Ken Ham — The Evolution of a Bully: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts
Jeri’s post was originally published on her blog Heresy in the Heartland on October 16, 2013. It is reprinted with her permission. Also by Jeri on HA: “Generational Observations”, “Of Isolation and Community”, “His Quiver Full of Them”, “David Noebel, Summit Ministries, and the Evil of Rock”, “The Political Reach of Bill Gothard”, and “Bill Gothard on Education”.
Last week, in an approach founder Ken Ham described as “cordial and engaging”, the creationist organization Answers In Genesis sponsored billboards like this one in several major cities. I can’t help wondering who Ham’s atheist friends are, and how long they will remain his friends with engaging expressions of cordiality like these.
I first encountered Ken Ham at an ICR conference in Michigan.
I was a young homeschooled kid and adored Ken Ham from the first time he opened his mouth. I loved his Aussie accent, his beard, his jokes. I retold his story about “nursing the baby” way too many times. Science was my least favorite subject, but I liked history and social studies and I believed his every word.
It never occurred to me then that Ham might be wrong about fossils, Cain’s wife, homosexuality, or the book of Genesis itself.
In 1974, Ken Ham himself was searching for answers.
Ham taught science in a public high school in Australia, but apparently, teaching about evolution and millions of years presented a challenge to his faith. A church friend directed him to the book The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris (a hydrologist and founder of the Institute for Creation Research in California) and John Whitcomb (a theologian).
Morris viewed the Bible as a history book and was excited to share his notions of catastrophism and how a global flood a few thousands years ago could have shaped all the geological forms we see today. Morris was greatly influenced by a Seventh-Day Adventist named George McCready Price, who went searching for geological evidence to support the visions of Ellen White, who proclaimed that the fossils were “thus preserved as an evidence to later generations that the antediluvians perished by a flood. God designed that the discovery of these things should establish faith in inspired history“.
Morris, a Baptist, read Price’s book on “flood geology” in 1943, then quietly repackaged this novel approach to geology in his 1961 book The Genesis Flood. A decade later, Ken Ham was thrilled with Morris’ solutions that could simply do away with the “millions of years” question. He felt compelled to tell as many people as he could about these new answers.
Ham quit his teaching job in 1979 to start Australia’s Creation Science Foundation (CSF) with fellow schoolteacher and fundamentalist John Mackay. At first, CSF operated out of the Hams’ home. Ken Ham later wrote that Mackay had suggested on multiple occasions that he (Mackay) and Ham could be the two witnesses described in Revelation 11 (an idea Ham says he could not accept).
Dr. Carl Wieland, a medical doctor and former atheist, believed he had encountered the supernatural while playing at card tricks with his wife.
Recognizing that modern science and telepathy were incompatible, Wieland became a creationist and even founded a creationist magazine Ex Nihilo. When Wieland joined forces with the fledgling CSF, the young magazine’s name was changed to Creation.
In 1987, Ham moved to America with his wife Mally and their five children, first to work with Films for Christ on a creationist documentary, then to work for the Institute of Creation Research as a traveling speaker to popularize ICR’s creationist message. Ham continued to direct CSF from across the Pacific until 2004. Carl Wieland, still recovering from a near-fatal car accident that took his sight in one eye, served as CSF managing director in Australia. But the Creation Science Foundation was about to rip wide open.
Margaret Buchanan, a widow, and her disabled daughter, Debbie, joined the CSF staff in 1984. Margaret served as Ham’s personal secretary. Shortly after the Hams left Australia, John Mackay, angry about being replaced as editor of Creation magazine, called Buchanan at her home, told her not to come in to work, and made bizarre accusations.
Mackay claimed Buchanan practiced witchcraft and necrophilia and was a tool of the devil.
(Mackay told Ham that he had had to cast demons out of his dog and a black cat because of Buchanan’s satanic influence.) Another staff member then sprinkled Buchanan’s office space with grape juice to cleanse it of evil spirits. Buchanan agreed to take a four-week leave of absence while staff considered the whole affair.
When the board finally decided Buchanan was innocent, Mackay laid down an ultimatum. He would not stay unless she was dismissed. So Mackay left, with a handful of followers, to lead his own creationism organization. When Margaret and two other staff members tried to meet with Mackay at his home, he threatened them with police action if they did not leave his property. Mackay was later excommunicated from his Baptist church. CMI’s website includes more than 63 sordid pages of documents dealing with the allegations, investigations, witnesses, diary accounts, signed letters, and more.
In the stormy aftermath of Mackay’s departure, Dr. Andrew Snelling, a CSF scientist who later followed Ken Ham to ICR, admitted to having had concerns about Mackay’s “extremely sloppy research”:
I worked alongside Mr. John Mackay for some years when he was with the Foundation…
As a Christian and a scientist, I have become more and more concerned with some of the claims he has been making, particularly in the area of geology. Instances have come to my attention that are either totally untrue, or misleading, even to the point of deception. Even while working with him I was concerned about an emerging pattern of extremely sloppy research, coupled with a tendency to gloss over opposing facts, even when they were graciously brought to his attention by myself and others, which drew progressively closer to the borderline between honesty and dishonesty. My concern, then as now, was his growing potential for bringing discredit to the whole creation movement.
Warnings such as these are difficult to give about someone professing to exercise Christian ministry. Undoubtedly, if past experience is any guide, Mr. Mackay will skillfully seek to have them interpreted as further ‘persecution’.
(Meanwhile, Dr. Wieland ended up divorcing his wife and marrying Margaret Buchanan. Of course, this added to the tension within the organization as some staff members believed the Bible forbade remarriage after divorce.)
In 1994, the Hams left ICR to found their own layperson-oriented creation ministry (CSM), and moved to Kentucky with the Creation subscriber list. CSM (USA) and CSF (Australia) were closely tied and their leadership overlapped significantly. Before long, “the board decided to change the organization’s name to “Answers in Genesis,” to reflect the fact that the ministry was not just about “creation,” but the authority of all of Scripture—as well as about evangelism and equipping believers to build a biblical worldview.”
According to Ham, the Australian and American AiG organizations made a “mutual” decision to separate in 2005 over differences of philosophy and organization and met “cordially” to iron out the details. Other sources describe the split much less pleasantly, writing of a years-long “bitter power struggle”, “domination”, taped phone calls, and accusations “of deceptive conduct”. The Australian organization rebranded as Creation Ministries International (CMI). Still more friction arose over printing and distributing Creation in the U.S., with AiG introducing its own Answers magazine sometime after the Creation Museum opened in 2007.
Today, creationism has become a multi-million industry with AiG strongly dominating the market.
AiG materials are available in 77 languages. The organization conducts evangelistic campaigns and literature distribution at the Olympic Games. Plans are in place for the construction of an amusement park around a “replica” of Noah’s ark, partly to serve as a warning of God’s judgment for tolerating homosexuality.
Ken Ham and his brother Steve authored the parenting study Genesis of a Legacy, in which they teach that children are foolish sinners who are actually disobeying God when they disobey a parent. Instead of “reasoning” or allowing “questioning” or “delay”, the Hams advocate John MacArthur’s approach: “short, stinging strokes to the backside”, “painful enough to make the consequences of disobedience… unforgettable”.
Based on the story of Adam of Eve, Ham is a staunch opponent of gay marriage.
He has written an article suggesting that if homosexuality is to be deemed morally acceptable, then child sacrifice should have an equal status.
He also opposes efforts by schools to accommodate transgender students. His suggestion that transgender students are disguising their real motives betrays a truly painful ignorance of gender issues:
Sadly, these school authorities don’t recognize the sinful heart of man and what can come out from it. Surely schools officials have thought about the potential for high school boys to pretend to “identify” as a female just so they can have access to the girls’ restroom and, maybe, to their locker room—winking to their friends as they do it?
For years, I read Ham’s books, got his newsletter, sent him my money and my prayer requests. I was excited about the progress of the creation museum as they overcame the opposition of the community to build a temple to unchanging Truth.
Then, I had kids of my own. Before I knew it, they started to gravitate toward picture books about dinosaurs and stars at the library. My parents had always rejected books that mentioned “millions of years” or talked too much about biological “adaptations”. I didn’t want to discourage my kids with unnecessary censorship, and I didn’t want them to grow up feeling as uneasy around science as I was. So I started researching. As a homeschooling mom, it was important to me to be able to teach them accurately about dinosaurs and astronomy and geology. And as a Christian, I looked for trustworthy sources who shared my belief in the inspired truth of the Bible.
But what I learned shocked me, and sparked new questions.
The next time I visited my parents’ house, I pored over the latest book from AiG, studying their answers. And I felt lied to. AiG isn’t about the data, or the scientific method. AiG doesn’t offer scientific responses to questions about the rock strata or the age of the earth or fossils of whales with hips. They can’t offer plausible explanations for day and night and light and vegetation on Earth before the Sun appeared on the fourth day of creation. Most of their “answers” can be summarized as “Well, a global flood could have caused…” And they pretend there is no contradiction in the two Genesis creation accounts.
AiG is about one specific religious agenda — a fundamentalist approach to Biblical doctrine that assigns everyone who is “wrong” to hell.
Suddenly Ken Ham, my former idol, looked more like a bully.
In 2010, Rachel Held Evans rocked many in the evangelical world with her book Evolving in Monkey Town, in which she considered the scientific validity of theistic evolution. When Ham shook his head sadly over the “indoctrination of our age” and “compromising church leaders”, dismissing the faith of Christians who also embrace modern science, Evans posted an articulate and heartfelt response on her blog:
“We are tired of fighting. We are tired of drawing lines in the sand. We are tired of Christianity being cast as a position in a debate when it is supposed to be a way of life.
“What we are searching for is a community of faith in which it is safe to ask tough questions, to think critically, and to be honest with ourselves. Unfortunately, a lot of young evangelicals grew up with the assumption that Christianity and evolution cannot mix, that we have to choose between our faith in Jesus and accepted science. I’ve watched in growing frustration as this false dichotomy has convinced my friends to leave the faith altogether when they examine the science and find it incompatible with a 6,000-year-old earth. Sensing that Christianity required abandoning their intellectual integrity, some of the best and brightest of the next generation made a choice they didn’t have to make….
“Ken likes to frame his position as an unwavering commitment to the authority of Scripture, but in reality his is an unwavering commitment to one interpretation of Scripture.“
The following year, Ham was banned from speaking at a homeschool convention in Cincinnati after making “mean-spirited” remarks about another speaker, a Bible scholar and theologian who approaches the Old Testament very differently than Ham does. AiG also used its deep pockets and legal staff to bully a smaller Christian ministry with a similar name, threatening them with charges of trademark infringement.
And this month, AiG’s billboards appeared. Responding to criticism over his message to his “atheist friends”, Ham both defended and reiterated his satisfaction with his own belief that atheists will spend eternity in hell, while mocking the notion that dead people cease to exist. He described atheism as “sad” and “purposeless”.
Many, many followers of Jesus doubt Young Earth Creationism, and even St. Augustine considered the Creation account to be allegorical.
But no one told me that. I swallowed the whole Ham sandwich: you couldn’t have faith, or sin, or Jesus, or heaven, or God… without Adam, Eve, Eden, a global flood, and less than 10,000 years. The only problem was, when I could no longer believe in a young earth, the rest of the story disintegrated, too.
Once upon a time, my meager tithe checks helped build Ken’s creation museum. Today I am one of his “atheist friends”, taking my kids to see dinosaur footprints and ancient rocks. Ham’s cartoons (the red “Abortion” balloons flown from the castle founded on Evolution) and his jokes (“God didn’t make Adam and Steve”, “fossils don’t come with labels!”) led directly to my atheism.
My life is neither sad nor purposeless.
But if it makes him feel better, Ham can thank his God that I’m finally wrong.