Nobody seriously thought the Ken Ham versus Bill Nye debate would settle anything. The real question is whether or not the spectacle helped the church and its pastors.
I ask because of some thoughts sparked in me by a former student and current pastor who sent me a note in response to something I posted on Facebook right after the debate finished last night. His comments centered on the plight of pastors who have to deal with congregations that very often contain both Young Earth Creationists, who seek to debunk the science that supports an ancient universe in favor of a literal reading of Genesis, and Theistic Evolution types, who accept the scientific view of the universe’s age/development even as they approach Genesis with a non-literal hermeneutic.
Both sides want their pastor to understand them. Both sides exert subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to woo the pastor to their point of view (probably hoping to hear something from the pulpit that will confirm them in their stance and put others in their place).
Bill Nye, known to schoolchildren as “the Science Guy,” at least is aware of a variety of Christian viewpoints. In the debate, he referred explicitly to Francis Collins as an example of a Bible-believing Christian who embraces an ancient universe and evolutionary development. But most of the church-going folks who tuned into this debate were focused not on Nye, but on Ken Ham, CEO of Answers in Genesis. Near as I could tell, Ham refused to acknowledge the existence of Bible-believing Christians who do not share his literal reading of Genesis.
Pastors who want to love people from all viewpoints on these matters probably now have a harder row to hoe.
At the end of the evening, those in agreement with Ham were confirmed in the belief that the Bible exists to teach the age of the earth, that the Biblical flood narrative wipes out every scientific piece of evidence for an ancient earth/universe and that to think otherwise - to think about the physical world in any way that approaches Nye’s views - is to spurn the revelation of God. “Well, there’s this book…” Ham said multiple times in answering Nye’s questions. The tittering of the audience indicated delight in the trump card that is Scripture.
Pastors who want to embrace and love people from all viewpoints on these matters - and who want to encourage mutual respect for all - probably now have a harder row to hoe. If pastors cannot imitate the stalwartness of Ham’s “The Bible says it’s so” stance, then not only will they likely find their own commitment to Scripture impugned (or at least doubted), they will quite possibly find the hostility of the YEC crowd to be heightened toward any members of the congregation who doubt that just waving the Bible around can resolve all these tensions. Most pastors will properly begin to perspire this week even if asked a question as basic as, “So what did you think about that debate Tuesday?”
So was the Ham-versus-Nye debate good for the church and for its pastors? I judge not. The idea that we can have mutual love for one another across our differences did not make an appearance at the debate. Pastors hoping to foster such love may now be seen by some as selling out.