How Pleasant to Know Mr Ham
When I saw Bill Maher’s highly entertaining and hard-hitting documentary on world religion, Religulous,
I was interested that one of his interviewees was Ken Ham, the head of Answers In Genesis
(AIG) (not to be confused with the now-infamous insurance company), which is responsible for the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky, USA.
Ham was given only a brief slot in the film, but I was fortunate (if that’s the right word) to have a much longer encounter with him just over one year ago at Liverpool University. I went to see give a talk called “Origins and Culture”. At the time I posted a bile-laden write-up on Liverpool Humanist Group’s website. After seeing Maher’s film, I thought the time was right to update the piece.
For those not quite up to speed, AIG is a multi-mullion dollar Christian corporation which peddles ignorance of the worst kind. Even so, these fundamentalists deserve some credit for at least staying true to their scriptures as they believe that integrity of the Bible is threatened if it is cherry-picked.
Jesus Christ is reported to have said at John 3:12 that if he cannot be relied on to tell people about earthly things, how can he be trusted to tell them about heavenly things? If they won’t swallow that the World was created in six literal days by a Creator who then rested on the seventh, how are they supposed to accept that the torture and execution of someone in which they had no say, two thousand years ago, in a remote and barbaric part of the Middle East will save their miserable souls?
One has to wonder what AIG make of the darkest recesses of the Pentateuch where slavery is mandated and insolent children are to be stoned to death, but perhaps we had best not ask those kinds of questions.
AIG have also spent millions building a Creation Museum which features Disney World-style animatronic dinosaurs alongside Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, as well as a stegosaurus complete with saddle and harness!
I attended Liverpool University Sherrington’s Lecture Theatre on 31 March 2008 where Ham gave a two-part lecture on what AIG were all about.
It was an appalling experience for an atheist to sit through. My blood boiled, my teeth gnashed and my choice as a non-believer was very much confirmed. It wasn’t just the scientific ignorance that this man was peddling; he was also selling something far more sinister: right-wing religious bigotry of a distinctly Falwell variety.
In a nutshell, Ham’s line is that the Bible is the unalterable, infallible, unquestionable, literal Word of God. Everything in the Bible happened exactly as it is described, ifs, not buts, no metaphors, no allegories. Seven days means seven days, not a Hebrew term for a long period of time. People must choose between the Bible and human reason. Clearly Ham is a devotee of Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, who recommended that tearing out your eyes of reason was a prerequisite to being a Christian.
Where scientific evidence and the Bible conflict, the Bible is always to be preferred and evidence must be massaged in order to fit it. According to Ham, we all start with “presuppositions”. Atheist scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Eugenie Scott start on the presupposition that God does not exist and the Bible is wrong; creationist scientists such as Kurt Wise start with the presupposition that God does exist and the Bible is correct. The differing conclusions result purely from differing interpretations of the same evidence.
This position was demonstrated with a highly amusing video clip showing two scientists unearthing a dinosaur fossil in the desert. “Bob says that this fossil was formed after the corpse was covered in sediment from a rising river hundreds of millions of years ago. I on the other hand say it was covered by Noah’s Flood approximately 4,300 years ago, like it says in the Bible. You see, we have different perspectives on exactly the same piece of evidence.”
Well, I’m glad we cleared that one up. I just hope I don’t get a creationist doctor if I ever find a lump in an embarrassing place and his interpretation of my symptoms is that I am being punished for the sins of my bloodline and must pray for heavenly forgiveness.
It soon became clear, however, that Ham is not simply preaching good ol’ fashioned back-to-basics holiness; he is also touting religious xenophobia and intolerance of the kind that should be handled with the aid of a peg over one’s nose and a very long pair of tongs.
“There’s no such thing as neutrality. If you’re not pro-Jesus, you’re anti-Jesus” Ham told his flock. So the other four billion people who are not Christians presently residing on the plant are completely wrong, evil and must be opposed to the last? We have tribalism to add to the man’s list of faith-based misdemeanours?
Gay marriage and abortion were repeatedly flagged up in Ham’s PowerPoint slides as personifying what’s wrong with our society. Ham is also out to control the minds of today’s youth. His tables and graphs of statistics showed that many young people abandon the faith in which they were raised by their parents because they are asking too many questions…
That’s right; free thought and free enquiry is a very bad thing indeed. We obviously haven’t brainwashed the little tykes enough. They are getting ideas of their own and want to lead their own lives. This is clearly the fault of teachers and the education system and needs to be changed right now.
Atheists generally were denounced as having no morals and there were also the predictable ad-hominem attacks against scientists such as Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins. Ham grossly mis-portrayed Darwin’s Descent of Man as a racist manifesto that divides humans into different species according to their colour with Aborigines as the closest human descendants of apes. Ham was able to get away with this – as he himself practically admitted – since Descent is relatively unknown compared with The Origin of Species.
The aim of this was portray evolution as leading to racism, which a bit like saying that Einsteinian physics is immoral and genocidal because it resulted in the atomic bomb. It also gives the laughable impression that racial discrimination was not an issue before Darwin published his theory when exactly the opposite is true, as Christians ought to know only too well.
Just to set the record straight, Darwin was no more and probably a lot less racist than any of his contemporaries. Whilst he did consider blacks to be less intelligent than whites and called them “savages”, he was a passionate abolitionist of slavery and deplored eugenics, stating very clearly that such a programme of exterminating the weakest in society could only ever have a contingent benefit on the species.
The truly sinister side to Ham’s theology is that he believes in the cruel Old Testament God (so brilliantly summarised by Richard Dawkins at the beginning of Chapter 2 of The God Delusion) which became apparent in his explanation as to why God allows so much pain and suffering. Forget theodicy, none of Richard Swinburne’s logical gymnastics for this guy, the reason why there is so much evil in the World is because God is angry with us all.
No, God does not allow evil for its eventual good to the human race. No, we shouldn’t all have faith and hope for a better future. Instead, we are all paying for the original sin of Adam and Eve eating that damn apple. We all instinctively reject God and have been paying for it ever since. We are lucky even to be here in the first place since we are not worthy of our very existence. The only way of saving our miserable souls is to accept good old JC into our hearts. Cue slide of Hitler and Auschwitz victims: this was OUR fault!
I remember wincing; visions of Jerry Falwell’s appearance on Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club on 13 September 2001 attributing the destruction of the World Trade Center two days earlier to God’s wrath at feminists and homosexuals abounded in my head. All the same though, I had to admire the guy for dispensing with the hollow consolations of theodicy and his sheer gall to blame the Holocaust on every member of the human race whether they were involved or not.
The final nail in the evening’s coffin was that the audience were lapping it up like rabid dogs. They wanted it all to be true. I heard one audience member say to another before the talk started that they had come to “get educated”. Being the centre of a divine design, despite the designer treating them like his plaything and caking them in his own excrement, was better than being at the centre of nothing. The solipsism of the theistic mind knows no bounds; the desire to remain a slave burns ever brighter; we have to be responsible for it all somehow.
But who in their right mind would want this to true? Christopher Hitchens has pointed out that Charles Darwin, author of The Origin of Species and Abraham Lincoln, former US president, victor in the American Civil War and freer of the slaves, were both born on the same day; 12 February 1809. Despite Lincoln’s monumental achievements in respect of freedom, equality and civil rights, Darwin was the greater emancipator of the two.
Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection freed the human species of the shackles imposed by the pre-scientific ignorance of the Abrahamic religions. He showed that, disease and suffering had all been part of the natural order for millions of years before man came on the scene. There was no reason any longer to fear an invisible, unalterable celestial Big Brother in sky who had created us sick, ordered us to be sound and is now punishing us for our natural shortcomings.
Ham argued that if evolution and the Big Bang are correct than this is in direct contradiction with Genesis 1 – 11 as there would have been millions of years of death without sin. Well… yeah. And life is all the better for knowing this.
We ought to be ecstatic that the specious nonsense that fundamentalists like Ham are peddling is precisely that. We should hold our arms aloft that there is no evidence for the God of Abraham. We should sink to our knees and kiss the Earth that there is no good reason to believe that Noah’s Flood ever happened. We should feel eternal gratitude to scientists like Newton, Darwin and Einstein for providing us with an alternative to the metaphysical lies of monotheism.
One of Ken Ham’s books is called Why Won’t They Listen? (I’m sorry Ken, but the temptation for sarcasm is too great to resist: it’s because you’re talking codswallop, that’s why!) That night he bemoaned the continual decline in church attendances in both the US and the UK. “We are both Christian countries, but somehow we are becoming less Christian”.
“Hallelujah!” say I. Let’s hope it’s a lasting vogue.