I Just Narrated Ken Ham’s Audio Book and It Gave Me the Thinkings

I do not miss the irony that shortly after I wrote a couple of blog articles talking about socio-political conflict and how some aspects of it bothered me, I was awarded the contract to narrate Ken Ham’s audiobook The Lie: Evolution.  I wanted to take some time and write down some of my thoughts on the book, since, frankly, I was a little surprised by its contents and Ken’s arguments.   You don’t read a whole book aloud into a microphone and not have something to say about it afterwards.  So, here we go.

First, let me set up my bias (since we all have one).  I am a very moderate conservative, I would say, though I am loathe to identify with any one group of beliefs because I think that way leads to the dark side of closed-mindedness (the “party line”).  I am not a Christian.  I am a former Catholic-turned-agnostic-turned-Protestant-turned-agnostic.  It’s complicated.  We won’t get into it here.  But that helps you understand where I’m coming from when I talk about what I read in Ken’s book.  There is plenty of stuff I absolutely disagree with in The Lie, but there’s also some stuff that I thought was pretty sound logic.  So before you attack me for being either a burn-in-hell heathen or an intolerant religious zealot…don’t, because you’ll look silly and everyone will laugh at you.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ken Ham, he is an ardent and somewhat infamous Christian creationist; he and Bill Nye (yes, the science guy) recently had a public debate on creation vs. evolution.  I didn’t watch it, but lots of people did.   But the most poignant thing about Ken’s views, however, is that he is a “literal creationist,” that is he believes that the Bible is an infallible document which must be taken literally.  In today’s world, that’s a reaaaaallly tough position to take.

The Lie’s first surprise to me was that it really wasn’t an argument for creation.  Ken took almost no time to talk about archaeological evidence for the flood, the Cambrian explosion, and other science-like approaches to the creation debate – this was absolutely not a Lee Strobel novel.  I realized quickly that the book wasn’t about creationism.  It was about Christianity’s own interpretation of the bible, and it was, in my opinion, clearly written to present an argument to creationists, not evolutionists.

Now, I think Ken made two big points in the book, and I’ll deal with what I think the lesser one is first.  One of them basically levels the playing field a bit by saying that evolutionists, atheists, agnostics, and Christians all share one basic trait:  they are all religious.  I’ll wait until you stop gasping to keep talking.

He argues that evolutionism is just as much of a religion as Christianity.  It is just as dogmatic.  It requires just as many leaps of faith to cover information available only by inference.  And if you ask a Christian what it would take for him to stop believing in Jesus as his lord and savior, he will say: “This is not possible.”  Ken spent some time asking evolutionists and atheists the same question – what would it take for you to start believing in creationism?   He got similar answers – people had already made up their minds, and a shift in opinion simply was not possible.  Now that’s a broad brush to paint all evolutionists with, but I think he’s got a point for the cross-section of that population that DOES answer that question with “I will never change my views.”

So, Ken summed that up by saying (and I am paraphrasing, not quoting): “Everyone has a bias.  No one is immune to the dogma of their own personal religion, whether it is evolutionism, atheism, Islam, or Christianity.  The real question is: which is the right one?”  Now, of course, this assumes there is a “right” one.  But I thought the argument was interesting, and it might be helpful to just about everyone to sit back and assess their own dogma before engaging in any kind of argument.

Second, and now we’re really on to the main point of the book, was that if you do not take the whole bible literally (that is, you take Genesis figuratively), what’s the point of it all?  It was a big, giant, finger-wag to Christians everywhere.  Most of the anecdotal arguments he details in the book are between him and other pastors or other Christians, not between him and evolutionists.  I admit, I wasn’t expecting that.

I actually wrote a blog article a while ago on this very same principle, and I’ll be damned if I don’t agree at least a little bit with the point here.  If you can interpret Genesis in a loose way, why can’t you interpret, say, the resurrection of Christ as wholly or partially symbolic?  I know those are different sets of circumstances with different historical evidence, though.  So, in dealing with something a bit less controversial, if you can apply historical context to a document and argue that it’s not about what the text says but about what the text means in that context, why can’t you apply it to the phrase “sexual immorality” as used in the New Testament and argue that homosexuality is not a sin according to the bible?  Why couldn’t you, say, use it to create one of 41,000 denominations?  (My tongue may go right through my cheek, here.)

But the converse of “all or none” is also problematic, and it’s one point that Ken didn’t deal with in The Lie.  If you keep Genesis locked into a literal statement and ignore historical context, you must also do so with the rest of the bible.  The problem is consistency – what you do with one part of the bible, you must do with all parts of the bible (right?).  If you believe that the earth was created in six literal days, you must also believe that it is disgraceful for women to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), you have a whole slew of confusing rules about multiple wives and slavery and death penalties.  You also must, “if you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow [Jesus].” (Matt 19:21).  Not a whole lot of wiggle room, there, if you want to be literal about it – but I don’t see a lot of people selling all their possessions (nor do I think them hypocrites if they don’t…I’m not passing judgment here).

Yeesh.  It’s not an easy spot to be in either way, is it?  But Christianity isn’t easy.  I’m not sure any religion is.

Ken extends this argument to “compromise positions.”  He tsk-tsks at Christians who say that God used evolution, that the “days” in Genesis do not mean literal 24-hour days and could mean millions of years, or any such middle ground. Many of them have a logical flaw that, when tied back into his original argument, result in a loose interpretation of Genesis, which results in a potentially loose interpretation of the bible.  He insists that these views are sometimes more damaging to the creationist movement than the evolutionists, and I can see where he has a point.  It’s a pretty thick series of if-then statements that support his claim that if the bible’s not totally literal and infallible, why bother?

He doesn’t, however, address the “mature earth theory” as one of those compromise positions, which was disappointing as it is my personal favorite; that God created a universe that was billions of years old, but it only took him six days to do it.  Maybe he created a universe that was billions of years old to give us the pleasure of discovering it, fossils and all.  We’ll obviously never know.

So, to make a short story long, if I didn’t precisely agree with Ken or much of the content of his book, it did certainly make me think a bit.   His discussion about bias and everyone having their own religion made me snicker a bit at the comments I got from people when I told them I was narrating his book, who immediately dismissed him as an idiot (particularly people that weren’t even that familiar with his position), and his comments about all-or-none in regards to the bible, while maybe a little tailored to serve his own bias, had some good points.  I hope for a little while you could set your bias aside and just enjoy perusing my thoughts, as I felt compelled after spending so much time immersed in such a controversial topic to sort of let some of my brain leak out.

Have a thought of your own?  STOP IMMEDIATELY AND CONFORM TO THE SYSTEM.

Just kidding.  Post it below!

 

6 Comments

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  1. My problems with evolution as a theory are purely scientific. I don’t think that it adequately explains much of what it claims to explain. This being said, I am open to another non-theistic theory that can account for the existence of life on Earth. I think that there have been scientific theories that challenge evolution that have been unjustly dismissed. I think if more atheists realized that it’s not “Evolution or Creation” but that evolution is just one possible scientific theory to explain life on Earth the debates would get a lot more civil.

  2. I will only state that the idea that all positions require the same amount of “faith” and that all positions are therefore “religions” is merely an attempt to mirror image — an “I know you are, but what am I” approach to arguing. It is the sign of immaturity and it, therefore, belongs on a primary school playground.

    From an epistemological perspective, there are different forms of evidence or observation that can be used to provide support for a position or argument. Where Ham is partially right is showing, rather simply, that one automatically must infer things from observation and evidence — and that once one does this, there enters in a possibility that one can be wrong. This implies, then, that no matter anyone’s position and no matter the amount of evidence used to support it, it could still be wrong to some degree — either in part or in whole.

    Now, for one to think that knowledge may change and positions may change over time, based on future observations, one would also have to admit that a) one might be wrong and 2) future evidence can either support or negate one’s position. I.e., I might be wrong and I must be open to wherever the evidence takes me.

    From my point of view, this last part is the position of the scientist and of science generally. It may seem absurd to the believer, but to me it seems that there isn’t a way for theologians to hold their beliefs up against any genuine yardstick — either the evidence for the belief lies in nature or it simply cannot be observed. This leaves the religious belief in a rather tenuous position, as there is very little if any way to validate the claims or to say that one religion is true while others are false.

    This is all fine and good if all religious people admitted this and decided it best to “live and let live,” but often they do not — rather they often insist that they have the truth cornered and that anyone who thinks other than they do are simply wrong. And when they direct these accusations at other religious people, the objects of these claims are unable to disprove it or in any sense validate their own claims to the contrary … much like the argument over whether it’s right to crack the egg from the top or the bottom in Gulliver’s Travels. What makes one’s argument right and the other wrong? It must come back to the forms of evidence used to support the claim, if any is ultimately available.

    But then people like Ham go so far as to say that science is wrong, too — despite the fact that it relies on observations of nature as its sole means to validate claims. The stronger and the more numerous the evidence gained from observations, the more validated the claim and the firmer our provisional belief. Justified, true belief is the standard for the student of epistemology and it’s the standard for the scientist. For Ham, none of this seems to matter.

    • Science, as a concept, is nothing more than a technique for verifying theories by observation. As such, the scientific method can be applied to religious theories just as readily as any other theory. The entire perceived schism between science and religion is a very recent development, historically.

      Furthermore, for most lay people, “science” is nothing more than faith in the priesthood that wears white lab coats. People say “Science has proved…” when what they mean is “I read an article on Yahoo News with a lot of big words in it.”

  3. If you say that the “scientific method can be applied to religious theories,” one must follow that up with a number of caveats. For instance, it depends on what one means by the term “religious theories.” If one implies by that statement that we are attempting to verify the “supernatural,” then there is no means by which one can do so — at least so far as common experience and our current methods would indicate. If we can observe something and detect something in a verifiable and repeatable manner, then it is by definition within the natural spectrum of events. For the eye or some othe r optical device to detect something, for instance, it must receive information in the form of EM energy. The same for all other sensory data — it relies on an external source for information, all of which is within nature. The brain has an elaborate system to interpret this data, and it also frequently misinterprets data (sometimes via illusions) or introduces experiences that have no form of external verification (delusions).

    Now, one might protest that humans commonly see something that cannot be readily explained and say, “see, the supernatural does indeed exist.” But this is only a description of our ignorance as to the causes of these events, it is not evidence, as it were, of anything supernatural.

    Then one might say, “but there are lots of people who have seen apparitions or spirits!” No, they may have seen something and interpreted it as a spirit or apparition or their brain may have made it up on its own. For if a person sees something with their eyes, the object has to be emitting EM radiation, and for something to emit EM radiation, it has to be composed of atoms. If we say that a spirit or apparition is uncompounded and ethereal, then we cannot allow it to have been composed of anything that emits all forms of radiation that we know about. If we say that perhaps the object is emitting something through some other means than we know about, we are again describing our ignorance, rather than providing evidence of the supernatural.

    If you think there is a way to use science to verify theological precepts — i.e., the existence of a God with specific attributes, — please describe the method in which it might be used to do so.

  4. Furthermore, the second paragraph, which states that “or most lay people, ‘science’ is nothing more than faith in the priesthood that wears white lab coats” is probably true in the sense that people who are outside the field can either accept or reject the “testimony” of the scientist. Most forms of testimony are like this, but science, as a process, is special in that it allows for independent verification of each specific claim.

    Indeed, within each field other scientists are challenged to verify claims through independent tests or experiments. Each time one does this, it lends further verification as to the veracity of the claim — though it never reaches 100% assurance — or it disproves it.

    Within theology, though, it seems that one can find nearly as many opinions as their are people. If we wish to say which claim is true and which is false, we must have some means of verification. What means is there for one to independently verify the claims?

  5. An impressive, thoughtful piece.
    ‘But the most poignant thing about Ken’s views, however, is that he is a “literal creationist,” that is he believes that the Bible is an infallible document which must be taken literally.’ Yes, though I don’t agree with Ken Ham, I feel for him. He is not a scientist. He is not a biblical scholar. And he does not take the first two verses of Genesis literally. http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/creation-young-earth-ham-nye-genesis-one/

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