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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Review (Part 3): Ken Ham's uncompromising approach to alternate views on creation and the flood

In this final post (see Part 1 and Part 2 prior), I want to begin by giving credit where it is due.* Despite my critical comments on the method employed by Ken Ham and Greg Hall, I can sympathize with their prime motivation. Greg Hall explains (p. 104):

"In general, believers have failed to bring Christian truth to bear in society. As a result, we have a culture that has moved far away from God. We have a culture that does not consult the Word of God. We as Christians are not salt and light to our world and we have lost our influence—for the time being."

In this, he is absolutely right. Modern evangelicalism has learned well how to get people 'in the door' and excited about what God has in store for them. Quite frequently, however, this is done by reducing the gospel message to the proverbial icing on one's moralistic cake, as if to say: "Your life is good now, but the message of Jesus will give it purpose and remove the guilt surrounding your shortcomings." Such a reductionistic form of the gospel not only lacks the most central aspect—the lordship of Christ—but prevents believers from fulfilling their true vocation to the world—a lamp, not a safety deposit box. Greg hits the nail on the head, I believe, in this section.

Earlier in the book (p. 38), Greg observed that "the anti-Christian, atheistic segment of our culture has become very militant." This statement needs little justification, though he offers a brief body of evidence. Few Christians would disagree, moreover, that an active defense of the gospel and biblical authority is required now more than ever. In this regard, I can only commend the authors for upholding what they see as a faithful response to that call. My critique is meant, therefore, to be constructive; I want to see them succeed in this arena.

But Greg later raises the practical question of church unity, about which he says (p. 161):

"We are often told we should be concentrating on our unity in Christ alone...but this view ignores a larger question — can we separate the centrality of Christ from the authority of His Word?"

Since this view itself rests in the centrality of Christ and the authority of His word, we need to understand Greg's nuanced form of the challenge. Nobody asserts that unity in Christ can be sought apart from biblical authority, so Greg is once more appealing to a specific hermeneutic (reading) of Scripture that he feels is integral to the mission. Put another way, Greg feels that anyone curtailing a literalistic reading of the Genesis narrative is somehow undermining the centrality of Christ and His word. My counter perspective aside, it is vital to understand this foundational mentality if one is to approach the YEC movement with any meaningful interaction.

On a final note in passing, Ken devoted a full chapter to analyzing variegated responses from the President and Vice-President of each college (or the equivalent position to these titles). I will not elaborate on these results, because I think they are the most interesting of the study. If you want to know why the two head administrators are commonly not on the same page, or whether that is beneficial in education, then I suggest you buy the book!

Alternative views on creation: why won't Ken compromise?

Ken's ministry has devoted an enormous amount of time and money defending what it believes to be a spotless presentation of the biblical worldview. Further, he believes (p. 172) that the Answers in Genesis article database represents the honest research of "biblical-creation scientists and theologians," who have provided solid answers to evidential arguments against a young-Earth paradigm. Within this backdrop, I do not doubt Mr. Ham's sincerity with regard to his beliefs. Nonetheless, I am taken back by the way in which he interacts with those postulating alternative viewpoints. In response to the poll results, he summarizes (p. 127, emphasis added):

"What we appear to have is a basic biblical illiteracy among some of the leaders and professors of Christian colleges. Not only are their responses contradictory to the clear teachings of Scripture, but they are also inconsistent with themselves. This is far, far from “thinking Christianly.” Perhaps this is because most of them have never been trained in it, and are therefore stuck in a quagmire of belief, where they claim to believe in Scripture but are really being influenced by the secular worldview."

As we saw earlier, the supposed inconsistency among respondents results only from Ken's rigid, but flawed, schema by which he has interpreted the results. Whether these responses are contradictory to biblical teaching is perhaps a question better answered by theologians—most of whom disagree with Ken on how to read the Bible. Ken's accusation that respondents are not "thinking Christianly" is therefore not only inappropriate, but somewhat ironic. Moreover, it reveals the dogmatism of his position, in that he precludes the possibility that his 'opponents' have reasoned to their perspectives by thinking critically through the body of evidence. Rather, he proclaims that the only explanation behind their dissension is a full-fledged, but unstated, capitulation to "the secular worldview" (as though there were just one!).

Picking on Professors: John Walton and the Lost World of Genesis One

In one of the appendices (entitled Speaking of Newspeak), Ken examines the opposing views of several Christian professors that have published recently on the origins debate. Among them are William Dembski, best known for his work on 'Intelligent Design', Davis Young (co-author of The Bible, Rocks, and Time), Karl Giberson (former director of Biologos), William Lane Craig, Bruce Waltke, Howard J. Van Till, John Collins, and more. Ken's method of examination, however, involves little more than following carefully selected quotes from the respective authors with a witty, rhetorical remark that belies the crucial context of each quote. For example, when Karl Giberson raises several literary challenges to the young-Earth paradigm out of the biblical text, Ken simply remarks (p. 182):

"So, no literal Fall, no literal Adam and Eve — so much for Christianity!"

Ken seems to think, therefore, that his readers will not care to pick up—let alone read—the full work of each author cited, and I think he has made a safe assumption. Unfortunately, he has managed to 'shock' most of his readers into thinking 'Wow, this is weird. I better stay away from these people!' This tactic is hardly conducive to critical thinking, let alone church unity.

Mr. Ham's rhetorical remarks are hardly worth exploring further, but I do want to comment on his treatment of Dr. John Walton of Wheaton College. In his book The Lost World of Genesis One, Dr. Walton uses comparative literature and cultural studies to elucidate the literal meaning of the famous creation narrative. Therein, he concludes that the Genesis account has nothing to do with the material origin of things, but describes in semi-poetic prose how God pronounced function to, and took up residence in the universe—His 'cosmic temple'. This interpretation explicitly denies all forms of scientific concordism (Young and Old Earth). Walton believes, therefore, that questions about the age of the Earth, evolution, etc. are left to the scientific disciplines, and that no predictions can/should be made from the text of Genesis.

Although Walton's proposal is bound to ruffle many feathers among concordist traditions, his argument is well developed, and appeals to biblical texts alongside recently discovered literature from the Ancient Near East (i.e. the lost world in which Genesis was written). The result is an interpretation of Genesis that 1) remains faithful to the historical-redemptive tradition of biblical theology, 2) is consistent with ancient near eastern culture and worldviews, and 3) does not force contradiction with geological evidence regarding Earth history. As an aside, his interpretation also creates the most beautiful picture of the creation narrative that I have come across.

That being said, let's take a look at how Ken responds. He says (p. 185):

"[Walton] basically insists that one can only understand Genesis if one has an understanding of ancient Near Eastern thinking — and surprise, surprise — this has been lost for thousands of years. Now a few academics like Dr. Walton have unearthed this thinking so now they can tell us what the writer of Genesis 1 really meant! It is an academic elitism."

Ken's charge of academic elitism is easily reversed. After familiarizing myself with YEC literature and the article database at Answers in Genesis, I started to wonder years ago whether anyone could have truly understood the meaning of Genesis 1–11 without grasping general relativity, nuclear physics, catastrophic plate tectonics, seafloor oceanography, accelerated nuclear decay, and accelerated speciation after Noah's ark landed! But now a few academics like Russell Humphreys, John Baumgardner, Steve Austin, and Andrew Snelling have properly applied these concepts so that I might understand passages like Genesis 1:2–3 to mean that the entire mass of the universe began as a sphere of water that collapsed and rebounded like a neutron star after God altered the cosmological constant!

Opting for frivolous attacks on personal character, Ken has thus failed to grasp the principle of Walton's approach: if we wish to understand the original meaning of Genesis 1, we have to understand the cultural and literary world in which it was written. But that culture has in fact been lost for more than two millennia, starting with the fall of the Persian/Babylonian empires. New Testament scholars commonly use contemporary literature to elucidate Jesus' parables, or Paul's Caesar/Christ antithesis—why not do the same for Genesis? Unfortunately, ancient near eastern literature has only been uncovered in the past century and a half, before which 1800 years of Christian dogmatics (influenced partly by Greek/Roman cultures) had already been firmly established.

On the other hand, the only part of Walton's proposal with which Ken should really take issue is that it rejects scientific concordism. Walton does not deny the biblical doctrine of creation—only that Genesis might be used to formulate scientific hypotheses! In fact, Walton makes it clear that his view of Genesis 1 does not necessarily contradict the notion of a young Earth. Ken doesn't buy it though (otherwise he wouldn't have an argument), and responds (p. 185):

"Walton tries (unsuccessfully) to insist that he is not coming up with this new idea of his because of the influence of evolution/millions of years...He knows that young people today have a conflict between the secular view of origins and the Bible — so his solution is to relegate Genesis 1 as having nothing to do with material origins and thus people are free to believe whatever they want..."

Mr. Ham's caricature again reveals the dogmatism behind his own stance. He denies a priori the possibility that Walton's line of reasoning is actually based on the evidence cited in the book. Walton devotes a whole chapter to explaining why the ancients would not be concerned with material origins, since they did not separate 'natural' from 'supernatural' and it was assumed by the culture that anything 'material' existed because of the divine. Rather than dealing with that evidence, Ken raises the unwarranted charge that ulterior motives are at play—motives rooted in secular, humanistic philosophy, no less!

In the next paragraph, Ken redirects Walton's hermeneutic into a personal attack on none other than the Reformers, as though Dr. Walton's prime goal is to be the only person that has properly understood Genesis (apparently Ken does not understand how scholarship works?). I can't imagine how Ken Ham would defend Luther against the charge that he was engaging in academic elitism by offering to be the first person in 1400 years to properly understand justification and the law! Moreover, did Calvin deny the pontifical authority of the Pope so that "people are free to believe whatever they want"? Wisdom is justified by all her children.

Ken further believes that "Dr. Walton has a different view of inspiration to that of Drs. Whitcomb and Morris...our AiG staff, and millions of other Christians around the world" (p. 189), because he appeals to extrabiblical cultural and textual evidence. Is Ken thus admitting that we should never appeal to evidence outside the biblical text to elucidate the biblical text? Ironically, Ken follows with a discussion on the meaning of θεοπνευστος in 2 Timothy 3:16, as though Dr. Walton is unaware of the Greek language. I cannot help but to ask—given that Mr. Ham is Australian and not a 1st-century Greek—did Ken consult a lexicon to obtain this meaning? Does he believe that lexicons are authoritative on matters of faith? He continues:

"If the infinite God, who created language, cannot move people to write His “God-breathed” words so all people (regardless of culture) can understand them, then there is something dreadfully wrong."

Of course, Dr. Walton never suggested that nobody has understood Genesis, and he affirms the orthodox doctrine of creation. Ken thus misses the point. On the contrary, Walton favors the power of story and narrative to transcend time and culture over against 'scientific' accounts. On page 17 of his own book, he brilliantly explains:

"If God were intent on making his revelation correspond to science, we have to ask which science...By its very nature science is in a constant state of flux. If we were to say that God's revelation corresponds to "true science" we adopt an idea contrary to the very nature of science. What is accepted as true today, may not be accepted as true tomorrow, because what science provides is the best explanation of the data at the time...So if God aligned revelation with one particular science, it would have been unintelligible to people who lived prior to the time of that science, and it would be obsolete to those who live after that time. We gain nothing by bringing God's revelation into accordance with today's science. In contrast, it makes perfect sense that God communicated his revelation to his immediate audience in terms they understood."

Dr. Walton's reasoning well reflects that of Calvin and Augustine, who famously warned against using Genesis as a book of science. Calvin and Augustine both accepted a young Earth, not because it was demanded by the biblical text, but in accordance with the best science of their day. Ken's discussion on the inspiration and authority of scripture over against extrabiblical data is but a misdirection that prevents readers from exploring the full meaning of Genesis. Is Ken really satisfied to say that Genesis 1 is a simple, eyewitness account with no theological structure and polemics? In trying to separate 'history' from 'theology' in the Genesis account, Mr. Ham does damage to both.

Ken concludes by citing Walton's view on the Flood (p. 190), wherein Dr. Walton says:

"It has already been suggested that the boat in Mesopotamian accounts [of the Flood] may have served as a floating shrine...In this sense the Mesopotamian ark appears as a physical representation of a sanctuary, while the Genesis ark appears as a functional representation of a sanctuary. Creation both in the Bible and in the ancient Near East entailed deity bringing order while pushing back chaos...In this sense, the flood represents a reversal of creation."

To which Ken sarcastically remarks, "Now that makes sense to the average person, doesn’t it? Why didn’t any Jews or Christians before the 20th century ever think of this?" Well yes, Ken, it does make sense. And I believe that even a brief survey of Christian and Jewish thought on the Flood will reveal that many have been able to make the simple connection between the ark and the tabernacle/temple, and between the flood and recreation themes throughout scripture (you can begin with my discussion here).

Amid the discussion, Ken complains (p. 189) that: "We are seeing academia in the Christian world going mad as “Protestant popes” are popping up all over the Christian world." Yet how does Mr. Ham exclude himself from this category? Or does he? If he responds that his worldview is actually biblical, then his dogmatic claim to the Cathedra Petri is once more revealed. If not, then his statement is empty, but I am inclined to think that Ken falls victim to his own accusation, which he further explicates on page 193 (emphasis added):

"Why are we seeing more and more bizarre and elitist ideas (like those of Dr. Dembski and Dr. Walton) coming out of Christian academia? I believe it is an academic pride, from academic peer pressure, because ultimately some of these people love “human praise more than praise from God” (John 12:43; NIV)."

I do pray that I am wrong on this matter, but the conclusion is difficult to escape as I follow the work of Answers in Genesis, including this book. I can see no other reason, at this point, that Ken refuses to interact with Christian academia on the meaning of the biblical text. Rather than heeding the advice of Christian colleagues, Ken renders judgment on their hearts and accuses them of loving men over God. Finally, he alienates his readers from their own culture and forces them to fight an unnecessary battle, while placing a stumbling block before a people today that desperately needs Christ.

After weighing two extremes, I have given this book two stars. If you disagree with my assessment, please feel free to comment (here or at Amazon.com). Below, I have summarized my thoughts:

1) This book contains real poll data from Christian colleges around the country. If you are interested in what faculty and administrators from Christian colleges believe about creation, the flood, and biblical authority, I recommend this book.
2) If you reject YEC, but have a vested interest in how it affects the church today, this book elucidates the mindset behind that paradigm in a way that online blogs and articles do not. I recommend this book if you want to know who Ken Ham is—what he believes and why he does what he does.
3) If this book were written by Greg Hall alone, I would be inclined to give it at least 3 to 4 stars. The sections written by Dr. Hall offer pastoral advice from a man who wants passionately to share his faith. Though I do not share his viewpoint on scripture, creation, etc., I appreciate his sincerity and his attempt to reason through the challenges of our culture today.
4) This book is an easy read, which I finished in less than two days while taking seven pages of notes. At right around $11, it will not require much of your time or money.

1) The authors continuously equivocate terms (like 'literal', or even 'science') to the disadvantage of respondents that disagree with them. Ken's handle on the poll data lacked any critical evaluation, and (like many articles from AiG) made the data irrelevant to what he was saying. In other words, the book could have been written without any poll data and obtained the same result.
2) Ken takes every opportunity to belittle Christian professors that offer alternative viewpoints, rather than dealing thoughtfully and humbly with their words. This sort of rhetoric made the book uncomfortable to read.
3) Ken employs a 'shock' tactic, whereby he cites a large portion of his opponent's own words and afterward refuses to engage in the discussion. Implicitly, he portrays the respective authors as 'weird', 'out of place', or 'misguided' without having to make his case. This strategy turned the book into an opinionated piece out of Ken's diary, rather than a scholarly work of any worth.
4) While this book contains numerous results from Ken's comprehensive poll, the raw data are not available! Much academic value could have been added to this book if the appendix were replaced by tables that detailed the responses to every question.


*I also want to thank Jennifer White and New Leaf Publishing Group for providing a copy of Already Compromised to me for review.


  1. I have not had a chance to read the book yet and probably won't any time soon.
    However, I do make regular visits to AiG and Ken Ham's blog.
    It seems to me that Ken's sarcastic dismissals of alternative viewpoints have become more frequent of late; and more scathing. He seems to have retreated behind a wall of certainty and the only ammunition he has left is a bunch of cheap shots.
    Ken does get his linguistics from a lexicon. I've heard him debate the usage of "day" in Genesis 1 a number of times and his case almost always rests on using a dictionary or a lexicon.
    I am a social psychologist (retired now) not a clinician but hearing and reading Ken and reading about his father is interesting. Seen through the ideas of Transactional Analysis, Ken is becoming the archetypal Critical Parent ego state. His interactions with his critics come from the life position known as "I'm OK You're Not-OK". It's all the more interesting since Ken's description of his father paints Ham senior as Critical Parent also. Just read Ken's and his brother's recollections of their father lambasting preachers who dared to depart from the Bible according to Ham and you'll see what I mean. People who have a very strict upbringing with a critical and controlling parent can go to one of two extremes: duplicate the parent's attitude or turn into a mouse. Of course they can also turn out to be well balanced and emotionally healthy, but Ken seems to be continuing his father's behaviour. There's Ken's way and there's the wrong way and he seems to be getting less and less respectful to anyone who disagrees.

  2. Very interesting observations, thank you for sharing!

  3. Michael,

    I saw Ken speak in May, 1994 at a "Answers in Genesis" seminar put on by the old "Creation Science Ministries" and I don't think he's changed a bit. He came across to me as very caustic and I could see he'd be a rising star in the YEC movement.

  4. Tim,
    Maybe you're right and it's just that I'm noticing the sarcasm more.
    Perhaps I'm just getting old.