IntroductionAs many of my readers and friends are aware, I am a big proponent of unity within the Church. I like to see interaction among ministries that specialize in certain areas of knowledge and evangelism for the cause of expanding the Kingdom. At the same time, though, I rarely shy aware from difficult theological discussions and differences. I hold certain views that I will accept and address the most difficult challenges against. I've always said that if one has the truth, they should not be afraid to be challenged. Yet we also need to understand and recognize challenges when our views cannot overcome them and adjust or abandon our views as necessary.
Having said that, I believe that when ministries or individuals engage in debates or discussions concerning doctrines on which they disagree, it is of highest importance that they recognize the points of agreement between them. They can then clearly articulate the disagreement and the reasons, then engage those reasons with the highest level of gentleness, respect, and academic prowess.
Unfortunately, this week I read an article by Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis (AiG) that meets none of these standards. Now, before you continue reading this post, please read Ham's article here; the rest of this post assumes you have read it.
Points of AgreementBefore I continue, I want my readers to understand that Answers in Genesis is a ministry that is deeply committed to the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by providing the members of the Body of Christ with tools to engage the culture. Many Christians have been encouraged by AiG's ministry and have become more bold in their presentation of the Gospel to unbelievers. I and the vast majority of Christian ministries hold this in common with AiG. Further, they are committed to the truth of the Bible as the infallible and inerrant Word of God. They defend this with all that they have, as do I and other Christians ministries.
Where We Disagree...And Agree (nuances)As many know, I do not agree with Ken Ham or Answers in Genesis on the age of the universe. They believe that the universe is approximately 6000 years old, while I believe that it is closer to 13.7 billion years old. Both of us believe that our respective views are compatible with a literal reading and historical understanding of Genesis 1-2. We both reject theistic evolution; however, they believe that all views that hold to an old universe may be categorized under the term "evolution"- so they do not believe that I and others who claim to reject theistic evolution actually do.
Theistic EvolutionThis is the first item in Ham's article that I wish to critique on two levels. First, in his article, rather than identifying and recognizing that mutual rejection of theistic evolution is something that they and the ministries of Reasons to Believe (RTB) and Stand to Reason (STR) may agree upon and work together promoting, Ham chose to assert that this is a point of disagreement and is a "compromise" of scripture on the part of those with whom he disagrees. Implied in such a claim is that Christians should avoid these ministries and that the effect that their ministries have for the Kingdom is tainted.
Now in my post a few months ago regarding Zombies of Christianity, I make it clear that it is necessary to call out an individual or ministry when something they are teaching undermines an essential of the faith. In fact, I believe that a lot of the passion behind the debates of non-essential doctrine comes from the idea that the other side compromises an essential (you can read more on that in the zombie post). However, Ham does not identify which essential of the Christian faith is compromised by believing in evolution (or that the universe is billions of years old, for that matter), and since he did not identify the essential, he did not provide an argument to demonstrate such a compromise. He merely asserted that compromise had taken place.
Evolution in GeneralSecond, Ham places all the ideas that require an old universe under the term "evolution". This is incorrect. There are several different views that hold to an old universe yet believe that God created the first life by fiat. There are also views that hold that many life forms became extinct, then God created new lifeforms by fiat. The problem with Answers in Genesis' use of the term "evolution" is similar to that of the naturalist's use of the same term. Pretty much everyone on all sides of the debate recognize that evolution takes place at the micro level. Naturalists argue that if one accepts micro-evolution, they must accept macro-evolution as well (see my post "Useful or Useless Evolutionary Terms" for a critique of this extrapolation).
Further, since evolution means "a change with respect to time", it is the term used to describe the formation of celestial bodies (the term "evolution" is typically preceded by the term "stellar" to indicate when this type of evolution is being discussed and the context is not clear). On the naturalistic view, there is no ontological or physical difference between life and non-life. The same logic they use to connect micro-evolution to macro-evolution is used to connect stellar evolution to the former type(s). To the naturalist, if one accepts one type of evolution, all are accepted necessarily by the lack of ontological and physical differences between results of the change over time.
This is where AiG goes wrong. They believe that if someone accepts stellar evolution, that they must also accept the other types of evolution. This is a naturalistic idea, and they are aware of that. They believe that if they can show evolution to be false, then they have shown (via the connection explained above) stellar evolution to be incorrect as well. If they can show that stellar evolution is false, it is safe to say the universe is not billions of years old as stellar evolution would require. This is perfectly valid and sound...but only when applied to the naturalistic worldview. Since the Christians who hold that the universe is billions of years old reject the ontological similarity between life and non-life, the critique that AiG offers does not apply to their view (since it is dependent upon that denied connection).
Instead, AiG should consider this another area of agreement with old universe Christians. That means that these Christians, along with AiG, reject naturalism. This does then cause us to ask, "why, then, would AiG insist that old-universe Christians hold this connection?" or "why, then, would AiG insist that they have undermined the views of old-universe Christians?" I won't go into that here because I have addressed it in my post "Reasons In and Out of a Worldview".
The Big BangNotice that the lack of a connection between biological evolution and stellar evolution also severs the connection between evolution and the cosmic creation event (the Big Bang, from the old universe perspective). Because of that lack of a connection in the worldview of the old-universe Christian, if Answers in Genesis can show that evolution is false, they have shown only evolution to be false, not Big Bang cosmology. It also goes the other way: if they show the Big Bang to be false, they have not shown evolution to be false.
I noticed that Ken Ham points to problems with Big Bang cosmology to argue that it is false. No cosmologist thinks that the Big Bang theory is complete. In fact, there are many different variations that are being tested and removed as they fail testing- this is part of being limited in knowledge (not omniscient). By implying that any model or theory should be rejected simply based on its incompleteness, means that either AiG is saying that they are omniscient (thus can formulate a complete model) or that their model should also be rejected because it is not complete either.
Back to the fact that there are many different Big Bang models available: keep in mind that AiG cannot just critique a single model and declare all to be defeated. They must recognize distinctions in the models and address those (much like the distinctions between theistic and naturalistic evolution). A lot of times critics of a family of models (like AiG is of Big Bang models) will focus on critiquing a necessary attribute that they all hold in common- perfectly valid. However, AiG focuses on the details of certain models that are not present in other models, and by the fact that the models have other attributes in common, they declare all Big Bang models to be defeated (a similar tactic is used by the New Atheists to declare that all religions are false). Though not mentioned in Ham's article, there are also many versions of evolutionary theory that have both common and unique attributes (including being Guided or unguided).
Evolution and Big Bang cosmology have common, necessary attributes in their naturalistic versions and may be critiqued as a whole, if those common attributes are the focus of the critique. But they also contain unique attributes that remove them from being affected by the critique of a unique attribute in another model. The critic must be careful to identify what attribute is being critiqued and what its extent is within a family of models. Models with unique attributes must be addressed separately when critiquing any family of models. This applies not just to study of nature, but to philosophical and theological theories as well.
RTB, STR, and AiG spend many resources critiquing the theory of evolution (both naturalistic and theistic). This is an area that they could recognize agreement and even join forces. But that hinges on AiG's willingness to understand the flaws in their logic and understand that they can't lump old universe Christians in with naturalists. This is a powerful area of agreement among these ministries that could be harnessed for furthering the Kingdom.
"Secular Ideas"I have also noticed that, not just in this article from Ham but others as well, that the Answers in Genesis team likes to use the term "secular" when referring to the old-universe idea; they do not make a distinction between the naturalist and the Christian, even though what I explained above demands the distinction. Big Bang cosmology is not necessarily a "secular" idea. Evolution is not necessarily a "secular" idea. It is only when they are connected (via the absence of an ontological difference- naturalism) that they become "secular" ideas. "Secular" ideas are ideas that are necessarily opposed to God. Naturalism is necessarily opposed to God. Since the absence of an ontological difference (naturalism) is necessarily contrary to what old-universe Christians propose, the use of the term "secular" to describe their view is incorrect, and the continued use of that incorrect term is dishonest.
RTB, STR, and AiG can, again, find agreement on this issue. They all support the difference between life and non-life, and they support the difference between human life and all other life. This is yet another opportunity for the ministries to recognize each other's resources and use them to further the Kingdom. But as mentioned before, there must be a recognition that agreement exists among all participants; if one does not recognize the agreement, they stand in the way of inter-ministry collaboration efforts for the Kingdom.
Attacked From InsideInter-ministry collaboration is difficult enough if any of the ministries do not recognize agreement, but when they claim that they are being attacked by the very ministries that they actually agree with, a whole new level of division is created. Ken Ham mentions in his article that he expects to receive opposition to their message. But he claims that the worst opposition they receive is from those in the Church. This bothers me for three reasons:
First, the fact that Ham refers to opposition outside and inside the Church in the same paragraph (and sentence) indicates that he believes that the Church is opposing his views for the same reasons the world opposes his views. We have to remember that the world is opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ- not hard to remember because we are constantly aware of it. But we have to recognize that Christians are not opposed to this same thing- in fact, they proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ham does not make the distinction between what the two sources of opposition are opposing, so he leaves the reader to believe that both are opposing the same thing.
Now, I'm not saying that this was done to intentionally poison the reader against the old-universe view, but for the average reader, that is precisely what happens when distinctions are not clearly stated and areas of agreement are not first established. When graciousness is absent from the context, the reader will interpret all that is written with the understanding that the writer is not being gracious. This leads to the reader interpreting what is written in the worst possible way, and makes the writer appear to be divisive (even if they are not meaning to be).
Second, Ham complains about being attacked from the inside without recognizing that what he is doing is also seen as attacks from the inside. Ham "plays the victim" at the beginning of the article by not recognizing that others are being attacked too. All ministries will be "attacked" from within the Church; all are "victims" and none are special in this regard. Because of the lack of recognition of that, Ham (likely unknowingly) has set up his readers with an emotional bias towards his view. Of course, this could also be interpreted as Ham expecting that the only readers would already be convinced of his view, thus the emotional appeal was not intended to have a logically fallacious effect. But I also don't necessarily believe that Ham is ignorant of logical fallacies or innocent enough to think that his only readers are those who agree with him.
Third, in a context that is absent of proper distinctions and the presence of many misrepresentations, the mention of opposition within the Church really makes Ham look like he is placing an emotionally charged view on a higher religious (not logical or reasonable) plane than anyone who disagrees with him- even if that is not what is his intention.
ConclusionI love to see Christians debate the details of our worldview. However, it pains me when we let our emotions and bad reasoning get in the way of discovering the true details of our worldview, and more importantly, leading others to the truth of our worldview. We, as the Church, need to learn to protect each other while disagreeing. We, as the Church, need to learn to honestly and deeply represent and evaluate others' views and our own views. We, as the Church, need to remember that we are all still sinners, that we will not be perfect, and when one of our brothers screws up, that we are no better. We must critique with the graciousness and honesty that we would want to be critiqued. We must be willing to accept and address gracious and honest critique in the gracious and honest way in which we would want our gracious and honest critique to be accepted and addressed. Ultimately, we, as the Church, must remember that it is only by God's grace that such incompetents as ourselves have been purposed with a task by an eternal God that will have eternal consequences- the only way forward is with great humility and gratitude to Jesus Christ.
Other articles responding to Ken Ham's article:
- On the Importance of Terminology: Evolution- by Ken Mann
- Ken Ham on "Compromise" and Stand to Reason- by J.W. Wartick
- A Brief Word on Ken Ham, Stand to Reason and the OEC/YEC Debate- by Austin Gravely
- Issues with Answers in Genesis- by Chad Miller