Ham on Nye

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on February 6, 2014.

I actually didn’t plan on writing anything about the Ham on Nye debate Tuesday night.

I planned on drinking and eating popcorn and watching  everything implode in a talk-past-each-other kind of way. My mouth hurt (still does, I have even better numbing stuff now, but it makes my lips stick together), we ended up getting milkshakes because Ham is more triggering and milkshakes are more comforting.

The debate went as I suspected it would – more cathartic for me and those of us who have left the Young Earth Creationist camp we were raised with. Ham had all the same material, I’d heard everything he’d said before at VBS, in DVD’s, and his theology permeated my “science” books even though they weren’t exclusively AIG. I knew all his answers, I’d seen all of his graphics, he said absolutely nothing new, at all, I remembered everything verbatim from my previous encounters with AIG as a child. To Nye, this idea is so unfathomable that he had trouble grasping and understanding his audience and I don’t know that he knew what he was getting into. To the people in that room, YEC is more than a science…theory(?), it is, in a very real way, a (the) foundation of their religion.  Believing in a Young Earth is somehow, essential to this brand of christianity, my whole family, I think, is Young Earth, my immediate definitely, if not my grandparents too.

None of the arguments made in the debate were really going to change anyone’s minds I don’t think. I don’t know how many people were listening to it like a presidential debate, being really on the fence about religiously-intoxicated creationism and mainstream science, but who knows.

During the Q&A session though, Nye said one thing, one groundbreaking thing, and I don’t know if he even realized it.

He said “I don’t know“.

What he probably didn’t know (or maybe did) when he walked into a room and an audience loaded with people who have been raised or told all of their lives and all of their childhood that they have to know all the answers to everything all the time and that “I don’t know” is not an answer and if you don’t know, something is wrong – saying “I don’t know” in a way that did not have defeatist or negative connotations is something that people raised in this sheltered and toxic environment have probably never heard. Their parents may have, but have denied themselves and their children that option, they’ve rejected the idea of not knowing for the burden of having to always know and have thrust that upon their children at very young ages.

Fellow homeschoolers have written about having to know the answers to all questions – even questions about the legality of homeschooling from the time they were like 6. This is true and this is devastating and this is too much, no one, let alone any child should be required to know the answer to everything. Yet this is what fundamentalists do – they require themselves and everyone they gather into their brand of religion (or non-religion) to have all of the answers to everything. They must always be able to back up a question with a pre-scripted answer that allows for no nuance. I don’t know is invalid.

People asked him the questions creationists are scripted to ask evolutionists (because they don’t know the answer but we do! HA!) and he answered, happily, excitedly, unashamed, and like he had been waiting to say it all night because it’s such a beautiful answer: I don’t know.

Ken Ham, and every entrenched creationist in the audience I’m sure scoffed at Nye’s reply. But what he said, in those three words, is something more powerful than he can know.

Because to the people who were watching who are tired of having to know everything because they realize they don’t know, who are maybe doubting, who are maybe thinking, who are maybe just trying to keep their head down to get by but secretly (even so secretly they may not realize it yet) want to taste something different, something not straight out of the book, Bill Nye just introduced the concept of freedom.

Because the freedom to not know (and that be an okay, even good thing) after coming from an environment where you must know is so so powerful. But one of those things, where you only realize it’s power once you’ve come to terms with the idea that it’s okay to not have the answers.

Bill Nye just introduced hundreds or thousands of people to the idea that “I don’t know” is valid, and okay, and not wrong.

That is the most important thing (I think) that happened in the debate, that’s what I haven’t been able to get out of my head. I don’t know. And it’s beautiful.

40 comments

  • “Ham on Nye” – you win the prize for most creative title. Great article, my sentiments, too.

  • I love it — “I don’t know” introduces the idea that one can be comfortable with doubt (not so scary).

  • Pass the mustard.
    No new problem here. I think you will appreciate this quote from Augustine:
    ‘Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learned from experience and the light of reason?

    ‘Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertions”.

    http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/in-the-beginning/

  • Yes, it is refreshing to hear a person who will admit not knowing something; too many folks pretend to know way too much. But to allow that Ham is a rigid absolutist because he accepts the Bible as true, is quite a jump. Let’s say, for example, that you notice some reddish stains on the front of my shirt, and ask, “How did you get those stains on your shirt?” If I don’t know how, it would be silly to offer an absolute conjecture. But if the stains are from my spaghetti lunch, it would be silly for you to portray me as arrogant for saying so. Ham believes that the Bible is a given book, because he believes in the resurrection, so he accepts what the Bible says about how life came to be, and says so. Let’s be done, then, with this nonsense that uncertainty is the Holy Grail. Indeed, if you are certain that it is okay not to have answers, then you have swerved into a dictatorship yourself. By your own measure, it would be better to say, “I don’t know if uncertainty is better than certainty.”
    .

    • “But to allow that Ham is a rigid absolutist because he accepts the Bible as true, is quite a jump. ”

      Ham is a rigid absolutist because he believes his interpretation of the Bible is the only correct one. Lots of people believe the Bible to be true, yet reject YEC. Ham’s rigid thinking was on display when he disregarded Nye’s assertion that there are billions of religious people in the world who do not accept Ham’s model of the origins of life. Ham is trying to make himself the God Cop. That is indeed rigid and absolutist.

      • Are you absolutely sure?

      • As sure as I can be, having grown up in that world.

      • Then you commit the very fault you attempt to expose. Ham is as sure as he can be. You are as sure you can be. Yet you give yourself a pass, while criticizing Ham. Instead of taking folks to task for their certainty, the discerner of truth will examine evidence and reasoning. Your argument, for example, as evidenced by the words you have written, is self-contradictory and therefore untrue.

      • There is a world of difference between being “absolutely sure” and “as sure as *I* can be.” The former invokes absolutism which a self cannot break from; the latter admits knowledge is personal and subjective, thereby including a willingness to change when one’s self experiences contradicting knowledge. This would be exactly the difference between Ken Ham and Bill Nye which the original article was illuminating.

      • To R.L.: Yes, it is technically correct to say that you are yet to offer a portrayal of YEC. But your portrayal of Ham amounts to the same thing. I quote: “There is a world of difference between being “absolutely sure” and “as sure as *I* can be.” The former invokes absolutism which a self cannot break from…This would be exactly the difference between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.” Doesn’t Ham represent the YEC position in your view? If yes, then you have portrayed YEC as rigid. If no, then we are back to splitting hairs.

    • Ham isn’t “as sure as he can be” He’s just “sure”. Ham never phrases any doubt at all about the rightness of his position. I, on the other hand, temper what I believe based on what I know from personal experience and the evidence I have up to that point in time. Therefore I did not do the same thing Ham does.

      When asked if he would ever change his mind, Ham’s response is “I’m a Christian.” As if that is a definitive answer? But it is for him. All you had to do was listen to the entire debate and hear Ham’s absolutist statements about what the Bible teaches to get that. Did you listen?

      At least Nye has the guts to say “I don’t know.” I cut my teeth on rabid fundamentalism, and I was taught that the Bible has THE answer from God on everything. Period. No ambiguity. As I am not fond of black or white ideas, I eventually left the Fundie way.

      You are free to believe what you want. I find rigid thinking not even worth discussing.

      • Seems like a lot of hair splitting here, folks. To R.L.: are you absolutely sure that you posted the comment above? If yes, then you accept absolute certainty as a legitimate position when you are absolutely certain. If no, your handle on reality itself is unstable. To Sheila, if Ham were asked to explain why Dr. Johnson wrote his famous letter to Lord Chesterfield, I suspect that he would very happily say “I don’t know”–since English literature is not his field. To characterize him as a rabid fundamentalist because he believes in a young earth cosmology–believes it because it fits with the available scientific data and with scripture–is to take issue with belief itself. At this rate, we should warn R.L. that he will be foaming at the mouth shortly, unless, of course, he gives up this rigid notion that he has been posting blog comments. The real question with any debate is: Which side put on the best evidence?

      • And that answer is: Nye.

      • Seems like a lot of hair splitting here, folks. To R.L.: are you absolutely sure that you posted the comment above? If yes, then you accept absolute certainty as a legitimate position when you are absolutely certain. If no, your handle on reality itself is unstable.

        …are you serious? I learned that silly game in high school at Summit Ministries. That is a straw man of Epistemology 101. Sorry, not interested.

      • Great. This is solid ground. Which of Nye’s points in support of an old earth did you find most convincing?

      • Carbon dating and the fossil record. Those are the two things that first got me reconsidering my views on Creation.

        I was raised a YEC, and my exposure to the science behind evolution was limited. Even in the public schools, during the 60s, evolution wasn’t studied in any detail. At home, my parents kept me from questioning the origins of life by strictly reinforcing fundamentalism with the dire warnings about hell fire & brimstone.

        I credit the documentaries on PBS for bringing new knowledge to my woefully inadequate science education. The age of the universe cemented my changing views on evolution.

      • To R.L.: I fear that you dismiss my question because answering it reveals the selective nature of your objection to certainty. This string began in celebration of one man’s ability to say, “I don’t know.”–a trait which I also affirm. But if the cover charge for joining the party is to avoid absolute affirmations of any kind, then the price is way too high. If you cannot gladly say that you have posted comments to this blog, then it seems to me that you are subjecting yourself to a species of mind control worse than your portrayal of YEC.

      • I never objected to certainty. I also have yet to give a “portrayal” of YEC.

      • The debate between Nye and Ham was based on what observation can tell us. You are hung up on the word certainty, while those of us listening to Ham are paying attention to what it is that Ham is basing his certainty on. Nye gave Ham plenty of evidence from scientific observation, yet Ham rejects it all out of hand, with no consideration, no reasoning other than “that’s not what my Bible claims”.

        Science will always examine new data to see how it fits into what is currently known. YEC adherents cannot admit to doubts about the Bible because to do so is seen as doubting God. To reject the Bible is to reject God himself, and thus risk one’s soul.

        This hardly on the same footing as asking someone if they are certain that the pet that they own is really a dog, or if they are sure the sun rose in the morning, or any other silly straw man. That you cannot see the difference points to a lack of the ability to understand nuance. IMHO

      • To Sheila: Our journeys are almost exact opposites. I went to public school and assumed that a progression from ape man to upright man was accurate. But when I really started thinking for myself, it became increasingly clear to me that the evolutionary edifice was a house of cards.

        Re carbon dating: I don’t know much about it. Can you recommend any good articles?

        Re the fossil record: It seems to me that everything about it, and everything I read about it, underscores the biblical account of a recent, catastrophic worldwide flood. What parts of the fossil record provide the most compelling support for evolution in your view?.

      • I trust the scientific method of dating, and the fossil record demonstrates that life existed millions of years ago. That knocks a literal interpretation of Genesis right out of the water. I’m not an atheist–I believe that God guided the process of the origins of life. But I would never argue with an atheist about my theist beliefs because I can’t prove them. I know this probably sounds pretty snarky, but, like Clarence Darrow, I’d ask William Jennings Bryan how there could have been light before the sun, moon and stars were created.

        Maybe that light was the big bang?

      • To R.L.: Of course, you did no object to certainty–as anyone can see. I left off the word only to streamline the sentence. So let me rephrase: “I fear that you dismiss my question because answering it reveals the selective nature of your objection to [absolute] certainty.”

      • To R.L.: Yes, it is technically correct to say that you are yet to offer a portrayal of YEC. But your portrayal of Ham amounts to the same thing. I quote: “There is a world of difference between being “absolutely sure” and “as sure as *I* can be.” The former invokes absolutism which a self cannot break from…This would be exactly the difference between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.” Doesn’t Ham represent the YEC position in your view? If yes, then you have portrayed YEC as rigid. If no, then we are back to splitting hairs.

      • Doesn’t Ham represent the YEC position in your view? If yes, then you have portrayed YEC as rigid. If no, then we are back to splitting hairs.

        No, in my view Ham does not represent or speak for the YEC movement any more than Darwin speaks for the evolution movement. There are many YEC proponents who disagree with key aspects of Ham (as there are many evolution proponents who disagree with key aspects of Darwin). I don’t engage in hasty generalizations. If I want to speak about YEC as a general movement, I will say so.

        And if by “splitting hairs” you mean not speaking in hasty generalizations, then sure I split hairs. I’m not a fan of logical fallacies.

      • To Sheila: I’ll respond to your points in a cut and paste fashion:

        “The debate between Nye and Ham was based on what observation can tell us.” I agree

        “You are hung up on the word certainty, while those of us listening to Ham are paying attention to what it is that Ham is basing his certainty on.” No, you are the person who took issue with Ham’s certainty. I have merely pointed out that your objection to certainty is selective.

        “Nye gave Ham plenty of evidence from scientific observation, yet Ham rejects it all out of hand, with no consideration, no reasoning other than “that’s not what my Bible claims.” No, Ham consistently provides scientific data for his claims. That the bible informs his scientific inquiry he does not deny. Where, specifically, does Ham simply dismiss the evidence that is presented to him? Do you have a specific example?
        .
        Science will always examine new data to see how it fits into what is currently known.” Yes, I agree.

        “YEC adherents cannot admit to doubts about the Bible because to do so is seen as doubting God.” No, I suspect that most YE Creationists do not doubt the Bible’s reliability, because they believe that the resurrection is a real, literal event, and that when Jesus said not a jot or a tittle of the Bible would pass away, this means that you can count on the Bible to communicate truth reliably.

        “To reject the Bible is to reject God himself, and thus risk one’s soul.” Yes, it is hard to reject scripture without rejecting the Savior.

        “This [is] hardly on the same footing as asking someone if they are certain that the pet that they own is really a dog, or if they are sure the sun rose in the morning, or any other silly straw man.” No, the straw man is yours. You set up Ham’s certainty and then knock it down, repeatedly. My questions were aimed at showing the inconsistency of your objection to certainty. Again, Are you certain that your understanding of God should incorporate the findings of honest scientific inquiry? If yes, then you are certain about a point of theology, which as you say, is “hardly on the same footing” as acknowledgiing that your dog is a dog.

        “That you cannot see the difference points to a lack of the ability to understand nuance. IMHO” Ahh…I am a dolt. Well, if you’ll scroll back to my first comment, you’ll see that I acknowledged there the difference between confident pretense and honest doubt.

        Last, you say that the fossil record “demonstrates that life existed millions of years ago.” What, specifically, about the fossil record establishes this as a fact in your view?

      • ” Let’s be done, then, with this nonsense that uncertainty is the Holy Grail.” Those are your words, hence, my foray into certainty.

        “‘YEC adherents cannot admit to doubts about the Bible because to do so is seen as doubting God. To reject the Bible is to reject God himself, and thus risk one’s soul.’ Yes, it is hard to reject scripture without rejecting the Savior.”

        You left out this: “No, I suspect that most YE Creationists do not doubt the Bible’s reliability, because they believe that the resurrection is a real, literal event, and that when Jesus said not a jot or a tittle of the Bible would pass away, this means that you can count on the Bible to communicate truth reliably.” No, it meant that the crucifixion would satisfy all the requirements of the Law, reconciling us to God. The NT wasn’t even written yet, so just what Scripture was Jesus referring to, anyway? It is the Holy Spirit who communicates the truth. Jesus said the Spirit will guide us into all truth, not the Bible.

        I ought to have specified that I was referring to the Protestant Bible, and a literal view of that Bible. I contend that you don’t have to be a literal interpreter of a Protestant Bible to know the Risen Lord. His life, death, and resurrection were witnessed by hundreds of people. We have eyewitness accounts to teach us about Jesus.

        You asked what Ham rejects by way of scientific evidence. Visit his Answers in Genesis site; on the Statement of Faith page you will see that any evidence that is not backed up by Scripture (meaning HIS Bible) is not valid. That was evident when Ham rejected any dating of the earth that does not conform to his Biblically based belief that the earth is 4000 years old.

        You asked me specifically what about the fossil record convinces me that evolution is a viable model for the origin of the earth…first of all, the age of the fossils. Secondly, the fact that the fossils exist within certain levels and don’t cross over. If there had been a world wide flood, every life form would have died at the same time around the world. Where is the fossil evidence of this?

        Not sure if I answered everything, but this is very long. I am a Catholic whose Bible has 73 books, and who also is relying on Christ’s finished work on the cross for salvation. And, I don’t take the Bible literally the way Ken Ham does. (I was a Protestant Fundamentalist for 49 years. I’ve been Catholic for 10.)

      • To R.L.: Well, let me ask the question straight up then: Is it your opinion that YEC is, generally speaking, rigidly absolutist? I ask not for a hasty generalization, but for a considered and fair generalization.

      • I honestly don’t have enough familiarity with YEC to make any general observations about it. My homeschool education was rather lacking in science, even “creation science.” I took only one science class in high school. My family wasn’t into Ham and AiG back in the day, nor did we ever read about Intelligent Design or Old Earth Creationism. Rather, my family used some material from Duane Gish’s Institute for Creation Research. But that would have been almost 2 decades ago. So I don’t remember much about ICR other than the claims about fire-breathing dragons being real.

      • To R.L. I stand corrected re your portrayal of YEC.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    What he probably didn’t know (or maybe did) when he walked into a room and an audience loaded with people who have been raised or told all of their lives and all of their childhood that they have to know all the answers to everything all the time and that “I don’t know” is not an answer and if you don’t know, something is wrong…

    It’s not just homeschoolers or cultic churches.

    Though completely public-schooled in the Sixties and early Seventies, I also grew up with that expectation, being a Kid Genius(TM) diagnosed two years after Sputnik. Expected to know Everything about Everything without ever having to learn it (“But you’re a GENIUS!”); expected to master anything and everything PERFECTLY the first time I ever attempted it (“You’re Supposed to be a GENIUS!”); Utter Perfection as the MINIMUM expected. With nobody looking behind the IQ score to see there was a kid attached to that Giant Brain in a Jar, I got the emotional/social retardation side effect BAD.

  • I agree that Bill Nye had no idea of what he was walking into. By the end of the debate, he was looking quite solemn and, I don’t know–confused? He fell down the rabbit hole when he got sucked into the religious fervor of Ken Ham. Nye insisted that billions of spiritual people do not accept YEC, and, I think, was sucker punched when Ham had an answer to that–every other religion but Ham’s is wrong. How do you argue with that? I agree also that it was wonderful to hear Nye say “I don’t know”. It wasn’t just that he said it, it was the WAY he said it, with childlike enthusiasm and joy. After all, science is about finding the answers to our “don’t knows”. It’s the thrill of the chase after knowledge and truth which drives scientists. That Ham could not affirm such joy was totally bewildering to Nye. Ham’s “I know it all” shuts down the pursuit for answers.

  • I did not listen to the whole debate, yet.

    I am a homeschool mom – that tends to lean towards YEC.

    That said, I grew up in a home where we were Christian, but rarely went to church – not even on Christmas and Easter generally.

    Overall, I like Bill Nye. He is a funny guy! So when he cracked a couple jokes and NO one laughed, I though, “Oh my he does not know what he is in for!” I don’t mind Ken Hamm. Bill Nye is much more personable INHO:-)

    I think he raised many good points in the short time I listened. I don’t feel that Hamm brought the best.

    Two days after the debate was Thursday. I was teaching my homeschool General Science class to 7th graders. They had not watch the debate at all, so we started to watch it in class. Before we started though, a boy said, “My youth pastor said last night that you could not be a Christian unless you are YEC.” I almost moaned out loud. As you know you must walk carefully in these situations:-0

    So I played the Devils advocate a little.

    I think that it is important to tell people it is OK not to know. I did not see the part of the debate that said this, but I talked to my kids about this very point.

    I don’t know is a wonderful freeing concept – as a Christian or non-Christian. How can we possible know everything? How can we possible have an answer for everything that will ever come up? Raising kids like that you just raise arrogant brats that cannot listen to others.

    I am proud to be a home schooler. I am okay that I go between Young earth and old earth creationism. I am ok with my kids learning lots of things and with them not knowing lots of things.

    I am not okay with the smugness of any community. No one has a corner of the truth.

  • YES! And this requirement to know stuff all the time resulted in me being ignorant for ages, because I was really good at pretending to know. Since not knowing was a bad thing, I would do my best not to admit to it. And you have to admit to not knowing before you can learn.

  • One of the reasons I choose my major in college was watching two faculty members arguing over some point in a Geology class. I don’t remember the topic but the idea that we don’t know everything was the point. That opened my eyes to the possibilities of finding new knowledge. It was the most liberating event in my college life.
    As a result I have always been careful to tell students that I don’t know all the answers. Maybe one of the them will find the answer.

  • As someone who pretty much LIVES in the gray, this is such a beautiful idea.

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