You Don’t Need a Young Earth to Get to Heaven

Do creationists use intimidation and spiritual threats to coerce young people to believe?  Not as often as some critics assume.

Young-earth creationist leader Ken Ham of the organization Answers In Genesis repeated his call recently that Christians do not need to believe in a young earth.

For outsiders like me, this can appear puzzling.  After all, those of us outside the circle of conservative evangelical belief often assume that all conservative evangelical Protestants spend their time sweating over their eternal fate.  We might make the mistake of assuming that conservative evangelicals thrive by threatening sinners with hellfire, brimstone and damnation.

Take, for example, the Christian beliefs of young-earth creationists.  From the outside, it’s tempting to assume that the more insistent YECs must somehow bully new generations into embracing their beliefs.  After all, those beliefs are so radically different from the ones embraced by mainstream science that it seems impossible for young people to become YECs unless compelled.

This is why some prominent atheists have called this kind of creationism “child abuse.”  As we’ve seen in these pages, smart young people brought up in the faith have wondered why their trusted adult leaders sold them a scientific bill of goods.  As Anna wondered recently in her illuminating ILYBYGTH series about her youth as a YEC, “It is still a bit difficult for me to look back on authority figures and members of my community that I looked up to and respected and wonder: are they just ignorant, or are they purposely deceptive?”

For us outsiders then, it can seem surprising that arch-creationist Ken Ham takes time to point out that young-earth belief is not a salvation issue.  That is, Ham insists that good Christians can disagree about the age of the earth.  As he puts it,

Many great men of God who are now with the Lord have believed in an old earth. Some of these explained away the Bible’s clear teaching about a young earth by adopting the classic gap theory.

Others accepted a day-age theory or positions such as theistic evolution, the framework hypothesis, and progressive creation.

Scripture plainly teaches that salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ, with no requirement for what one believes about the age of the earth or universe.

Ham hastens to add that discarding a belief in a young earth can have “very severe consequences.”  In sum, since the Bible clearly describes the origins of earth, disregarding that message puts Christians on the very slippery slope to disregarding Biblical authority as a whole.

“All biblical doctrines,” Ham concludes, “including the gospel itself, are ultimately rooted in the first book of the Bible.”

Make no mistake: Ken Ham wants you to believe in a young earth.  But this is not a threat.  This is not a tent-preacher warning that only YEC can save your soul.

Too many outsiders like me ignore these kinds of nuance in the intellectual world of conservative evangelical Protestantism.  We end up calling YECs child abusers or worse, without taking the time to understand the real culture of young-earth creationism.  That might make for good headlines, but it does so at the heavy cost of relying on caricature rather than reality.

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  1. I agree that most YEC’s do not consider belief in 6-day creation to be a salvation issue. However, I cannot agree when you say that Ken Ham is not threatening. He is threatening, possibly in just as potent of a way as calling down fire and brimstone. I remember clearly these sorts of arguments and they have devastating potential in order to keep people “in line” with the correct beliefs through intimidation and shaming.

    This most prominent argument was this one: if you question the literal biblical story of creation, you are questioning God himself. Everything in evangelical culture hinges on appearing to have absolute faith in God, no matter what happens and no matter what you do. Even if Ken Ham says that creationist beliefs are not necessary for heaven, he is not-so-subtly hinting that your salvation may not be far behind as you apparently lack trust in God. (Imagining Ken Ham as Darth Vader saying “I find your lack of faith disturbing…”) And, just to add to it, he throws in a side-note about how if you open that door, the next generation will open it further, indicating that YOU might escape hellfire, but you might be dooming your children to it. That’s a threat, and not a well-disguised one. He further lays much of the “problems” of the progressive world on your shoulders if you do not believe (you notice that he slipped “marriage is between a man and a woman” into there, even though Adam and Eve were never said to be married?) That’s his way of “othering” you in the community… putting you on the “wrong” side of the culture wars. In the environment I grew up in, that’s reason enough to be shunned by the rest of the community, for the sake of protecting children from your divisive ways. I’m not kidding. I was not allowed to go to my current fiance’s house to visit for quite some time because it was known that her family was “not fully bible-believing” and therefore probably not saved.

    So no, Ken Ham may not believe that YEC is directly a salvation issue, but he is threatening. And he knows it. He knows the power that those words have for people like me, people like my family, and people like the conservative families I grew up around. These threats can be just as binding and restricting as threats of hell, in my experience. And Ken Ham looooves the conservative homeschooling niche culture, probably because he has so much power and influence there. As such, I’m just not willing to let him off so easy. Saying “YEC’s threaten people with hell if they don’t believe” is certainly a misrepresentation of the truth, that does need to be addressed. However, “YEC’s do not threaten people with hell if they don’t believe” isn’t quite the truth either. It’s somewhere in-between.

    • A warning is not a threat galacticexplorer, even if your experience would cause you to believe otherwise.

      • In the context of Mr. Laat’s article, the definition of “threat” used is accurate. It was said that Ken Ham was not threatening people with hell. I agreed and said that there were, however, other threats. Given that context, my wording makes sense. Thank you for your comment.

      • But a warning CAN be a threat, right? In the American context, if the Ku Klux Klan burns a cross on your lawn, it is both a warning and a threat. But if a neighbor warns you that a big storm is coming, that is not a threat, even if the storm turns out to be not so bad. In this case, people like me are offended when religious people “warn” us that we are going to hell. It seems like both a threat and an insult. But from a religious perspective, it can be understood as a way to help other people. One of the problems comes when we apply this logic to children. As GE argued, when adults “warn” children of something, the threat is almost always implied. Children are easily scared, and “warning” children can easily–maybe always–slide into a way of coercing them.
        BTW, this question is at the root of the title of this blog. A student once told me that an elder relative had lovingly told her “ILYBYGTH.” My student asked me how that relative could have said something like that and NOT meant it as an insult and a threat. I’ve been trying to figure it out ever since.

      • Recall, you claim that Ham wants to:

        keep people “in line” with the correct beliefs” through intimidation and shaming.

        You further claim that Ham:

        … is not-so-subtly hinting that your salvation may not be far behind as you apparently lack trust in God.

        Even if this were the case, this is not a threat. He is simply warning of the consequences. To escalate this to a threat, you would need more than opinion or anecdote. The issue is also not about ‘trust in God’ per se but more epistemology and exegesis which Ham believes leads to YEC.

        Also, Adam and Eve did not need to have an official ceremony validated by a state for a valid marriage. Such logic would be temporally displaced exegesis.

      • This seems to be a problem of atheistic ‘pain theology’ which separates ‘love’ from chastisement. That is not the worldview of the bible and Christianity is meant to be an offense to those who live in sin.

        The elder relative was (most likely) telling his relative that she was going to hell (by her sinful lifestyle?) and that he loved her so much that he would risk offending her (which did happen) by warning of the consequences of said sin.

        And why is it that you don’t equate Krauss with the KKK as he is issuing both a warning and a threat of “child abuse”? Why hide him behind the presumption of ignorance but not afford the ILYBYGTH elder same?

      • If you prefer, I will replace “threat” with “coercion.” If you are troubled by the use of “threat” because Ken Ham himself is not intending any ill towards me, but rather simply warning of dire consequences, I will agree to use a better term. As Mr. Laats said above, “warnings” often become coercive… especially when intimidation and shaming is used to keep people in line with a given set of beliefs. If one believes that this coercion is necessary and good to protect someone from themselves, very well. However, it is still coercion.

        And I agree with you that Genesis is useless for drawing parallels with modern marriage… that was my point. Ken Ham is only inferring that the Adam/Eve story has any bearing on marriage, but the bible itself makes no such mention, and thus all such inferences are merely speculative.

        For the record, I am not an atheist, nor do I completely separate love from chastisement, regardless of your assumptions about me. However, I do think there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to treat another human being. Telling someone “you’re going to hell” is disrespectful and, ultimately, not useful. And to say that someone “loves you enough to offend you” is rather strangely painting the offender as the victim. Perhaps that was not your intent so I do not wish to put words in your mouth… I just found it odd.

      • Genesis is not useless for views on marriage but your particular interpretation that Adam and Eve were not married is not sound exegesis. Ham is using tradition mixed with a primal biblical epistemology while you are just using literalism. As such, it is difficult to understand why you would fault Ham when your own method is what would be expected from an atheist. One cannot make sweeping claims based on the lack of a marriage ceremony if one does not understand the formation, concept and applicability of marriage that Ham holds to.

        The ‘separation of love from chastisement’ comment was meant for Dr. Laats. Telling someone they are going to hell MAY be disrespectful. The problem is that the typical atheist thinks it is always disrespectful which displays their standard lack of situational nuance and/or anti-theistic bias. I see the ILYBYGTH elder and the offended relative as simply speaking past each other. The elder needed to be more discerning in his approach and the relative needed to discern the elder’s intent.

      • I never said that Adam and Eve were not married. I said that the Bible does not specify that Adam and Eve were married. Therefore, all opinions on whether or not they were married are speculation. I am making a negative statement that you keep trying to turn into a positive one.

      • Dear galacticexplorer, Eve was a help-mate specifically designed, compatible to and complementary with Adam (Gen 2:18,20), the union of which was validated by God (Gen 1:28, 2:22, 3:12). The bible does not explicitly state that they were married as it is assumed of the audience/readers. Hence, Gen 2:24,25, 3:8,20,21, 4:1 refers to Eve as “his wife” and Adam in Gen 3:6,16 is “her husband.” One can also make an argument from the eternal non-contradictory nature of God who prohibits fornication (Eph 5:3), that Adam and Eve were understood as married.

      • You state that the Bible does not explicitly state it because it is assumed that the reader knows. That is a huge assumption. The word in Genesis 3 that is translated as “husband” is actually almost always a word for “man” (Xya) and is translated as “man” or “men over 1000 times, and as “husband” only 69 times. Thus, it is quite possible that the original Hebrew referred to “man” rather than “husband”. As for the non-contradictory nature of God… he also prohibited most forms of incest later on, but clearly incest was the only way to perpetuate the species at the beginning of time. Therefore, the rules do change based on the circumstance.

        As I said, you are welcome to draw conclusions about the nature of Adam and Eve’s relationship (I don’t believe that Adam and Eve actually existed so it’s somewhat pointless for me) but they are just that: assumptions. And that was my point. I have no interest in discussing this further as, like I said, I don’t actually believe the Bible anyway… it just frustrates me when people make speculations about what it said and deliver them as facts. Thanks for your comments and all the best to you!

      • Dear galacticexplorer, you have confirmed my suspicions. What you are doing is akin to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in that if a word has more than one meaning, they choose what fits their theology. The translators use the words ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ since the context demands such. Also, a word can have two (or more) simultaneous meanings which is the case here. You are demanding one meaning and explicit statements, imposing a strict literalism that is not proper.

        Disbelieving in a literal Adam and Eve should not affect your ability to interpret the proper textual meaning. The point of exegesis/hermeneutics is not what you believe but what the original author and audience believed at a particular time and in a particular context. To disbelieve in an Adam and Eve when genetics is pointing in that direction i.e. a common male and female ancestor (even if not literally those in Genesis) seems counter-intuitive. You should be agnostic until more data is present, don’t you think?

        The rule on incest did not (absolutely) change as we are all products of incest since Eve was created out of Adam. Quite curiously, there is a rib that can be taken out and will re-grow. The incest rule was modified for man’s benefit due to genetic deterioration especially due to continual sperm mutation from puberty to death and post-flood environmental changes. There may be other reasons such as a reduction in ethno-nationalism. It is unfortunate that you don’t see that you are guilty of what you accuse Ham and others of doing, i.e. making blanket statements based on faulty assumptions about exegetical principles. I pray you reconsider your position and all the best as well.

      • One more time, you are making my negative statement into a positive one. I never said that Xya CANNOT mean “husband” (in fact, I clearly stated that it can) but rather that the word does not explicitly mean husband and thus we do not know what the original author intended… it must be speculated. I have no desire to find meanings that fit my theology, since the bible has nothing to do with my theology. So far, your arguments with me have been solely attacking straw men, so I see no point in continuing a discussion. You are welcome to pray if you like. Thanks.

      • Dear galacticexplorer, to understand even an explicit statement would require some speculation. The statement could be facetious for instance. Thus, to claim that it is [mere] speculation on Ham’s part is indicative of bias. Additionally, the statement “the bible has nothing to do with my theology” is self-refuting as you can be defined both by that which you subscribe to and that which you do not. To drive home a point, your bible/theology claim is guilty of not using the most explicit meaning of the word “nothing.” Hopefully, this helps in showing one problem of adhering to an explicitness requirement and brings us back to the major issue; namely that proper exegesis is required for every word and statement, explicit or otherwise.

  2. You credit too much to Krauss’ ignorance. Rather, he and Dawkins are clearly using argumentum ad Hitlerum.

  3. Galacticexplorer – Welcome to the club. Argumentum ad ChazIng.

  4. Glad that it made you feel good.


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