About a year ago, when atheism was new to me, I tried watching the debate between science communicator Bill Nye and young-earth creationist Ken Ham about whether or not creation is a viable model of origins. After no more than thirty minutes in, I was totally lost and had no idea what they were talking about. This week, however, I gave it another go. This time, I made it all the way through, and I was able to better understand the topics, although there were many claims made by Ken Ham that I found extremely underwhelming, extraordinary, and not convincing in the least. Whenever Ham would say something completely unfounded and outlandish, Nye would do his best to stay polite, referring to these as “extraordinary claims.” I’d like to point out some of these crazy statements that Ham made and give my thoughts on them.
Extraordinary Claim #1: Naturalism/atheism is a religion, and Christianity is not; Christianity is indeed nothing but historical fact.
Response: I have heard atheism being called a religion more than once, and still it baffles me. The only way you could refer to it as a religion is if you are using a completely different definition of the word religion than what we are used to. In one of my posts, I talked about how a famous Christian blogger, Matt Walsh, said that atheists were religious because they must have some kind of worldview that backs up their moral and logical choices, but having a worldview (which is inevitable) doesn’t make someone religious. Religion and worldview are completely different.
More recently, I was reading a post by someone who was claiming that atheism is a religion by defining that anything that you can be “religious” about in the sense that you can be zealous, excited, or obsessed with it, makes it a religion. This is a gross twisting of two completely separate definitions of the word religion. The common definition of religion includes belief and worship in some kind of supernatural deity, and if anyone claims that atheism is a religion, then they ought to specify what definition of religion they are referring to, because it certainly isn’t a religion in the same way that Christianity is.
Furthermore, the claim that Christianity is mere historical truth, and not a religion, is simply wrong on multiple levels. It is widely known that Christianity is far from perfect historical truth, but even if it weren’t, it would still be a religion. Hypothetically, if atheism did happen to be incorrect, and Christianity was right, Christianity would still be a religion, and atheism still would not be. Whether or not it is historically accurate wouldn’t change the fact that it is a religion.
Extraordinary Claim #2: You should be convinced that creationism is true because real scientists can operate under a young-earth, biblically literal worldview. For example, the inventor of the MRI machine was a young-earth creationist!
Response: Ken Ham refers to this argument again and again throughout the debate: great scientists who have made leaps and bounds in technology can be young-earth creationists. This is one claim that Ham makes in which that I find no wrong. It’s true that there are scientists and engineers who take Genesis to be historical fact, but my problem is why that should surprise me. He continually referred back to the fact that the inventor of the MRI machine was a young-earth creationist and didn’t believe in evolution. My question is: why would not believing in evolution impede your ability to invent a machine completely unrelated to the study of origins?
Extraordinary Claim #3: There are two types of science: observational science and historical science. Since we didn’t see the big bang or evolution happen by our own eyes, we have no reason to believe that they happened. After all, the natural laws of the universe could have changed between the beginning of the universe and the time when these phenomena were observed. Also, the age of the earth can’t be proven (although it is 100% absolutely 6,000 years old).
Response: I’m no scientific expert, but I am going to make a wild guess and say that science operates under the use of the scientific method. This method involves making observations, making hypotheses, testing these hypotheses, and applying your new scientific knowledge to reach conclusions and make more predictions about what you are testing.
Oftentimes, the predictions made can be found to be true or false. Ken Ham seems to think that it doesn’t work this way. He says that while we can observe things in nature, that is all we can do. We can’t apply the scientific method to any kind of past occurrence under the chance that scientific processes and laws may have changed since the formation of things such as trees, ice layers, rock layers, and fossils. He believes that all of the dating methods that have shown that the earth is older than 6,000 years, and its current geological makeup is older than 4,000 years (unchanged by a global flood) are completely unreliable because they were done using science to draw logical conclusions rather than being given up on because they can’t be 100% proven because we didn’t observe them with our own eyes.
Extraordinary Claim #4: I know where matter, language, intelligence, and the laws of logic and nature originated: it’s called the Bible. The fact that naturalists can’t answer these questions proves that they’re wrong and God exists.
Response: This is one claim that I see made by Christians constantly because they think that it means that they’ve won the great origins debate. I know that it can be hard to understand why “I don’t know” doesn’t mean “you’re right,” but the God of the Gaps theory doesn’t give any better explanation of the origins of matter, language, or intelligence than do the theories that they came about by natural causes. We all have the same evidence, but we draw different conclusions from them. We know that matter produced intelligence somehow, but we don’t know how. None of us do. Christians say it happened because the bible says that God made it happen, but that doesn’t mean that they know how it happened, only who did it.
I see this response as a placeholder that religious people can use until the scientists that are working hard to find an answer succeed in finding the answer. It takes humility to be able to say “we can’t answer that, but we are working on it,” instead of “God made it, and that’s all I need to know.” One of my favorite atheist quotes is from Richard Feynman: “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”
I hope to learn more about origins and how to better refute claims made by young-earth creationists as I read more about science and atheism. For Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend got me Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation by Bill Nye, which was inspired by Nye’s participation in this debate. I’m excited to see more of what he has to say, but I would also love to take book recommendations and other thoughts in the comments!