What’s Wrong with Princeton?

Why is young-earth impresario Ken Ham mad at Princeton University? It doesn’t have anything to do with creationism…unless we really understand creationism.

You’d think Ken Ham wouldn’t give a fig about the goings-on at elite Princeton University. After all, Ham—the brains behind Kentucky’s Creation Museum and Ark Encounter—won’t even recommend evangelical colleges such as Wheaton. You’d think he’d have given up on no-longer-evangelical colleges like Princeton a long time ago. Yet Ham is furious at Princeton.

What’s Ham’s beef?

As Ham laments on his blog, Princeton’s Office of Religious Life co-sponsored an event supporting Planned Parenthood. As he puts it,

When universities like Princeton back Planned Parenthood, they abandon a commitment to dialoguing about healthcare or women’s rights. Rather they show a commitment to the violent ending of a life—the life of the unborn. And that is a commitment that harms women, families, and children. We need to stand up for those without a voice and encourage women to choose life for their babies. Abortion is nothing less than the sacrifice of children to the god of self.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing it, but some folks might be wondering what any of that pro-life stuff has to do with creationism. Isn’t creationism about the ways humans came to be? Why are creationist activists talking about abortion, much less the activities of a purportedly untrustworthy university like Princeton?

As I’m arguing in my current book, if we really want to understand creationism, we have to come to grips with a couple of points highlighted by this story.

First, creationism as a whole doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with abortion. There are plenty of people out there who believe that God created humanity AND support the work of Planned Parenthood. When we talk about the tight connections between creationism and anti-abortion activism, we’re only talking about one type of creationism, the sort of creationism on offer at Ham’s Creation Museum.

foundations AIG

The REAL battle, as seen from Kentucky.


Second, as Ham is fond of pointing out, evolutionary thinking is not only about science, but about an all-enveloping worldview that undercuts true Christian belief. Creationism, as Ham sees it, is about more than young-earth science. It is about a deeply conservative sort of faith, one in which same-sex marriage, abortion, drug use, premarital sex, and a host of other social ills are the flowers of a poisoned evolutionary seed. For Ham and his young-earth creationist allies, the issues of abortion and evolution are intimately joined, even if they are not for other types of creationist.

Seen in this light, it makes perfect sense for Ken Ham to be mad at Princeton. For Ham, abortion IS a creationism question.

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  1. Daniel Mandell

     /  September 27, 2017

    Well, yes: as yesterday’s election in Alabama highlights.

  2. Dan

     /  September 27, 2017

    That’s why the ADF funded and promoted the “God is not Dead” films.

    Several forms of Dominionism like this are the conclusion of Dostoevsky (without God, everything is permitted) + Calvinist/Reformed Presuppositionalism, which added the radical theopolitical worldview element to Evangelicalism. Unsurprisingly there’s a lot of crossover between different, distinct groups like Hamm and Christian Reconstructionists. This is the ideology they hold in common.

    Evolution = Atheism / Materialism = You can do anything to anyone.

    Presuppositionalism = No such thing as neutrality in any area; everyone has a value system and presuppositions that shape their worldview. Non-Christian worldviews are antithetically opposed to Christianity, most of all atheistic worldviews. Such stark, uncompromising, demonizing thought is a common feature of any radicalized fundamentalism. Luther, in debate with Erasmus, famously rejected the idea of free will and declared everyone is an ass ridden by either God or the Devil. Every conflict then becomes a life or death struggle.

    It’s not a new or American thing either. 19thC European (often Catholic) reactionary political thought drew similar polemical conclusions about the enlightenment as a godless revolt, and in Russian anti-Bolshevik thought this same logic is at work. Putin has openly promoted that tradition and rehabilitated intellectuals on the old Russian right, like Ilyin. It’s not a conspiracy but a very old anti-modernist reaction from the religious/right that never went away and has a great moment of opportunity now.

    • Dan, I don’t know if you are still reading this since it is not a current post. Are you saying that atheistic worldviews are not antithetically opposed to Christianity, nor presuppositional, and to suggest otherwise is demonizing?

      • I am saying the concept of an “atheistic worldview” is stereotyped, unreal, intellectually dishonest, and analytically useless. Acceptance of evolutionary theory does not require or compel any particular philosophical or theological position. Additionally, there is no set of “presuppositions” that can be called “atheistic” and exclusive of another set called “Christian” or even “theistic.” The valid general distinction is between essentialists and non-essentialists, metaphysical and non- or post-metaphysical thinkers. Sometimes the term “foundationalism” is used. The argument is really not about religion or faith but a post-classical/medieval philosophical framework that political and religious reactionaries wrongly insist are the foundation of for faith and morals. It is originally a European Catholic line of thinking that Calvinists (the Protestant Scholastics) appropriated.

    • Thanks. Hopefully I hit reply correctly. I have made an attempt to understand basic philosophy, but that is as far along as I am with that. I think I possibly, sort of understand what you are saying.

      “Acceptance of evolutionary theory does not require or compel any particular philosophical or theological position.” I’m wondering why that is, then also, what IS required to accept evolutionary theory? If you want to explain. Does that mean you see evolution and evolutionary creationism as both valid?

      • All that is required to accept any scientific theory is to accept what it takes as facts and evidence and then be convinced the theory provides the simplest and most complete interpretation of them. It’s entirely physical, observable stuff. You don’t have to think the physical and observative is all there is, but if you want to believe there is more to reality than we are able to observe, you can — just as long as you also refrain from making empirical claims that are falsified by hard evidence, such as young earth creationism.

        To say a deity created the physical planet a few thousand years ago or that we come from only two original ancestors is a speculative transgression of an interpretation of a religious text into science, into geology. Similarly, what gets complained about as “scientism” and reductionism (from many quarters, not just Christian fundamentalists) is when someone makes ontological claims for science like “the things we can observe or model and predict mathematically define the limits of the real.” That’s science transgressing into philosophy and theology with a speculative assumption. If that’s admitted, it can be presented as more plausible than other supposals, like assuming Genesis is a non-mythical cosmogony produced by people with special access to firsthand knowledge of the actual origin of their species, planet, or universe.

        Both transgressions and their tie to each other reflects the origins of western science and theology (all theoretical thought) in classical philosophy, which came out of religious speculation. (Plato said philosophy was a type of theology.) By the later middle ages, Christian philosophy and theology could not sustain a coherent explanation of a universe where some things that exist do not exist in the same way as all other things. This opened up the field for science to flourish with a bias toward the empirical and the technological to the point that all other concerns are irrelevant if not chimerical.

        None of this has anything to do with any presuppositions, assumptions, or views you or I may have. It is just an explanation of how and why different people think as they do and on what grounds they have some validity for their thinking. Validity is based on non-contradiction, basic empiricism (empirical claims require empirical evidence), and honesty: claims that are speculative and non-falsifiable should be acknowledged and regarded as more dubious than others. What I will add as a personal but not very original view is that we have a big problem from not being able to talk about the equal and even superior value of speculative and non-falsifiable domains of knowledge that have accumulated in religion, philosophy (especially ethics), and the “human sciences.” Yet as long as value goes on being defined primarily as power with money and ultimately blood as its currency, then it really does not matter what regimes of knowledge/power are values. Ancients or moderns, humanists or scientists, priests or technicians — they’ll all be as oppressive as they can be.

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