Monday, February 10, 2014

Bill Nye v Ken Ham


Driving across the continent, I was not able to see this three-hour debate live. But finally I got time due to blizzard conditions somewhere in the Columbia River Gorge, where further driving became completely impossible.
For those who don’t know the persons involved in this highly anticipated debate, I will shortly introduce Mr. Bill Nye and Mr. Ken Ham.
Americans like to have different guys explain different subjects to them, from politics to sports to the meaning of life. And after such well-thought-out and rehashed explanations, they can intone at the Thanksgiving Table with full authority that: Well… Dr. Gupta says so. Or Mr. Tyson was interviewed and in his opinion…
Not Mike Tyson, of course, but Neil deGrasse Tyson.
The specie of human that in the past was called a ‘sage’ is extinct in this country and this civilization. But these are the people who Americans see as the closest to bearing that title.
Mr. Nye is America’s science guy. With his Egghead facial features and bowtie, he looks like a quiet, stereotypical scientist with his whole being. It is hard to deny his passion for what he does and his broad knowledge in several subjects.
Mr. Ham is President of the Museum of Creations and one of the leading young earth creationists in the country. He's a devoted Christian preacher, scientist, and perhaps most importantly, a family man.
It is not hard to understand my interest in this debate, as I was expecting that the subject of my own interest and research, the Grand Canyon, would be called as a witness. As I wrote many times before, understanding of the Grand Canyon is a key to comprehending the past of our planet.
For evolutionists, the strata and fossils visible in Grand Canyon prove the old age of the planet. For creationists, Grand Canyon is the exposure of many layers of cemented mud brought on by Noah’s flood and the fossils show that the solidified organisms were cased in the stone during the same catastrophic event.
Myself, I went through my own quiet evolution from the evolutionist position, which was imposed on me in the public school system of a Communist country. Deep contemplation brought me to young earth creationist recognition, based on revision of my scientific knowledge on this topic.
Some may ask the question – do I need it? As a Charedi Jew, is it imperative for a person practicing the commandments of Torah on a daily basis to acquire this knowledge at all?
B-H I will came back to this question later. For now I will focus on the debate itself.
It is impossible to describe the almost three hours of discussion in the short essay which I intend this to be, but I will share with my reader some of the impressions from this arch and interesting debate.
Mr. Nye was asked before the debate about the necessity of any conversation with creationists, as in the opinion of secular scientists, creationists are officially considered unworthy of their time.
Mr. Nye probably calculated that this debate would bring him some more popularity, which he seems to crave in recent years. He also probably assumed it would be a piece of cake to debate those backward creationists in their secluded, insolated-from-the-outside-world den.
Unfortunately for him, any knowledge about creationism and creationists in general Mr. Nye probably learned from popular TV shows in which the idea of Intelligent Design is frequently ridiculed. He didn't know that those shows deliver a highly distorted picture of creationism, and that ridiculing serves nothing more than a broader moral relativism agenda.
In Mr. Ham, Mr Nye met a knowledgeable and well-prepared person who by any means doesn’t live in some Kentucky Appalachian village. He didn't preach some primitive understanding of The Book from a mouth that had missing dental work and, if I understood Mr. Nye correctly (he repeated it a few times), that very Book was translated to American English within the last three thousand years.
A few times in his conversation Mr Nye tried to describe the Creation Museum and its research institute as insulated from any outside ‘scientific’ world reality. Mr. Nye already previously expressed the belief that creationists, because they believe in Biblical Creation, are people who avoid technology. He was probably mixing them up with Amish people.
He was unable, however, to hide his surprise when Mr. Ham presented video clip statements from creationist inventors and scientists with degrees from so-called mainstream scientific institutions, who are still publishing in known scientific periodicals.
Mr. Nye was visibly surprised by the fact that creationists study and know the history of Darwinian Theory of Evolution probably better than most people, including scientists who believe in this theory of evolution.
Well, this is what, in my understanding, the various Creationist and Intelligent Design institutions do on a daily basis. One of the matters of their research is how materialistic theory of evolution became so popular and by what means of propagation.
I wish Mr. Ham had more time addressing Mr. Nye’s questions. Specifically, I wish he had thoroughly discussed the issue of trees bearing more yearly rings than the actual number of years in their lifetime. Or the issue of ice core drilling and what appears to be the longtime existence of the ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctica. I wish Mr. Ham had shared some more details or made it easier for the average observer of the debate to understand the huge problem with dating methods used by geologists. He asked the public to go to the Museum’s website to get some education on the topic, but from the debate point of view it was an insufficient argument.
Without question I give due respect to Mr. Nye, for our Sages tell us to make a blessing on the view of a knowledgeable man and Mr. Nye is, without a doubt, a man of knowledge. He is just on the wrong side ideologically.
So I do respect Mr. Ham whom, aside from his knowledge, I honor for his moral standing and family values, which we undoubtedly share.
For a Jewish viewer of the debate, it will be striking how many times Mr. Ham supports his belief of young earth creation with biblical teachings and his Christian faith. Of course as Jews we cannot share this part of his belief. There is a huge theological gap between Jewish and Christian beliefs, which cannot be bridged. The gap can not and should not be bridged, for we Jews have a different calling and a different mission in the world. But I have to admit that Mr. Ham’s stand, his statement of faith in a world where faith and belief is ridiculed on a daily basis, greatly impressed me.
His expression of faith is not strange to me. As a former Christian preacher, I recall my own past. My father-in-law was a builder of, and the head of, a community of Christian fundamentalists. My brother-in-law is leading this community even now. I always admired them and respected their faith, even when I myself understood that for me there was no spiritual progress possible anymore within the Christian faith framework.
I left their community and became a Jew. Since then, to use borrowed language, I praise the L-rd every day, every minute of my life, that He brought me to salvation.
I thank Hakuoish Burich He for allowing me to recognize and learn from the source – from the Torah – the source of life and life itself. He allows me to grasp that the Genesis or Bereishis or Maasey Bereishis is not just the story of how the Creator of the Universe brought to existence what we, with our limited perception, are calling home. He allowed me to see Bereishis as the portal to understand the essence of our existence, which lays in the fulfillment of the commandments of the Creator, reflecting His very essence.
There is no way to come to this level without becoming a member of the Bris. There is no other way than leaving silly things behind and diving into the ocean of Talmud and Mitzvois.
And this is what this debate showed me one more time.
Now, once more, I will bring up the question about my interest with Noah’s Flood – Mabul - and its souvenirs, which are visible everywhere I travel or stay.
Is it necessary for a Charedi Jew like me to put my time into a topic that seems to be irreverent for most of my coreligionists? It is indeed irreverent for most, but not for all. There are people who like to know more on various topics and the Mabul event described in our History books is one of the most important in the history of mankind and this planet. Without question, most fundamental is the moral, didactic side of it. But how many of us went to see Titus Arch or Coliseum Falvianum? How many of us went to Spain, Morocco, Poland or Ukraine to see the houses and synagogues of our ancestors? How many of us visited the Living Torah Museum in Boro Park?
Mabul is just another historical event about which, unfortunately, there is almost nobody in our environment who takes an interest. There is even some fear when it comes to the topic of dinosaurs and fossils. Many of us struggle with answers when our kids ask questions, or shove the whole thing with an Emuna Pshuta kind of answer.
There is no reason to dismiss those questions. There are books and websites discussing the topic in tremendous detail. Most important however, there are statements from Chazal shedding light on the topic. We only have to know where to look for those shards of light, and dare to explore them.
B'ezras Hashem, I dare.

Matys Weiser

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