Ken Ham Reads the Bible Like an Atheist (and he’s proud of it!)

Ken Ham Reads the Bible Like an Atheist (and he’s proud of it!) August 12, 2012

Richard Mason Williams Jr. drew the following quote from Ken Ham’s Facebook page to my attention:

I spoke to a couple of guys last night who claimed they were atheists (although there are no true atheists). One of them said he totally agreed that Christians need to believe a literal Genesis if they are to believe the rest of the Bible. I often find the skeptics understand how foundational the book of Genesis is Christianity more than many Christian leaders!

Richard added a comment, which I wanted to share part of because it seemed to me really insightful:

It is curious to me that KH reads the Bible the same way that atheists do and agrees with their ideas more often “than many Christian leaders” do. Perhaps that says both atheists and KH have similar hermeneutical principles, that KH reads the Bible with these ideas and sees truth and the atheist sees falsity, but both read it the same way, only their conclusions differ. What is even more curious is that he believes this is a good thing.

Ham reads the Bible the same way that atheists do, the same way that leads more and more people to atheism, but he has no qualms about doing so. Quite the contrary! He prefers to reject the conclusions of the Christian (and other) Biblical scholars who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible, and opts for an approach that leads many to atheism.

Someone remind me again why there is in some Christian circles the belief that this man represents Christianity, and does so more faithfully than others? Does that not show how possible it is for Christians to be misled and yet to take pride that they are following the true path even so? How has he managed to deceive so many people?

Let me end on a lighter note. In the same post on his Facebook page, Ham linked to a web page for the Belfast Skeptics, which included an image from Ham’s organization, Answers in Genesis:

I know that the message of such propaganda is supposed to be that young-earth creationists and everyone else looks at the same evidence, and it is just that one chooses God’s Word as the lens while the other chooses mere human theories. That is of course bogus, both because dedicated Christians who work in Biblical studies or the natural sciences regularly draw the same conclusions based on the same evidence as other scholars and scientists, because the evidence itself points clearly in one direction. And the lens of young-earth creationism is in fact one that twists the Bible to fit its needs.

But putting that to one side, my first thought when seeing the image, and in particular the man on the right, was that its message is this: in order to draw young-earth creationist conclusions, it is not enough to be looking at dinosaurs through the lens of the Bible. You have to be Ray Comfort looking at dinosaurs through the lens of the Bible.

See also Dan Phelps’ post “Behind the Scenes at the Creation Museum” at The Panda’s Thumb.


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  • John W. Morehead

    This is a tremendous insight. I’ve often noted in many ways that atheists, including the New Atheists, read the Bible in ways similar to many Protesant fundamentalists and evangelicals, with atheists using the reading to discredit it, and fundamentalists and evangelicals locked into a problematic defense of such a hermeneutic. In the meantime, legitimate alternative hermeneutics and readings are either ignored or rejected by each group.

  • Pete Migdale

    I see the problem. Ken and the atheists see what is actually written.
    Apologists, such as the author of this article, see what they would have liked to see written.
    Looks like Ken and the atheists are the ones being realistic about the bible.
    Together they illustrate the bibles’ absurdity.

    • I am not an apologist, other than for critical thinking and using the best scholarly and scientific tools we have to address questions. What Ken Ham and the atheists he cites have in common is a reading of the text in English with no attention to cultural or historical context. Not all atheists do what Ham says. Some actually do pay attention to scholarship. Those who do know that Ham is lying when he says he takes the Bible’s creation accounts literally. He doesn’t believe that there is a dome over the earth with the celestial bodies set into it. But the author of Genesis clearly did.

      • Pete Migdale

        So what are you saying, pick and choose from the bible?
        Keep the bits you like ,ignore the bits you don’t.
        Sounds like an apologist to me.

        • I’m sorry, have you perhaps mistaken me for someone else? What you have written so far sounds like it is addressed to someone whose views are radically different than my own, leaving me unsure how to respond without compounding the confusion.

          On picking and choosing, what I would say is that Ken Ham does so, and should stop pretending that he does not. But I don’t think that is what you were getting at. Perhaps you could clarify?

          • abb3w

            It looks to be a crude attempt to provoke an explanation of what basis you use to pick parts of the Bible to believe (such as the redemption of sin via the death on the cross by Jesus) versus to reject (such as that there is a dome over the earth with the celestial bodies set into it), such that the Bible is taken as anything more significant than Aesop’s fables, and the existence of God anything more than an artifact of “cultural or historical context” that (like the dome) doesn’t correspond to the real world.

            Or more briefly: if you don’t accept all of it (as Ken pretends too), the question of why you accept any of it becomes less obvious.

          • I would put reason and moral discernment high on the list. I don’t think that there is any basis for Christians claiming that they can, should, or are commanded to sacrifice their intellects or their moral discernment in order to accept what ancient writers had to say on the topic. The Bible itself shows evidence of development in the theology, ethics, and other viewpoints among its authors.

            Beyond that, as a progressive Christian, I’ve found the call to love my enemies and work for justice and show compassion for others in accordance with the Golden Rule personally compelling. And since Jesus himself (if the Gospels are accurate in this regard) taught the prioritizing of love and the subordination of religious laws to the welfare of human beings, I think that doing so can provide a legitimate basis for a liberal Christian’s picking and choosing at least much of the time.

            Here’s one of my previous posts on the topic:

          • abb3w

            Fair enough response to the brief form, although not so much addressing the longer point on Aesop.

            Or, in more the apparent vein of the original, doesn’t that leave Bible redundant to morality, in so far as the actual warrant seems to be from reason and moral discernment’s recognition of morality in (some, but not all) parts of the Bible? Couldn’t other books work as well, or better? Say, for example, the “good parts” edition of the Bible done by Thomas Jefferson? Or (further afield) Aesop’s Fables or “Moby Dick”?

            Or, in re-brief: so, why does that still imply picking “God” as one of the parts that’s accepted?

      • AnimatedCorset

        James F. McGrath wrote, “Those who do know that Ham is lying
        when he says he takes the Bible’s creation accounts literally. He doesn’t
        believe that there is a dome over the earth with the celestial bodies set into

        I think most atheists understand that, when someone like KH claims
        to believes in the creation account “literally”, he is either reading things
        into the biblical narratives to support to his theological worldview, or in the
        example you gave, ignoring uncomfortable ancient Near Eastern traditions.

        A litmus test to demonstrate that atheists (at least, those
        who identify as skeptics and rationalists) do not share the same interpretation
        of scripture that KH does, is to ask them where ‘Satan’ appears in the Eden narrative.
        (Hopefully, most atheists/skeptics will point out that ‘Satan’ is not mentioned
        in the narrative.) This would demonstrate that, at the very least, atheists and
        the likes of KH differ in their methodology when confronting scripture—atheists
        would not bring the same theological baggage that KH would when addressing such

        • AnimatedCorset

          Apologies for the formatting of that post. I’m not sure what
          happened there.

        • I should apologize to all my atheist friends and readers for not using the opportunity of this post to challenge Ham’s generalization about them. There certainly are some atheist who would read the Bible much as Ham does, differing only on dismissing it where Ham accepts it through a leap of blind faith and sacrifice of intellect. But plenty of atheists, and a significant number of Christians for that matter, are aware that there is more – or in some cases less – to these texts than Ham claims.

    • rmwilliamsjr


      see what is actually written

      actually written where?

      Jesus read from a collection of Hebrew and Aramaic scrolls. KH reads from an English Bible that has a specific table of contents and is translated. This is a world apart unless you propose that the canon creators and the translators are as inspired as the writers of those Hebrew scrolls. He reads this English book with a specific set of hermeneutical principles that are formed by 2000 years of history and are part of a specific historical and cultural milieu. what about his reading is “actually written” and interpreted as did those first readers?

      • VorJack

        This is a world apart unless you propose that the canon creators and the translators are as inspired as the writers of those Hebrew scrolls.

        Well, that’s not an uncommon assumption. The Septuagint was supposedly divinely inspired, the Vulgate was considered inspired, and now the KJV as well. Like it or not, believing that your particular translation is inerrant is part of the Jewish and Christian tradition.

  • Out

    And what of the atheists that don’t read scripture that way or don’t read scripture at all? The main claim by theists is that a god exists. An atheist may say “how do you know?” Where the conversation goes from there depends on the particular theist and the particular atheist.

  • arcseconds

    Dammit, Jim, I said the same thing just the other day, and did anyone say my remark was ‘really insightful’ or ‘a tremendous insight’? I only got one ‘like’!

    Whaddaya have to do to get course credit around here? Do I have to say ‘hermeneutical’ more often or something?

    ( :-] )

    • rmwilliamsjr

      there’s credit?

      • Getting course credit usually involves paying tuition to some educational institution, and that is out of my hands. But if you draw something you wrote to my attention and I quote you, I will gladly give you credit in the more mundane sense! 🙂

  • Scriptures say that creation is such a strong testimony of God that even those who have never heard of God can be judged simply because of it. Literal creationism is a blasphemous denial of this testimony – the work of God’s own hands – in favor of human interpretations of scripture. Not only that, but in order to claim Genesis as a history, one must completely ignore the text itself which is clearly not meant to be history. When was the last time you read a history book that rhymed or had meter or used alliteration or wordplay? Or started over partway through? Song of Songs demonstrates clearly that dream-like poetry is part of scriptural revelation, and anyone reading the creation stories in the original languages can clearly see the same literary tools at work there. It drives me crazy that people adhere to what is complete and total blasphemy – denying God’s own work and twisting the words of scripture to fit man’s own ideas – and call it biblical faith.
    And I hate what this lie does to our theology. Last year, I wrote a blog post on Psalm 139 saying what a comfort it is to know that when we feel like no one sees for or cares for all the good we try to do, God does. A little while later, I came across a creationist outfit’s daily devotion which used the same verses and said, “Perhaps the most frightening attribute of God is that He knows everything about us.” Really? I wrote a blog post about it called “In Which I Call Creationism Demonic” ( I’m not a combative person at all and try not to worsen divisions in the body, but this issue is so toxic to the church and our faith. Thank you for calling out Ken Ham for his theological distortions.

  • This atheist does not read the Bible like Ken Ham. It is really only the anti-theists who do that. But not all atheists are anti-theist.

  • rmwilliamsjr
  • Young earth creationists – or, rather, fundamentalist Christians – say ‘The Bible came from God, therefore what it says is true, therefore you have to believe what it says.’ (In other words, fundamentalists are in love with circular reasoning, because in actuality they follow the principle of ‘I’m going to believe what I believe in regard to Bible beliefs regardless of any real world evidence to the contrary.’)

    Atheists say, ‘If the Bible actually did come from a god – a being of unimaginably superior intelligence and knowledge – then it would show good, no, massive evidence of having come from a god. It doesn’t, therefore the claim is false.’

    Non-fundamentalists, or “liberal” religious believers, or whatever you want to call them, also want to believe the Bible came from God, but they use an approach different from both fundamentalists and atheists, and that is to use whatever “hermeneutic” is necessary to render the BIble immune from evidentiary considerations. If something is false in actuality (according to the real world evidence), well, that’s okay, that doesn’t mean it’s not from God, because the men who wrote it, who were inspired by God, were simply teaching a “message” in their own words in their time, and it’s the “message” (metaphorical, theological meaning) that’s important, not what’s actually written.

    Yeah, like that’s so much better than what the fundamentalists teach. Well, it is, in the sense that they don’t just arbitrarily ignore reality (dealing with real world evidence) whenever it’s contrary to what they believe, but it is not, in the sense that it renders the Bible itself epistemologically meaningless.

    • I suppose that there are some liberal religious believers who fit the description you suggest, but that sounds more like those who are trying to be both conservative and rational. Most liberal believers I know accept what scholars conclude that the Bible means, and simply recognize the fallibility of its authors and disagree with it when appropriate.

      • I think what I stated was, then, not clear, because I thought what I was
        describing is exactly what you reiterated, just not in so many words.
        You wrote, “Most liberal believers I know accept what scholars conclude that the
        Bible means, and simply recognize the fallibility of its authors and
        disagree with it when appropriate.” I was saying the same thing, just using different words.

        Atheist do not in fact have any problem with treating the Bible like Aesop’s Fables or the Tao Te Ching. But atheists are not the ones who would claim that the Bible in some way came from a god. It is liberal believers who do. So when I referred to liberal believers rendering the Bible immune from evidentiary considerations, I’m specifically talking about the fact that the Bible is indeed fallible, and when it comes to evidence that would support the claim that it came from a god (a being of vastly superior intelligence and knowledge), there just isn’t any good evidence of such a thing. Scientists today – and not just scientists, but well educated people – are able to write books far superior to the Bible in the matter of demonstrating superior knowledge. (Not superior intelligence, obviously, since we’re talking about human authors in either case.)

        Liberal believers tend to give short shrift to the epistemological problem with the claim that the Bible in some way came from a god, was my point. Acknowledging the fallibility of the Bible yet claiming that “It’s the spiritual message that’s the important thing” is just sidestepping the epistemological problem of the claim that the message ever came from any god. Maybe it came from a god in some way, or it didn’t. How would you know? You can only know by taking evidentiary considerations into account seriously.

        One specific example of this, from the context of creationism, is how we know based on scientific discoveries about the real world that the world has been around for billions of years, and (more or less modern) humans have been around for at least a couple of hundred thousand years, yet the story in the Bible displays no awareness of this in any way. A god would obviously know such a thing. When everything “important” in the Bible becomes only that which is spiritual, that just looks an awful lot like saying ‘I’m going to believe the Bible came from God, even if there’s no good empirical evidence to back that up’ – which in at least one important aspect is not so different from the reasoning young earth creationists employ.

        • No, I do not think that we are actually saying the same thing. Most liberal believers I know would say that the Bible is the thought of ancient authors about God, not something that comes from a god.

          • If all that “liberal” believers say about the Bible, in this regard, that “the Bible is the thought of ancient authors about God,” then there is zero disagreement with atheists, because that’s exactly what atheists say. Liberal religious believers say more than than. The problem is what I’ve already articulated in my immediately preceding response. And in fact the Bible is the thought of ancient authors about a lot of things, in the context of Israelite culture and religion (then later the Christian religion that sprung out of that, in regard to the New Testament). So an atheist would certainly agree with you that it’s just some guys a long time ago who wrote about stuff. The point, of course, is whether there’s any good evidence that what they wrote *about God* is anything more than pure cultural subjectivism. And there isn’t. These authors wrote stories about God talking to people (prophets), but amazingly even though allegedly communicating with a being of unimaginably superior intelligence and knowledge they couldn’t come up with anything more than typical mundane religious nonsense – like their god commanding the leader to lead them on a campaign of territorial conquest and committing genocide against the people who happened to be in the unfortunate circumstance of already living there (book of Joshua).

          • And for liberal Christians, this is something that helps put our own thinking about God, morality, and the meaning of life into perspective. While we often find inspiration in some of the Bible’s loftiest principles to challenge not only things that go on in our time but things that were taken for granted or even justified in other parts of the Bible, we realize that we too view such topics from a particular cultural and historical moment as well as with all the limitations that are inherent in the human mind.

            Liberal Christians pioneered critical study of the Bible. Most atheists (not all, as the existence of Jesus mythicists attests) accept the results of mainstream Biblical scholarship. But the way you worded your comment, it sounded almost like you were suggesting that liberal Christians borrowed scholarship from atheists, when historically the order is reversed.

        • Could you name some of these “liberal believers” who “claim that the Bible in some way came from a god”? I don’t know any self-identified “liberal” Christians who would make such a claim.

          • @prickliestpear:disqus, if you’re wanting to say that “liberal” religious believers don’t really think God actually had anything to do with the Bible (hmmm… that’s what atheists say), then there’s no difference between those religious believers and atheists. And that’s why I think that’s not quite right.

          • As I mentioned in a comment above which I was apparently typing as you were writing yours, Liberal Protestants in particular were pioneers in historical criticism of the Bible. It is not as though modern liberals are borrowing ideas from atheists. Atheists (with exceptions) tend to accept the mainstream scholarship that liberal religious people helped to pioneer, and which we share precisely because they do not depend on one’s religious views for their validity.

          • To be clear, “liberal” Christians covers a lot of territory. For example, there’s the theologian John Shelby Spong, who sees no problem with “religious belief” based on accepting the mythological character of Christian stories and beliefs, and even rejects the idea of a personal God. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone more liberal than that in regard to Christianity. But there are a lot of “liberal” Christians who are not fundamentalists/evangelicals in regard to the infallibility of the Bible, and don’t go near as far as Spong, who yet regard the Bible as “inspired” by God in some manner. So you are right that it’s difficult to nail details down using terms that actually refer to a very broad territory.