Monday, June 25, 2012

How NOT To Have A Disagreement

This past March, I was involved in a debate with Tim Chaffey of Answers In Genesis about the age of the Earth. At one point in a discussion with my wife and I after the debate, Mr. Chaffey was making a point about the evidence for Christianity and ended a sentence with the phrase, "we have a lot of reasons to be -" At this point he stopped himself and re-phrased his statement to something like, "we have plenty of evidence for our faith."

Who cares?

Well, if you know the history of Mr. Chaffey's organization and its leader, Ken Ham, you would understand that Mr. Chaffey has probably been instructed not to use the phrase, "Reasons to Believe" for one reason and one reason only -- because it is the name of a "rival" (their characterization) ministry named Reasons To Believe that is headed by Dr. Hugh Ross ... Ken Ham cannot allow his counterparts to even utter the name of Mr. Ross's organization and thereby unwittingly lend that organization credibility. That is the attitude Mr. Ham presents and I think it is sad -- for Mr. Ham, for his followers, and for those who are watching all of us and evaluating the Christian faith by our actions.

I am an Old Earth (OE) Creationist. Mr. Chaffey is a Young Earth (YE) Creationist. What is notable is that we are both creationists. I think that means something. For one thing, it means that we share common ground -- and I have written publicly about that (in The Lookout) here: "Creation's Common Ground." Secondly, it means that we are on the same team. I made that point in my closing statement on the night of our debate. Here is a transcript of exactly what I said:
If you walked in here as a YE enthusiast, I am under no delusion that you have been wildly transformed by the case I have tried to present and that you will jump up after we’re done here proclaiming your new-found realization that OE is true. Please, feel free to do that … but I will understand if you don’t. 
Actually, my goal here has been more modest than that. I hope you will leave here with an invigorated appreciation for this topic and two primary takeaways: 
First, that OE supporters are not the godless, Bible-denying, science-worshipping Evolutionists you may have thought they were when you walked in this room. We are not people who just want to fit in with a secular culture so we can get along. We do accept the authority of Scripture. I hope you’ve noticed that every argument for the OE view I have given begins with what the Bible says. We do believe in the special creation of Adam & Eve just a few thousand years ago; we just disagree about how much time transpired before that. 
Second, Tim Chaffey and I are on the same team. We may not agree about when God created the heavens and the earth but we do agree that He did. I greatly respect and admire Mr. Chaffey for his diligence and faithfulness in defending the biblical worldview unashamedly. That is not an easy thing to do in the culture we live in yet he does it faithfully and he does it well. 
Tim Chaffey and I are brothers in Christ who can engage these ideas in a respectful, civil way and we should do so by seriously considering the views of those with whom we disagree by … 
Challenging their assumptions instead of their motives ... and ... Questioning their conclusions instead of their character. 
Then we can shake hands with one another and get back to the work of defending the truth of Christianity to a world that desperately needs it.
I did not say those things because I was just trying to be nice. I meant them. And so it actually saddens me to write about another debate I witnessed on iTBN that featured: Hugh Ross, Ken Ham, Sean McDowell, Ray Comfort, Eric Hovind, and John Bloom. It is long (almost 2 hours) but it is a great example of the disingenuousness, rudeness and arrogance that is usually displayed by the leadership of Answers In Genesis in general, and Ken Ham in particular. Mr. Ham interrupts, manufactures points that Old Earth (OE) proponents never make, and completely ignores the plain claims that OE proponents do make by inserting words and interchanging ideas that clearly misrepresent the OE position. Don't take my word for it. Watch it for yourself.

In contrast, note the demeanor and respectfulness of Hugh Ross and Sean McDowell as they disagree with Ken Ham. Also, note the kind respectfulness of Ray Comfort who also disagrees with Ross and McDowell on exactly the same issues as Ken Ham, but does so with a polite and courteous disposition. This is a striking juxtaposition of the attitudes that apologists can and should display.

To follow up on that debate, Mr. Ham is now touting an interview (available here) he conducted with Pastor Don Landis afterward. Mr. Ham believes this interview provides a "powerful" demonstration for how to defend the authority of Scripture against those who would deny it. Notice that in saying this, Ham and Landis infer that Hugh Ross and those who would agree with him do not believe in the authority of Scripture. In fact, they go further than that.

At one point, they replay a clip of Hugh Ross from the debate in which Mr. Ross makes a point about the scientific evidence for an old universe by challenging listeners to "remove evolution" from the question for a minute so as to just concentrate on issues of cosmology. Ross does this because Ham and Lewis repeatedly accuse OEs of believing in "evolution and millions of years" as if these are one in the same thing. Ross is simply trying to show that the question of age and evolution are two different issues that should be considered separately. He does not, and has never, defended the idea of evolution. In fact, the positions of Reasons to Believe (Mr. Ross's organization) is specifically anti-evolution.

Yet, Mr. Landis implies that Ross's comment to "remove evolution" is a tacit admission that he accepts it. Landis is appalled by this and wrongly uses it to show that to deal with the likes of Hugh Ross is to deal with a "different creature," which "creature" opposes the character of God by accepting a heresy of "millions of years [that] is an attack on the nature of God." Landis goes on to say that he doesn't "know the hearts" of OE folks but does know that by their actions, they are "enabling an anti-Christ motivation" that "credits evolution and denies God's power." They preach a "different gospel." In summary, Landis charges that "once Genesis is allegorized, spiritualized or handled figuratively, we lose the basis for a New Testament hermeneutic ... and by extension promote the idea that there is no hell, and no literal Adam and Eve."

There is a minor problem with each of Landis's charges here. Every one of them is invalid. In fact, Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana (of RTB), have written extensively in their books and papers in defense of every single view Landis/Ham accuses them of denying. Ham and Landis's analysis is a sickeningly disingenuous conglomeration of disingenuous insinuations that have no business in a debate between fellow defenders of the Christian faith.

This is not what our apologetic discourse should be about. It is not helpful to the debate or to the example we are meant to be to the world.

It is just plain sad.

I am not going to rehash the points with which I disagree with Mr. Ham and his YE point of view. If you are interested in seeing them please read a series of my posts that begins (here) and runs for the entire month of February - March, 2012. Suffice it to say that there is not a shred of evidence beyond Mr. Ham's interpretation of Genesis 1 that supports the idea of a 6000 year-old Earth. Mr. Ham seems incapable of understanding that his view is just that -- an interpretation -- and that all of our interpretations could be wrong.

However, there are two points I would like to make with regard to this situation. They both relate to the main thrust of Mr. Ham's argument -- that the world is fallen and therefore man's capacity to understand God through nature (the study of science) is untrustworthy, but that his interpretation alone represents the true guardianship of Scriptural Authority. Those who disagree with him about this are creating a generation of young people who deny Scriptural authority and are therefore exiting the church in record numbers. In short, it is their acceptance of an OE view that is driving them out of the church.

While I agree with Mr. Ham's unwavering defense of biblical authority (even though he insists that people like me do not), may I suggest an alternate explanation for the youth exodus from the church?

I wonder if Ken Ham would admit even the slightest possibility that his ability to interpret Scripture suffers from the same fallenness as the OE's ability to interpret nature? Apparently, Mr. Ham cannot fathom that to be the case. But let's just go out on a limb and assume that there does exist the possibility that Ken Ham could be wrong. If that is possible, then it would mean that we have a generation of young people who have been taught that to disagree with Ken Ham's young earth view is to deny Christianity itself (notice that Landis refers to the OE view as a "heresy"). They go off to college, find that there is absolutely no evidence to support the YE in the real world, and therefore conclude that the YE Christianity on which Mr. Ham insists they believe is simply not true -- it doesn't match the way the world actually is. Mr. Ham has told them that true belief depends on being YE. Since YE seems to be obviously false, they conclude that Christianity itself must also be false -- and that is the reason they are walking away from the faith in droves.

Wouldn't the possibility that Ken Ham's fallen nature allows the further possibility that his interpretation of a YE could be false? And if there is even the slightest possibility of that, wouldn't it be wise and prudent to treat those on both sides of the argument respectfully -- like actual brothers in Christ -- instead of playing the childish, small games he plays? Wouldn't it be wise to demonstrate some humility and respectfulness in debates such as the one we see above instead of resorting to the condescending, interrupting, bullying tactics he prefers? Wouldn't it be better to "challenge their assumptions instead of their motives and question their conclusions instead of their character."

If that were the case, we all would actually be on the same team. We would encourage every Christian and every seeker to feel free to look for answers in Genesis -- to find that those answers really do give us good reasons to believe -- and to have no fear of being able to say so because we might accidentally legitimize someone else's view.

Now that would be a breath of fresh air ...

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  1. For what it's worth, I just ran across this comment on Dr. Jay Wile'e blog post about how Ken Ham is upset because Dr. Wile endorsed the Creaion Museum (but apparently not up to Mr. Ham's standards) here:

    I believe confirms my point. Obviously, this is just one example but I find it hard to believe it is unique ...

    Keith J. says:
    July 16, 2012 at 3:11 pm
    I used to be a huge follower of Ken Ham growing up in a conservative Christian homeschooled household. When I grew up I really started to listen to what he was saying a lot closer and I also investigated what the other side had been saying straight from their mouths and not through the AiG filter. As such, I realized that what I had been taught was wrong, and I also lost my Christian faith. Now, looking back I find that the reason I was a Christian was because of my belief in a young earth and special creationism, not because of Jesus and the resurrection. I now understand the reasons people have for their Christian faith lot better than I used to. I haven’t myself found another good reason to once again become a Christian, but just like everyone else, believer and non-believer alike, I make observations around me and to try and figure out the truth of reality.

  2. I would encourage anyone who has read this to go here:

    ... and read the post by Dr. Wile and the comments that follow. Considering that Dr. Wile is a Young Earth Creationist, and that I used his science materials to home school all five of my sons, I think it is fair to say not only that I disagree with his YE position, but that he demonstrates the way the OE/YE debate should be conducted. On a side note, you might also note the commenters evaluation of Mr. Ham's methods. Very enlightening.


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