Their Old Kentucky Home: Ken Ham, Al Mohler and Big Bone Lick

Ken Ham is not treated as a respected scholar by “mainstream” evangelicals. He’s viewed as a fringe character who’s mainly interested in selling a product.

Al Mohler, on the other hand, is regarded as a respected academic and scholar — a seminary president! — and someone that serious people must regard with seriousness.

The two men live and work about 100 miles apart in Kentucky, but when it comes to young-Earth creationism, there’s no space between them at all. It’s odd that science-aversion, reality-denial and wacky exegesis makes Ken Ham a comic figure, while the very same science-aversion, reality-denial and wacky exegesis is hailed as evidence of Al Mohler’s pious devotion to the “authority of the scriptures.”

Young-Earth creationism isn’t plausible anywhere, but it’s a particularly hard sell where these guys live. Kentucky isn’t just home to the Creation Museum and to the Mohlerized Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, it’s also home to places like Big Bone Lick State Park, sometimes called the birthplace of American paleontology. That where we found things like this:

This is older than 7,000 years.

Big Bone Lick — just 82 miles from Al Mohler’s office and less than 20 miles from Ken Ham’s museum — is the final resting place of an extraordinary number of well-preserved Pleistocene megafauna. These were the huge animals that lumbered across North America from about 2.5 million years ago until the last of them went extinct about 12,000 years ago. Mastodons, mammoths and giant sloths lived in Kentucky for millions of years, then died out thousands of years before young-Earth creationists say the universe was created.

Kentucky’s official state fossil — that’s a thing, apparently — is the brachiopod. Those are tiny little sea creatures whose fossil remains can be found all over Kentucky because way, way back — 550 to 250 million years ago — what’s now Kentucky was the bottom of a warm, shallow sea something like the Gulf of Mexico. That also explains why miner Jay Wright found the ferocious jawbone of a prehistoric shark in the ceiling of a Kentucky coal mine. It’s about 300 million years old. That means it was swimming around Kentucky about 300 million years prior to when Ken Ham and Al Mohler say God created the heavens and the Earth. (Well, you know, 300 million minus 6,000 years older, but once you get back to 300 million years ago, 6,000 years seems more like a rounding error.)

Kentucky is also home to things like the Kentucky River Palisades — a series of gorges and limestone cliffs lining the river for about 100 miles or so. They’re really something to see, both for their stunning natural beauty and for the way they vividly illustrate Kentucky’s very long and layered geologic history. The clearly visible layers of sedimentary rock are like a giant billboard advertising how vastly ancient the region truly is.

All of these things account for the difference in reputation between Ken Ham and Al Mohler.

Ham is seen as ridiculous because he has, very publicly, attempted to account for all of these things. The megafauna remains in Big Bone Lick, Ken Ham says, were creatures killed in Noah’s flood in 2348 B.C. And what about all those brachiopod fossils that scientists insist are hundreds of millions of years old? Those are all from Noah’s flood in 2348 too, Ham says. And the 300-million-year-old shark remains? Noah’s flood. And the sedimentary layers of the Kentucky River Palisades? Noah’s flood. 2348 B.C.

This is just goofy. Ham’s repeated appeals to the magical effects of Noah’s magical flood are part of why he’s an object of scorn and ridicule. He tries to play the martyr — claiming that his critics are just impious god-haters who don’t believe in the Bible. But the problem with this flood nonsense isn’t primarily that he believes the story of Noah is historical. The problem with Ken Ham’s flood nonsense is that floods do not work this way.

Ham’s attempts to reconcile his theory of a 6,000-year-old universe with the exuberantly ancient world that surrounds him fail utterly. When he clings to those failures, then, he comes across not just as ignorant, but as stubbornly ignorant and proud of it. That makes him a punchline.

Mohler has avoided becoming a similar punchline by expediently not attempting to reconcile his theory of a 6,000-year-old universe with the obviously ancient world that surrounds him. That seems unfair — unfair to Ken Ham, I mean.

Sure, Ham may be a spectacular failure at it, but unlike Mohler, he’s at least tried to defend their indefensible theory of a young universe. Mohler doesn’t even bother trying. He just keeps repeating his insistence that you’re in jeopardy of Hell if you don’t reject reality in favor of demonstrably false ideas.

If the Earth is only 6,000 years old, then how does Mohler explain the far older remains found 80 miles from his office at Big Bone Lick? That’s simple, Mohler says. If you don’t believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old, then you don’t really believe in the Bible or in the God of the Bible, and therefore you’re probably going to Hell. But those bones are from the Pleistocene, which ended long before 6,000 years ago — is Mohler suggesting that we just pretend those bones and all the other evidence for the Pleistocene don’t exist? No, he says. He’s simply suggesting that Heaven is far nicer than Hell, so let’s just please stop talking about those old bones. But what about the brachiopod fossils scattered all over Mohler’s home state of Kentucky? We have to choose, he says. We have to choose between learning anything about those fossils and not going to Hell. What about the ancient history written into the very rocks of the Kentucky River Palisades? The rocks are lying. Don’t listen to them or else, you know … Hell.

Where Ken Ham offers ridiculous evidence and a ridiculous argument, Mohler doesn’t bother offering any evidence or argument at all. But I’m not sure how that makes him any less ridiculous.

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  • Aeryl

    All our awesome people are dead, except for me and Wendell Berry. :^D

  • Launcifer

    Yeah, it probably sounds less snigger-inducing in the original Klingon, where it means “pre-historic ice lolly” or something similar. Someone just went and translated it literally instead of thematically.

  • Cuniraya, Antichrist

    I was just having a discussion with a friend about approaches to teaching evolution at the college level. She had someone freak out in the middle of lecture and say everyone is going to hell for mocking god. When I got to evolution, I decided to get ahead of the problem by telling the students that if they disagreed with it to treat it like a bad piece of fiction like say, Jane Eyre. I then proceeded to go on a 5 minute rant about why I hate the book. No problems after that.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    How about Fantasy and Science Fiction?

  • Loki1001

    I am reminded of the, frankly rediculous claim, that the speed of light has been slowing down.

  • Loki1001

    My favorite bit from that section was about how Uranus’s unique axis and lack of internal heat were not fascinating mysteries to be solved, but rather God Did It, The End.

  • GDwarf

    I thought the claim was that it was speeding up. Regardless, it’s plenty ridiculous.

  • eamonknight

    I was going to say, No a lot of F&SF is worth reading. Then I realized the LB series plausibly belongs there….
    (And of course: Anne McAffrey, Piers Anthony, and not a few other execrable oeuvres….)

  • Loki1001

    I’m reasonably certain both claims have been made, depending upon what the light is supposed to do to prove it only existed 6,000 years ago.

  • P J Evans

    I thought that c had been redefined as a constant to avoid stuff like that.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    One attempt suggested some kind of sine wave so it sped up then slowed down then came back to where it is today.

    How convenient.

  • Loki1001

    C has always been constant. If c wasn’t constant, from my (admittedly limited) knowledge of physics the entire universe would poof into nothingness.

    But if c is constant, than the universe is billions of years old. And, since the universe can only by 6,000 years old, c much not be constant.

  • Persia

    Having said that, the climate qualified as ‘hellish’ to my pathetic Northern bones.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Oh, I love (some) F&SF myself. But seriously, where else could you put it?

    Then again, maybe what we really need is a category for “Idiotic F&SF”, or “Books That Will Melt Your Brain” – it could hold AiG, and some of the weirder psychology books* and some of the Faux News-style political books…

    * Has anyone ever read “Modern Woman: The Lost Sex”? I stumbled across it in my college library long ago. Awesome in a very bad way.

  • Loki1001

    A quick trip to Conservapedia to sort out this problem reveals this, “…others estimate the size of the entire universe to be as narrow as only 12,000 light years across.”

  • Raymond

    Hey! Hey! *I’m* from Kentucky and I’m awesome…er…ish…

  • Daniel

    Bad SF could be renamed Science Fishion, because I like puns and it nicely identifies works that come under Sturgeon’s Law. Mostly it’s because I like puns, though.

    Also I like Sci Fi and tend to give it a lot more leeway than other genres in regards to how bad it can be before I give up on it.

  • $7768756

    Oh, the best was their justification for the changing speed of light.

    Because, you see, over the past 400 years, observations of the speed of light have changed!

    Never mind that that Newton’s best estimate for the speed of sound was ‘faster than sound’ (later refined by Lavousier to the ever so much more elegant- ‘like, really fucking fast, dude.”)

  • AnonymousSam

    Thinking it? I’m not ruling out time travel because I’m pretty sure this is just the sort of thing I’d do if I ever got access to the TARDIS.

  • $7768756

    I really have to say- given what we know about the humor of well, early Kentucky explorers, I’d wager good money it was deliberate. (Yes. “Bone” has meant exactly that for at least that long. Given that it’s a pretty obvious metaphor, its not surprising.)

  • $7768756

    As with most classification systems, though, all the fun and fighting will come with the boundary cases.

    Where do we put Heinlein? Uh huh- what about “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”/”Number of the Beast”?

  • $7768756

    It’s all right- we yankees get our revenge in the winter, when it’s 50 degrees and we’re wearing t-shirts and they’re wearing parkas.

    (Sneering about how no wonder the Confederacy lost if they can’t even take a little air conditioning is declasse- so of course I do it all the time.

  • Launcifer

    You’d think that even God Did It would prompt the question why, wouldn’t you?

    Well, assuming the answer was more interesting than “because”, obviously.

  • $7768756

    Not to mention that if you try saying that they just go “Oh, well that’s a cop out.” and when you start talking about Maxwell’s laws and inertial reference frames, all they hear is “blah blah atheist god-hate blah”.

  • Andrew G.

    It’s more complex than that. c is a dimensional constant, which means it can be any value you like (theoretical physicists almost always choose the value 1, for convenience), it’s just a matter of units of measurement.

    For the value of c to change in a way that would have an actual effect on the universe, rather than just changing the size of the units by which we choose to measure the universe, one of the dimensionless constants (specifically the fine-structure constant) would have to change. Fortunately, we can measure this: in the lab (which tells us that it isn’t changing now, to very high accuracies); by observation of terrestrial events such as the fossil nuclear reactor at Oklo, active 2 billion years ago, which tells us that the value then was the same as now, to within measurement accuracy; and we can measure it in the spectra of distant galaxies (which suggests that it may have been slightly different 13 billion years ago – but the results are not conclusive).

  • Vermic

    I offer this without comment, but Wikipedia says that Big Bone Lick is “located between the communities of Beaverlick and Rabbit Hash”.

  • themunck

    For perspective, our galaxy is 100,000 light years, side to side. It bulges in the middle, 16,000 light years thick, but out by us it’s just 3000 lightyears wide. We’re 35,000 light years from galatic central point, we go around every 200 million years. And our galaxy is only one millions of billions in this amazing and expanding universe.
    …yes, after the first line I started singing the Monty Python song and just couldn’t stop.

  • Loki1001

    Yeah. I was stunned when I read that. I’ve read a lot of crazy in my life, but I did not think they actually would try to claim the universe was that small…

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Or, maybe, Science Fission. It’ll make your head explode.

  • Caddy Compson

    I was totally sitting here thinking, “But Wendell Berry! And bell hooks!”

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Number of the Beast? In the trash, of course.

    I have a soft spot for Heinlein because Citizen of the Galaxy was the first science fiction I ever read. But I have to admit, when he let his politics and social notions out for a walk, he could come up with some embarrassing stuff (*cough* Farnham’s Freehold *cough*)

  • $7768756

    I have a soft spot for Number of the Beast, myself. It’s so……bad. SOOOOO BAD.


    So bad it’s charming and oddly lovable. It’s like the terrible fanfic I have a soft spot for, but professionally written and edited.

    Although when they get to Lazarus Long it’s all *thhhhhhpppppttttt* from there on out.

  • Melissia

    “But seriously, where else could you put it?”

    Put it under politics.

  • Random_Lurker

    Coould be worse. You could be Texan, and constantly have to read “With apologies to the handful of sane Texans out there…”

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Lazarus Long. Always thhhhppppffffftt.

  • Lliira

    I’d have walked out in the middle of your rant about Jane Eyre.