Abraham Ham

I did not see the debate last night between Ken Ham and The Science Guy, but I did see many posts on Twitter and Facebook and read the USA Today story in this morning’s paper. Many Christians rightly point out that Ham wrongly thinks the only orthodox way to read Genesis 1 is the way he reads it, but in their (often scornful) posts they may be missing a more fundamental point.

USA Today quotes Bill Nye saying to Ham, “Your assertion that there is some difference between the natural laws that I observe today and the natural laws of 4,000 years ago is extraordinary and unsettling.”

This is roughly the same point that Abraham Kuyper made 100 years ago. Kuyper said there are two kinds of scientists in the world, normalists and abnormalists. Normalists such as Bill Nye believe the world they see behaves in the same way it always has. Abnormalists believe there has been a cataclysmic, catastrophic Fall that has dramatically damaged our world. We don’t know all the ways the Fall has changed our world, but we must believe it did.

Poor Bill Nye. He is observing an accident scene and doesn’t even know there has been an accident. And poor us, if we think that our more enlightened reading of Genesis 1 will earn any more respect from him. If you are a Christian who believes what the Bible says about a historical Adam and a historical Fall, then though you may not agree with Ham’s overly narrow reading, you must still agree that he is on your team. He may be naïve on some of his details, but his theological instincts are Kuyperian (which is a sophisticated way of saying he’s right).

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  1. The debate will be archived for a week or so at

    Debate live.org

  2. It is a bit ironic that Ham so passionately argues for reading the Bible as the authority in its own terms, but is more influenced by science in his reading than he knows. However, he is absolutely right about the most important issue, if there was death before sin the gospel cannot be very interesting to anyone.

  3. I wish Ham pressed Nye on his apparent passion and zeal for having a standard by which we live our lives when his naturalist worldview denies or doesn’t account for it. How does a non telelogical world begat teleological.

  4. Dear Professor Wittmer: Thanks for this informative post.

  5. Both these guys have a B.S. Neither guy is well qualified to debate the science. It was a PR event for both. And Ham adds to what the Bible says. Most Christians do not accept his YEC view. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/in-the-beginning/
    Here was a recent debate by real scientists.
    http://www.thegreatgoddebate.org/#.UttJFEM6H-g.facebook

  6. I’m trying to understand your point here, Mike. Help me out.
    Wouldn’t Kuyperians say that God created a cosmos and that that he did so with certain natural laws that remain constant? Certainly the Fall has caused major damage to the creation, but doesn’t all creation still work on the same normative rules? Does not Christ still “hold all things together,” sustaining the creation?
    As a Kuyoerian, I also find that Ham’s assertion unsettling.that there is difference between the natural laws that we observe today and the natural laws of 4,000 years ago. The Fall happened (I believe a lot longer ago than 4,000 years), but the Fall has damaged the Cosmos, not destroyed it. God’s good creation remains.
    Can Kuyperians celebrate Ham as being one of us, at least in spirit? I’d say no. Kuyperians, I believe, would not have the rabid suspicion of science that he has. Kuyperians wold see scientific inquiry as a valid vocation, and honor the theories that science articulates.
    I am a college campus minister, and many of the Christians in the fellowship I run were enamored with this debate, and were so rooting for Ken Ham that they saw it as a slam-dunk win for him.
    And here I am, trying to encourage the few in our fellowship that want to pursue science as a vocation, who are confused because they are hearing, both implicitly and explicitly, that the pursuit of a scientific career is folly at best and mutiny at worst (unless, of course, they want to go work for Ken Ham’s organization).

  7. Weird – my comment above was credited to a different Robert Robinson! It’s me, Bob.

  8. Good point, Bob. Others who listened to the debate said that Nye actually misquoted Ham. Apparently Ham said that he believes natural law is unchanged since the fall but Nye reasserted his statement as if it was a fact. So it seems that everyone agrees that the laws of nature remain unchanged.
    I didn’t hear the debate, but what I heard second hand was that Ham was working from a presuppositional, worldview perspective, whose seminal thinker is Cornelius Van Til, who learned it from Kuyper (it’s a Dutch Reformed thing). From what I’ve read, Ham pressed the point that while Christians and non-Christians can do observational science together, they will fundamentally disagree about what it all means because of their different starting points. This is precisely the point that Kuyper made with his normalists/abnormalists distinctions.
    For the record, I have significant disagreements with Ham’s dogmatic and overly narrow interpretation of Genesis 1 (e.g., I think the Bible doesn’t tell us how old the world is), but I resonate with his presuppositional use of worldviews. And so would Kuyper.

  9. It makes a great deal of difference what is meant by the laws of nature being unchanged. Does it mean that God could never have done a miracle that “violated” the laws of nature? Surely someone who blieves the Bible has to reject that. Does it mean that only the forces of nature, at the rates we have observed over the past 200 years, are permitted to explain everything. That is even dubious from a scientific perspective, even many atheistic scientists believe catastrophic events are possible, even likely, and that they radically change the normal rates of change. Even ‘minor’ catastrophes have led to radically revamping of scientific theories of how long it takes for things to happen. We’ve seen many scientists change their views about how long it takes to create various land and rock formations after they actually witness these things after recent floods and volcanic eruptions.

    Its can be amusing to hear a geologist talk about it taking 1,000’s of years to form stalactites and stalagmites to be a few inches long- only to observe an 4″ stalactite on the conduit of the wire that lights the cave. Obviously, rates of change are not always consistent.

    By “laws” are we referring to deep laws of physics and chemistry or about rates of change and the possibility of catastrophe or divine intervention?

  10. This is an excellent point, Tim. I gather that most people are referring to the “deep laws of physics and chemistry.”

    Bob–you rightly emphasize Kuyper’s emphasis on common grace, but he had an equal emphasis on the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian scientists. I suspect you accuse Ham of over doing the antithesis, and he would say that you don’t appreciate it enough. At any rate, it doesn’t seem charitable to accuse Ham of being anti science. He may not agree with many of the claims made by mainstream science, but he would heartily support the study of the natural world. I don’t mean to be a Ham apologist, but I think our criticisms must be fair.

  11. Much of this discussion is above my intellectual “pay grade,” but I enjoy reading the dialogue and also want to help Mike’s traffic. My two cents’ worth is that I continue to appreciate both the spirit and content of a debate held in 1994 at Willow Creek Community Church, between atheist Frank Zindler and Christian apologist William Craig. It is a bit dated (e.g., doesn’t deal with Intelligent Design) and more philosophical than theological (contrast with John Walton’s work on creation in Genesis), but I think it hits some of the foundational issues better than the Ham versus Nye event. I believe you can watch the entire WCCC session on YouTube -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuCA4rIX4cE.

  12. “…it doesn’t seem charitable to accuse Ham of being anti science. He may not agree with many of the claims made by mainstream science, but he would heartily support the study of the natural world. I don’t mean to be a Ham apologist, but I think our criticisms must be fair.”

    I don’t want to be uncharitable, but I do think that it is NOT a falsehood that the very raison d’être for the Creation Museum and of organizations like The Institute for Creation Research (where Ham got his start) is to cast doubt in the minds of evangelicals as to the validity of the scientific community. So much so that many evangelicals have been trained to be highly suspicious of modern science.

  13. Concerning Ham’s presuppositional Van Tillian worldview:
    We Christians must remember is that not only do we presuppose the supernatural revelation from God in the Bible is the ultimate arbiter of truth, but ALSO
    that not only are our non-Christian interlocutors deeply incapacitated by the noetic effects of sin (that sin has corrupting effects on the mind so that it is difficult if not downright impossible to understand God, humanity, or the world), we ourselves are incapacitated by the noetic effects of sin.

    It is clearly evident in this very debate between Nye and Ham. Nye is clearly showing his fallen nature in that he is seeking truth outside of the reality that God the Creator exists. Ham is clearly showing it in that he is misinterpreting Scripture.

    …And I am showing it in that I, even though I see through a glass darkly, can levy such judgments as if they are absolutely true.

  14. @Bob Robinson
    I disagree with you that Answers in Genesis and similar ministries “attempt to cast doubt in the minds of evangelicals as to the validity of the scientific community.” Rather, they attempt to show the over-reach of secular-humanist-minded scientists. Those scientists believe that since they can learn great things about the world around us now and in recorded past, they can just as easily figure out what happened 10,000 years ago, or even 10,000,000 years ago. However, since they dismiss God and the miraculous out of hand, they must come up with theories that do not require God. Then, they turn around and believe that they have disproved God and the Bible because they were able to come up with those theories.
    AiG has done some really good work with modern scientific methods to show that it is scientifically plausible to explain most of what we see as being the result of a recent, special creation, followed by the Fall, the worldwide flood, and the dispersion from Babel. AiG’s fault is not that they attempt to undercut modern science. Rather, some of their people are so confident in their work that they believe they have settled the issues of origins for all time, in fairly fine detail, and all Christians should simply accept their explanation of what happened.

  15. Sorry for the lonnnng paragraph. WordPress didn’t format it the way I expected…

  16. @Kevin Weaver-
    I would whole-heartedly agree with Ken Ham’s stand if it is true that there is a clear “us vs. them” delineation between Christians and evolutionists. But one does not need to be a secular humanist to affirm the theory of evolution. One does not need to, as you say, “over-reach” to come to the conclusion that the scientific evidence is in favor of an old earth. One does not need to dismiss the existence of God in order to seek to understand the cosmos by way of evolutionary scientific method, a method that is “God-neutral.” (God-neutral in that any scientific inquiry cannot and must not determine the cause of something as “God did it,” or else we would never continue to push forward to discover the actual created nature of things). Certainly Bill Nye betrays an Anti-God worldview. But Ken Ham makes his opponents ANYone who believes that the earth is very old or is affirming of evolutionary science. But there is a third way: We can both affirm the Bible AND the scientific community that is overwhelmingly convinced of evolution. I can encourage a young Christian in college to pursue her interest in microbiology and assure her that she is not betraying Christ in doing so.

  17. Bob, be careful not to fall into the trap of methodological naturalism, something that Alvin Plantinga warns against. I agree we do not need a God of the gaps, but it is equally wrong to rule out ‘God did it’ from the outset. This entire topic probably requires more nuance and patient listening than the internet can handle.

  18. @Bob Robinson
    The over-reach I referred to is the conclusion that a plausible argument for evolution proves evolution, and therefore disproves God. Most outspoken evolutionists seem to hold that position. Many forcefully encourage those who hold to theistic evolution to throw away their religious baggage.

    I question the concept that one can be God-neutral in science. I do agree that we need to continue to seek, as did Christians like Kepler and Newton, how God does things. I believe that it is better to talk of “the way that God does things” than to use your language of “the actual created nature of things.” On one level they mean the same thing, but history has shown that the latter terminology among the scientific community two centuries ago opened the door to the full-fledged atheism in much of the scientific community today.

    I have to ask, what does evolution have to do with microbiology? One does not need to accept evolution to be a good microbiologist, nor an outstanding doctor, nor an world-class engineer, nor any other STEM field of research or practice. If you are known to reject evolution, many other scientists will give you grief. So be it. That is part of suffering for Christ. I know of one highly capable biology student from Pensacola Christian College who had to fight to get accepted to Clemson for grad school because of Pensacola’s arch-conservative Christian stance. He was ridiculed at every turn and his professors tried to give him nigh-impossible tasks, such as dissecting the neck of a praying mantis. He not only persevered, but God gave him the ability to do those “impossible” tasks with such aplomb that now Clemson is generally open to accepting students from Pensacola. He showed through his life that one could be a Bible-thumping young-earth creationist and one of the best science students, at the same time.

    Finally, I have to state that I am convinced that any view of evolution that involves the death of animals before the fall of the historical Adam and Eve is beyond the limits of sound interpretation of the Bible. I’m not saying that one cannot be a Christian and hold such a position, because we all have significant blind spots. However, in the case of your (hypothetical?) student, I think your goal should be to help her know how to be a good microbiologist who interprets the Bible well and stands for Christ in a profession that is largely antagonistic to all things religious, much less Biblical Christianity. I can’t imagine why other Christians in your group would think she was betraying Christ if that is what she is trying to achieve.

  19. @Kevin
    I applaud your friend from Pensacola!
    Awesome.
    My point is that one does not need be one or the other (Christian or evolutionist), one can be both. The BioLogos Foundation, during the Nye / Ham debate, was tweeting with the hashtag #anotherchoice. I am in their camp. http://biologos.org/blog/series/ken-ham-vs-bill-nye

  20. As for the idea that death might have occurred before the Fall, I had always assumed that physical death for all creatures was a result of the Fall. But over the years I have become open (not quite convinced yet) that death might have been part of the good creation.
    I’m not an absolute expert on any of this, so I will quote a couple of scholars I respect:

    “He (Ken Ham) believes that there could be no death before the fall because he has interpreted the word ‘good’ as if it meant ‘perfect.’ That is not what the Hebrew term means. Furthermore, if there was no death before the fall, people would have little use for a tree of life.” – John Walton, Old Testament and Genesis scholar, in “Ham on Nye, Our Take” from The BioLogos Foundation.
    Link: http://biologos.org/blog/ham-on-nye-our-take

    In commenting on Romans 8:19-22, New Testament scholar Douglas Moo (who I studied under in seminary) talks about the what it means that the creation has been “frustrated” and is in “bondage to decay.” —

    “‘Decay’ suggests the inevitable disintegration to which all things since the Fall are subject. (fn)This does not necessarily mean, however, that physical death itself was first introduced into the created world at the Fall. On the contrary, the necessary continuity between the world that God created (Genesis 1-2) and the world that we now observe suggests that physical decay and death – an indispensable component of the created world as we know it – were likely present from the very beginning. To be sure, as Rom 5:12, for instance, makes clear, Adam introduced ‘death’ into the world. But the ‘world’ Paul has in view here is almost certainly the world of human beings (compare the roughly parallel vv. 18a and 19a), and the ‘death’ to which Paul refers here is mainly (though not exclusively) spiritual death (compare again v. 12 with vv. 18 and 19, where ‘condemnation’ occurs). What was Adam’s relation to death before the Fall, then? Some think, as Gerald Bray puts it, that Adam was ‘a mortal being who was protected from death as long as he was obedient to the commands of God: disobedience removed the protection, and Adam was allowed to complete the life cycle which was normal to his physical being’ (Gerald L. Bray, “The Significance of God’s Image in Man.” TynBul 42 [1991] 216). But it is preferable to think of Adam as possessing conditional immortality, with physical death as ‘a possibility arising from his constitution’ (Blocher, In the Beginning, 184-87 [187]).” – Douglas J.Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment” published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49 (2006) 449-88.
    Link:
    http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE/Print-Resources/~/media/1A6F51F87327432788A292F9A46CC2DB.pdf

  21. A perfect example of how those on the Right have done all they can to “cast doubt in the minds of evangelicals as to the validity of the scientific community” is the debate this past Sunday on Meet the Press, when Bill Nye (again?!) was set up against congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R, Tennessee) on the issue of Climate Change. Since evangelicals are coaxed to be skeptical of the scientific community, they are then easily persuaded that Man-Made Climate Change is a hoax.

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