Editor’s note: This weekend, we are bringing you a two-part series by Tyler Francke, exploring in greater depth the young-earth creationist perspective as presented by Ken Ham during his recent “debate” with Bill Nye. We are continuing our coverage on the matter not because we believe this single debate has any real significance on its own, but rather because many of Ham’s statements that night are at the core of the young-earth view his very large organization promotes, and thus, are indicative opinions to which large swaths of the evangelical community give their expressed or implicit assent.
Though Ken Ham is the ostensible focal point of these pieces, the real target are the ideas he represents — which are by no means held by him alone. Yesterday, we looked at the logical failings of his view; today, his misrepresentation of the Christian faith.
As I tried to demonstrate yesterday, I find the reasoning behind Ken Ham’s scientific justification of young-earth creationism so convoluted that I’m afraid attempts to follow it can result in severe motion sickness. However, there’s one thing that I, personally, find far more stomach-churning than even the most mind-bendingly bad logic you could imagine, and that is the horrifically unbiblical picture of the Christian faith that Ken Ham propagates.
For me, this was seen most clearly and most tellingly at one particular moment during the question-and-answer session that followed the “main” “debate.” Ham was asked by the moderator, Tom Foreman, “Hypothetically, if evidence existed that caused you to admit that the universe is older than 10,000 years and creation did not occur in six days, would you still believe in God, and the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and that Jesus was the son of God?”
This is a simple question, a softball pitch. The only correct answer, for a Christian, is “Yes.” You can believe in a young universe, sure, and a literal six-day creation. But that wasn’t what Foreman was asking (obviously, everyone already knows that Ham believes in those things). The question was, if you were to — hypothetically — set those beliefs aside for just a moment, would you still be a Christian?
Without hesitation, the answer is “Yes, definitely, absolutely, positively.” Answering “Yes” means that your faith is not based on the belief in a young earth, while any other answer can only mean that it is. I just can’t see any way around that.
Want to guess what Ken Ham said? I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t “Yes.”
But he didn’t stop there. He said, again, that the gospel is true because (and presumably, only if) Ham’s literal interpretation of Genesis is true. He implied that any deviation from the literal interpretation of Genesis puts you on a slippery slope that culminates, inevitably, with the desire to kill babies and your grandparents. In the same answer as the one discussed above, he accused any Christian who disagrees with him about the age of the earth of having “a problem with the Bible, and that is that you’ve got to have death and disease and suffering before sin.”
What’s so ironic about this last point is that it relies on the assumption of something that is not clearly taught in the Bible. Nowhere in scripture does it say that physical death was fundamentally impossible before Eve plucked that infamous fruit, or that animal death and suffering is a consequence of human sin (in fact, in both cases the relevant texts seem to imply just the opposite).
Yes, Romans 5:12 says, “[T]hrough one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” — and 1 Corinthians 15:21 says something similar — but in both cases, the death is explicitly limited to mankind. We can know animal death is not a consequence of man’s sin, because the very next verse in 1 Corinthians — 15:22 — makes it impossible. Or, to be fair, the verse doesn’t make it “impossible,” but, if it applies to animals, it does make it so my pet billy goat can be a born-again Christian just as surely as you or I can. Which is something I doubt most young-earthers would be inclined to agree with.
Personally, I believe the “death” that the Apostle Paul is talking about in these passages refers to is separation from God, both in this life (which results in the spiritual death Paul clearly references in Romans 7:9 and elsewhere in his writings) and the next (which results in eternal separation, the final punishment Revelation calls “the second death”). This means the “first death,” — the physical, natural death we will all die before the resurrection — is not a punishment for anything, but simply an inherent part of the current created order — part of the “old order of things” that Revelation also talks about.
You may disagree with my interpretation of the Romans and 1 Corinthians passages, and that’s fine. But the bottom line is, even if those texts do refer to physical death, we who accept the mainstream view of the fossil record do not have “a problem with the Bible,” as Ham claims. Because the Bible does not say that the death of the trilobites, or the dinosaurs, or any other animal, is our fault. It just doesn’t. The only part of the fossil record, then, that would be under dispute is that tiny, little sliver near the end, in which humans first appear. Because that tiny sliver is the only part of the fossil record that Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 relate to, and even then, only if you interpret the “death” those passages discuss the way Ham says you have to.
Fact is, I agree with Ham about one thing: One of us has got “a problem with the Bible.” But I don’t think it’s me.
I think the person who has the “problem with the Bible” is the one who teaches that young-earthism — something that the Bible never says is foundational to the Christian faith — is foundational to the Christian faith. I think the person who has the “problem with the Bible” is the one who teaches that the gospel is true — not because Jesus is risen and he lives — but rather because, and only if, the universe is 10,000 years old.
In short, Ken Ham, the ones who have the “problem with the Bible” are not we “COMPROMISERS,” who acknowledge — rather than ignore — the overwhelming scientific evidence for evolution and the age of the earth, and who seek to integrate it with our faith in a way that still allows the word of God to be treated with respect and continue to serve as a repository for many, many deep and profound truths about God, man and the relationship between the two.
No, Ken Ham. The one who has “the problem with the Bible,” obviously, is you.