Thursday, December 14, 2017

Old Earth vs. Young Earth Creationism and Apologetic Method with Ken Ham and Richard Howe

There's been a little dust-up recently between Answers in Genesis (AIG) president Ken Ham and Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES). At the most recent National Conference on Christian Apologetics (NCCA), Ken Ham and SES emeritus Professor of Philosophy Richard Howe engaged in dialogue about apologetic method vis-a-vis young-earth creationism. You can watch the exchange here. The interesting twist is that Dr. Howe is a young-earth creationist. That is, he agrees in principle with the biblical exegesis of Genesis 1 that is advocated by AIG. AIG believes that the creation account given in Genesis 1 is properly understood as six consecutive 24-hour solar days. 

The stated purpose of the NCCA dialogue was for each side to explicate and defend apologetic method, not hermeneutics or the age of the earth. Since the "age of the earth" debate continues unabated within (at least) western evangelical Christianity, it seems relevant that those who spend time in this space should subject their method to scrutiny. Ken Ham advocates for what has been termed "young-earth presuppositionalism," which is essentially a type of presuppositional apologetics fused with young-earth creationism. Dr. Howe argues for a classical approach to apologetics, which focuses on meeting the interlocutor on common ground without presupposing the Bible for purposes of argumentation. 

I watched this dialogue in person and thought it went well. The intensity did seem to ratchet up toward the end, but no animosity was observed. Both men stayed afterward, standing outside the hall to answer questions and interact with conference attendees. 

All seemed well...until Ken Ham sent out a communication on November 24. In this letter, Ham implied that he had been misled about the nature of the dialogue beforehand. Ham also reduced the issue to biblical authority, though this was not the premise at all. Essentially, Ham is accusing SES and the NCCA of compromising on Scripture because both do not make the age of the earth a litmus test for evangelical orthodoxy, and the NCCA has old-earth exhibitors and speakers (such as Hugh Ross and Reasons to Believe). 

SES cordially responded to Ham's letter, inviting him to a formal debate at the 2018 NCCA to clear things up. Ham then replied, to which SES responded again. In both letters, Ham seems to be missing the point about methodology, proving Dr. Howe's argument to a large degree by dogmatically asserting the conclusion he is trying to prove. Ham continues to talk past the real issue at hand while simultaneously creating a separate one. 

The evangelical dialogue on the age of the earth and Genesis interpretation has moved into Titus 3:9 territory in many respects. But Ken Ham seems to have pushed things further by making it an issue of authority. That is, Ham thinks any view not in keeping with AIG is effectively denying the authority of Scripture. How things have gotten to this point is interesting, and possibly the topic of a nice research paper (that I would like to read!). 

What I lament is the lack of charity from Ham in this matter. And he has opted for more for rhetoric than substance thus far. If Dr. Howe is wrong about the pitfalls of young-earth presuppositionalism, then it would be great to see why this is the case. Young-earth creationists should (I think) be happy to have such a strong philosophical mind trying to help their case. Dr. Howe is a perennially congenial person, with a razor-sharp mind and wit. 

I think this issue can be viewed in two ways. The first is that, from an outsider standpoint, evangelical Christianity seems divided over so many things, such as the doctrine of election, eschatology, spiritual gifts, the age of the earth, etc. To the genuine truth seeker, this might be a turn-off. On the other hand, it is because of the robust truth of the Christian faith and God's ever-present grace and mercy that the Gospel goes forth unabated and the Kingdom of God grows in-spite of what might seem like a dysfunctional family at times. 

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