Ham is Not Kosher: The Creationism Debate

February 20, 2014Rabbi David N. Young

Earlier this month, there was a nearly three-hour debate in the greater Cincinnati area. It went relatively unpublicized, but it was quite a sight to be seen. Bill Nye the Science Guy went to Petersburg, KY, to debate Ken Ham, founder of the Creation Museum. If you want to watch the debate on YouTube, it will be an invigorating and infuriating two hours and 45 minutes, but enjoy.

The debate was over the question, “Is creationism a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” In short, the debate went as follows: Bill Nye tried to rationally answer the question presented, and Ken Ham tried to redefine the terms used in the question. Ham spent his time presenting the theory that scientists had hijacked the word “science.” He suggested that there are two types of science: observational and historical. He further suggested that lumping both types into one realm is a disservice to creationism, because creationism is a historical science, while “Bill Nye and his friends” are focused on observational science. Condescension aside, Ham says that because Nye’s field is based on observation (what we can see, hear, feel, touch, etc., right now), it does not have the right to assume what happened in the past. Historical science is based in creationism on the knowledge of what happened as we were told by God in the Bible, while in “science taught in our public schools” is based on “the ideas of man such as Darwin.” He makes it difficult to have a debate because instead of answering the question he creates more issues. He says, basically, “You can’t call my science anything but viable because I’m redefining science to force Creationism into validity.” He never answers the questions his definitions create, such as, “Isn’t reading the biblical account also an observation?”

I have been to the Creation Museum in Petersburg. The modus operandi of the museum is identical to the way Ken Ham tried to debate this month. They present a series of events from the Bible and show how the biblical account “debunks” evolutionist theories. This is what I clearly remember: They try to use facts that we observe in today’s world to “prove” the truths found in the Bible.

Take Noah’s story, for example. The Creation Museum suggests that the immense pressure from the entire world being covered in water for 40 days created layers of strata under the surface of the earth. The pressure also created the animals trapped under the sediment to be fossilized faster than they normally would have been, which tricked the “scientists” into thinking that each layer represents a different era. Bill Nye, during the debate, asks why the fossils trapped in each layer are constant to each layer. In other words, why didn’t any animals try to swim up in the flood?

Ham conflates truth with fact. Facts are about collecting data; truths are beliefs. On a crisp February morning here in Southern California, my wife Natalie might tell me, “It is so cold today!” I might respond with, “It is 54 degrees outside this morning.” Natalie is speaking the truth, and I am speaking a fact. You cannot even determine by my response whether I agree or disagree with her truth. My response, therefore, is inadequate because it does not serve the purpose of the conversation she started with me.

Our Holy texts are not concerned with facts. The Torah does not serve our purposes if it is a historical account of the world from the beginning of time to the conquest of Canaan. If it is only about the past, it loses meaning. The Torah is about us, now, today. We call it Torat chayim, "living Torah," because its ideas are ever-pertinent to the things we face in our daily lives. It is a compendium of truth, not facts.

Rabbi David N. Young is the rabbi for Congregation B’nai Tzedek of Fountain Valley, CA. He spends all of his non-congregational time with his wife, Cantor Natalie Young, and their children Gabriel, Alexander, and Isabella. They also have a fish that their daughter named “Rabbi Litwak.”

Related Posts

Breathe Bravely

This reflection on the theme of bravery explores the ways that the author's mixedness, Jewishness, and range of emotions are tied to what it means to her to be brave.

The Importance of Storytelling

The Jewish people love to share stories, as memory is a central Jewish value. We cannot forget what has happened to us because we must share it with future generations. The past is one of our best learning tools.

He’Brews, He’Leads

Third-year Hebrew Union College-NYC student Jesse Epstein hopes to make Judaism more accessible, meaningful, and relevant for today’s Jewish community – through beer. He recently became the owner of Shmaltz Brewing Company, a beer-brewing brand aimed at providing community members with a mode and environment for consumption steeped in Jewish ethics, text, and tradition.