Ken Ham is not my spokesman…well, I wish he wasn’t.

This is a piece in the Atlantic, “Debating Dinosaurs With Creationists,” interviewing Ken Ham at his famous Creation museum in Kentucky.

I figured from the title that it probably wasn’t in the Creationists favor. Surprisingly, it was a cordial, lighthearted, and honest article—not loaded with vitriol as these often are. And there were even times I resonated with Jeffrey Goldberg. However, reading it still saddened me. And my issue is not with the author. I’m upset that Ken Ham’s view of cosmology is often the only one covered or presented by the media (I’m thinking back especially to the debate between Ham and Bill Nye). For those who are unaware, Ham is one of the biggest proponents of the Young Earth view of Creation (YEC), which means he believes the planet began around 6,000 years ago. Though I am not a YEC proponent myself, I don’t mind others who hold that view—many people I love, respect, work with, and learn from do. Again, it’s the sheer volume of exposure it gets.

Young Earth Creationism is the only Christian view of origins that seems to get discussed in popular culture.

It’s the Left Behind of cosmology. To be fair, I don’t think journalists, bloggers, and debate coordinators are necessarily to blame for this (though they are to some degree, as they do not invite Creationists with varying positions). I, respectfully, lay a bit of the blame also on Ken Ham. In his writings, in this interview, and in debates, I’ve seen his view of creation presented, not merely as a contending viewpoint for Christians, but as the only valid viewpoint for Christians to believe. See, I wouldn’t mind Ham’s views if he were a little more charitable towards Christians who disagree with it. But when you combine his staunch views on cosmology with what Goldberg described as “marketing genius…his ability to shape a conversation on his terms“–you soon end up with Ham’s quotes—and only his quotes—filling the blogosphere, twitterverse, and news channels, as seemingly the only representation of what Christians believe about the origin of the universe from the book of Genesis! But it is not. It’s not.

There are many scholars who have devoted their lives to studying the Book of Genesis, who believe in the authority of the Bible, and yet hold to an entirely different interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis than Ham.

Great scholars like John Walton, Johnny Miller, and John Sailhamer have unearthed the backdrop of the ancient world against which the first book of the Bible was written. They provide contemporary readers with historic context, linguistic insight, and alternative interpretations that should be considered before developing any serious conclusions. Unlike Ham, they do this all without having to pit science against Scripture.

A common objection to this is,

“That’s letting modern science form your belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.”

I suppose this could be rephrased in the reverse: “YEC’s let their cultural literalism form their belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.” Objections like this tend to be unhelpful to the conversation; both sides in the Young/Old Earth debate believe in the authority of Scripture, and it brings a robust debate to a screeching halt to throw out elementary attacks like this.

Another objection:

“If science and Scripture seem to contradict each other, Scripture is right, and science is wrong.”

But this fails to take into account another variable: the reader! See, if science and Scripture appear to “contradict” each other, there’s still a chance that neither are “wrong.” Perhaps it’s your understanding that’s flawed. Science, after all, is the study of the natural world through observation and experiment. Creationists often (rightly) posit that the scientist-observer is wrong. But we shouldn’t stop there. You see, theology is also a field of study–the study of God. And this study also involves a certain amount of interpretation. So…perhaps Christian interpreters have gotten Genesis wrong? This is the basis for many of these OEC’s. Their overarching statements about understanding Genesis are based on the belief that Young Earth Creationism has a faulty hermeneutic, and is therefore, a wrong interpretation. Now, whether you agree with that assessment or not, can we at least agree that these other Creationists, who disagree with Ham’s Young Earth position, at least deserve a platform?

As a college pastor for four years, and a pastor of a “young” church–I’ve seen students walk away from their faith over these issues.

Christian college students are forced to bifurcate the Bible and science as if that were the only way to follow Christ. That’s the real issue that upsets me–they don’t have to do that. Of course, when YEC–or a caricature of it–creates a monopoly on hermeneutics, it’s only a matter of time before students feel a disconnect between their faith and real life. And each time, it seems like I can trace those stories back to a parochial, if not militant, view of Genesis 1 and 2 that teaches younger generations that they must choose between science and the Bible. Consider this red flag by the Barna Group:

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries (Barna)

I’m so thankful for the flood of authors, scholars, professors, and conversationalists who have expanded the conversation. I hope we can continue to cultivate humble, open dialog around these issues.

Some of the ones I already mentioned take, I think, a more honest exegetical approach to the texts in Genesis, and the results—surprise—never force one to choose between science and Scripture. Sadly, most people, if exposed to Creationism at all, will only hear slivers of a particular view that in turn gets filtered through a magazine, a TV documentary, or the unforgiving comment sections of social media. I’m not asking YEC to change their centuries-long view; I’m asking that other experts on the Biblical account of creation get the same amount of air time as Ham. I’m also asking that the rest of us listen to them as much as we have listened to Ham. He doesn’t represent us all.

Well…yes he does. Unfortunately.

What are your thoughts on Creation and science?

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB where he is committed to challenging Santa Barbara's independence by calling the city to follow Jesus. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting Peoples, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on September 26, 2014, in Apologetics, Culture, reading, worldview and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Fortunately he does…yes there are great scholars that take a non-literal approach to Genesis but I have yet to read (and I have 4 Grad and post grad degrees in Biblical Studies) one Old Testament scholar who is not liberal or does not cite the “Liberal” camp for the basis of their view, that takes Genesis as non-literal and espouses an evolutionist view of creation. Not one conservative doing their own research and study is OEC.
    If you take time to read the conservative arguments against OEC the ONLY rebuttal is…but science has proven otherwise and God would never contradict facts proven by Science. (I have one word for you…MIRACLE)

    The problem is not in Science, the problem is in methods of interpretation…the only way to make Genesis not contradict evolutionary views in science is to reinterpret the “days” in Genesis in a way that is foreign to the rest of the Torah and the rest of the OT,… OR Call it ANE mythology speech, which comes from the view that the Jews adopted their Yahweh worship from the surrounding cultures not from YAHWEH, and it is always with the same objections.
    That 1) God would be deceptive if he made the world LOOK LIKE it was millions of years, when it really isnt…Huh? Who said that God put rings in trees SO THAT we know how old it is?
    Stars are in the sky for seasons, not for calculating the age of the universe by measuring the distance light travels.Hermeneutics.

    The main hermeneutic reason I hold to a YEC is because the Fall of Mankind and the Inherited sin by ONE MAN which was redeemed by ONE MAN Jesus make no sense if mankind had been around for millions of years and the earth was full. It cant be made to fit.
    There are a ton of other evidences such as population growth and spin of the earth or space dust that make it IMPOSSIBLE for the Earth to have supported life here for the Billions of years necessary for evolution to make sense.

    Science will change again soon and is already beginning to change the origin theories of big bang. The church does not need to also..the only reason that people leave the faith because so-called science “proves” that it is more than 7-10,000 years old and so they think they have been duped…that is only because 1) so many others believers are endorsing and espousing this view! Who cares if the unsaved think we are crazy by sticking to our guns on this point. I have no problem debating against a materialistic view of science. It is simple to do using classic arguments. and 2) because their faith is not their own, but rather an indoctrination in Church Traditions.
    If you follow Jesus, then nothing science proves will shake you.
    If the proof of evolution causes one to commit apostasy, then they needed to admit they were an unbeliever in Christ in the first place and have never really encountered God..and they need to rededicate their life to Jesus.
    That person either was never saved in the first place, or they quenched the Spirit long ago.
    Just the thoughts of a YEC who most would call a very open-minded and progressive Biblical Scholar. If you dont think so, chekc out my fb page and see for yourself. not everyone fits the Ken Ham mold, even if we happen to agree with him.

    • Hi Robert!

      I appreciate you sharing your views on the subject! I just had a follow-up question:

      You say:
      “The main hermeneutic reason I hold to a YEC is because the Fall of Mankind and the Inherited sin by ONE MAN which was redeemed by ONE MAN Jesus make no sense if mankind had been around for millions of years and the earth was full. It cant be made to fit.”

      Isn’t that a pretty big claim? That there is absolutely no way that it could make sense? I mean, if we allow room for God to create a young earth that looks old to science (“MIRACLE” as you say) then isn’t there room in the other direction for Paul’s “ONE MAN” argument to be convincing rhetoric in a sense? I’m admittedly not even close to an expert in either area–simply a student–but everything I learn about 2nd Temple Rabbinic tradition and practice makes it seem at least not impossible for Paul to think that way and argue in that tradition at times.

      Anyways, thanks again for commenting and presenting another, non-Ken-Ham side of YEC.

    • Robert, ok, I’ll just offer a few responses…

      “I have yet to read (and I have 4 Grad and post grad degrees in Biblical Studies) one Old Testament scholar who is not liberal or does not cite the “Liberal” camp for the basis of their view, that takes Genesis as non-literal and espouses an evolutionist view of creation.”
      RESPONSE: There are a lot of conservative scholars who do not hold a Young Earth view. Not sure what you mean there. The authors I mentioned all are the things you mention.

      “The ONLY [OEC] rebuttal is…but science has proven otherwise and God would never contradict facts proven by Science”
      RESPONSE: Again…I’m not sure who or what you’ve been reading, but these are not the arguments I’ve seen from the OEC, such as the authors mentioned in my post. Sailhamer and Walton offer a wealth of textual, historical, and cultural exegesis on the creation accounts, sometimes writing whole books just exegeting one word. This was mentioned in my blog post, by the way.

      “The problem is not in Science, the problem is in methods of interpretation”
      RESPONSE: Yes…I spent an entire paragraph saying just that in my post. Doesn’t seem like you read it, though.

      “The main hermeneutic reason I hold to a YEC is because the Fall of Mankind and the Inherited sin by ONE MAN which was redeemed by ONE MAN Jesus make no sense if mankind had been around for millions of years and the earth was full.”
      RESPONSE: I’m not sure how this is relevant to the topic at hand. Also, it’s not even true. I actually do believe in a literal Adam. These are not the arguments made by the authors I mentioned either. You’re making up arguments that were never made, and cutting them down. That’s a strawman.

      “Who cares if the unsaved think we are crazy by sticking to our guns on this point.”
      RESPONSE: I do. I care. That doesn’t mean I went “liberal,” or committed “apostasy,” or changed my views, or stopped believing the Bible, or hate God. I just care what others think.

      So, here are my immediate thoughts about your comment…

      1) Most of your arguments here against Old Earth Creationism are strawmen.

      2) Very little of your comment addresses the main issue in my post (that we should be open to other orthodox Christian scholars, who believe Genesis 1 is a literal and historical account, yet still don’t think that means the Earth is 6,000 years old.

      3) It doesn’t seem like you read my post, or if you did, you aren’t “listening” to it.

      I want to engage you on these issues, and even learn from you and your degrees, but I can’t do either of those if you’re not going to open up the conversation and listen to what others are saying. No one is expecting you to change your position, only to listen (I said this in my post). You may not “fit the Ken Ham mold,” but the way you’re engaging the issues is very reminiscent of Ham’s. And the very reason I wrote this blog in the first place.

      It just sounds like you want to rant. So…given the rant, I hope you now feel better.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • Hey Pastor Lazo! Tab directed me here, thought I might enjoy it. (I did)

      If I can put in my $.02 ($.022 Canadian):

      I’ve always believed that on the large things of Christianity, we must have agreement, and on the small things, grace. In my mind, this definitely falls under the latter.

      However, its affects are not small, particularly as people get access to more technical knowledge, and are given the freedom in society to question precepts. The church after the renaissance has never really accepted anything of a scientific bend as anything more than an annoyance; something to be avoided or explained away. In my mind, this diminishes the idea of a God that built a whole universe and people because it delighted him.

      About 15, I had a real crisis of faith, due to my knowledge that I was called to technical endeavors. (I was definitely not called to the ministry.) And just as you described, I had to reconcile my science knowledge with my Biblical upbringing, and the two seemed very much at odds.

      Fortunately for me, God brought the right person into my life that would help me walk through this situation. She was, quite literally, a rocket scientist at Rocketdyne (Now Aerojet) in Canoga Park. (FYI, she was working on fuel pumps for the Space shuttle. They could empty a swimming pool in 10 seconds.)

      After talking with her, and a few books, I became aware of a few things:

      1) The story of creation lines up with the scientific view of the creation of the universe. Recently, I found myself watching “Cosmos” hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson. One of the things I found most interesting is that immediately after the big bang, there was no light. The gasses that were formed needed a few million years to coalesce and for fusion to ignite as stars. The idea of evolution follows that laid out in Genesis: (Darkness, then light, plants, fish, birds, creatures, etc.)

      2) Jesus demonstrated that God’s methods are His and His alone. He does it His way because those are the methods He chooses to use. For us to say “no, God, you did it this way because of MY interpretation of the Bible” is supreme arrogance on the part of Man. It means that we bring God down to our level of understanding. To put it another way, Jesus didn’t take a scalpel to the eyes of the blind. He used mud. And saliva. Because that’s what he wanted to do.

      3) We as Christians have been wrong a lot when it comes to things of a technical nature. Remember that for years, because of the interpretation regarding mankind as the crown of all creation, the church concluded that the rest of the universe MUST revolve around the Earth. I don’t think anyone would credibly take that viewpoint anymore. During the plague, Christians were killing cats because they were “familiars of witches”, which was what was OBVIOUSLY causing the plague. Ironically, those cats would have been killing the rats causing the plague. Details, details.

      Conjecture about the beginning of time has the advantage that it isn’t anything that can be concluded by a simple photograph of the earth from the moon. However, if the mechanics regarding time estimation were not in place, the medium that we are arguing over would not be possible, as the internet relies on quantum mechanics in order to work. If the theory of quantum mechanics hold (and if you don’t think it does, you wouldn’t be capable of responding), the universe is ~13.8 billion years old.

      4) God created the natural world because he LIKED it. Assuming for a second that the scientific viewpoint of the creation of the world and science are in harmony, the Big Bang happened inside of God’s will, before sin entered the world. If the entirety of time were compressed down to a year, the fall of man happened inside of the last minute of the last day.

      5) God never instructs his people to be ignorant. The Word does say that God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. He does NOT say that he will support the ignorant over the obvious. When you take the argument that only your interpretation of the Bible is correct, you are claiming ultimate wisdom while spewing ignorance, and confounding no one.

      6) In regards to simian/human transition and Adam, my personal point of view is that evolution could have happened, but there is no way that the step from Simian to Sapian could have been made without guidance. In order for an evolutionary jump to be made, it relies on genetics from one strain being inferior to another, thus propagating genes. As Simians and Sapians can co-habitate without issue, competitive genetics don’t seem to be in place. I believe that the competitive lines of the other scientific “Homo” lines (I.E. Homo erectus, Homo antecessor, Homo gautengensis) were paths to our line (Homo Sapian). I believe God put us on that line in order to bring us to enough intelligence to be able to relate to us. Just as parents watch their kids gain in knowledge, and relate to them better as they get older.

      I believe that Adam was a demark point; it was at this point that we as a species gained enough intelligence for God to set things up in the garden, as we had amassed enough intelligence to be put in the same area as the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil. To do less would be cruel, as that means that God placed the fate of mankind in the hands of a being incapable of understanding the full extent of what was going on (of course, some would claim that is exactly what He did with Adam and Eve, as they were incapable of grasping what was going on).

      Again, my views on evolution is just my opinion. I will not defend them.

      But to say “Nope, we were created 144 hours after the start of the universe, and there is no other interpretation” leaves out the age of dinosaurs, Neanderthals, etc. Like it or not, these things are fact. Dinosaurs did roam the earth at one point. Genetics have proven the existence of skulls as those of Neanderthals, a line of species that were similar, but competitive to Homo Sapians.

      You do realize that if the age of the dinosaurs were shrunk down to the 8000 year old earth model, that means that the Good Samaritan had to worry about robbers and Velociraptors in equal measure, right?

      All this to say, we can cover our eyes and say “because my interpretation of the Bible doesn’t agree with the universe, I choose to believe the universe is invalid.” Or, we can take the viewpoint of “In light of this new discovery, what light does this shine on The Word?”

      We are objects of His whimsy. I’m sure Chris delights as Abby discovers the outside world. Evidently the zoo plays a large part in that… In much the same way, I believe our Father delights in our discoveries of the world He created for us.

      I don’t think that Job 26:7 was unintentional. I think it was a wink from our creator acknowledging that He knows what we would discover, and that he is waiting for us to discover more.

      • Hey Joe,
        It kind of sounds like you’re making my original point (be humble, and consider other orthodox viewpoints on this peripheral issue), but in a different way. Sick bro.

        Thanks for chiming in!

        • Quite likely.

          I’m not as well read at the books you quote, So I’m not qualified to argue the subject from the Biblical perspective.

          However, I have always been frustrated with churches that force its parishioners into having to divorce their exploration of the scientific world from their walk with Christ. I have always been of the mind that knowledge of the natural world enhances our wonder at Christ, not diminishes.

          When I went to Christian Assembly at Eagle Rock, I presented in a series they put together called “Science and Faith”, in which people inside the church talked about research they were a part of.

          It was gratifying to inform other people, as well as eye opening to hear people talking about their faith in light of deep scientific work. The talk one gentleman gave on stem cells radically changed my viewpoint on the subject.

          • Yup! That’s pretty much exactly the point in my blog. :-)

            “As a college pastor for four years, and a pastor of a ‘young’ church–I’ve seen students walk away from their faith over these issues. Christian college students are forced to bifurcate the Bible and science as if that were the only way to follow Christ. That’s the real issue that upsets me–they don’t have to do that.”

            We’re on the same wavelength! Thanks for sharing, brother.

  2. Lazo,

    Great post brother. I read it. Twice. You make some excellent points and I agree that a fair platform needs to be available for those of opposing views regarding creation. I once read a response by Ham to Walton regarding his views and I agree; straw men.

    After watching Walton’s lecture on Genesis Through Ancient Eyes, I experienced a theological paradigm shift that I hadn’t experienced since college. Mainly, the act of creation was primarily (although not solely) function and purpose and not material or form. It made me rethink what it means to be a “new creation”… to be repurposed. I think that is beautiful.

    Personally, one thing I have trouble reconciling is “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, death spread to all men, because all sinned” Rom 5:12. I believe that to be true but I don’t know where it would fit in OEC. Not to suggest that is the linchpin that unravels the whole OEC position. Rather as you suggest, my understanding must be flawed. But frankly, it doesn’t really matter to me all that much. It appears as if there are heaps of evidence on both sides and Jesus is at the center. Not too dissimilar from the arguments that Jesus found himself stuck in the middle of.

    You know me, though. I’m a dude that seeks to understand the Biblical position AND THEN the Hebrew understanding of the Biblical position. Like Walton suggests, the best interpretation is through the understanding of the original readers. I especially feel this practice is important when it comes to eschatology. I once heard a Messianic Rabbi declare that the Gentiles have a firm understanding of the first coming of Messiah and the Jews have a firm understanding of the second coming of Messiah. Both are needed for the complete picture. In other words, we need to look to the future through ancient eyes as well…. but that’s something that I’m sure you’ll post at another time.

    By the way, happy belated Rosh Hashanah

    Remember, Ham is best served with green eggs.

    • Jake, thanks man.

      “Mainly, the act of creation was primarily (although not solely) function and purpose and not material or form.”
      Yeah! This is Walton’s thesis in his most popular book, The Lost World of Genesis One. I think it’s interesting that scholars like Walton are accused of “not taking the Bible literally” when, by uncovering the ancient context in Genesis, they seem to be taking it the most literally.

      “Personally, one thing I have trouble reconciling is “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, death spread to all men, because all sinned” Rom 5:12. I believe that to be true but I don’t know where it would fit in OEC.”
      You should check out Sailhamer’s Genesis Unbound. His position (historical creationism) allows for an old Earth while still maintaining that all humanity generated from an historical Adam and Eve.

      In other words, we need to look to the future through ancient eyes as well…. but that’s something that I’m sure you’ll post at another time.
      Why don’t you post it! I’ll read it :-)

      Green eggs it is.

  3. Hi Lazo,
    Thanks for the post, provoking thought and providing discussion. Just a couple of quick questions brother. How do you think the original hearers would have understood Genesis 1? What is it that brings you to an Old Earth position? Also, if don’t mind elaborating further, what is the connection (concern, perhaps) with young adults and creation. From my study of Tremper Longman III and even to an extent Grudem it there is a real desire to not be rejected by academia (colleagues of Ivy League schools) – It’s remarkable to read Wayne’s explanation in his Systematic Theology of Young Earth and then to basically conclude, “science tells us otherwise, so we better go with that”. Thanks again and thanks in advance for your reply brother.

    • Hey Matthew! (I forget you’re on a different timezone than me now!)

      How do you think the original hearers would have understood Genesis 1?
      I think there are a number of ways to answer this; both Sailhamer’s and Walton’s book on Genesis do a thorough job with that. They also believe that Genesis is literal and historical, but that modern interpretations get injected into the authors intent.

      What is it that brings you to an Old Earth position? Also, if don’t mind elaborating further, what is the connection (concern, perhaps) with young adults and creation.
      I think I can answer both of these questions at once. The reason I began looking at the OE position is (I think) connected to the problem many young adults have with Young Earth Creationism: It sometimes feels like it is imposing a pre-held scientific viewpoint onto its interpretation of the text. In that way, it almost feels a little dishonest to me (not for all YEC’s, of course). I know, I know…imposing a scientific view on the Scriptures is the very thing OEC gets called on! But personally, I feel like I am open to having my scientific views corrected by Scripture, and it seems like OEC authors encourage that. So to answer your question, what brought me to an OEC position is that I felt like the Scriptures were being honored the most by it.

      It’s remarkable to read Wayne’s explanation in his Systematic Theology of Young Earth and then to basically conclude, “science tells us otherwise, so we better go with that”.
      I agree…we should not let scientific ‘discoveries’ usurp or dictate our interpretation of Scripture. I think both sides are constantly in danger of this. But I also don’t think that we should completely disregard scientific discovery, which is also given to us by God to know truth (though it is not authoritative like Scripture). Don’t you think so? So as I mentioned in my post, if there is overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary of a popular, but peripheral, Christian belief, it should at least cause us to consider the possibility that our interpretation of the Scriptures is wrong in that case. That’s basically the case Walton and Sailhamer make.

  4. When it comes down to it, Ken Ham does not take the first two verses of Genesis literally. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/creation-young-earth-ham-nye-genesis-one/

    • Yes, the irony of that always baffles me, haha. I think that’s why so many of these different positions feel like they’re talking past each other: they both think they are the only ones taking the Bible seriously.

      I enjoyed your blog post. Sailhamer makes a very similar (but slightly different) argument about the difference between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Fascinating!

    • Err…maybe I’m dense here, but I’m not seeing the connection between Ken Ham and the website.

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