How popular apologetics causes me to grimace and massage my forehead right above my eyebrow.
In that article Dr. Howe expresses his concern with the apologetic enterprise of Ken Ham in defending the Genesis narrative and ultimately the historic, Christian faith. He claims Ham’s water-downed presuppositionalism utilized to make his presentations is bankrupt, fraught with problems, and is self-refuting.
His critique, however, provides for us some practical insight into how woefully inconsistent and compromised classic apologists can be. I’ll work my way through his main arguments and offer a rebuttal.
He begins by setting up the background.
“Over the past year or so, a colleague of mine has been telling me of his concerns about how Presuppositionalism (or some watered-down version thereof) infuses the thinking of certain popular Young-Earth Creationists if not Young-Earth Creationism in general. Though he himself is an Old-Earth creationist, he came to me with his concerns because, being a Classical Apologist, he knows that I am both a classical apologist and a Young-Earth Creationist. Apparently we are a small group.”
So. An old-earth creationist (OEC) colleague came to him “concerned” about presuppositional thinking among young-earth creationist (YEC), particular in their presentations for their views. [I wonder if the “colleague” was Norm Geisler, but I digress]. This doesn’t surprise me in the least, because OEC are always hand-wringing about how YEC are eroding reasonableness and “credibility” among evangelical Christians. But we need to pause a moment and truly take in this cognitive dissonance, because I don’t believe Dr. Howe appreciates how truly painful it is.
You see, Dr. Howe will go on later in his article to complain that Ham’s presentation ultimately denies reality when he writes, “By ‘true’ here I mean that the claims of the Christian faith correspond to reality. Reality is the only proper “starting point” and the measure of what it means for any claim to be true.”
Okay. But the “reality” among the bulk of classic apologists is that they believe YEC are a bunch of wackos, akin to the KJV-onlyist crowd. They treat them like the proverbial red-headed step-child. They consider YEC as nothing more than an embarrassment to the Christian faith creating unnecessary stumbling blocks for the unbeliever.
That is because, according to the majority of classic apologists, the YEC view of a “literal” Genesis, claiming the earth is under 10,000 years old, believing dinosaurs lived with men, etc, etc., denies fundamental reality. They are teaching “untrue” things, promoting “untrue” things, deceiving the evangelical masses with “untrue” nonsense. YEC are a stumbling block to evangelism. If folks believe I am exaggerating, they need to do a search of the Grace to You blog archives between March 22, 2010 to August 4, 2010 when we did an extended series on Genesis, origins, evolution and Biologos, and read the hostile comments that essentially accused YEC of being crazy, snake-handling reality deniers. A good many of them were from OEC circles who probably share a commitment with Dr. Howe to classic apologetics. Or what about the Vibrant Dance “ministries” which is more aptly titled, Evangelicals and Atheists Together. Their whole deal is to debunk YEC as denying “reality.”
Dr. Howe conveniently ignores the severe academic opposition from the majority of his fellow classic apologists. The fact that he refuses to acknowledge – to borrow a cliché from recent, current events in evangelicalism – this big elephant in the room, makes the remainder of his article a snort inducing joke, nullifying the credibility of his critique within the first paragraph of his article.
I could just stop there, and be done, but let me take a look at his arguments.
He centers his critique of Ken Ham’s talk around three major points:
First, Dr. Howe writes, “… Ham claimed that there are only two ways to understand reality, viz., according to God’s word or according to man’s word.” He then goes on to say how Ham’s claim here is “fraught with problems,” and he proceeds to ask a bunch of disjointed questions about God’s Word and reality. I think he believes he is showing us Ham’s problems when he asks those questions, but I was left scratching my head. Maybe it’s just me.
None the less, if I am not mistaken, I understand Ken Ham to be saying that the Bible presents to us two ways men can interact with reality. Either under the fear of the LORD where the beginning of wisdom can be found, or in the way of the foolish who live their life in opposition to God. Rather than seeing that as a problematic way to look at reality, I understand it as being quite biblical. I didn’t hear this particular talk, but I have heard Ken Ham speak enough that I am fairly certain this is probably what he has in mind.
His second point criticizes Ken Ham for not establishing the principles of hermeneutics one needs to interpret the Bible. Dr. Howe writes that we can’t get them from the Bible, because one would need to understand God’s Word first to discover them. He goes on to try and demonstrate how this is a contradiction on Ham’s part, but it wasn’t entirely clear. Again, I can’t speak for Ham, but one does not have to look for principles of biblical interpretation, especially in the damnable foolishness of Greek philosophers that was warmed over in Aquinas’s theology, the favorite of most classic apologists.
When God created man, He made him with the ability to communicate and understand. Obviously a good deal of what it means to understand and communicate is intrinsic with the way all men think. If one teaches the Bible, you don’t need to have a course on “hermeneutics” first in order to teach it. Because all men created in God’s image retain the ability to communicate, all one needs to do is read and explain Genesis 1 and they know what it means. There is only a need to teach “hermeneutics” first if you are an OEC who is trying to explain away the plain meaning of the historical narrative so as to accommodate deep time, evolutionary views of origins.
In his third point, Dr. Howe is critical of Ham’s use of the phrase, “starting points.” The idea of “starting points” in Ham’s lecture means, “does a person start with God’s Word or with man’s ‘word.'” I take it that what Ham means is where the person places his authority. So contrary to Dr. Howe, there is necessary relevance in discussing the concept of “starting points.” He seems to thinks this is naive and problematic because it leads to perspectivism, as I will explain in a moment.
In order to show how silly this idea of “starting points” is, Dr. Howe provides a less than perfect illustration. He explains,
Suppose two people meet each other in the middle of the desert. Both are trying to find their way to the city. What point would it make for one to ask the other “What is your starting point?” The fact is that what is needed is not a discussion about “starting points,” but about the directions to the city. It wouldn’t matter where either of their “starting points” had been as far as how they are to get to the city from where they are now.
He may think a discussion about starting points doesn’t matter when giving directions to the city, but if person “A” knows for a fact the correct way is north, but person “B” insists it is south, and his GPS locator is broken, and person “A” has some relevant information about the terrain that person “B” does not, then yes, a discussion of “starting points” is important.
At any rate, Dr. Howe claims Ham is encouraging “perspectivism,” a philosophy that is sort of a subjective way of looking at truth that originated with Friedrich Nietzsche. This of course is a bad thing, insists Dr. Howe, because if we all can’t agree as to what is truthful, who is to say what is truthful and not truthful. We as Christians, he argues, should be claiming (and I am taking that he means with “certainty”) that the Christian view of things is the truth. “It is the way things are. It is not merely a perspective-Christian or otherwise,” he writes.
But two glaring problems reveal themselves with his response that only increases the volume of the dissonance.
First, the Bible is clear in such places like Roman 1:18ff., that lost men intentionally suppress the “truth.” They spin it so as to have an excuse to deny the implications of it. I am fairly certain that is Ham’s point. Thus, if a man’s “starting point” is to interpret truth according to a strict naturalistic materialism, it is important to point this out, for that “starting point” factors heavily into how you engage the individual about the “truth.”
Next, when Dr. Howe writes, “What the Christian should be claiming is that his Christian view of things is the truth,” in the context of his critique of a YEC, is he then saying that YEC is the “Christian view of things” and thus “is the truth?” I would certainly agree with him, but what do his fellow classic apologists like Hugh Ross, Ken Samples, Greg Koukl, and even Norman Geisler say to that claim of his? Again, they think all YEC are hopeless reality denying simpletons, who teach a flannel-board view of the Bible. In their mind, the “evidence” is overwhelming that the earth is billions of years old, the flood of Noah never happened on a global scale, dinosaurs died out 65-mya, etc. Why then don’t these men share Dr. Howe’s “perspective” in these matters of truth? They all believe evidence, or what is considered a 67 book of the Bible found in nature, trumps the historical reading of Genesis and so has to be re-interpreted. How exactly would I engage them to show them they are wrong?
Also, out of curiosity, how did Dr. Howe come to his conclusions about the age of the earth? What made him a YEC? The Bible or the evidence? If he says the Bible, how exactly does he escape his own criticisms he is leveling at Ken Ham? If he says “the evidence,” then what evidence? Everyone has the same evidence. Is he saying then, that his evaluation of the evidence brought him to recognize the Bible is actually correct? Or was it the other way around?
It certainly isn’t my intention to be rude. I imagine Dr. Howe is a fine fellow. However, as I have attempted to argue in my last couple of posts addressing apologetic methodology, I want my methodology to be anchored in Scripture, consistent throughout the whole of what I believe as a Christian, and not accompanied by a lot of unnecessary, worldly baggage, like Greek philosophy. I see in Ken Ham and the other men and women who speak for AiG attempting to build their apologetic endeavors upon those principles. I don’t, however see that happening among the folks who engage in the classic approach that is so popular among the majority of churches and para-church ministries. Richard Howe’s criticism is proof of that.