When I was fifteen, our church youth group took a field trip to the University of Delaware to watch a debate. As a kid, I thought of Delaware as a less than interesting place, a no-sales tax promised land where Pennsylvanians go to make big purchases, but avoid otherwise but for the occasional yearly trip to its truly beautiful beaches. To me, taking Route 1 South into Delaware felt like its own particular road to nowhere. Did you know that Delaware is the credit card capital of America? Next time you get a credit card solicitation in the mail, check the return address. It will probably be Wilmington, Delaware.
Anyway, I digress. This particular gathering took place in the gymnasium of UD which was filled to capacity with kids like me and their conservative Christian chaperones from all over the tri-state area. I remember seeing Delaware’s mascot — the Blue Hen — on the gym floor and thinking to myself that it looked like a blue Foghorn Leghorn and then thinking that Blue Foghorn Leghorn probably doesn’t do much for striking fear into the heart of the visiting team.
A Blue Rooster? Now that’s worth fearing.
A Blue Hen? Just makes me wonder if it’s on Paxil.
I digress further. This wasn’t just any debate; this was the penultimate debate, an intellectual sparring match for the ages where the balance of science and religion could (and possibly would) be forever decided. At least that’s what I thought, and it’s certainly how it was advertised. In the late 80s and early 90s, this debate was the apologetic application of the time. It seemed that finally, Christians had found the final battle, the great intellectual argument that if we could win, would forever settle the tension between science and religion.
Creation vs Evolution.
Even now, as you read those words, you have a reaction. The creation/evolution debate moved back and forth over the latter third of the twentieth century. Based in a theory of apologetics that the existence of God could be proven by the admission that this universe — specifically, earth and humanity — was created by a Creator, apologists like Josh McDowell, William Lane Craig, Philip Johnson, and Robert Pennock vociferously defended the faith of us all by championing Creationism. The Evolution Theory camp responded in kind, pushing forward with further scientific proofs that this theory was no theory, it was absolute truth.
This was well before Intelligent Design. Straight Creationism with the name of God fully ascribed to it. No compromise, no gap theory, no explanation other than the literal, twenty-four hour day, God-as-Creator, truth of the Bible.
The great champion of the Creation side of the debate was Ken Ham. An Australian paleontologist with an impressive educational and scholarly record, and head of the organization Answers In Genesis, Ken presented the Creation side of the debate that evening. Some other smart guy represented the evolutionary perspective.
I don’t remember the content of the debate, but I do remember concluding that Ken Ham had easily won. His evidential key argument, “Were you there?” really put evolutionists in their place. That was the key:
“Were you there?” he would ask.
“No, of course not,” the evolutionist would reply. “But you weren’t there either.”
Ken would smile. “No, I wasn’t,” he’d say, “but I know Somebody who was and He’s told us all about it in His Book.”
And then back to another scientific point leading up to the “Were you there?” question. It was grand. Back and forth they would go about the fossil record, the Flood, dinosaurs, carbon dating, scientific inquiry. Ken Ham took the evolutionist to school and it didn’t even look like it was hard.
Several years later, I was on a construction site doing my job as a plasterer. On the same site was a friendly plumber whose name has slipped from my memory, but we were on job sites together now and then when working for the same general contractor. One day, we took lunch together. Conversing back and forth, he learned that I was attending Bible college at the time, studying to enter vocational ministry. This particular plumber was no intellectual slouch. Science was his hobby, and when he heard that I was studying to be in ministry, he started grilling me about what was then the great topic: creation vs evolution.
He was a well read and studied evolutionist and knew not only his topic well, but creationism too. But the real point of trouble came when he began relating an experience he had a few years before our conversation at the University of Delaware. He’d been in attendance at the same creation/evolution debate and couldn’t believe how lousy the defense of creationism was. In his mind and experience, it was clear that the evolutionist had easily won that debate.
I was shocked to say the least, and said as much, because clearly Ken Ham had torched that guy’s arguments. The plumber came back with details of the evening and viewpoints of the speakers and proceeded to torch me and my arguments. It was embarrassing. And then later, it was confusing.
How had we both had the same experience and walked away with different thoughts? Was I really just a lousy defender of the faith? Clearly, I needed to study more, but in reality, I had studied a lot. I knew my stuff, but it didn’t matter. That plumber was a really smart guy and knew his stuff too. Put his strong personality on top of it and I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag.
I went home and read my books, prepping for the next day’s lunch. Same deal. It was child’s play for the plumber. Each night I studied, each lunchtime he won. It was infuriating. I found myself pushing my crew to work through lunch to avoid the inevitable conversation with plumber. Eventually we finished our work there and I’m not sure I ever saw him again. And I felt like crap. What a terrible job I’d done defending my faith. I just didn’t know how to answer details about mutations, carbon dating and the light from stars. It was like cramming for a math test every night and then realizing you were given an English exam when you sat down to take it.
This is what happens in the creation/evolution arguments. You guys get your smart person, we’ll get our smart person and whoever is smarter on that day wins. But does this move people closer to faith in Christ? Does it answer the deep, deep longings of the heart?
And let’s say I am the smarter person and I do convince the evolutionist of creationism. Does that mean they are a follower of Jesus? Is it right for a person to reason themselves to God? To be convinced in their mind and assent intellectually that God is real?
I don’t think so, and frankly, I’m really, really, really tired of those conversations. So much so, that I won’t have them anymore. Faith is a matter of the heart (Romans 10.9,10), and convincing a person that there is a God and that He may or may not have made the world does not push or pull them any closer to faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit does that and I think that my arguing usually gets in the way.
We are a people whose heritage consists of a ninety-year old woman laughing at the prophecy of an angel, a man conversing with a burning bush, a talking donkey, an axe head that floats, a prophet who walks around for four hundred days with no pants on, a virgin birth, a perfect life, and a dead man coming back to life.
So much for debates.