It’s been a year since the Great Debate between Bill Nye (yes, “the science guy“) and Ken Ham (yes, that guy). Well, ‘debate’ is hardly an accurate description of what happened, but more on that later. First the details.
The two stood off before a packed audience of 900, (the $25 tickets sold out within minutes after going up for sale a month before), and millions of others viewed it simultaneously over the Internet. It’s still available for viewing now: National Public Radio (who backed the Nye horse) and Answers in Genesis (who stood by Ham) both provide links to the event, and it’s also available at numerous other YouTube links, at least one of which has chalked up over 4 million views.
For two and a half hours, this popular staunch atheist and this ardent Young Earth creationist addressed the question “Is Creation A Viable Model of Origins?” Back and forth the ball was punted. Lots of PowerPoint slides, and tongue-in-cheek jabs. Then, after both gave their final speech, the moderator warned the listeners that a major snowstorm was brewing outside and should drive safely, and everybody got up and left. So anti-climatic.
But for months after this event, various groups from every stripe within the atheist – theist spectrum digested and rehashed it. Some of them looking to find out who was the victor, and both sides finding evidence to claim an annihilation of the other side. Others were simply looking for answers and new perspectives on this age-old question.
But I look back at the event with huge disappointment. Not because of anything that was said, or the knock-out punches delivered.
Instead, because this was a perfect example of non-communication.
Each made arguments to prop up their own worldviews and to discredit their opponent, but never seemed to engage each other in any useful dialogue. Each just delivered a series of monologues, not caring if/how/whether it was being received by the other. Many times it seemed they were just talking past each other, trying only to score points with the audience.
Of course, it didn’t help that the organizers of this ‘debate’ chose two individuals from diametrically opposite ends of a very broad spectrum. One believing in a universe created by God 6,000 years ago over the course of six days … and the other believing it all happened by itself billions of years ago. And no overlap in between. Despite the fact that there are all kinds of intermediate positions held by millions.
Perhaps this was a reflection of what’s happening in society today. Theists and atheists unable to stop shouting the other side down; unable to listen and learn. And the various public means of communication … the TV, radio, newspapers, blogs, Facebook … only choosing to publicize the one viewpoint and stereotype the other.
The biggest thing I took away from this debate was a greater motivation to get dialogue happening and to show both sides that there are far more than two sides. In fact, that debate was a major driver behind me starting this blog and writing a book. To me, it’s essential that we get theists and atheists talking together, comparing notes, looking for answers together. The fact that we come from different world views doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from each other and work together to find truth.
Truth is truth, no matter who finds it.
But to do this, we have to be able to listen to each other, and to critically examine and re-evaluate what we really believe and why. To entertain the idea that what we’ve been taught might actually have been wrong. And we have to stop using stereotypes, cliches, and derogatory wording.
As a Christian myself, I’m especially sensitive to the wording used by ‘our side’.
One such wording often used by those on Team Ham is the claim that they have “a high view of scripture“, which is code for “we believe the Bible“. Which must mean, then, that others “have a low view of scripture“, which is code for “they’ve thrown out the Bible“. And to them, anyone who can fully accept that the universe is billions of years old and life evolved to produce plants, animals and humans has a “low view of scripture“. Even though many of the latter can also fully accept that scripture is divinely inspired and has teaching on which you can base your entire life. Not exactly a ‘low view’, if you ask me. Such a simplistic way to categorize and label people.
‘Literal’ is another word which is so often used, misused and abused in these discussions, as is the phrase “a plain reading of Scripture“. If those that resorted to these sayings applied them to everyday life, then an advertisement for cookies which are “so good, they’re to die for” would be a call toward jihad. A deeply inspiring poem which says “my love is a red, red rose” would instead evoke pity or even scorn for the guy who’s girlfriend has thorns and green leaves (an example often used by John Polkinghorne, a theoretical physicist, theologian and priest who contributed to the discovery of quarks and now passionately devotes his efforts to the ministry, and who fully endorses the idea of God working through mechanisms such as the Big Bang).
In many ways, I feel that those who push a Fundamentalist agenda have become the Pharisees of our own era, distorting the Bible into something that people can’t bear, and too hard to follow. Jesus spoke harshly against those that made scripture and the gospel into something that actually pushed people away (Luke 17:37-54). That’s exactly what I see today. Believers with “a high view of scripture” digging in and promoting theologies that are increasingly hard to swallow with each new scientific discovery and each new encounter with another world religion, and forcing people to “believe what I do or go to hell“.
I want to take the Bible more seriously, not more childishly.
I want to see more dialogue and openness between the various groups around this question “Is there more to this life, and if so, what should we do about that?”
In the words of the great philosopher(s) of the 20th century, Pink Floyd, “we need to keep talking“. [for those of you who wouldn’t know, the images in this blog are taken from their album, and the song with this name is to die for].
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