Peter Hess's picture

Creationism: A House Divided?

In the Gospel According to Saint Mark, when teachers of the law accused Jesus of driving out demons in the name of the devil, he pointed out that this strategy would be ridiculously self-defeating (Mark 3:24-27):

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.

Recent accusations between creationist Ken Ham and televangelist Pat Robertson suggest that the traditionally unified anti-evolutionist camp is a house divided against itself. Creationists in disagreement? Biblical fundamentalists being cross with each other over the age of the Earth? How can that be (and how can we encourage it)?

Just a few years ago Pat Robertson’s organization sold material claiming that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that humans and dinosaurs once coexisted. But in November, 2012, Robertson seemed to break with his fellow creationists, disputing their claim that the planet is so youthful. Robertson claimed that James Ussher—the seventeenth century bishop who calculated the age of the Earth to be only 6000 years using biblical genealogies—was not inspired by the Lord.

While many creationists believe that Noah took dinosaurs on board his Ark, Robertson insisted that dinosaurs “were on the earth before the time of the Bible, so don’t try to cover it up and make like everything was 6,000 years, that’s not the Bible.” Ouch. For fundamentalists who take the Bible as literally true and all-encompassing, saying that a claim is not part of the Bible is akin to saying it cannot be true. As the youngsters today might have tweeted, “#inyourface Ken Ham #lol.”

Ham replied to Robertson with his own salvo on his Facebook page:

Not only do we have to work hard to not let our kids be led astray by the anti-God teaching of the secularists, we have to work hard to not let them be led astray by compromising church leaders like Pat Robertson. This excerpt was posted on YouTube by a group that is a project of People for the American Way. Pat Robertson gives more fodder to the secularists. We don't need enemies from without the church when we have such destructive teaching within the church.

Ham accuses Robertson of heresy and effectively aiding the enemy. Following the debate last February between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, Robertson criticized Ham’s remarks on creationism as just plain nutty:

Let’s face it, there was a bishop [Ussher] who added up the dates listed in Genesis and he came up with the world had been around for 6,000 years. There ain’t no way that’s possible. To say that it all came about in 6,000 years is just nonsense and I think it’s time we come off of that stuff and say this isn’t possible. We’ve got to be realistic that the dating of Bishop Ussher just doesn’t comport with anything that is found in science and you can’t just totally deny the geological formations that are out there.

Wow—maybe Robertson is ready to come on NCSE's rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, where we show why the young-earth creationist interpretation does not square with what is seen in the geological formation.

Don’t be too optimistic; Robertson still disagrees with “evolution as it is currently presented.” Does that mean as it is presented in science classrooms and at scientific conferences? Robertson also knocks creationists with a plea to his fellow congregationalists: “Let’s be real, let’s not make a joke of ourselves.” Robertson goes on:

You have to be deaf, dumb and blind to think that this Earth that we live in only has 6,000 years of existence, it just doesn’t, I’m sorry. To deny the clear record that’s there before us makes us looks silly,” he said. “There’s no way that all this that you have here took place in 6,000 years, it just couldn’t have been done, couldn’t possibly have been done.

Now things have escalated. No doubt inspired by what his sycophants regard as his smashing success against Bill Nye, Ken Ham has done the thing he does best: challenge an opponent to a debate. However, this time the gauntlet has been thrown not at a "godless evilushunist" but at Ham's co-religionist Pat Robertson. A house divided, indeed!

I wonder if Pat Robertson would be prepared to discuss these issues with me or one of our AiG scientists on the 700 Club? Or maybe in some sort of debate format at Regent University? We are certainly willing to do that—maybe all of you reading this could challenge CBN/Regent University to allow such a discussion, debate, or forum to occur publicly. I wonder if Pat Robertson, who is allowed to state these things so publicly through CBN will agree to have his statements publicly challenged and tested!

For Ham, Robertson’s sin is caving in to “millions of years,” opening the way to the acceptance of evolution. That timeline implies that bloodshed, disease and death occurred before Adam's original sin, and in Ham’s theology, this destroys the foundation of the atonement brought by the death of Christ on the cross. According to 1 Corinthians 15:54, sin and death have been swallowed up in victory through Jesus Christ. Thus the enormity of Robertson's compromise is revealed: if he accepts millions of years he undermines the entire gospel message of Jesus Christ.

A popular if problematic Christian interpretation of Jesus's death is that Christ shed his blood and suffered physical death to pay the penalty for human sin (this is what James McGrath rightly calls "the odious penal substitutionary theory of atonement"). In Ham’s fundamentalist view, teaching that millions of years of death, disease, and suffering occurred before Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden is a direct attack upon the rationale for Christ's death on the cross. Of course, Ham's take on theology is as distorted as is his understanding of science. For an excellent survey of both older, ineffective models of atonement and some that accord far better with what we know from modern science see George Murphy's Models of Atonement (2013).

Ken Ham has thrown down the gauntlet of debate. He thinks Robertson’s acquiescence to geological deep time represents apostasy of the highest order that must be confronted, routed, and stamped out in very public forum. Will Robertson accept the challenge? That remains to be seen. If he does it will be like watching Godzilla battle Mothra—an entertaining fight, but one in which you are not particularly rooting for either party.

Photo by Paparazzo Presents, released under a CC-BY-SA-3.0 license