Ken Ham is an unreliable guide

The excellent Slacktivist notes, once more, that Ken Ham’s biblical exegesis is just as sound as his science. But there's a twist.  He writes, "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.]


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.

He's identifying a real phenomenon, but coming at it ever-so-slightly askew, and so winds up off course in those last paragraphs.

It's absolutely true that Ken Ham is unreliable about scientific matters, and he's unreliable on matters of religious faith for just about the same reasons.  He can't distinguish what he'd like to be true from what really is true.  And if you can't tell that difference, you can't be relied upon for anything at all.

But no Internet Atheist will ever cite Ken Ham to "debunk[] Darwinist propaganda." The Internet Atheist doesn't want to debunk evolution.  Ken Ham's efforts against evolution are in service of what he believes to be the truth of Christianity.  Ken Ham is wrong about science, and by premising his religious faith on demonstrably false claims about science, he makes his faith an easy target. By knocking down his scientific falsehoods, the Internet Atheist can believe he's knocked down Ham's faith.  And by believing that Ham is right about religious claims, the Internet Atheist comes to believe that debunking Ham's pseudoscientific BS is the same as debunking all religion, not just Ham's (pseudo?)religion.  Ham's wrongness about evolution is central to this whole claim – Ken Ham will not make creationists of Internet Atheists.

Ham will never sway Internet Atheists to creationism because Internet Atheists don't want to believe creationism.  Ken Ham might, however, help convert Internet Atheists to the belief that Christians must be creationists – that science and religion cannot be reconciled.  Indeed, he seems to be winning that battle rather handily.  I don't know why so many Internet Atheists seem eager to help Ken Ham and his compatriots at creationist outposts like the Discovery Institute and Institute for Creation Research.  I don't know why they are so critical of his scientific claims, but so willing to accept as true his religious claims.  It's just weird.

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Ken Ham's creationist view is representative of the belief of tens of millions of Americans. Where I live Ken Ham's creationist view holds sway in most of the Christian churches.

So Ham's views do not represent some Christians but I don't think it would be accurate to say that his view is a minority viewpoint.

You are very right about atheists and Christian theology. I am an atheist, a former Evangelical pastor. (25 years) and I find some atheists, including the four horseman of new atheism to be totally clueless about the nuances of Christian theology. They react to and slay Evangelical Christian theology thinking they have slain Christianity itself. Far from it. Some of them need to stop writing about Christianity until they have educated themselves in theology.

By Bruce Gerencser (not verified) on 17 Aug 2012 #permalink

You're doing the thing you're complaining about. I'm an Internet atheist, and I don't do the things you and Slacktivist say "Internet atheists" do, or think the things you say we think.

Name that "INTERNET ATHEIST", please.

Ham's religion is Ham's religion. He represents his version of his religion, and he's the most reliable guide to his own delusion.

The fact other religions are different does not change Ham's religion. The claim of INTERNET ATHEIST is not the strawman of "Ham is reliable" - its that the different branches of religion can't get their act together about what "truth" their antique magic book is supposed to be telling us.

you seem to be totally clueless about new atheism. You might want to read "The Courtier's Reply" by PZ Myers or Jerry Coyne's work on Sophisticated Theology at his website WhyEvolutionIsTrue.

In fact, the relevant statements in the Bible in regard to time frame were never understood as referring to anything more than thousands of years until the 18th century. It was then that geological investigation really got going and results indicated otherwise, and *then* and only then did theologians start developing re-interpretations in order to try to un-antiquate the Bible and religious doctrine.

Biblical texts such as Exodus 20:11, Genesis 5, Genesis 11, and the like actually mean something and were never "interpreted" as anything other than what they actually said until scientific investigation determined otherwise. The unbiased person just says, "Okay, what these Bible verses portray is merely wrong because the people who wrote them just didn't know the actual facts of the matter." No big deal.

But for those who cannot just simply acknowledge that the Bible says things that are wrong, it's a big deal. And, apparently, for some of those who do acknowledge it but would like to try to accommodate for the religious believers today who cling to the Bible based on interpretative accommodationism (i.e., interpret the Bible however they see fit to try to make religious beliefs not seem so outmoded), it's also a big deal.

By Steve Greene (not verified) on 18 Aug 2012 #permalink

Steve, what you are saying it's simply not true.

It was said for example by Saint Augustine of Hippo in the year 415 AD:

(first in an English translation done by me and then in Spanish, is difficult for me to translate)

In English:
We have to be careful to interpret (things about the Bible) which were risky or opposite to science, because this will expose the word of God to the vilification of the non believers
(from Genesi ad litteram, I, 19, 21, particularly n. 39)

In Spanish:
Debemos cuidarnos de emitir interpretaciones que sean riesgosas u opuestas a la ciencia, pues ello expondría la palabra de Dios al vilipendio de parte de los no creyentes (De Genesi ad litteram, I, 19, 21, particularmente el n. 39)…

Also it was said by the cardinal Cesare Baronio in the XVI century:

In English:
Bible was wrote to teach us how to go to the heavens, not to teach us how the heavens work

In Spanish:
“La Biblia fue escrita para mostrarnos cómo ir al cielo, no cómo van los cielos”

You should learn more about what Augustine actually wrong about the subject then, because Augustine believed the world was created several thousand years ago, because of the Bible, just as young earth creationists do today.

Additionally, Baronio was writing about geocentrism, not young earth creationism. Baronio, too, believed the world was created several thousand years ago, because of the Bible, just as young earth creationists do today.

Thank you for citing two examples that substantiate what I pointed out previously. The relevant statements in the Bible in regard to time frame were never understood as referring to anything more than thousands of years until the 18th century. There are at least 1600 years of Christian theologians writing on the subject and not once did any of them ever think the Bible indicated anything other than that the world was created in a time frame of several thousand years ago.

The only motivation for claiming that the Bible has some other time frame at all is the motivation of not wanting to merely acknowledge the plain, simple, and mundane fact that what the Bible says is wrong.

By Steve Greene (not verified) on 22 Aug 2012 #permalink

Ouch. "what Augustine actually wrong about the subject" should be "what Augustine actually wrote about the subject".

By Steve Greene (not verified) on 22 Aug 2012 #permalink


I agree, you are right. St Augustine calculated the age of Earth based on the data from the Bible.

I said that because a lot of atheists always say that the Catholic Church from the beginning has interpreted the Genesis literally, and it is not true. I put you that two examples. I knew that St Augustine said that we don't have to believe the Bible literally, but I didn't know how he calculated the age of the Earth.

Also St Augustine said that:…

"not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires;"

And you have to agree with me that in his time there was no data that suggested that the Earth was older than what he calculated.

Maybe today you find obvious that the fossils indicate that, but in St Augustine's times maybe they thought other things (maybe a product of the Flood, for example)

Name that “INTERNET ATHEIST”, please.

That's the thing, you see: he has many names.
But do not despair, for in her last blog at FTB, Natalie Reed provided a helpful mugshot of this elusive criminal:

he's the guy (he's most often seen using male aliases) who thinks that

atheism is the only real civil rights issue, because [he's] not personally affected by, and hasn’t personally seen, any other, so they must either not exist or not really matter. DAWKINS RULES!

the guy who's

too selfish, too entitled, or too sheltered, to allow any other issues to really matter to [him] because it’s the ONLY legitimate civil rights issue that actually effects [him], secure in [his] absence of ovaries, melanin, exogenous hormones, medical devices/supports, welfare checks, track scars and rainbow flags.

he's the white upper class douche who

loves casting [himself] as [the] persecuted underdog, [the] savvy, smart, daring, controversial rogue [...] standing up against an oppressive dogma in order to liberate the deluded sheeple.

even though he's actually pretty close to Romney's side of the social hierarchy's totem pole.

He's the right-wing bourgeois supremacist who uses the jargon of other atheists, secularists and liberals and to make his despicable, reactionary "Fuck the Rubes" habitus appear like some high-minded enlightened progressive principle.

And if that means pretending that a notorious charlatan like Ken Ham is perfectly honest and sincere when it comes to biblical exegis and that deep down every Christian secretly agrees with him in order to legitimize his "Fuck the Rube" attitude, he'll do it, becoming the objective accomplice of Ken Ham without a shred of remorse.

By Laurent Weppe (not verified) on 29 Aug 2012 #permalink