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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nye/Ham, Presuppositionalism, and Debates

A well thought out debate engages the other side and helps bring clarity to your position.  Both are needed for a constructive debate to occur.  When they lack, you may not be able to call it a debate.  I felt the Nye and Ham debate missed both elements.

As both a theologian and an award winning speech evaluator, I approach these debates differently than many.  My passion is for a clear theological framework (the most important) wrapped into excellence in rhetoric.  Thus, when I evaluate Ken Ham, my evaluation is not as someone who opposes him philosophically, but as someone who sees him lacking in his apologetical approach as well as his rhetorical approach.  I hope to evaluate both today.

First, my theological disagreement with his approach.

Many on the Internet said Ken Ham was employing the presuppositional viewpoint in his argument.  To some degree I understand their point.  Ken noted his presuppositional commitments were non-negotiable, and so did Bill Nye.  The language used by Ken at times resembled famous phrases of the presuppositional movement.  Yet, he really did not engage in presuppositional apologetics.

One of the heroes of this form of apologetics is a man named Greg Bahnsen.  While Van Til formalized this method, Bahnsen popularized and made it easy for the common man to understand.  In his book, "Always Ready", Bahnsen outlines several points that are needed to argue from a Presuppositional point of view.  You are really not engaging in a full Presuppositional Apologetic unless these three are present.  They are:

  • Commitment to the Gospel and the Bible 
  • A positive argument for your position
  • An argument showing the "foolishness" of your opponent's worldview

Ken Ham was unwaving in the first point.  In fact, as a Christian I appreciate that Ken Ham did not back away from the Bible as his authority and there was a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ultimately, that was the most important part of the "debate."  However, it is not engaging others with an answer in a true apologetic manner.  

Ken Ham tried to engage in a positive affirmation of his position, but, as I will show later, he really only addressed 1/3rd of this positive argument.  But that will be addressed in the next section.

The final element needed to argue presuppositionally, an argument showing the "foolishness" of your opponent's worldview, was completely missed.  Some may object saying, "Ken Ham did ask 3-4 questions about the presuppositions of Bill Nye."  I will grant you this point, but he did not explore the presuppositions and show how it is ultimately irrational and circular.  In the discussion, Bill Nye's presuppositions never were challenged.

In fact, I will say that this ceased to be a debate because Ham did not engage Nye showing his view as irrational.  Chalk it up to a poor debate structure, but ultimately Ken Ham should have devoted 1/3rd to 1/2 of his opening statement to challenging the worldview of Bill Nye and showing how a naturalistic worldview falls flat.

According to Bahnsen, we cannot rightly call this an argument using the Presuppositional Apologetic framework. 

What would I have done?  Ken should have challenged Bill Nye on how an atheist could account for most anything in science while challenging his view of the nature of evidence.  If Ken could show the audience that Bill Nye also approaches the debate with a set of presuppositions and ignores contrary evidence, he would have probably won the debate.  Nye would have been forced to defend his position, something Nye never felt compelled to do since it was never challenged.  

Failure to engage Nye's worldview allowed Bill Nye to do what he does best, play the on contrarian.  And that is what Bill Nye did effectively and, at times, irrationally.  Yet, Ken rarely challenged that irrationality so Nye essentially escaped unscathed.  


There are two major things you must do to win a debate, and you must engage those two fronts in three different ways. Since Ken had the burden of proof in this debate (he was the affirmative) he left Bill Nye with one option, to give plausible deniability to the audience, which Bill did.

What two things must Ken have done? First, to give a positive argument for his position and show the irrationality of his oppnenent (both noted above). I believe he failed the first point and never addressed the second point. This left Nye to only have to raise doubts about his opponent as no doubt was raised about his position.

While you must present both a positive and negative for your position in a debate, you also must do so in three different ways.  Classically we call those the "ethos", "logos", and "pathos."  These are defined as follows.

Ethos: the source's credibility, the speaker's/author's authority

Logos: the logic used to support a claim (induction and deduction); can also be the facts and statistics used to help support the argument.

Pathos: the emotional or motivational appeals; vivid language, emotional language and numerous sensory details.

In making a positive argument for his position, Ken was supposed to set out to prove creationism is rational. In that regards, he was to engage in showing the ethos, pathos, and logos of his position.

To my surprise, Ken never did engage in the Pathos. Bill Nye did and seems to have a command of this point. Bill easily won that point.

Ken did engage in the Ethos of the discussion. In fact, that was really 99% of his debate. The numerous videos from people who have their PhD. in a science related field, Ken focused the vast majority of his attention in building a case that you can be both a respected scientist and a creationist.  While ethos is helpful, you cannot win a debate by ethos alone.  For this one point, I will give it to Ken as Nye only had what ended up being insults hurled at Ham.

Logos, however, was lacking by Ken. He used the Scripture, a form of logos, but gave very little in support of the logos. While I disagree with Nye, he seemed to offer more logos than Ken. As well, his logos seemed more compelling.  Ken placed all his view on Scripture but he could have also used Science and Worldview analysis to help bring home a key point, Creationism is supported in science.  The best we can say about the logos of the debate is that Ken may have accidentally persuaded someone that creationism may be an option.  I, though, think that would be a stretch.  The logos lacked.

As for pointing out the negatives of the other side, Ken Ham really failed in doing such (as noted from above).  There was no ethos, logos, or pathos for the negative.

How did Bill Nye do?  I want to be the first to say that Nye did a horrible job too.  Yet, he didn't have to do well since he was never really challenged and the arguments were not well performed.  All Nye had to do from there is to bring doubt to the position of Ken Ham.  It wasn't pretty, but Nye did just that.

Had Nye had the affirmative case, he may have lost with such horrible argumentation.  But the bar is lower for the negative case and so Nye escapes the winner.

We should be glad that Ham had an opportunity to share the Gospel and present Christ crucified.  For that reason, we can rejoice and be thankful for the stand Ham took on a very tough platform.  We, though, should learn from this experience so next time we are better prepared in such debates.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Special Announcement

****Special Announcement****

It is my privilege to announce that I will be a regular contributor for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s “The Leading Edge” blog. As most of you know, this organization is the premiere organization addressing complementarian view of Manhood and Womanhood from a Biblical Worldview. Respected throughout the Evangelical world for scholarship, practical insights, and Biblical stability, their voice is respected and one of integrity.

Lacie and I have been influenced by this organization for longer than we have known each other. Their Biblical clarity on important issues that face our country is refreshing as is their loving boldness in how they proclaim these truths. The book edited by Piper and Grudem, “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” was a constant reference for me when in college, seminary, and in the pastorate. The concepts are timeless.

Soon, my first article will be published on their website (and I will link to it here). Yet, I want to encourage you, go to their website at You too can obtain the book mentioned above for free in PDF format.

Christian Therapy Attacked

The Story:
California gay conversion therapy ban upheld.  By Howard Mintz at the San Jose Mercury News

The Lead:
In a decision that could spark a U.S. Supreme Court review, a federal appeals court on Thursday upheld the (California’s) new law barring the practice of counseling minors to convert from homosexuality (aka conversion therapy), rejecting the free speech and religious rights arguments of therapists and families who support the practice.”
“The court also rejected the argument the law interferes with parents' rights to seek such counseling for their children.”
“California legislators and gay rights advocates sought to abolish the therapy for minors, arguing that it stigmatizes youths and can lead to depression and even suicide.”

Why It Matters:
The law on Conversion Therapy passed by the California legislature was troublesome, but the 9th Circuit’s decision is problematic in at least four ways:

  • The decision usurped parental and religious rights
  • The decision allowed for unsupported claims of perceived harm as the basis for violating these rights
  • The decision gives homosexual activists an unfair advantage in influencing your children
  • The decision places California at odds with the Gospel

Parental Rights

By  allowing the state to determine what instruction and counseling minors can receive, the court eliminates the threshold of protection traditionally afforded to parental rights cases.   Normally, parents are given protection to raise their children in a manner they deem fit except in extreme situations.  This protection includes the parent’s role in religious instruction and caring for the mental well-being of the child.  The court’s decision undermines the parental role and puts a political lobby group and the state against the wishes of many parents.

The result is parents have fewer options in helping their children struggling through the homosexual issue than before the ruling.  As well, children who struggle with same-sex tendencies and desire help, are now severely limited in their options. Children must go out of state for therapy or rely upon religious leaders.  Also, the children who sued the state claiming the therapy helped them obtain better grades, stronger family relationships, and a better self esteem will no longer receive this valuable help.

Perception versus reality

Acknowledging the state of California only provided “anecdotal” evidence showing sexual orientation therapy harms minors, the 9th Circuit still believes the legislation is justified.  The court said that the legislature believed possible harm could occur and "belief" was enough for the legislation to be valid--even though it could not be justified.

In other words, the perception of harm, not real harm, was enough to regulate a parent’s and child’s choice of therapy.

Usually parental rights cases require the strictest level of scrutiny. While the strict level of scrutiny allows parents greater autonomy in raising their children, it still provides a level of protection by the government in extreme situations.  This case undermines the freedom parents have enjoyed and could pave the way for future scrutiny based upon perception rather than reality.

An unfair advantage

This decision also limits a Christian therapist from performing sexual orientation therapy while giving free reign for pro-homosexual therapists to promote their sexual viewpoint.  Christian Counselors, whether at school, work, or in a Christian clinic, will be pressured now to withhold their views for fear of violating this law.  But the pro-homosexual counselor will have free reign to encourage minors to explore same sex expression even if child has no same sex attraction.  

This law is nothing more than viewpoint discrimination.  The State of California gave an advantage to a viewpoint  they most believed reflected their own, but severely handicapped the other side.

The Gospel: Freedom from sin

Christians informed by the Gospel see various issues arising from this one court case.  On the one hand, we know that sin--any sin--is bondage and captivates the soul.  Our sympathies must rest with the kids who struggle with homosexuality and feel helpless.

We should also consider those who have embraced this lifestyle hoping to feel a sense of fulfillment through their decision.  Without the Gospel of Jesus, no one will ever be liberated from their sin.

Therapy alone is not the solution as it oftentimes clouds the real issues children and adults are facing.  The real issue is theological and spiritual which can only be solved through the Gospel.  While some therapists never see the theological issues, others will but fail to treat the problem Biblically.  Christians, informed by the Scriptures, can both see the problem and are able to treat it through Biblical means.

As Christians,  we can best sympathize with people struggling with sin, but we also can provide the only true remedy.  It is this remedy, the Gospel that has always been a threat to a secular worldview.


Derick Dickens has an MBA in Leadership, MDiv, and MA in Religion.  He speaks regularly on topics ranging from Christian Worldview issues to business leadership, and he is an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Resources.  Married for 15 years to his wife Lacie, they have three children and live in Lynchburg Virginia.  You can follow Derick on Twitter at

Monday, September 2, 2013

Should we go to war in Syria?

No matter how you cut it, the Syrian Conflict is a sad state of affairs.  Bashar Al Assad is a tyrannical ruler whose atrocities include torture, imprisonment, and murder of his political opponents.  Under his rule, the Syrian Regime has demonstrated little restraint.

While there is some debate on whether chemical weapons were used by the Assad government, to me this is a moot point in the matter.  Assad completely disregards life and liberty and resembles the dictatorship rule of the Saddam Hussein only without the threat of nuclear weapons and the extreme ethnic cleansing.

Is this enough for me to warrant and agree with an attack on the Syrian Government?  No!  

While I believe war with Syria meets the level of being a “just war”, there are more factors that should go into a decision.  The question should be asked, “is going to war wise?”  Here are several reasons why going to war is not wise.

  1. Unless we completely take over the country and set up our own rule, Assad’s replacement for leadership in Syria will be just as hostile--that is if Assad is removed from power.
  2. Poorly thought out threats should not force us to make for poor decisions.  Some in government believe that the reputation of the United States is at stake because of the hard 'line in the sand' that we drew.  Poor threats though, should not result in poor policy.  
  3. What is success?  Defining the potential mission has been vague making it difficult to accomplish our goal and enact positive change.

While I believe we can make a just war case, overall I believe we lack a clear goal, our threats were ill-conceived, and I doubt the reasons that make this a just war will be eliminated after conflict.  It may be a just war, but it seems unwise.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Studying Latin to know English better?

Most believe, and wrongfully so, that the English Language comes from a derivative, among other languages, of Latin (thus the emphasis on Latin in Classical Education). While I am a fan of teaching Latin and Latin is the root of many of our words, they are actually from two entirely different language families. In the European derived languages, there are four different branches of languages (German, Romantic, Aryan, and Greek). 

English actually comes from the German family while Latin from the Romantic. Latin is a great Language to study to help us understand borrowed words, the sciences, to develop a well trained mind in the Romantic Languages, to understand ecclesiastical languages from the past, etc... However, Latin and English are not that close in relationship in comparison to all other European languages. English is closer to German.

Study Latin because of the advantages of Latin and to help understand some of our borrowed words, but don't be mistaken that Latin is a close relative of English.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Christianity: A decaying faith?

Warfield complains that it is a symptom of a decaying faith when the teaching of Scripture is neglected. He is right and since he is right we must conclude that Christianity is decaying.