Bill Nye recently toured the Ark Encounter, the new exhibit created by Answers in Genesis as part of the Creation Museum. Unsurprisingly, Nye’s evaluation was unfavorable.
Nye’s position is that the exhibit is unscientific. He believes it to be a tool of brainwashing that is hindering the progress of scientific education in our country, particularly as it pertains to combating climate change.
As an atheist, Nye’s worldview is full of holes, logical contradiction, and truths borrowed from the Christian worldview which he seeks to debunk. He can give no rational assurance to himself or anyone else why the claims of science or even his own senses or reason are to be trusted without begging the question. Such is always the case of one who believes that we evolved by random chance through undirected scientific processes over billions of years.
So it is hardly worth our time rebutting him. There is some value in it, but there is danger as well.
But for the sake of our thinking, what are we to say about his claim that the Ark Encounter is unscientific?
Well this all depends on what you mean by scientific.
Answers in Genesis founder and president Ken Ham has poured a great deal of effort into advancing the distinction between Observable science and historical science. This was the crux of his position in the 2014 debate against Nye.
The argument, which has a high degree of merit and yet has not been addressed by Nye or any other critics of creationism, goes that you simply can’t apply modern scientific methods to testing historical claims because they are claims about one-time events that happened in the distant past. You simply can’t use the scientific method here. You can’t conduct an experiment to try to reproduce it in a lab. You can’t peer review the Bible.
Of course here’s the point. The Bible doesn’t need to be peer reviewed. It wasn’t written to be peer reviewed. Because God doesn’t have any peers!
So Ham’s argument is that when Nye and others say that the Bible is unscientific, they are expecting it to meet the same rigors as claims about the efficacy of new drugs, or the physics of gravity/the general theory of relativity, or biology, or chemistry, or any other of the hard sciences we have today.
But because history – not just biblical history – doesn’t work that way, we can’t apply those same rigors. Sure we can do archeology, and we can examine manuscripts. But that usually creates more questions than answers. It certainly leaves large gaps, and what we fill those gaps with is determined more by our presuppositions than hard science.
Nye would probably object that he fills in the gap with hard science. In one sense this is reasonable, but there’s an unprovable presupposition there that this is always appropriate. More to the point, he has to presuppose that the particular facts he imports from hard science are the appropriate ones and are arranged in the appropriate way.
So when it comes to whether the claims of the Bible are true, they simply can’t be tested with the scientific rigor Nye wants them to be.
Should we expect them to be? Here’s what bothers me a bit about creation science. The flood is not only an historical event that took place thousands of years ago, it was a divinely orchestrated event.
The Scriptures are full of things like this. They tell of everything being created from nothing in six days. They tell of a catastrophic worldwide flood. They tell of fire from heaven destroying a city, of the waters of the Red Sea being parted so the Hebrews could cross on dry ground, of the sun standing still, of a man living in the belly of a fish for three days and nights, and of a multitude of people being raised from the dead.
These are not claims of science. They are the mighty acts of the God given to display his transcendent power over the natural world which he created and scientists study . This is the God who made the laws that scientists rely on. He therefore can suspend or change them when he wishes.
These claims require no scientific proof, not that any could ever be forthcoming.
This is not to say that the evidence of science cannot be arranged in a way that demonstrates how it does not actually contradict these claims, as is so often and vociferously argued by Nye and his ilk.
[As an aside…. My own criticism of the Creation Museum was that I wish they would do more of this, or at least would make a more prominent feature of their museum. When I went through it felt like I was walking through a life size diorama of Sunday School illustrations. There are some science bits, but they were tucked off to the side and I had to go looking for them intentionally.
[They also spent a lot of time trying to make it look like atheists are this big conspiracy out to try to attack God and his people. While we know that such a conspiracy is true in one sense – the enemy who has darkened their understanding certainly wages war against God and his people! – individual scientists aren’t necessarily consciously trying to do this. Are they contributing to that war? Sure, but they don’t realize it and wouldn’t claim to be doing that. They are as much victims of it as they are participants in it, and when you accuse them like this, it constitutes an ad hominem or a poisoning of the well. That does sort of put a toe into the brainwashing territory. At the very least in undermines credibility. But I digress.]
But let us not think that by showing how the claims of the Bible are not debunked by science we are somehow proving God’s existence. He doesn’t need us to, and it would be impossible anyway.
That’s not because he doesn’t exist, but because trying to prove God by scientific means is a rigged game and the house always wins.
When we engage in attempts to prove God’s existence to an atheist by scientific means, we enter his home turf and of necessity must employ means that he controls. We must present him with evidence he would consider compelling, but since he is the arbiter of what is compelling, he is going to set that standard such that it is impossible for us to meet.
Better to defend his attacks by showing how he begs the question in trying to disprove God.
Better still to try to deconstruct his worldview to show that it is inherently self-contradictory and relies on the worldview he seeks to debunk in order to make his arguments.
Best of all to love him in Christ, live the light of the gospel out before him, preach the good news to him whenever possible, and pray that God would open his eyes of faith.