Ken Ham would have us believe that the modern reincarnation of the young-earth creationist movement, which he claims began only 55 years ago, is the real deal this time. Unlike previous attempts over the past 300 years to create a history of the Earth with a recent global flood as a centerpiece, this time his para-church apologetics ministry – Answers in Genesis – is apparently going to usher in a real reformation, returning the world to a proper understanding of earth history. And the centerpiece of this new reformation is the life-sized model of Noah’s Ark he has constructed in Kentucky
Two years ago a teaser for a Ken Ham article on the front of the Answers in Genesis website proclaimed:
As the wooden pegs were hammered into our beams on May 1, I saw the event as part of a continuing reformation to restore biblical authority that started in 1961.
This of course was in reference to the symbolic start to the construction of the Ark Encounter apologetics park which was completed in the past year. But what caught my eye was the 1961 reference. That is a reference to the The Genesis Flood publication date and the article itself begins with this acknowledgment:
Fifty-five years after the publication of the classic book The Genesis Flood—which really started the modern biblical creation movement
Notice the word – really. This continues the tradition among most modern creationists of ignoring their intellectual roots. The Genesis Flood may be the best known expression of modern creation today but its content certainly wasn’t novel. Whitcomb and Morris mostly just modified the work of Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) George McCready Price’s writings from the first decade of the 20thcentury. Price’s student and a number of other SDA followers wrote numerous books and tracts on flood geology and the new “creationism.” In the 1930s they formed the Deluge Geology Society (DGS) which restricted member to those that believed that the creation week was “six literal days, and that the Deluge should be studied as the cause of the major geological changes since creation.”
One notable non-SDA member of this society was Henry Morris who would eventually co-author The Genesis Flood in 1961. In most versions of the history of creation science found on the Answers of Genesis website one could be forgiven for thinking that The Genesis Flood were a special creation itself. Most leaders of today’s creationists organizations prefer to distance themselves from a heritage that they probably don’t feel especially close to theologically especially given the association of the original creationists of the early 1900s with the work of Ellen White. Thus, they rarely acknowledge the origins of the principle tenets of scientific creationism or that there was a significant creationist cultural presence in elements of the church prior to publication of the book. The Genesis Flood is a recapitulation of naturalistic mechanisms to explain a recent global flood that had already been vetted and discarded by hundreds of scientists over hundreds of years but was repackaged once again as a necessary means of upholding biblical authority.
The real history of modern creationism has been explored in-depth in the book The Creationists: From Creation Science to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition (2006) by Dr. Ronald Numbers (Professor of History of Science and Medicine, U. Wisconsin, Madison). Numbers grew up SDA himself and has written extensively about Ellen White and so is in an excellent position to understand the history of modern creation science. If you don’t have time for that tome you could still benefit from reading the Wikipedia page on flood geology for a concise but informative history of this form of creationism from the late 1600s through the present day.
The hypothesis that all geological formations, and the fossils found within them, could be explained by a global flood has been proposed repeatedly for over 300 years. It has varied in the details but the core arguments have not changed much. Whether it is Woodward in 1695, the Mosaic Geologist’s of the early 1800s or members of the SDA in the later 1800s and early 1900s, the arguments (both scientific and theological) haven’t changed much. Those hypotheses have been discussed, debated and dismissed over and over again by natural historians, Christian geologist, the scientific community and the vast majority of theologians.
As I stated initially, Ken Ham would have us believe that the modern creationist movement is the real deal this time. Unlike all the other attempts to create a history of the Earth with a recent global flood as a centerpiece, this time it really is going to usher in a real reformation in both science and a return to his interpretation of biblical authority. He even compares the modern creation science movement with the reformation kicked off by Martin Luther in the 1500s:
Having Dr. Whitcomb hammer his peg into a beam at our ceremony reminded me of Martin Luther almost 500 years ago, when Luther hammered his theses into the wooden door of a German church and proclaimed biblical authority . It started the Reformation.
Does Ham believe that all other attempts to establish a recent catastrophic global flood were unable to bring about reformation because they were not sufficiently accurate interpretations of the geological record? Or maybe all other attempts were led by Christians that weren’t as theologically orthodox as he perceives himself – they didn’t quite have all their answers from Genesis correct and thus the holy spirit did not bless their work. Why should we expect that this latest attempt to promote a previously rejected flood geology hypothesis will bring back a full appreciation for biblical authority? I would suggest it won’t because creation science is at odds with good Biblical scholarship and is not a real product of taking biblical authority seriously.
As we ring in 2017, Ken Ham has once again conjured up the image of Martin Luther and the reformation he began as the AiG theme for 2017. Last year Ken Ham frequently likened himself to the prophet Nehemiah calling the people to “rebuild the wall.” For example, last year Ken Ham rejected a dinner request from Dr. Deborah Haarsma president of the science and faith organization BioLogos by quoting Nehemiah 6:3: “So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” and then responding:
“We at AiG are busy “rebuilding a wall.” We are equipping God’s people to defend the Christian faith, and I believe we are doing a great work for God. We are busy being “watchmen”—warning people of those who undermine the authority of the Word of God.”
This year he again compares the work of his apologetics ministry to the 15th century reformation movement and likens himself to founder of that movement, Martin Luther. He is calling for a “new reformation” calling the church to repent of their compromising ways and return to true biblical authority. Of course he assumes he assumes that his interpretations of biblical authority are those that the world should follow.
I find the proposed inseparable connection between biblical authority and the young-earth creation proposition to be dubious especially since Christians in the reformed theological tradition, including myself, have been staunch advocates of biblical authority in all areas of faith and practice. It is largely within this tradition that careful exegesis of Genesis 1 and 2, while remaining faithful to a high view of scripture, has concluded that these passages are not foremost about the age of the Earth and in fact leave the question of the physical age of the Earth open to inquiry through God’s general revelation.
In many ways George McCready Price was the Ken Ham of the early 20th century. He was clearly a modern creationists but has now been nearly forgotten today. Will Ken Ham be likewise ignored by his counterparts 100 years from now? I expect he will be remembered much longer but given that his modern version of flood geology has not developed any useful new insights into the earth’s geology, that it is founded on principles that the church has rejected in the past and that a considerable portion of the movements success is due to personality driven forces, of the modern movement is personality driven, I believe at best young earth creationism will wax and wane in popularity over time. But a reformation that will sweep the world and see current scientific theories replaced with 300 year old discarded idea is not likely. While the ministry of AIG claims to represent biblical authority and therefore appears to stand on the Truth, it places that very same biblical authority on the shaky foundation of the scientific tenets of flood geology and young-earth creationism more generally. The scientific tenets of that foundation are demonstrably false and thus a reformation underpinned by creation science will not occur.
Being reformed and maintaining the capacity to continually reform – semper reformanda – mean holding to the truths expressed in God’s authoritative Word while always being mindful that “the Spirit of truth always leads the church into all truth, and since no church may assume that she knows everything as she ought to know, the church today may be able to see further, understand more deeply, and develop beyond what her fathers did.” (Source)
Will AIG find “success” in the coming year? By many measures I am sure they will. I predict they will garner more donations than last year, they will sell more materials and they will give more talks to larger audiences. The Ark Encounter will be seen by a million people. All of this will be hailed by AiG as a huge success and will be used to testify to the faithfulness of their witness. But will this be real success or will this success be akin to the success we see in many other para-church or megachurch operations. Will AiG be truly Godly success story or a temporary success that with the appearance of true revival or reformation? That sounds like a topic worth exploring in the coming year.
This is an updated and expanded version of a post I wrote in 2014 when the Ark Encounter was just beginning construction.
I mentioned that scholars of the reformed tradition have made important contributions to developing an a biblical understanding of science that honors a high-view of biblical authority. Below are a just a small sample of some works by scholars in the reformed tradition:
W. Robert Godfrey “God’s Pattern for Creation: a covenantal reading of Genesis 1” 2003. Godfrey is the current president of Westminster Seminary in California. This is my favorite short book that provides a nice background to what Genesis is teaching us about creation. Godfrey uses a covenantal approach to lay out problems with the traditional literal approach. This is the book I would give to the lay Christian wanting to understand what the Biblical author (in this case he believes this author is Moses) wishes to communicate in Genesis 1. The body of the text is only 90 pages and is easily read in a sitting and well worth it for getting a nice view of the bigger picture. I bought extra copies just so I could give this book away to friends.
C. John Collins “Genesis 1-4: A linguistic, literary and theological commentary” 2006. Collins is professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary (PCA). I have read many other commentaries on the same passage but I learned many new things from Collins and he presents one of the most compelling linguistic cases for how to read Genesis 1 and 2. He promotes a view called the Analogical days which right now I find the most compelling. So far this book has the most detailed Biblical analysis of just what are the effects of the fall that I’ve read yet. He argues from the Scriptures very effectively that sin did not bring physical death into the world as is commonly believed. I find his sections about the nature of nature and how the curse effects that nature to be very insightful. I think this book will be very influential in the coming years. I have found that the framework interpretation has received much criticism but at this point I feel that framework interpretation continues to receive attention simply because the 6 day creationists focus on it knowing that they can poke holes in it. On the other hand I have not found many serious rebuttals to Collins analogical days view which I believe is a more consistent interpretation of Genesis and corresponds to my understanding of how the Bible was written (doctrine of inspiration).
C. John Collins “Science and Faith: friends or foes” 2003. Crossway. This book has an excellent chapter on Providence and miracles which I have used in preparing my recent Sunday school lessons. This book contains the most complete description of his analogical days interpretation. Collins includes a chapter on the age of the earth in which he accepts the evidence that points to an old earth. However, he stops at accepting a large part of evolutionary theory and defers to an ID argument in the last chapters. I did not know this when I first picked up the book and I was actually quite surprised because his whole discussion of providence and miracles appeared to me to lay the groundwork for accepting much of evolutionary theory and so his last chapter just didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the book. Overall, a very readable book that provides very reasonable evidence for holding an old earth and literary/analogical interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis.
John C. Collins “Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care” 2011. Crossway Publishers. The book asks the question, what are the boundaries for the discussion of a literal Adam and Eve. What must evangelicals hold firm on as undisputable truths set out by Scripture and where is the Scripture not as clear and thus room for discussion? Collins sets out to try to show where Christians must agree and where they can agree to disagree. No matter what your final opinon of Collins opinion (though he leaves many questions unanswered) you will find this book thought provoking and enlightening especially if you wondered what all the debate is about.
G. K. Beale. “The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority” 2008. Crossway Publishers. Beale, now professor at Westminster Theological Seminary where Enns formerly was employed, presents a case for the reformed doctrine of inspiration. I’ve recently spent quite a bit of time with Beale’s books “The erosion of inerrancy in Evangelicalism” and “The temple and the churches mission.” The first has been called the most comprehensive blow-by-blow rebuttal of Enn’s “Incarnation and Inspiration” and a good defense of the conservative view of inerrancy. The latter includes a more detailed examination of Temple language in Genesis. I really found “The erosion of inerrancy” to be quite a compelling book but I admit that was quite stunned by the application in the last couple of chapters dealing with the creation narrative. Beale demonstrates that holding to high view of inerrancy doesn’t mean that the Bible is scientifically accurate where it does not mean to speak scientifically. Phenomenological expressions are common and not meant to convey scientific truth and “biblical writers expressed their theological – not scientific – conception of the universe and understood it to be a huge temple of God” He goes on to develop what I find to be a view very similar to that found in Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One” which has been called the cosmic temple inauguration view. I have no interest in elaborating this view or defending it here but I bring up Beale because he is held up a defender of inerrancy and yet he does show that this is a complex doctrine when you get down to specific examples.
Haarsma and Haarsma “Origins: a reformed look at creation, design and evolution.” 2007. Both Deborah and Loren Haarsma are physics professors at Calvin College and have written extensively on the creation debate. I’ve followed Loren’s writing on several list-serves for 10 years and have learned much from him. This book is written mostly as a Sunday School text. Short chapters on a number of subjects that hit all the main questions and provide all of diversity of reformed answers. The Haarsma’s are generally critical of ID and I would characterize them as theistic evolutionists. The last chapters on original sin and who are Adam and Eve were the only chapters that I found particularly useful but that may be because the rest of the book was very familiar to me.
Hageopian (editor) The Genesis Debate 2001. Three views of creation are presented 1) 24-hour view by Duncan and Hall; 2) Day-age view by Ross and Archer and 3) framework view by Iron and Kline. The 24 hour chapter is remarkably weak as it spends nearly 90% of their pages space making the argument that Hall has been working on for years that the majority of Westminster divines held to a 24 hour view rather than interacting with the Scriptures themselves. The argument then becomes, because our forefathers believed this we must as well and there is very little real exegesis to support their position. I think the Day-age view is bad theology and bad science so I don’t find that chapter particularly helpful except to confirm my suspicions. In the Framework chapter, Irons does a good job and hits some good points. I think there is much merit in the framework view but I am not completely convinced of it. However, if you want to know what the framework view is there is definitely a good source.
G.K. Beale 2004. The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God, and G.K. Beale 2014. God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the World: Neither of these books directly address the age of the earth or other science and faith questions but they promote an full-orbed approach to interpreting scriptures in which the creation account plays a central role. The cosmic temple interpretation of the Garden of Eden forms the basis of understanding many other passages of Scripure. I think he would agree that the answers do start in Genesis. This book has been one of the most important books I’ve read in years in helping me to grasp the intent of significance of the Genesis narrative. If you would like to read a fairly concise summary of this book Beale authored a paper in the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society that summarizes his book: “Eden, the temple and the church’s mission in the new creation.” http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-aPDFs/48/48-1/48-1-pp005-031_JETS.pdf JETS. March 2005 48(1): pp 5-31.
Bruce K Waltke “Genesis: A Commentary” After Collins commentary on the early chapters of Genesis I like this one by Waltke.
Vern Poythress 2006. Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach. Vern Poythress is professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary. He has six earned degrees, including a PhD from Harvard University and a ThD from the University of Stellenbosch. He is the author of numerous books on aspects of biblical interpretation and science.