Let me make my admission up front. I am a theist who accepts evolution. I think evolution is an incredibly well-supported scientific theory and that anyone who looks at the evidence rationally ought to conclude it is true. But I am also a Christian who believes that God has revealed himself to mankind through the Bible and not just some woolly deist-type theist. You might, therefore, be wondering who I will be rooting for in this debate. Well, despite me arguably being on the wrong side of the Atlantic to have a say in this, allow me to explain…
What if the famous Christian philosopher and theologian Augustine were asked to comment on this forthcoming debate? I think he would repeat himself speaking around 1600 years ago:
“It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.”
St. Augustine ‘The Literal Meaning of Genesis’ Vol.1, Ch.19
By contrast, Ken Ham is reported as having said:
“Having the opportunity to hold a cordial but spirited debate with such a well-known personality who is admired by so many young people will help bring the creation-evolution issue to the attention of many more people, including youngsters…”
And on his blog a few days ago:
“You see, the atheists are actually insecure in their beliefs. Not only that, but atheists in many ways have managed to censor information concerning creation from the public—they have been involved in getting legislation to protect the teaching of evolution in public schools and thus stop students from even hearing about creation.”
From Ken Ham’s blog.
Let us not be so sceptical as to see this has anything to do with the dwindling numbers of people visiting the ‘Creation Museum’ in Kentucky (and they have)! Let us not think that this is about seeing the ‘Answers in Genesis’ website get more exposure (and they have been)! Let us also not think this has anything to do with convincing adults who have a popular-level grasp of the scientific theory of evolution that the matter is not settled. And most certainly let us not think this has anything, in the slightest, to do with convincing the scientific community of the error of their ways by producing some scientific evidence which would cause nothing less than a ‘Copernican revolution’ in the study of biology.
This is about one thing, in my opinion, and I believe Ham admits it himself in the above quotes: It is about giving young people the impression that this really is a matter of serious debate at the beginning of the 21st century. What appears to have upset Ken Ham (about Bill Nye that is) is that Nye had a You Tube video which attracted over 6 million views which was called “Creationism is not appropriate for children”. Ham made a video reply called “Bill Nye the humanist guy” where Ham takes the, hilariously hypocritical, view that Nye has an agenda on the question of the existence of God! Ham then makes a number of ad hominem attacks on Nye and employs a favourite strategy of his in using the slippery slope fallacy as a way of scaremongering to the theistic community. According to Ham, learning about evolution will turn children into anti-religious, amoral, uncritical member of society. Ham himself admits that Nye’s primary educational background is in mechanical engineering so why would Ham want to debate him if this was about the question of whether evolution is true or not? Surely he would be attempting to debate some of the world’s leading evolutionary biologists instead? If the theory of evolution is in as much doubt as some creationists would have us believe then why are they not making an impact where it matters most? Where is their evidence in the peer-reviewed literature? In two hundred years time it’s not going to be the winner of this debate who is immortalized – it will be the scientist (or any person for that matter whether formally a scientist or not) who makes the next huge paradigm shift in science. As the eminent British scientist (and Christian) Denis Alexander says:
“One of the deepest mysteries of life, far more mysterious than the origins of the Ediacaran fauna, is why people spend their time going round churches telling people that they don’t believe in evolutionary theory. If people want to challenge a theory then that is an excellent and honourable path to follow in the best of scientific traditions. But there are well-established ways of carrying out a scientific critique and these involve the tough course of becoming a member of the scientific research community, and then finding and publishing results in peer reviewed journals that may challenge a particular theory. That is how theory testing is done and it is the only way that will win the respect of the scientific community. Public votes, popular articles, political pressures, campaigns or even sermons by famous preachers will have no effect on scientific opinion because that is not how science is done. So really serious objections to evolution, if there are any, have to be presented the tough but proper way, by publication of solid results in reputable scientific journals.”
Denis Alexander, ‘Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose?’ p.131
As a Christian, in the teaching profession myself, I think what Ham is up to is nothing less than intellectual dishonesty and I am ashamed that it finds an existence on the fringes of the religion I belong to. Scientist and Christian Karl Giberson explains why 2013 was a “terrible year” for evolution in the US with rising numbers of anti-evolutionists within evangelical circles of the Christian church. One of the main obstacles he believes is responsible for this is the draconian way in which teaching about evolution is seriously restricted among many Christian young people and that the ones who do discover the truth often then leave the church making it impossible for the church to gain from their knowledge. It appears that 2014 is going to begin in a bad way for Christianity as it has to distance itself from the right-wing fundamentalism of Ken Ham.
I can only be grateful that working in state education in Great Britain things are very different. The only place young people will encounter young-earth creationism in British state schools is in Religious Education classes and even then it will be taught as a religious phenomenon and not a scientific theory. This does not solve the problem completely of course as some can attend faith schools where the teaching about evolution is less than satisfactory to put it nicely.  Thankfully, as things stand, however there is not a serious movement toward religious anti-evolutionary fundamentalism taking place in the UK  but this is not to say creationism does not exist in the UK at all (it just happens to be less politically and culturally important than in the US).
This debate is already being described as “”The Science Guy” versus “The Religion Guy””  on one blog and on another the debate is being billed as “Bill Nye vs. creationist Ken Ham, defending science from theology”.  Is this really science vs religion / theology? I know it looks like it at first glance but maybe it’s just good science vs bad science. When I visit the ‘Answers in Genesis’ website I find a whole list of wacky beliefs I don’t find either in the Bible itself or throughout Christian church history. Did the council of Nicaea make a statement about believing that dinosaurs coexisted with homo sapiens? Was St. Aquinas worried enough to denounce the existence of water on other planets? Maybe the Council of Constance secretly ruled on the dramatic and virtually miraculous movement of plate tectonics? Since when was belief in such pseudo-scientific matters an integral part of the Christian religion? Well, according to historian of science Ronald Numbers, you can trace it back to the late 19th century  and almost exclusively to western cultures (especially North America) but that is the topic of another blog.
So who am I rooting for? Well, in one sense, Nye of course. But primarily I am rooting that truth will win the day and by that I mean the truth that evolution is an extremely good scientific theory and that young people should know this. What I worry about is that some will get the wrong impression that intellectual adults are really debating its veracity as far as the current evidence stands.
 See: ‘Jewish faith school caught censoring questions on science exam papers’ here.
Or: ‘Top school’s creationists preach value of biblical story over evolution’ here.
 See the report conducted by Theos in 2013 here.
 Fran Berkman here.
 James Kirk Wall here.
 Ronald Numbers ‘The Creationists: The evolution of scientific creationism’
PS. If you are wondering how a Christian could also be an evolutionist then I would invite you to watch this superb documentary by the Christian philosopher Conor Cunnigham:
And this excellent brief introduction by ‘Test of Faith’:
Or the Biologos website: