The Unintended Ham-Ross “Debate”

I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about the “debate” that occurred between Ken Ham and me on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) on May 31, 2012. The network and the host, Matt Crouch, son of TBN founders Paul and Jan Crouch, never intended for a debate to happen.

Here’s the background. I was invited to appear on TBN’s flagship program, Praise the Lord, to briefly share with the live television and in-studio audiences what I considered to be the best scientific evidence for Christianity to present to skeptics. I was informed that other Christian apologists would also be presenting scientific evidence for Christianity and, since I would be the only astronomer, I was asked to focus on the best astrophysical evidence for the Christian faith.

I didn’t know who the other Christian apologists were until I showed up at the TBN studio an hour and a half before air time. They were (1) John Bloom, professor of physics and director of the science and religion program at Biola University, 2) Ray Comfort, young-earth creationist who speaks in churches and on colleges against naturalistic biological evolution, (3) Ken Ham, young-earth creationist and founder of Answers in Genesis, (4) Eric Hovind, young-earth creationist and founder of Creation Today, and (5) Sean McDowell, old-earth creationist who is an associate professor of Christian apologetics at Biola University.

An hour before air time, Matt Crouch brought the six of us into a room and explained that we would take up a half-hour segment of the Praise the Lord program. He would give each of us five minutes to present what we thought was the best or strongest scientific evidence for the Christian faith. He stated that he knew we had different creation theologies, but that in this episode there were to be no debates, no critiques, and no interruptions. Crouch made it clear that the purpose of the episode was to inform unbelievers that there was a strong scientific case for the truth of the Bible and the Christian faith and to equip believers with that evidence. Again, he reiterated that he would give each of us about five minutes to present scientific evidence for Christianity—preferably without repeating each other. However, he gave us no indication of the order in which we were to present.

As Crouch walked out of the room, the six of us were all wondering who would be first and who would be last. I remember saying to the other five that the order doesn’t matter. We each get our five minutes.

Since it seemed obvious that I would be presenting the most technical evidence, we all presumed I would go last. Instead, without any introductions, Crouch started with me. I briefly described what I thought were the best astrophysical evidences for the God of the Bible. When Crouch asked me for a broad scientific response, I said that the best scientific evidence for Christianity came from research on the origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of humanity, and the fine-tuning of the universe and Earth to make the existence of humans possible. I thought this response would be the optimal setup for the other five guests.

The episode took a dramatic shift when Crouch next turned to Ken Ham. That’s when Ham turned the episode into a debate over whether people ought to trust science or the Bible. People who watched the episode live and the 150,000+ who watched the recording almost universally expressed frustration over Ham’s persistent interruptions. However, Ham’s behavior made perfect sense to me given his objective. I think he knew that if he let me speak, I would have explained that there was no debate. All six of us upheld biblical inerrancy and the ultimate authority of the Bible. It’s not the book of nature versus the book of Scripture. Both books are from God for whom it is impossible to lie or deceive.

I did have positive dialogues with Eric Hovind and Ray Comfort both before and after the episode. They both acknowledged that a bigger issue than the age of the universe and Earth looms: Did the origin and history of life come about by strictly naturalistic means or did it involve the supernatural handiwork of God? They both thanked me for Reasons to Believe’s extensive speaking and writing that demonstrate the overwhelming scientific case for the latter.