The Great Debate

Warning: This post contains religion. If you find this offensive please skip this post.

What did the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate really accomplish? The topic itself was entirely beside the point, ultimately. My love of God or acceptance of Christ as savior really has nothing to do with how old the earth is. Had Genesis said that “In the first immeasurable period of time, God started the natural processes in motion, resulting in the earth” I’d be no more or less strong in my faith.

Instead this debate did little but further highlight the false dichotomy of science and religion. Allowing Ken Ham to speak for Christianity is allowing people to think that he represents a lack of diversity of Christian belief. And there is great diversity in Christian belief. There are scientists out there for whom there is no dichotomy.

“This was not productive or beneficial to science education — it was a spectacle, pure and simple,” said Matthew Bonnan, a paleontologist at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey who blogs at The Evolving Paleontologist.

“There is a fear among many Americans that if they accept science, and evolution in particular, they have to abandon their faith,” Bonnan said. “But science and faith are different things, which are not diametrically opposed to each other.”

I’ve not seen the debate, and I’ve caught only snippets of what was supposedly said. But supposedly Bill Nye, when asked what it would take for him to change his belief, gave a list of natural laws he felt he would have to see violated in order to believe in creationism and, by extension, God. While I can understand why he might take that view, it’s not necessarily an imaginative one. He is assuming that God must work through means contrary to nature, that to prove his existence God has to leave fingerprints of impossibility on everything he creates.

But what if God works through natural means? What if there is no evidence of God because everything is evidence of God? Why would a natural system that makes sense be any more difficult for a god than a system that is inconsistent and capricious? Or what if there is no scientific evidence of God because God, for his own reasons, is not interested in settling the matter beyond dispute?

In my own religious views, that is indeed the case. I have no doubt that if God wanted the matter settled he could settle it. And I believe that one day he will. But until then God purposely does not reveal himself irrefutably, and for one simple reason: he loves us. Contrary to the image some religions have of God, he did not create all of this and all of us so he can have a bunch of angels sitting around singing his praises. That would be like me building an entire house from scratch so that I could make a place for a bunch of bacteria whose soul purpose is to tell me how good looking I am.

No, God has a much better plan for us than that. If all he wants is sycophants, why send us to earth in the first place? Just keep us around as angels and have us do the angel-choir thing all the time. What we’re here for is to further our growth as beings, and to prove ourselves worthy for even greater growth. But there is one down side to that plan: in order for us to be able to choose to prove ourselves, there has to be the option to not prove ourselves.

Going against the will of God is what is usually called sin, and if we were to come to earth as mortal beings we would sooner or later go against God’s will. Even if God were fully visible and known to us all we would sooner or later succumb to the weaknesses of mortality. And in that state there is no way we could ever redeem ourselves once we messed up the first time.

But as I said, God loves us. He set up the test so that mercy is also possible, not justice only. God keeps his distance during the test so that faith enters the picture. For those who have faith enough to seek him out, God is there. But I believe that the room for doubt he built into the test is at least partly what opens the way for repentance and forgiveness. Coupled with Christ’s mission to ransom us, we are able to change and become more what God wants us to be.

So in short, God has not settled the issue of his existence beyond any doubt for our own benefit. He is not interested in dooming us with a perfect knowledge in an all-too-human body. By leaving room for doubt, there becomes room for forgivable error.

I know some people will view this as a cop-out. That’s fine. I could say the same about their beliefs, if I cared to. While my beliefs make perfect sense to me I don’t expect everyone else to think the same way I do. On the other hand, others shouldn’t expect me to think the way they do, either. Just because they’ve convinced themselves there is no god doesn’t mean I have to agree. I don’t. I believe in God. And ironically, both Bill Nye and Ken Ham would probably disagree with me. But then that’s okay, too. I think their debate was rather pointless, and discussed matters largely irrelevant to the question. But it was their choice.

Ain’t freedom of thought wonderful?

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