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.]

INTERNET ATHEIST: Does too.

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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