You’d Think Radical Creationists Would Want to Keep This Quiet

At first glance, one might think that radical young-earth creationists like Ken Ham would want to cover it up. But he doesn’t. Ham loudly crows about the fact that learning science can turn his flock away from his creationist vision of proper Christianity. Once we understand the world of radical American creationism a little better, though, Ham’s strategy makes a lot more sense.

marty sampson ken ham

Why wouldn’t Ken Ham keep this sort of thing quiet?

First, a few background facts. Recently, Marty Sampson of evangelical mega-group Hillsong announced that he was “genuinely losing” his religion.  Sampson later insisted he hadn’t abandoned Christianity, but that his faith was on “shaky ground.” Why? Because, Sampson wrote, among other things, science keeps debunking the basic beliefs of conservative evangelical Christianity.

Now, if we didn’t understand the landscape of American creationism, we might think that radical young-earth creationists like Ken Ham would be embarrassed by such announcements. We might think they wouldn’t want people to know that mainstream science has the power to deflate true religious beliefs.

In fact, though, the opposite is true. Leaders like Ken Ham tweet Sampson’s apostasy from the rooftops. As Ham wrote,

This sad situation about this person is a reminder the church & parents need to teach apologetics to counter today’s attacks on God’s Word.

What’s going on? Why would arch-creationists like Ken Ham advertise the power of mainstream science to puncture conservative evangelical faith? The answer goes back to the 1950s, when modern radical young-earth creationism was born. The real enemy of radical creationism is not modern science, but rather modern evangelical belief that accepts evolutionary theory without abandoning evangelical faith.

Since its inception in the 1950s, radical young-earth creationists have always insisted that only their draw-the-line science can protect Christians from atheism and damnation. The first generation of radical creationists was responding to other evangelical writers such as Bernard Ramm, who made a convincing case that evangelical Christians need not fear modern science. The two could go together.

In response, Ken Ham’s mentor, Henry Morris, teamed up with theologian John Whitcomb Jr. to write The Genesis Flood. In that book, Whitcomb and Morris argued that there was no Ramm-ian middle ground. In spite of what conservative Christians might have heard, Whitcomb and Morris insisted, there were

really only two basic philosophies or religions among mankind.

One was true evangelical Christianity. The other was based in evolutionary thinking, and it showed up in

ancient idolatries or primitive animism or modern existentialism or atheistic communism!

Because there were only two options, W&M argued, Christians faced a stark choice. They could believe in real Christianity, including a steadfast belief in a young earth and the recent miraculous creation of humanity, or they could choose evolutionary thinking, a philosophy that

must have its source in the pride and selfishness of man and ultimately in the pride and deception of the great adversary, Satan himself.

For Ken Ham and his mentor Henry Morris, the essential reason for adhering to young-earth doctrine was because the only other option was atheism. Marty Sampson’s public agonies over faith and science only bolster that faith. For Sampson, doubt and skepticism seem to lead directly to rejection and atheism. There is no suggestion of a middle ground, of a world in which one can be 100% Christian yet accept modern science. For Ken Ham and other radical creationists, that is music to their ears.

I Guess I Owe Bill Nye an Apology

Sorry, Bill. You were right. I was wrong. Back when you agreed to debate radical creationist Ken Ham, I thought you couldn’t possibly do any good. Like a lot of other nerds, I thought that merely explaining the basics of mainstream science was necessary, but not sufficient. I didn’t think Nye’s presentation–no matter how good it was–could deter any radical creationists from preferring their own brand of fundamentalist science.

marty sampson ken ham

…turns out there are still people out there who just haven’t heard about real science.

Looks like I was wrong in at least one case. This morning, Ken Ham lamented the defection of an evangelical music star. I don’t know anything about Marty Sampson or Hillsong, but apparently one of the reasons Sampson gave for giving up on evangelical religion was because of mainstream science. As Sampson announced,

Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.

Five years ago, when Nye agreed to beard Ham in the creationists’ lions’ den, I thought he was making a strategic mistake. I thought Nye misunderstood the nature of radical American creationism. As I wrote at the time,

Bill Nye’s assumption that young-earth creationism represents a lack of scientific knowledge is more than just an embarrassing ignorance on Nye’s part. The educational and political tasks in cases of naïve non-knowledge are worlds apart from the educational and political tasks in cases of intentional or constructed non-knowledge. In the case of evolution education, if creationists were simply unaware of evolutionary science, then outreach programs would have a good chance of success. The task would be simply to spread information. But in reality, evolution education must recognize that many students and families are not simply ignorant, but resistant to this form of knowledge. Educational efforts must strive first to understand the reasons for this resistance. Only then can evolution educators hope to develop effective strategies to teach evolution.

But…I guess in at least this one case, a creationist Christian really DID find the truths of mainstream science compelling. Marty Sampson appears to have converted away from conservative evangelicalism–at least in part–due to his exposure to mainstream scientific ideas. And if this famous creationist is feeling this way, I’m guessing there are plenty more among the rank and file who are moving more quietly away from radical creationism and conservative evangelical religion.