Ken Ham: Postmodern Relativist?

In a series of feature articles prominently displayed on the Answers in Genesis (AiG) website, Creationist Ken Ham seems to promote a point of view that can best be described as postmodern relativism. In an article on searching for silver bullets, Ham writes:

“[U]ltimately, the [evolution versus creation] argument is about how you interpret the facts—and this depends upon your belief about history. The real difference is that we have different ‘histories’…, which we use to interpret the science and facts of the present.”

“Creationists and evolutionists… all have the same evidence—the same facts,” he insists in another article on evidentiary proof, emphasizing that our presuppositions frame how we interpret those facts. “Christians,” he writes, have the Bible and the stories therein provide “a set of presuppositions to build a way of thinking which enables [Christians] to interpret the evidence.” Evolutionists, on the other hand, “have certain beliefs about the past/present that they presuppose, e.g. no God… so they build a different way of thinking to interpret the evidence of the present.”

Ham thinks that creationists should point out that theories are driven by presuppositions rather than evidence. In this way, the creationist can not only justify his own set of interpretations over another but hopefully change people’s minds so that they, in effect, choose the biblical view of creation rather than the scientific view of evolution.

Is Ham channeling Foucault or Derrida here? His comments are strikingly similar to those made by postmodernists at war with Enlightenment principles. For those of us steeped in the scientific method, truth is objective, universal, and its predictions verifiable. Truth is not some warm fuzzy that emerges from tribal customs, pragmatism, or the a priori dictates of a godless worldview. As Richard Rorty put it, truth is “something to be pursued for its own sake, not because it will be good for oneself, or for one’s real or imaginary community.”

We naturalists do not want to preordain our conclusion by privileging a certain way of looking at facts. We want to go where the evidence leads. Postmodern relativism holds that science is wrong to promote universal theories over the many multicultural and local viewpoints. They say that since science has no more of a foundation than personal interpretation of facts and sources there can be no single truth. There are instead only competing contingent truths all informed by the cultural and philosophical presuppositions in which one is immersed. In other words, for postmodernity truth is nothing but an extension of power because after these culture clashes are over the winner essentially decides what is true.

Given that the facts do not lead to young-earth creationism, I guess it’s no surprise that Ham would retreat to the vague “truthiness” of postmodern relativity. Having lost the argument for creation on the merits of the evidence, it’s easy to see why other creationists harbor the idea that a secular conspiracy promotes an erroneous truth in place of the real truth. But I wonder how many dedicated creationist readers of AiG’s web site agree with Ken Ham’s approach to truth, evidence and theory?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05754012798961096099 Frank Walton

    James, it seems like you’ll go to any desperate lengths to debunking Ken Ham (or any Christian for that matter). For instance, you fail to make a distinction between a presupposition and evidence. Yet from all of that you bring up Derrida and Foucault?! Ken Ham has always described postmodernism as a “pervasive thought pattern.” I don’t mean to condescend you but, honestly, save yourself the embarassment by deleting this post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12459891984373393444 Taner Edis

    There are a lot of pomo echoes in creationist literature, and some sympathy for creationism among psotmodernists out there. See my “Relativist Apologetics: The Future of Creationism”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14558495391350708810 James Still

    Fantastic article Taner, you said it better than I did. Frank: Indeed, postmodern thoughts must be very pervasive if they’ve brought even a literalist like Ken Ham into their orbit. If you don’t think the comments I cited suggest relativistic thinking, then by all means rebut them. In the meantime I stand by what I wrote.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04549444906381131734 Martin Wagner

    It seems to me the distinction between presuppositions and evidence ought to be obvious. Evidence is what can be empirically verified irrespective of the idelogical biases of the observer; presuppositions are rooted in the observer’s ideological biases of how the world should work, regardless of what the evidence confirms or disconfirms. I don’t mean to condescend to you, Frank, but, honestly, save yourself the embarassment by forming a cogent criticism before you comment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05754012798961096099 Frank Walton

    Martin Wagner: Evidence is what can be empirically verified irrespective of the idelogical biases of the observer; presuppositions are rooted in the observer’s ideological biases of how the world should work, regardless of what the evidence confirms or disconfirms.

    Frank Walton: And so that proves Ken Ham sees eye-to-eye with Derrida and Foucault? Have you or James even studied these French philosophers? Making this kind of logical jump and your failure to make a distinction between presuppositions, evidence, postmodernism, Derrida, and Foucault, I wouldn’t be the least concerned as to whether you can condescend me or not =)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04549444906381131734 Martin Wagner

    Uh, James? How you could quote the distinction I made between presuppositions and evidence, and then claim I didn’t make one, is genuinely bizarre. If you think the distinction I made is in error, explain why. Since I never made the claim that this distinction “proves Ken Ham sees eye-to-eye with Derrida and Foucault,” I can’t speak to that. I’ll let James answer you, assuming he takes you seriously.

    I haven’t read Foucault, and I don’t think much of Derrida’s deconstructionism, since you ask. I will say that the kind of pomo thinking I often see from theists and other true believers seems to be cut from a similar cloth as Derrida’s ideas, if not precisely the same cloth. I recently spoke with a Christian woman who openly denied the existence of objective truth and the very possibility of knowledge with the blanket claim “Everything is a belief.” When I pointed out that 2+2=4 is not a belief, she insisted it was. It’s deeply irrational, of course, but this way of relativising reality out of existence is apparently very important to a number of believers, as it allows “truth” to be determined by popularity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14558495391350708810 James Still

    Come on now Frank! Neither Martin nor myself are trying to prove that “Ken Ham sees eye-to-eye with Derrida and Foucault.” When I said that Ham was “channeling” pomo thinkers that was your clue that I wasn’t being literal. I was making a point. Just out of curiosity, to what do you attribute Ham’s curious remarks about how ideological frameworks sit between us and the facts? Is it possible to do objective science (or as objective as humanly possible)? Or is science inherently compromised by our subjective wish that facts conform to certain conclusions? If you are as smart as I think you are, I’m guessing you’re going to agree with the former and not the latter. Ham’s approach should be deeply troubling to you. (Note to Martin: I definitely take Frank seriously — he seems like a sharp fellow; and anyone with the temerity to publish a blog called “Atheism Sucks” is a sure bet to be an atheist himself in 10 years. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04549444906381131734 Martin Wagner

    ROFL. The funny thing about the statement “Atheism sucks!” is that it isn’t the same thing as saying “Atheism is wrong.” As a student I thought math sucked, but I couldn’t deny its accuracy or application. I’m sure all Christians feel that atheism sucks. Of course, if they think we’re wrong, all they have to do is prove God exists, and we’ll cease to be atheists. I’m still waiting, myself. Maybe Frank’ll be the one!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05754012798961096099 Frank Walton

    *SIGH, ROLL EYES*

    Still: Ham thinks that creationists should point out that theories are driven by presuppositions rather than evidence.

    Walton: I don’t disagree with that. Everybody has a presupposition or frame of mind from whence someone interprets the facts. This does not lead to postmodernism as you say.

    Still: In this way, the creationist can not only justify his own set of interpretations over another but hopefully change people’s minds so that they, in effect, choose the biblical view of creation rather than the scientific view of evolution.

    Walton: Strawman. You’re assuming that evolution is already scientific; thereby pitting it against the “biblical view of creation.” And by assuming it you just begged the question.

    Still: Is Ham channeling Foucault or Derrida here? His comments are strikingly similar to those made by postmodernists at war with Enlightenment principles.

    Walton: There you have it. See? You’re paralleling Ham’s views with Foucault’s and Derrida’s. These are your own words and you obviously think that Ham sees eye-to-eye with them. What more do you want? BTW, you’re making a logical jump if I ever read one. Just because someone thinks that facts are interpreted in a certain way doesn’t mean that postmodernism is already assumed. Furthermore, you’re assuming materialism to justify your own set of interpretations over another by hopefully changing people’s minds so that they, in effect, choose the evolution view of creation rather than the Biblical view. Are you a postmodern relativist then?

    Still: For those of us steeped in the scientific method, truth is objective, universal, and its predictions verifiable.

    Walton: You just begged the question again.

    Still: As Richard Rorty put it, truth is “something to be pursued for its own sake, not because it will be good for oneself, or for one’s real or imaginary community.”

    Walton: Richard Rorty is a postmodern thinker! It’s ridiculous that you would use a postmodern pundit against another supposed postmodern pundit. Shouldn’t you at least try using a realist against a postmodern thinker?

    Still: We naturalists do not want to preordain our conclusion by privileging a certain way of looking at facts.

    Walton: But you do preordain your conclusion because you already assumed a naturalistic worldview.

    Still: In other words, for postmodernity truth is nothing but an extension of power because after these culture clashes are over the winner essentially decides what is true.

    Walton: Please quote me where Ken Ham makes the claim that whatever power yields a culture it therefore necessarily must be true. Please don’t give me any ambiguous quotes. And don’t tell me what he’s assuming. Just show me where Ken claims that. If you can’t then you can’t say that Ken Ham is a postmodern relativist. All Ham is saying is that we interpret facts differently according to our worldviews. Naturalist and supernaturalist have different epistemological methods.

    Still: Given that the facts do not lead to young-earth creationism…

    Walton: LOL, you just begged the question again.

    You still haven’t made the case that Ken Ham is a postmodern thinker. All you did was make assumption after assumption. Not only that you ignorantly used a postmodern thinker to a make a non-postmodern point. Dude, you’re embarassing yourself. Anyway, if you want to then go ahead and tell the whole world that Ken Ham is a postmodernist. I don’t have the faith to say that he is.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14558495391350708810 James Still

    Frank writes: “Not only that you ignorantly used [Rorty] a postmodern thinker to a make a non-postmodern point. Dude, you’re embarassing yourself.”

    Uh Frank did it ever occur to you that a smart guy like Rorty has written extensively about the tension between pragmatism and absolutism? And that he would seek to represent fairly both sides before championing his own brand of pragmatism? It wasn’t an accident that I quoted him. In your term papers for school do you only allow yourself to quote die-hard Cartesians when discussing duality? Or atheist philosophers when discussing an argument against the existence of God? Think about it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05754012798961096099 Frank Walton

    Still: Uh Frank did it ever occur to you that a smart guy like Rorty has written extensively about the tension between pragmatism and absolutism?

    Walton: *SHRUGS* Yes. You’re point being? Besides, I already dealt with this. However, on second glance I find it striking that you wrote, “Truth is not some warm fuzzy that emerges from…pragmatism…” in the same paragraph with Richard Rorty who is a pragmatist!

    Still: In your term papers for school do you only allow yourself to quote die-hard Cartesians when discussing duality? Or atheist philosophers when discussing an argument against the existence of God? Think about it.

    Walton: But you’re making an argument about a premise (Ham is a postmodernist); what you did was quote someone who seemed to be against the premise but all the while was actually supporting it! That’s like me quoting a pro-choice feminist in favor of abortion when all the while she’s really against it. If I was arguing about the existence of God, sure I’ll quote an atheist, but in context that he was against the existence of God not that he supports it.

    Either way, you’re post on Ken Ham was far too simplistic and presumptuous to take seriously. That’s just how I see it.


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