It would seem we haven’t come very far in the last 89 years.
A large crowd of reporters packed out the small courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee the summer of 1925 to witness the spectacle that has become known as “The Scopes Monkey Trial.” High school teacher John Scopes had been accused of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, which stated that human evolution could not be taught to students in public school.
Perhaps the limitations on what theories can be presented in such a setting have been flip-flopped, but the concept of the public debate with the intention of gaining national attention still holds today.
Last evening Mr. Bill Nye, a scientist promoting evolution, and Mr. Ken Ham, a creationist endorsing a literal reading of the biblical creation account, squared off in a debate held at Ken Ham’s Creation Museum.
I chose not to watch.
Don’t get me wrong, I love both science and theology. My undergraduate degree is in a field of biology and I have a seminary degree as well. But I knew that this debate wasn’t going to present anything new; we’ve been hearing it now for close to 90 years.
Debates like this are not intended to change someone else’s mind. The goal is to make the other side look bad, to show who is the smartest, most highly read, and quickest on their feet. Debates like this look a lot like what the politicians do before an election, and very little like how Jesus interacted with those he disagreed.
Sure, Jesus had discussions and one could even call them debates. They are recorded forever in our Bible and often involve Jesus and a religious leader. But I don’t ever remember Jesus publicizing a debate and broadcasting it nationally. Okay, that was a bit of an anachronism, but public humiliation doesn’t seem like a Jesus thing to do.
Jesus was interested in people coming together to arrive at a better understanding of who God was calling them to be. Debates like the one held last night are not an attempt to bring people together. They are an attempt to draw a line in the sand and find out which side you stand on.
Ken Ham and Bill Nye drew such a line, bifurcating the secular and the sacred. I deny such dichotomies. Indeed there are things that are not in line with God’s will, but such easy divisions are not a good representation of reality and only further separate human beings from one another.
Rather than present these two perspective as diametrically opposed, what if Mr. Nye and Mr. Ham had invited a person of a third-way persuasion? Perhaps it went unknown last evening, but there are Christians who believe in evolution and the Bible. They may not necessarily believe in the same approach to evolution as Mr. Nye and they surely do not hold the same biblical interpretation as Mr. Ham, but that is the point. There are other options.
Believing in evolution does not make a person less of a Christian. Believing in the authority of the Bible does not make someone less of a scientist.
Holding a debate between individuals on opposite ends of the spectrum usually does little to convince anyone of anything and I’m not interested in watching such an event. What I am drawn to is the nuanced approach to understanding the middle ground, the third way. At the end of the day, we must remember to be like Christ, even in our disagreements.