I do not miss the irony that shortly after I wrote a couple of blog articles talking about socio-political conflict and how some aspects of it bothered me, I was awarded the contract to narrate Ken Ham’s audiobook The Lie: Evolution. I wanted to take some time and write down some of my thoughts on the book, since, frankly, I was a little surprised by its contents and Ken’s arguments. You don't read a whole book aloud into a microphone and not have something to say about it afterwards. So, here we go.
First, let me set up my bias (since we all have one). I am a very moderate conservative, I would say, though I am loathe to identify with any one group of beliefs because I think that way leads to the dark side of closed-mindedness (the “party line”). I am not a Christian. I am a former Catholic-turned-agnostic-turned-Protestant-turned-agnostic. It’s complicated. We won’t get into it here. But that helps you understand where I’m coming from when I talk about what I read in Ken’s book. There is plenty of stuff I absolutely disagree with in The Lie, but there’s also some stuff that I thought was pretty sound logic. So before you attack me for being either a burn-in-hell heathen or an intolerant religious zealot…don’t, because you’ll look silly and everyone will laugh at you.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ken Ham, he is an ardent and somewhat infamous Christian creationist; he and Bill Nye (yes, the science guy) recently had a public debate on creation vs. evolution. I didn’t watch it, but lots of people did. But the most poignant thing about Ken’s views, however, is that he is a “literal creationist,” that is he believes that the Bible is an infallible document which must be taken literally. In today’s world, that’s a reaaaaallly tough position to take.
The Lie’s first surprise to me was that it really wasn’t an argument for creation. Ken took almost no time to talk about archaeological evidence for the flood, the Cambrian explosion, and other science-like approaches to the creation debate – this was absolutely not a Lee Strobel novel. I realized quickly that the book wasn’t about creationism. It was about Christianity’s own interpretation of the bible, and it was, in my opinion, clearly written to present an argument to creationists, not evolutionists.
Now, I think Ken made two big points in the book, and I’ll deal with what I think the lesser one is first. One of them basically levels the playing field a bit by saying that evolutionists, atheists, agnostics, and Christians all share one basic trait: they are all religious. I’ll wait until you stop gasping to keep talking.
He argues that evolutionism is just as much of a religion as Christianity. It is just as dogmatic. It requires just as many leaps of faith to cover information available only by inference. And if you ask a Christian what it would take for him to stop believing in Jesus as his lord and savior, he will say: “This is not possible.” Ken spent some time asking evolutionists and atheists the same question – what would it take for you to start believing in creationism? He got similar answers – people had already made up their minds, and a shift in opinion simply was not possible. Now that’s a broad brush to paint all evolutionists with, but I think he’s got a point for the cross-section of that population that DOES answer that question with “I will never change my views.”
So, Ken summed that up by saying (and I am paraphrasing, not quoting): “Everyone has a bias. No one is immune to the dogma of their own personal religion, whether it is evolutionism, atheism, Islam, or Christianity. The real question is: which is the right one?” Now, of course, this assumes there is a “right” one. But I thought the argument was interesting, and it might be helpful to just about everyone to sit back and assess their own dogma before engaging in any kind of argument.
Second, and now we’re really on to the main point of the book, was that if you do not take the whole bible literally (that is, you take Genesis figuratively), what’s the point of it all? It was a big, giant, finger-wag to Christians everywhere. Most of the anecdotal arguments he details in the book are between him and other pastors or other Christians, not between him and evolutionists. I admit, I wasn’t expecting that.
I actually wrote a blog article a while ago on this very same principle, and I’ll be damned if I don’t agree at least a little bit with the point here. If you can interpret Genesis in a loose way, why can’t you interpret, say, the resurrection of Christ as wholly or partially symbolic? I know those are different sets of circumstances with different historical evidence, though. So, in dealing with something a bit less controversial, if you can apply historical context to a document and argue that it’s not about what the text says but about what the text means in that context, why can’t you apply it to the phrase “sexual immorality” as used in the New Testament and argue that homosexuality is not a sin according to the bible? Why couldn’t you, say, use it to create one of 41,000 denominations? (My tongue may go right through my cheek, here.)
But the converse of “all or none” is also problematic, and it’s one point that Ken didn’t deal with in The Lie. If you keep Genesis locked into a literal statement and ignore historical context, you must also do so with the rest of the bible. The problem is consistency – what you do with one part of the bible, you must do with all parts of the bible (right?). If you believe that the earth was created in six literal days, you must also believe that it is disgraceful for women to speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), you have a whole slew of confusing rules about multiple wives and slavery and death penalties. You also must, “if you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow [Jesus].” (Matt 19:21). Not a whole lot of wiggle room, there, if you want to be literal about it – but I don’t see a lot of people selling all their possessions (nor do I think them hypocrites if they don’t…I’m not passing judgment here).
Yeesh. It’s not an easy spot to be in either way, is it? But Christianity isn’t easy. I’m not sure any religion is.
Ken extends this argument to “compromise positions.” He tsk-tsks at Christians who say that God used evolution, that the “days” in Genesis do not mean literal 24-hour days and could mean millions of years, or any such middle ground. Many of them have a logical flaw that, when tied back into his original argument, result in a loose interpretation of Genesis, which results in a potentially loose interpretation of the bible. He insists that these views are sometimes more damaging to the creationist movement than the evolutionists, and I can see where he has a point. It’s a pretty thick series of if-then statements that support his claim that if the bible’s not totally literal and infallible, why bother?
He doesn’t, however, address the “mature earth theory” as one of those compromise positions, which was disappointing as it is my personal favorite; that God created a universe that was billions of years old, but it only took him six days to do it. Maybe he created a universe that was billions of years old to give us the pleasure of discovering it, fossils and all. We’ll obviously never know.
So, to make a short story long, if I didn’t precisely agree with Ken or much of the content of his book, it did certainly make me think a bit. His discussion about bias and everyone having their own religion made me snicker a bit at the comments I got from people when I told them I was narrating his book, who immediately dismissed him as an idiot (particularly people that weren’t even that familiar with his position), and his comments about all-or-none in regards to the bible, while maybe a little tailored to serve his own bias, had some good points. I hope for a little while you could set your bias aside and just enjoy perusing my thoughts, as I felt compelled after spending so much time immersed in such a controversial topic to sort of let some of my brain leak out.
Have a thought of your own? STOP IMMEDIATELY AND CONFORM TO THE SYSTEM.
Just kidding. Post it below!