Ken Ham's Humean Skepticism

(Ian Panth) #1

Recently, in my blog I have been addressing the teachings of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis from the perspective of theology and philosophy. I will likely develop this post into a conference paper. I have discussed this in an interdisciplinary setting at Baylor University. I would love any feedback from the biologos community.

In the post, I argue that while Ken Ham sees himself as defending Christianity from an Enlightenment worldview, his statements about the nature of the world and our ability to “see” cause and effect are actually very similar if not influenced by the skepticism of David Hume. It is a blog post. So, expect a little sarcasm.

My current interest in Ham stems from a personal experience. In his effort to prepare students for university, my best friend lost his job at a Christian school because he taught that there is more than one way to read Genesis 1. He just told them the options which for the Ken Ham devotee in charge was enough to label him “the voice of the serpent.” Yikes.

(Patrick ) #2

Your article is spot on. The recipe over at AIG is 1) pick a few new scientific results that have made the news recently; 2) say the results could not possibly be true because the scientists who did the work were either secular or Christians with a compromised worldview; 3) State the correct explanation of the scientific results that always equals what is in Genesis.

For example, scientists just measured a galaxy with a redshift of 8.6. I predict that AIG (probably Danny Faulkner) will soon write about the recent measurements. He won’t dispute the measurements, in fact he will describe red shift for a fifth grader in pretty good detail. He will then dispute the implications of the results. In this case, the galaxy is NOT 13.2 billion years old but instead just a galaxy with a redshift of 8.6 that was created on the fourth day of creation as is, some 6000 years ago because that is the only explanation that Ham allows.

(Ian Panth) #3

Thanks. Yes, up until summer 2014, I thought AiG was perhaps a needed (though likely incorrect) voice as a challenge to the scientific establishment. Yet, the more I looked into it and especially after my students asked me to watch the Ham/Nye debate, the more harmful I see their teaching. They are making my job as a teacher of biblical studies and theology more difficult. Moreover, they are setting my students (most of whom are going into the sciences) up with a split psyche. Church brain and Science brain. They simply shut off one or the other set of presupositions as needed and stay out of the “controversial” stuff. Sad.

On the other hand, thanks to Ken Ham, I am much more familiar with the science and research behind evolutionary think. A biologist at Baylor suggested I read Ernst Mayr’s What Evolution Is when I asked for a non-polemical book that would help me understand. I have now recommended that little book to many people. Francis Collin’s book is great for my students as well.


(Patrick ) #4

What AiG does is plain and simple lying. It is the opposite of truth. It is not “free science inquiry”. It is not theology nor critical bible study. AiG just makes stuff up. And it is very damaging to children and young adults. Once these children and young adults find out that they have been lied to by their parents, their grandparents, and their teachers who brought those AiG lies to them, their credibility will be badly damaged. How can they trust their loved ones on the really hard questions of life, when they can’t get a simple answer like did people and vegetarian T-rex’s really shared a real beautiful garden together in the Middle East a few thousand years ago? Serious discussions like is done at Biologos is going to help children and young adults understand both the latest in science as well as how their faith can mesh with that science. This will help them significantly more than with what AiG is doing. Don’t be afraid to learn about the science. Take a look at Science Daily. Every day they report on the latest scientific discoveries in all fields. If your students are interested in dinosaurs, every day a new fossil is discovered and explained. If they are interested in astromony, every day new results come out. And they are written so that a young person can understand. Just let your students read about the results and let them enjoy the discovery too. With time they will figure out what’s true.


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(Christy Hemphill) #6

True. And a little linguistics and cultural anthropology wouldn’t hurt people’s awareness of what goes into their exegesis either.

I read your analysis and I honestly think you are giving them too much credit for a consistent epistemology. They are not consistent. All scientific inferences are immediately suspect because they are just un-provable guesses. But when it comes to talking about vegetarian tigers, pre-fall talking animals, and human interaction with dinosaurs, by all means, extrapolate and guess away, and teach it to children as fact. One thing they never seem very skeptical about is their own infallible ability to interpret Scripture accurately and make whatever insane inferences they deem helpful based on their perfect understanding and creative imaginations of what “the Bible says.”

It’s politics not philosophy. They say what they need to say to drill the party line and smear their opponents.

(Ian Panth) #7

Yes, I think you are correct. I do not think Ken Ham or the adherents to AiG have thought through their positions. Indeed, it is mere rhetoric. A colleague asked me whether one should engage AiG. I told him I was not writing so much to speak to Ken Ham (who resists dialogue) but to speak to the many Christians who have bought into his either/or polemics and to those non-Christians who have the mistaken notion that Ken Ham’s interpretive method is the way to read the Bible.

As was pointed out, we are all influenced by the Enlightment at some level. My aim is to draw attention to how close Ham’s thinking is to one of the influential Enlightenment thinkers who was antagonistic toward religion. I have great respect for David Hume who pushed empiricism to its limits. I have almost no respect for Ken Ham who has not even thought through his own presuppositions while he condemns everyone else for theirs.

Thank you for your feedback. It helps me to see possible responses that I might encounter as I develop this into a conference paper or article.

While I would likely never agree to debate Ken Ham, I am grateful to Bill Nye for doing so. It got my students talking and I was able to help them see serious problems in Ham’s presuppositions. Most of them being science majors and not religion majors recognized the problems with his science but they do not know anything about philsophy or theology to help them navigate and evaluate his theological position.


(Ian Panth) #8

Oh, I neglected to mention that when J.I. Packer was invited to speak to the Southern Baptist Convention on the topic of “Inerrancy” because he used the term and had published a book with “Fundamentaism” in the title, he basically told them that they had mistakenly assumed “the inerrancy of their interpretation” for the “inerrancy of scripture.” Then he encouraged them to become better readers of the Bible by attending to its genres and historical context. Ham and AiG are guilty of the same error.

(Patrick ) #9

Umm, what about the huge mountain of scientific results of the past hundred years? Science works, we can see it all around us. I take pills to keep my LDLs in my blood low, I communicate over the 'ether". It is discoveries in science that are then turned into useful things for us that gives us the opportunity to live long lives. During the plague, all the church could do was to ask humanity to pray for divine help. Today, when ebola hit, we know the problem would be solved by science not divine intervention.

(Ian Panth) #10

Yes, I think I point out in another post or maybe it is the Hume post that Ken Ham’s model undermines all laboratory work. Bill Nye pointed out as much in their debate.

I am in total agreement with you. Yet, I think many Christians grow up double-minded. They switch back and forth between a practical mind and a Sunday-school mind. Sometimes this leads to serious consequences like refusing medical treatment because it suggests a lack of faith. Instead of thanking the Creator, the researchers, & the doctors for the medical help that is provided. It is rather gnostic. It is a failure of the Church which is why Biologos is so important.

Of course, against the evidence, Ham thinks that time is directly corelated to knowledge and technology. See his comments about using modern technology to build his Ark. It is laughable. Yet, it is very sad and disturbing that many Christians see this type of assertion as somehow being a defense of the faith and of Scripture.



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(Christy Hemphill) #12

I grew up in a home that had Ken Ham materials (My brothers and I were homeschooled until sixth grade). When my brother, a physics major, came home from Taylor U and told my parents that all his godly Evangelical science profs thought Ham sold a bunch of hooey, (and I chimed in that my Wheaton science profs pretty much said the same thing) my father very graciously said something like, “Well, Christians with PhDs in science are probably more qualified than we are to evaluate this kind of stuff. You’re the one studying physics, you need to decide for yourself who you trust.”

My parents still like young earth stuff, but it doesn’t seem to bother them a bit that my brothers and I totally reject it. There was always room in my house for committed Christians to have different viewpoints and still be on the same team. Neither I nor my siblings had any crisis of faith or psychological trauma associated with walking away from YEC.

On the other hand, I personally know many Evangelical families and people who grew up in such families where the lines between “our team” and “their team” are totally non-negotiable. Scientists who subscribe to old earth and the evolutionary model are not on our team, Catholics are not on our team, Democrats are not on our team, environmentalists are not on our team, anyone who is anything other than proudly heterosexual is not on our team, people who listen to NPR are not on our team, etc, etc. And kids are basically thought that no one who is not on our team can be trusted to say anything worthwhile about anything and even listening to them talk is dangerous. Those are the kids that have problems when they go off to college and meet Christians who are “them” not “us.”

AiG’s terrible exegesis and hermeneutics is a problem. But I think an even bigger problem than their wacky ideas is the cult-like insularity that groups like AiG promote. How can you ever learn anything in life if the only people you are allowed to listen to aren’t allowed to challenge your current thinking, because to do so is to prove they aren’t on the right team and are therefore completely untrustworthy?

(Patrick ) #13

Yes, I am also confused on the flow of responses/replies on Biologos. I can’t tell what I am responding to and who is responding to what I said yesterday or a week ago.

Commenting on your latest comment about what should be taught at universities.
I think everything should be studied at universities. Yes, I lean to the science side, but the humanities are very important. I think the history of religion should be taught in schools as well as the psychology of religion should be taught as well. As well as the history of philosophy. but every person should know modern science as well and not be shielded from it because it doesn’t correspond to their beliefs. That is what learning is all about - changing beliefs about the way one sees the real world.

(Ian Panth) #14

Yes, my friend who grew up in the Wheaton area had parents similar to yours. Except that it was not science it was literature that indicated he take Genesis 1’s historical context into account. You can read his thought on this on his blog

Our primary concern which we are open about on our blogs is precisely what you have said. It is that Ken Ham and AiG have a different view of Genesis 1 than other Christians. It is that they have a single-minded focus on this doctrine and elevated this non-essential doctrine to a defining standard of the Christian faith. Ken Ham will insist that he has not but in word and practice he has. In this way, my friend and I are now quite comfortable calling the teaching of Ham and the AiG heretical. You have used the term cult and that fits too. I give Ham the benefit of the doubt and think he has good intentions but so did Arius of Alexandria.

While I do not think it takes much understanding of science to see Ken Ham’s flaws, I think there are many more qualified to speak to his teaching on those points. So, my friend and I seek to challenge his interpretive methods and his (often unexamined) philsophical and theological presuppositions and implications.

Do check out my blog. While I make serious arguments, I do try to inject humor into my posts for my readers. Thank you for your response. And thank your parents for their wisdom.

Ian Panth

(Ian Panth) #15


As I read both your posts, I do not see that you are in substantial disagreement. What I would like to see is science students know the history of their discipline in the same way that many of us in theology, history and the humanities are taught the history of our disiplines.

For one thing, a solid understanding of the rise of the discipline might go along way to dispel the myth of science vs religion that A D White and others promulgated. In my Christian Heritage class, I spend a whole week on Christianity and Science. I teach freshman but have them read the 80page chapter from Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God called “God’s Handiwork”. At evaluation time, most students say this is their favorite reading. Why? Because they learned that they do not have to set aside their faith when they step into the classroom. Shorter readings from Ronald Numbers Galileo Goes to Jail might also work.



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(Jan De Boer) #17

@Ian_Panth, @Patrick, @Christy, @Eddie
When I became member of my Baptist community I had to agree that Bible tells the historical truth. Although I have a different opinion I did agree because I understand that the discussions about what happened are useless and harmful. I believe that the Bible concerns God and religion and tells the truth about God and religion. But the worldly parts were formulated to be accepted by the prehistoric people who lived then and did not have our knowledge.
Reading your comments on Ken Ham cs, I feel it’s about time to draw the carpet from under the feet of those AIG boys, as you will never gain anything otherwise.
How? I’m convinced that the “sons of the gods”, mentioned in the Bible, were descendants of previous human civilizations, were traveling in space and used to take a holiday on Earth. Hunting big animals has always attracted many males. If we are lucky, then one or more of those were hunting there when the disaster of the Flood started. They could not be saved and when three weeks later the worst was over, they had been moved with Siberia into permafrost region and frozen to death. You can find the details about the why, the where and the how in my posts on the history of Earth and Humanity. Maybe one of you has connections with Russian scientists and can get them interested.
Finding someone with a rifle, a mobile phone, an electronic watch, a wallet, a booklet, a pocket knife, futuristic clothing, and whatever modern people have in their pockets, buried under fifteen millennia ice deposits, will caused quite a bit excitement than finding Őtzi near the Austrian Italian border some ten years ago

(Ian Panth) #18


I will simply state that bringing aliens or space travelling human beings from ancient civilizations a la Stargate is not particularly helpful. You are simply replacing AiGs implausible explanations with another implausible explanation.

As for the “sons of God” or “sons of the gods” and their offspring associated with the Nephilim and the giants of old, a better interpretation of this material is again aided by knowing the Ancient Near Eastern context. As with the phrase “image of god”, the title “son of god” was frequently associated with kings and rulers like Pharaoh. Kings like idols in the pagan temples were considered representatives of a god.

Like the idols, the ruler was indwelled by the spirit of the god often in a ritual involving anointing with oil. Hence, the association with angels or demons from the Israelite perspective. In other words, in the early chapters of Genesis, we are being introduced to the theme of tyrannical kingship. These tyrannical kings who serve the pagan gods “take” whatever women they want and they produce even more violent and tyrannical offspring.

They are descendants of Lamech who took two wives and killed a man. They are like pharaoh and Abimelech who Abraham will encounter. They are like the men of Sodom and Gomorrah. They are like cities in the time of the Judges. David becomes like one of them in the Bathsheba narrative. Solomon too ends up following this pattern. The list could go on. It is all throughout the Christian Scriptures.

On this topic consult any recent commentary on Genesis. Bruce Waltke’s Genesis: A Commentary is one that I like but the commentary in the NIV Application series is also a good place to start.

Thank you for sharing your ideas but I must say that I think your ideas are way out there on this one.

(Jan De Boer) #19

Hi Ian. Thank you for your reply.
A writer once stated “If you can’t express it mathematics, it ain’t science but only a personal opinion, however valuable that opinion might be.”.
With that in mind I have tackled the conflicts between science and religion. I don’t try to find explanations on basis of statements in the Bible. Instead I apply mathematics on those statements. Take the Flood: 40 days of rain to cover the highest mountain. The Ararat is 5400 m high, which means 5400 mm rain per hour, or 1.5 mm/second. Worse, it has to rain that heavy everywhere on Earth, or the water would flow faster back to the sea than it rained. So it has to be a tsunami. Next problem, what could cause a tsunami that covers the Ararat? Once I found the cause, - and believe me that it is too far beyond your imagination so you will never find it on your own -, I also knew the traces it left. And I suddenly realized that I had uncountable times seen the traces of more than fifty similar floods when I drove to the local supermarkets. I even have them in our own garden. And there have been at least thirty thousand of such floods. Its a built-in disease of our planet. The last ones were 15, 60, 150 and some 240 millennia BD. And each time the very few survivors had to reinvent Stone Age, faced millennia of serious inbreeding, average lifetimes back to below 25 years…
There is nothing implausible about it. Just take the trouble to read my four posts about it and tell me where I’m wrong.
And consider what you might use against AIG.

(system) #20

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