For many pastors and their congregations, questions about the intersection of science and faith are difficult because of their unfamiliarity with the scientific evidence and the extensive theological literature on Genesis. Hence, they turn to experts to provide answers. Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) seem to provide the answers many Christians wish to hear, and so they have been become – by default in many cases – the experts in whom many Christian leaders have chosen to trust.
A few weeks ago I attended an Answers in Genesis conference hosted by a prominent church in the area. I heard Ken Ham and one of his associates speak multiple times and spoke to some of the attendees at the conference. There is no doubt that Ken Ham is a gifted orator. I understand that what he says is very appealing to many Christians in an increasingly secularized society. But acceptance of a young-earth interpretation of scripture should not be equated with the only means of protecting Biblical doctrine. However, Ken Ham leaves no room for doubt about not only his interpretation of Scripture but also his understanding of the scientific specifics of God’s creative process. His all-or-nothing approach—which is either a symptom or an outgrowth of our political culture and social-media-influenced discourse—leave many Christians believing they have no room to explore and evaluate further options lest they appear to be weak in their faith.
Since I have direct contact with students and members of the church I took the time to write a letter to the leadership team of this church to express my disappointment that this church had so strongly endorsed the ministry of Ken Ham and given him such a prominent venue to preach and teach his young-earth views.
Below is a copy of that letter. I have removed the name of the church because I am not sharing this letter to bring attention to them but to the broader problem of creation science being propagated within the church. I hope that my approach and wording in this letter may be helpful to others that may be looking for ways to express similar concerns with their local church leaders.
Dear Trustees and Pastoral Team of XX,
I recently attended multiple sessions of an Answers in Genesis conference you sponsored at your main campus in Akron. I am not a member of your church but have many friends who are regular attendees, attend xx, or your international outreach. I am a professor at xx and interact with many students who fellowship with you on a regular basis. My children attend xx and several classes, including theirs, were brought to xx for Ken Ham’s kids’ talks on Monday morning. I was able to attend those talks as a parent chaperone.
I am writing to express my disappointment that xx has so publicly endorsed the para-church ministry of Answers in Genesis. I was surprised to discover earlier this year that xx would be hosting Ken Ham and AiG. My interactions with active members of xx in the past didn’t lead me to expect that the church would take such a strong position on a potentially divisive topic as creation-science. I am not alone as several friends have expressed their surprise to find Ken Ham preaching to them Sunday morning and have had questions for me about what they heard.
I am currently teaching two courses next door to xx at xx. One is a non-majors course in biology and the other is for junior and senior-level biology majors. Students from both classes who attend xx and had heard Ken Ham preach at the Sunday morning service approached me about his presentations. They wondered what I thought of some of the statements he made about science and some of the evidence he presented. It has been my experience that the “scientific truths” that Ken Ham proclaims in his preaching and teaching leave students ill-equipped to address the evidence they will encounter when they enter nearly any college classroom. The firm foundation they believe they are standing on softens very quickly when what they thought were good arguments and incontrovertible evidence are found to be nothing of the sort. However, what strikes me is not that their knowledge of the scientific evidence is so weak but rather that their biblical hermeneutic is so simple and rigid that they have difficulty accommodating new information and ideas.
Ken Ham’s most popular catch phrase, “were you there,” which he had the kids on Monday morning repeat over and over again, sounds so appealing. But this is the equivalent to the child’s response to every Sunday school question “because the Bible says so.” It just avoids providing a meaningful, thoughtful answer. Of course, AiG speakers will direct conference goers to their literature that they claim (misleadingly) provides expert answers to every question. Armed with creation science literature, many followers of creation science have built a false sense of security and faith in the science of Ken Ham. Parents feel they have “protected” their children but the answers provided—especially those that involve scientific evidence—are only helpful as long as their children don’t encounter any other literature or are ever confronted by someone who is more familiar with the evidence of the age of the earth and related issues.
Ken Ham and Tommy Mitchell both expressed the plausible-sounding principle that secularists and creationists use the same evidence and any differences lie in the interpretation of that evidence. The problem is that the statement falls flat when students realize that Ken Ham and others have provided highly implausible interpretations for the same evidence based on spuriously selected—and often incorrect—pieces of data rather than a full-orbed approach to answering difficult questions—including strong hermeneutics and a redemptive historical understanding of scripture.
The students I encounter are confused and seeking better answers to science and faith questions. They are fortunate that I am a Christian and have deep appreciation for the challenges that students face with respect to questions about the age of the earth and the origin of biological diversity. I regularly have conversations with students about their struggles as they explore the evidence for themselves and discover that Ken Ham’s simplistic and inaccurate picture of secular science and scientists doesn’t jive with their own observations. They struggle, in part, because Ken Ham ties his entire interpretative framework to the gospel. Doubts about his interpretation of the evidence from general revelation are quickly connected to doubts about the validity of Scripture. After all, according to Ham, if the foundational literal truth of Genesis is cast in doubt then it is necessary to doubt the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross. Thus, if his specific interpretation of Genesis is incorrect, which I and most Biblical scholars believe it is, it places the work of Christ in unnecessary doubt, creating a “stumbling block” for those who would otherwise come to faith.
I find it disconcerting that Christians are being told—or at least strongly given the impression—that all the evidence points to a young earth and that this is something they can lean upon to strengthen their faith or even find it. In fact, if AiG is correct in their original presupposition that the earth is young I would grant that all the evidence really should point to a young earth. But, as an apologetic for why one should believe the claims of the Bible one can’t use presuppositionally-interpreted data to prove the Bible is “correct.” This is a circular apologetic that AiG in particular is especially prone to follow. I am not averse to the use of presuppositional apologetics but it should not be used inappropriately.
We should not make light of the fact that the vast majority of Christians who labor in scientific disciplines recognize the overwhelming evidence from creation for the Earth’s great age. Ken Ham and his organization’s speakers like to claim that one needs only “put on Biblical glasses” and all will become clear. In other words, that the evidence really does support their position. When those raised with the young-earth hermeneutic are faced with the evidence and realize that it is not at all clear, that the simplistic “answers in Genesis” are unsatisfactory or even downright false, they are likely to become disillusioned and abandon their faith. (See Barna “You Lost Me” survey, item #3: https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/) Christian scientists and theologians have wrestled with these important issues for hundreds of years. This alone should make us pause and wonder why—if all the evidence points to a young earth—it has been far from obvious even to those who started with the conviction that the evidence must support a young earth.
Why have so many great Christians such as Lewis, Warfield, Spurgeon, Graham, etc…, “fallen away” from this “truth” as AiG speakers like to point out? Perhaps it wasn’t that this was their one area of great weakness and they capitulated to the pressures of secularism but rather it was because over and over again Christians’ close inspection of the biblical and physical evidence has revealed that the former does not demand that the Earth be young and the latter provides no support for a young earth.
I appreciate and support the ministry of xx and its many benefits to the University of xx student body. Obviously I am passionate about this particular topic. I felt that it was necessary that someone voice the concerns that I think many feel about the ministry of xx being so closely associated with the misleading views of Ken Ham. I write this as a brother in Christ, concerned about our presentation of the gospel and how are training up our children in the Word of God. I would be more than happy to discuss any of the concerns I have raised.
Science and faith blog: TheNaturalHistorian.com
“One of the additional consequences of the dogmatic kind of biblical literalism that gained increasing strength among evangelicals toward the end of the nineteenth century was reduced space for academic debate, intellectual experimentation, and nuanced discrimination between shades of opinion.”
― Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
I hope the leadership of this congregation takes this letter seriously. I’d be interested to find out what response they give (if any).
Joel, do you know where I could find statistics that show the percentage of Christians holding PhDs in geology and biology/genetics that adhere to mainstream science? I think that statistic would be helpful when having conversations with YECs that claim old earth geology and evolution are the product of atheists and anti-religionists.
That is a good question. i wish I had a handy source for that data. Maybe someone can point us to that data. I know there have been general surveys and my memory is that the numbers are high but most surveys are general and often include engineers and MDs in as scientists. I’m not saying they aren’t but these fields are far more likely to include YECs than any other. My non-quantitative response is that within Calvinistic churches in which many of the pastors are YEC-leaning, professional biologists and geologists still heavily lean toward and Old Earth view. I don’t know any personally that are professionals in the field that aren’t Old Earth though I can think of at least one YEC geologist in the reformed faith that has a PhD. I have known quite a few students who grew up YEC and had very intention of going into science to become YEC apologists but then ended up giving up YEC by the time they graduated or soon after.
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Funny thing, isn’t it?
“at least one YEC geologist in the reformed faith that has a PhD” Even here you need to read the fine print. Stephen Meyer has some undergraduate training and field experience as a geologist, and has a Ph.D., but his Ph.D. is in philosophy of science.
One odd fact; intelligent design proponents in the US, such as Meyer, are generally Old Earth creationists, whereas in the UK they are biblical literalist YECs
You were much too kind. Ham’s catchphrase is, Who do you believe? Man’s word, or God’s word? This is toxic in its dismissal of all knowledge gained by rational endeavour.
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I have a simple response to that one.
It’s one thing to reject science if you believe that the Bible requires you to do so. It is a different matter altogether to claim that science supports your position when it does not. The former is faith; the latter is lying.
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Shrewd point. I think that Ham is mixing two arguments. One is that the Bible trumps science. The other one is that science is compatible with the Bible. And by the Bible, of course, he means his literalist interpretation. So he ends up by always pretending that there are two possible interpretations of the science; the one accepted by those lacking true belief, and the one that is compatible with Ham’s literalism.
I have toyed with the idea of writing a spoof blog post about how Genesis 2:10-14 clearly anticipates plate tectonics, since the Euphrates and the river of Abyssinia are shown arising from the same location, whereas they are thousands of miles apart now. Then I thought, someone is going to take that seriously…
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I’m totally on-board with this point. There are certainly different honest interpretations of scripture, but lying about facts is lying about facts. Unfortunately I have yet to see many YEC church leaders take lying about science seriously. Will be interested to see if Joel gets a thoughtful reply back.
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Agreed. I sometimes wonder if we need to be a bit more forthright in calling out lying for what it is. Sin.
Having said that, I’d advise caution about raising accusations of lying against rank and file YECs. Most of them don’t have the skills or experience to be able to fact-check this stuff, so they just take it on trust that AIG/ICR/CMI are telling the truth, and it can come as quite a shock to discover that they aren’t.
Here are some criteria that I posted on the BioLogos forums about what constitutes lying in the creation/evolution debate in particular. I am talking about people who:
(a) are claiming that a young earth is supported by scientific evidence; and
(b) are citing arguments for a young earth that do not meet scientific standards; and
(c) should be reasonably expected to know that their arguments do not meet scientific standards, either through having a science degree or having had it explained to them in terms that they understand; and
(d) are persisting in citing those arguments as scientific evidence despite having been made aware that they are not.
Full discussion: https://discourse.biologos.org/t/attending-a-church/4471/27
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Totally agree! I like how you’ve put together those points.
I’ve started beating this drum for a while now. Rank and file YECs are overwhelmingly good honest people who don’t have relevant education to assess YEC science claims.
YEC “Science” leaders seem to overwhelmingly be deliberately dishonest, as demonstrated by your points.
If all YEC scientists were as honest about the facts as folks like Todd Wood, then there would be no problem.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the whole claim of “same evidence, different glasses” is not even partly right.
Creationists approach the evidence with predetermined models that dictate how the evidence must be interpreted.
Scientists (of all varieties) approach the evidence hoping to disprove their predetermined models, knowing that the process will teach them something new whether they succeed or not.
The two approaches are nothing alike. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how they could be more different.
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David and other readers may be aware of this recent post and the discussion underneath:
In particular – the post flags this online newspaper article:
(David features in the documentary about the Ark Encounter that is currently in production I gather.)
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Yep! I’ve been working with 137films for the past couple of years on this documentary; I think it is going to be pretty fantastic! They’ve partnered with Warrior Poets for fundraising and promotions.
On the contrary dear sir. I’d dare to say that scientists are nowhere near so objective as you imply here. They don’t try to disprove their previous models, they cling on to them. The peer reviewed paper system only enhances this vicious circle. whatever is paradim shifting and ground breaking is rejected, and they constantly come up with last minute cheap excuses for whatever “anomalies” contradict their established theories. Scientific doctrines are not any less religious than religion if not even more so.
I hope no one would imagine that individual scientists are somehow immune to blind loyalty to ideas. Scientists are, after all, only human. But the process of the scientific method, as imperfect as it may sometimes be, has been constructed to work against blind loyalty, challenging what is being asserted rather than championing it. You malign peer review, but peer review is in fact the greatest mechanism whereby assertions are challenged and tested.
An update: I didn’t want to comment about the response from the church before I gave them a chance to reply. It has now been just over a month since I sent the letter. I was not expecting a reply and it appears that I won’t be getting one.
That is a shame, but not unexpected.
Your criticism is not harsh enough. Ken Ham fails even on his own misguided conditions.
1. Was Ken Ham there when his ancestors in the 10th Century were born? No? Then according to his principle I can maintain that they all were aliens and hence that he’s an alien as well. Ken Ham is not a human being.
2. Ken Ham claims to accept observational, operational, repeatable etc. etc. science. Still he rejects radiometry (there is an article on it at AIG) because it concludes an old Earth.
As the Barna Group article shows Ken Ham is actually my ally, me being an unbeliever. He’s better at driving Christians out of church then I ever can hope to be. Fortunately I’m honest enough to recognize the fallacy in “Ken Ham is wrong and dishonest, hence christianity is false”. So feel free to quote this comment if you think it useful.
Written by Nathaniel T. Jeanson B.S. in Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology from Harvard University. Currently one of the scientists employed by Answers in Genesis.
Already in my queue to purchase but I’m quite aware of his material since I’ve read all of his articles. I’ve written quite a bit about the problems with his belief in hyper-evolution in other posts on the blog here.