A Debate Not Worth Watching

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

I did not watch the debate between the Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham the Creation Museum Guy.  I decided it would be too painful.  I’ve not read any news reports about it or watched any video clips of highlights (or lowlights).  There are a number of things that I’ve just grown weary of in this “science vs. religion debate.”

First, I wish that “young earth creationists” were not set forth as those with the “Christian perspective.”  Most of the Christians I know fully accept that the universe is billions of years old and that life came into being, not in a literal seven days, but over eons of time.  Second, I’ve grown tired of an attitude, a dangerous one I believe, in which science is presented as the only kind of knowledge that has value.  Though I am very grateful for what science teaches us about the material world we live in, I think there is much more to our universe than the stuff that can be weighed and measured.  Love, hope, meaning, beauty, joy, purpose . . . .they are all an indispensable part of the human journey.  But none of them are made of stuff that can be empirically verified.  As I have written before, my daughter has a chronic illness for which she must take large doses of medication on a regular basis.  Those medicines, the result of scientific discovery, keep her healthy and for that I am extremely grateful.  But the reason I am grateful is because I love my daughter.  And that love, which is as real as any medicine, cannot be put in any test tube or placed on any scale.  It stands outside the realm of scientific inquiry.  In his book, The Language of God, Dr. Francis Collins who headed the human genome project writes:

Science is the only legitimate way to investigate the natural world.  . . Science can make mistakes.  But the nature of science is self-correcting . . . Nevertheless, science alone is not enough to answer all the questions. . . Science is not the only way of knowing.  The spiritual worldview provides another way of finding truth.  Scientists who deny this would be well advised to consider the limits of their own tools. (pp.228-9)

I am also just tired of the whole idea that science and faith are at odds with each other.  The modern scientific method owes much of its own founding to the inquisitive minds of people of faith.  Those who believed that the world could be studied and understood because it was ordered by a God of consistency.  Francis Bacon was a man of faith who was instrumental in developing the scientific method that has been used through the centuries resulting in marvelous discoveries.  He believed that God had imbued human beings both with a desire to understand and the ability to invent.  His faith was in a God who created an ordered universe, a God who wanted to be known and could be known, in multiple ways through the study of the natural world, the words of scripture, and through human experience and relationship.  From the very beginning, scientific inquiry and religious faith had a relationship, and not one of mutual contempt.

Though evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould was not a person of faith, he recognized the importance of mutual respect:  In the Natural History Journal 1997, he wrote:

. . . I also know that souls represent a subject outside the magisterium of science.  My world cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain.  Moreover, while I cannot personally accept the Catholic view of souls, I surely honor the metaphorical value of such a concept both for grounding moral discussion and for expressing what we value most about human potentiality: our decency, care and all the ethical and intellectual struggles that the evolution of consciousness imposed upon us.

So no, I did not watch Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham the Creation Museum Guy in their debate.  I think setting up this debate furthered the lie that science and faith are in opposition to each other.   I am both a person of science, who values the discoveries that have been made as a result of scientific inquiry, and a person of faith, who believes in the Sacred Realities of love and hope and joy and beauty.  I believe religious faith plays an important ethical role in the conversation about how scientific discoveries should be used – to benefit the life of all and to enhance our charity toward and care for one another.

For me, it’s not about a debate.  It’s about how science and faith can work together to create a better world for everyone.