In which I inflict Ken Ham upon myself and others

This is another archival repost originally written for the old blog in april 2008.

I listened to a sermon[1] by Ken Ham, creationist head of Answers in Genesis, the other day. I was erm … researching a role? Anyway, it was great fun. My knowledge of church services is limited to the Anglican tradition, and it was very educational to hear how things are done evangelical style. I won’t bother dissecting Ham’s argument bit by bit — though it’s worth mentioning the occasional bursts of outright Lying For Jesus, such as the claim that textbooks state that there are higher and lower races of man, or the conflation of species (of cats) with breeds (of dogs). You know, things so absurdly wrong and depressingly easy to fact-check. Rather, what really interested me was the way he wove two very different classes of (equally fallacious) arguments together. On the one had were his creative truth-claims in favour of biblical literacy and against the findings of science. On the other were arguments about perceived consequences that acceptance of evolution has for morality. Ham flickered back and forth between the two, ignoring the distinction. It’s an acceptable rhetorical technique, I suppose: mix claims about what is true with scare stories about what happens if you don’t believe it. I’m sure many of the arguments for atheism could even be charged with using this technique at times, and it’s a staple of politics and tabloid news. But I think that it says something very interesting about the motivation of creationists.

Ham’s argument from consequences comes down to this: if the bible is literally true, God determines morality. If evolution is true, morality is based on man’s fallible word. And you know what? He’s right. The bible is wrong about an awful lot of things (sometimes it’s just asking too much to believe that it was intended as allegory), and God does not determine morality. To paraphrase HectorAvalos : it is not sufficient to demonstrate that the bible gets one fact right in order to demonstrate that it is is useful, relevant, ethical, or the revealed word of God. But one inaccuracy is all that it takes to prove that it isfallible and questionable.[2] Ham therefore believes that it is his duty to defend every word of the bible as the truth. Only that with “save their souls.” The end goal of promoting creationism is not to have everybody believe in creation, but to fight the rise of the “pagans.” (Lol.) Ham believes that if people are taught that it doesn’t really matter how God made the world, they will question whether he made it at all. If people are taught that it doesn’t really matter whether everything in the first book of the bible happened, they will question whether the events of the Gospels really happened. And you know what? I can’t argue against that. Our only difference is that Ham believes that this is a bad thing.

The tactic of mixing truth with consequences is something that has been inherited by the intelligent design movement. Take the Wedge document, the DiscoveryInstitute’s 1998 manifesto (leaked, and now subject to desperate attempts at distancing and damage control from the Disco Inst.). The document makes vague appeals to science here and promises research programmes there, but it is primarily concerned with the perceived effects of “scientific materialism”. Socialism is the preferred bogeyman of the Disco Institute, though the link between evolution and socialism never seems far from confused. Or, of course, we have Ben Stein in theater(s) (for one week only) rather offensively lying for Jesus about racism and playing games with the holocaust.[3] School shootings, abortion, homosexuality, and all the other traditional demons are these days the responsibility of “evolutionization”.[4]

Claims about the truth and claims about consequences are not the same thing, and I’d be rather offended if somebody gave a lecture or made a film mixing the two so thoroughly and expected me not to notice.


  1. Available here
  2. From his Minnesota atheists lecture, if I recall correctly
  3. In Expelled
  4. Attributed to Tom DeLay, 1999. “U.S. Republican politician blames the Columbine shootings on “evolutionization“.

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