Ken Ham’s biblical exegesis is just as sound as his science

Let me step back and explain where I’m coming from with today’s odd burst of posts. I’ve been butting heads with young-earth creationists for most of my life.

This goes back more than 30 years, to the middle-school “science” classes wherein I was first, unsuccessfully, indoctrinated in “scientific creationism.” We studied “the controversy” — but in our case that meant learning about the “gap theory” and the “day-age theory.” These were treated as the primary alternative views, as though everyone believed one of these three options — with those other two theories being a refuge for the semi-apostate scoundrels who lacked the true faith that demanded belief in a universe created in six 24-hour days some 6,000-10,000 years ago in precisely the order outlined in Genesis 1 and not the order in Genesis 2.

Our teacher’s clumsy, dismissive attempts to reconcile those two disparate back-to-back accounts was one of the first things I remember giving me pause. And it seemed the more questions I asked, the less satisfied I was with the answers. (The only teacher who took those questions seriously was my social studies teacher, Mrs. M., who was the Best Teacher I Ever Had. She didn’t know a great deal about social studies, but she knew everything about kids. “Just remember,” she told me subversively, and probably at some risk, “the Bible says God created the world. But if someone tells you they know how he did that, they didn’t get that from the Bible.”) I got A’s in that science class, providing the expected answers on the exam, but I didn’t believe them.

Since then I’ve learned a great deal more about science, theology and biblical exegesis, and everything I’ve learned in each of those areas has strengthened and deepened my opposition to the pernicious nonsense of young-earth creationism.

Over the many years I’ve been engaged in this argument, I have found many solid allies, invaluable mentors, and delightful friends among the ranks of the freethinkers and atheists who have been fighting the same foe. Most of those folks were scientists — people I came to rely on because I myself am not a scientist.

These scientist allies, friends and mentors had also spent many years butting heads with “scientific creationists” like Ken Ham. And they had learned from that experience. They had learned that Ken Ham is not trustworthy.

As scientists with scientific expertise, they were able to evaluate Ham’s scientific claims. That evaluation showed him to be someone who was woefully ignorant, brazenly dishonest, willing to deliberately distort facts and words, and full of grandiose claims about his own importance.

These scientists would sometimes ask me about Ham’s assertions involving biblical exegesis, Christian belief or church history.* I could tell they were doing so out of a kind of scientific curiosity. They were testing their working hypothesis regarding Ham.

That hypothesis involves a rather compelling logic: Ken Ham claims to be an expert on biology, but his statements about biology are ignorant, dishonest and ridiculous. Ken Ham claims to be an expert on geology, but his statements about geology are ignorant, dishonest and ridiculous. Ken Ham claims to be an expert on astronomy, but his statements about astronomy are ignorant, dishonest and ridiculous.

Ken Ham claims to be an expert on biblical exegesis. Given the above, what does our hypothesis predict will be the case for Ham’s statements about the Bible?

They tended to be delighted that I was able to confirm that their hypothesis held true in this case as well. But then they didn’t really need my input to know that. Those scientists may not have been experts in biblical interpretation, Christian teaching or church history, but they were experts on Ken Ham. They knew enough of his flim-flammery and distortions to suspect that his claims about the Bible could not possibly be any more trustworthy than his claims about the fossil record or about radiocarbon dating.

And yet, increasingly, I’ve begun to see a new and disturbing alliance between young-earth creationists like Ham and those who subscribe to a certain aggressive strain of Internet atheism. These two factions can often be found speaking with a single, united voice — banding together to staunchly defend an identical biblical hermeneutic.

And since that hermeneutic is the same illiterate, Ham-fisted literalism I’ve been railing against since the Reagan administration, I am disappointed by this development.

For decades I’ve been having this argument:

YOUNG-EARTH CREATIONIST: The Bible clearly says that God created the universe in six days, 6,000 years ago.

ME: No, actually, it doesn’t. [Insert everything I’ve ever written or said about the Bible for the past 25 years.]

YEC: Does too.

That argument was exhausting and depressing. But the new variation of it is even more so:

YEC: The Bible clearly says that God created the universe in six days, 6,000 years ago.

ME: No, actually, it doesn’t. [Insert everything I’ve ever written or said about the Bible for the past 25 years.]


ME: Wait … what are you doing here? And why on earth are you siding with him?

IA: I’ve apparently decided he’s the most knowledgeable, reliable and trustworthy interpreter of Christian orthodoxy and biblical scholarship.

ME: Him? He’s really not.

IA: I’ve read Answers in Genesis. I know all I need to know about what you Christians believe. And Ken Ham warned me against your seminary trickery …

That’s dismaying on several levels. And I fear it can only get worse. Once you decide that Ken Ham is trustworthy and respectable when it comes to biblical exegesis, you’re one step closer to deciding that maybe he’s also trustworthy and respectable when it comes to “debunking Darwinist propaganda.”

Once you decide that Answers in Genesis can be relied on for accurate, honest and reliable information about biblical interpretation then you’re well on your way toward suspecting the same might be true of its information about evolution. Once you let them convince you that you know more than biblical scholars do about what’s in the Bible, then they’ve already gotten you to swallow the premise of all their crackpottery. You’re all set to believe that you also know more than scientists do about science.

After so many years arguing with fundamentalist Christians who refuse to believe in radiocarbon dating, I don’t relish the prospect of a future in which I may get to argue with atheists who refuse to believe in radiocarbon dating.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* They were atheists after all, and thus hadn’t needed to study any of that for themselves. Some Christians have an odd notion that no one can become an atheist — or a Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or anything else — unless they first become an expert in Christianity. The idea, I suppose, is that atheists are rejecting Christianity, and thus are obligated to learn everything there is to know about that which they are rejecting.

By that logic, of course, then every Christian is obligated to spend years studying the intricacies of Hinduism. And of Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Jainism and every other possible belief system they are “rejecting” by becoming Christians.

That’s silly. For most of us, we believe whatever it is we believe because we choose that, not because we’ve systematically evaluated and rejected every other possible option. An atheist is someone who chooses to be an atheist, not someone who chooses to reject Christianity and thus somehow winds up an atheist by default. And a Christian is someone who chooses to be a Christian, not someone who chooses to reject atheism and thus somehow winds up a Christian by default.

If it didn’t work this way, then none of us could ever get married until we had dated every single person on the planet. Plus our marriage vows would be infinitely longer, because instead of just saying, “forsaking all others,” we’d have to list them all, by name, and explain in detail why we were choosing to forsake each one.

I am a Christian. I think it is good for me to learn as much as I can about other beliefs. Knowledge is better than ignorance, and such learning is also a way of respecting, and of loving, my neighbors. But I am not compelled to study all other religions in order to legitimize my choice to be a Christian.

However — and this is important — if I went around claiming that I had chosen to become a Christian because I had looked into all those other religions and found them all to be foolish, then I had better be able to back that up with an exhaustive and accurate knowledge of the intricacies of those other faiths. I’m a Christian, and thus I do not need to be an expert in Hinduism. But if I, as a Christian, tell you that I am a Christian because of the alleged inadequacies of Hinduism, then I had damned well better be intimately familiar with that faith on its own terms. Otherwise I’m not a critic, just a crackpot.

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  • EllieMurasaki

    Anything is harmful when it justifies actions that are otherwise morally indefensible. What’s your point?

  • Jay

     My point is that faith is one of the major elements in the tribalism toolkit, and has often been used to convince people that God wants them to kill.  Officially the American military doesn’t use faith this way, but unofficially it does.  See:

    Faith isn’t an unambiguous good, and many of consider it to be more dangerous than it’s worth (in addition to the implausiblity business).

  • Tonio

    I’ve said many times that anyone who insists that I should believe that gods exist, or that gods don’t exist, should present evidence for his or her position. It’s in that light that I find it sad that you don’t grasp that the problem is not faith but absolutism, of which tribalism is one variety. Faith to justify murderous tribalism doesn’t make faith iitself bad, any more than Charles Manson’s atrocities make the Beatles bad. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    There’s a lot of things people use as an excuse to kill. Should we eliminate everyone of a different skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, and ability status, as well as everyone of a different faith? Wouldn’t it be a lot simpler and a lot less painful to convince everyone that ‘different’ does not mean ‘bad’?

  • Worthless Beast

    I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  The people that annoy me and drive me off places are folks who seek out a discussion to inform everyone of how they think that peaceful worshippers at a temple gunned down by a terrorist deserved to die for being worshippers, or to make barbeque jokes about Buddhist protestors and to say other very non-decent-human things, as well as the abundance of That Guys who may not be murderous, but who want to dictate to me what to believe after knowing me from two sentences on the Internet. 

    I don’t think Christians or even non-churchgoing spiritual-seeker quasi-christians like me are persecuted.  Nobody’s telling me that I cannot take the meds I need over it, or that I cannot marry whom I want over it, or anything like that.  Like Lilara, I’m a poor, disabled (mental rather than physical, a whole new stinking kettle of fish), woman.  I have greater things to worry about than Internet Insults. But just because I have those greater things to worry about doesn’t mean I’m not going to call the little annoyances “annoying.” 

    I think it would be nice if we could get along regarding common issues and threats rather than let the little annoyances put us in the “black” and “white” categories with each other.    For the most part, that happens here, but sometimes… How many pages is this up to now? 9? 10?

  • Jay

     Ellie:  Good luck with that.

    Tonio:  In my experience faith can be a gateway drug to absolutism.  After all, if you really believed you knew what God wants you to do, to do anything else would be a horrible failure.  What could be more absolute than a command from God? 

    When Abraham went up the mountain to sacrifice Isaac, he was simultaneously proving his faith and planning a murder.

    I’m not saying faith is always and only bad.  If your faith promotes compassion, that’s great.  I’m just saying that there’s a long history of faith bringing out our worst nature, in addition to our best.

  • malpollyon
  • EllieMurasaki

    To quote a line well known and well loved around here: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell!”

    The sad part here isn’t that Huck believed in God and hell. I doubt any amount or kind of persuasion could have convinced him not to. It’s that the god Huck believed in considered helping a slave escape worse than owning a slave. I think Huck would have been much happier if he’d known there was such a thing as progressive Christianity.

  • Most progressive Christians I know don’t believe in a literal Hell.  So if Huck couldn’t not believe in it, what makes you think he would have given a crap about a different strain of Christianity?

    I would say that it would have been nice for Huck to know that there is no good evidence that Hell exists at all, but hey, I wouldn’t want to try to take away his faith or anything.  Surely no good could ever come of that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    There’s the belief that hell exists but is empty. There’s the belief that hell is the same place as heaven and which one we think we’re in depends on how we react to the ambiance. Or maybe he could come round to the belief that hell doesn’t exist, but as long as he’s not telling other people that they’re damned, nor hurting people in the belief that that’ll keep him from being damned himself, what harm does it do for him to go on believing hell’s real?

  • Tonio

    as long as he’s not telling other people that they’re damned, nor hurting people in the belief that that’ll keep him from being damned himself, what harm does it do for him to go on believing hell’s real?

    As much as I don’t wan’t people to believe that I personally deserve hell, even if they don’t voice that belief, what you describe is what’s really important.

  • Ah.  So, if you convince someone that Hell is empty, that’s fine.  If you convince him that Heaven and Hell are the same place, that is also fine.

    But showing someone that there is no good evidence for Hell or for the God who would create such a place…well, that’s stealing someone’s faith and is wrong and harmful.

    Just so we’re clear.

  • I think it would be nice if we could get along regarding common issues and threats rather than let the little annoyances put us in the “black” and “white” categories with each other.

    Or even the big annoyances, come to that.

  • AnonymousSam

    Quibble: You’re proving that faith is a foot in the door to extremism by citing a story which requires faith to believe happened at all, much less exactly in that manner. I see irony in this.

    I also refer back to my original post: A foot in the door is not a sure step down the path to a negative outcome.

    I also would remind you of what I think Fred’s point is: the only thing worse than arguing about interpretations of the Bible is arguing that there’s only one possible interpretation of the Bible, and when atheists do it, it feels twice as ridiculous.

  • Jay

     Your quibble is well taken, but there are other examples.  The 9-11 hijackers come to mind.  As for the rest, we broadly agree.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Absence of evidence is not actually evidence of absence, and there’s no harm in converting someone provided they first express interest in being converted. Just like there’s no harm in not converting someone who has not expressed such interest.

  • “Faith itself is not harmful, and trying to take people’s faith away can be harmful, so don’t try to take anybody’s faith away.”

  • Steve Morrison

    EllieMurasaki wrote:

    I’m thinking of a scene from Carl Sagan’s Contact, I’m pretty sure it’s in the book but not the movie, but I haven’t laid eyes on either in quite some time–can anybody quote me the bit where our leads discuss what should have been in the Bible if its authors wanted to prove that they had access to more scientific knowledge than anybody else at the time?

    Here it is; Carl Sagan wrote:

    “But imagine that your kind of god—omnipotent, omniscient, compassionate—really wanted to leave a record for future generations, to make his existence unmistakable to, say, the remote descendants of Moses. It’s easy, trivial. Just a few enigmatic phrases, and some fierce commandment that they be passed on unchanged . . .”

    Joss leaned forward almost imperceptibly. “Such as…?”

     “Such as ‘The Sun is a star.’ Or ‘Mars is a rusty place with deserts and volcanos, like Sinai.’ Or ‘A body in motion tends to remain in motion.’ Or—let’s see now”—she quickly scribbled some numbers on a pad—“‘The Earth weighs a million million million million times as much as a child.’ Or—I recognize that both of you seem to have some trouble with special relativity, but it’s confirmed every day routinely in particle accelerators and cosmic rays—how about ‘There are no privileged frames of reference’? Or even ‘Thou shalt not travel faster than light.’ Anything they couldn’t possible have known three thousand years ago.”

     “Any others?” Joss asked.

     “Well, there’s an indefinite number of them—or at least one for every principle of physics. Let’s see . . . ‘Heat and light hide in the smallest pebble.’ Or even ‘The way of the Earth is as two, but the way of the lodestone is as three.’ I’m trying to suggest that the gravitational force follows an inverse square law, while the magnetic dipole force follows an inverse cube law. Or in biology”—she nodded toward der Heer, who seemed to have taken a vow of silence—“how about ‘Two strands entwined is the secret of life’?”

  • AnonymousSam

    I’ll agree that I’m not fond of how the Bible, the Torah and the Qur’an have varying amounts of open-endedness to some stories, very clear admonishments to do things which are clearly harmful to society, and then very good stories and moral advice on top of that. That kind of dualism, I’ll agree, I do believe to be harmful to people.

    I think it’s that dualism that’s a greater harm than the faith itself, or even what the faith is in. Take a look at 1 John 4:7-21. It has some parts I quibble at (and some of the translations change things in ways that make me want to strangle people, such as changing “love their brother and sister” to “love their Christian brother and sister,” which changes the meaning entirely in a way which is exclusionary), but imagine if the entire Bible were like this. Imagine if it looked like something a bunch of people drafted in the 1960’s.

    I think I’d be 100% fine with people believing in a mythical hippie who made water into wine and turned weeds into weed, who preached love for all and the end of all war. Woodstock was kind of a sweet haze anyway, right? No one can really say whether or not that long-haired dude was really there or not, but man, I heard he said some groovy things. If you wanna say you believe in him, man, that’s cool. I don’t, but it makes for a pretty nice story I might tell my kids anyway. Hey, pass that over, man.

    Some religion is actually like this. Some beliefs that aren’t quite religion are like this too — Taoism has things I quibble at, but is generally awesome in awesome ways. It’s just that Christianity has a way of making people forget that other religions exist by being the loudest and most obnoxious, and we generally have right-wing conservatives to thank for that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The way you say that implies you think you’ve caught me in a contradiction; perhaps you think that in the bit you quote I was saying that all conversion attempts are bad, without catching the implication, made explicit in the bit you think contradicts this, that making conversion attempts is not bad if the potential convertee is, and has made clear in so many words that they are, not sure that the belief system they currently subscribe to is true, or right for them, or what have you.

  • EllieMurasaki

    That’s it exactly, thank you.

  • I’m just trying to reconcile your assertion that people would be “happier” if they believed certain things with your assertion that we should never “try to take anybody’s faith away.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    I imagine you have a belief, or perhaps a possession, that you’d be better off without, but any attempt to remove it from you is an occurrence you would not welcome. You’d have to be willing to give it up, and if you weren’t, someone trying to take it away would hurt you in the trying if not in the success. And if you did come round to the conclusion that you were worse off with this thing, I imagine you’d delight in a third alternative, something that would allow you to keep the aspects that you find value in and be rid of the aspects that hurt you.

    Huck, immediately before the famous line, believes he has only two choices. Doom Jim or doom himself. I have little doubt that he would welcome a third choice were one presented, provided the third choice wasn’t ‘doom both’. I recall no indication that he’d prefer believing in some non-Christian god or in no god at all to believing in a Christian God that didn’t consider slavery good. Let him keep his faith, but make it clear that his faith doesn’t require hurting Jim or himself.

  • And history is chock full of people saying “Man, I really don’;t want to do this indefensible thing, but shucks, faith. Oh well, kill the infidels,” I suppose?

    Or “Man, thank God we’ve got religion to justify this terrible action, or else we wouldn’t be able to go invade that country and take their land and gold!”  THat happens all the time.

  • Joe Bleau


    And history is chock full of people saying “Man, I really don’;t want to
    do this indefensible thing, but shucks, faith. Oh well, kill the
    infidels,” I suppose?

    I assume that you’ve seen this?

    No, it’s not “kill the infidels”, but it’s pretty heart-wrenching nonetheless. And not just from the perspective of the son; do you suppose that the Father wanted his relationship with his Son to turn out that way?

    It doesn’t seem terribly controversial to assume that in the long and storied history of infidel-killing, there have been more than a few perpetrators and enables who were brutally conflicted between their moral intuition and what they believed their faith required them to do, and they chose Faith. Likewise, it seems inarguable that many truly bad people have found a certain comfort in the fact that their “Faith” gave them cover to do all manner of bad things that they were just itching to do anyway.

    That’s not to say that this is some sort of conclusive evidence for the “harmfulness of Faith”, whatever that is taken to mean. I do  think, though, that there is a cogent argument to be made that people with a particularly authoritarian mindset can find a lot of comfort and cover in the sacred texts of the major Abrahamic religions, if they are so inclined (and many of them are). And history is indeed chock full of examples where this particular mindset has led to incalculable suffering.

  • arcseconds

    But Fred’s strong suit has never been atheism.  It’s very clear from his posts that he does not understand why
    some atheists take on literal interpretations of Bible stories.  To
    him, it means they are embracing creationists and preparing to turn in
    their “I support the scientific method” cards. 

    I somehow doubt he thinks Internet Atheism is really a likely route to Creationism via their shared literalism (*).  I think that’s a bit of rhetorical excess to highlight the similarity of both groups’ take on the Bible.  (I don’t really like the line he’s taking here myself — if I was his editor I’d be encouraging him to take it out.  but I don’t think we need to take it as his actual opinion. )

    I also don’t think it’s clear he doesn’t understand why atheists take literal interpretations.   Whatever their reasons, it doesn’t invalidate the general point: by insisting that a literal reading is the only valid reading, they are agreeing with creationists and refusing to engage in any kind of dialogue with other Christians (again, much as creationists often do).

    As to why some atheists take a literal view of the Bible, I’ve always assumed it was due to a combination of the following:

    — complete lack of hermeneutical sophistication in mainstream Western society, so the idea that there’s any attitude towards texts apart from ‘it’s fact’ and ‘it’s fiction’ just isn’t on the table as an option
    — ignorance (cf. Tonio’s remark)
    — previous experience of other people taking a literal reading
    — hubris
    — high profile of Biblical literalism due to a lazy media and loud Biblical literalists
    — lack of motivation to think very hard about how to understand the Bible
    — an easy target

    Not that all atheists insist on a literal reading, of course, or that those that do do so for all of the reasons above.

    But maybe I’ve missed something?

    (*) not that it couldn’t happen. atheists are atheists for all sorts of reasons, just like any other position on any topic that people regard as important, and i’ve known too many odd conversions to think that there’ couldn’t be someone who found net benefit in converting from atheism to fundamental christianity via literalism.  but I expect it’s not common.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It would be *nice* if Fred Clark’s vision of Christianity were the norm among Christians. Unfortunately he seems to be a member of a tiny minority. The majority of Christians, in the USA anyway, are Young Earth Creationists, homophobes, and would be theocrats.

    OK, now several people have included the caveat that the generalisations they are about to make about Christianity are based on the US, then happily go on as if that is of little consequence.

    Deird, where are you? It’s time for our song.

  • Guest

    The term “Fundamentalist Atheist” has been used, as in the statement “There are two categories of people who believe that the Bible should be read literally – Fundamentalist Christians and Fundamentalist Atheists”.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    My issue has been how this whole blog post and most of the comments assume it is a uniquely atheistic form of trolling

    On the contrary, I read the blog post and many of the comments as assuming exactly not that. It’s just that being a dickhead is not uniquely Christian, either.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Moses didn’t write Genesis, period. He died centuries before it was written. And was born way after it was supposed to have happened.

    And was quite possibly not an actual guy.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    In the old days of the old Slacktivist, about now someone would drag out that quote from St. Augustine (354-430 AD), warning the more literal-minded of his co-religionists not to talk nonsense about the the physical world and claim to be basing it on the Bible, because they made themselves ridiculous and brought the faith into disrepute. Guess not much has changed since the fifth century.

    This one?

    One does not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: “I will send you the Paraclete who will teach you about the course of the sun and moon.” For He willed to make them Christians, not mathematicians.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Ok, I have been lurking here for years. Fred actually gave me the hope that some people can be christian without being all-out asshats. And now we go on a strawman-burning-spree regarding some “internet atheist” mind construct. Nice one. At least I know where we stand now.

    OK,  if you’ve been lurking here for years you’d be familiar with J, Helena and Dea_Syria, right? They continuously act like arseholes towards Fred in the name of atheism. They shit most of us to tears, atheists and theists alike. That’s the type of person Fred is talking about. He is very clearly not tarring all atheists with the same brush, just expressing frustration at arseholish behaviour that does actually exist. For this you have decided that he is an “all-out asshat”? Your post seems to imply that you may now categorise all Christians as “all-out asshats” too. May I return your “nice one” with one of my own.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I think he’s mistaken in arguing that IAs are one step away from treating the Hams as authorities on evolution.

    I’ve read about 5 different people say this so I had to go back and reread what Fred wrote several times.

    He said “one step closer to”. Disagree with that all you like, but it has a completely different meaning to “one step away from”.

  •  I remember a recent 10 year anniversary of some harm done by faith.

  •  So when Fred draws the lines: “The two of us against Ken Ham” that’s fine, but when I say “No, you belong with him” I’m using childish thinking?

    Sorry, that is not going to fly.

  • Do you honestly believe that in a world without religious faith there would be any creationism problem?

    Where would it come from?

  •  What harm has faith done? Are you serious? Ok, let’s start with faith healing deaths, then move onto the suicides of gay teens who are bullied for not praying themselves straight, let’s detour around planes flying into sky scrapers and peer back to the crusades, then let’s look at modern day children being killed as witches. Let’s look at the opponents of assisted dying, and same sex marriage and as what they have in common.

    Faith is believing without a reason. If you cannot see why that is dangerous in itself re-read the story of Abraham and Isaac and ask yourself why it is good to be willing to sacrifice your own child.

  • Faith is harmful. It is believing things with no reality check. Losing my faith was the best thing that ever happened to me.

  • Amaryllis

     Is there no difference between “there are several ways within the framework of your faith to think about this particular topic” and “your entire faith, and maybe your entire understanding of yourself and your universe, is wrong, stupid, always harmful and should never exist”?

  • Amaryllis

    That one, but also this part:


    Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth,
    the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the
    motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative
    positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the
    cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals,
    shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as
    being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a
    disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a
    Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture,
    talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to
    prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up
    vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is
    not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that
    people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers
    held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose
    salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and
    rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a
    field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his
    foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe
    those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead,
    the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they
    think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they
    themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?
    Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold
    trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in
    one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by
    those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For
    then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue
    statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof
    and even recite from memory many passages which they think support
    their position, although they understand neither what they say
    nor the things about which they make assertion.

    Whether or not you agree with Augustine about the necessity of “salvation,” or whether one should believe the Bible about “the kingdom of heaven,” he’s quite clear that the point of the Bible is not to teach science.

  • Indeed. So far I’ve been biting my tongue because at least there are caveats, but it’s still getting ridiculous…

  • Faith is believing without a reason. … It is believing things with no reality check.

    Please – do explain to me how I believe my faith without having reason to do so. And how I have no reality checks.

    It’d be quite difficult for you to do so accurately, though…

  • Amaryllis


    But imagine that your kind of god—omnipotent, omniscient,
    compassionate—really wanted to leave a record for future generations, to
    make his existence unmistakable to, say, the remote descendants of
    Moses. It’s easy, trivial. Just a few enigmatic phrases, and some fierce
    commandment that they be passed on unchanged

    And unchanged, and meaning exactly the same thing, regardless of language and translation issues over thousands of years?

    To steal a line from one of the Anne books, humanity would have to be made over again and made different before that was even remotely possible.

    Also, I could interpret all of those examples in ways poetical and metaphorical which would not equate to the scientific principles that they are said to encode.

    That also assumes that the authors of the Bible would have wanted to prove access to scientific knowledge– a concept that didn’t exactly exist when any of the books of the Bible were written (although “natural history” was a thing). See again about the uses of Scripture.

    It also assumes that the God cares more about convincing modern skeptics in a particular cultural than about the entire rest of humanity. And that God dictated the Bible as if he were dictating to a stenographer or a dictaphone. That’s another fundamentalist idea, not in line with the way most Christians understand “inspired Scripture.”

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Ah, I see. Also good, but not as pithy.

  •  If you have a reason to believe something you do not need faith. Faith is the excuse for not having a reason.

  • Here’s somewhere I think we can agree. There is no reason to suspect that Ken Ham’s thinking is muddy and wrongheaded on science and sharp and incisive on the bible.

  • Tonio

    What’s the practical distinction between the two? One might sound more like a slippery slope argument, but both suggest similarity.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    There’s a world of difference to my ears. To be one step closer to something means that you’ve started to head in a particular direction, but that’s nowhere near as bad (or good) as being one step away, which means you’re practically there.

    When I head out the front door in the morning I’m one step closer to running a marathon, but that’s not at all like being one step away from finishing one.

  • I don’t really like the line he’s taking here myself — if I was his editor I’d be encouraging him to take it out. but I don’t think we need to take it as his actual opinion.

    You mean we shouldn’t take Fred literally when he tells us not to take the Bible literally?  ;)

    I think a big part of what Fred’s missing is that we don’t argue about the literal meaning of Bible stories because we actually believe them.  We’re arguing about them because they affect our lives in very real ways.  It’s not because they are “easy targets,” but because they are important targets.

    We were discussing the Noah’s ark story a few posts back.  That story has always disturbed me, and that’s whether it’s meant as allegory or history.  Either way, disturbing story.  And this isn’t something that a few people casually have decided to take as fact but hey, faith is such a wonderful thing and who would want to do something mean like rob someone of beautiful faith, right?  These are many of the people who want to take science out of science class, think evolution is an evil hoax, and think that in addition to good history, the story of Noah is also a warning that the world will be coming to an end in the near future.

    So it’s actually pretty important that we engage with the story in ways that include a strict literal reading, because that is what other people are doing, too.  Hell, I am reading right now a Tim LaHaye novel in which he argues precisely what I’ve outlined above.  And, just as with the Left Behind series, it’s not because he just thinks it’s interesting material.  It’s because he actually does think that the ark is a real boat that people can see and touch. 

    Of course we understand that there are multiple ways to interpret the Bible.  But many of us like to focus our energies on the especially harmful ones.

  • Tonio

    Also, Fred uses other slippery slope terms here, like “you’re well on your way” and “you’re all set to believe.” His premise seems to be that people like Ham are merely crackpots, the Lyndon LaRouches of religion. YEC is a crackpot idea, but many people who believe in it are more sensible in other areas of their lives. Fred might as well argued that IAs are one step closer to treating YECs as authorities in car maintenance or Civil War history or assembly language. The IAs aren’t even treating them as authorities on how one should interpret scripture.