Anointed? … Evangelicals and Authority 1 (RJS)

I recently received, courtesy of the publisher, a copy of the new book The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age by Randall Stephens, an associate professor of history at Eastern Nazarene College and Karl Giberson, formerly a professor of Physics at Eastern Nazarene. Giberson has now moved on to concentrate on a number of writing projects. In this book Stephens and Giberson examine several different case studies from Ken Ham to Tim LaHaye to explore the manner in which “America’s populist ideals, anti-intellectualism, and religious free market, along with the concept of anointing – being chosen by God to speak for him like the biblical prophets” influence broad ranges of evangelical and fundamentalist beliefs.

If you have found Giberson edgy and rather hard to take at times you will again find Stephens and Giberson edgy and rather hard to take at times in this book. I won’t defend them, and I don’t always agree with them. But the book raises some important questions and takes a hard look at some of the approaches that evangelicals take to the acceptance and evaluation of authority. It is worth reading and worth interacting with.

The first chapter, The Answer Man, is even-handed and well done. In this chapter Stephens and Giberson look at the development of young earth creationism in the twentieth century, the role of Henry Morris, the career of Ken Ham, the rise of Answers in Genesis, and the popular evangelical approach to the question of science, evolution, and the interpretation of Genesis.

Why does Ken Ham have such a large impact and following?

What is his message and why is he accepted?

Although it is certainly true that belief in a young earth was the default position throughout much of Christian history, this was because there was no evidence to the contrary, not because a young earth was of any particular necessary theological significance. In the 1700′s, 1800′s and early 1900′s many Christians accepted the idea of an old earth with little difficulty. Day-age theories and gap theories were sufficient to reconcile the new developments in geology and paleontology with the text of Genesis. Young earth creationism invoking Flood Geology was introduced by George McCready Price, a Seventh Day Adventist committed to a young earth. Ronald Numbers tells this story quite well in his book The Creationists. George Marsden’s books on American fundamentalism and evangelicalism provide another good source. In 1960 John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris published The Genesis Flood, bringing Price’s flood geology into mainstream fundamentalism and evangelicalism.

Henry Morris, with a Ph.D. in hydraulic engineering and a faculty position at Virginia Tech brought a level of credibility to the question of Genesis, the flood, and flood geology. Morris took this seriously. He was convinced, as many are today, that his theory could be proven scientifically and he set out to establish a research institute, The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), to provide a sound scientific basis for his view of the flood and creation. Although this effort has been unsuccessful, and in my opinion was doomed from the start, it was a laudable goal. Given the strength of his convictions Morris set out to prove, or to develop the corps of trained workers who could provide the intellectual labor to prove, his hypothesis and demonstrate that science and a young earth interpretation of Genesis are mutually consistent.

Ken Ham is a more interesting case. He showcases the phenomenon that Stephens and Giberson set out to explore in their book. He is more successful than Morris, has a larger continuing impact, and took a very different approach. Ham was born, raised, and educated to teach school in Australia. He became convinced of the importance of young earth creationism (YEC) while teaching in Australia and came to the US in 1987 to spread the message.  Ham came from the Creation Science Foundation in Australia and took a position with ICR as something of a missionary of creationism. He was not really interested in scientific research. While Morris had a top down approach, Ken Ham has a bottom up approach. He became the personable populizer of the YEC position at ICR emphasizing the evils of evolution and cast this as a culture war.

Filled with cartoons, caricatures, and simplistic generalizations, the book [The Lie: Evolution] offered an easy accessible, and entertaining presentation of the evils of evolution. Cute characters standing on the Bible showed the importance of a biblical foundation for life. Ham’s rhetoric, both in person and in his writings, was militant: “There is a war going on in society – a very real battle. The war is Christianity versus humanism, but we must wake up to the fact that, at the foundational level, it’s really creation versus evolution. (p. 41)

In 1994 Ham left ICR with the blessing of Morris and started Answers in Genesis, setting up his headquarters in Boone county Kentucky. His success has been phenomenal and his influence huge. His goal to fan the flames of the culture war to drive Christians back to the bible and or to keep them there. Web traffic to the AiG website grew to 25000 a day in 2008 and a quarter of a million people visited his Creation Museum in the first six months  after it’s opening in 2007 (p. 44). Ham speaks frequently, appears on national news shows and was featured in a PBS series on evolution. He is a force to be reckoned with, a charismatic speaker with a populist message, and a firm warning and message from God. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists listen. His curriculum is used by home schools, Christian schools, and in many Sunday school classes for children, youth, and adults.

Ham’s simple message resonates with fundamentalist Christians in America and around the world. Their faith is under attack by evolution. By undermining faith in God’s word, particularly Genesis, modern science is destroying the foundations of civil – meaning “Christian” society. The result is widespread anarchy, immorality, and nihilism. (p. 45)

Ken Ham, with no scientific credentials, no credentials in biblical scholarship, no evidence, and no research program, has become the front person, the spokesman for a large segment of evangelicalism. He proves nothing, he asserts what he finds to be truth and tells a story to make it so. He is a charismatic speaker on a mission and has become for many the authority on the evil of evolution and the dishonesty of modern science. Ken Ham and his organization Answers in Genesis have become “powerful shapers of popular opinion in America’s vast evangelical subculture.

Ken Ham is an anointed and respected authority in much of American evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

One of the premises of Stephens and Giberson is that the broader evangelical culture has become enamored of the charismatic individual who can tell a good story, do it in a flashy and entertaining fashion, and has a message easily reduced to simple black and white points. Ken Ham is such an individual.

Why is Ken Ham believed?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Rick

    Why is Ken Ham believed?

    1) He tells people what they think they want to hear.

    2) He tells with single issues and provides a way to question it.

    3) His accent.

  • Danny

    Because he has a crazy cool beard.

  • John C

    Because serious science goes over most people’s heads?

    Because it’s flattering to be told that you’re not out of your depth?

  • Edward Vos

    It is easier to understand Ken Ham’s early creation concepts then to study and learn through faith what really happened. Ken takes the need for faith in a creator, that works in ways man would never understand, and simplifies God for us at a kindergarten level.

    The logic that God’s language could not be rooted in science is great because the common man doesn’t understand science.

  • Peter

    Do not overlook the very important role that fear plays in most people’s beliefs. When questions that RJS feels comfortable describing as issues of science (as well as recognizing that there needs to be no conflict between her reading of Genesis and evolution) are taken by Answers in Genesis and forcibly presented as issues in which GOD has dog-in-this-fight, many people, very fearful of being caught on the wrong side, will swallow Ham’s rhetoric hook, line and sinker (as did I for many a long year). I expect that most, like myself, could not recognize the role that fear plays except in retrospect.

  • http://www.emergingscholars.org Mike Hickerson

    RJS, thank you for reviewing this book.

    I’m not a supporter of Ken Ham, but I wonder if Stephen and Giberson are playing to their audience by pigeonholing him as a “charismatic speaker with a populist message.” Answers in Genesis’ relationship to scholarship is a bit more complicated than your summary above suggests. For one thing, AiG does have a research program (http://www.answersingenesis.org/arj), though I can’t vouch for the quality of it. I live just a few miles from the Creation Museum and have visited several times. Their “Creation” room in the museum, which celebrates the goodness of God’s work, is so good that it almost makes up for the poor theology elsewhere in the museum. At their Christmas nativity walk this past year, their nativity scene brought refreshing Biblical accuracy to the usual nativity scenes of Mary and Joseph in a barn. The nativity scene recreated a 1st century Bethlehem home, and matched what I’ve read from academic Biblical scholars.

    Why is Ken Ham believed? Yes, some of the reason is due to scientific illiteracy among evangelicals and the excellent communications ability of his organization. Some of the blame, though, has to be laid at the feet of scientists who think that scientific education requires them to tear down Christians’ religious beliefs. The climate for evangelical Christians in science (and higher education in general) has improved considerably in the past 30 years, but we’re still dealing with mutual distrust and suspicion. It wasn’t far from the Creation Museum that the University of Kentucky rejected astronomer Martin Gaskell simply because they suspected he was a creationist, despite his explicit statements to the contrary. If Stephens and Giberson want to correct the false idea that science is the “enemy” of religion, they can’t just address one side of the problem. Critiquing Ken Ham won’t do anything to improve evangelicals’ attitudes toward science or scientists.

  • E.G.

    @Peter – Indeed. The whole issue has been painted as such a test of faith that many of the faithful grasp at whatever “expert” they can find that will feed them what they want to hear.

    …and all is fine until they start to look too deeply. So many don’t get down to the nitty-gritty. It’s more comfortable to have surface explanations, even if they make little logical sense.

    And, of course, people tend to have the idea that “it’s biology… it’s not that hard to understand.”

    As I biologist, however, I can attest to the fact that most people know about as much about biology as I know about particle physics… that is to say, only enough to be dangerous in my suppositions.

  • Peter

    Thank you, E.G. As a brief aside, I suspect that there are others (like myself) in whom this very same fear influences their understanding of the RIGHT way to read Scripture as well.

  • rjs

    Mike,

    The second half of this chapter looks at the Christians who are active in the sciences, especially Francis Collins, and asks questions about the way to describe science in a more understandable fashion from a Christian perspective. I was intending to write a bit more here – and may come back to this part of the chapter, but it got too late last night.

    AiG, though, has no significant research effort worth the name. I don’t think Stephens and Giberson have gone overboard on this one. They note in contrast that Loma Linda, a Seventh Day Adventist school in California, does have a serious research effort to try to demonstrate a young earth.

    There are some places later in the book involving other topics and persons where I think your criticism of playing to an audience has more validity.

  • Joe Canner

    Mike #6: According to the link that you provided, AiG does not do original research; they publish a journal (ARJ) in which creationists can publish their research. This, in my mind, does more harm than good, because it gives researchers an excuse not to engage with the scientific community, but instead allows them to retreat into the YEC protective bubble. It might make everybody feel good to have a journal to publish in, but it does nothing to bring scientific credibility to creationism.

  • http://www.darenredekopp.com/ Daren Redekopp

    Ken has a large following because Biblically illiterate people want to believe that they are being faithful to the Bible.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Its like Santa. Even if you are raised by a scientist there is a good chance that you learned about the cute animals going into the ark and the story of Adam and Eve. To believe that there is no Santa takes many children a couple years of not wanting to make that committment because they will no longer get gifts, they sort of believe. It is easy to refuse to go to the next level in these stories because most people do not see a downside in staying where they are, and the potential for a huge downside if they change their view.

  • rjs

    As a guideline going forward, answers to the “why is Ken Ham believed?” question that are gratuitously disparaging of lay people are really unhelpful. They flame the culture war hypothesis.

    Often the same idea can be expressed using less inflammatory language.

  • Ron Spross

    I am in a reading group that is currently doing The Anointed. If anything, I think that Giberson and Stephens are more than kind to their subjects throughout the book, but perhaps that is because I think that the evangelicals they discuss have been off the rails for decades, to the detriment of the broader Christian community. If they are on the outside of the culture, they can be a curiosity, or even entertaining for some. But with political influence, which they clearly have today, they can do serious harm.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com ChrisB

    Ken Ham did not come to prominence in a vacuum. People were hearing — or at least perceived they were hearing — “Everything you have believed is wrong.” Of course they were happy to hear from a man who could convincingly say, “No it’s not.”

  • http://natomaschurch.wordpress.com Mike

    Let’s understand the evangelical culture into which Morris and Ham are writing. It is unfair to characterize their followers as mostly science-less sheep or people clutching to anything that agrees with their position. There are several other groups that do not have anyone else to turn to in the scientific community. These include:

    1. Christians who don’t care about a young earth but do believe in a young human race because of the testimony of both Old and New Testament genealogies.
    2. Christians who see that both Paul and Jesus accepted the Jewish understanding of the origins of man and since we are Christians, we adhere to their understandings as well.
    3. Christians who don’t see any good communicators among the skilled scientific community that are also believers. So they will gravitate to less-skilled people until someone comes along who shows in simple terms how science and faith can be reconciled.
    4. Those who observe that most who believe in Old Earth/Old Human Race cosmologies also tend to be atheist, agnostic or non-adherents to an infallible/inerrant bible. If someone who believes in an infallible bible can present Old Human Race evidence clearly, this group would follow their teachings gladly.

  • rjs

    Mike,

    Your point #3 is one that Stephens and Giberson deal with in the book. This “good communicator” problem is a serious one. But no active scientist can afford to spend the time and effort required to counter someone like Ken Ham, or bring in the donations to enable it.

    Points #1 and 2 are also very important – and why I spend a great deal of time exploring aspects of these issues in posts on the blog (much to the frustration of some).

  • Joe Canner

    Mike #16: I get where you’re going with this, but I don’t think #3 belongs in this list. There are any number of articulate Christians who hold to mainstream views of science: Ken Miller, Francis Collins, Darrell Falk, Richard Colling, and Karl Giberson (the subject of this post), to name a few of the most prominent. If Christians are not hearing the message, it’s because they’re not listening.

  • http://www.derekvreeland.com Derek

    Some of Ham’s success has been the “culture war” rhetoric that he wraps his message in. Comment #5 by Peter above is true, when he writes, “Do not overlook the very important role that fear plays in most people’s beliefs.” Ken Ham frames his arguments for YEC in the context of a war for truth. I find it appalling that he connects believe in an old earth and the possibility of theistic evolution with social problems like crime, drug abuse, and abortion. This pulls at the heart strings of evangelicals who are supposed to care about (certain) social issues. It is the worst form of rhetoric.

    Ham in not only antagonistic towards the scientific community, he is antagonistic towards those of us in the faith who disagree with him. He claims that we are “compromised” in our interpretation of Scripture if we do not follow his strict, wooden, literal interpretation of Genesis 1 & 2. This antagonism draws the attention of crowds, but sadly it is not the Jesus way. In our growing post-Christian culture, it seems to me that we would be better off opening the doors of communication between faith and science (e.g. Francis Colins and the BioLogos Foundation) and drop the hostility towards other Christ-followers who take a different interpretive view of Genesis.

  • Anon.

    My high school used AIG a lot in our Bible classes. We were led to believe that Ken Ham had a real doctorate, in a scientific field. Whether that was entirely on the basis of what our teachers told us, rather than what AIG claimed, I’m not sure, but I do know the videos referred to him as Dr. Ken Ham. Either way, I suspect that AIG probably liked the fact that our teachers led us to believe this.

    So I think there are people out there who have been led to believe that AIG is actually a proper scientific endeavor. I know I was. And if I had gone off to a more conservative college (instead of one that was more open minded, if still conservatively Christian), or not gone on to grad school, I would likely still be under that assumption because I wouldn’t know any better.

    Though do not underestimate the power of a guy who looked (at the time in those first videos) like Abe Lincoln who has an Australian accent, in getting kids to want to watch the videos. We had even the troublemakers in class asking if we could watch “Dr. Hammy” because he was entertaining

  • rjs

    Anon.

    To the best of my knowledge Ken Ham has at least one honorary doctorate (Liberty University). He may have more. I don’t think he has an earned doctorate in any subject. If I am mistaken, I am open to correction.

  • http://www.TilledSoil.org Steve Wilkinson

    IMO, Ham and Giberson are nearly identical in the reason for their popularity, just on opposite sides of the debate (OK, Ham is pretty well known in general, while Giberson isn’t all that well known outside people who broadly follow this topic). They both play on the ‘culture war’ to ignite their base, and the cases they present are as much rhetorical as anything. Neither engage scripture or science in a substantial way. Neither are taken seriously outside their base (or even by serious people in their own camps, in other words, and embarrassment).

  • http://natomaschurch.wordpress.com Mike

    Joe #18: I appreciate seeing these names. I will check them out to be sure. But the fact that I have only heard of one of them (and I think I review a lot more literature than the average person) leads me to believe they have not yet been recognized for their broad communication skills. It is not enough for a person to have knowledge…if they cannot communicate it with any dynamism and spiritual authority, they will have little impact.

  • Joe Canner

    Mike #23: Happy trails! I think you will find that they have good communication skills, just that they haven’t been noticed in the popular press, perhaps because they are not obnoxious enough. (Although…Ken Miller testified in the Dover trial, the “Scopes Trial” of our generation, and Francis Collins was the head of the Human Genome Project and is currently head of NIH.)

  • AHH

    What Derek @19 said. There is a whole “us versus them” narrative that is popular in the Evangelical church, and Ham positions himself as a leader in an important battle of that war. If he had similarly good communication skills but argued for theistic evolution (one might put Gordon Glover in that category), few would listen because that isn’t an “us” position in the culture wars.

    I think for many people such a simple “us versus them” narrative, black and white with no shades of gray, is very appealing. Some people just seem to be wired to want to view things that way, and maybe it is especially appealing in an age where it seems like a lot of treasured values are up for grabs. This also contributes to the issue mentioned of those who see harmony between science and faith not being heard — that harmony generally requires seeing some shades of gray (for example, in seeing that natural explanations and “God did it” can be simultaneously true, or in thinking about literary genres in Scripture), and much of the church just isn’t comfortable doing that.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I am agreeing with where this is going. Many seem to view things such as this as a team sport. The point is to have your team win.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    While the thread is dormant I have more thoughts.

    I have been sitting here trying to imagine, based on what I know of the moral compass of conservatives, what it must feel like to even seriously entertain the thought that they will go out, seemingly on their own, against god potentially, into apostasy, not to mention likely social condemnation by their circle of influence, likely a church. That is a very tall order to fill and it is probably more amazing that anyone makes the jump than that many don’t.

    So I can see why Ken Ham is believed. It can be scary for these folks and there are real risks, up to and including their eternal existence!

    There are many studies out there that discuss the relative weight people give to bad outcomes vs. good outcomes [here is one http://www.csom.umn.edu/Assets/71516.pdf and it is obvious that most people are quite risk adverse. This is such a weighty subject that it is difficult for a conservative (let alone someone with liberal bias) to jettison the security of the group.

  • http://www.derekvreeland.com Derek

    AiG has no scientific foundation as an organization. I met Terry Mortensen, one of their speakers, a couple of years ago. I was told by a Young Earth Creationist that Terry is a geologist, which is not exactly true. His Ph.D. work is in the area of the history of geology. His is more of a historian than a scientist. There is a perception that AiG has “scientists” who are a part of the organization, but they do not. To my knowledge, they do not have scientists who publish in peer-reviewed journals.

    Ken Ham and Hugh Ross did a great debate on YEC vs. OEC a few years ago. You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL013D07601ACCCD22

    Hugh Ross IS a scientist and he points out the lack of scientific research by AiG.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Thanks for that Derek, I am resisting the urge to smack my monitor…..

  • Jeremy

    This was a terribly unfair post on Ham. It really is not worthy of a blog and an author who does have solid credentials. I don’t like Ham’s theology, but I would never make the jump from a) Ham is wrong to b) Ham has no argument. What point does it prove? That you aren’t even willing to interact with him? That makes you look incredibly silly, small, and proud.

  • Dan

    Jeremy @30, “incredibly silly, small, and proud.” Not from Jesus Creed readers!

    It’s just too much of a temptation to use the easy tactic of dismissing one’s opponent with claims they are dumb. Commonplace in politics and unfortunately becoming more common here. Thus the warning of rjs @13. The condescending way drt portrays those who are conservative is just sad.

  • Chip

    Probably the major reason why is fairly simple: It fits in with the common beliefs of the majority of those in the American evangelical subculture. Many have heard sermons or attended classes in their churches presenting a 6-days-with-24-hours-each creation as the position that is faithful to Scripture. They are not full of fear (newsflash for those who think otherwise: evangelicals and fundamentalists are not dominated by fear), nor are they anti-intellectual, but they see Ham’s views as most consonant with their understandings of Scriptural inerrancy.

    Joe, while I greatly appreciate Francis Collins’s work, he is not the same type of popular-level communicator as Ken Ham. (I make my judgment from having attended one of his lectures.) Collins and others like him are admired by many evangelicals, to be sure. But Collins and similar speakers are more likely to appeal to, say, young Reformed evangelicals rather than many Bible church or Pentecostal audiences. Ham speaks far more to the worldview of those in the latter camp, based upon my experience. My brother and sister Anglicans will tend to gravitate toward Collins, but most of my friends from a nondenominational church 20 years ago (and who are still in nondenominational or Bible churches) have Ham’s creation museum on their top list of places to visit.

  • rjs

    Chip,

    I think you are right about Francis Collins. In the time between his stint as head of the human genome project and his current job as director of NIH he did a great job as a communicator, but to educated audiences at major universities, not to the average church goer. This is important, but it won’t have the same broad and immediate impact that Ken Ham has with his approach.

  • RB

    I remember hearing Ken Ham speak in 1987. He used the “culture war” trump card then and hasn’t changed his message since. It wouldn’t surprise me if he has doubts about YEC, but has too much at stake to publicly disown it.

    I now hold to a theistic evolution view but still hold to traditional evangelical ethics and belief. When YE Creationists hinge orthodoxy to Young Earth belief, that often tends to unhinge faith when one better understands science because in their mind they are concretely linked. That’s a tragedy.

  • rjs

    Jeremy,

    I am not making a jump from Ken Ham is wrong to he has no arguments.

    Ken Ham’s entire approach is based on holding first and foremost to Jesus as savior and Messiah – here we agree completely. The Creation Museum is really designed to tell this story. But he couples his view tightly to a literal 6-day creation narrative and explicitly claims that Christians who hold to anything else are compromisers.

    He views this as a culture war. He has an argument – but his argument is not based on science, and it is not based on careful study of the scripture (even by conservative OT biblical scholars).

    I view his position as wrong, but that isn’t really the issue here.

    I think he misleads people to think that there is scientific evidence for his position on the age of the earth and evolution and he misleads people about the range of interpretations and understanding of Genesis 1-3 throughout Christian history.

    Many take his simple flashy story and his culture war narrative and believe it. Here I am asking why he is believed. Why do so many evangelicals believe him rather than biblical scholars like John Walton and Christian scientists like Francis Collins?

  • DanS

    Speaking of anti-science, http://cnsnews.com/news/article/debbie-wasserman-schultz-saying-life-begins-conception-extreme-and-radical.

    On a purely scientific empirical basis, once an egg is fertilized, rapid growth commences. By three weeks, the beginning of a heartbeat is detectible. By 7 weeks all the organs have differentiated. Brain activity is measurable through most of the in uterine development of a child who probably has a different blood type from the mother.

    When pushed, folks like Shultz will retreat to metaphysical arguments and ignore the science. Just goes to show that politics and preference play a role in viewpoints of issues – and in who gets portrayed as a moron.

  • Chip

    Rjs, it seems to me we’re dealing with deeply-entrenched American evangelical trends over the past several decades. Back in the ’80s, when I was in college and nondenominational churches, proving the Bible was factually true in every detail was the standard evangelical approach to apologetics. Other than in a relatively few cases where metaphorical language was recognized (and they were all too few), the Bible was taken essentially as a history book. We were still fighting modernism even while post-modernism was by now far on the ascendancy — although popular-level apologists would not use either term and in some cases even may not have been aware of them!

    If American evangelicals had been more influenced by, say, British evangelicals such as John Stott, we would have had the climate created for views held by Walton, Collins, and others like them to flourish. Instead, the common apologetic approaches spread among American evangelicals in the early 1990s as national Christian radio broadcasters expanded their number of stations and Christian talk radio came into existence. By the time of Clinton’s election, culture-war language was in vogue among American evangelicals — a good two years or so before Christianity Today published a cover story on the culture-war mentality! And beyond any popularity in nondenominational/Bible churches, young-earth creationism was preached by many of the pastors with national radio shows.

    The result is that the culture-war mentality and young-earth creationism grew in popularity at roughly the same time. Many evangelicals learned it as the default, faithful Christian position, and as I noted in my last point, it lined up with common American evangelical views of Scriptural inerrancy.

    Those are my observations, anyway. As a side note, young-earth views are so entrenched that a local, large Bible church counts it as one of the tenets of its face. At least until recently, you could not be considered for the position of elder without being a young-earth creationist.

  • Chip

    Substitute “faith” for “face” in the last paragraph of my previous post. :)


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X