For anyone who is familiar with Ken Ham, his talking points and tactics are as predictable as they are bewildering. His book, Already Compromised, is no different: the standard YECist talking points interspersed with back-handed (but no less savage) condemnation of anyone who dares question the YECist literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11. The only difference with Already Compromised, of course, is that Ken Ham, and his co-author Greg Hall, specifically direct their attacks of “compromise” on the various Christians colleges and professors who do not promote YECism.
In Already Compromised, Ham saves the bulk of his direct attacks on Christian academics and Bible scholar for his “Appendix A.” Throughout most of the book, his condemnation of Christian colleges and professors stays at a rather general level—in “Appendix A,” he gets very specific, and proceeds to call out and condemn a number of academics: William Dembski, Karl Giberson, Darrel Falk, William Lane Craig, John Walton, a number of professors from Calvin College (including Davis Young, Howard Van Til, Deborah Haarsma, Loren Haarsma, and Daniel Harlow), as well as John Collins and Bruce Waltke.
Now, I am not going to go into detail about every single one of Ham’s criticisms, but I do want to touch upon three academics he goes out of his way to attack. According to Ham, these scholars are engaging in “word-twisting, truth-skewing newspeak” in their attempt to undermine the authority of God’s word. They might say they believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant, but the fact that they do not interpret Genesis 1-11 in the same, literalistic fashion as Ham does, causes Ham to warn his readers that these academics are engaging in “the Genesis 3 deception,” where the serpent asks, “Did God really say?” in his attempt to cause Eve to sin. According to Ham, these academics are clearly working for the serpent because they don’t agree with Ken Ham.
Dr. William Dembski
William Dembski is more well-known for his part in the Intelligent Design movement, but he still nevertheless is not a YECist. He basically accepts an old earth and evolution, but believes that a specific time, God took a few human-like being creatures, bestowed His image upon them, transformed their consciousness, and breathed “the breath of life” into them. At that moment, they essentially experienced amnesia of their former animal life, and became real “human beings.” Therefore, any suffering and death that happened before this, should be seen as simply “natural evils” in the same way other animals experience them—i.e. part of the natural world, and not as divine justice for willful rebellion. Without going into further detail, I’ve read a number of Christian scholars put forth a similar understanding in their attempt to wed evolution with a historical Adam and Eve.
Ham’s reaction is predictable: “When a Christian reads [Dembski’s explanation], the average believer responds with, ‘What? This is bizarre!’ But it is more than bizarre—it undermines the authority of the Word of God. But please keep in mind…that I am not questioning anyone’s Christian faith” (174). He also calls out Dembski for essentially saying that he’d accept YECism in a heartbeat, but the fact is that there is just too much strong scientific evidence against it. Ham responds with, “It really comes down to the fact that Dr. Dembski accepts the fallible secular dating methods (based on numerous fallible assumptions) and uses their results to trump the Word of God!” (174).
Please note a few odd things: first, there is no such thing as “secular” dating methods—dating methods are dating methods: they simply calculate the rate of decay of certain elements; and second, they don’t trump the Word of God—they trump Ham’s claims about Genesis 1-11.
Now, the thing is, I don’t agree with Dembski’s attempt to “have his evolutionary cake and eat a historical interpretation of Adam and Eve too.” And in this respect, I think Ham is actually right in his criticism of the futility to “add billions of years” to Genesis 1-11. Billions of years and Genesis 1-11 don’t go together—this is true. But the reason isn’t because Genesis 1-11 is giving “God’s eyewitness account” of historical events for which there is no evidence, and that modern science is just an atheistic weapon in the culture war. The reason is because Genesis 1-11 isn’t giving “God’s eyewitness account” of historical events in the first place. Simply put: Genesis 1-11 isn’t doing science or history, so there is no need to try to make it coincide with whatever science discovers.
Regardless, it is quite obvious that Ham completely mischaracterizes Dembski’s claim. Remember, Dembski specifically said that any suffering and death that would have occurred before God “breathed the breath of life” into two human-like creatures and transformed them into true human beings would not have been understood as divine judgment for sin and rebellion. Ham, though, after quoting what Dembski clearly said, says this: “Another fatal flaw in Dr. Dembski’s theodicy is that he proposes that God judged the world with millions of years of animal death, disease, and extinction and other natural evil—and this judgment was because of man’s sin, which occurred after all this natural evil had been occurring for billions of years” (176).
I’m sorry, whether or not you are convinced of Dembski’s argument, the fact is that he didn’t say what Ham is criticizing him for saying—in fact, just the opposite. Let’s be clear: Dembski said that any natural death before the Fall would not be considered divine judgment for sin. Ham, though, claims Dembski said that natural death before the Fall was God’s judgment for man’s sin that didn’t happen until later—and therefore, Ham claims such a claim (that Dembski didn’t make) is stupid and illogical, because how can there be judgment for sin before sin happened? Well, you’re right Ken—that is stupid, but that’s not what Dembski said…that’s what you said.
Dr. Karl Giberson and Dr. Darrel Falk (And BioLogos)
In addition to Dembski, Ham also sees Karl Giberson, Darrel Falk, and BioLogos as dangerous compromisers who are leading young people away from the faith. The reason why is obvious: they point out that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that human being evolved over millions of years, and that the so-called “science” that YECists like Ken Ham claim comes from “a narrow, literalistic and relatively recent interpretation of Genesis” (181). Furthermore, they point out that up until the time of Augustine, the common way Christians and Jews interpreted the Adam and Eve story was a metaphorical story about human beings in general—therefore the Fall was not a singular historical event, but “an illustration of the human condition” (181).
Now mind you, all of that is provably true: (A) there is solid scientific evidence of an old earth and evolution, (B) YECism as an interpretation of Genesis 1-11 cropped up in the 20th century, and (C) we have writings from people in the early Church and Second Temple Judaism in which it is clear that Adam and Eve were seen as metaphors for the human condition.
But obviously Ham doesn’t see it that way. Instead of accepting the provable fact that both Jews and early Christians read the story of Adam and Eve in a metaphorical way, Ham doubles-down, covers his ears, and shouts out, “So, no literal Fall, no literal Adam and Eve—so much for Christianity! It seems the atheists understand theology better than these compromised Christians. They realize that if a literal Fall and a literal Adam and Eve are indeed false, then there is no use being a Christian because it undermines the very basis for the Gospel” (182).
Ham just doesn’t get it. No one is saying that human beings aren’t sinful. By saying there was no literal Fall and no literal Adam and Eve, all that Giberson, Falk, and BioLogos are saying is that Genesis 3 is about all human beings, not just the first two—the story of Adam and Eve is the story of the human race. But what’s the use of trying to explain that, when Ham insists on covering his ears and lashing out at anyone who disagrees with him?
Dr. John Walton
The academic who draws the most ire from Ken Ham is John Walton of Wheaton College, who wrote The Lost World of Genesis One, in which he argues that Genesis 1 isn’t so much a description of the origin of the material universe, but rather a creative description of God creating his Cosmic Temple, where he intends to dwell with human beings, whom he created in his image. Ham goes on for almost ten pages eviscerating Walton for his supposed “academic elitism” and “compromise.”
Ham really takes issue with Walton’s claim that recent discoveries of ancient Near Eastern creation stories have helped us understand Genesis 1 better within its original ANE context. Ham doesn’t just “take issue” with this claim (which is absolutely true by the way); Ham gets positively pissy about it:
“[Walton] basically insists that one can only understand Genesis if one has an understanding of ancient Near Eastern thinking—and surprise, surprise—this has been lost of thousands of years. Now a few academics like Dr. Walton have unearthed this thinking so now they can tell us what the writer of Genesis 1 really meant! It is academic elitism” (185).
“Of course, the reason the Church greats of the past (whether Luther, Calvin, Gill, or whomever) never thought of this is because they did not discover how ancient Near Eastern cultures were thinking! This has now been discovered by an elite few who can now tell us for the first time in thousands of years what Genesis 1 really means. Sound bizarre?” (186).
Actually, no—it doesn’t sound bizzare. It is simply the result of learning and scholarship, and it reflects a desire to understand the Scriptures better. And it really isn’t even that difficult, if one takes the time to try to read and understand things. Yes, it takes a little bit of critical thinking—but apparently, although Ham says he wants Christians to think more critically, it is quite clear he views learning and critical thinking as “academic elitism.”
As far as Ham is concerned, Walton’s problem is that he tries to understand Genesis 1 within its ancient Near Eastern context. “Why bother with that?” asks Ham. We have the Bible, and the Bible is “God-breathed,” so therefore there’s no need to understand the original context. In fact, Ham crystalizing his own understanding of inspiration—and it is very telling: “If the infinite God, who created language, cannot move people to write His ‘God-breathed’ words so all people (regardless of culture) can understand them, then there is something dreadfully wrong” (189).
Therefore, Walton’s notion that we can understand Genesis 1 better if we understand the original literary and historical contexts of the ANE strikes Ham as abhorrent: “Dr. Walton discusses ancient Near Eastern mythology and relates it to Scripture and its Book of Genesis. In essence, he is using pagan, idolatrous mythology to supposedly help enable us to understand what God and Moses really meant!” (189).
Let’s be clear: Ham is objecting to the fact that God has spoken within history. He doesn’t want a God who reveals Himself within cultures and peoples and languages. He wants a God who can somehow use language to circumvent language. The fact is, anytime anyone speaks (including God), that person speaks within a time and place and culture, and that message is going to be addressed to that time and place and culture—hence, Genesis 1 was inspired within a pagan ANE culture, and therefore we should expect that it is addressing and challenging the pagan ANE worldview by using language they would have understood.
Therefore, if someone who is not from a time and place and culture like the ANE wants to understand that message, that person is going to have to take some time and effort to understand the time and place and culture of the ANE so that he can be sure he is properly understanding the message. That is simply reality.
These Compromisers Aren’t Anything Like John Whitcomb and Henry Morris!
Ken Ham, though, has obviously rejected reality. Understanding Genesis 1 within its ANE context is abhorrent, and therefore he regards John Walton as just an academic elitist who is nothing like Ham’s idols…John Whitcomb and Henry Morris: “So the battle rages. It is the same battle Drs. Morris and Whitcomb were dealing with in their classic The Genesis Flood. These great scholars [Morris was a civil engineer] were passionate for the Word of God” (192).
And then, in a final petulant outburst, Ham decides to take a comment of Walton and then intersperse it with what Ham thinks Walton really meant (Ham’s comments will be in brackets and in bold):
“Some [those like Drs. Whitcomb and Morris] feel they are protecting theories [protecting the clear teaching of the text] that account for the details of the traditional interpretation of the text [the interpretation that greats like Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Gill, and others held because of what the text clearly says]. Too often, however, these theories [their views based clearly on the text—Scripture alone] prove to be implausible [to unbelievers, but not to Bible-believers] and are easily discredited by scientific thinkers [fallible, sinful humans whose hearts are ‘deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,’ and who arrogantly claim that ‘science’ has disproved the Bible’s account because they insist millions of years area fact] whom they intend to win over [who need to listen to God’s Word, but instead ‘suppress the truth in unrighteousness’ (Rom. 1:18)]” (192).
Please note, Walton attempts to be respectful while at the same time voicing his disagreement with YECists, whereas Ham cannot restrain himself from just being downright hostile, mean…and I’ll say it again, simply pissy. Immediately after that outburst, Ham declares, “Let’s praise God for the faithfulness of scholars like Drs. Whitcomb and Morris and for the publication of their book, The Genesis Flood” (193).
Although it might be a tad hyperbolic, I think we are very near the truth to say that, in actuality, Ham’s gospel really is The Genesis Flood (after all, as his own organization declares, the “answers” are found “in Genesis”), and his Peter and Paul are Morris and Whitcomb.
Quite frankly, the kind of mentality and close-minded vitriol that Ham displays in the appendix to Already Compromised is ultimately disheartening. I don’t think you can really reason with a person like Ken Ham, or his growing following. You cannot enter into a discussion about a passage like Genesis 1 really is about because Ham and his acolytes are certain that they already know what it clearly means (in a decontextualized, completely divorced from its original context sort of way), and that if you question them, then you are questioning God, speaking with the voice of the serpent, and are clearly a “compromising liberal” who is out to undermine the Bible and destroy their faith.
To them, you either already know or you are already compromised. They need those clear lines, because they need to be able to judge you—that’s how they feel superior…it’s an attempt to mask their fear that perhaps God doesn’t fit into their neat and tidy YECist box that is divorced from reality where context and critical thinking matter.