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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review (Part 2): Science vs. Religion (Departments)—which is more 'compromised' according to Ken Ham?

In the first post, I examined how Ken Ham and Greg Hall used a methodology similar to KJV Onlyists when interpreting poll results in their book Already Compromised. By arbitrarily defining their own views on creation as the singular, biblical worldview, they managed to transform a poll about personal beliefs into a test. Ken summarized the results thusly (p. 35):

"Overall, we found that only 24 percent of the 312 people surveyed answered every question correctly...and these are the “good guys”!"

Nobody can blame the authors for believing themselves to be in the right, but this attitude shifted the book from an academic discussion about Christian education into a pontifical monologue that precluded critical reflection.

Departmental matchup

Now, I want to consider how the authors compared the science and religion departments from each institution. As an introductory exercise, ask yourself how you might expect the heads of the science and religion departments to answer the same set of questions regarding biblical authority, literalism, and views on creation/Earth history. In which department would you expect to find more biblical literalists? Old-Earth creationists? Inerrantists? Let's take a look.

Biblical Inerrancy
As it turns out, the two departments were on the same page with regard to biblical authority, and a vast majority affirmed the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of scripture. A slightly higher (but not statistically significant) percentage of Religion professors affirmed these three doctrines, to which Ken responded (p. 52, emphasis added):

"As you can see, the responses are fairly close, with the religion departments claiming a slightly higher view of Scripture than the science departments."

I am slightly bothered by the use of the comparative term "higher" in this context. More often than not, it is used pejoratively to speak of those who question modern definitions of inerrancy. The more I have studied the history of this doctrine, the more I have come to think its use is simply polemical—in other words, a method of protecting scripture from modernism and liberalism rather than a scripture-derived doctrine. The result is a number of odd discussions about how many times Jesus cursed the fig tree and cleansed the temple (e.g. here) or which calendar the gospel writers used to chronicle the passion week. In the end, readers miss the grand points of the gospel narratives and only push other believers into liberalism. Regardless of how you feel about the doctrine of inerrancy, Ken's treatment of this section is consistent with my hypothesis concerning his agenda.

How old is the Earth?
When asked specific questions on the historicity of Genesis 1–9, a higher percentage of respondents from the science department sided with Ken Ham. A whopping 78% of respondents from the religion departments considered themselves 'Old-Earth' Christians, compared to only 35% in the science department! Not surprisingly, Ken finds a moment to rejoice (p. 54):

"It turns out that the science department is much more biblical in their beliefs than the religion department!...The religion chairs and the Bible departments are choosing to be influenced by worldly philosophy rather than what the Bible clearly teaches concerning historical science and the facts of observational science that confirm the biblical record."

I suppose that's one way to put it. We might also consider, however, the fact that a vast majority of Christian scientists reject young-Earth creationism for lack of scientific evidence. If you are a professor of biblical studies with a literature background, how might you weigh the spurious evidence of radioactive carbon in diamonds and excess helium in zircons—especially when Christian scientists that work in radiocarbon and material science labs have exhaustively documented the bogus claims of RATE team studies? When faced with a factual decision on matters outside of our own expertise, we typically defer credibility to expert witnesses, and young-Earth creationists have neither the numbers nor the evidence on their side. Ken further speculates:

"This isn’t surprising, considering most of them attended seminaries that adhere to compromise views such as the “documentary hypothesis,” a theory that denies that Moses wrote a cohesive historical account of history in the first five books of the Bible."

To my knowledge, Ken did not poll respondents on their view of the documentary hypothesis (DH), but I am willing to speculate along with him that a higher percentage of religion professors accept it. The reason is that they deal directly with the textual and historical evidence on which it is based. But I highly doubt that acceptance of this theory is responsible for the divergence in opinion on the age of the Earth. Christian proponents of the DH do not reject the inspiration of scripture, for example, and nearly 90% of Ken's respondents affirmed the inerrancy of scripture.

The Pentateuchal authorship and date of composition is irrelevant, therefore, to whether one accepts the Genesis account as historical. If you already accept the narratives as divinely inspired, infallible, and inerrant, does it really matter when the text was written down or by whom? Even if the Flood narrative originated as an eyewitness account (I believe it did), the final Pentateuchal version has added theological imagery and structure. Besides, it is possible to deny that an eyewitness account is 100% accurate. Ken's hypothesis does little, in my opinion, to explain these results.

A better explanation for the departmental dichotomy can be found in their respective literary views of scripture. In the religion department, 73% of respondents believed the creation account is "literally true", but only 57% believe this was done in "six literal 24-hour days". As previously noted, Ken believes this is inconsistent and that respondents are simply confused and contradicting themselves. But in reality, these questions reveal that professors of religion have a better appreciation for the term "literal" than does Mr. Ham.

Another missing link in the train of thought might be found in how respondents view the biblical genealogies. Are they meant to help us back calculate dates for primeval events (like the flood and creation) or were they a later addition meant to add more than just biographical information to the stories? Students of the Bible from each department may approach this question differently, depending on how they normally treat numerical data. The same goes for understanding the days of creation. It is possible to affirm that God created in "six literal days" without attaching "24 hours" to those days and placing them at the head of Ussher's chronology.

When asked whether they thought faculty from the religion and science departments shared the same view on the age of the Earth, 81.5% of religion professors said "Yes" compared to only 36.5% from the sciences. What does this mean? Is there a miscommunication? Ken comments, "The religion department thinks everyone has the same view, but the science department tends to know better." I think Ken oversimplifies the matter, however, and actually overlooks the answer when discussing old vs. young earth views between the departments (p. 56):

"...what I am finding is that most Christian parents and students...expect that...it would be science professors who would be more likely to lean toward evolution/millions of years and that religion professors would be more likely to lean toward a literal creation."

That's exactly right, and it seems everyone had the same presumption. If you recall, 78% of religion professors called themselves 'Old-Earth' Christians—about the same number that believe the science department is on the same page. Conversely, 57% of science professors deem themselves "Young-Earth" Christians—about the same number that believe the religion department is on the same page.

Ken's poll thus confirmed what the general perception has always been: 'millions of years' is a personal tenant of scientists, but people that teach the Bible for a living invariably believe in a young Earth. Of course, the poll also exposed this dichotomy as a myth—most professors in biblical studies do not believe in a young-Earth or a literalistic approach to Genesis.

Ken's refusal to learn from his own test
Although Ken claims not to have been surprised by the results from each department, he does seem bothered that most professors of biblical studies don't share his take on the Bible. So why don't faculty in the religion department adopt his hermeneutic? I think it is because his approach depends on a simplistic view of scripture that refuses to engage in literary, cultural, or historical critical studies—not what you would expect from Ph.D.'s in literature, language, and history. Ironically, Ken blames it on their ignorance of science (p. 56):

"Can the religion department explain the existence of coal deposits and how they were formed? Can they explain the actual structure of the fossil record? Can they explain the assumptions behind radiometric dating methods? No, they can’t."

Judging by the articles offered at Answers in Genesis, neither can you, Mr. Ham. Ultimately, the physical evidence for 'creation science' only makes sense within a non-scientific, young-Earth paradigm, where the conclusion is known from the outset. It seems most folks in the religion department recognize the flawed methodology of young-Earth creationism, and prefer to appeal to people who actually conduct scientific research. This frustrates Ken further, as he tells us (p. 56, emphasis added):

"When I engage liberals from the religion departments...most of them repeat the familiar mantra: “Science has proven that evolution/ millions of years is true.” But when I ask them for specifics, they often don’t have much of a clue, as they are depending on some other authority. If I ask them why they believe in an old earth, they invariably answer, “Because of radiocarbon dating.” But any scientist should know that the radiocarbon dating method can’t be used for something that is supposedly millions of years old."

True, but it can show us how many thousands of objects are older than Noah's flood (trees, sediments, caves, etc.) and the Garden of Eden. It also shows that marine and lake sediments have been accumulating continuously—without catastrophic interruption—for the past 10, 20, or even 50 thousand years.

I suspect Ken might answer with a story about the pre-Flood biomass and post-Flood volcanics diluting the carbon cycle; or a pre-Flood atmosphere that blocked out radiation, or any number of hypotheses contrary to the facts—as long as it protects his reading of scripture. But in the end, the radiocarbon method stands as solid evidence against the young-Earth paradigm, and these professors are justified in citing it. Ken cannot explain, for example, the agreement of radiocarbon dating with U-Th disequilibrium dating (which is unrelated to the factors above), or with tree ring, ice core, and varve counts; or how Native American campfires could date to ~11,000 years ago when they must have burnt long after the Flood.

When asked whether they consider themselves a ‘young-earth or old-earth Christian’, more than twice the respondents from the religion department answered ‘old-earth’ than in the science department. Ken found this result "intriguing and very disturbing.” Ironically, Ham’s approach to science is rooted in a dogmatic dependence on his literalistic reading of Genesis—a reading rejected by the vast majority of professors of religion, according to his own poll. But Ken is too nearsighted to see what this means, and so he hides behind yet another defense mechanism to explain the unexpected result: “The science department tends to know better.”


This review will be continued in Part 3: Ken Ham's uncompromising approach to alternate views on creation and the flood.

**A condensed version of this book review is available on Amazon, where I gave the book two stars. If you have found the discussion helpful, please vote for the review there.

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