So you remember my Why I Am An Atheist post from last week? Apparently it came to the attention of Answers in Genesis researcher Dr. Georgia Purdom. She wrote a blog post bearing the title Answers in Genesis and Libby’s Journey to Atheism in response, and then Ken Ham himself picked up my story and wrote his own response. I will respond to each, starting with Dr. Purdom’s post since it came first.
1. Creationism is only based on the Bible, physical evidence is irrelevant
Libby seems to have things backwards. It’s not that “we know the Bible is true because young earth creationism is true,” but rather because the Bible is true we can believe what God said in Genesis about the time frame in which He created.
It seems to me that I was taught it sort of like a circle. We know creationism is true because the Bible says it, yes, but the scientific truth of creationism in turn confirms the Bible and proves we can trust it. After all, Answers in Genesis continually emphasizes that Genesis is the foundation of the Bible, and that without a trustworthy and accurate Genesis, the Bible itself falls apart. And the foundation of Genesis, of course, is creationism. If evidence doesn’t matter, if all that matters is what the Bible says, then why does Answers in Genesis has its own “research” journal? Why does it fill its popular magazine with articles showing how animals couldn’t have evolved, and new evidence for creation?
In other words, if evidence didn’t matter, shouldn’t Answers in Genesis just stick to “the Bible says it, so you should just believe it”? But that’s not what they do. Instead they wave around evidence that supposedly disproves evolution and speak of creationism as though it confirms the Bible. And without creationism, they insist, you have no foundation. See the following image:
Dr. Purdom is right that I was taught that creationism was true not just because the Bible says it, but also because the physical evidence we have confirms it. And, based on what I was taught by AiG, I believed with all my heart that the physical evidence that we have confirms creation, not evolution. If this is not what Answers in Genesis teaches, well, it needs to end the false advertising and stop pretending to care about evidence.
List to this clip, for example. Ken Ham is clearly discussing evidence. Seriously, listen to it. Evidence, evidence, evidence. Furthermore, he says “many scientists just don’t want to believe in a worldwide flood, because it means, well, the Bible is true.” If AiG doesn’t care about evidence, it needs to stop being deceptive like this. What’s probably going on here, to some extent, is the divide between evidentialism and presuppositionalism. I sometimes wonder if Answers in Genesis really knows which it is.
But regardless, what was crucial to my deconversion was that I was definitely taught by Answers in Genesis that if creationism is not true, the entire Bible and even Christianity itself falls apart. And Dr. Purdom concurs.
2. I never truly “understood” creationism
Although she read AiG resources, attended AiG conferences, and came to the Creation Museum, I have to wonder how much she really understood what she was reading and hearing. The very idea of God creating in six literal days, 6,000 years ago, and the global flood comes from Scripture (and of course the scientific evidence confirms it)!
I should have figured this would be the argument used. It’s the No True Scotsman fallacy. I get it with my atheism in general – “you were never really saved, you never really understood grace, you never truly knew Jesus,” and on and on. Why is this argument used? Because they cannot conceive of someone truly believing as they do and then leaving it. Many Christians cannot conceive of a Christian leaving the faith, so any time they meet a Christian who left the faith they justify themselves by saying that person was never truly “saved.” That’s what’s going on here, too. Dr. Purdom cannot conceive of someone truly understanding what Answers in Genesis teaches and then accepting evolution instead. So she justifies, saying I must not have truly “understood,” because if I’d “understood” I never would have left.
Except that Dr. Purdom is wrong. I was pretty much the AiG poster child. I knew my stuff, backward and forward. I read and studied and learned. I knew how to defend my views, I knew the reasons behind them, I new the evidence and arguments. I was like an AiG fighting machine. And creationism wasn’t just incidental to my beliefs, it was crucially and centrally important. I was extremely passionate about it. I had my own creationist library, bought with my own money. The idea that I never really “understood” is laughable, and would have been laughable to anyone who knew me.
3. I shouldn’t have been sent to a secular college
Libby doesn’t say whether she attended a Christian or secular college. Sadly, in the USA today there isn’t much difference between the two types of schools concerning Genesis—and even the authority of the Bible—as surveys in Already Compromised showed. Either way, she was challenged, fought for a while, and gave up. It’s difficult to say why, but she does seem to have some misunderstandings about Genesis and the Bible despite her exposure to creation apologetics.
I want two make two points in response. First, if the only way to preserve your creationist beliefs is to not have them challenged – i.e. not attend a college that teaches any contrary view – that says more about your beliefs than anything else. If creationism is true, someone raised as I was should have no problem defending it. See, for example, this Jack Chick tract, or this chain email. If your beliefs can’t stand up to scrutiny, you need to rethink your beliefs. If cutting yourself off from anything that might ever challenge your beliefs is the only way you can keep them, you have a serious problem.
Second, I find the last part of this paragraph a bit insulting. Dr. Purdom doesn’t know me, and she wasn’t there when I was in college. The idea that I “fought for a while” and then “gave up” is ludicrous. I “fought” for months. And it wasn’t a college professor I was “fighting,” either. It was another student in my dorm, a student who found science and evolution fascinating and was himself fairly agnostic. I spent almost an entire year arguing with him about creation and evolution daily, and I continually went back to my sources, reread my books, and made sure I was using every young earth creationist argument in the book. I even took him to an Answers in Genesis conference. That’s not fighting “for a while.”
In the end, I didn’t “give up.” Rather, I realized I had been wrong. There’s a big difference there. And once I saw that creationism didn’t actually hold water, and that evolution was supported by the evidence, I had the intellectual honesty to change my mind. Why? Because that’s what you do when you realize you were wrong.
And that last sentence? After studying at Answers in Genesis’ knees for years, after attending their conferences and reading their literature, after searching the Bible and reading other creationist resources like the Institute for Creation Research and Henry Morris, I simply “misunderstood”? I simply had “exposure”? Dr. Purdom is wrong, very, very wrong.
4. Dr. Purdom’s solution
As I read her plea to parents and the instruction of their children, I couldn’t help but think of my daughter Elizabeth. However, for me Libby’s words had the opposite effect of what she desired. I realized that I can expose Elizabeth to all the creation and biblical apologetics in the world, but if she doesn’t actually understand it then it is useless. She needs more than simply exposure to these things.
I need to start asking her questions and she how she responds and not just assume she knows the answers. I need to start giving her more detailed understanding of these issues so she can answer effectively when those around her question her beliefs. I decided to start with the topic of dinosaurs. We are doing all the dinosaur questions from Answers Books for Kids and then we’ll move on to Dinosaurs for Kids. We are truly blessed to have all these great resources to train our children to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
Does Dr. Purdom think I didn’t read those books too? Does Dr. Purdom not think my parents’ house was awash with creationist literature from early on? Does Dr. Purdom think that my parents never “asked questions” to make sure I really understood what I was being taught? If so, Dr. Purdom would be wrong, very, very wrong. Creationism was discussed at the dinner table, while working on family projects, and on car rides. My parents always discussed sermons with us after church, and our church frequently taught creationism from the pulpit using AiG materials.
We used to hold mock debates with each other. We discussed this point and that point, went over the AiG resources we were reading together. I’ve written before that my dad and I were close. One of our favorite topics was creationism. We read creationist books together, we took them with us on family vacations so that we could “refute” what the park rangers and signs said. I found creationism fascinating, and so did my father, and we spent more hours discussing it than I can count.
How is this simply “exposure”? I wasn’t simply “exposed” to creationism!
Ken Ham’s Response
In his own blog post, Need More Than Just Exposure, Ken Ham quoted at length from Dr. Purdom’s post and added some observations of his own, many of which mirrored hers.
Dr. Georgia Purdom—AiG speaker, researcher, and writer—recently wrote a blog item I wanted to share with all of you. It is a warning—even to parents who bring their children up on AiG apologetics resources.
Is it just me or does Ken Ham sound like my testimony made him nervous?
As I read her blog post, I thought of these main points:
1. We need to be reminded that we can do our best to bring children to the “door” of the “Ark,” but we can’t force them through—only God does that.
In other words, we can teach our children the Truth but can’t make them accept it. Because, apparently, that’s what happened to me? My parents did their best to bring me “to the door of the Ark” but I simply refused to go through? What a very strange interpretation. As if I hadn’t wanted creationism to be true. As if I didn’t fight tooth and nail for something that was at the foundation of my faith. As if it wasn’t hard to admit I had been wrong and to see my entire understanding of the world shift.
2. As we train our children, we need to do much more than just expose them to resources like those produced by AiG; we need to make sure they understand them correctly and are taught to be able to answer questions logically.
Here Ken Ham is echoing what Dr. Purdom wrote. And again, it’s insulting. I did understand and I was taught to answer questions logically.
3. We can undermine a lot of what we have done if we send our children to the wrong institution (e.g., a compromising Christian college or even a theologically conservative one that does not teach them why they believe what they do—and how to logically defend the Christian faith and so on).
Again, echoing Dr. Purdom. Because, apparently, if creationism is exposed to criticism it shrivels and dies. And for what it’s worth, when I left for college, I had taken more years of apologetics courses than I can count, had memorized more Bible verses than essentially anyone my age, and had read more AiG resources than I can even remember. I also had formal experience with debate and logic. If anyone knew how to logically defend the Christian faith, I did.
What Does All This Mean?
I can understand how my testimony could unnerve Ken Ham and Dr. Purdom. If someone could be as trained in creationism as I was an then reject it and accept evolution, what does that say about their ministry? But rather than taking another look at their beliefs, they’d rather just blame my change of views on the college I attended, or on the ludicrous idea that I was “exposed” to creationism but never “understood” it. Or the first point Dr. Purdom made – the idea that evidence is irrelevant and that we should believe creationism based only on the words of the Bible (again, if AiG wants to make this their actual argument, they need to change their approach and marketing).
And the solution Ken Ham and Dr. Purdom make? Double down. That’s pretty much it. Teach the same things, just more. Oh, and isolate yourself and your children from other points of view – oh the dangers of the state college or “compromised” Christian college! Interestingly, I see the same thing happening with all too many homeschool families. They say their goal is to “teach god’s truth” and “shelter” their children from bad influences, but what they really mean is indoctrinate and isolate. And that, quite simply, is what Ken Ham and Dr. Purdom are advocating.
The funny thing is, I don’t plan to do any such thing with my daughter. I’m not afraid of her hearing other perspectives or arguments or evidence. I’m not afraid of her hearing and digesting different viewpoints. My goal is not to teach her to believe one specific thing, but to open her mind and teach her to think critically and come to her own conclusions. Ken Ham and Dr. Purdom, though, refuse to do that. Because, apparently, exposing children to a variety of viewpoints and teaching them to think critically and make their own decisions is dangerous.
I wonder if Ken Ham remembers the little girl in braids who stood in awe in his presence and eagerly asked him for his autograph all those years ago. Probably not. But that little girl, that little girl fascinated by science and ever eager to find truth, she’s still here. She’s just sitting on the other side of the fence now.