If you watched the debate Wednesday evening of this week between creation scientist Ken Ham and Bill Nye the Science Guy, you might wonder how two men can interpret the same fossils and other geological evidence in such opposite ways. The topic of the debate was “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era?” Ken Ham used evidence to say yes; Bill Nye used evidence to say no. When asked what it would take to change his mind, Bill Nye said that he would change his mind if he were presented with evidence for creationism. Ken Ham said he would not change his mind, because he would hold to the authority of God’s word. But it was clear that Bill Nye will interpret any evidence he encounters through the lens of his “Reasonable Man” glasses, without a change in his naturalism. Ken Ham admitted that he will continue to interpret any evidence in light of his Biblical worldview, without a change in his position.
As much as I think that we should present evidence for the veracity of the Christian faith, debates like the Ham-Nye encounter this week show us the limitations of evidence.
Ravi Zacharias tells the story of sharing the podium once at Johns Hopkins University with Dr. Francis Collins, the current Director of the National Institute of Health. Ravi says that Francis first put up a photo of York Minster’s Rose Window (above left) on the big screen for the audience, sharing that there were thousands of pieces of stained glass in this amazingly beautiful window. Then Francis put up a view of the DNA Double Helix (above right), with its 3.1 billion bits of data. And then Francis sang a worship song.
We might agree with Francis Collins that the evidence speaks for itself – that it shouts glory to our Creator God. But not everyone will see it that way. Bill Nye might look at the DNA cross-section and be in awe of the universe.
Francis Collins used to be an atheist. I have thought, until today, that it was primarily his work with DNA in mapping the human genome that triggered his change from atheist to believer. And surely that was part of it. But that is only part of the story. When Collins changed careers from being a scientist to being a medical doctor, he encountered questions from patients on their deathbeds that he couldn’t answer.
As a graduate student in physical chemistry in the 1970s, I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked “What do you believe, doctor?”, I began searching for answers.
I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” “Why am I here?” “Why does mathematics work, anyway?” “If the universe had a beginning, who created it?” “Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?” “Why do humans have a moral sense?” “What happens after we die?”
(From the CNN article “Collins: Why this scientist believes in God”)
Collins shares how he came to faith in God in a CNN interview that you can watch here. It was his growing understanding that his naturalistic worldview could not answer the big questions or explain reality as he experienced it, particularly man’s sense of right and wrong.
Collins now shows evidence of God’s creative work, like the intricate DNA Helix, and instinctively gives praise to God. He wrote a book to show that science and religion are not at odds. But in listening to him explain his journey from atheism to belief in God, it sounds like it had more to do with a worldview that lacked explaining power, than with evidence.
God gave evidence of His existence when He appeared to Moses in a burning bush that was not consumed, when He parted the Red Sea, when He lighted Elijah’s fire in a showdown with the prophets of Baal, when He saved Daniel’s friends from the fiery furnace. Jesus gave evidence of His deity by turning water into wine, walking on water, and showing Thomas His scars. So we should not hesitate in our apologetics to present evidence when it is appropriate, from fulfilled prophecies to archeological and historical support for the Bible. But we must also know that evidence alone is not always enough.
Apologist William Lane Craig says it like this:
So while the evidence is not enough to coerce you if your heart is closed, it is enough to ground faith rationally if you are willing to look at it with an open mind and an open heart.
~ Betsy McPeak