Ken Ham vs. the SES Apologetic

I wanted to spend a few moments interacting with this article over at the Southern Evangelical Seminary blog,

Does Ken Ham’s Defense Biblical Authority Lead to Biblical Skepticism?

It’s an article written by my past internet foil, Adam Tucker. He has provided us with a helpful treatise expaining the methodology behind how SES teaches apologetic engagement. He excellently contrasts a classical/Thomist approach to apologetics from a presuppositional/Bible-based one that I believe lends us insight for sharpening our apologetic focus.

Bear with me, this is gonna be a long one

A Little Background

Now the first thing one is probably wondering about is what exactly does Ken Ham have to do with all of this. Well, since about 2012, folks over at Southern Evangelical Seminary have expressed dismay at Ken Ham’s presentations defending biblical creationism. The first real vocal critic was SES professor, Richard Howe, who wrote an emotional critique of a talk he heard Ken Ham give at a church in his area. I wrote a response to Howe’s article that can be read HERE.

His critique eventually grew into a written journal dialogue between him and Jason Lisle who now operates the Bible Science Institute. A discussion on creation was also held at the 2013 SES apologetic conference between Howe, Lisle, and Scott Oliphant, and eventually a discussion between Howe and Ham at the 2017 SES apologetic conference.

The main complaint against Ham is the manner he goes about defending the historicity of Genesis and his young earth views. If you hear his talks or read the literature of Answers in Genesis, the creation ministry founded by Ham, his talking points remain consistent. In sum:

We must begin with Scripture as our starting point for understanding origins. Any attempt with revising the straightforward interpretation of the creation week from Genesis with the constructs of Darwinian evolution or deep time ideas is reading man’s interpretations of the world onto Scripture. Men, according to Scripture, are fallen and their interpretations are fallible. Thus, we allow the revelation of Scripture to inform and shape our interpretation of the world and the history of it’s origins, and we should never allow man’s fallible interpretations of the world apart from Scripture shape our reading of Genesis.

Adam insists Ham’s apologetic “starting point” ultimately spirals into skepticism. After he lays out some of Ham’s main arguments from his written articles, fundraising letters, and various talks, Adam summarizes his apologetic methodology,

I think the reader is intelligent enough to recognize the pattern of thought here. It seems Mr. Ham’s position is that because of our fallen state, introducing outside ideas, or man’s word, into the mix of our interpretation of God’s Word ultimately undermines biblical authority. The problem is that there are at least two reasons why this position actually leads to biblical skepticism instead.

He the goes on to explain what he means by skepticism by framing his critique around those two reasons he mentions. Let me outline each one in turn.

First, he says Ham has a “knowledge problem.” By that he means when Ham uses such descriptions as “worldview,” “worldview neutral,” “autonomous human reasoning” or says everyone has the same evidence and that evidence must be interpreted based on a belief system, he is essentially contradicting himself. He is in fact bringing human reasoning to bear upon the Bible, Ken Ham’s reasoning. That’s because none of those concepts, worldviews, autonomous reasoning, etc., are directly talked about in Scripture.

Additionally, if it is universally true that all evidence is interpreted according to one’s specific worldview as Ham insists, then that fact is true across the entire spectrum of human worldviews making that fact “worldview neutral.” That in turn makes his position false. Laws of logic, Adam, goes on to note, are the same across ALL worldviews. They don’t differ from one culture to the next, and that again falsifies Ham’s position. He also asks how Ham knows the Bible is the starting point and not the Quran or the Book of Mormon. He has to make that determination from outside the Bible, so his starting point begins elsewhere, not from Scripture.

He goes on to write that the Bible is a part of the very reality that Ham claims one cannot know apart from Scripture. That view creates a glaring inconsistency, because as Adam asks, “If all of my thinking is skewed by my “fallen” and “fallible” worldview, how can I in principle “let God speak to me to the best of my ability to not try to impose my ideas on Scripture”?”  In other words, a person has to properly understand a specific part of our reality, the BIble, before having a starting point for properly understanding any other part of reality. That, Adam insists, is “a contradiction and rules out the possibility of properly understanding anything!”

Secondly, Ham has an interpretation problem. While it is true that Ken Ham employs the grammatical-historical hermeneutic for interpreting the Bible, his problem is that the Bible nowhere teaches that interpretive method. Ham is using the right hermeneutic, but he came to the use of that hermeneutic apart from Scripture. In other words, he is again starting with “man’s ideas” to read the Bible, not the Bible itself. Additionally, the Bible Ken Ham uses is translated into English from Hebrew and Greek. How does he know the language scholars translated it correctly? In fact, in his talks, he often appeals to what Hebrew scholars say about the Hebrew in Genesis 1 to defend his hermeneutic. Is he not trusting in man’s words?

Moreover, why exactly is Ken Ham’s interpretation the correct one? Adam points out that he says in his talks that anyone can read the Genesis account and plainly see that it speaks of creation happening in six days. But if that is true, why are there so many different interpretations of not only Genesis, but other biblical doctrines like those who deny the deity of Christ or affirm open theism? Those various groups are claiming they are plainly reading the Bible to draw their conclusions. With all those different interpretations, why is Ham’s the right one? Especially if everyone is fallen, as he says, and cannot trust their human senses to know things about the history of the physical world.

What can we say about Adam’s critique?

First, there is a huge failure with understanding what Ken Ham is saying. The most significant problem with Adam’s article is he fails to actually engage with what it is Ham is saying. He is providing a biblical defense of young earth creationism. When he says “we don’t bring man’s autonomous reasoning to Scripture” or take “man’s words and add them to Scripture,” he is NOT saying there is nothing of value outside of Scripture human beings can learn that helps us understand the Bible. Rather, his point is that Genesis chapter one clearly states that God created the known universe, the earth, and all life contained with in it in six days. The reason Ham’s says that is because the Bible says that. The language of the text is unambiguous. Hence, if we, as Christians believe the Scripture is our ultimate authority, we believe what it says regarding origins. We allow it to direct our understanding of origin history and how we evaluate the scientific evidence.

What Ham is arguing against are those individuals, especially Christians, who are influenced by Darwinian deep-time views of earth’s origin history (earth came into existence 4 billion years ago after a big bang event several billions years before that) that allow those views to reread the creation narrative of Genesis. Instead of Genesis revealing God creating everything over the course of six days and then resting on the seventh day, our understanding of a week, Sunday through Saturday, those individuals influenced by deep-time insist that Genesis must be reinterpreted. The creation week is something of a theological tract explaining God’s purpose of redemption, or a polemic against ANE mythology, or whatever, rather than an historical narrative providing real, historical information about the origin of the earth. Ken Ham is essentially upholding article 12 (XII) of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy which reads,

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

 

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

He is also affirming what is written in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics under article 19 (XIX) and article 22 (XXII) that denies the teaching of creation in Genesis can be overthrown by “scientific hypothesis,” which is another way of saying “Man’s autonomous reasoning.”

Second, he misunderstands Bahnsen’s distinction between the knowledge of sinners and the saved. Adam cites two quotes on logic from Greg Bahnsen’s posthumous work, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended for the purpose of demonstrating that Ham creates a false dichotomy between what fallen men know and what the Christian knows. He implies that Ham, following Van Til, Bahnsen, and other presuppositional apologists, is saying fallen men cannot truly know reality with their senses. Adam asks, “Why can man not trust his senses to reveal truths about the creation timeline?” The answer, according to Ham and Bahnsen, is that the minds of men are fallen and the conclusions they draw with their knowledge cannot be trusted.

Consider the fuller context of what Bahnsen wrote,

Even though the Christian and the non-Christian have the facts of the objective world in common, they have radically divergent interpretations of them. For the Christian all facts are pre-interpreted by God, created by God, and revelatory of God; they must be handled in such a way that glory is brought to God. But the non-Christian views these facts as meaningfully interpreted only by his own mind, as uncreated and free from God’s control, as ambiguous and contingent; he uses them to bring glory to man. Hence the Christian and non-Christian have different interpretative schemes.

Even when the believer and unbeliever share the same rules of logical inference, they nevertheless can be said to have different “logics.” For the believer and unbeliever differ as to the use, significance, ground, and authority of these rules; basically one subordinates logic to God while the other does not. [emphasis mine]

If one reads the entire section from his book, Bahnsen is demonstrating that all men without exception evaluate any factual evidence according to a set of preconditions concerning how they view the world. The scientific materialist for example, will never consider the possibility of the supernatural, because in his mind, the supernatural doesn’t exist. The idea of a miraculously created world, or even a resurrected man, is dismissed out of hand as fantasy and not worthy of serious thought. Whereas the Christian believes the supernatural does exist, because God has provided revelation telling us it does, so he accepts the historicity of a miraculously created earth and the resurrection of Jesus as really happening.

So neither Bahnsen, nor Ham, is saying fallen men can never learn things about reality using their senses. Fallen men do live in God’s created world and they bear the image and likeness of God, which means all men are designed to learn things using their senses. Rather, the conclusions they draw from their learning is often skewed, or mistaken, and many times untrustworthy, especially when it comes to so-called evidence regarding origins, mankind, and history. The fallen man, with the use of all his senses, will only default to a Darwinian model and deep time when it comes to evaluating any such evidence, because he is convinced his senses is telling him the truth about it. The believer, on the other hand, while using his senses to gain knowledge, submits that knowledge to what he knows is absolutely true regarding God’s revelation contained in Scripture. That’s why Ham says we start with Scripture.

Third, he has a deficient anthropology. A number of times throughout his article, Adam chides Ken Ham for his distinguishing between the thinking of “fallen” men, those men who are unregenerate, and the thinking of men who are regenerated. The general consensus among classic, Thomist apologists, what is advocated and practiced at SES, is that even though man is fallen into sin, his fallenness is merely moral and has no direct influence on his rational faculties. In other words, fallen men are in bondage to sinful desires and are morally corrupt, but their mental abilities that gather information with their human senses can draw accurate and honest conclusions about that evidence.

But is such a dichotomy within human nature biblical? As Christians, we should gather our understanding about humanity from the very One who created us and has left us a lengthy record documenting mankind’s interactions with both his Creator and each other. When we evaluate Scripture, the Bible doesn’t paint for us a picture of men who are bifurcated into a morally corrupted person, but has a mind freed from the taint of sin allowing him to make sound judgments about the evidence they gather with their senses. Certainly, men are created in the image of God. He has created them with their sense organs to interact with the world. However, that doesn’t mean their minds are freed from sin.

The Scripture, especially the NT, frequently speaks of the bondage that traps the mind of men so that they corrupt any use their natural senses may provide them. Man is said to have a “depraved mind” (Romans 1:28), a mind imprisoned by “law of sin” (Romans 7:23), a mind “set on the flesh” (Romans 8:6,7), minds that are satanically blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4), minds that indulged the desires of the flesh (Ephesians 2:3), and minds hostile to God that engage in evil deeds (Colossians 1:21). Additionally, Paul describes spiritual warfare as destroying speculations and those lofty things raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4,5). In other words, areas of the mind that are fed by our senses.

Further, salvation brings renewal of mind (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:10). That means a fallen man, while he may have a general understanding of reality with his senses, is most certainly deceived, and operates in a state of hostility toward God causing his five senses to serve his fundamental rebellion against God. Sinners need regeneration in order to accurately interact with God’s world so that his sense carry him to the correct conclusions about reality. For if our minds were untainted by sin, then there would be no need for the call to “renew our minds.”

Fourth, the relegation of Scripture to a secondary importance. A truly frustrating area with Adam’s article was the dismissive approach to the use of Scripture as the primary means in apologetic engagement. This has been a sticking point when I have exchanged responses with him on apologetic matters in the past. One thing that can be said about Ken Ham is that he consistently appeals to the authority of Scripture when he reasons with unbelievers and defends the faith. He doesn’t try to prove the reliability of Scripture first, but just presents it as truth whether or not the person believes it or not. Though I am sure Adam, and others who utilize the SES apologetic, maintain a high view of Scripture, the tone presented in his article leaves the reader wondering if that is really the case.

For instance, one reason he states as to why we can never start with God’s Word is because there are so many various interpretations of the Bible. Why is Ken Ham so certain HIS interpretation is the right one? Adam points out how open theist heretics like Greg Boyd read the Bible but see passages that talk about God changing His mind and so conclude that God doesn’t know the future. And other cultic groups read passages that speak of God having eyes, or arms, and even wings and conclude God is made up of physical parts. Even passages that tell of the “four corners of the earth” imply the earth is square or flat. So because of all those confusing views on Scripture, no one can genuinely start with the Bible because we don’t know which view is the right one.

That sort of petty reasoning, however, generates as much skepticism as Adam accuses Ken Ham of causing. He is essentially saying that understanding the Bible is a big toss up because there are so many possible interpretations no one person can really say he has the correct view. Why even bother using the Bible to begin with if it has such potential for confusion.

Again, no one is saying we can’t use teachers or learn from the expertise of the translators of biblical languages. However, when God gave the Scriptures, He did so with the intent of being understood. He made Revelation clear. Of course there are metaphors, types, analogy, and all the other areas of grammar all human language utilizes found in the Bible. Moreover, a consistent and careful study of Scripture, empowered by an unction from the Holy Spirit, is definitely necessary to cut the meaning of Scripture straight (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

However, the fact that God made man in his image and in his likeness means He created man to communicate not only with Him, but with each other. Human language, logic, grammar, and the rules of hermeneutics (interpreting written material secular or religious) was hardwired into humanity at man’s creation, and that ability exists in all people today. It had to be or men couldn’t even begin to communicate with each other, reason with each other, understand even how to make sense of what it is their senses sense.

How Exactly Do Men Know Stuff?

What is missing in Adam’s critique is what we do know about reality. That being, lost, fallen men, even though many of them may be smart and leading experts in various fields of study, are by nature cut off from their Creator because they are born in sin. That is what Scripture proclaims AND it is what we see played out in everyday society. Their fallenness has a debilitating effect upon their rational faculties, particularly when they draw conclusion about the reality they are exploring.

Take for instance genetic researchers discovering that  humans share Neanderthal DNA. The fallen man, using his autonomous reasoning and starting with his anti-supernatural worldview, boldly shouts that this is proof men share common evolutionary traits with Neanderthals. Evolutionary theory is proven. Biologos and other theistic evolutionary “ministries,” insist the evidence is overwhelming and Christians must reinterpret the Bible so as to take this evidence into consideration. Christians run the risk of creating stumbling blocks before unbelievers if they don’t, even if it means overturning preciously held traditions like inerrancy and biblical creationism in 6 days like Answers in Genesis teaches. The Christian, on the other hand, like Ken Ham, allows what Scripture says about creation to inform his reasoning. He takes the same evidence and draws the conclusion that rather than Neanderthals being some lost evolutionary link in humanity’s past, insist that evidence only proves Neanderthals were humans. [By the way, I wrote an article for Creation Ministries addressing the very issue how such compromise is a disaster for apologetic ministries – SEE HERE].

Fallen men draw those conclusions about various areas of reality apart from God’s Revelation, apart from the power of the Gospel to set men’s minds to think rightly. And while people, both saved and fallen, may derive benefit from their work due in part to a shared general grace everyone experiences from one degree to another because they live in God’s world, that work is often times mistaken and directs us in the wrong way to think about the reality. As Christians, we do want to think correctly about reality, but that only comes in it’s purest form from a mind set free from sin, who filters what he gathers with his senses through the starting point of God’s Word and our ultimate authority.

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