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Ken Ham and Biblical Authority

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March 26, 2014 Tags: Evolution & Christian Faith project, Young Earth Creationism
Ken Ham and Biblical Authority

Today's entry was written by Jim Stump and features Josh Hayashi and Diane Sweeney. You can read more about what we believe here.

Last Friday Ken Ham wrote a blog post with the title, “BioLogos Funds Projects to Undermine the Authority of the Word.” Because we accept the scientific evidence for the age of the earth and common ancestry, Ham believes we are undermining the Bible and denying its authority. However, the authority of the Bible is key for all that we do at BioLogos. In fact, it is the first line of our Statements of Belief. Ham’s charge sadly masks the fact that our two organizations have substantial overlap because of our shared commitment to Christ. The difference between BioLogos and Answers in Genesis is not about the authority of the Bible. Instead, the difference is about which interpretation of the Bible is correct. And we believe that to interpret Scripture correctly, we must do more than look at the “plain” meaning of the words in our own cultural situation. Biblical interpretation–especially of Genesis, which was written so long ago in a very different cognitive environment—demands careful analysis across several disciplines if we’re to understand God’s revelation correctly.

So, to do the hard work of taking Scripture seriously, we have funded teams from all over the world to work out the implications of what God has revealed in his creation and in the Bible. Some of these teams are scholars working on research projects in science, theology, and philosophy (for example, see these projects by Jeff Schloss, Oliver Crisp, and Tim O’Connor). We hope their work will help to advance the conversations about the compatibility of Christianity with evolutionary creation. Other teams are doing “translational” projects which aim to present the scholarly work in accessible formats to a general audience. One of those teams is producing a set of videos filmed around the Hawaiian Islands as part of a multimedia curriculum for high school students. They are the ones Ken Ham called out on his blog last Friday. Project leaders Josh Hayashi and Diane Sweeney have offered this response to him:

Thank you for taking the time to look through our website so thoroughly and watch our films. We welcome your questions and thoughts. In fact, your review catalyzed a revision of one of the discussion questions on one of our leader’s guides that we realized was unclear. We certainly do not have all the answers. However, we at The Author of Life, hope that our video series (which will be completed this fall) will help bring clarity to the issues, deepen relationships between youth leaders and their kids, but most of all, bring students closer to our Lord Jesus. In this way, we have similar goals, although different approaches. We believe that teens are looking for a place to have honest, respectful, and open dialogue. They are drawn to authentic questions and caring responses. It is our hope that we will help to provide that space. We want to encourage youth group leaders to honor different opinions on origins and to moderate a respectful conversation. And that is what we hope will come of this particular discussion. We strive to model for young people how fellow believers can focus on the common faith that should unite us rather than divide us.

As Hayashi and Sweeney point out, another thing we share with Answers in Genesis is a passion for helping young people grow into committed followers of Christ. However, we disagree strongly about the best way to do that. In his post, Ham argues that BioLogos and the people working with us are actually causing young people to leave the church. A recent study, though, found that when young people leave the church because of science, the reason is their churches’ antagonism to science and the acrimony of the debate over origins. We frequently hear from people who have found engagement with scientific findings and the opportunity for respectful dialogue to be instrumental in their walk with God. They say that the work of people like Hayashi and Sweeney has kept them from abandoning their faith or helped them come to faith (read their stories).

Too many people are being persuaded that biblical Christian faith is incompatible with the findings of science. Then when they are confronted with the solid scientific evidence, they are forced to choose between the clear witness of God’s creation and their commitment to Christ. As we’ve said before, we don’t think you have to choose.

Jim Stump is Senior Editor at BioLogos. As such he oversees the development of new content and curates existing content for the website and print materials. Jim has a PhD in philosophy from Boston University and was formerly a philosophy professor and academic administrator. He has authored Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues (Wiley-Blackwell, forthcoming) and co-authored (with Chad Meister) Christian Thought: A Historical Introduction (Routledge, 2010). He has co-edited (with Alan Padgett) The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity (Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) and (with Kathryn Applegate) How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity, forthcoming).
Joshua Hayashi is a Chaplain at Punahou School in Honolulu HI. A native of the islands, he received his B.A. from Bethel College (IN) and an M.Div from Regent College in Vancouver, Canada. He loves to be outdoors either hiking in the mountains or in the water. He is trying to live authentically with his family, colleagues, and students. He lives in Honolulu with his wife Charity and children Everett and Alethea.
Diane Sweeney is a biology instructor at Punahou School. She wrote a lab manual and contributed to the teacher’s edition for a textbook program with the late Neil Campbell (Biology Exploring Life, Campbell, Williamson, Heyden Pearson 2009). She received a B.S. in biochemistry from the University of California, Riverside and an M.A. in education from Stanford University. She enjoys being the faculty leader for Younglife at Punahou.

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Jonathan R. - #84910

March 26th 2014

I’m glad I stumbled upon your website. There are very few people who I know who are Christians and are not young earth creationists. You guys are a great encouragment. It is also great to see a counter argument to the militant young earth personalities out there who won’t accept anything but their own ideas. 

Ted Davis - #84911

March 26th 2014

I’m also glad you found us, Jonathan. Be sure also not to miss the American Scientific Affiliation (www.asa3.org), the oldest science/faith organization in North America. 

Your comment about certain “personalities out there who won’t accept anything but their own ideas” is dead on target, I’m afraid. It’s either their way, or the highway to perdition. Given that the scientific evidence for their way is scanty (to put it gently), lots of young people are stepping onto that highway. They needn’t do so. BioLogos is all about showing them other roads.

Jonathan R. - #84913

March 26th 2014

Ah, I was just on their site the other day reading comments about the “Cosmos” series. 

I’m pretty impressed with the quality of some of the videos being produced by Biologos. I’m in video production/motion graphics and wondering who I should contact about the possibility of contributing my skills. 

James Stump - #84915

March 26th 2014

Jonathan, you can send an email to the .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) address.  I’d be happy to talk.

bren - #84914

March 26th 2014

I’m glad to see that the point about why teens and young adults are leaving the Church has been addressed by some less biased research.

For years, Ham has been touting AiG’s findings (captured in the book “already gone”) that youths are leaving the church in droves in part due to Church leaders and teachers “compromising” (a nicely biased word to describe the situation) with evolution.  I always found this to be an extremely doubtful interpretation of the survey stats they were using for this book, but so long as no one was really doing the leg-work to find out why so many were on their way out, he could frankly claim anything he wanted, backed by the sanctifying power of statistics.  The discovery that kids are leaving at least in part because of the antagonism towards science that is endemic in Church culture rings very true and is a pretty direct counterpoint to his claims.

Talk about setting kids up for a fall; Ham would have them climb a very rickety ladder (without a single evidential rung, it’s really just a pair of stilts) only to have it kicked out from under them the moment they sign up for a decent education.  His solution?  Make sure your kids never go near any school that might kick that ladder.  He even provides a list of creation approved schools.  Anyone else up for making Christianity into a cult with zero impact on society?

Anyway, nice response!

Jon Garvey - #84917

March 27th 2014

It’s not a good thing if young people are leaving the churches because the latter’s teaching is incompatible with science, and that should be remedied

But sociologically the question, surely, is why young people rate the authority of science so highly, compared to their chuch’s teachinhg (right or wrong). Is it because those who leave churches have studied the sciences so intimately that they have validated them personally (and we’re surely talking about the biological sciences mainly in this context)?

If they are studying them at university, that could be true, but interacting with such young folks on the web over several years suggests that most accept them on the authority of books they have read, TV programs they have seen and the western culture that makes “science” the standard by which all truth is judged.

That’s more a question of authority and cultural influence, surely, than of weighing evidence dispassionately and after grasping all the issues personally.

Meanwhile, “religion” is represented as purely personal belief, and authoritative figures in the media and academia present skepticism about its truth claims overall, creationism etc being just a prime example. That’s not just because of evidence, but because (as the Gnus’ strategy shows) to attack God as creator is to dispose of him altogether - witness the bias of Cosmos.

Parallel issues would be attitudes to sexuality, over which I guarantee (as a doctor who was personally involved in those issues) people form their opinions, and maybe even leave churches, without having read a single research paper on sexuality - because there are very few available. There is, however, a “correct” societal position from which only the ignorant or evil depart.

It seems to me that both interpretations of this survey data ignore the truth that most large-scale shifts in opinion have a very loose relationship to informned personal convictions of truth.

Dan Roth - #84920

March 27th 2014

Thanks for all that you do!  I love what you wrote here.  However, I admit to being a little saddened by the phrase “the compatibility of Christianity with evolutionary creation”.  It sounds a lot to me like the phrases “the compatibility of Christianity with heliocentrism” and “the compatibility of Christianity with the germ theory of disease”.  

Ted Davis - #84925

March 27th 2014


Dan, your point about the word “compatibility” is well taken. Let me offer a little commentary, from my point of view as an historian of Christianity and science.

The first American proponent of “theistic evolution” was Asa Gray, and he used the word “compatible” to describe the relationship between evolution and Christian beliefs. More specifically, he saw no conflict between evolution and what he saw as the “essential contents” of Christian faith, which were “briefly summed up” in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. For more on this, see http://biologos.org/blog/science-and-the-bible-theistic-evolution-part-5.

It’s been fairly common for contemporary proponents of evolutionary creation to speak likewise of “compatibility.” I suspect they are not doing so with Gray’s position in mind, but some could be. But, their overall attitude is probably very similar to Gray’s, so the word fits well.

Another comment coming below.

Ted Davis - #84926

March 27th 2014

As for the comparisons you are drawing between “the compatibility of Christianity with X,” where X is one scientific theory or another, your disappointment is not uncommon in my experience. However, a large number of Christians in science (again, in my experience) would not want to distinguish evolution from heliocentrism or germ theory—or atomic theory or general relativity, for that matter (those latter two are examples I like to use myself). That is, those of us who like to speak this way tend to think that scientific theories are almost always “compatible” with Christian beliefs, without regard to the specific subject matter under investigation. This doesn’t mean that we always think those theories are equally well established, or equally important; it simply means that they are equally “just scientific theories,” not claims about ultimate reality.

Now, critics of this attitude (and you will certainly find some among regular commentators here) will say, but evolution is different. Maybe it is, but I’m not persuaded that it is and I’m hardly alone in that conclusion. Certainly a large number of Christians believe evolution is different, for various reasons. I won’t take up this question right now: a comment on this thread isn’t the place for that, unfortunately.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #85083

April 14th 2014

Ted wrote:

it simply means that they are equally “just scientific theories,” not claims about ultimate reality.

If one goes by the Two Books concept, then God reveals Godself through physical reality in part at least.  This to me does not mean that God reveals Godself through science but through the media that science explores.   

If this is true and I believe it is, then faith understood right and science done right must be compatible, and if they are not something is very wrong with one or the other.


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