Young-earth creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis says that his expertise in science is every bit as legitimate as his expertise in biblical interpretation.
I agree. You should too.
So-called “scientific creationists” like Ham claim that they are doing “biblical science,” but what they are doing has just as little to do with the actual Bible as it has to do with actual science.
Unlike Ham, I do not claim to be a scientist. He would argue that I therefore ought to defer to him on scientific matters because he is a scientist — a “creation scientist” — and a layperson such as myself therefore ought to acknowledge his expertise on the subject.
Hogwash. I may not be a scientist myself, but it’s not difficult for me, even as a layperson outside of the sciences, to see that Ham’s claim of expertise is absurd. First, I can look to see what credible scientists think about Ham’s “science.” The actual experts in the sciences find Ham’s ideas laughably wretched. And second, even as a non-scientist, non-expert layperson who studied literature and theology, I can understand enough to appreciate that Ham’s scientific claims are pure bunkum. You don’t need a Ph.D. to recognize that, despite his claims otherwise, there’s nothing scientific about Ham’s “creation science.”
The same can be said for Ham’s other unwarranted claim — the assertion that his “creation science” is “biblical.” One can, again, turn to see what credible scholars in the field have to say about Ham’s alleged expertise. Are his ideas and interpretations taught and studied in seminaries? No. His biblical interpretation is regarded by those who study the Bible in precisely the same way that his science is regarded by those who study science. The actual experts in the field again find Ham’s ideas laughably wretched. And one doesn’t need any particular expertise or training to see that, either.
Ham’s lucrative career as a (very successful) con artist depends on both of these claims. His ability to gull the gullible depends on his ability to present himself as an authority on science and as an authority on the Bible. That’s how he makes his money, even though, again, he is neither an authority on science nor an authority on the Bible.
Those of us who want to expose, refute or debunk Ham and to limit his pernicious influence — who want to prevent him from defrauding his marks and from spreading ignorance through the schools — shouldn’t concede either of Ham’s false claims of expertise. Conceding either claim only validates his purported expertise and strengthens his hand.
I studied theology, not science, so in my case it makes sense to focus most on denying Ham’s legitimacy as an expert on the Bible. But that does not mean that I should therefore allow him to continue unchallenged in his claim to be an expert on science. The same is true for those approaching Ham’s nonsense from the side of science. They should focus most on criticizing the aspects of his claims that they are best equipped to respond to, but at the same time they shouldn’t accept or affirm his claims of “biblical” expertise.
Put another way, it would make no sense for me to use my own knowledge of the Bible to expose and confront Ham’s demagoguery, bad-faith arguments, circular reasoning and blatant hucksterism when it comes to understanding the Bible without also at least suspecting that he might be employing the very same dishonest tactics when it comes to science. Nor would it make sense for a scientist to encounter Ham’s demagoguery, bad-faith arguments, circular reasoning and blatant hucksterism in their field without at least suspecting that Ham might be employing those same dishonest tactics in what he says about the Bible. If I know that his claims to be “biblical” cannot be trusted, then I should not turn around and reward him with trust in his claims to be “scientific.” And if you know that his claims to be “scientific” cannot be trusted, then you should not turn around and reward him with trust in his claims to be “biblical.”
This was my complaint with the Freethought Alliance billboard rightly mocking the creationist, Hamian (Hamesque? Hamster?) view of the story of Noah. Charlatans like Ham insist that their “scientific creationism” view of that story is the most obvious and only proper understanding of the Bible. That is not true, but the billboard seems to accept and to validate the charlatans’ claim.
It does so through what I think is a non sequitur — an unmerited substitution of terms, suggesting that the two things are interchangeable and identical — that switches targets halfway through its argument. Without that substitution, the billboard would read:
“Noah’s flood / 8712 inches per hour = nonsense / what other creationist nonsense is there?”
That’s good stuff — incisive, witty and thought-provoking just as a billboard slogan should be.
But that cutting joke gets turned around and slices the wrong way when the word “biblical” is substituted for the word “creationist.” It thus winds up reaffirming Ham’s assertion that his “scientific creationism” is the best and the only way to read the Bible. It suggests, as Ham does, that “biblical = creationist.” It suggests that Hamsterian “scientific creationism” provides a valid interpretation of the story of Noah rather than being a weirdly illiterate exercise in missing the point.
I don’t think this was the intention of those who created this billboard. I don’t think they set out to validate Ken Ham, or to reaffirm his chronologically confused claim that no one managed to find the most obvious interpretation of the Bible until he and others invented it in the 20th century. But in its present form, that’s what this billboard does.
And I’m not saying, “Take that billboard down!” What I’m suggesting, rather, is that they change that bit about “biblical nonsense” to “creationist nonsense” — and thus change the billboard from one that delights Ken Ham to one that would upset him.
I’ll admit that I may be over-reacting or reading too much into all this. I may be prone to do that sometimes whenever we approach near this business of all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism. That’s a nasty, toxic brew in response to which I tend to get more angry than articulate.
Over the past almost nine years of this blog, I’ve encountered many, many good people struggling to recover from this noxious pseudo-faith. They were taught from earliest childhood that the absurdities of young-earth creationism were inextricably bound up in this all-or-nothing package deal. It was pounded into them, sometimes literally, and they learned what they were taught. If the universe is more than 6,000-10,000 years old, they were taught, then there is no God. If the story of Noah is not a journalistic account of an actual historical flood that killed the dinosaurs, they were taught, then Jesus is a fraud, life has no meaning, and justice, virtue and compassion are all empty illusions.
Few things make me angrier than this abusive all-or-nothing doctrine. It makes me angry because it chains together truth and lies. It makes me angry because it sets a trap, binding children into a twisted machinery that guarantees either a painful crisis of faith or a feckless, drifting life of dissonance and denial. It makes me angry because when those children get old enough to encounter the obvious and inescapable realities forbidden by that package deal, it may take them many painful years to sort out all the other lies bundled up with it — all those bogus “therefores” lashing meaning, goodness, faith, hope, and love to the unsustainable lies of a rigidly fragile foundation of “creation science.”
And it makes me angry because bundled in with all those other lies is the vicious slur that such all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism provides the only legitimate basis for a meaningful life, for goodness or worth. This is the slur that says not only that we cannot be “good without God,” but that no one is any good without this particular tiny, vindictive, brittle God. It says that if there is no God — or if God is not exactly like their idea of God — then you are unloved, unworthy of being loved, and incapable of loving others.
That slur is a lie. It is illogical, indefensible, blasphemous and cruel. But for many of those who had it pounded into them for years and years, it can take a long time and a lot of pain before they learn to stop believing it.
And but so, my point being, I do not much care for the all-or-nothing, package-deal fundamentalism of the “scientific creationists” and the “creation scientists.”
I can see why it might be tempting to latch on to such all-or-nothing claims as a rhetorical tactic for a recreational debater of a certain temperament (again I’m thinking of someone like Bill Maher). It’s premise is absurd and dishonest, since the many things it bundles together are not really, logically linked. But if we were to stipulate that the illogic of this all-or-nothing premise is correct and that all of the things lumped together in this package-deal fundamentalism are inseverable, then our path to victory is simple. We can sweep away the whole edifice simply by proving the absurdity of its weakest link.
Unfortunately, embracing the logic of illogic isn’t so simple or so safe, even when it’s just a rhetorical tactic. If we stipulate that we’re accepting the premise of this all-or-nothing package deal, then we’re not just accepting the part of its bogus premise that says “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, you win.” We’d also be stipulating to and accepting the part of its bogus premise that says, “If the universe is more than 10,000 years old, then all love is illusion and we must all be nihilists.” That’s not a point I’m willing to surrender, even just for the sake of argument.