Deconstructing the Debate: Ken Ham, Conspiracy Theorist

debate-nye-ham

Young Earth Creationism on Trial

The biggest evolution debate in some time took place this past Tuesday between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. Bill Nye argued for naturalistic origins of life, whereas Ken Ham represented the position of Young Earth Creationism. You can still watch the video here, though I’m not sure how long the link will remain valid. Though many beforehand felt the debate was a mistake, things probably went as much in Bill’s favor as one could imagine. If I had to pick a winner, it would definitely be Bill.

(Short note: if you’re unfamiliar with the subtleties of Young Earth Creationism (YEC), it is remarkably different from Creationism in general. Where Creationism only requires supposing a creator, e.g. God, YEC supposes that the Earth is roughly 6,000 years old and that all plants and animals were created more or less as they are over the course of 6 24-hour periods when God created the world.)

I certainly have my opinions on specific points, but the specific points were rarely all that important by comparison to the structure of the debate itself. Instead of focusing on these specifics, I want to deconstruct what Mr. Ham said in order to illustrate that he is little more than a conspiracy theorist preying on common fears in order to make his position look like a refuge from the hostile world outside.

Hijacking Science

Right from the start, Ken claimed that secularists had “hijacked” science; in fact, this is a key component of his first major point. While this is a specious claim of its own right, its place at the start of the debate is particularly telling. It shows that Ken hopes to frame the debate as some sort of anti-god conspiracy against good-natured Christians. Keep this in your mind as you read the rest of this article: Ken Ham’s first move is to try to incite you toward fear of others.

But think about the claim for a moment. If evolution is part of a secular conspiracy to “hijack science,” then these secularists must obviously be trying to keep it a secret. Conspiracies involve small groups of people behind closed doors trying to manipulate others in a way that works in the conspirators’ favor. Such a thing is easy to imagine if your concept of science is Richard Dawkins and a few other elite militant atheists scheming to end religion. And of course, to illustrate this hijacking of science, Mr. Ham does indeed quote from Dawkins’ website and from Discovery.com, giving his audience a series of quotations that they will likely interpret as hostile gestures on the part of scientists.

An Impossible Conspiracy

But think of the reality, not the perception put forward by the culture war. The reality is that there are thousands of scientists getting their PhDs every year. According to statistics from the National Science Foundation, there were roughly 10,000 scientists getting their PhDs in the natural and life sciences in 1982 just in the US alone. This figure increased to around 20,000 by the year 2012. Over those 30 years, you have somewhere between 300 and 600 thousand scientists who all contributed original research to their respective fields. Original research! That means they performed studies which helped confirm findings or falsify hypotheses. If just one of these hundreds of thousands could falsify evolution, he or she would be famous in an instant.

Once you factor in people with bachelor’s or master’s degrees in such fields and people like Mr. Nye who received undergraduate degrees in related fields and ended up working in science, Ken Ham’s conspiracy angle is absolutely incredible. The number of people who would have to be involved in some sort of secular conspiracy is staggeringly large to the point where it would be utterly impossible to maintain secrecy. A conspiracy of this sort would be public knowledge in a heartbeat.

But allegations of conspiracy on such an enormous scale are not only implausible; they are also curious. Why does Ken Ham need to implicate so many people in collaborating to “hijack science” for secularism? Well, it’s the structure of his argument. He needs to make you doubt science so he can get you to buy his snake oil. Once you think the secularist boogeyman is coming to get you, it’s much easier to get you to take refuge behind a wall of assertions that “there’s a book,” aka the Bible, with all the answers, as Ken reminded us at several points near the end of the debate. Never mind all the people who disagree with Mr. Ham’s interpretations of that book.

The rest of Ken’s argument, at least insofar as it concerns science, is just technobabble, i.e. using big words to fool his audience into thinking he knows what he’s talking about. Ken has to make us think he knows what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t. If any of his claims held up, then someone would publish them in a credible scientific journal. And again, I’ll point out the ludicrousness of trying to claim there is some sort of plot to keep scholars from granting recognition to Ken’s distinctions. It’s simply an impossible conspiracy.

The God Card

Then there is the theological part of this debate. Bill appropriately didn’t try to venture into those waters, because he knows he can’t. For Ken, though, this is his trump card. No matter how many impossibilities Bill may demonstrate, no matter how many pieces of evidence he may show, Ken’s followers have a conundrum: how can they abandon their positions without giving up on God?

Ken applies the same strategy here as he did previously: incite fear. While a great many Christians do not accept Ken’s model, Ken would have us believe that they are all slandering the Bible. I’m not sure how many people noticed, but the diagram Ken used to illustrate death before the fall had all sorts of horrifying images: smeared blood, a pile of skulls, etc. Views other than Ken’s are not just wrong but evil and scary.

Just as he did with science, Mr. Ham’s theological argument absolutely depends on depicting legions of credible, intelligent scholars and theologians as conspirators in some horrific evil. Nonsense, I say. It is nothing but nonsense and slander.

A Fearful Man

Ken’s whole debate hinges on whether or not he can instill enough fear in his audience to make his nonsense solutions seem like a welcome solace from the supposed horrors of the outside world. If he took this approach knowingly, I would call him diabolical, but my inclination is that he has taken this course in earnest. Thus, Mr. Ham exhibits all the classic signs of a conspiracy theorist.

My plea to whoever reads this is to see through Mr. Ham’s fearmongering. Have some faith in your brothers and sisters in humanity that they are following where the evidence leads and making sound judgments.

If you are a Creationist, ask yourself, what is Ken doing if not trying to make you fear the world outside his word? Why is he trying so hard to make you distrust everyone but himself? This behavior is troubling, to say the least. Thus, even more than any of evolution’s many evidences, this is the problem Young Earth Creationists must address: the model Ken Ham espouses doesn’t appear to be anything more than a conspiracy theory thought up by a fearful man.

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About Chris Attaway

Raised in the digital wilderness of the pre-Internet 2.0 era, Chris Attaway is a true gamer and Internet citizen. After a stint studying computer science, his life got flipped turned upside down, and he ended up studying philosophy to help him sort out his life. Now the black sheep in a family of engineers, he has set out to get his footing in the world of freelance journalism. With interests ranging from gaming and technology to LGBT rights, race and politics, Chris is a diverse and skilled writer who always tries to give a fair shake to his subjects.
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10 Responses to Deconstructing the Debate: Ken Ham, Conspiracy Theorist

  1. Ken Nichols says:

    Ken Ham’s problem is that he thinks he (and other Christians) have to KNOW, as a fact, that creation happened literally just as it’s described in the Bible. There are two problems with this. First of all, the Bible was never meant to be taken as a scientific document. So, trying to pull science out of it and call it fact is not likely to work. That doesn’t mean the story ISN’T literal, but it could also be figurative, or some combination of both. Secondly, this desire to know goes completely against what God wants for us. Adam and Eve wanted to know. That’s why they ate the fruit. They weren’t satisfied with just having a relationship with God. They wanted to know how good and evil WORKED. They wanted to define it, nail it down, UNDERSTAND it. And in that moment, they knew more than they needed to, and became dependent on their knowledge (and the guilt it created) rather than God. We do the same thing today. The truth is, we don’t NEED to know. It’s enough to know that through whatever process, over some period of time, God through a willful decision, put life on this planet, and that at some point, men and women became his special creation, imbued with life directly from God’s breath. The rest is simply supposition and “educated” guesses. Fun to talk about, but ultimately, pointless. We waste SO much time, effort, and in Ken’s case, money, on trying to “prove” something that can’t be proven, and even if it could, would make NO difference to those in the true faith, and would make nothing but false converts (with a lack of faith) if they were convinced. The whole debate is pointless and I feel God is up there shaking His head wondering why we don’t spend our time dealing with issues that really matter.

    • Well the debate was certainly pointless on Ham’s side. For Nye, I think he actually accomplished a great deal toward showing the inconsistencies of YEC.

    • tulloch1985 says:

      Hi Ken, I agree with your criticism of Ken Ham’s approach to explaining a faith based worldview with evidence, the absurity as you pointed out is self explanitory. William Lane Craig behaves in such a manner as well.

      The reason for this is there is only so much of a forced retreat evangelicals can do in regards to acccepting cosmology and evolutionary biology, and as a society people are accepting just faith alone less because of such information. So this is Christian fundamentalism limping on in the age of progression.

      Where I find your post actually counter productive, is your explanation of the story of Adam and Eve. This is actually what leads me to Atheism and this is also the behaviour Ken Ham would want you to adopt as a Christian. What God would demand it’s creation to be ignorant, and punish not only them but all it’s offspring until the coming of Jesus for the offence of wishing to know more about themselves?

      “The offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermiable faith, that can’t give way, is the offer of something not worth having….” Christopher Hitchens RIP.

      • FiveCentFather says:

        I understand your objection. It is a completely “human” objection, as it is part of our very NATURE to desire, collect and disseminate knowledge. We can’t barely CONCEIVE of being satisfied in a world where we aren’t constantly seeking more knowledge – where we are simply content to BE. That explains why many people (yourself included) feel that a God that would desire such a state for us to be confining or stifling. We actually fear, at some level, simply being content. It feels “wrong” to us. Such is the nature the “fruit” (or whatever ‘Adam’ did) introduced in us.

        But I believe such was our state before and will be again before God. Just having Him WILL be enough (and ‘no’, I don’t personally understand how that will work, either. I simply have faith that it will.) I believe we can have a taste of that experience now through the indwelling of His Spirit. I know this is entirely subjective in nature, but He has “proved” Himself to me in this manner. The Spirit living THROUGH me helps me have the faith to just trust in God without having to KNOW how He “works”, Of course, I don’t turn my intellect OFF. There’s a balance in play between faith and knowledge, and we will always tend to skew toward the “need to know” camp.

        I say all this as simply sharing my beliefs. I don’t expect to convince anyone of anything. In the end, it not what I believe that makes any difference, but what GOD believes about me. Only He can see into my heart, and knows what my motives/beliefs/priorities are. Am I seeking a love relationship with God and my fellow man, or seeking to DISTANCE myself from either God or man, for WHATEVER reason? I think THAT is what will make the ultimate difference.

  2. Hey Chris, love the post. Thanks so much for linking to my site, and for helping get the word out about Ken Ham. It’s so true that he relies upon guilt- and fear-mongering to drum up support among the faithful — especially parents. He has literally written blog posts where he tells Christian parents that “the atheists want your children” (so make sure you buy AiG resources to protect their little hearts!). But I do think you’re right (or at least, as a fellow Christian, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt): Most of the time, he probably doesn’t realize how manipulative what he’s doing really is. Anyway, thanks again!

    • After the debate, I realized just how much of fundamentalism boils down to conspiracy theories and fearmongering. I always kind of knew that, but I didn’t have a really good explanation of how someone could do and say all these terrible things without being horrendously stupid or deceitful. But conspiracy theory symptoms are prevalent in our society, from birthers to the anti-vaccination camp to global warming denialists. At the core of each is fear and distrust. We do not need to dismantle theology; we need to overcome fear.

  3. insanityranch says:

    With regard to Ken Ham’s invocation of fear and conspiracy, I think this is another case of fallout from something I have discussed on a comment to Dan’s post on the “Jesus meme”. To summarize, I think Christianity appropriated the Jewish idea of a “Chosen People”, but added in the Zoroastrian idea of the battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. This cosmic battle meme was carried into post-exilic Judea by the returning Jews, and it sloshed around for several centuries, even finding its way into some parts of the (Hebrew) Bible. But the rabbis considered it blasphemous, since it implies that there is an evil power the near-equal of G-d. The rabbis effectively won (or in some cases, outlived) all the arguments about Jewish religion, but Christianity, of course, removed itself from the rabbinic sphere of influence.
    Personally, and not too surprisingly given my background, I think the rabbis were right about this idea. It is fundamentally at odds with the religion of Israel, and it creates unwarranted suspicion of everyone who isn’t part of the small group of insiders. And that pretty much describes the worldview that Ham advocates.

  4. tulloch1985 says:

    Hi Chris, I’m Australian so I’ll start this off by offering my sincere apologies for Ken Ham, we’re not all like that I promise 🙂

    Extremely impressed with this post, as an Atheist it gives me confidence that religous people can bridge the gap between recognising science whilst maintaining thier faith.

    In regards to fear mongering, Ken Ham unfortunately holds strong advantage. The reason I give for this is most versions of Christianity I’m aware of, disagree on the interpretation of the Bible, but in majority of cases agree that the Bible was written through the word of God. As you pointed out in the post, Ham pushes the False Dichotomy of Science is completely wrong or Christianity is completely wrong.

    I have not read all your posts, but I presume progressive Christianity implies this notion that the Bible was written by man therefore subject to criticism as well as praise, but I stand to be corrected on that assumption.

    I have a strong belief that it’s recognising the Bible as infallible is what causes the conflict, because this where fundamentalists and evangelicals have the high ground. Because both Old and New Testament Bibles make incorrect assumptions about the natural world that those with controlling agendas can cite without much fear of being accused of misinterpretation or the citation being dismissed as allegorical. This is where a person of faith will fall into Ken Ham’s tr

  5. tulloch1985 says:

    Thankyou for reply Ken, I also would like to clarify that I in no way followed this blog with the agenda to preach “New Atheism”. In fact when I saw the theme of this blog I felt an overwhelming relief that there is place to enter a discourse concerning faith, but minus the partisan styled, dogmatic trolling from both sides. But I guess that’s Facebook is for ;).

    Yes and from the Atheistic position, I neither am immune to subjective thinking, which will seem ironic considering my blog covers informal logic.

    As much as my personal philosophy still holds conflict with allegorical message behind the Adam and Eve story, I do admit a great level of respect for your position behind it as more of a humble philosophy, as opposed to the demanding ignorant abjection which is more of an evangelical persuit.

    Also I do give respect to your acknowledgement that your faith is, in fact, faith. Which of course gives heed to Chris’s post concerning Ken Ham’s deceptive attempt to mix knowledge and faith together.

    There is book by Michael Ruse concerning the conflict between Evolution and Creationism, forgive me I do forget the title. And Michael Ruse has nothing but contempt for Richard Dawkins’s approach to Atheism (I say this to give peace of mind that I’m not plugging an Atheistic Bible).

    Thanks Ken, it’s been a pleasure 🙂

    • FiveCentFather says:

      Thank you for your kind words. I enjoy sharing differing ideas concerning theology, but I don’t hold to my own positions tightly. Many of them have changed in just the past couple of years. A faith that doesn’t evolve with time is a dead faith in my opinion.

      And it’s been a pleasure for me, as well.

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