked the punt. He booted the grounder. He missed the lay-up.

Instead of effectively re-directing the fire hose of scientific data that exists to build a case for Christian origins, he fell into the same stereotypical trap as Nye – he turned off his audience of skeptics right out of the starting blocks by appealing to the Bible. Again. And again, as if there were no other information sources from which to draw. How do we know the earth is young? The Bible. How do we know evolution can’t be true? The Bible. This is exactly what atheists and skeptics hate about Christians; arguments that don’t really have any argument behind them. We simply appeal to the Bible. Which Ken Ham did nearly exclusively. And anyone who tuned in to see if this guy had anything surprisingly insightful to say tuned out when it was obvious the information that COULD have overwhelmed them wasn’t forthcoming. Just as they expected. Self-inflicted wound.

This is particularly galling for me because I’ve poured a couple of years into trying to do the very thing that Ken Ham failed to do — argue this from the book of science and lead people to the Word of God. We should be trying to meet the skeptical scientific mind at their scientific point of contact. Turn their own alleged weapon on them. Introduce coherent, cogent evidence into the argument. Open up a can of scientific whup- … well, you know what I mean.

Yes, the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. I believe that to my very core, every bit as much as Ken Ham does. But to a skeptic coming at this from a purely naturalistic perspective, you can’t start with the Bible. Ken Ham started with, stayed with, and finished with the Bible. That’s great if you’re a Christian rooting for the home team from the church bleachers. That’s completely ineffective if you’re a skeptic with a portrait of Darwin hanging over your head board.

I believe Mr. Ham fell short. Woefully short. He left the best evidence and arguments “on the cutting room floor” so to speak, and instead focused on areas that were a lot less convincing to doubters. So because it’s always bad form to criticize something without suggesting a better way, I’m going to outline what I would have said had I had 30 minutes to lay out the case for a Creator.

The central contention of naturalists and atheists is that there has for several centuries been a war between science and religion, that religion has been steadily losing that war, and that at this point a completely secular account of the world has been worked out in such convincing detail that there is no longer any reason why a rational and educated person should find the claims of Christianity the least bit worthy of attention.

And I, and millions like me, say “Poppycock.”

In fact there is not, and never has been, any war between science and religion. There has instead been a conflict between two entirely different worldviews that seeks to interpret the findings of science through the filter of those two worldviews. If we are to be honest, however, we need to look at the cold, hard evidence of science and let it lead us where the facts point.

Here are three.
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1. The Origin of the Universe

originsScience has shown that the entire universe came into being out of nothing (The Big Bang). Atheism would have preferred an eternal universe to get around their problem of a Creator, but the many startling evidences discovered throughout the 20th century showed that the universe had an undeniable beginning:

- Observations showed that the greater the distance to a galaxy, the greater the redshift in its spectral lines. These observations confirmed that the universe was expanding outward from a single point, proving that it must have once been an infinitesimally small, single mass in time and space.

- Measurements of the cosmic background radiation confirmed that the universe burst into being.

- Not only is the universe expanding but the expansion is accelerating.

- Predictions of an abundance of helium and other light elements proved that the universe is not eternal.

With these discoveries in the field of cosmology, the concept of a “beginning” of the universe has been demonstrated beyond question. Scientists resisted this evidence initially because of the obvious theological implications and the shocking similarities to the Genesis account of creation.

Logically we know the following to be true:

1. Everything which begins to exist has a cause apart from itself.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause apart from itself.

It is therefore reasonable to believe that an uncaused First Cause exists outside the dimensions of space and time.

QUOTE: “A Creator must exist. The Big Bang ripples and subsequent scientific findings are clearly pointing to an ex nihilo ['out of nothing'] creation consistent with the first few verses of the book of Genesis.” — Professor Henry Schaefer, Chemical Physicist from MIT with a PhD in chemical physics from Stanford.
——

2. The Fine-Tuning of the Universe

Fine-tuning refers to the incredible precision of nature’s physical constants to allow for life in the otherwise inhospitable universe. These constants include the speed of light, the rate of expansion of the universe, the force of gravity, the nuclear strong force, the electromagnetic force, and many other parameters of the observable universe. To sustain life or have produced it in the first place, the physical constants of nature have extremely precise values balanced to razor-thin tolerances. The slightest variation from their actual values results in a universe incapable of hosting life.

tuningTo frame this in language we can all understand, it’s as if a Great Designer had a set of dials on his Acme Universe Starter Machine and set them with extreme precision. For example, the nuclear strong force that holds the nucleus of an atom together is set precisely to a value of 0.007, which must be maintained so that atoms will neither implode nor fly apart. Move the knob just a hair’s width to the left and the universe would consist of nothing but hydrogen. Move it just slightly to the right and we would have no hydrogen at all (and thus no water and no life).

There are dozens of other “knobs” representing constants that are minutely tuned (as many as 93 at last count), so the odds of our universe being set perfectly for life to exist by random chance are beyond astronomical. In other words, we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe, just right for life.

The chance of just EIGHT of these constants randomly being set precisely for life is 1 chance out of 10 to the 125th power. That is equivalent to about the approximate number of all the sub-atomic particles contained in our entire universe AND 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 more universes just like it. That means the chance of those eight constants randomly being set at perfect values to support life would be the equivalent of marking ONE single sub-atomic particle, mixing it in thoroughly with this universe and 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 other universes of the same size, and then successfully finding that single marked sub-atomic particle on the first try.

The ultimate Wheel of Fortune.

Ultimately, there are only two possibilities here: either God exists or He doesn’t. If atheism were true, it would be highly improbable in the extreme for a single, finely-tuned universe to exist randomly. Given this improbability, the observation that the universe is fine-tuned supports the hypothesis that God exists MUCH more strongly than the hypothesis that He doesn’t. Thus, the fine-tuning of the universe is AT THE VERY LEAST a perfectly valid reason to believe in the creation model.

QUOTE: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.” — British Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle
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3. Signature in the Cell

DNA-StrandIf all other arguments for God’s existence (and there are many) would leave a doubter unconvinced, this one argument should keep a person from ever considering atheism as an option. Microbiologist Michael Denton vividly describes the mind-blowing complexity of cells. As understood by modern molecular biologists, each cell contains thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery made up of one hundred thousand million atoms, and is absolutely without parallel in the non-living world.

Viewing a cell at the molecular level, we would be witnessing an object resembling an immense automated factory, a factory larger than a city and carrying out almost as many unique functions as all the manufacturing activities of man on earth. However, it would be a factory which would have one capacity not equaled in any of our own most advanced machines; it would be capable of replicating its entire structure within a matter of a few hours.

Is it remotely possible that random processes could have constructed a living cell, the smallest element of which is complex beyond our own creative capacities?

More problematic for those who embrace random chance is the realization that evolution could not have helped the first cell to slowly come into existence over time. Mutations and natural selection could not have helped lifeless chemicals to combine into something of enormous complexity that actually lived. A lone, chance enzyme, incapable of reproducing, would have rapidly disintegrated and become useless before the other parts of the cell could form around it. All the parts of a cell must be in place and fully functional for it to live and reproduce.

Atheists must overcome the astronomical odds against such an exquisite complexity coming about, all at once, by purely random chance. And those odds are beyond imagination.

Sir Albert Hoyle, an astronomer and world-class mathematician, spent most of his working life at Cambridge University. He was one of the most respected astrophysicists of his time. He decided to calculate the odds of just ONE part of the cell, the enzymes, coming about by purely random chemical events. He calculated the odds at one chance in 1 X 10 to the 40,000th power. The number of atoms in the known universe is incredibly tiny by comparison at 1 X 10 to the 80th power. Hoyle summed up his case this way:

“The notion that not only the structures but the operating program (DNA) of a living cell could be arrived at by chance in a primordial organic soup here on the Earth is nonsense of a high order.” Hoyle compared the chance of obtaining even a SINGLE functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids to a solar system full of blind men solving a Rubik’s Cube simultaneously. Let that sink in.

And I haven’t even talked about DNA specifically, the “computer code” of life that is much more “information” than it is physical matter. How does information suddenly “evolve” from nothing? Answer: It doesn’t.

In light of real science, and using real data to calculate real odds, it is safe to say that there’s no shred of evidence that the first living, self-replicating cells could have come together by purely natural causes. If they didn’t come together by natural causes, they must have come together by design. And design demands a Designer.

QUOTE: “Biochemical systems are exceedingly complex, so much so that the chance of their being formed through random shuffling of simple organic molecules is exceedingly minute, to the point where it is insensibly different from zero.” — Sir Albert Hoyle
——

I could go on and on with reams of evidence from the scientific realm but I’ll stop here. The discoveries of modern-day science point TOWARD rather than AWAY from God’s existence. The theistic case, FAR from being nonsense, is intellectually honest and BEYOND reasonable.

creatorEven limiting this discussion to these three major areas, I believe this brings us to the only reasonable and possible explanation for the organized and profound complexity of the Universe. It’s the one which has been instinctively favored by billions of people down through the centuries: the Universe must have been created with mankind in view by a supernatural Being of unfathomable wisdom and power.

I have not quoted from the Bible until now, but I sincerely believe that all of Scripture is imbued with layers of wisdom and meaning far, far beyond our ability to understand it in context. However, one verse stands out for me, particularly in this discussion about science and how it points to a Creator.

Romans 1:20 says:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

I have read that more times than I can count in my life, yet there is a powerful truth embedded there that goes beyond the sum of its words. I don’t believe God is trying to hide anything from us. He states plainly that His “eternal power” is obvious from “what has been made”, in other words, “nature”. More than that, it’s been there “since the creation of the world”. Scientists today have said they can “rewind” the creation clock to the first split seconds of the Big Bang. God knew we would eventually “see” back to the Big Bang event.

The deeper into the study of our universe we go, the more obvious it becomes that a Person of ETERNAL POWER was behind its creation. If you start with a worldview that begins with the premise that there is no God, and that you will always process the science you discover through that lens, you will instead spend your days speculating about other causes, as statistically impossible as they may be, trying to explain what is right before your eyes. You will embrace the unprovable (multiverse) in a last ditch effort to deny the most certain of data staring back at you.

At the end of the day, however, Scripture says you are “without excuse”. God is, for all intents and purposes, SHOUTING through nature of His divine nature and eternal power.

We ignore the echo of His shout at our own peril.

Comments

  1. John McClancy says

    As an engineer and scientist, the more I learn of the universe the more I am convinced there is a prime creator. However, I caution you about using the idea that science has ‘proven’ this or that. The words are important and to say something is ‘proven’ suggests scientific ignorance or naivete of the part of the speaker and erodes your credibility.

    Science has only theories that stand until some better description comes along. So to say “the current science strongly supports a single point source to the universe” will gain you more credibility among the skeptics you hope to convince.

    • Leo says

      John, I very much appreciate your feedback and the time you took to respond. I can certainly appreciate your recommendation to avoid using words that suggest something that isn’t necessarily etched in stone and I will be more cautious about choice of phrase going forward.

      Many thanks for your input!

      –Leo

  2. Steve isaac says

    Very well written. I personally was surprised Mr Ham didn’t quote the “scientific facts” found in the Scriptures that were recorded there many years before mankind “discovered” them, a couple of them from my memory being:The Earth is Round – I believe this was the source for Columbus’ belief (and Bugs Bunny’s too) :) – Isaiah 40:22
    It is He who sits above the circle (sphere) of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

    The “Shipping Lanes” – Psalm 8:8
    8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

    The Water Table – Ecclesiastes 1:7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

    Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how much Evidence you may give someone who is “blinded by the god of this world” unless God the Holy Spirit opens his eyes to the Truth, he (wills) not to see. Of course, this evidence may, by the Grace of God, cause him to rethink his opinion. It’s like the old saying, modified “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink; but you can feed him salted oats. I believe God has placed in ALL mankind a deep down desire to know Him, and by the Mercy & Grace of God he will come to realize thqt God-void in his soul that can ONLY be filled with God Himself. No amount of this worlds’ wisdom, fame, money, pleasure, etc., could ever fill what was made by God, FOR God. Amen!

    • Brenda says

      I watched the debate and I don’t believe that Mr. Ham missed the mark at all. You are right Steve Isaac in your thoughts that ultimately it is God who does the saving. I thought Mr. Ham did right by bringing up the gospel more than once or twice. I read I another post that there were some pre debate statements, so each knew what the other was going to speak about. Ham knew that Nye had a problem with a person being a Christian and a scientist at the same time. I thought that he (Ham) was right in having a few guest speakers, like the guy that invented the MRI. It is wrong to think that no one would be converted to Christ after the debate. The conscience is what needs to be addressed because we all know according to scripture that there is a God. Mr Ham addressed the sin issue. When all is said and done and people are lying in their beds, alone with their thoughts, are they going to be thinking about Big Bang theories and old earth, or are they going to wonder if the Christians are right, they have a sin problem ,they will face God on judgement day, is ther life after death??? Will I go to heaven or hell?? If you can be argued into becoming a Christian, you can be argued out of it. The minute someone comes along with some way to escape back into your filthy sinful ways, you go running back and roll in the mire. But, if you are truly saved and know your sins are forgiven, you know that you know that you know, there is no changing your mind. The Bible opens up right in front of your eyes, and there is no problem believing Noah built that ark, there was a flood. Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and rose from the dead. My sins are forgiven, I am on my way to heaven, there is life after death. No Mr. Ham didn’t miss the mark.

  3. Mike says

    Thanks Leo. I think you’ve made a great case for the intelligent design of the universe, and hence, a creator. My only complaint is that you stopped there.

    There’s a big difference between making a case for intelligent design and proving that a book (or a collection of 66 books brought into a single canon of scripture) written by men is the literal and inerrant word of God. Add to this, there are many other books that claim to be divinely inspired, also written by men, such as the Torah, the Quaran, and the Zend Avesta, to name a few.

    Whether the universe has a creator or not says nothing about heaven or hell, who Jesus really was (or if he’s even real), or what God’s position on moral or social issues happens to be. I’d be cautious using arguments about intelligent design by itself to “fill in the gaps” when talking about things like sin and morality and why someone should worship Jesus.

    A book that really helped me discover the divine inspiration of the Bible was “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel. I’m sure there are others, but this is probably one of the more popular apologetics books out there. The methodology isn’t perfect, but there is enough meat in there to provide tangible evidence to a skeptic that when a Christian says “the Bible says…”, that it might actually be worth tuning in to the words that follow.

    For myself, I’ve resolved to take things at a slower pace and take the time to figure them out without putting pressure on myself (works-orientation has been a problem for me in the past). I have too many questions and so this is necessary in order for me to be at peace with God. I don’t like being hemmed into a little box where X is the pure unadulterated truth because it’s in a book and we are just supposed to trust people that it’s literal and inerrant. Not just young-earth creationism, but also the book of Psalms (poetic style) and Revelation (speaking in riddles and codes) suggests to me that the Bible is written in many different narrative styles and not meant to be read as literal in every case. That is just my theory at least. The context of each and every book is very important and it’s soooo easy for things to be misconstrued, just as the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ time.

  4. Mennoknight says

    I have heard many people say that the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham at the “Heavy Weight Championship of Apologetics” is laughable.
    Bill Nye is not a scientist with any sort of expertise in origins. He does not have any degrees in astronomy, biology, physics, or chemistry. He is a children’t entertainer (all be it a very good one) with an engineering degree.
    But Bill’s credentials are strong compared to Christianity’s “Crazy Uncle Ken” who has an undergrad in science from the 1970′s.
    Both only proceeded to set up straw men and then knock them down with ease.

    Now if you had men like Fancies Collins representing Christianity vs Steven Hawking in a debate on creation vs evolution, that would a debate for the ages.

    Thanks for this great article.

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