A word of caution about “Answers in Genesis”
I have recently begun a new sermon series on the Book of Genesis. This biblical book is a vital portion of God’s Word, for it lays the foundation for everything else that follows it in Scripture. (This is why I have entitled my new sermon series “Genesis Foundations”.) It is also a highly controversial part of Scripture in today’s world, not only outside of the church, but even within the church, as both ordinary believers and Christian leaders wrestle with how to intepret its contents, especially with how to interpret its teachings regarding creation in light of the claims of the contemporary natural sciences. Aggressive atheists and other secularists will often zero in on the teachings of Genesis as their first line of attack against the teachings of historic, biblical Christianity. In particular they will make sweeping but unsubstantiated claims such as “science has disproven the Bible” and “the Bible is just ancient mythology.”
In reacting to the dogmatic claims of Bible skeptics, some well-intentioned Christians have sought to answer such skepticism by constructing an alternative science which supports particular interpretations of such biblical events as the creation days of Genesis One and the Flood judgment of Noah’s day. This alternative science is popularly known as “creation science” (or “scientific creationism”), and its adherents claim its teachings derive from the Bible. Probably the most prominent and influential creation science organization today is “Answers in Genesis,” founded by Mr. Ken Ham.(1)
While creation scientists have raised some important questions and potential objections to popular mainstream scientific views (especially Darwinian evolution), there is a tendency in their writings and among creation science promoters to read into Scripture passages modern scientific ideas, questions and debates that were not even on the radar screen of God’s ancient people to whom those Scriptures were originally addressed. In other words, creation scientists sometimes end up abusing Scripture with “eisegesis” (i.e., reading into Bible passages a meaning based on contemporary issues that is not really there in the original context of the passage). But an even greater concern I have about some creation science organizations, especially “Answers in Genesis,” is that they tend to make adherence to a literal, 24-hour day view of the creation days and belief in a young earth tests of biblical orthodoxy. In this way I believe they end up sowing the seeds of division and discord in the Body of Christ.
What about Mr. Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis in the US? Mr. Ham earned a Bachelor of Applied Science with an emphasis on Environmental Biology from Queensland Institute of Technology and a diploma in Education from the University of Queensland. He taught high school science, but in 1979 he left his job as a high school science teacher to promote young earth creationism (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Ham). While Mr. Ham has thus had some scientific training at a bachelor level and was once a science teacher, the reader should note that he has no advanced (Masters or Doctoral level) degree in any of the sciences, nor is he currently a professional, practicing scientist. Furthermore, to my knowledge he has no professional credentials in biblical or theological studies from any recognized Bible college or theological seminary, nor to my knowledge does he possess ministerial credentials in his church body or denomination. In brief, other than a bachelor degree in Applied Science, Mr. Ham lacks professional scientific, theological and ministerial credentials. Yet he and his para-church ministry, “Answers in Genesis,” presume to make authoritative pronouncements and provide authoritative teaching on biblical, theological and scientific issues; pronouncements and teachings which many Bible-believing Christians accept as “gospel truth”.
Of course, Mr. Ham’s lack of professional credentials does not in itself invalidate or disprove what he and his organization teach. Nor am I intending to suggest, in a fallacious “ad hominem” fashion, that we should dismiss what he and his organization teach simply because of his lack of professional credentials. The truth is the truth, whoever happens to be speaking it, and no matter what their credentials (or lack thereof) may be. Furthermore, in all fairness it must be said that the “Answers in Genesis” organization does include some members who hold professional doctoral degrees in various fields of science.
But at the same time, I would suggest that Christians should be cautious about putting too much weight on the teachings of a man with such limited credentials. Likewise, Christians should be cautious about putting too much weight on the teachings of an organization like “Answers in Genesis” where even its professional scientists with doctoral degrees hold to views that are regarded by the majority of their colleagues (both Christian and non-Christian) as highly problematic and even pseudo-scientific. Of course, this is not to say that the majority view is always correct and minority views are always wrong. Nor is it to suggest that truth is determined by counting noses. Again, truth is truth even if it is held only by a minority.
My point here is to urge caution and careful discernment before swallowing the young earth creationist interpretations of Scripture and the sciences as those interpretations are represented by Mr. Ham and his Answers in Genesis organization.
It seems to me that many Christians, Christian homeschooling organizations, Christian churches and even some Christian educational institutions have been unduly influenced by Mr. Ham and his Answers in Genesis organization. While I commend him and his AIG colleagues for their earnest desire to defend the truth of God’s infallible Word against contemporary unbelief and to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ, at the same time I believe their popular promotion of young earth teachings through their Creation Museum and their educational materials is doing great harm to the cause of Christ and may actually be contributing to division in the Body of Christ (though I believe that is not at all their intention).
Mr. Ham and his organization promote the idea that a literal 24-hour interpretation of the days of Genesis One and the young earth view are boundary markers of biblical orthodoxy. While he and his colleagues do not make believing in a young earth a salvation issue (i.e., they are willing to acknowledge that one may hold to an old earth and still be a true believer in Christ), at the same time Mr. Ham’s polemic ties belief in a young earth so closely to the biblical gospel that believers who hold to an old earth are viewed with suspicion, and the educational materials promoted by his organization imply that old earth advocates are “compromisers.”
From Mr. Ham’s and AIG’s perspective the denial of the young earth view is seen as spiritually and theologically dangerous. Many conservative, Bible-believing Christians have bought in to this kind of thinking, which breeds a spirit of suspicion in the church against any who don’t tow the line with Ham’s young earth version of orthodoxy. I would suggest that it is due in part to the influence of teachers like Mr. Ham and creation science organizations like AIG that the issue of how to interpret the days of creation in Genesis One became a major ecclessiological bone of contention in recent decades within confessionally Reformed and Presbyterian communions such as the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), even though historically this issue was not even on the radar screen of the founders of the OPC. (I am not qualified to speak to the views of the founders of the PCA on this subject.)
I believe the contemporary push for promoting and enforcing belief in young earth creationism by some of its advocates within the OPC is a manifestation of the spirit of fundamentalism, as opposed to a spirit of historic confessional orthodoxy. It represents a narrowing of the breadth and riches of the Reformed Faith and inculcates a censorious mindset. Should the OPC and its Presbyteries ever embrace a policy that required it to exclude from ministerial ordination confessionally-orthodox Presbyterian giants of the past such as B.B. Warfield(2), Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, and even J. Gresham Machen (none of whom held to the literal six-day creation view, and all of whom were staunch defenders of biblical inerrancy and Presbyterian orthodoxy), then we as a communion will have departed from the catholicity of our historic confessionalism and embarked upon the pathway of a Reformed neo-fundamentalism. If this were to happen in the OPC, we would be allowing ourselves to be guided more by an American fundamentalist mindset than by a historic Reformed confessional mindset. In short, we will have forgotten our roots and lost our way.
Let us return to the “old paths” so ably expressed in the writings of Machen and exemplified in the spirit of Old Princeton Seminary. The age of the earth and the issue of how to interpret the creation days of Genesis One are certainly important issue, but they were not viewed as boundary markers of orthodoxy by the founders of the OPC. It goes without saying that Machen and his allies rejected a naturalistic evolutionary scheme (though a case can be made that Machen was open to an evolutionary process involving the guidance of Divine providence). At the same time, there is no evidence that they viewed the confessional statement of God’s creating all things “in/within the space of six days” as requiring the literal 24-hour day interpretation of these “days.” On the contrary, it seems that many of the OPC’s founders (including Machen) subscribed to the “day age” view. If this was not an issue for the OPC’s founders, why should it be an issue in the church today? If Machen and his allies did not view it as a boundary marker of orthodoxy, why should we view it as such today? If Machen would not have required adherence to a literal 24-hour day view as a prerequisite for ministerial ordination, why should we do so today?
(1) The Answers in Genesis website can be found here: https://answersingenesis.org/ The Wikipedia article on this organization can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Answers_in_Genesis (While Wikipedia can sometimes be a helpful source of information, it can also contain misinformation. Thus I would encourage readers to double check any information presented in this article for accuracy.)
(2) B.B. Warfield, arguably the greatest theologian of old Princeton Seminary, wrote the classic defense of the full inspiration, authority and inerrancy of Scripture, entitled The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, copyright 1948). Yet Warfield was open to belief in a theistically-guided evolution, and in the possibility that Adam had animal ancestry.