Sceptic Pastor: Bill Nye and the cancer that is killing the church

SkepticPastor_headerRegardless of what you believe about Evolution and the Book of Genesis, the recent debate between Bill Nye and Dr. Haim put on display that which is eating the church alive from the inside.

It is not a lack of real Biblical scholarship. After all we have seminaries full of scholars publishing works across the spectrum every day.

It is not a lack of practical teaching on the Bible. You can go into almost any church on any Sunday and find a woman or man of God trying their best to relate the story of scripture to every day life.

It is our increasing deafness to criticism and avoidance of real conversation. It seems like every week I speak with another person who posed legitimate questions about their faith community’s belief only to be met with either silence or entrenchment. “We just accept that on faith.” or “[insert source of questioner here] is just wrong. They are out for their own interest and just trying to sell books.”

bill nyeWhich brings me to the “debate” with Nye and Haim. Though I wished there was a representative from the BioLogos foundation there instead, I was hoping to watch a Christian reach out to a scientist. What I saw was quite the opposite.

Taking cues from Fox News and MSNBC, the man there representing my people and my God took pot shots at one of the most respected scientists and educators of our time. I watched as Nye was made the butt of jokes and his position treated as if it were not the prevailing norm among scientists. Rather than a discussion where both parties considered the arguments and insights offered by the other or even a debate where they actually responded to the substance of the argument, they just went back to their talking points.

This is the problem. People who are questioning faith and who are concerned with some of our beliefs want to have a true conversation where we each actually listens to the other. They want to discuss their questions with someone who is not coming in a posture of right vs. wrong but a learning posture.

Instead, we take pot shots at scholars. Instead, we argue our point to those questioning in our presence without ever responding to their arguments. Instead, we refuse to open ourselves up the the option that our positions may not be 100% correct. We refuse to open ourselves up to learning from the atheist in our office or tweaking our understanding of life and faith from the friend who is investigating multiple faiths.

The result? After conversations with hundreds of people who are questioning, skeptical or outright opposed to faith, I can tell you there is a universal response. When we choose to disengage and re-entrench ourselves. When we choose the posture of a political pundit over a sinner on the path of grace, they leave.

Over and over, they just stop coming. They stop asking the questions. They stop trying to engage with Christianity. Most of them do it silently suffering as much from crushed hopes as they are from the lack of engagement. But they leave, and we lose. We lose vital voices challenging us to grow and understand. We loose brilliant scientists and powerful philosophical minds. We lose.

However, there is good news. If these people meet someone who is willing to talk, willing to dialogue rather than monologue. They will often re-engage. As I have seen in my own conversations, in order for the questioner to begin considering faith again, it only takes a single Christian who is willing to not shy away from tough questions or the person who is asking them. Though it may take twice as many years for them to return to the church as it did for them to leave, there is hope if we will let go of this cancerous entrenchment and engage.

If we can recover this art of listening, we can shut one of the back doors out of which our people are leaving. We can show ourselves as reasonable people worthy of engagement, and we can excise this cancer that is eating us alive.

Jeremy Steele, UMR Columnist

The Rev. Jeremy Steele is the author of Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry and the Next Generation pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL and a regular columnist for The United Methodist Reporter. You can find more of his writing and a list of all the places he contributes at his website:

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16 Comments on "Sceptic Pastor: Bill Nye and the cancer that is killing the church"

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Cathey Thomas

“The Religion that is afraid of science dishonours God and commits suicide. It acknowledges that it is not equal to the whole of truth, that it legislates, tyrannizes over a village of God’s empires but is not the immutable universal law.” Ralph Waldo Emerson 1831

william b
Let’s look at a couple things. Ken Ham wants your children to know that God is their creator and loves them so much he sent His Son Jesus to die for them. Giving them and all of us eternal salvation. He has dedicated his life to putting out this message. Bill Nye wants the exact opposite. He says that if our children believe in creation and a Creator they will be unable to perform real science. He laughs at the thought that Christ is the one true savior of the world. Our kids to him are nothing more than chance… Read more »
Keith Kelly
“People who are questioning faith and who are concerned with some of our beliefs want to have a true conversation where we each actually listens to the other. They want to discuss their questions with someone who is not coming in a posture of right vs. wrong but a learning posture.” However, I do sense that fundamentalism has with it a certain abnormal psychology. The psychological search for and insistence on absolute assurance and certainty will stymie conversation every time. This certainly may not apply to all or even most churchgoers, but many so affected work on giving the church… Read more »
I agree with Gary and John above; The potshots I recall were from Bill Nye referring to “Ken Ham’s Flood” and “An English translation” of a millenia old document…. Nye’s premise was that without teaching (and the students’ accepting) evolution, America will not be competitive in the world of science and engineering. Ken Ham provided scientists who are living proof that Nye’s premise is false. Nye pushed and Ham responded. Ham and his team at AiG have the scientific knowledge and evidence to back up their point of view, but the limitations of the debate did not allow for that.… Read more »
Clay Smallwood
Perhaps the reason that Christians are so ill equipped to deal with these questions is that they spend most of their lives in a “Christian Bubble”. I’m guilty of this. I work at church, worship at church, spend at least 2-3 nights a week at church, and have most of my friends from church. Yes, I work at a church, but most other believers I know also do a pretty good job of staying inside of their Christian bubbles too. But if we instead get out of those bubbles and engage with non-believers on a relational level on a regular… Read more »

Well said. I am guilty as charged, not so much with evolutionists, as I have no problem with that, as with spiritual, not religious folks, and atheists. We get belligerently defensive when our own faith is weak, and at those points where our faith is weakest.

jordan bramblett

Ken Ham, not Haim. And I agree, our generation treats everything like sports teams. You can’t have a discussion about ideas, because people treat their belief as their “team”.

I don’t recall Mr. Nye taking pot shots or being made the butt of jokes, and certainly his position being in the majority was never denied. If not with some challenge, why have a debate at all? Nye was treated with perhaps some unfair responses (“You see, there is a book …”) because he himself kept asking for it, going well beyond the boundaries of a scientist. He was part politician, part activist and part preacher, repeatedly talking about tax dollars and the so-called joy of searching for our origin. Now he may be popular, but what makes him “one… Read more »
Gary Maskell
John, I was wondering if I had lost my mind and everyone else had watched a different debate! I would not consider Mr. Nye a scientist by any means. He is television personality with a science background, but that’s about all. Mr. Ham could have presented in a different way to address the science issues a little bit more clearly. I have heard him speak on these issues and he does a wonderful job. I trust that he was moved by the Holy Spirit to speak as he did and like we all do from time to time, we might… Read more »
Diego Ayala
Not sure why there is even a debate between creation and evolution, and which one is correct? For me they are both correct. We seem to forget our history, and how the church has changed (evolved) for the last thousands of years… At one time it was firmly believed that the earth was the center of the universe as it was known at the time – geocentric (everything revolved around the earth, and the universe was very small) ~~~ Galileo Galilei was a strong supporter of Nicolaus Copernicus heliocentric theory (the earth revolved around the sun), and he had to… Read more »
Lisa Keenan
I have learned much from Isaac Asimov. His Guide to the Bible is simply outstanding. In the intro to the book “Robot Visions”, he explores the similarities between the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis to our creation of robotics. He invented the word “robot” and he was my favorite Athiest. It seems to me that many science fiction writers and scientists are our modern day prophets. I really enjoy reading and hearing their visions even though they can be frightening. Still, I am always touched with a sense of their yearning to believe . . a very sincere inner struggle;… Read more »
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