Apologetic Dissonance

How popular apologetics causes me to grimace and massage my forehead right above my eyebrow.

During the course of my various exchanges with a classic apologist commenter, he directed me to an article written last July by Dr. Richard Howe, a professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary.

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.

13 thoughts on “Apologetic Dissonance

  1. But today is Tuesday!I really don't understand OEC. Honestly, the evidence for evolution is worse than weak and you have to wedge a weird hermenuetic into Genesis to get it to an old age.It's just like the arguments I have with OEC who say they know what the earth would look like if there was a worldwide flood based on recent data from tsunamis. Really? Because we don't even know exactly how the flood in Genesis was caused other the very few details in Scripture. So how could we possibly know the worldwide effects of such a flood?Science isn't science anymore. It is conclusions derived from mathematical calculations using incomplete or even faulty data. And even the mathematical equations themselves are based upon assumptions. That a "Christian" cannot see this causes me to be dubious about said person's faith.

  2. FredI still want to take you to lunch and have you teach me about Genesis, really (I live in Valencia also).I agree with you concerning apologetics. BUT I believe you are erring in another part of your entire argument. What I believe you are saying is, there are two ways to look at reality, mans way, and Gods way, which happens to be the way my camp interprets the Bible.Confidence and consistency are important but what if your interpretation of a Biblical passage or hermeneutic is wrong. Even John MacArthur has changed his views on Lordship. Did Truth change at that point, of course not. Presuppositionalism has the fatal flaw of being subject to our understanding which is based on our limited, flawed, and imperfect suppositions. It is self refuting, but so is living the Christian life, all we can do is try our hardest depending on the Holy Spirit the best we can.Saying Genesis is clear is silly, the fact that you have to say that so often is further evidence that it's not clear.Also:Greek philosophers like Plato should stay out of our ideas on the Bible, the one that comes to mind most clearly is Plato's idea of everyone having an immortal soul (GTY believes that). It is directly stated that only God is immortal in 1 Tim 6:16. I point this out to show that we are all slaves to our traditions and views (suppositions).Sir Aaron said math is based on assumptions. I don't agree, math is based on logic which can only be justified with a Christian world view. Are you saying we can't trust logic? Math and logic are the same thing. I hope you aren't falling into the trap that secular skeptics accuse Christians of doing and that is not trusting logic but trusting their idea of "faith". Logic is fully in the Christian camp and we should fight for it and make secular argument foolish using it (in a presuppositional way of course).Donavan

  3. Donovan,"Saying Genesis is clear is silly, the fact that you have to say that so often is further evidence that it's not clear."Perhaps justification for accepting the uniformitarian assumptions behind an old earth, and old universe? Or could it be brother, that you are holding on to a form of self-delusion? The perspicuity of Scripture is a central tenet. A six-day recent mature creation and young universe and young earth (approx. 6000 years) was almost universally held and believed by the Church for 1800 years until the advent of modern geology and it's notions of 'deep time'. Study the history of how this happened and you will either tell us modern science trumps 'all that', or you will learn to trust the revealed Word of God and modify your views. I pray it will be the latter.Blessings.

  4. Hey Steve,I don't have any type of clarity (perspicuity) when it comes to the first part of Genesis, I read Freds work on how it conforms to the Historical Narrative genre, and didn't find it convincing because early Genesis is not like any other part of the Bible, in its context or perspective of its author. I don't believe in uniformitarian assumptions, I honestly I only want to believe more Biblically when it comes to Genesis.Steve, consider your argument, because the church almost universally holds an idea to be true certainly doesn't mean it is true. The church believed that the earth was the center of the universe for a long time also, the church doesn't have as good of a track record on truth as the Bible.This post does bring up presuppositional ideas. When man discovered that the earth wasn't the center of the universe by using science if forced the church to take another look at how it interpreted the Bible. I think science is never ever a hermeneutic for Bible interpretation but neither is tradition and what was at odds here was not the Truthfulness of the Bible but a contest between tradition and science and science won as a marker of reality. I'm a presuppositionalist I have an invisible tattoo of Dr. Bahnsen over my heat, but I do still see evidence that leads to real truth which in turn may make your theology more clear because we have brushed away irrational tradition.Donavan

  5. Donovan writes,because early Genesis is not like any other part of the Bible, in its context or perspective of its author.Where are you getting this? Of course it is just like any other portion of historical narrative. Grammatically and syntatically. Those who say otherwise either don't know what they are talking about, ala Hugh Ross, or they are desperately attempting to reinvent the Hebrew language. When man discovered that the earth wasn't the center of the universe by using science if forced the church to take another look at how it interpreted the Bible. But that ISN'T what happened. I get this story repeated to me all the time by deep time compromisers and without fail they get it wrong every time. There was no conflict with science and the Bible, the conflict was between a growing group of academics who were at conflict with the Ptolemaic/Aristotelian philosophy that had infected the RC church since Thomas Aquinas. The church magisterium merely appealed to the Bible as an authority to maintain the cosmological traditions. Nothing in the Bible suggests that one must believe in geocentricism in order to be biblical. BTW, if the Bible is wrong about this, which is subtly hinted at with your comment, then there is a problem with its infallibility as a revelation from God. but I do still see evidence that leads to real truth which in turn may make your theology more clear because we have brushed away irrational tradition.What evidence? Evidence has to be interpreted, just as Bahnsen would say, does it not? The presuppositions one brings to the table determines the conclusions one draws when the evidence is filtered through those presuppositions. So Steve is right, uniformitarianism=long ages=Genesis must be reinterpreted in order to conform to the "evidence."

  6. Hey FredYou Said:Where are you getting this? Of course it is just like any other portion of historical narrative. Grammatically and syntacticallyI'm talking about the J, E and P Texts, just to name one school of thought. It is a common textual criticism. The difference in genre, poetry and prose in the first chapter, the different introductions for the creation story. It goes on and on, it is not simple, to say the least. I have had questions asked about these texts and I couldn't answer them other than to give the cop out, well liberals try to say the gospels are a conglomeration of texts also. I understand the churches position on the earth being the center of the universe. That was not my point it wasn't important to give the details story, I think my point was clear.I reread my post and it wasn't that confusing, I didn't say the Bible was wrong about anything. You are so harsh, why do you and Steve call me a compromiser and an old Earther who my be self-deluded. You should recheck your Christian witness in general when you write with such a lack of kindness. Who cares if you are Pre-sup, or evidential if you don't have love you don't have anything.I will not post on your blog anymore.Donavan

  7. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Prov. 9:10A man in my Sunday School quoted that this morning and I thought it worth repeating.

  8. Pingback: Articles on Apologetics and Evangelism | hipandthigh

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  10. Pingback: Ken Ham vs. the SES Apologetic | hipandthigh

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