That blog title might require some unpacking.
Just last week evolutionist Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) and young-earth Creationist Ken Hamm (founder of the Creation Museum and president of Answers in Genesis) engaged in a much-publicized debate. It was broadcast live on the internet. No doubt millions tuned in.
I did, however, briefly scan a couple of the articles that inevitably followed.
As it happens, both Nye and Hamm remain convinced of their respective positions. And from all reports, it seems likely that the same is true of their respective supporters.
It makes you wonder. Or at least it makes me wonder.
What was the point of all the hoopla exactly? In the first place, neither Nye nor Hamm are scientists; that is, they are not experts in the fields of evolutionary biology. Neither are either of them experts in the field of biblical studies. All things considered, then, I’d much rather tune into a debate that includes folks like William Lane Craig, Alistair McGrath, John Lennox, Hugh Ross, Paul Davies, and others who participate in such conversations with thoughtful nuance and balance.
Of course, at the heart of all debates of this sort is the perennial tension between science and religion. Ever since the days of Galileo, conflict between the church and scientists has been virtually omnipresent in our culture. Most recently, the new atheists have taken the offensive, with the likes of Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris (the four horsemen of the apocalypse, as some have dubbed them) going beyond atheists from previous generations by calling religion not only delusionary but dangerous. Vitriol often replaces even-handed discussion.
One of the persistently frustrating things about these debates is how so often people get quickly labelled. “He’s a creationist.” “So and so believes in evolution.” People on both sides of the debate use these as shorthand, and as a convenient means of dismissing people as easily as their positions. If someone from the atheist camp gets wind that I believe in creation, I then get labelled a “creationist.” The problem with this is obvious. The label itself remains undefined; or, worse, it is pre-defined. What it means is decided in advance of conversation. Even if I believe that God created all the universe, this doesn’t mean I fall into the category of “creationist” as understood by my atheist opponent. My atheist friend might very well think all creationists are young earth creationists and no creationist accepts any aspect of the theory of evolution.
Even more frustrating is the labeling that goes on within the Christian community. There are those who hold to a literal six-day model of creation and there are those who read Genesis 1 more as Hebrew poetry rather than a 21st century scientific text. The more stubborn within these camps will refer to one another with such labels as “fundamentalist” and “liberal.” The whole thing gives me a headache.
I have Christian friends around whom I am careful with respect to bringing up certain topics precisely because I don’t want to be labelled. I’d prefer to enjoy the unity we have on the essentials than get into a heated argument over what might well be—at least within the hierarchy of Christian doctrines—peripheral matters.
Now don’t mistake me. I do think some of this discussion matters. For instance, the basic question as to whether or not one can reasonably believe that there is a Creator responsible for the cosmos is obviously fundamental to Christianity. And the question as to what degree the theory of evolution is as scientifically reliable and demonstrable as the established scientific orthodoxy claims it is also remains a crucial point in contemporary debate.
What I am referring to, rather, are questions like this: must orthodox Christians hold to a literal six-day model of creation? Must Christians reject the theory of evolution wholesale or are certain features of the theory, like modification within species, compatible with the biblical conviction that there is a divine Creator? Ken Hamm, for instance, would likely answer yes to the first question. I would not.
Labels, I realize, are inevitable. We have to identify ourselves somehow; and others will always choose to identify us as they see fit. Perhaps if we didn’t so often use them as conversation stoppers they wouldn’t be so bad. Instead, let’s use them as the start of the discussion. Let’s begin by defining the labels we use, either for ourselves or others. Use them as a means of truly engaging one another. Life—and how we understand its origins scientifically and theologically—is more complicated than any labels we can ever use. The problem is that labels stick. So let’s think twice—and well—before applying them.