By Christopher Cudworth
“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,
‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”
“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair
-can ne’er come down again.”
It’s a classic tale of deceit for advantage. The spider uses an inviting scenario to invite the fly to the table, when in fact the intent is to make the fly a meal.
So goes the proposed debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the leader of a group that calls itself “Answers In Genesis.”
We must start with the name of the organization to see how confusing this debate will likely be, or could become.
No Scientific Answers in Genesis
See, when it comes to science, there are no answers in the book of Genesis. None. The only references to the character and structure of living things are made in broad generalities, that various “kinds” of creatures walk, crawl and swim on the earth. It does not categorize them or describe them beyond a preschool level of understanding nature and all its workings.
So the supposition that Genesis somehow holds all the answers to the manner in which the world works and all its complexity is a bold farce.
People Walking With Dinosaurs
How bold? The Creation Museum that has been generated from the teachings of Answers in Genesis insists that people walked the earth at the same time as long-extinct forms of dinosaurs. Achingly sad attempts have been made to prove this fact, including the contention that fossilized dinosaur prints in a bed of Texas rock were actually made by humans. The explanation for the supposedly human footprints alongside the dinosaur tracks is found in the mere fact that mud collapses on its edges in many conditions. But the fantasy and appeal of humans and dinosaurs walking together was so strong that folks like the Answers In Genesis people tried to make a big deal out of it.
That is because there is a major clique of people who cannot see the world through anything other than an anachronistic lens in which the Bible is to be taken literally. This cabal is so desperate to find evidence to support their backwards-thinking theories of creationism and intelligent design, the merest conundrum of science sends them scurrying to catalog the fact that “science is wrong.”
The beauty of science is that makes right from many wrongs
Science is always wrong. That’s the beauty of it. Science is cannibalistic in its willingness to disprove theories and replace them with better ones. But that’s what makes science work in the world. If it cannot be repeatedly demonstrated through experimentation, or documented to be verifiable through supporting evidence, it does not stand up as science.
That’s a harsh reality. Science deals in harsh realities. It makes right from many wrongs, whereas religion takes the attitude that three wrongs can never make a right.
The harsh reality that Answers in Genesis emphasizes (and considers paramount and superior to the priorities of science) is the harsh reality of divine salvation.
Ken Ham may care deeply about your soul, and he may indeed worry that anything that appears to contradict the Word of God may prevent you from making that vital connection with God. But Ken Ham makes the rude assumption that only a literal take on the Bible has verity.
The priorities of Jesus
In fact in reading the Bible we find that Jesus himself taught by using metaphorical symbols from nature to convey spiritual principles that his audience might otherwise fail to grasp if they were not presented in a form that allowed them to conceive and visualize the truth he sought them to grasp. In my book The Genesis Fix, I call this method of teaching “organic fundamentalism,” and its practice is found not only in the parables of Jesus, but throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Here’s how it works:
True simplicity of faith comes in having the liberty and latitude to discover what scripture means to say rather than accepting a merely literal interpretation of a religious text. We might call this metaphorical tangibility; that is, approaching life and wisdom with an eye toward its unifying symbolism. This is the common denominator in biblical knowledge. Organic fundamentalism isn’t just a “here or there” phenomenon in the bible based on texts selected to make a case in favor of naturalism as a foundation for truth. Scriptural knowledge is consistently (even persistently) delivered to us through use of metonymy from nature to describe the abiding principles of God. Organic fundamentalism founded on observational naturalism is plainly the root source of biblical knowledge and the primary tool for understanding concepts of God.
At odds with Christ
So this raises the question of whether Ken Ham’s worldview has any verity at all if in fact his seemingly simple explanations of nature are in fact not in accordance with the teaching methods of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus would have labeled Ken Ham another brand of Pharisee, someone so caught up in legalism and the hunger for power over the Word that he has lost sight of the forest for the trees. He is, in other words, a modern day zealot in search of a position in this life, not the Holy Man he claims to be.
A nasty web of religious words
When Billy Nye debates Ken Ham he will first have to sort through the many webs and fabrications of “fact” that Answers In Genesis has woven to ensnare scientists in a religious, not a scientific debate. The complicating factor is that when the version of religion is even wrong, you are in a very sticky situation. Bill Nye may well find himself having to correct Ken Ham on his religious facts in order to debate his ostensibly scientific contentions that creationism is real and true.
It isn’t, of course, and Jesus never would have demanded that it be so. Most certainly he would have appreciated the spider and the fly allegory in the poem that starts out this essay. Jesus often found himself in situations where supposedly scholarly religious leaders tried to entrap him with their words. Jesus usually deferred them by answering back with questions that were equally unanswerable and that illustrated the falsity of the original question.
Bill Nye the Science Guy could learn a few things from Jesus before he debates Ken Ham the Creation Guy. As he argues in favor of evolutionary theory, and how evolution explains the world, he may find himself mostly tugging away at the sticky questions Ken Ham throws at him about how science is frequently wrong. That would be missing the point entirely, because the point of this argument is that science actually works in a practical sense. It is the foundation of medicine and a thousand other practical applications without which the world could not operate.
So here’s the irony: Bill Nye would be wise to learn from Jesus about how to argue with a religious zealot if he doesn’t want to get stuck in a web of wordy deceit.
2 thoughts on “If Bill Nye the Science Guy debates Ken Ham over evolution and Genesis, things could get sticky as a spider web”
Very often the simplicity of knowledge is quite obvious. The simplicity comes from having only one or two “facts” on which to rely. One of my very favorite, observations, comes from the Navajo tradition. In Navajo land, largely made up of sedimentary rock, there are places where dinosaur tracks are abundant. The “explanation” for these tracks is a delightful interpretation and completely definitive understanding of the limited facts available to the Navajo of many years ago. In many places the tracks are seen on shelving sandstone beds and they can be seen to go toward adjacent cliff like out crops and to disappear into the rocks. Their long ago understanding was based on these simple observations. They understood that the tracks were related to lizards. They understood that they were “tracks”. They could see that the tracks disappeared. So an obvious interpretation, based on limited available additional facts, is that these were the tracks of giant lizards that walked “in” the mountains. This limited, but beautiful, direct observational explanation is where those who believe in the limited available knowledge provided in the thousands of years old (as known from historical information available throughout the middle east) spiritual tales provided in the bible (as seriously reorganized, rewritten, and egregiously redesigned by the “church” to bind the spiritual minded to the stories) place their absurd beliefs. The “value of religion” is in providing “rules to live by” in a society where we all can live together in functional association. It is completely absurd to hold onto primitive one or two observation thought in the frame work of modern society. Without science based observation and argument to seek a final encompassing understanding, biblical extremists wouldn’t have electricity to run their computers, cars to get about, airplanes to fly to debates, tooth paste, and even toilet paper, and to say nothing of the technology to bring their silly precepts into the homes of thousands via television.
Well put, Neil, and thank you for the cogent contribution!