I had to go back and watch the Creationism Debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham from the other night. I didn’t watch live, but I did follow along with some of the reaction on Twitter. I dropped in my uninformed two cents on Twitter as well: here, here, and here. Those comments were not in response to anything Nye or Ham said, mostly just my response to how I would anticipate a scenario plotting a “science guy” against the head of the Answers in Genesis ministry.
It’s science versus religion. Again.
It’s creation versus evolution. Again.
I’m tired of these two parties facing off, and I still am unsure why we need to belabor a debate between the two. As I tweeted the other night, creationism ought to be large enough to hold evolutionism within it. In my opinion, these do not need to be adversarial perspectives.
Like I said, I went back and watched the debate later. And it was more or less as I expected it to go.
Actually, I think I even had higher expectations for it than it ended up going. It seemed to just scratch the surface. I really hoped Bill Nye’s voice would dig deeper than it did. There was little information that we haven’t all heard already. Both men seemed too intent on defending their own perspective than actually asking questions about the other’s perspective.
The first 90 minutes was not very exciting, but it was rather frustrating. Ham spent most of his time talking about how it is impossible to prove the past based on historical science, but that you can prove the present based on observational science. He said that while we may all have the same evidence available to us today, we each draw different conclusions on it about the past. In short, according to Ham, historical science is relative to individual bias.
Ham said his belief is that the Genesis 1 account is the only proof we need to know the facts about our origins: that our Creator, in six days, created everything we see, and our world is only 6,000 years old, and that we know that to be fact because Genesis says so.
In essence, Ken Ham believes Genesis 1 to be observational science and not historical science.
The problem with that, unfortunately, is that Genesis 1 wasn’t written until way later by individuals who were trying to record their own origin stories for themselves.
The Bible didn’t just fall from heaven with Genesis 1 already written out for us. Scripture is written by humans. Inspired humans, sure, but still humans. And the humans who were writing the book of Genesis were living in the 1000-500s BCE. And the world, according to Ham, was created in the year 4000 BCE. So the authors of Genesis were writing 2500-3000 years after the fact.
Which means they weren’t using observational science at all.
They were using historical science.
Which, if I understand Ham correctly, doesn’t prove anything at all.
From where I’m sitting, his own argument is working against him.
What complicates this situation even further is that entire book of Genesis wasn’t even written by any one person. You may have noticed I said “authors” before…as in plural writers. These writers were coming from different regions and had different accounts for their origins.
Ever noticed how in Genesis 1, God speaks everything into existence ex nihilo – out of nothing – yet in Genesis 2, God actually forms Adam and Eve out of the dust of the ground?
In chapter 1 he speaks humans into life.
In chapter 2 he creates them out of materials.
Why the difference? Because these two chapters were compiled together later to tell the entire story, and they were written by totally different people groups. This also accounts for the 500 year gap I have in the time they were written (1000-500 BCE). Genesis 1 was written by a priestly group around 500 BCE during the Babylonian exile, while Genesis 2 was written much earlier around 950 BCE in the southern tribes of Judah.*
* – In fact, the entire Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy – were written by four major people groups over that 500 year span, and then compiled together later. This is called the Documentary Hypothesis. It’s ironic that is a Wikipedia link, because it too was compiled by multiple authors with multiple edits all over the world.
All that to say, Ham’s foundational understanding of the Book of Genesis is mistaken. Which, is somewhat embarrassing since he’s created an entire museum and ministry based on his beliefs on that misconception.
And if the two narratives are different – did God speak us into existence or form us out of materials? – they can’t both be factual, can they? If two different eye witness accounts are given at a crime scene, then one of them is inherently false, right?
Something doesn’t have to be fact for it to be true.
Did God create the world in six actual 24-hour days? Personally, I don’t think so. But I don’t think that’s the point of Genesis 1. There are lots of beliefs on this: Maybe he’s been orchestrating everything from the Big Bang and beyond. Or maybe he set everything up the way he did so that it would look like it’s 4.6 billion years old. Or maybe it literally is 6 days worth of creation.
But again, I don’t think that’s the point.
The point is that Genesis 1 is not a list of facts or an eye witness account or a history book or a record of events.
Genesis 1 is a poem.
It’s a poem about our origins, and poetry doesn’t have to be fact to hold truth for our lives. In fact, I would submit that poetry, music, art, or dance can convey more truth than any string of words on a page.
Because these things evoke emotion and beauty and love and can transcend the facts. This is something that an order of events cannot do.
Genesis 1 opens with three sets of separations: light and dark, sky and water, land and sea. And with each separation, God looks at what he has done and declares it “good”.
And then it fills those three separations with various items: the sun, moon and stars*; birds and fish; plants and animals. And each time he fills up a space, he declares it to be “good”.
* – If the sun wasn’t created until day four, then how did God measure the first three days?
But then he saves the best for last.
“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;*
male and female he created them.”
* – Something I just noticed, and need to look deeper into…there was no punctuation in the original Hebrew text, which means this semicolon could be a comma and the two commas could be semicolons. Seems insignificant, but that would draw the focus of what it means to be made in God’s image away from “his own” and toward the “male and female” part instead. The image of God is both genders, not just male. Hmm.
Finally, God gives mankind a few pointers. He says to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “rule over every creature” and to “eat fruit for food.”
Ultimately, what we have here is a poem about who we are, where we came from, and how we are supposed to live. Genesis 1 was never supposed to be read as a list of facts, history or “observational science” (as Ken Ham calls it). It was meant to evoke a greater Truth: that the Creator of the Universe made all of this for us.
I’m currently writing this from the ski lodge at Monarch Mountain in Colorado. I’m speaking for a middle school ski retreat, and our sessions have centered on creation and that we are God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). We’re currently getting completely dumped on with snow: 17″ yesterday and it’s still coming down. Amazing conditions.
God created these mountains for us to enjoy. The Creator designed these ski runs so that we might experience joy – “Life to the Full” as John 10:10 says.
So the point of Genesis 1 is found here. This creation is for us, his masterpiece, to enjoy and experience.
That is how Genesis 1 plays out. And Genesis 2, while different, has other truths for us to encounter. This is where we meet Adam and Eve. Let’s take a look at these names really quick.
Adam: Hebrew for “man”. Derived from the Hebrew word for earth (adamah).
Eve: From the Hebrew word “to breathe” (chawah) or the related word “to live” (chayah).
“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7
When God breathes into the dirt, we find both of these names. Adam: man of the earth. Eve: to breathe or live. One doesn’t have to scratch their head long to piece together the fact that these feel less like names, but more like representations for all of humanity.
Which begs the question: were they even real people? When we draw our our family tree back to the beginning, will we actually find the names Adam and Eve there? Or are their names there to illustrate something bigger?
I don’t know. None of us do. Because this chapter is believed to be written even longer ago than Genesis 1 was. It’s our origin story as God-worshippers. It’s our creation narrative. It’s a story, and the point isn’t whether Adam and Eve are our great-great-grandparents.
The point is to tell about how things came to be. It’s backstory. Pre-history.
It’s setting the stage for how Abraham would father a nation of God’s chosen people, Israel, and how they ended up in slavery once in Egypt, and how they were delivered out by Moses only to find themselves back in bondage in Babylon years later.
The point of the first few chapters of Genesis is not to record the beginning.
The point is to explain who we are, why we are here, and how we got to this point.
Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. This was supposed to be a post about the debate, but instead I got carried away with Genesis. That was a long long way of explaining the fact that Ken Ham’s argument is slightly misguided and doesn’t really thrill me to support his perspective from the start.
During the audience Q&A session, someone asked Ham whether he would still believe in God if he knew for certain that the Universe is not only thousands of years old.
And he didn’t answer the question.
How can someone who’s belief in God is so foundational for his way of life not immediately answer that question with a “yes”? If your entire theology is based only on the fact that the Universe is only 6,000 years old, the I question your faith and direction.
Is your God not big enough for that possibility?
I mean, it sure feels like the Creator of the Universe ought to be.
In fact, when we refuse to ask ourselves the difficult questions about life and doubt, I think we are being as faithless as possible. Is it really faith if you’re avoiding the tough questions? Are you scared? Are you afraid that the God you believe in is suddenly going to abandon you because he’s been around longer than you thought?
Ultimately, I was struck with how pointless the discussion really seemed in the end. Bill Nye was honest and curious and admitted when he genuinely didn’t know the answer because science hadn’t figured it out yet. But creationism can use “God’s Word” as a crutch for avoiding the struggle of doing the work that faith requires.
I believe in a Creator who reigns in my life and in the world. God is bigger than our questions and our doubts and our unbelief. It frustrates me when we get so caught up in the facts that we miss that point.
Anyway. There was way more I was going to discuss about that debate, but I think I’ll just leave it there. I just wish we could quit labeling evolution/science as a rival to Christianity. I support teaching scientific fact in schools, and I hope it propels us all to ask deeper questions about our God, our world and our theology.
Okay, I’m going to go ski now.