Two weeks ago there was a nearly three-hour debate in the greater Cincinnati area. It went relatively unpublicized, but it was quite a site to be seen. Bill Nye the Science Guy went to Petersburg, Kentucky to debate Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum. If you want to watch the debate on YouTube, it will be an invigorating and infuriating two hours and forty-five minutes, but enjoy.
The debate was over the question, “Is Creationism a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” In short, the debate went as follows: Bill Nye tried to rationally answer the question presented, and Ken Ham tried to redefine the terms used in the question. Ham spent his time presenting the theory that scientists had hijacked the word “science.” He suggested that there are two types of science: observational and historical. He further suggested that lumping both types into one realm is a disservice to Creationism, because Creationism is a historical science, while “Bill Nye and his friends” are focused on observational science. Condescension aside, Ham says that since Nye’s field is based on observation (what we can see, hear, feel, touch, etc. right now), it does not have the right to assume what happened in the past. Historical science is based in Creationism on the knowledge of what happened as we were told by God in the Bible, while in “science taught in our public schools” is based on “the ideas of man such as Darwin.” He makes it difficult to have a debate because instead of answering the question he creates more issues. He says, basically, “You can’t call my science anything but viable because I’m redefining science to force Creationism into validity.” He never answers the questions his definitions create, such as, “Isn’t reading the biblical account also an observation?”
I have been to the Creation Museum in Petersburg. The modus operandi of the museum is identical to how Ken Ham tried to debate this month. They present a series of events from the Bible and show how the biblical account “debunks” evolutionist theories. I blogged about our experience several years ago, but this is what I clearly remember: they try to use facts that we observe in today’s world to “prove” the truths found in the Bible.
Take Noah’s story, for example. The Creation Museum suggests that the immense pressure from the entire world being covered in water for forty days created layers of strata under the surface of the earth. The pressure also created the animals trapped under the sediment to be fossilized faster than they normally would have been, which tricked the “scientists” into thinking that each layer represents a different era. Bill Nye, during the debate, asks why the fossils trapped in each layer are constant to each layer. In other words, why didn’t any animals try to swim up in the flood?
There are two major problems with Ham’s presentation. First, he conflates truth with fact. Facts are about collecting data. Truths are beliefs. On a crisp February morning here in Southern California, my wife Natalie might tell me, “It is so cold today!” I might respond with, “It is 54 degrees outside this morning.” Natalie is speaking the truth, and I am speaking a fact. You cannot even determine by my response whether I agree or disagree with her truth. My response, therefore, is inadequate because it does not serve the purpose of the conversation she started with me.
Our Holy texts are not concerned with facts. The Torah does not serve our purposes if it is a historical account of the world from the beginning of time to the conquest of Canaan. If it is only about the past, it loses meaning. The Torah is about us, now, today. We call it Torat chayim because its ideas are ever-pertinent to the things we face in our daily lives. It is a compendium of truth, not facts.
The second problem with his presentation is that he focuses so heavily on children. Before the debate even begins the museum shows a commercial about how children get free admission in February. Inside the museum the animatronic displays and focus on dinosaurs and dragons are clearly geared toward wooing youngsters in to the museum. It is almost scary to see that Ham actively works to get the most impressionable minds to buy in to his truth, and even scarier that he presents it as fact.
Rabbi David N. Young is the rabbi for Congregation B’nai Tzedek of Fountain Valley, CA. He spends all of his non-congregational time with his wife, Cantor Natalie Young, and their children Gabriel, Alexander, and Isabella. They also have a fish that their daughter named “Rabbi Litwak.”