The phrase “con artist” developed from the phrase “confidence man” which later became shortened to “con man.” The original focus in the term “con” was not on the swindling of the victim per se, therefore, but on the means of doing so: gaining the victim’s confidence, often through the perpetrator speaking with confidence and in other ways acting to gain the person’s trust, even though trust placed in them would be misplaced.
This was the first thing that came to mind when I read Ken Ham’s blog post from June 12th, which bears the title “An Uncertain Sound.” Ham emphasizes that it looks bad when Christians do not agree or do not speak with confidence about a matter – even one that is in fact in the purview of science, not theology or Biblical studies, such as the age of the earth. When this is contrasted with the confidence of scientists, he says, Christians end up looking like they do not know what they are talking about.
Unfortunately, many Christians do indeed not know what they are talking about, or are deliberately saying things that are untrue about these topics. And Ken Ham is among the most infamous perpetrators. Even when he describes those who embrace the evidence from mainstream science as adopting “compromise positions” that “try to accommodate what the secularists believe about origins” he is misrepresenting things. Let me explain just a few of the very many reasons why.
Ken Ham’s own position can be viewed as a compromise position. He and his organization do not view the moon as a source of light, but accept that it reflects light from the sun. Jon Henry recently posted a (satirical) explanation of why the truly Biblical stance is that the moon is a source of light and not a mere reflector of light. The satire is intended to make a point – there are a great many subjects about which science has shown Biblical language to be imprecise or wrong when understood literally. On the vast majority of those subjects, people like Ken Ham who emphasize the need to not allow science to undermine the literal truth of the Bible have already abandoned the literal truth of the Bible.
So why accept other science but not evolution or geology? The only answer I can think of is because there are still people who understand evolution and the evidence supporting it sufficiently poorly as to be willing to give money to organizations like Ham’s in order to oppose it. But there are other Christians who would go further, and deny physics as well as evolution.
But as if that is not enough, he wants others to be like him. His post is about the importance not of being accurate, or of being precisely nuanced, but of sounding confident when agreeing with Ham’s position.
One of Ham’s associates tried such a confidence trick at Butler University, where I teach. Terry Mortensen made confident assertions about the meaning of a word in the Biblical text. It turned out that he could not do what even someone who had a semester of one of the languages a decade earlier was able to do when I told them the story: recognize which of the Biblical languages they were hearing. As a Biblical scholar, I will be the first to acknowledge that, not least because of different pronunciations, it can indeed be difficult to understand Biblical texts aurally that one would have no problem understanding if reading them.
But if you can’t even recognize the language, then you do not know the language.
Terry Mortensen is a confidence man, like Ken Ham. He was trying to get the students at my university to believe him, so that they would have confidence in what he says rather than what other people say who actually know something about the Biblical text or the relevant scientific data.
If you follow Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, you’ve fallen for a confidence trick. I recommend finding Christians who actually know something about evolution and about the Bible, and listening to them instead. They may not speak with as much bravado – often the evidence is not clear cut, and often being accurate involves nuance rather than short, confident sound bites. But ultimately, it is crucial for more Christians than currently do to realize that they cannot afford to give their confidence away too easily, to people who speak to them with confidence and the sort of enthusiasm that might get you saying “amen” before you’ve really examined the matter.
Be on your guard. Don’t join Ken Ham and become a con artist yourself. Instead, learn how to evaluate claims people make to you confidently, and how to see through their deceptions.