Why Do So Many Evangelicals Prefer to Get Their “Science” From Ken Ham Rather Than Francis Collins?

In Mark Noll’s 1995 classic exposition of anti-intellectualism in American evangelicalism, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, he wrote: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Nowhere is this more true than in the strange preference that evangelicals have for the discredited young-earth creationism of Ken Ham over the legitimate and well-founded science of Francis Collins. The ideas promoted by Ham are so obsolete that some of them were actually abandoned by the scientific community in the 18th century! Ham’s confident assertions that the earth is a few thousand years old and that there was a time in the history of our planet when humans co-existed with all other species had been abandoned by science when Darwin was a toddler.

In our new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Scientific Age, historian Randall Stephens and I show how charismatic, media-savvy evangelical leaders like Ken Ham (natural science), James Dobson (social science), David Barton (history), and Tim LaHaye (biblical studies) lead their fellow Christians astray by convincing them to accept discredited ideas.

Anti-evolutionists like Ken Ham—and his colleagues at places like the Discovery Institute—constantly bash science as ideology claiming that its conclusions derive from “assumptions” rather than observations. After years of seeing science bashed, many evangelicals simply don’t trust it. And so they embrace a “science” that seems to agree with the Bible, oblivious to the fact that it has no support of any kind. And the irony is that their fellow evangelical, Francis Collins, and others have shown that you can hold traditional evangelical beliefs without rejecting science.

Karl Giberson is a physicist and science and religion scholar, and the co-author of the new book The Anointed.

Category: Q&A

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11 Responses

  1. Wayne MacKirdy says:

    Who has done the “discrediting” of these men, and where is that “discrediting” found?

  2. MC says:

    Good point Wayne. I find the comment about David Barton particularly confusin since he goes back to the original sources and has one of the largest libraries of 100 to 250-year-old documents. How do you discredit the words of those who were there?

    Come to think of it, Ken Ham uses the original source as well. Karl is supposedly a Christian, yet makes a living trying to discredit the Bible?

    ““assumptions” rather than observations”

    Please enlighten us as to where we can find the observation journals documenting evolution, not just natural selection? Will you address the specific assumptions required to come to conclusions about an old earth and evolution?
    How about the assumptions Donald DeYoung tell us are made in geology? Or the fact that a young earth can make more sense of the same observations? Better yet, how about attempting to debunk Andrew Snelling’s entire 2-volume set showing a young earth? Do you deny the assumptions that have to be made to conclude that NEW useful genetic information can be added through mutation and natural selection? When has this ever been observed? Which of Warner Gitt’s laws of information do you dispute?

  3. Ken says:

    Excellent comments by MC above. It is easy for the authors to attack with emotion when the sacred cow of natural selection is gored and bleeding rather that objectively seeking truth as those of us with earned PhDs were trained to do. The list of dissenting scientists (www.dissentfromdarwin.org) support what “insufficiently educated” truth seekers like Ken Ham eloquently articulates.

  4. Ken Ham says:

    The new book The Anointed by Drs. Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens caught our attention this week. Answers in Genesis and its president Ken Ham feature prominently (though negatively) in the book. Stephens is an Eastern Nazarene College history professor; Giberson, a well-known anti-creationist, once taught science at the college.

    The first chapter deals with AiG and AiG’s president, Ken Ham, in particular. The entire book is a critique of several Christian leaders who are non-academics in the areas about which they make public pronouncements. Therefore, the authors argue, they shouldn’t be speaking authoritatively on issues of the day and that Christians should not be listening to them. Disparaging words like “amateurs” are often used in the book to ridicule high-profile Christian spokespersons. When it comes to evolution and creation, the authors plead that you must trust someone like evolutionist and Christian Dr. Francis Collins over Ken Ham because Ken does not possess an earned doctorate. That’s the pretentious premise of chapter one’s critique of AiG.

    The chapter is pock-marked with mistakes. In a more detailed book review that will be posted to this website on Tuesday, AiG will list many of them. For the moment, we will note that in the introduction and first chapter alone the book has errors in dates, mischaracterizations of Christian leaders like Dr. James Dobson, and gross misrepresentations of Christian leaders and their ministries. For example, the authors falsely claim (p. 36) that creation groups like the Institute for Creation Research and AiG believe that evolution is “responsible for much of what’s wrong with the world.” AiG has never said or implied that. Instead, AiG and ICR declare that a lack of belief in the Bible’s authority and accuracy (largely due to attacks from secular academia) has led many people to doubt or disbelieve the Bible. Thus, society increasingly sees the moral truths found in the Bible as arbitrary and unreliable, and citizens can therefore justify all sorts of moral behavior that the Bible teaches against. So, if people want to be racists, for example, evolutionary beliefs can justify their racist beliefs (e.g., that some people groups are more advanced than others). But AiG and ICR are clear: evolution in and of itself is not responsible for racism. (Read more about this issue in today’s “And Don’t Miss.”)

    The authors often resort to exaggeration to make their alarmist claims about the influence of Christian groups on society. For example, they describe AiG as a “media juggernaut” (p. 59). The Anointed also charges that organizations like AiG are “at war with science” (p. 11) and don’t have scholarship on their side. However, the authors conveniently ignore the fact that AiG has several full-time staff who hold earned doctorates (in astrophysics, genetics, geology, biology, the history of science, and medicine).

    As much as anything, the book reveals the academic hubris of Drs. Giberson and Stephens. They express disdain for Christian leaders who speak authoritatively on issues but who in the eyes of Giberson and Stephens are wrong in their beliefs largely because they don’t have earned PhDs to back up their statements.

    Ironically, while criticizing Christian leaders by suggesting they are unqualified to address certain topics, the authors themselves frequently address subjects that are outside their own specialties of science and history. They delve into theology, political science, and sociology. Furthermore, Giberson is a physicist, yet he feels qualified to critique AiG in areas far outside his specialty, such as biology and geology.

    Even AiG’s highly trained scientists declare that as Christians, our ultimate authority must rest with the clear teachings of the Bible rather than the fallible views of scientists, especially when it comes to the unobservable past and the question of origins. Good scientists are always ready to change their ideas to conform to repeatable experimental observations, but evolutionary scientists resist criticism of those aspects of their beliefs which are unobservable. The authors are clear, however, that evolutionary interpretations of science must trump Scripture: “Many educated evangelicals, informed by biblical scholarship, have thus concluded that the Genesis story of Creation is simply not literal history” (p. 49).

    A more thorough review of this mistake-filled and smugly titled book The Anointed will be posted on the AiG website on Tuesday.

  5. Ken Ham says:

    Well, I guess they must think AiG is making an impact since they spend so much time on me! I’m honored. Once again, they make the same old false accusation that Dr. Giberson has made many times before, that we “bash science” and that we reject science. This is simply not true. We love science.

    Now, we also need to understand that the word science means knowledge, and as we have stated over and over again, there is a great distinction between operational science (based on repeatable tests, builds our technology, etc.) and historical science (knowledge concerning the past—history). In fact, three years ago I actually participated in a written debate with Karl Giberson on the Beliefnet website. I include all the links for the back and forth, but I encourage you to read at least the one I wrote called “Science cannot judge the Bible.” Karl Giberson knows what we say about science—it is all in writing in these debate articles—so he and his co-author are making false accusations in their just-released book.

    Also, in the book, Giberson and his historian co-author revile us for speaking on topics for which we are not credentialed, but then they write about theology, eschatology, politics, and other topics for which they are not academically trained!

    At least one of our PhD scientists is writing a detailed review of the book, particularly in its statements concerning me and AiG. We should have that available in the near future.

    Here are the links to the Beliefnet debate articles. If you can read all of these you will certainly understand what Karl Giberson believes and how we respond to his claims.

  6. Ken Ham says:

    This past week our ministry’s library received a copy of the new book The Anointed,1 authored by Drs. Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens and published by a division of Harvard University Press. Dr. Stephens teaches history at Eastern Nazarene College; Dr. Giberson is a former science professor at the same college.

    We noticed right away that Answers in Genesis and president Ken Ham were featured prominently in the book. However, based on the fact that Dr. Giberson (a theistic evolutionist) has been a frequent critic of AiG, we realized we would probably not be treated in a flattering way. We can accept such prominence in the book as something of a badge of honor. After all, the authors recognized AiG as going against the grain of the secular academic establishment while we stand on the authority and trustworthiness of God’s Word from the very first verse (as opposed to word of finite, fallible man).
    The Anointed

    In fact, the first chapter of The Anointed is devoted to Answers in Genesis. Throughout their book, Giberson and Stephens took swipes at AiG as well as other ministries and Christian leaders. In our modern “academic” world, the authors deemed us to be intellectually unrespectable and an embarrassment to Christianity. Multiple Christians were called “amateurs,” and other derogatory words pepper the book.

    The authors argued that when Bible-believing Christians engage the culture in controversial areas like creation vs. evolution, believers should trust a highly educated PhD theistic evolutionist and evangelical like Dr. Francis Collins over someone like Ham (who has the Australian equivalent of a master’s degree).

    What follows is a summary of the many problems with this highly pretentious book.
    Outright Factual Errors

    This is a book that attempts to be a scholarly look at “unscholarly” Christian leaders of prominence in America. It is, after all, published by the prestigious Harvard Press. Yet we were surprised to find several mistakes in the introduction and first chapter alone—plus a generally snide tone that is unbecoming of a scholarly work. For example, the authors gave the wrong month for our Creation Museum’s opening (p. 11); they mistakenly claimed that Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, is a young-earth creationist (p. 19); the year given for the first “Back to Genesis” seminar is incorrect (p. 41); and the name of our daily radio program is incorrect (p. 11).
    Misrepresentations

    Also, we found many exaggerated misrepresentations in The Anointed, including the claim that the late Dr. Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), the founder of the modern creationist movement, supposedly drew significant inspiration from a “mentor,” George McCready Price (p. 23). This is simply incorrect and was most likely regurgitated from the book The Creationists by historian Dr. Ronald Numbers. In addition, the authors asserted that Bryan College in Tennessee is “a leader in the young-earth creationist movement” (p. 213). In reality, it is not committed to the young-earth position at all—many of Bryan’s professors reject it outright.
    A Major Logical Fallacy

    In the beginning of the chapter on AiG, the authors commit the logical fallacy of reification.2 In the opening passage, the authors declared that people driving to the Creation Museum are probably oblivious to the “successive layers of rock [that] tell the tale of life in the Ordovician era: one species giving way to another” and that “motorists … have little interest in the story told by the rocks outside their car windows” (pp. 21–22).

    They stated that the very rocks outside our Creation Museum bear testimony against what is taught inside the museum. But rocks, of course, don’t have the capacity to “tell a story.” Their formation must be interpreted by people. The rocks don’t have stickers on them that speak for their age or how they were formed, nor do we observe in the rocks a sea-floor environment with creatures living and dying. There is only one empirical conclusion we can make with certainty from observing the fossils in these rock layers—this is where the once-living marine creatures are now buried on the continent.

    Dismissing the Two Kinds of Science

    In the opening passage and then again later in chapter one of The Anointed, the authors failed to differentiate between historical science (like a possible interpretation of rocks, which were formed without human observation) and observational science in the present.3 Furthermore, as Ken Ham shared with The Anointed co-author Giberson in a 2008 online debate, the researchers’ biases and presuppositions about the unobservable past influence their interpretation of the evidence in the present. Ken wrote the following:

    It is crucial to understand the nature of starting points when interpreting the evidence around us–which is why our Creation Museum starts with a “starting points” exhibit. We all have biases–both creationists and evolutionists–so we in no way wish to denigrate scientists for having biases.

    When it comes to science in the present (science “proper” – empirical, testable, repeatable observation and experimentation), there is actually little disagreement between creationists and evolutionists. However, when it comes to reconstructing past events, our different starting points will cause us to interpret the same evidence differently. After all, creationists and evolutionists have a different view of history–even a different philosophy of what is possible in the past.

    The creationist embraces the history and the catastrophic effects of Noah’s Flood, whereas evolutionists largely dismiss the Flood as a global event, and embrace the philosophy of uniformitarianism (to varying degrees) instead. Our different worldviews cause us to interpret the same evidence differently.4

    Does Evolution Really Cause Social Ills?

    The authors also asserted that ICR and AiG argue that evolution is “responsible for much of what’s wrong with the world” (p. 36). Answers in Genesis has never stated or implied this. We have both—in countless articles and even in the 2008 online debate between Ham and Dr. Giberson—declared instead that the teaching of evolution has caused many to doubt or disbelieve the Bible.

    Thus, the more we see people not believing the Bible, the more we will witness morality being seen as relative, and thus people can justify all sorts of moral ills. For example, if a person wants to be a racist, evolution can be (and has been) used to justify racist beliefs or even fuel racism. But evolution does not cause racism. Sin is the cause of racism.
    Hyperbole

    In alarmist ways, the authors often resorted to hyperbole as they attacked the credibility of several Christian leaders in an effort to turn them into societal boogeymen. They call several small creation ministries “large” (p. 33) when they are not at all. The authors even described AiG as a “media empire” (p. 45) and then a “juggernaut” (p. 59). However, our annual budget is dwarfed by even the smallest cable TV networks. For example, our yearly revenue is a mere 1/60th of the cable network Home & Garden Television (HGTV), which is hardly a media empire compared to the big TV networks.

    The authors of The Anointed also fatuously claimed that creationist groups have access to considerable funding to proclaim their biblical authority messages. However, when put into perspective and compared to the billions of dollars in revenue received annually by public schools, science museums, and public television across America (which proclaim the anti-biblical message of evolution and millions of years), the creationist funding is the proverbial drop in a media financial bucket.
    Credentials Lacking

    The authors brought up the tired charge that creationist groups like AiG and its leaders not only lack credentials but are “at war with science” (p. 11). Again, much of this stems from not differentiating between historical science and observational science. We uphold and applaud science. Ken Ham wrote the following in his 2008 online debate with co-author Giberson:

    I love science. In fact, AiG employs a number of scientists (and works with others), all of which obtained their doctorates from secular institutions. Across the hall from me, for example, is Dr. David Menton, who earned a PhD in biology from an Ivy League school (Brown University).

    As we both know, the etymology of the word “science” has the basic meaning of “knowledge.” Today, when the word “science” is used, we are usually referring to observational science.

    Science is a wonderful tool that God has given us. But because science is imperfect, and changing, and because different scientists disagree on what the evidence really means, science cannot serve as an ultimate, infallible standard.5

    Are the Authors Out of Their League Themselves?

    The Anointed authors extolled Darwin as the most famous scientist of the 19th century (p. 43), but we must note that Darwin did not have the much-vaunted doctorate set as the gold standard for academic respectability. Interestingly, Giberson pointed out that a medical degree is only “marginally relevant” (p. 56) to the field of evolution. Yet as someone who holds a PhD in physics, which we would argue is largely irrelevant to the field of evolution, Dr. Giberson felt confident that his assertions about evolutionary biology and geology are valid.

    We must point out that six of the full-time Answers in Genesis faculty members have doctorate degrees in their fields, including genetics, astrophysics, geology, biology, the history of science, and medicine. This fact is conveniently omitted in a book that pretends to question the scholarship of our staff. And apparently for the authors, Ken Ham’s 35-plus years of research, writing, and speaking on apologetics don’t quite measure up to the knowledge level of a student leaving a university with a PhD in science.
    Ken Ham in the Crosshairs

    As the authors frequently singled out the AiG president for criticism, they demean him with terms like a “pied piper” (p. 45) of the seemingly uneducated masses of Christians. His views, the book argues, have “transported [him] into a scientific Land of Oz” (p. 59). Ken is said to have a “pandering anti-intellectual presentation style in his talks and writings” (p. 45). Furthermore, the authors bizarrely contend that the last time Ken “brushed up against science” was during the Cold War (p. 58).

    Ken has surrounded himself with PhD colleagues for the past 25 years, as well as doing his own extensive research and writings. When he and another creationist debated two evolutionists over ten years ago at Harvard, Ken acquitted himself quite well. At least The Anointed authors managed to muster the word “affable” (p. 45) to describe Ken, though he was also called “stern” (p. 11) earlier in the book—so which is it?

    The authors’ shining example of a Christian scholar who runs counter to the supposedly unscholarly Ken Ham is evolutionist Dr. Francis Collins, who is the only alternative for “the educated wing of the evangelical world” (p. 51).
    Conclusion

    If Drs. Giberson and Stephens are wrong in both small things (like incorrect dates) and large matters (falsely accusing ICR and AiG of blaming evolution for many social ills, implying they lack credentialed staff, etc.), then the book’s very premise that “amateur” evangelicals are to be taken as untrustworthy is called into question. The book’s manifest poor scholarship casts a revelatory spotlight on the authors’ own failings and biases concerning biblical Christianity.

    As we expose the poor scholarship of a book that appears under the Harvard banner and is meant to be taken as a scholarly work, we will mention another irony. While Giberson and his historian co-author (acknowledged as an expert in American Pentecostalism6) reviled ministries like Answers in Genesis for speaking on topics for which they are not credentialed, the two authors themselves frequently dwelt on topics for which they were not academically trained to address in their doctoral programs.

    These include theology, political science, psychology, and sociology. Furthermore, as we indicated earlier, Giberson is trained as a physicist, yet he felt qualified to critique AiG in areas far outside his specialty, such as biology and geology. All this raises the question, if the authors are not academically trained in these areas, who decided to anoint them to critique evangelicals who hold views different from their own?

    As Christians, our authority rests with the clear teachings of the Bible, starting with its very first book. The authors have made their belief clear that science trumps Scripture. “Many educated evangelicals, informed by biblical scholarship, have thus concluded that the Genesis story of Creation is simply not literal history” (p. 49). They added that “the modern scholarly approach to Genesis transforms the story into a myth in the best sense of the word—a story with a powerful meaning that may or may not be tenuously rooted in history” (p. 49). What the authors failed to recognize is that the Bible’s history in Genesis is foundationally important to the gospel. Even some atheists realize this connection, as seen in this quote from the anti-Christmas campaign of the American Atheists organization.

    No Adam and Eve means no need for a savior. It also means that the Bible cannot be trusted as a source of unambiguous, literal truth. It is completely unreliable, because it all begins with a myth, and builds on that as a basis. No Fall of Man means no need for atonement and no need for a redeemer.7

    If Genesis is merely a myth, then it nullifies the purpose of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and as the apostle Paul wrote, “”If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty”” (1 Corinthians 15:14). This is why the issue of biblical authority is so vital to Christianity. It’s not just about Genesis; it’s about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

  7. Tenryuso says:

    Ahh yes, Mr Ham. Your website that runs entirely on lies.

    Thou shalt not bear false witness.

    And yet you see nothing wrong with manipulating the public to make money for yourself. I suppose it’s perfectly fine to break all the Commandments since you’re already a “christian”.

    To everybody else, here is an exhaustively comprehensive list of debunking of creationist lies: http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-creationists.html

  8. Terry says:

    Greetings,

    Quoted From Tenryuso:

    Ahh yes, Mr Ham. Your website that runs entirely on lies.

    Thou shalt not bear false witness.

    And yet you see nothing wrong with manipulating the public to make money for yourself.

    End Quote.

    Making money for himself? Hmm… If that is true then why am I able to access their website – Free. Get daily downloads of their radio broadcasts – Free. Get viewings of many of their videos – Free. Read much of their documentation – Free. I don’t get it – how does getting all of that for free make money for Mr. Ken Ham?

    As for the lies and false witness – what about the many kids that are told about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, leprechauns, goblins and witches? Should these people also be held accountable for telling lies? Also, when kids do find out that Santa isn’t real, how many first say “Prove It!”. If kids can expect and be given evidence when told something isn’t real, then shouldn’t adults be given to the same standard? Shouldn’t they be given reason for why others say something isn’t real?

    Let me start giving account by saying that the daily radio broadcast that has been hosted by Mr. Ken Ham has been freely available since 2008 for download. I have them all downloaded and stored to listen to anytime I want. Including the free downloadable documents and videos and I have several gig of “Free” information. Not “Ripped” but free as in “Click here to download”.

    Thank you for your time.

  9. Barry says:

    “Good point Wayne. I find the comment about David Barton particularly confusin since he goes back to the original sources and has one of the largest libraries of 100 to 250-year-old documents.

    “and has one of the largest libraries of 100 to 250-year-old documents”

    As opposed to university libraries?

    “How do you discredit the words of those who were there?”

    By pointing out what was published by Barton is very carefully selected (and frequently partial) quotations. With revisionist redefinition as needed. ‘Christian’ means what? Are Deists and Unitarians Christian? Is somebody who rewrote the Bible to remove miracles from Jesus’ life a ‘Christian’?

    Just go to any blog run by historians who discuss Barton to be enlightened, or go to http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/?s=Barton&x=0&y=0 for a list of posts with actual links.

  10. Samuel says:

    Im glad to be an Australian Aboriginal, We have our own creation theory’s but can understand they are not literal, most storys contain truth to an extent but must be open to interpretation and researched based on un-bias, open thinking to be able to gain any sort of conclusion, when designing research of any sort it will be tainted and unreliable with preconceptions influencing the ability to see thing as they are. our culture is just that, our belief’s are not a religion, it is a living culture. why so many dead because of religion, maybe your being tricked by the devil, however im not sure of either, both have made pre judged determinations about my people that dont add up, seems whites are ruled by a superiority complex that denies them the ability to think for yourself. Im from the oldest living culture, oldest examples of modern humans where whether you like it or not you have came from, the onus is on both sides of the argument to prove us wrong, provide proof because I dont just believe something because he or she said it, thats brain washing, show me the first edition of the bible instead of the 5th, 6th ,7th or what ever it is, re wrote by people with their own agenda to many times, like chinese whispers it change’s bit by bit and when done to meet someones agenda that process of message distortion is multiplied 10 times, you need to earn credibility not demand it, modern science at least shows some proof but to just accept any claim because your religious leaders claim it true is abuse of the brain you have

  11. Calum Gilhooly says:

    Well said Samuel. Greetings to you and all best wishes. Ken Ham is living proof that some strategically shaved, under-evolved, half-witted ape-men still walk among us and have very little brain when it comes to science. That he has a couple of science degrees and yet can still deny real science is testament to either his dishonesty, (highly likely), or his inability to cope with any solid information which challenges his warped and bizarre world view. A world view that centers on his unthinking belief in the drivel written in the buybull.

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