This article was originally written for the Christian Renewal. It appeared in the April 16th issue of the magazine.
On February 4th, 2014, Bill Nye and Ken Ham met to debate whether or not the Biblical Creation account is still a viable model of origins. The debate was well advertised, and at the time of writing the YouTube clip has garnered over 1.5 million views.1
Many atheists were quick to decry Nye's choice to debate Ham, fearing that he would lend credence to the Creationist view. Once the debate was over, many of these same individuals then affirmed his triumph. Christian response was mixed, from declaring the night an evangelical success to consternation over Ham's weak performance. That both men are celebrities rather than experienced debaters was obvious. Neither man was well prepared and both of them lacked focus. This resulted in the debate derailing several times. Ham's off-topic of choice was morality and for Nye it was odd things like top minnow reproduction.
In the post-debate question period, Ken Ham was asked the following question: “Hypothetically, if evidence existed that caused you to have to admit that the earth was older than 10,000 years and creation did not occur over six days, would you still believe in God, and the historical Jesus of Nazareth and that Jesus was the Son of God?” (2:18:01)1 His response was to dodge the question and say there was no hypothetical. One cannot prove the age of the universe. He did not answer the central point of the question: would he still believe in God and the person of Jesus Christ?
Should a change in our finite understanding of the world alter our belief about God or the person of Jesus Christ? We confess that faith is gift given to us by God. It is not something we create in ourselves. Atheists intuitively know this and that's why the question was posed to Ham. The question was essentially looking for the basis of his faith: does it lie in his understanding of the world or does it lie in God? Ham's lack of an answer presents a problem for every Christian: how should we prioritize our beliefs?
At the Ligonier 2012 National Conference on The Christian Mind, notable men such as R.C. Sproul, Albert Mohler, and others, gathered to discuss such topics as the role of science, education, and God's natural revelation. The panel was asked whether or not the age of the earth should be considered a first order issue. In his answer, R.C. Sproul wisely said that he did not know the age of the earth. He agreed that there were hints and inclinations in Scripture, but he also admitted that there was no specific date given for Creation. All revelation given by God is infallible and this includes both special and natural revelation. He went on to say that “historically, the Church's understanding of special revelation, or the Bible, has been corrected by students of natural revelation.”2
It is simply not the case that the Church has held to a single interpretation of Genesis 1 thoughout its history. While Basil understood Genesis 1 to take place in a literal twenty-four hour, six day time period, Origen held the view that Genesis was intended as allegory. Augustine simultaneously held to both a young Earth view and an allegorical Creation story, a view which now almost totally unheard of despite the fact it was the dominant view of the Church until Calvin's time. Charles Hodge held to the Day-Age view of creation. Bavinck rejected the idea that the creation event could even be the object of scientific investigation, since the event itself is outside the scope of human knowledge. Plantinga, of course, is well-known for being a theistic evolutionist.3,4
As Christians, we cannot impose our understanding of the world on God. Our inadequacy is all too apparent. One is reminded of God's question to Job in chapter 38 “Were you there?” If the age of the earth and the methods God employed in Creation are not first order issues, indeed, they may not even be any of our business, then we must be quick to admit where our understanding fails us. We must admit with Job that we were not there. We must also approach those Christians who hold other views of Creation with a measure of humility. Most of all, if the question is ever put to us “Would a change in your understanding of the world alter your belief in God?” then we must humbly but firmly answer “No.”
It is God who hold us firm, and not ourselves.
1. Bill Nye vs Ken Ham Debate on Youtube
2. The Christian Mind: 2012 National Conference
3.Bavinck and Kuyper on Creation and Miracle by Chris Gousmett quoting from Bavinck's "Philosophy of Revelation"
4. Report of the Creation Study Committee at the PCA Historical Center