Ken Ham’s Honorary Doctorate from Bryan College, and the Idolatrous Inability to Differentiate Between Philosophical Naturalism and Science

Back in 2010, Ken Ham criticized Bryan College for not taking a strong enough stand on a literal, YEC interpretation of Genesis 1-11. Three years ago, on the heels of the Nye/Ham debate, Ken Ham penned a blog post on March 4, 2014, entitled, “What is Happening at Bryan College?” in which he commented on Bryan College’s then recent requirement to make its teachers sign, as part of their statement of faith, that they believe in a literal Adam and Eve.

Ken Ham at Bryan College: May 8, 2017 Commencement

Clearly, Bryan College has heeded Ham’s call to repent from their adulterous flirtation with secular humanism and evolution, and have reconciled with Ken Ham. Yesterday, on May 8, 2017, Bryan College “renewed their vows,” so to speak, by having Ken Ham speak at their commencement and by giving Ham an honorary doctorate in science. In the eyes of Bryan College, Ham is “the foremost authority in the world for biblical creationism.”

I’m sure Ken Ham views this as a minor victory in his battle against secular humanism, for just the day before, on May 7, 2017, he wrote a short blog post that discussed how the Department of Defense has just recently added “humanism” on its list of religions. The entire article can be summed up in this short paragraph:

“Humanists are very inconsistent when it comes to their religious designation. They want the privileges that come with a religious designation (such as chaplains), but they don’t want the public perceiving them as religious because many humanist groups spend millions of dollars suing public school districts or counties to get rid of religion (mostly just Christianity). And what do they want taught in place of Christianity or a Christian worldview? Humanism! They are aggressively pushing to have their secular humanist religion imposed on generations of children —and they are using our taxpayer dollars to do this.”

Yes, secular humanism is a religion, and our children are being indoctrinated into the secular humanist religion in our schools. As Ham concludes his article by quoting Ephesians 6:12-13 and stating: This struggle over worldviews just shows that we are engaged in a spiritual battle.”

This is the kind of work that gets Ham an honorary doctorate…in science…from Bryan College.

This clearly was a major push at AiG this week, for just a few days earlier, AiG posted online a chapter on Secular Humanism written by Terry Mortenson from their World Religions and Cults book, entitled, “The Religion of Naturalism.”

Yet I want to ask just one clarifying question: “To what is Ham referring, when he says that secular humanist religion is being taught in schools?” I think we already know the answer: evolution.

And that’s a problem…

So, what I want to address today is the fundamental problem with the way YECist groups like AiG, as well as many “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins, confuse philosophical naturalism with evolution. The two are not synonymous.

Did you get that? Philosophical naturalism and evolution are two different things. No matter how often certain people conflate the two in order to push their own particular agenda, be it YECism or atheism, philosophical naturalism and evolution are two different things.

Let’s Take a Closer Look at Mortenson’s Chapter
Quite obviously, the main gist of the beginning of the chapter is that natural is fundamentally a religion. After pointing out that philosophical naturalism can also be seen as synonymous with atheism, scientific materialism, and secular humanism, Mortenson defines it this way:

“The most fundamental belief from which all others flow is that nature or matter is all that exists. It has always existed or it came into existence from nothing. There is nothing outside or before nature, i.e., the material universe that is studied by modern science. There is no God and no supernatural.”

By and large, that is correct. Philosophical naturalism is the belief that the natural world is all that exists, and that therefore there is no God and there is nothing supernatural. Therefore, the philosophical naturalist believes that modern science is the primary, if not only, way to understand the truth about reality, which is nature, and nature alone.

Mortenson is further correct when he points out that if that is true, then ultimately, the very idea of meaning, purpose, and moral absolutes are fictions. He then quotes William Provine, the late atheist and evolutionary professor of history of biology at Cornell University, as saying: “Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear — and these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.

Mortenson also quotes Richard Dawkins: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.” And then he quotes from the Humanist Manifesto of 1933, particularly point 5, which states, “humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values…. Religion must formulate its hopes and plans in the light of the scientific spirit and method.”

Incidentally, here is a clip of Dawkins displaying his ignorance about evolution, and mistaking it for philosophical naturalism.

Now let’s be clear: most of that is true: that is what philosophical naturalism claims. The problem, though, with the above quotes is this: science and the theory of evolution do not support their claim that there is no God and that nature is all that exists.

This is the fundamental, contradictory problem with philosophical naturalism: it’s claim that the natural world is all that exists is not a scientific claim. So, when Provine and Dawkins claim that evolution teaches us that there is no God, and that there is no purpose or meaning in life, they are wrong, and they are playing a philosophical trick on you. Evolution describes natural processes; evolution does not state nature is all that exists. Science and evolution do not support that philosophical claim, period.

The Problem with AiG’s Presentation of Philosophical Naturalism
What I just said in the above paragraph is how Christians need to address the claims of philosophical naturalists like Provine and Dawkins: call them out on their hijacking of science to support a philosophical worldview that science does not endorse—indeed, it cannot endorse, because science simply describes what it observes in the natural world, and nothing more.

Unfortunately, though, that is precisely what AiG does not do. Instead, it accepts the incorrect conflating of philosophical naturalism with actual the actual sciences that study the natural world. The result is that AiG ends up condemning and rejecting actual scientific discoveries about the natural world…get this…because they are discoveries about the natural world. Why? Because AiG incorrectly conflates scientific descriptions of the natural world with philosophical naturalism.

And this is precisely what one sees in the rest of Mortenson’s chapter. And, in the process of doing this, he spreads out a wide net of innuendo and condemnation that has more to do with ad hominem attacks and conspiracy theories against science, than it has to do with clearly explaining just what philosophical naturalism is.

After correctly tying the modern form of philosophical naturalism back to the Enlightenment, Mortensen quickly dovetails into the standard AiG talking points: he claims that in order to understand philosophical naturalism, one has to make a distinction between operational/observational science and origin/historical science. Everyone can do observational science, Mortenson states, but historical science is another matter. And wouldn’t you know it? Secular humanists (i.e. deists and atheists) have been able to (a) take over the scientific fields of geology, paleontology, archeology, and cosmology, (b) reject the truth of Genesis 1-11, and then (c) use the assumptions of naturalism, that nature is all there is and everything must be explained by time, chance, and the laws of nature.

Thus, as implied by Mortenson, these fields of science are really just storefronts that advertise “science,” but really are selling nothing but philosophical naturalism. He then proceeds to go on for pages, talking about how many of the early scientists of the 17th and 18th centuries were deists (or probably “secret atheists”), and even gets so bold as to flat out say, Science has been controlled by an anti-biblical naturalistic philosophical/religious worldview for over 150 years.”

Simply put, in a chapter that is supposed to explain what philosophical naturalism is, Mortenson makes the following erroneous points:

  • Philosophical naturalism is the belief that that natural world is all that exists, and that there is no supernatural or God. [Okay, that’s true.]
  • Some scientists throughout history have been either deists or atheists. [That’s true too.]
  • Modern geology, paleontology, archeology, and cosmology study the natural world to try to understand the past. [That’s certainly true.]
  • Modern geology, paleontology, archeology, and cosmology, therefore are anti-biblical, and promote philosophical naturalism. [Wait…what? Hold on a minute! As Kevin Hart says…]

Since when did merely studying the natural world turn into a philosophical worldview that denies the existence of God? Oh, but there’s more…

Blanket Condemnations of Christians Who Disagree with AiG
From this point on, Mortenson simply goes through a litany of past debunked theories (Day-Age Theory, Gap Theory) and not simply wrong, but theories put forth by compromised Christians. He addresses OEC and ID, and basically accuses people like Philip Johnson, Nancy Pearcy, and William Dembski are, you guessed it, compromised Christians who don’t realize “naturalism’s control over all of science.”

He criticizes Norman Geisler and Hugh Ross for, although warning against the dangers of philosophical naturalism, nevertheless accept the geological and astronomical evidence for an old earth. For Mortenson, accepting the evidence of modern geology and astronomy is the same as accepting the tenets of philosophical naturalism, and thus Christians who do so are compromisers of the Bible. And so, we can add another point to Mortenson’s article:

  • Christians who accept evidence for an old earth have compromised God’s Word and are, for all practical purposes, philosophical naturalists. [That’s not true; and it’s ridiculous.]

Let’s Be Clear
Despite what one might think of the scientific claims of people like Johnson, Pearcy, Dembski, Geisler and Ross, one should at least give them props for seeing the distinction between philosophical naturalism (that denies the existence of God and claims nature is all that exists) and the scientific study of nature (that attempts to understand how nature works).

But Mortenson, Ham, AiG, and YEC in general don’t (and I think possibly can’t) see the distinction. They think modern science is philosophical naturalism, and therefore see any acceptance of it as compromise. As Mortenson says, The issue is not a vaguely defined theism’s marriage with naturalism but rather the adulterous union of biblical teaching and naturalism.”

In any case, Mortenson ends his chapter (that was supposed to discuss what philosophical naturalism is) with a call to battle against all forms of compromise, especially that of acceptance of an old earth and evolutionary theory:

So the age of the earth matters enormously, if we truly want to fight naturalism’s control of science and if we want to be faithful to the inspired, inerrant Word of the Creator of heaven and earth, who was there at the beginning of Creation and at the Flood and has faithfully and clearly told us what happened.

The evidence is abundant and clear. The enemy has invaded the holy citadel. Naturalistic (atheistic) ways of thinking have captured the minds of millions of people around the world and increasingly polluted the church over the last 200 years through millions-of-years, evolutionary “scientific” theories, and through liberal theology. Will we take up the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17), especially Genesis 1–11, and help expel the enemy of naturalism? The only alternative is to ignore the invasion and pollution and further abet it by compromise with the evolutionary belief in millions of years.”

All I can say to that is “Wow!” If you want to learn about what philosophical naturalism really is, beyond Mortenson’s correct initial definition of it, the rest of his 11-page tome isn’t worth your time. Sure, both Provine and Dawkins provide a good illustration of what philosophical naturalism is—but in doing so, they also display its short-comings. For as I’ve stated, science in general (and evolutionary theory in particular) is not the same thing as philosophical naturalism. Therefore, Provine and Dawkins are wrong to conflate the two.

By the same token, though, Ken Ham, Terry Mortenson, and the rest of AiG commit the same error as Provine and Dawkins: mistaking modern science as being the same thing as philosophical naturalism.

To put it another way, Provine and Dawkins have made an idol out of science, and have sought to argue that evolution is a philosophical worldview. Ham and Mortenson, though, have an idol of their own: their literalistic claim that Genesis 1-11 is “God’s scientific textbook.” And therefore, they see the idol of Provine and Dawkins as a threat to their own idol.

And I’m sure it is…but that doesn’t change the fact that both are still idols. That is why both are ultimately incoherent. You become what you worship: worship an idol, and you become blind and deaf, just like that idol, unable to discern God, His purposes, or His creation for what it is.

I’m sure Ken Ham sees his honorary doctorate from Bryan College as affirmation that he is fighting the good fight against philosophical naturalism and evolution. It’s only further blinding him to the fact that the two are not the same…and that he is an idolater in his own right.

He just can’t see it. I hope you can.

3 Comments

    1. I think the two biggest keys in how to address the problems of YEC are these: (A) Make it clear that there is a difference between philosophical naturalism and science, and (B) Make it clear that Genesis 1-11 was originally addressed to ancient Hebrews, and therefore, could not be giving scientific answers to questions they would not have been asking. It first and foremost addressed THEIR concerns and questions BACK THEN. Only after one sees and understands this will one then be able to properly apply it to today.

  1. Even when I WAS still a YEC, I never understood their insistence on making Ararat their hill to die on rather than Calvary.

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