Ken Ham and the Young Earth Creationist Fear of Uncertainty

Ken Ham and the Young Earth Creationist Fear of Uncertainty August 5, 2020

The young earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis never fails to disappoint:

How old is the universe? Well, we can know for sure, but I’ll get to that in a moment. But from a secular standpoint, the answer to that question depends on which study you read—because they can’t agree!

Is this supposed to be some sort of gotcha?

The article, penned by Answers in Genesis founder and CEO Ken Ham, continues as follows:

One study, of which the popular summary was published July 15, 2020, claims the universe is 13.8 billion years old. They based this age on “the best image of the infant universe.” So they used what they call the “oldest light” to determine the age of the universe—and they’re confident it’s 13.8 billion years old.

But two weeks later, the popular summary of another study was published. It claims the universe is 1.2 billion years younger than that—“only” 12.6 billion years old. This younger age that the popular summary published was based on what the paper said about the expansion rate of the universe and light from distant galaxies.

So which is it? 13.8 billion years or 12.6 billion years? That’s just a difference of a “mere” 1.2 billion years, after all, but why such conflicting results?

Why are there conflicting results? Maybe because that’s how science works? No one was actually there—something Ham loves to point out himself—so scientists have to use what data we do have to make educated guesses. It’s unsurprising that different methods of estimating would yield slightly different results. Again, this is how science works. Scientists rarely deal in absolute certainty.

Consider a forensic scientist concussing that a murder happened between 18 and 24 hours ago. It would be completely absurd to ask: “Well, which is it, 18 hours or 24 hours?” Science is often about using what evidence we have to get as close as possible to answering questions we can’t answer exactly. And that’s not a failure! In fact, I would be concerned if scientists weren’t willing to accept some uncertainty and reopen conversations even about dates once thought settled.

Ham’s response makes clear how much he and others at young earth creationist organizations like Answers in Genesis crave certainty. Remember: they insist that they know the age of the earth down to the year. They claim to have absolutely certainty! Certainty they refuse to even consider questioning. What they miss is that science was never about certainty.

The Science Council defines science as:

Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

Science is an ongoing pursuit of knowledge and understanding, not some sort of settled endpoint. Young earth creationists, in contrast, claim a settled starting point.

Ham explains as follows:

The correct starting point for our thinking isn’t billions of years. That’s a belief imposed on the observable evidence, such as the cosmic microwave background and light from distant galaxies. Because the models of these researchers have the wrong starting point (i.e., wrong assumptions), they’re drawing wrong interpretations and conclusions from the evidence.

This is bullshit, as Ham would know if he’d actually taken the time to read the studies he pointed to. To estimate the age of the universe, scientists measure how quickly galaxies are moving apart and extrapolate backwards, for example. Or they measure light, or radiation, and do the same thing—I’m no expert because I’m not a cosmologist. But the idea that these scientists start with billions of years is utter nonsense. And it’s probably projection, because that is exactly what Ham does.

Ham uses the Bible to determine the exact age of the earth as his starting point, without ever once looking at any scientific evidence:

But we can know the age of the earth and universe because Scripture gives us the information we need to determine how old earth and the universe are. Genesis chapter 1 tells us God created everything in six days (Exodus 20:11 reaffirms this), so we know earth and the universe are roughly the same age. Then Genesis chapters 5 and 11 give us detailed chronologies that, when added together, give us approximately 2,000 years from Adam to Abraham. We know Abraham lived about 2,000 years before Christ, and Christ is 2,000 years before us—that’s approximately 6,000 years for the earth and universe.

Yeah. Exactly. Exactly like that. Except that that’s not science. It’s mythology. If you want to believe myth, that’s fine. But don’t claim that what you’re doing is science.

I don’t understand Ham’s desire for absolute certainty, or his unwillingness to accept uncertainty. Perhaps it has something to do with his personality type—or with his belief system. Evangelical Christians like Ham claim to follow an all-knowing, all-powerful God—and they claim to be guided by a scripture that is exactly true and accurate in every respect. To a certain extent, evangelicals are used to trafficking in certainty. It’s their starting point. It’s the opposite of science.

The problem is that Ham wants to critique science from his anti-science standpoint, and then disingenuously claim that what he’s doing is science. It’s not. It’s not at all.

I used to be an evangelical Christian and a young earth creationist myself. But then, my undoing was that I actually believed Ham’s claims to be doing science. I wasn’t afraid to look at actual evidence, actual studies, actual science, because I believed his claims that our mythology was scientifically reliable. Because that is his claim—that the evidence actually supports young earth creationism, and that the only reason anyone claims otherwise is a desire to disprove the existence of God.

Unafraid, fully believing we were in the right, I looked at the scientific evidence, and everything I’d heard at Answers in Genesis conferences fell apart. But then, maybe I was able to do this—to look with an open mind—because I was, unbeknownst to me, comfortable with uncertainty.

Ken Ham certainly isn’t. He thinks uncertainty is weakness, or proof of falsity. He’s wrong.

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