Bill Nye and Ken Ham squared off for a classic science and religion debate on February 4, 2014. The topic was whether creation is a viable model in today’s modern scientific era? Noah and the Ark was a key discussion topic along with the Big Bang and testimonials of Divine Creation by scientists and inventors. With the release of the movie “Noah” and the new TV version of “Cosmos” on several networks, being informed on these issues is more relevant than ever before.
This is my fourth article written since the debate giving an LDS perspective on this increasingly high profile discussion. The first article is entitled “Can We Believe in and Defend the Huge Miracles of the Bible?“, the second is entitled “How Literally Must We Interpret the Bible?” and the third is entitled “In Defense of the Prophet Noah and the Great Flood.”
Bill Nye was impressive in presenting scientific evidence for a pure natural origin of the universe, the earth and life on the earth, without the apparent need for any divine intervention. He went into great detail about the evidence for the Big Bang and the origins of the universe according to modern astronomy. He also focused considerable time contesting the truth of the history of Noah and the Great Flood.
Ken Ham presented strong personal testimonials of credentialed and successful scientists and inventors, such as the inventor of the MRI medical scanner. These scientists assert that a pure secular view of creation is woefully incomplete and that there is nothing in their belief in an active Creator that prevents them from being excellent scientists.
Mr. Ham also emphasized Jesus Christ’s redeeming atonement and the Lord’s powerful testimony of the truth of the Old Testament and that life and especially the human race has a divine purpose. His views on the “six literal days” of creation and a fixed 6,000 year age for the earth and the universe do not agree with modern revelation. However, even though both Bill Nye and Ken Ham represent polar opposite views, neither of which is fully supported by modern revelation, their presentations in this debate are very helpful to understand the important issues involved. As latter-day saints, we especially should know where our knowledge of modern revelation can add valuable insights to discussions about science and religion.
Both Bill Nye and Ken Ham sincerely believe that they are seeking the truth and that their point of view should be able to be discussed.
Secularists Hijacking the Word “Science”
In his opening statement, Ken Ham quoted the Richard Dawkins Foundation website that recently proclaimed: “Scientists should not debate creationists. Period.” He then said: “You know, right here I believe there’s a gross misrepresentation in our culture. We’re seeing people being indoctrinated to believe that creationists can’t be scientists. I believe it’s all a part of secularists hijacking the word science.'”
He then introduced a video of scientist and engineer Stuart Burgess: “I’m a professor of engineering design at Bristol University in the UK. I have published over 130 scientific papers on the science of design and engineering and biological systems. For my research work I find that the scientific evidence fully supports creationism as the best explanation to origins. I’ve also designed major parts of spacecraft, launched by ESA and NASA.”
Mr. Ham continued: “There’s experimental or observational science as we call it. That’s using the scientific method: observation, measurement, experiment, testing.
That’s what produces our technology; computers, spacecraft, jet planes, smoke detectors, looking at DNA, antibiotics, medicines, and vaccines. You see, all scientists, whether creationists or evolutionists, actually have the same observational or experimental science.
“And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a creationist or an evolutionist, you can be a great scientist. For instance, here’s an atheist who is a great scientist, Craig Venter, one of the first researchers to sequence the human genome. Or Dr. Raymond Damadian, he is a man who invented the MRI scanner and revolutionized medicine. He’s a biblical creationist.”
Quoting Dr. Damandian:
“Hi, my name is Dr. Raymond Damadian. I’m a young earth creation scientist and believe that God created world in six, 24-hour days, just as recorded in the Book of Genesis. By God’s grace and devoted prayers of my godly mother-in-law I invented the MRI scanner in 1969. The idea that scientists who believe the earth is 6,000 years old cannot do real science is simply wrong.”
Mr. Ham contrasted experimental and observational science with historical science, or our inference of past events and the state of the earth based on various assumptions. We cannot directly observe these past events. We can only predict how the earth would be like if what we currently observe in nature was also the case in the past. Ken Ham asserts that the Bible contains an eye witness account of the past where God is an active participant, a God of miracles. “The creation/evolution debate is really a conflict between two philosophical worldviews based on two different accounts of origins or historical science beliefs.”
“I want children to be taught the right foundation, that there’s a God who created them, who loves them, who died on the Cross for them, and that they’re special, they’re made in the image of God.”
Earth 6,000 Years Old and a Worldwide Flood?
Bill Nye particularly contested the belief in an earth and universe that is only 6,000 years old. Latter-day saints would also challenge that view as way too narrow an interpretation. Mr. Nye believes that the Great Flood during the days of the prophet Noah is a false myth. Also very importantly, he believes that teaching divine creation to our children adversely affects their ability to learn and practice scientific and engineering skills needed compete economically in the world.
Bill Nye mentioned several times what he considers the lack of scientific understanding in the state of Kentucky where the debate was held. He evidently believes that the strong religious beliefs in the “Bible belt” and other states hinder the scientific progress of the nation.
Bill Nye asserted that in real life “there is no distinction made between historical science and observational science…. Natural laws that applied in the past apply now. That’s why they’re natural laws.” That is, he assumes that there are no miracles in that history.
“Mr. Ham and his followers have this remarkable view of a worldwide flood that somehow influenced everything that we observe in nature, a 500 foot wooden boat, 8 zookeepers for 14,000 individual animals, every land plant in the world under water for a full year.
I ask us all is that really reasonable?”
“Now, I just want to remind us all there are billions of people in the world who are deeply religious, who get enriched, who have a wonderful sense of community from their religion. They worship together, they eat together, they live in their communities and enjoy each other’s company. Billions of people, but these same people do not embrace the extraordinary view that the earth is somehow only 6,000 years old. That is unique.”
Specifications for the Great Flood
Continuing with the discussion of the Great Flood from my last article, the February 2014 Ensign has a great article that lists important facts about the Prophet Noah.
“[Noah] stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood; he was called of God to this office, and was the father of all living in his day.”-The Prophet Joseph Smith”
Told in the first person as though Noah was speaking to us:
“God, warning me that a flood would destroy the wicked, instructed me to build a ship and gather food and animals. With the help of my three sons and through the inspiration of God, I worked on the ship for the next 120 years. There wasn’t even evidence of rain.
“I also preached repentance, hoping that some would listen and escape the Flood. From the translation of Enoch until the Flood, many faithful people were taken into heaven without tasting death, but others refused to repent. When my family finally boarded the ark, we sealed the door and did not open it again until the rains ceased and the ground dried, close to a year later.”
In the attached fact sheet to the article, Noah’s role in the flood is particularly mentioned: “Preacher of righteousness before the Flood; savior of family and animals from the Flood.”
Here are some of the specifications of the history of Noah and the Great Flood that I would list:
1.Noah was a great prophet and is second to Adam in authority.
2.Moses recorded the vision of the book of Genesis personally and the scriptural account did not come from centuries of oral traditions.
3.Noah and his family were inspired to build a large ark.
4.The ark was filled with animals and provisions.
5.Massive loss of life, human and animal, happened in the flood.
6.The flood lasted about a year, gradually becoming higher than the mountain tops and then gradually receding.
Many people believe that since a worldwide flood seems scientifically impossible, the scriptures must have been referring to a local flood. We can compare two kinds of local floods to the above specifications.
The first kind of local flood is the “wall of water” catastrophic flood, such as the Lake Missoula flood described in my last article. That wall of water hundreds of feet high would destroy the ark and everything in its path. The flood would be over in a couple of days. Going to higher ground would save animals and humans from this kind of flood. The specifications do not fit this kind of flood: over too fast and no need for ark.
The other kind of local flood is the “filling a bathtub” less catastrophic flood, such as the Black Sea being filled up from the Mediterranean Sea believed to have happened in about 6,000 BC. This is the biggest flood we know about in the Middle East area in the fairly recent past. The water rose six inches to a foot per day and the Black Sea water level ended up about 450 feet higher after one to three years of water flow, 200 times more intense than Niagara Falls. That gradual a flood would not threaten animal and human life as they could keep ahead of the rising waters by going to higher ground. There would be no need for an ark and there would not be catastrophic loss of life as described by Peter in the key verses pertaining to the work of salvation for the dead. The specifications do not fit this kind of local flood either: Such slowly rising waters are easily avoided, people and animals can go to higher ground, waters did not recede after flood.
Since Noah and his history must include a flood and a local flood will not fit the specifications, should we not reconsider a belief in a miraculous worldwide flood? This flood is described in detail in Genesis, a vision given to Moses and recorded by him. As mocked and made fun of as a belief in this miracle is, I would recommend its serious consideration “by study and also by faith.”(D&C 88:118)
DNA through the Lineage of Noah
Readers commented on my last article about the question of how the variety of modern human DNA can be explained by the entire human race coming through Noah as a second Adam. 4,000 BC or 2,300 BC, the questions and the time frame are about the same order for Adam and for Noah.
There could be much more discussion about the incredible DNA information code, but one interesting fact seems to support a recent common ancestor. It is the variations in modern human DNA among individuals. Of the three billion letters of DNA, only one in a thousand, 0.1% of the DNA letters, vary among individuals. That is only three million varying letters out of three billion. This is an incredible information density for those three million letters to describe all of the very real genetic variety among mankind.
In the book of Ether, the premortal Jesus Christ indicated that His spirit body mirrored the form of his future physical body. There was a specification of DNA, in my opinion, for His physical body. His mortal DNA from Mary came through her lineage through Noah and earlier through Adam and Eve.
By implication, Adam and Eve also needed to have their DNA specified such that Christ could come through that DNA lineage only 4,000 years later. Christ’s lineage was protected by Divine power as we see in the preservation of David’s life from the lion, the bear and Goliath. That is not the “kill or be killed” natural selection described in evolutionary theory, a telestial level of law, but rather a higher level law with a loving Heavenly Father actively involved in the lives of His children.
In Paul’s listing of great miracles in Hebrews chapter 11, the great miracles of Enoch’s translation and Noah and the flood are listed alongside the miracle of Isaac’s birth to Abraham and Sarah. The very large earth-changing miracles alongside the microscopic DNA-based miracle-both great miracles!
A Fringe Worldview of the Creation?
Ken Ham represents the view of a belief in six 24-hour earth-days of creation, 6,000 years ago. There are many millions that believe in that literal interpretation. And even more millions, including many latter-day saints, believe in other less restrictive views, such as six thousand-year periods of creation or indeterminate thousands or millions of years of divinely directed and designed creation. Latter-day saints believe that there are both spiritual and physical creation accounts. These other views would also have been attacked and discredited by Bill Nye if Ken Ham had been proposing those less literal but equally God-centered views.
That the highly civilized Adam and Eve lived 6,000 years ago, were not just brute illiterate hunter/gatherers and that there was a fall of mankind from a paradisiacal world is widely believed by hundreds of millions or even billions of people. This belief in Adam and Eve living 6,000 years ago can be independent of the age of the earth and not require a very short creation period.
Death before the Fall during Preparation of the Earth
I believe that the period of preparation of the earth before Adam and Eve, including the creation of the fossil and geologic layers, was a very long time. This view is best articulated, in my opinion, by geologist and Apostle James E. Talmage.
“According to the conceptions of geologists the earth passed through ages of preparation, to us unmeasured and immeasurable, during which countless generations of plants and animals existed in great variety and profusion, and gave in part the very substance of their bodies to help form certain strata which are still existent as such. … These lived and died, age after age, while the earth was yet unfit for human habitation.”
After this period of preparation, a paradisiacal deathless state was imposed by God as Adam and Eve arrived on earth. A new calendar for a new world, as it were, was started.
“The immediate result of the fall was the substitution of mortality, with all its attendant frailties, for the vigor of the primeval deathless state. … And upon both the man and woman was visited the penalty of spiritual death.”
“Through the Fall, Adam and Eve have entailed the conditions of mortality upon their descendants; therefore all beings born of earthly parents are subject to bodily death. The sentence of banishment from the presence of God was in the nature of a spiritual death …”
“The significance of the saving sacrifice of the Redeemer, whereby He expiated the transgression of the Fall, through which came death into the world, and provided ready and efficient means for man’s attainment of immortality through reconciliation with God.”
How Much Time to Prepare the Earth?
I believe that God took the amount of time that He normally uses to prepare this earth for habitation by His children. All of these beliefs would be opposed by scientists like Mr. Nye because they describe a world where God performs miracles, which Bill Nye believes are not possible using natural laws that we currently understand.
Of course, if God performed no miracles, nor were there any intelligently designed interventions by Him in history, drawing the distinction between observational and historical science would not be needed. The prophet Moroni, however, described the true God: “Why has God ceased to be a God of miracles … if so, he would cease to be God; and He ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.” (Mormon 9:19)
Mr. Nye may particularly be opposed to the claim that God might create anything instantly out of nothing, thinking that would make God a magician or a charlatan. However, That view of God has its source in the Nicene Creed. Mr. Nye would evidently also be opposed to God actively using His knowledge and skill using natural laws to perform miracles as latter-day saints believe.
Many believe that God and His angels have actively created the world in ways similar to the design, manufacture and construction by man of a complex machine such as a Boeing 787 aircraft.They believe that God used whatever time frame He usually does for the creation of a world such as this one, which creation task He has done numerous times.
Miracles, by definition, do not fit the norm although they doubtless still happen through the use of natural laws.
Mr. Nye had many arguments in the debate to discredit and even mock the belief in the Great Flood of Noah. But he would also not accept other great “over the top” miracles such as the crossing of the Red Sea, feeding the children of Israel in the desert wilderness for 40 years with a main diet of only manna, the crossing of the River Jordan at spring flood, or the night appearing as bright as day in the American continent at the birth of Christ.
He would likely even disbelieve in the feeding of the 5,000, healing all of the sick in many cities and towns during Christ’s ministry, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, and the miraculous birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Astronomical Evidence against a 6,000 Year Old Universe
Bill Nye presented considerable evidence from modern astronomy that hypothesizes that a “Big Bang” occurring some 13 billion years ago resulting in the 100 billion galaxies that we currently can detect hurtling apart from each other with increasing speed. The explosion of knowledge about the universe using discoveries of modern astronomy is impressive and seems to contradict a belief in a 6,000 year old earth and especially a 6,000 year old universe.
This 6,000 year old universe interpretation, promoted by Ken Ham, is actually an earth-centered view in the sense that all calendars and clocks would be set and limited to this particular earth’s perspective. An interesting question could be asked: If the Sun was created on the fourth day of creation as this interpretation claims and we presume the Sun to be essential to delineate the 24-hour time period of the day, then how were days one to three calculated without the Sun existing? Claiming that the universe is only 6,000 earth-years old is neither a good theological view in light of modern revelation nor a good scientific view in light of the discoveries of modern astronomy.
Bill Nye explained:
“And so by measuring the distance to a star you can figure out how far away it is, that star, and then the stars beyond it and the stars beyond that. There are billions of stars, billions of stars, more than 6,000 light years from here. A light year is a unit of distance, not a unit of time. There are billions of stars. Mr. Ham, how could there be billions of stars, more distant than 6,000 years, if the world’s only 6,000 years old? It’s an extraordinary claim.”
“Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson had found this cosmic background sound, [a low cosmic hiss’ coming from every direction] that was predicted by astronomers. Astronomers running the numbers, doing math, predicted that in the cosmos would be left over, this echo, this energy from the big bang that would be detectable, and they detected it. We built the Cosmic Observatory for Background Emissions, the COBE Spacecraft, and it matched exactly, exactly the astronomer’s predictions. You’ve got to respect that. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Limited Straw Man Theories of Christian Beliefs about the Creation
Bill Nye tries to cubbyhole Christians into a very narrow range of interpretations of the Bible to create a rhetorical straw man that can then be demolished with scientific evidence.
A variation of creation theories believed by many millions specifies a 6,000 year human history starting from Adam and Eve in a terrestrial Garden of Eden. I believe that this starting point, 6,000 years ago, was preceded by an indeterminate period of time during which God actively prepared the earth to be inhabited. This interpretation does not limit the total history of the earth to only the 6,000 years since Adam and Eve.
This less literal interpretation than creation in six 24-hour earth-days would also decouple this earth’s history from the other “worlds without number” of God’s creations in the universe. This equally passionately held view defuses the arguments that Bill Nye made using astronomy linked to a 6,000 year total creation of the earth and the universe timeframe from the beginning to now.
The Big Bang may indeed have started this phase of the universe’s existence, just as supernovas are believed to have provided the basic elemental building blocks of creation that God uses to make the worlds. Believers in creation by God’s active involvement are not of a single opinion as to the methods or time frames involved. It seems that His exact methods will only be fully revealed when Christ comes again. But, believers throughout the world are mostly in agreement that God is an active Creator in the history of the world and of human beings, who were created in His image for a divine purpose.
As Isaiah says: “For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited.” (Isaiah 45:18)
Shouldn’t We be Permitted to have this Discussion?
When I attended BYU studying Physics, Computer Science and Linguistics over 17 years of full and part time study for one bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, a discussion of a scripture or the words of the modern prophets was appropriate in any class at any time. This is consistent with the words of Brigham Young to Karl G. Maeser as the school was established in 1875. “Brother Maeser, I want you to remember that you ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God.”
This freedom was not abused and certainly did not make our classes into “fundamentalist religious indoctrination sessions.” And, professors from many disciplines, including scientists and engineers, were teachers of BYU religion classes and Education Week classes where appropriate discussions could proceed in more depth. BYU actually has great academic freedom that other more politically correct universities do not have. Not too long ago, most schools in the United States, private and public, used to have similar environments that BYU enjoys today.
The video of this lively and informative debate on the origins of the earth and life is still online here. I have a preliminary copy of the transcript which has been very useful in preparing this article and have been told that it will be put online soon as a useful reference document.
True Science and True Religion will Eventually Agree
Ezra Taft Benson has stated:
“Religion and science have sometimes been in apparent conflict. Yet the conflict should only be apparent, not real, for science should seek truth, and true religion is truth. There can never be conflict between revealed religion and scientific fact. That they have often occupied different fields of truth is a mere detail. The gospel accepts and embraces all truth; science is slowly expanding her arms and reaching into the invisible domain in search of truth. … Truth is truth, whether labeled science or religion. There can be no conflict. Time is on the side of truth — for truth is eternal.”