What Motivates Ken Ham? or What Answers in Genesis gets Wrong about N.T. Wright

A common tactic of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) is to attack fellow Christians and accuse them of being “compromised Christians.” In the process, if they don’t outright misrepresent these men and women (mostly men), then they most certainly under represent their significant and valuable contributions to the Church and yes, even to, the Academy.

Most recently, Simon Turpin, one of the UK spokespeople for AiG, has aimed his crosshairs at the distinguished Biblical scholar and former Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright. (Click for AiG article.) Wright has devoted his entire life to the service of the Church and the Academy. Moreover, he is of that all too rare and special breed of scholar who is not only able to write to his academic peers but to translate that work into simpler, more accessible, popular books. Indeed, he helps his reader by using the name N.T. Wright on his more difficult and erudite books and Tom Wright on his more popular works. In addition, he is an incredible public speaker and is among the best preachers I have had the privilege to hear.

Later in this post, I will address Turpin’s misleading portrayal of Wright. For now, it is enough to suggest that even Wright’s “secular” colleagues and critics would be amused to hear him described as compromising and seeking their approval. Indeed, if they read Turpin’s descriptions, they would likely mistake his descriptions as ironic or satirical like when you name an elephant Tiny. Having met Wright myself, I suspect this description would be met with a chuckle.

What is that draws the gaze of Ham away from his precioussss Ark, raises the ire of the AiG collective (Star Trek reference intended), and elicits a condescending word of admonishment and judgement from Ken Ham or one of the Hamites?

Hamite Minifigure

The sole criteria is that the individual or organization questions the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis as propounded by Ken Ham and AiG. For Ham’s modern literalist interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is the rock upon which his organization, Answers in Genesis, is built. The belief that the universe is less than seven thousand years old and that this belief is biblically required is the cornerstone of the AiG ministry.

As I have indicated in other posts, that they hold this belief is not problematic for me. What is a problem for me and it seems N.T. Wright is that Ham and AiG have taken debatable questions about human origins, the age of the cosmos, and even the nature and interpretation of Scripture and elevated them to the status of essential teachings of the Christian faith.

Of course, Ham and the folks at AiG explicitly deny that they have done so but to anyone outside the organization, including some young earth creationists, in practice and writings like this one it becomes quite clear that to reject their interpretation of scripture and of scientific data is tantamount to rejecting the “Word of God.”

At present, I am still convinced that Ken Ham is not a charlatan. That is, at present, I believe that Ken Ham is genuinely concerned about young Christians losing their faith, about defending the authority of Scripture, and about the very real attacks on and misrepresentations of Christianity in the media. However, I would suggest to Ham and the folks at AiG that despite their genuine concern and incredible efforts (I mean, dude’s building an Ark using only post-diluvian technology and has convinced people to give him money to do it. He deserves some kudos.) as I was saying, despite their incredible efforts, AiG is part of the problem rather than the solution. They are doing more to harm than to help when it comes to spreading the word.

This recent and characteristic attack on N. T. Wright is a case in point.

What AiG Gets Wrong about Wright?

In “What Motivates Christians like N.T. Wright to accept Evolution?”, Turpin asserts,

For Wright, the reason we should abandon YEC (or biblical creation!) is that, as Christians, we do not want to be seen as anti-intellectual. Yet who is it that assumes Christianity to be anti-intellectual? The answer, the secular academy! What Christians face today is a choice between earning the respect of the secular, unbelieving world by accepting evolution, or being faithful to Scripture.

In this article and the above quote, Turpin reduces all of the complex psychological and practical motivations that go into life choices and, in this case, Wright’s ongoing engagement with the Academy (Christian and non-Christian) to one motivation “earning the respect of the secular, unbelieving world.”

If Wright’s motivation was to gain the respect of the world, he would not have written his tome The Resurrection of the Son of God. If he were seeking to curry favour with the academy he would stop writing about the apostle Paul altogether. Indeed, with his remarkable talents, Wright could have found many easier and more immediately lucrative ways to make a living but his scholarship has, in my opinion, been in service of the Church. There are likely many complex motivations for his engagement with the Academy like a simple love of learning, his desire that Christians properly interpret scripture, and following the evidence, to name a few.

If Wright has indeed been convinced by the theory of evolution, then I suspect the latter is also at least part of what motivated him. Wright followed the evidence and was convinced by it. Moreover, I suspect he would admit that evolutionary biology is not his area of expertise and we must rely (though not uncritically) on the expert opinion of others. (For Wright’s own comments click here.)

Yet, when it comes to Scripture and Science, Ken Ham and the folks at AiG consistently reject the expert opinion of others even fellow Christians like N.T. Wright, Larry Hurtado, Peter Enns, John Walton, Bruce Waltke, Francis Collins, Denis Lamoureux, Conor Cunningham, the list could go on. Moreover, the folks at AiG do not engage in discussion and argument but simply pronounce judgment in a condescending tone.

For instance, Simon Turpin who does at least have an MA in Theology, writes,

What Christians, like Wright, who accept evolution need to realise is that theistic evolution is neither biblical orthodoxy, nor does it win the respect of the world (not that the Christian should be looking for the respect of the world) nor is it good science, for it is just as scientifically flawed as is atheistic evolution.

First of all it is quite presumptive on Turpin’s part to think that a prolific and thorough Biblical scholar like N.T. Wright has not considered whether or not evolutionary theory is inherently at odds with the Scriptures and the historic teachings of the Church which he holds and upholds as authoritative. Rather, it seems, Wright has come to a different conclusion from that purported by AiG.

Indeed, if we take Wright’s comparison of YEC with gnosticim seriously (as quoted by Turpin), then Wright has come to the exact opposite conclusion of AiG. That is, to reject overwhelming evidence about the age of the cosmos and the origin of species that is convincing Christians and non-Christians alike is not only anti-intellectual but amounts to a Christian heresy. As Turpin presents it,

Wright doesn’t stop there in his criticism of those to hold to YEC; he states,

“. . . if we can study Genesis and human origins without hearing the call to be an image-bearing human being renewed in Jesus, we are massively missing the point, perhaps pursuing our own dream of otherworldly salvation that merely colludes with the forces of evil. That’s what gnosticism always does.”

There we have it. Not only is YEC is “false teaching” (the kind of teaching that should not even be allowed amongst Christians) but those who believe it are apparently gnostics!

With respect, to YEC, I see Wright’s position as similar to Augustine’s position with respect to the philosophy (or science) of his day. Augustine assumes that even non-Christians can know something about the world and cautions Christians from making reckless assertions about the teaching of Scripture that contradicts what is more generally known when it comes to the natural world. (See this post for the full Augustine quote.) For this reason, even an inerrantist like J.I. Packer insists that we allow that the authors of scripture are writing in an historical context and are not speaking to or about modern scientific discoveries.

So, setting aside the theory of evolution, it seems clear that what we have here is an in-house debate about the nature and interpretation of Scripture. So, one would expect AiG to make an argument from Scripture that counters Wright’s postion. In other words, the question under discussion should be something like the following:

Is evolutionary theory inherently incompatible with the Christian Scriptures?

Or

Do the early chapters of Genesis make scientific claims about the origins of the cosmos?

Or

Do the Christian Scriptures make authoritative scientific claims?

Now, we can have fruitful conversation or argument about the nature of Scripture, biblical genres, and biblical hermeneutics. In other words, AiG needs to convince N.T. Wright and others like him (including me) that they are properly interpreting Scripture and that Scripture makes authoritative scientific claims. In other words, our common ground is the authority of the Christian Scriptures.

Yet, to what or to whom does Turpin appeal, not to Scripture. He asserts the incompatibility but does not argue for it (a common AiG practice). Yet, ironically, he appeals to Charles Darwin and an atheist evolutionary biologist.

William Provine, late professor of biological sciences at Cornell University, said,

“. . . belief in modern evolution makes atheists of people. One can have a religious view that is compatible with evolution only if the religious view is indistinguishable from atheism.”

Christians should listen to what Dr. Provine is saying; the only religion that is compatible with evolution is atheism!

Am I supposed to be convinced by this quote. Of course, an atheist is going to tell Christians that only atheism is compatible with belief in evolutionary theory. Moreover, it is likely that like Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, and others, William Provine assumes that AiG interpretation is the correct and only valid interpretation of Genesis. And, yes, on that basis assume that Christianity is by nature anti-intellectual.

(See my Unhappy Marriage posts for more on these strange bedfellows.)

The great irony and sad reality here is that Turpin is steering Christians away from one of the most thoughtful, influential, and accessible Christian authors of our time and listening instead to an atheist who in all likelihood shares the opinion that AiG’s interpretive method and conclusions are the only valid way of reading Genesis.

The Bottom Line: What Motivates Ken Ham and the folks at AiG?

I have already indicated that I still think the folks at AiG have complex and heartfelt motivations for what they do. But given that there raison d’etre is bound up with a particular interpretation of Genesis 1-11 and a great deal of money has been invested in their amusement park, one motivation must be keeping the Ark afloat. IP

#answersingenesis #kenham #ntwright #genesis1 #creatiionvsevolution #atheism


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4 thoughts on “What Motivates Ken Ham? or What Answers in Genesis gets Wrong about N.T. Wright

  1. Wouldn’t it be pre-diluvian technology they are using to build their ark? Or even better antediluvian? I just wanted you to know I read the article attentively 🙂

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    1. No, that’s a bit of a jab at AIG. If you follow the link to their article, they think we moderns would be amazed by the antediluvian technology. The bible doesn’t say that Noah wasn’t a rocket scientist. So, he could have been. 😉

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