Ken Ham Is Right!

No, not about a young earth.  But Ken Ham, the obstreperous mastermind of Answers in Genesis, is right to complain about the language directed at him and his campaign.

I’ll say it again: I don’t agree with Ken Ham’s theology.  I don’t agree with his notion that a young earth is a central idea of Christian faith.  More important, I think Ham’s angry, combative tone drowns out much of the productive and respectful conversation that could go on about the issues of faith, science, creation, and evolution.

But Ham is right to complain recently about the ways his ministry has been attacked.  In his AiG blog, Ham pointed out the rhetorical excesses of some of his foes.  In a post on an Australian atheist blog, one Simon Doonar attacked Ham intemperately.  Here’s Doonar’s post in full:

“I hope that sometime in the future this kind of deliberate misleading of people and especially kids can be treated as a criminal breach of the law, and those who commit such breaches are excluded from society permanently.

“What these type of people are doing is damaging our species by inhibiting our ability to free our minds from superstition and the dream like notions of how we came to be and where we are going.

“And to think that this idiot believes that all the research and evidence which proves evolution can be simply brushed away by the simple answer of ‘where you there’. How can you possibly deal with this type of person, they are psychologically ill and like all dangers nut casers should be put somewhere to reduce the risk of them harming others.”

Doonar also included an angry frowny-face emoticon, but I’m not sure how to reproduce that here.

Now, I understand that such blog posts lend themselves to extravagant emotion.  But still, Doonar’s assertion that creationists should be rounded up and locked up terrifies me.  The notion that we need to criminalize ideas with which we disagree inches frighteningly close to lynch law.

If it were only one kooky Australian who had had a few too many Foster’s and allowed himself to do some angry blogging, we should perhaps pay no attention.  But Ham correctly points out that these sentiments, though usually expressed more calmly, haunt the edges of the creation/evolution debates.

For instance, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” recently implied that creationists should not be allowed to pass their ideas on to their children.  Less famous thinkers ask, apparently sincerely, if creationism equals “child abuse.”  Other hotheads call creationism “terrorism” and “child abuse.”

Again, I understand the Wild-West rules of the blogosphere.  People will say all kinds of stuff to get attention.  The more extreme, the more attention.  And I understand that Ken Ham loves this kind of extremism, since it allows him to play the misunderstood victim.

But as a historian, I get nervous when any group is talked about in these dehumanizing ways.  We don’t need to go all the way back to Quakers executed in colonial Boston to find examples of religious groups targeted for military-style attack due to allegations of “child abuse.”

Just a few years ago, the government raided the Yearning for Zion ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The raid was utterly illegal, utterly unconstitutional.  Yet it was approved and carried out due to accusations of child abuse, along with deeper cultural suspicions about the breakaway LDS sect.

Talking about creationists as child abusers and criminals does not help defang thinkers such as Ken Ham.  Ham thrives on such attack.  But it does reduce the possibility of constructive, respectful dialogue about creationism.

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18 Comments

  1. Do you think creationism is about science and doctrine or the cultural and political power of religion, for a guy like Ham?

    Reply
    • @Keith, Good question. I like Berkman & Plutzer’s argument that creation/evolution debates are all really about “who decides.” From that perspective, Ham and other combatants in this sort of culture war are really fighting for cultural and political power, as you suggest.
      Furthermore, Ham’s style certainly suggests that he is not primarily interested in a disinterested exploration of faith and reason, but rather, that he is primarily promoting one particular viewpoint and crushing all others.

      Reply
  2. I had not thought of it like that, but I think you are right. Demonizing them is a wrong thing but that does not mean that they should not be called out for their agenda and the fact that what they are promoting is stupidity in order to gain that power. Their ideology is stupid and dangerous, and it should be called such.

    Reply
    • Maybe in the US Presidential election season we can attempt some analogies. In the US tradition, it is entirely legitimate to attack one’s opponents viciously. Sarah Palin can be called unintelligent. Barack Obama can be called a populist panderer, promising more than he can deliver. But we all–whatever our ideology–must agree that Mitt Romney should not be threatened with incarceration for opposing Barack Obama. We must agree that Governor Romney’s religion is fair game for discussion, but it would not be legitimate to suggest that LDS belief somehow made Governor Romney subhuman or criminal. The same could be said about racist attacks on President Obama.
      In the case of creationists like Ken Ham, we can (and, in my opinion, MUST) fight against their attempts to bulldoze both secular and religious opposition to their beliefs. But that fight must stop short at dehumanizing radical creationists. It must stop short at calls to criminalize creationist beliefs.
      Otherwise, we may win a battle but we’ll lose a war. And I don’t even think we’ll win a battle.

      Reply
      • I agree with that and will endeavor to promote that view in my blogging as well. I can see that it would lead to a bad place. I did not mean that it is criminally dangerous, just dangerous to the success of our society. Dangerous to education. So also is reality television. I’m hoping that Sandy has erased any desire to continue the show ‘Jersey Shore’ .. even though it is likely that the carnage and loss of life will probably inspire them to carry on… sigh.

        LDS beliefs do not make Mitt subhuman, they make him stupid and gullible. They make him unfit for the office he seeks. I agree that we should not demonize or call belief criminal but neither should we allow stupid and dangerous ideas become the pinnacle of our society.

  3. minus christ

     /  November 1, 2012

    Finally a rational voice I can agree with. A lot of anger is disproportionately leveled at creationists, mostly because I think they epitomise the toothless version of the fundamentalism we see abroad. They won’t shoot you in the face for going to school, all they do is meddle with the science curriculum, something which can be easily counteracted at home.

    I agree that creationism isn’t child abuse, but do you think the threat of eternal hellfire is? Or is this just more hyperbole? Would be interested to hear your take on this.

    Reply
  4. The war paradigm is more damaging than any ideology used to support it and, given our specie’s proclivities, very hard to resist.

    Reply
    • @ Keith, Can you tell us more?
      @ MC, thanks for the vote of confidence in my rationality. I sometimes wonder… But as to the limits of “child abuse,” I have settled on what I consider a liberal terror of unnecessary coercion from the government. Me personally, I think those little-kid beauty pageants constitute child abuse. As a parent and a citizen, I feel I should work to raise my daughter to agree with me that such pageants demean all of us. As a teacher, I can work to convince my students that young people ought not be paraded about in such ways. But I would not want to make them illegal unless there was overwhelming evidence that most of the parents involved were harming their children.
      As far as teaching young people to fear an angry God, I see how that can be used as abuse by bad parents. However, I also see that most parents do such things in the best interests of their children, as the parents see it. I don’t agree with it, but I don’t see it as abusive.
      Consider the enormous difference between such cultural ideas and the sexual abuse of children that is all too common. Sex abusers do not proudly defend their practices. Hellfire parents can and do.
      I’m never one to insist an issue is black and white, but there seems to me an enormous difference between legitimate ideas passed along from parents to children in love and caring, even objectionable ideas such as hellfire and beauty pageants, and illegitimate ideas such as physical, sexual, or emotional belittlement meant to injure.

      Reply
      • minus christ

         /  November 1, 2012

        Yeah, I think a large part of what qualifies abuse is the intention. I mention it because it’s an idea Dawkins espouses frequently which most atheists just accept, I know I did, and I don’t really agree with him on a lot of things. Thinking about it now though I don’t know how I could be so undecided, thanks.

  5. These disputes between ideological camps often become existential matters. Resenting the opponent’s defining us narrowly by ideology, we return the favor. Being committed to our definitions, we put ourselves at risk of being committed to theirs, having tacitly accepted the rules of engagement. Any subsequent engagement degenerates into systematic vilification followed by maneuvering to marginalize the opponents, since we must assume that they would do the same, operating, as they are, under the same rules. This process of stripping away individual identity is more damaging than the ideology itself and is in fact necessary for even the most toxic notions to cause harm.

    Reply
  6. Mary Rose

     /  December 21, 2015

    Our western nations were built by creationists. Our societies up until radical liberalism overtook it were based on ethics and morals from the 10 commandments. Great nations were established by God fearing men.

    Today liberalism has not added anything except accessible abortion (murder); sexual deviation (abomination) and very questionable science (cloning etc).

    Education of children is the parents responsibility and not the states. Forgone submission to the State of that responsibility will indeed raise up a generation of people with a whole other set of problems. Dare I suggest raising children Atheist can also be considered spiritual neglect of them.

    Trust in God… or as the Americans used to believe when they were in fact a great nation once “In God we trust”.

    Reply
  7. Not sure why it took Mary Rose three years to show up, but suffice it to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with much that she claims. Won’t bother with refuting the incorrect claims, but will tangentially agree with the idea of parents being involved in their kid’s education. Way too many folks see public education as day-care and also are not themselves particularly interested in learning. I would recommend that Rose read “Myths America Lives By” by Church of Christ scholar Richard Hughes –

    Reply
  8. Forgot to add my comments about the original post – check out Ham’s writings and you will see that he is not exactly genteel when he talks about Christian folks who disagree with him – e.g. Hugh Ross and Biologos are “enemies of the authoritative Word of God” and referring to anyone who disagrees with his theology “Compromised Christians” – translation, you will burn forever in the lake of fire.

    Reply
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