The title of this post is the working title of my friend’s book on the teachings and influence of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AIG). At present, the two of us are joining into the ongoing discussion about the relation of Christianity to Science. Neither of us accept the parameters of the debate as it is often defined by Young Earth Creationists (YEC) and their defacto debate partners, the so-called New Atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, etc.). The debate as defined by the usual and very vocal participants and, therefore, as seen presented by the media and understood by the majority of the public usually presents a very stark either/or. Either the Bible (as interpreted by Ken Ham and AIG, etc.) offers a valid, historical, and scientific account of the proximate origins of the universe and therefore Christianity is true or modern scientific theories about the proximate origins of the universe (aka Big Bang and billions of years) and the origin of species (aka Evolution) is accurate and therefore theism is false.There are many thoughtful scholars (Christian and non-Christian) who reject the parameters as set by these vocal participants. (See Conor Cunningham’s BBC documentary “Did Darwin Kill God?” — sometimes you can find it on YouTube.)
As my friend Joel expresses in a recent post, in many ways, our interest in this conversation is tangential and a bit of a distraction from our primary interests. We are engaging and publicly responding to the teachings of Ken Ham and AIG because it gets in our way of doing what we love. As committed Christians ourselves, we love to teach anyone (but especially young minds) how to read the Bible. We believe (because we have experienced this ourselves) that a richer understanding of the historical background with a good dose of literary sensitivity leads to a deeper appreciation of the Word of God. In turn, this approach trains the Christian mind for a deeper appreciation of the world God has made and makes us better conversation partners whether with fellow Christians or people with differing presuppositions.
We are aware and I sincerely believe that Ken Ham and the folks at AIG are concerned for the same young minds and hearts. Yet, ironically, it is their authoritarian manner of teaching and their strict dichotomy with its polemical us or them attitude that is a significant contributor to young Christians leaving the faith when confronted with convincing evidence that contradicts the teachings of Ken Ham and AIG (and, therefore, is taken as a refutation of God’s Word). Moreover, with the almost single-minded focus on Genesis 1-3 and a literalist but not literary hermeneutic, they are erecting a road block that hinders the very students they seek to help in their quest for a richer understanding of Scripture and of God’s good Creation. In addition, they engender a spirit of distrust (and trust is a near synonym for faith) which sets up a dividing wall between student and teacher that we as teachers must first gently break down.
While still difficult, at a Christian institution, like Baylor or Wheaton, where teachers can openly express their Christian convictions in the classroom setting and thus demonstrate both their faith in God’s word and their commitment to good scholarship and intellectual discovery in order to get through the barriers. How much more difficult is Ken Ham making it for students at “secular” institutions where confessing Christian educators must be much more subtle and circumspect in guiding even their Christian students lest they be seen as proselytizing and indoctrinating rather than educating (and there is a difference).
It is only in retrospect after my freshman year conversion that I can see the gentle guiding hands of Christian teachers in the Canadian public school system whose thoughtful engagement with my agnostic and, sometimes, antagonistic attitude toward Christianity and religion. I remember, in particular, an English teacher who I had as sub in the 9th grade and then again in my senior year. In the ninth grade, she had to answer my questions about why we learn Greek myths and about Greek gods but we are not taught about the Bible or Wicca or Hinduism. What’s the difference? Aren’t they all just stories?
Then, in my senior year (grade 13 in Ontario, at the time), she allowed me to begin a research project in which I set out to prove that at their core all religions are the same. I began to compare the Bible (which I had read a good portion of thanks to the Gideons), The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the Qu’ran. I quickly realized two things. First, my hypothesis was wrong. While there might be some superficial similarities in these beliefs and writings, it was precisely at the core that they were all different. Second, this project was too big for me to complete in the time allotted. So, did I switch to Shakespeare, no I proposed a comparison of famous monsters to figure out what makes an enduring monster. I compared Dracula, Frankenstein, and a collection of Werewolf tales. For my class presentation, I subjected this poor, sweet, gentle woman to a video presentation of the narrative flow of horror films. Yet, both of these projects taught me important lessons about the nature of religion and culture and about human nature. Only after my conversion did I find her and her husband (our wonderful physics teacher) at a friend’s church. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Lukas.
There are enough barriers between students and teachers and between God and human beings that Christians need not contribute another grounded in a non-essential doctrine about the age of the earth. Despite his protests to the contrary and his stated aim of keeping kids in the Church, Ken Ham’s unbalanced emphasis on YEC teaching and his stark us vs them narrative is a key factor in many a Christian’s decision to not only leave the Church but to become vocal opponents of the Church.