One of the strangest elements of the teaching of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (and that’s saying something when you are talking about people who insist human beings and dinosaurs co-existed) is that with all the fuss they make over the theory of evolution, their position entails the acceptance of an accelerated evolutionary model.
Ham and the folks at AiG insist that the earth (and, indeed, the cosmos) is less than 7,000 years old. The cosmos originated in 4004 BC or 0 anno mundi (See their time-lines.) In keeping with their literalist interpretation of Genesis 1-11 and based on the well-known Noah story, they also insist that there was a global flood in 2348 BC. During this flood, Noah rescued 7,000 “kinds” of animals. Kinds should not be confused with the modern scientifc term species. Nevertheless, from these 7,000 kinds (which included some dinosaurs) all the land animals, aviary animals, and most of the amphibious animals are descended. (Apparently doves and ravens are different “kinds” of birds. Can some biologist try breeding them? If you can produce a rave or a doven, then Ham’s definition of kinds would fall apart.)
Ken Ham and AiG employ the term Baraminology to give their classification system a more scientific and erudite sounding name, like when my sister and I referred to cleaning out the cow pen as scatological field research. So, AiG’s Baraminology is kind of like scatology.
At present, it is estimated that there are 6.5 million (give or take a million) species of land animals. Ham insists that all these species are descended from some portion of the 7,000 kinds aboard Noah’s floating box. (I am not being dismissive here. “Ark” is just a fancy word for box.) In other words, all the living species of land and bird kind evolved from some portion of these 7,000 kinds of animals in last 4363 years (and that is being generous with time because that gives up to 2015 AD for this evolutionary process to have taken place).
Ken Ham’s Kind of Speciation
What Ham rejects is “molecules to man” evolution. He also rejects cat to dog evolution or the common ancestry of ape and homo sapiens or common ancestry of crocodile and turtle. So long as one “kind” does not evolve into another kind, then there can be and, indeed, must be speciation within a kind or a kind of speciation.
Yet, this requires an accelerated evolutionary process followed apparently by a rapid deceleration of the same process. (Of course, when one believes in a god who frequently changes the physical laws of the cosmos, then one also has an explanation ready to hand with the added bonus of being unfalsifiable.)
So, in principle, Ken Ham accepts natural selection as a mechanism. But Ham rejects that all life on earth is descended from a common ancestor and defines evolution as just this.
So, Ham is borrowing from Darwin here but claiming to present what Christians have always believed. What evidence does Ken Ham have either biblical or from the early church that anyone thought that the different kinds of creatures in their enormous variety arose through the process of natural selection rather than as distinct acts of special creation?
I am not sure how Ham explains this process but I can easily come up with a few explanations based on Hamean logic. For instance, the animals being so close to the initial creative activity of god were initially particularly procreatively blessed. This initial fecundity declined overtime due to the effects of the fall and change in food sources. Thus there was rapid and widespread speciation of biblical proportions shortly after the flood which declined exponentially with the rapid rise of sin in the world. (I found their explanation in this linked “article” or text-book sales pitch which also explains how they use the terms natural selection and evolution.)
This element of their teaching provided, perhaps, the most amusing moment in the Bill Nye/Ken Ham Debate. Nye explains to Ham that given AiG’s numbers there would have to be 11 new species a day. How does Ham respond? He says, that’s not a problem, Bill, there may only have been 1,000 kinds of animals on the Ark.
Using gradeschool math, Nye explains to Ham that this response only exacerbates the problem. Now, you need 35-40 new species a day, Mr. Ham.
Ham’s position is incredible in the original sense of the word. I know when I was struggling to understand the theory of evolution and its relation to the Christian Scriptures the issue of time was one of the key sticking points. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine thousands of years let alone billions of years. Yet, at the time, even billions of years did not seem to be enough time. Now, Ham wants to convince me that I am being unbiblical and unfaithful to the Creator God and the Scriptures, if I do not accept his accelerated evolutionary model and his capricious god.
Ken Ham and the folks at AiG ought to heed Augustine’s warning from On the Literal Meaning of Genesis:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [emphasis added, quoting 1 Tim 1:7].
Given the evidence available today and the interpretation of this evidence by the vast majority of scientists, non-Christian and Christian alike, I have little doubt that subjects like the age of the earth and the origin of species would be included in Augustine’s list of what even the non-Christian knows something about. And as such, the doctrines of Ken Ham and the folks at AiG would be described as those “talking nonsense” and “reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture.”
Rather than defending “utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements”, the more driving questions then become how do I interpret Scripture in light of this richer understanding of God’s Creation? and how does this help me understand God’s special role for human beings in creation?
With respect to Ken Ham’s interpretation of the evidence both biblical and extra-biblical, I am beginning to wonder if the sole purpose of God and the Scripture isn’t to justify the existence of Ken Ham’s Amusement Park. I hope they have a Starbucks and an awesome roller-coaster or I may lose my faith.