As happens with any debate, the immediate question was “who won?” This morning, plenty of news sources were willing to give their answer. Whatever the consensus on winners or losers, here are four things we can take away as thinkers and as Christians.
1. Unbelievers—even atheists—can be very nice, likable, articulate people.
I once encountered a girl raised in Christianity who had later lost her faith. The way it happened, she said, was that she started talking to unbelievers and they were nice people. Not the sniveling, addicted, filthy people she always assumed. They were nice. So she changed her faith.
Mr. Nye is an excellent communicator. He’s funny, likeable, engaging, clear, and really good at talking about science. Not every atheist is a Richard Dawkins. But likeable doesn’t define truth in any discipline—not even politics.
Don’t be surprised when people with anti-biblical worldviews are interesting and fun to be with. Scripture warns us about unbelievers and scoffers—specifically because we will like them (Psalm 1). The bigger question is truth. Even very likable people can be wrong—deathly wrong.
2. When did science become the only way to knowledge?
One of Mr. Nye’s primary tactics was denying that young earth creationism is actually science. This was his repeated implication, “this is how it’s done out there; not here.” In other words, I’m a real scientist; these people are quacks. This was also the wisdom behind Mr. Ham showing vignettes of accredited scientists who are young earth creationists, including Raymond Damadian—the inventor of the MRI. Answers in Genesis and others are to be commended for showing Christians that there are intelligent, informed answers for arguments like those Mr. Nye made.
But this raises a deeper question. Is our culture so narrow that science is the only way to evaluate truth? In a similar classic debate with atheist Gordon Stein, Greg Bahnsen pointed out that the existence of God is really a philosophical and existential question (technically a theological one). While Mr. Ham did a great job parrying the scientific attacks, his best answers drove toward these deeper questions. “Where did laws of logic come from?” “What preceded the big bang?” “How can anyone even practice science without assuming the existence of God?”
3. Everyone thinks he’s a reasonable man.
To the point of growing tiresome, Nye constantly referred to himself as “a reasonable man.” The implication, of course, is that you’ll need to agree with him if you want to retain “reasonable person” status. That in fact, is the core of any debate. We all agree with ourselves—we have no other choice. But what about when fallen humans in need of redemption crown themselves as objective judges of what is reasonable? In any disagreement, both people will claim themselves to be the more reasonable. We will never settle the disagreement unless we can find a higher authority.
4. The ultimate (and answered) question of the debate was one of authority.
The final question of this (and any) debate was a matter of starting points. If you would rather assume that nature created itself, people will help you interpret the world accordingly. If you accept the record of Scripture as definitive, the Bible interprets the world.
And that’s precisely why watershed debates on atheism happen every 5-10 years without ever settling the issue. Both sides have their man and everybody goes home arguing why he trounced the other speaker.
But the ultimate question of last night’s debate was whether you will interpret the world as “a piece of the universe knowing itself” (Nye’s words) or as a sinner flattened before the majesty of the One who made you, who exists and who has authoritatively spoken. One answer leaves you calling yourself “a reasonable man” but without answers to the biggest questions of life. The other leaves you on your knees, knowing and loving the Creator who redeemed you for Himself.
Last night, one man was right and the other man was wrong. Your conclusion reveals something deeper about your own worldview and your ultimate authority.