Many American protestants, including those in the reformed tradition, perceive Answers in Genesis (AiG) to be a Christian scientific organization seeking to provide scientific explanations for the physical and biological features of the creation within the framework of a particular literal reading of the book of Genesis. However, AiG seeks to be something much more. For them questions of origins and the age of the Earth are just a first step to providing an answer to every question that a Christian or non-Christian may have about every aspect of what we ought to believe. To illustrate this point, just look at this LIST of accomplishments they published on their 23rd anniversary as an organization. What is conspicuous in its absence?—Any mention of contributions made to further our understanding of God’s physical creation.
Over the years AiG has increasingly used their large publishing and marketing division to provide answers to an ever-widening range of issues for Christian faith and practice. The scientific questions that were the focus of the creation-scientists of the last century have, for AiG, become just an entryway to providing answers to all of life’s questions.
What I am about to say is directed to a specific audience: Christians of the reformed tradition (Calvinists, Reformed Protestantism). My concern is that over the past 30 years many members of this community have propagated young-earth parachurch literature in their churches, Christian school, and home-school curricula. Many reformed pastors and educators turn to YEC materials when they need to address questions about science. Those materials have become commonplace in many of our churches and yet most parents, teachers and pastors are not aware of that these materials are promoting a viewpoint that includes answers to questions that are not consistent with traditional Calvinism regardless of their many problematic interpretations of the scientific evidence.
I wonder how many reformed pastors who may have Henry Morris’ commentary on Genesis or The Genesis Flood on their bookshelf are aware of his book on eschatology: The Revelation Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Prophetic Book of the End of Times. The application of Morris’ hermeneutical principles of interpreting Genesis when applied outside of Genesis results in interpretations that would be foreign to most of those in the reformed faith.
Unfortunately, large portions of the reformed church has abdicated the task of developing of a reformed view of science and faith to those outside of the reformed community. They are content to use AiG literature to provide answers to their youth and even their leaders. However, as I stated above, AiG’s mission isn’t to just provide answer to scientific questions about the Bible. They are dedicated to answering every question of faith and Christian living. Their literature is infused with doctrine—not just interpretation of facts about the physical creation. Hence, they are teaching doctrine. By using their literature, visiting their museums, and inviting their speakers into our churches we invite their particular theological perspective as well.
To illustrate why I believe to be a problem of giving young-earth creationists’ organizations the authority to provide authoritative answers about origins, bioethics, and the place of scientific inquiry in general within historically reformed churches, I went through every Facebook post by Answers in Genesis over a two month period from June 13th to August 14th of 2016. I made notes on the title and authorship of all articles that portended to provide answers to theological questions. I excluded the minority of articles that appeared to only address solely scientific questions.
Below is that list of articles and in some cases I have provided some information about the author’s credentials. Scan down this list before I go about summarizing my findings and commenting on them.
The List (June 13th to August 14th 2016):
- Was Jesus Married? Tim Chaffey
- Can We Pray to Jesus? Mark Bird (DMin Grace Theological Seminary)
- How was Abel a Prophet? Lee Anderson Jr. (Unknown background but possibly Astronomy since he has co-authored a book with astronomer Dr. Faulkner)
- Was Child Sacrifice Condoned in the Old Testament? Tim Chaffey
- Why did People start having shorter lives after the Flood? Bodie Hodge (Ken Ham’s Son-in-Law and Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering)
- Is Jesus the Creator God? Bodie Hodge
- Righteous Lie? (Rahab’s lie) Bodie Hodge
- Contradictions: A Time to Kill? Roger Patterson Roger Patterson earned his BS Ed degree in biology from Montana State University.
- What about Satan and the Origin of Evil? Bodie Hodge (from The New Answers Book 2)
- Jonah and the Great Fish. Don Landis is the president of Jackson Hole Bible College in Jackson, Wyoming and Chairman of the Board of Answers in Genesis.
- Why didn’t God respect Cain’s offering? Peter Galling (unknown background)
- Are Christians Commanded to Change the Culture? Ken Ham
- Was Satan the Actual Serpent in the Garden? Bodie Hodge
- Why do we get punished for what Adam did? Bodie Hodge
- When did Adam and Eve rebel? Bodie Hodge
- Did Adam and Eve have to sleep before the fall? Bodie Hodge
- Does the Moon really give light? David Wright (Doctor Divinity and Professor at Brandeis University)
- God of Love? John C. Smith (Unknown background but maybe theology given other articles he has written)
- What about the Gap and Ruin-Reconstruction Theories? Ken Ham (Chapter from The New Answers Book 1)
- Is there really a God? Ken Ham and Jason Lisle (PhD Astronomy) (The New Answers Book 1)
- Did Jesus really say He created in six literal days? Ken Ham
- Christ’s resurrection – four accounts, one reality. Tim Chaffey
- Good designs gone bad. Joe Francis (Professor of Biology at Master’s College)
- Was the Bible written by mere men? Bodie Hodge
- What about eugenics and planned parenthood? Georgia Purdom (Geneticist)
- In defense of the historical Adam. Dr. Terry Mortenson (History of Science)
- Who was Noah’s wife? Tim Chaffey (Th.M Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary)
- Why does God’s creation include death and suffering? Tommy Mitchell (Engineering degree)
- Where was the Garden of Eden location? Ken Ham
- Are there 20 commandments? Troy Lacey (B.S. in Natural Science, U. of Cincinnati)
- Defining Love. John C.P. Smith
- Is nature the 67th book of the Bible? AiG staff
- Was there death before Adam sinned? Ken Ham
- How long was Adam in the garden? Erin Benziger
- Context is King. Don Landis (Chairman of the Board of AiG)
- Separation of Church and State. Ken Ham
- Finding our way in secular society. Mark Coppenger (Professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
- Who sinned first Adam or Satan? Bodie Hodge
- Needed today: Hezekiah’s reformers. Ken Ham
- How can someone start a new life in Christ? Cecil Eggert (Unknown, only article written for AiG)
- God created things to “look old.” Tommy Mitchell
- God’s Character. John C. Whitcomb
- Supernatural or Science: How do we explain miracles? Avery Foley and Troy Lacey
- God and sin = gibberish? AiG staff article
- Why is reading the Bible so important? AiG staff article
I recorded a total of 47 articles during this two month time-frame that met my criteria. Of those, eight were authored by Ken Ham and ten by Bodie Hodge who is Ken Ham’s son-in-law. That constitutes more than 1/3 of all the doctrinal articles promoted by the AiG Facebook page during this period. Neither Ham nor Hodge have any formal theological training. Looking through the list, only 10 of 47—just over 1/5th—are written by authors with some formal theological training. Furthermore, from a reformed perspective, none of these authors with theological training obtained that training from a reformed seminary.
Most of these articles are overly simplistic assessments sometimes supported by referencing trained theologians—again almost never reformed theologians. Nonetheless, the simplistic answers provided don’t do many of the topics addressed much justice. I would expect that most pastors and elders in reformed Christian denominations would find numerous theological inconsistencies and errors in these articles.
The continued promotion of young-earth apologetics ministries within the reformed church, despite their weak theological foundation, seems to be solely because they believe AiG has the “right” answer to two important questions: how old is the Earth and what is the origin of biological diversity?
Speaking as a reformed Christian myself, we should want better than this. We expect serious answers to serious questions, not trite analyses with weak exegetical and scientific support. When we observe shoddy biblical exegesis, e.g. cherry-picked bible verses out of context and logical inconsistencies, it should give us pause and make us turn a critical ear to their arguments rather than simply swallowing them whole.
The best analogy I can come up for the churches consumption of AiG products is to liken them to a person who votes for a political candidate solely because they are for tax cuts. That candidate claims that most political problems and issues can be seen through the issue of tax cuts. Yet that candidate might not be able to defend policies for cutting taxes well. In addition, the candidate may believe strongly in a large number of other positions that are clearly opposed to the voters’ beliefs. But since tax cuts are such an important issue for the voter, it holds sway over all other considerations.
In the case of AiG, the tax cuts they offer are their steadfast commitment to “biblical authority.” Any talk by Ken Ham will find him using this term over and over again. How can anything they offer be wrong when they their foundation is built on biblical authority? Objections lead to scorn and charges that one doesn’t believe in biblical authority. It is the stick that is wielded to keep everyone in line but what if accepting their worldview comes with a plethora of attachments that aren’t biblical?
Setting the church on a weak foundation.
Dr. David Wells recently penned an article entitled “The Bleeding of Evangelical Church” in which he draws on some of the root problems with modern evangelicalism. One of his conclusions is that although evangelicalism—as characterized by a high view of scripture and stress on the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement—has seen its popularity increase, “The reality that we have to face today is that we have produced a plague of nominal evangelicalism which is as trite and superficial as anything we have seen in Catholic Europe.” He observes—rightly I think at least on this point—that “it is possible for us to gain the whole religious world while losing our own souls.”
Answers and Genesis, and Ken Ham in particular, finds itself near the center of influence on the general evangelical church, but despite calls by Ken Ham for a modern reformation (see my article: Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter to Usher In a Modern Day Reformation?) including a return to taking the authority of the Bible seriously, it is possible that the calls for reformation are not to a serious exegesis of God’s Word but rather to a trite and superficial saccharine form of evangelicalism. It is a movement that claims to be true to God’s word while suffering the very problems that Luther and the other reformers were so worried about. Acknowledging biblical authority without understanding that authority will not result in true reformation. To make followers of Christ, the foundation must be not only a respect for Biblical authority but a right understanding of His Word.
A few additional thoughts on the state of origins questions in the reformed church
In my experience, the creation science movement is strongly anti-intellectual at its heart. At conferences and books and videos, Christians are told they can’t trust a large segment of the scientific community despite many of those scientists being Christians who have devoted themselves to understanding the evidence with respect to the age of the Earth and life’s history on it. Likewise, young earth speakers frequently claim that seminary professors are serving their own and their institution’s own self-interests. They also imply or directly state that congregants should be wary of pastors that have received training from any seminary—other than a small set of “approved” seminaries – because they will have been exposed to diverse interpretations of Genesis. Furthermore, the YEC community comprises a large number of untrained scientists and theologians that at times flaunt their lack of theological or scientific degrees as evidence they haven’t been tainted and therefore can make unbiased evaluations of the evidence. At the same time they hold up their own employees with PhDs as proof they do serious science. All of these are common tactics used by groups that hold to conspiracy theories.
The content creators of the creation science community are few in number but their influence far greater than their numbers would suggest. An examination of the massive quantity of YEC literature reveals that the number of active authors is quite small, yet their influence goes far beyond their numbers. The YEC movement is partially “inbred” with many of its leaders closely related to one another or having been at least trained by others in the same community. Their peer-reviewed journals consist of a small number of individuals reviewing each other’s work with a high degree of conflict of interest and mainly “reviewing” works to ensure that they agree with YECism, not whether their methodology or data are scientifically valid.
In addition, I think it is quite clear that the YEC movement is not a reformed Christian movement at heart. Although they espouse an orthodox understanding of the nature of Scriptures, the movement is promoted and populated primarily by a variety of independent fundamentalist Baptists, Assemblies of God, Seventh Day Adventist, Missouri-Synod Lutheran, and many other independent protestant churches. They have made use of some elements—most notably the language of presuppositional apologetics—of one branch of the reformed heritage but for the most part they do not share the traditional reformed understanding the nature of nature and their hermeneutical and epistemological arguments are frequently quite different.
Overall, I would submit that the YEC movement has usurped traditional reformed theology in the arena of science and their literature has, for the most part, become the default position for many people in the pews in the reformed church. It is not uncommon to walk into many PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) and OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) churches find that most of the books addressing theological and Christian-living topics are written solely by other reformed Christians. In other words, the reformed Christian worldview is held in high esteem as being able to provide solutions to the questions we have a human beings. But if there is a book about science that book is rarely written by a person with an explicitly reformed Christian worldview. Instead, I find books by Ken Ham, Jonathan Sarfati and others from young-earth apologetic ministries. Other books such as “Darwin’s Black Box” are written by Catholics.
What concerns me is that it appears that Calvinists are more apt to trust the opinions of non-reformed Christians on matters of scientific inquiry while the members of the reformed community that do have expertise in these areas and have serious concerns about the exegesis and science of the creation science community are most often ignored. In fact, such scientists in our own midst are attacked by the same arguments made from outside the reformed community claiming they are serving self-interests: scared of losing their jobs, scared they won’t get tenure, don’t want to lose face in the scientific community. These claims have no merit.
So who is our—the reformed communities—authority? Of course our ultimate authority is God and we know that God because He has graciously revealed himself in written form through human authors. We acknowledge that information in the canonical books is not of human origin. However, we still have the hard job, with the help of the Holy Spirit, of interpreting that text faithfully. There is so much to learn from the scriptures that we can find seek human authorities for help. We rely on the exegesis of the Word by pastors, theologians, and any number of books and videos to help us better understand his Word. These are secondary authorities. I would just call us to be careful about who we place our trust in as secondary authorities.
Addendum: I was sent the following link to an article from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church website that fits well with some of the points I make in the article above. “Preachers in Lab Coats and Scientists in Geneva Gowns”, By Bryan Estelle http://opc.org/os.html?article_id=220