Nye vs. Ham: Witnessing to scientists...

After watching the recent Creation/Evolution debate between Bill Nye, an atheistic scientist, and Ken Ham, a young-earth creationist, I was challenged to think about how I, as a scientist, should witness to my colleagues. As a six-day creationist working at a secular University, what is my "strategy?"

First, I want to thank God for the work of Ken Ham and others. While I don’t agree with much of his approach, I was reminded recently that the “wrong” evangelism that he does is better than the “right” evangelism that I don’t do.

With that said, though, there are some dangers in trying to learn lessons for our own witnessing from what Dr. Ham and Answers in Genesis do.  It is easy to come away from a debate like that and think, “I wish I knew a lot more science! Then I could really witness to a scientist. Oh well, I better leave it to the experts.” But the truth is that none of that science is needed in witnessing. In fact, it is a hindrance. God has given us all we need in His Word.

Here are a few Biblical points to keep in mind if you want to witness to a scientist...

1.  We need to believe what God says when He declares that “The fool has said in his heart that there is no God.” It requires faith to talk to a scientist and look at him as a fool.  After all, he knows a lot more about science and the way things work than you do. More than that, he is not afraid to brow-beat you into submission by insinuating that you are the one who is the fool. It was instructive to hear Mr. Nye explain to Larry King that anyone who believes in a six-day creation is inconsistent when he uses aspirin. It is sheer nonsense, but it sounds pretty demeaning! A statement like that just invites a comeback like, “Oh yeah?  I am no dummy!” But is that the first step in the witnessing to a scientist?

I could never understand the logic of attacks like this until I understood that it did not come from scientists, but from those who hold to the philosophy of scientism. Scientists study the physical universe. Scientism declares that there is nothing except the physical universe. Scientists use the scientific method to better understand the world. Scientism limits understanding to the scientific method so that they can deny anything outside the world. Scientists use science to solve problems and help others. Scientism declares Science as the savior of the world. After all, Bill Nye doesn’t want tax-payers to allow their tax dollars to fund an improper understanding of science because, he says, it will “rob our students of their future.”

What is the application to witnessing? Understand this truth: everyone needs a Savior, and everyone knows it. Fools claim that science is god, they evangelize through their proclamations of the ability of science to solve all our problems, and they warn of the impending doom if the great god science is replaced with another God. But even though they say in their hearts there is no God, they know there is One.

2.  Next, we need to pay close attention to what God says that the fool has done: “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”   The atheist scientist will (unsurprisingly) say the exact opposite of what God says. The scientist will tell you that he has determined with his own mind that there is no God. Being a naturalistic materialist, he has no other framework for knowing. He knows because he has weighed the evidence for God in the scales and found Him wanting. And the naturalistic scientist really believes this; because he has no understanding of his darkened heart, he can only know things through his “enlightened” mind. 

So how does this truth help us in witnessing? We can avoid a trap. Don’t say anything with the ultimate purpose of bringing more light to his mind. He doesn’t need it, and it is not addressing the real issue anyhow. Don’t approach his soul through his mind. Approach his heart through his conscience. Dr. Nye might be better loved by talking to him about the restraining order he has against his ex-wife than by a discussion of carbon dating.

3.  After this, it is really helpful to know how the fool came to have a foolish heart. According to Romans 1:22, they became fools while they were professing to be wise. Rather than honor God and give him thanks, they were professing to be wise. This is the distinguishing characteristic of scientism. From the time a natural science major steps foot into college, he is trained that he is smarter than students in any other field. (Maybe we will give a tip of the hat to mathematicians.) Once you start to witness to a scientist using evidence for God or creation, you have lost the war.  You are playing on his home turf, because he has spent a lot of time building up evidence that matches his view on the world. Best case scenario, all you can do is to have more evidence for your position than he does for his position. And what does this teach a scientist? It just teaches him that he has to work harder to find more evidence, because, after all, that is what a scientist does for a living. 

But much worse, what have you really taught him while you pile up evidence for God? You are teaching him that it is right for men to use what they "know" to judge God. You might have all the facts in the world to support the truth, but at the same time, you are whispering in his ear, “You can be like God, knowing good and evil.”  You are telling him that he is wise, and just needs to look at everything around him and be saved with his new understanding.

Does that mean there is no room for discussing science facts in witnessing to a scientist?

Yeah, pretty much. No one was ever converted because someone outdid him with one more scientific fact supporting creation than he has supporting evolution.

There is still some room for science, though, if you do it Biblically. A good scientist will be able to talk all day about what “we know,” but he needs to realize that he can spend the rest of his life talking about what we don’t know. For every fact about the physical world that we know, there are a billion we don’t. It might not seem like much of a witnessing strategy, but by constantly pointing out what we don’t know, at least you are spending time “professing to be unwise.”

4.  If you want to witness to a scientist, you need to love him. Like I always say, scientists are people too.  John 3:16 isn’t a cliché, after all. God does love the world, and He desires that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Don’t get hung up if you don’t know a bunch of science facts. Even if we have all knowledge, if we do not love, it profits nothing (1Corinthians 13). 

5.  Ultimately, we need faith. What do we need to believe when witnessing to a scientist who believes in scientism, an atheistic scientist?

  • He is a fool.
  • His biggest need is to know he is a fool.
  • Jesus came to save, not the wise, but fools.  Praise God!

(Note from TB: The author has a Ph.D., professes chemistry at Indiana University, and is a second-year student at Clearnote Pastors College in Bloomington, Indiana.)

Comments

Spot on. My father has taught science at our local Christian school for more than 30 years, my brother is now following in his footsteps, and I am so blessed to teach with them at an institution that recognizes the centrality of Christ in all things. I have had depressing discussions with too many former friends, now apostates, regarding this debate in the past few days.

Bill Nye kept talking about joy. Would a proper response be, "Bill, thinking as you do this joy you speak of is just a biochemical reaction. It has no emotion. It has no meaning. It has no purpose."

I have entered into spontaneous debates with science classmates and their response when confronted with more facts than they can answer is typically, "somebody better versed could answer you." (Which is not, in fact, true because the preponderance of evidence leads most naturally to a Designer, but that's their statement of faith.) So my experience is similar to Ben's in that facts do not convert the sinner.

That said, my concern in a public debate like Ham v. Nye, is for the spectators. There are, no doubt, a number of Christians or Elect-not-yet-manifested who lack a scientific background who desperately need someone to show them that science and Christian faith are not antithetical.

One of my big disappointments with Ken Ham was his answer to whether creationists have ever contributed an scientific discoveries. He could have listed Newton, Pasteur, Kepler, Descartes, and continued by stated that every major branch of modern science was founded by Bible-believing Christians. He could have cited Linus Pauling as a reference since Pauling's history of science acknowledges that. Instead, Ken Ham attempted to state that the rules of logic are an outgrowth of Christianity without ever validating that.

>>He could have listed Newton, Pasteur, Kepler, Descartes, and continued by stated that every major branch of modern science was founded by Bible-believing Christians.

He could have responded by observing that Cotton Mather, the much-maligned Puritan pastor in Colonial New England, died from his participation in a smallpox vaccine which was experimental; and when he died, he was FRS (please see comment below).

Also that Edwards's observations of spiders are still read by entomologists, today.

Love,

Just a possible correction, the 3rd paragraph refers to Ken Hamm as "Dr. Ham". I can find no evidence that he is a doctor. If you know he is a doctor I apologize. If I am correct you may want to fix this error. Thanks

Or alternatively, argue for Christian faith as a matter of history, especially the Resurrection, and then work from there?

Most excellent, brother. You summarized very clearly all the things I've been thinking and trying to synthesize in my mind for days. This is very helpful.

And I agree with everyone who wished that he had pointed to the history of Christians leading the sciences. It was sort of lame how he kept bringing up current scientists (that none of us have ever heard of) to prove that there are smart people out there who agree with him. That line of reasoning could easily be dispelled by those in the Nye camp saying, "Oh yeah, well we have more smart people on our side." When you point out that all Nye's "smart people" stand on the shoulders of Christians throughout the centuries, it makes it a lot more unseemly for Nye to maintain the same smug, condescending posture.

As far as the people in the audience go, I agree, the debate is mostly for them. But just as Nye will not be converted by scientific arguments, neither will they. The way to help us spectators is through good teaching that will magnify God's Word and, by God's grace, strengthen us against the attacks of the evil one. That teaching is what Ham tries to do with Answers in Genesis. I just think it would be good, if you're going to "debate" a fool, to be more forthright and focused on teaching the audience. As it played out, it wasn't much of a point-counterpoint debate, and Ham seemed to me to be too repetitive which led to a lot of wasted teaching time.

But, in the end, I have to admit, he's doing it while, for the most part, I'm not. Therefore, I do thank God for his work and faith.

My memory failed me. Matther was not FRGS (Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society) but FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society for Improving Natural Knowledge). Now more commonly referred to as the Royal Society, the society was founded in 1660 and since then has been the scientific advisor to the British Government. It's the UK's Academy of Sciences.

Can anyone answer John McNeely's question? Does Ken Ham have any doctorate?

Love,

I've come to see debates as efforts in futility, for the most part. Even one-on-one, they seem to only foster callousness in all participants. When public debates of this nature are put forward, they seem to serve little purpose other than potentially rendering unstable certain listeners.

Sadly, I wonder if the unstable listeners were primarily young ones invested in Ken Ham's work, whether through home school, private Christian school, or simply Christian homes depending on Ham's work to protect their children during science classes.

I think some will have been unnerved by the debate. There was nothing to be gained by having it - only loss. Having listened to it live, it struck me that this was primarily about establishing legitimacy for the Creation Research Institute, and secondarily about the veracity of Scripture and glory of God.

God did not bless Ken Ham during the debate. He had moments where he professed faith, and that was good; but overall, it should be clear God did not bless his efforts. I say this partly based on his failure to rebuke Bill Nye's continuous demand for a prophetic sign/wonder. Did anyone else notice this? It struck me as a direct challenge against God every time he demanded Ham put forward a prediction - one self-proclaimed seer challenging another. 

A prophet never took to the podium.

Ken Ham holds a BS and a teaching cert, if I remember the intros aright. Mr. Nye continually referred to him, I thought disparagingly, as Mr. Ham.

This is brilliant, and spot on - and a much needed encouragement. Thank you.

Doug is correct, as is John. Ken Ham has four honorary doctorates, but his earned degrees are a BA and teaching certificate.

Yea for C. Van Til !

Well, if he has honorary doctorates, it's proper to refer to him as "Dr. Ham" and Dr. Nye is a cad for not doing so.

Love,

And for full disclosure, Bill Nye has a number of honorary doctorates as well, so I should have referred to him as Dr. Nye.

To expand on what I said above, I do believe that there is a limited role for discussing "creation science," but not in evangelism. I talk to students, both Christians and nonbelievers, who want to know more about the science of evolution/creation because they are genuinely curious and are true scientists, rather than believers in scientism. But I  try not to do it in such a way that it is evangelistic for nonbelievers, or meant to strengthen the faith of believers.  That is a real temptation for me.  Since my students know I am in the pastors college, believing students will come to my office and try to get me to strengthen their faith through science.  I will give them science for why evolution is unreasonable, but I don't think it is faithful to try to support their faith with fallible science when we have an infallible Word.

Great post. Thanks a lot.

"Scientism declares that there is nothing except the physical universe. [...] Scientism limits understanding to the scientific method so that they can deny anything outside the world. [...] Scientism declares Science as the savior of the world."

I think you are close to developing a straw-man or caricature here as a cheap way to demonize your opposition. Science, reason, logic, and skepticism are tool kits developed over centuries to discern true accurate knowledge about the subject of inquiry. Further, you don't really explain the limitations of these tools; rather you have disparaged them by ascribing negative motivations to their users, ie, "scientism declares science as the savior of the world," and "so that they can deny anything outside the world," whatever that means. In your churchy language, that must mean something? I don't get the point of a statement like that.

"Being a naturalistic materialist, he has no other framework for knowing. He knows because he has weighed the evidence for God in the scales and found Him wanting. And the naturalistic scientist really believes this; because he has no understanding of his darkened heart, he can only know things through his “enlightened” mind."

So you assume and assert that there are other ways of knowing that are rationally justified and have been shown to produce correct and accurate knowledge? I can think of nothing but example after example throughout western civilization where people were capitally punished by supposedly infallible church authorities for beliefs considered contrary to church authority and revelation. Scientists, philosophers, and skeptics know that humans are fallible, thus, the development of science, reason, logic, and skepticism tool kits to identify thinking gone awry, and help us determine beliefs that are rationally justified and correct. Authority, intuition, revelation and pure rationalism are not good tools for discovering true accurate knowledge.

In points 2, 3 and 4, your assumptions are that God exists, God has revealed himself and communicated with man, the bible is the revealed word of God, and that revelation is a good path to knowledge. A skeptic would not agree.

How can someone tell the difference between a delusional person who claimed to hear God speak to him, versus any other god claim throughout history, including the christian god described in the bible? Do descriptions of the physical world in the various revelations match our observations of reality? They don't match, google cosmology and evolution to read at least 3 reputable sources contrary to your view.

Do historical claims in various revelations match archaeological evidence? They don't, google the historicity of Christianity, Mormonism, or Islam.

Do prophecies validate revelation as authentic? They don't. To avoid the issue of postdiction, a prophecy must be specific, verifiably stated before said event, not ambiguous so they can be interpreted to fit anything, and not self-fulfilling. I'm not aware of any prophesy that meets these criteria, and therefore don't think they represent anything but tricksters and scam artists. Read the gospels and check the context of every statement of said fulfilled prophecy. You will notice they are ambiguous, made to fit the situation, ripped from the OT out of context and had little to do with what is being discussed.

Do moral prescriptions in the various revelations reflect something divine and give us a tool kit to discern the proper moral take on new situations? No, the don't. They are conspicuously primitive and an outgrowth of a barbaric iron age culture, just read Exodus 21-22, Leviticus 25:44-46, Numbers 31, and Deuteronomy 15 specifically and the rest of the bible for that matter.

As far as I'm aware, the christian bible makes 3 claims about origins and they directly contradict reality. Genesis 1 and genealogies in the gospels make a claim that the universe and earth were created ~6000 years ago, the Noachian flood produced a genetic bottle neck and all species are the result of two or 7 pairs, and Paul invokes an argument from design in Romans 1:18-20. Cosmology contradicts the first, given the size and room available on the ark the numbers of species in the fossil record and observable today with the rate of speciation contradict the second, and the argument from design has been debunked by David Hume and others hundreds of years ago. You can google these and read point and counterpoint arguments readily.

"So how does this truth help us in witnessing? We can avoid a trap. Don’t say anything with the ultimate purpose of bringing more light to his mind. He doesn't need it, and it is not addressing the real issue anyhow. Don’t approach his soul through his mind. Approach his heart through his conscience."

This will not work. Emotion-as-evidence is already identified as a bad reason to believe something. If someone was convinced by this poor reason, after a short time and a little reflection while being plagued by doubts about the veracity of religious claims, they would soon reject their misguided conclusion.

Add new comment