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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ken Ham and the Homeschoolers: the moral of the story is?

Relevant to all, as I see it.

Recently, Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham was barred from speaking at all upcoming homeschool conventions organized by Great Homeschool Conventions, Inc. (GHC). The latter is an effort to connect homeschoolers across the country with access to the newest curriculums, guest speakers, and simply a chance to interact with like-minded educators and students. GHC founders Brennan and Mary Jo Dean "believe in the God-given right and responsibility of parents to train and educate their children," and state explicitly—and unashamedly—that the purpose behind their conventions "is to honor the Lord Jesus Christ while facilitating events that are well-attended and professionally-produced, that well-serve Homeschooling families by providing ideas, information, instruction and encouragement that is relevant to homeschooling..." (read more here). In a position statement defending their decision (PDF available here), Mr. and Mrs. Dean also identify themselves with the young-Earth position promoted by Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis.

So what is the cause for division between these like-minded entrepreneurs in Christian education? Well, Mr. Ham was not the only speaker scheduled to speak at this year's Spring conventions. Dr. Peter Enns—Harvard graduate, former professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, and team member of Biologos—was also scheduled to speak, as well as promote his new Bible-study curriculum for homeschoolers.

In case you are neither familiar with Dr. Enns nor Biologos, I will simply point out that Dr. Enns does not share Ken Ham's view of the Genesis narrative. He has commented at length on the apparent exegetical problems that arise with reading Genesis similar to contemporary cosmologies and literature of the ancient Near East (i.e. as neither a critical history nor a complete metaphor, but a complicated narrative using both symbols and historical referents). With regard to the YEC position, he argues that one can not satisfactorily ignore the scientific evidence against a young-Earth reading—or abandon scientific method to make the position appear concordant with nature. Rather the answer to a meaningful synthesis lies within honest dialogue between Christians "that is both desperately needed and, in this modern age of science, inevitable." This conversation involves raising hard questions and challenging traditions that were born in a time when such questions would make little sense. [Further discussion, as well as exegetical challenges to the young-Earth position, can be found in Dr. Enns' response to Dr. Al Mohler, Jr. here.]

As you can imagine, Ken Ham was not silent about sharing the stage with the kind of person about which his ministry has tried to warn the Christian community. Prior to the scheduled conventions, Mr. Ham criticized both Dr. Enns for his position on scripture and Great Homeschool Conventions for letting Dr. Enns and others like him inside.

And by 'others', I mean vendors soliciting homeschoolers with science curriculums that teach Earth history prior to 4,004 B.C.

Both Ken Ham and Peter Enns have published in books, articles, and personal blogs that criticize the other's position on Genesis, science, scripture, etc. So why was Ken Ham uninvited, while the counter-perspective was unintentionally promoted and GHC's reputation put at risk? In the words of Mr. and Mrs. Dean, "Dr. Ham was removed for his spirit not for his message." If you're not sure what that means, compare the following excerpts from the respective speakers:

"Although I disagree with a literal reading of Genesis 1, I have no personal qualms with those who think differently; indeed there are a number of variant readings I am fine with..." (emphasis added)

"I realize you [Dr. Mohler] may disagree here, and maybe you have a way of seeing literal days where there is no sun [Gen. 1:1-13]. I disagree strongly but that would not lead me to question your commitment to the Gospel." (emphasis added)

Dr. Peter Enns to Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr. —Posted at Biologos here, July 28, 2010

"For instance...there are a number of people [at the convention] (including speakers) that are associated with the extremely liberal Biologos Foundation—an organization that is dedicated to trying to get people in the church to believe evolution and millions of years as fact." (emphasis added)

"But at the same time, I praise God for the opportunity, that even in this sea of lies permeating our culture, I am able to teach the truth of God’s Word to many." (emphasis added)

Posted on Ken Ham's blog, March 19, 2011

Mr. Ham's comments would not come as a surprising to anyone familiar with his work, but few that look up to him would think to check out his claims. First, Mr. Ham's identification of Biologos as a "liberal" institution is equivocal, because the grounds on which he defines it as such are unstated/unproved, and seem rather to work connotatively in his favor toward an audience that identifies liberalism with 'people that hate Christians'. This is called 'poisoning the well' by logicians.

Secondly, Mr. Ham makes it appear that Biologos was built on the motive to persuade Christians not to question Darwinism (or persuade them of any particular facts about nature, for that matter). Rather, their mission is to promote open and honest discussion among Christians concerning the harmony of science and faith without compromising either. This subtle accusation constitutes a caricature of Biologos on the part of Ken Ham.

Furthermore, Mr. Ham does not end his comments with repeated sentiments of disagreement contra the scientific norm. He continued with personal attacks upon Dr. Enns—labelled a "compromiser" by Ham—, in which he misrepresented the motives and questioned the integrity of the former Westminster professor:

"What [Peter Enns] teaches about Genesis is not just compromising Genesis with evolution, it is outright liberal theology that totally undermines the authority of the Word of God...He does not have the same view of inspiration as I do. In fact, he doesn’t have the biblical view of inspiration: 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,'  (2 Timothy 3:16)." (emphasis added)

Again, use of the term "liberal" is vague, and deters the inquisitive reader from following up on the claims since the reputation of the accused is already tainted (i.e. another example of 'poisoning the well' by Mr. Ham). On the contrary, while Dr. Enns does not fall completely in line with the 'traditional view' of Biblical inerrancy, his view of Scripture by no means undermines the divine authority thereof. Moreover, simply quoting scripture does not constitute an argument, but invites readers to think Dr. Enns feels free to dismiss parts of scripture at will. Since this is not the case, Mr. Ham's accusations are dishonest. Dr. Enns, like many others—and I would argue, even young-Earth proponents—has simply made the case that God has spoken through men and women of old without 'correcting' their mistaken (but not stupid or ignorant) scientific views of the world.

This might cause discomfort to some young-Earth Creationists, but I believe it actually reveals the beauty of God's revelation. If the Genesis narrative were written in a way that was scientifically concordant, we might ask, "concordant to which science?" Those that work in scientific fields understand 'science' as dynamic, thus any attempt at scientific concordance within the inspired text would leave centuries of readers clueless as to the real meaning and render the narrative obsolete after a certain point. Yet God spoke in such a way that readers from all generations could understand the simple message and be drawn to the Gospel: the creator God, who brings light and life out of darkness, has made a covenant with man, through which He will be shown faithful in the end, though man sought to be a law unto himself and despised the blessings of the covenant.

Mr. Ham later attempted to justify his comments through the following analogy:

"If I saw a child playing with something harmful (e.g., poison), but thought it would be unloving to stop the child from doing this and warn them, I would not be doing what a concerned Christian should...There are many dangers within the church, including those created by Christian leaders who detrimentally affect our children and their faith in the Lord and His Word. It would be very unloving of me not to warn parents about this situation."

I would guess that now Mr. Ham understands how many Christians feel about his own teaching children that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, fossils were formed ~5,000 years ago in a worldwide catastrophe, the Earth's glaciers accumulated and receded within half a millenium, tectonic plates moved hundreds of miles in several months, mountain ranges—including the Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alps, etc.—were formed during such tectonic rearrangement, all living species today are descended from the survivors of the Flood, most species developed through evolutionary processes (speciation) while repopulating niches left vacant by said Flood (because they couldn't have all fit on the Ark), and that radioactive decay rates accelerated by nearly 1-million fold in the past just because...otherwise we couldn't explain radiometric dating. But as Dr. Russell Humphreys has noted, this accelerated decay had no serious impact on Noah's health (and those aboard the Ark) because otherwise we wouldn't be here to discuss it.

My intention is not to mock Mr. Ham, whom I believe to be sincere in his defense of what he perceives to be God's message. Rather, I am pointing out that certain members of the Christian community (myself included) view Mr. Ham's approach to the Bible and Earth history as potentially dangerous to "our children and their faith in the Lord and His Word", because those children will at some point have to reconcile the fact that the creation does not corroborate a young-Earth position. Since we believe this constitutes an unnecessary stumbling block to Christians, we also find ourselves compelled to warn others about the situation. But unless we speak with love, respect, and understanding—and with willingness to engage the counter-perspective in honest dialogue—our respective warnings will fall on deaf ears, and rightly so.

In the end, Mr. and Mrs. Dean are vindicated by their own, most brilliantly constructed words, found near the end of their position statement:

"We believe Christian scholars should be heard without the fear of ostracism or ad hominem attacks. Furthermore, a well-rounded education is not possible without knowing and understanding all sides of an issue. Such a process will, understandably, confirm one in their conviction or persuade them to make a change. But, again, that is the nature of debate and education." (emphasis added)

I applaud Mr. and Mrs. Dean for their integrity in such a bold move. I say this not because I disagree with Ken Ham on this issue, or agree with Peter Enns, for that matter—my heart is wholly bound to neither. Whatever your own position may be on the Bible, creation, or even homeschooling, I believe Mr. and Mrs. Dean deserve recognition for elucidating the very heart of education, which requires, at times, uncomfortable confrontation with those who may challenge your own convictions. After reading the position statement, I am not at all surprised that homeschooling produces some of the more active and profound thinkers in our society.

And so the moral of the story is?

In my opinion, the greatest obstacle to uncovering truth is our own pride. No matter how strong our convictions, if we would seek to silence the 'opposition' through censorship, then our unstable foundation will become evident, and earnest seekers of truth will take notice. At this point, it matters not whether Mr. Ham's position is correct. In preventing open dialogue and attacking the man rather than the argument, his own words have been rendered ineffectual.

Is there anyone that cannot relate to this example on some level?


  1. Well, Ham's makes his living off the Culture Wars, so no, open dialogue is not on the agenda.

    An aside: Somehow I've never come across your blog before - I'm a geologist myself, with experience in modelling and volcanology, and am working in industry. I like what I see here - drop me a line, if you wish, at thescylding(at)gmail(dot)com.

  2. “First, Mr. Ham's identification of Biologos as a "liberal" institution is equivocal, because the grounds on which he defines it as such are unstated/unproved, and seem rather to work connotatively in his favor toward an audience that identifies liberalism with 'people that hate Christians'. This is called 'poisoning the well' by logicians.”
    Did you ask Ken if that was his intent, or are you ascribing motives to attack his character? Actually, the term “liberal” has a very specific connotation in reference to theology and there is little dispute that BioLogos holds a theologically liberal position. You may consider Dr. Mohler’s explanation of this topic from a recent blog post related to Rob Bell. http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/03/16/we-have-seen-all-this-before-rob-bell-and-the-reemergence-of-liberal-theology/
    You might imagine the typical Christian reacting to someone saying Paul was wrong when he wrote that Adam was the first man. Maybe I am too “narrow-minded” to allow for such claims, but I do so with a desire to defend the purity of God’s Word—as does Ken (In full disclosure to all readers, Ken is my boss). Consider watching Dr. Enns as he presents those ideas to students at Westmont College (Easy to find on YouTube.) In summary, he says Paul was wrong “scientifically” but correct “theologically.” So, why can we not conclude the same about the Resurrection or the virgin birth? That is exactly where Liberal Theology went in the past, so it is no stretch to imagine it is headed there again (consider this a slippery slope if you will, but it is certainly substantiated by history).
    “This subtle accusation constitutes a caricature of Biologos on the part of Ken Ham.”
    Umm, wasn’t it Waltke on a BioLogos video who said us wacky YECs were in danger of becoming a cult if we didn’t embrace evolution? And, Falk has stated his aim is to convince us fundamentalist Mohlerites that evolution is the answer on the BioLogos blogs (i.e., “The Dawning of a New Day”).
    “In my opinion, the greatest obstacle to uncovering truth is our own pride. No matter how strong our convictions, if we would seek to silence the 'opposition' through censorship, then our unstable foundation will become evident, and earnest seekers of truth will take notice.”
    Isn’t it the Dean’s who have committed the act of censorship by preventing Ken from sharing his perspective in the homeschool convention? (I respect the decision of the Dean’s as it is their convention and can do as they see fit, I just find it ironic that several have referred to Ken as the censor in this context.) Ken is not saying Enns should not be heard, he is just warning people of the danger he sees in the philosophy promoted by BioLogos. In fact, Ken played clips of Enns teaching so that his words might speak for themselves. He did not censor, he presented an example and commented on it. The audio is available on Ken’s blog, you can listen for yourself (3/25 “Listen to This”).
    It is odd to me how vaguery and allowing for all positions has become the new standard of Christian identity. If we can’t know the truth, what’s the point? If we need scholars to teach us how to read the Bible from their perspective, let’s elect a Pope! It is an interesting state of affairs.

  3. Thanks, Roger, for your feedback. I hope you will allow me to clarify a couple points.

    I do not believe that Ham's *conscious intention* is to unfairly paint Dr. Enns (or anyone else) with a black brush before they can be heard (poisoning the wells, as I put it). My apologies to Mr. Ham if that were unclear. Rather, I argued that in effect, he accomplished this goal (intended or not) through equivocation in his published words. I believe Ken understands and could articulate the argument behind labeling Biologos as "liberal" and "undermining the authority of God's word" but since Biologos would strongly object to (and argue against) those labels, some clarification is needed.

    On that note, my own denomination (the OPC) was founded on a reaction to liberalism, in the form of modernism, within the church. I understand the dangers thereof. But I disagree that there is 'little dispute' on whether Biologos may be termed 'liberal' with respect to theology. For one, Biologos does not operate as a confessional congregation, but a forum for discussion among Christian theologians and scientists. They post various points of view (some liberal, mostly not) for the sake of promoting critical dialogue, and for this I respect them. In fact, many commentators on Biologos would disagree with Dr. Enns concerning Adam (as do I, for the most part).

    This has nothing to do with "Christian identity", as you put it, but a longstanding tradition within Christianity that discourse on theology is a necessary element to a healthy church. It also demonstrates precisely why 'electing a Pope' would only lead us further from the truth. Man is sinful and proud, and so the perspicuity of scripture is rarely so obvious as one would like it to be.

    That is not to throw uncertainty on the 'fundamentals' of the Christian faith. When you ask, rhetorically, why one should not "do the same" with doctrines like the resurrection, virgin birth, etc., I would only point out that nobody here is arguing as such. There is a fundamental difference between Paul's use of the 'fact of the resurrection' in elucidating the victory of God and his *typological* use of the Adam narrative in establishing the need for Christ by all (by emphasizing the *fact* of *our* sin in the following argument: death came to Adam for his sin; in like manner, death came to the rest for theirs; but God through Jesus conquered death and so in Him you find hope, unity, and now have no reason to fear death, which is the final enemy of the tyrant [remember, he is writing to Rome, where the tyrant actually lives]). When Biologos starts proclaiming that not all sinners deserve God's judgement, or that a historical resurrection is not essential to the faith, then I will gladly join sides with yourself and call them out for promoting liberal theology.

  4. As far as Dr. Waltke's comments, I believe his message was that the church is in danger of being *viewed* as cultic if they continue to ignore or dismiss evolutionary theory as unsupported by the evidence, or as a conspiracy among Godless scientists. I know that AiG makes an conscious effort to challenge the evidences for evolution (whether or not they are successful is a different question, and inconsequential to my point), but most in the church ignore/dismiss the evidence entirely, despite their having no expertise in the field. Thus he does not demand that Christians embrace evolution; only that the church take it more seriously and be willing to say "I don't know" concerning the evidence if they truly don't know.

    One of my own professors (an outspoken atheist) once wrote in a newspaper article that he (paraphrasing) 'has no problem with people that feel unable to accept evolution because of their faith, but strongly objects to anyone that would publicly dismiss it as unscientific or without any factual grounds'. One can argue that evolutionary theory is not the correct/best interpretation of the facts if they wish, but to say it has *no* scientific grounding is presumptuous. Dogmatic dismissal of evolutionary theory, while refusing to even hear an argument in its favor, does have a cultic undertone.

    I understand why you feel the Dean's have committed an act of censorship, but I don't think there is a substantive connection. The audio clip you cited is a perfect example of why. Ken prefaces the clip by misrepresenting Dr. Enns' use of the word "tension": "What are we gonna do with what the secular world says? How do we fit that in the Bible?" The tension to which Dr. Enns refers is between a particular reading of the text (Christian tradition) and what is found in creation. It is not a political move to save face within Christianity.

    Then he adds the rhetorical comment, "If Adam is a metaphor for Israel, what is Eve?" It seems to me that Ken doesn't wish to deal with the arguments regarding the text. His analysis is overly reductionistic, in my opinion. Whether or not Adam was a historical figure, he *is* a metaphor (or type, rather) for Israel—and for Christ, but particularly for Israel, which was the immediate purview of the text. If we miss this, we miss a lot of the Biblical message. Dr. Enns will argue why he doesn't think it is necessary to say Adam was a historical figure (or more specifically, why Adam wasn't necessarily the first human being and progenitor of the entire human species), and it would be great to hear Ken comment on those arguments. Instead he repeats Dr. Enns' words "the Jesus stuff...the sin and death stuff" in a condescending demeanor. This is not an argument; it is not discourse; it is not respectful. That is why I agree with the Dean's decision (which, ironically, only brought a lot of publicity to Ken ham, so that he could present his message to a much wider audience—i.e. hardly effective as censorship).

  5. Thanks for the clarifications. I surely misspoke by saying BioLogos holds to a liberal theology--some of its contributors do. The arguments you suggest Ken avoids are dealt with in many articles and books. Consider "Coming to Grips with Genesis" for a scholarly treatment of the topics.