The young earth creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis recently wrote a blog post critiquing eminent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga on a number of levels. I’d like to offer a brief analysis of his comments.
Ken Ham doesn’t like Calvin College, where Plantinga once taught. About the school, he says:
Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of the most ardently compromising Christian Colleges in the US that continues to lead so many young people astray in regards to the authority of Scripture beginning in Genesis.
Harsh words! Of course the reason that Calvin College is said to be a “compromising” college is because it doesn’t follow Ken Ham’s specific interpretation of Genesis as a necessity of Christian faith. By not holding to a position that the Earth is only about 6000 years old, Calvin College gets added to the blacklist of “compromisers.” This kind of name-calling is unbecoming Christians, but that unfortunately hasn’t stopped Ham and his followers.
Plantinga and Science
Ham takes issue with Plantinga’s words on whether science and Christianity may coexist. Following the link to read Plantinga’s own words, one reads:
[Those who believe in a conflict between science and faith] are thinking of evolution plus naturalism, which is the idea that there isn’t any such person as God or anything like God … evolution doesn’t say anything about whether there is such a person as God or not…It’s a metaphysical add-on they are importing into the scientific notion of evolution.
Ham believes that because of this, Plantinga is “equivocating” science and evolution. However, it can hardly be argued that evolution is not the reigning paradigm in biology. Thus, it is not so much equivocation as it is using terms as they are commonly understood. But that aside, the key point is that Plantinga surely seems to be correct. If one does not pair metaphysical naturalism with evolution, it poses no challenge to the existence of deity.
Now, the nuances of whether evolution may be reconciled with Genesis or not aside, the real question is the appropriateness of name-calling because other Christians believe in a different interpretation of Genesis. Ham wants to keep the focus on the alleged “utter contradiction” between evolution and Genesis, but he does so by elevating his specific interpretation of the Bible above any other view and even above Christian charity. For Ham, there is no need to engage with fellow Christians in a meaningful manner. Instead, he simply dismisses fellow Christians as compromisers and sees that as enough for his followers to ignore any complexities in the debate.
Of course, going back to the issue that Ham wants to frame: the alleged conflict between science and religion, I think that it is vitally important to allow charity in interpretations of Genesis. God’s word is infallible, but human interpreters are not infallible. Instead of lashing out at other Christians because they hold a different view than we do, perhaps we should work to reconcile with and learn from each other.
Ken Ham’s post is just a single example of the constant stream of vitriol spilled out by certain groups against those with whom they disagree. I myself have been called a compromiser, an unbeliever, a follower of Satan, someone who is working to undermine the faith, etc. by people who disagree with me. Why not start the discussion rather than pouring out insults? Why not seek to work together and, if necessary, debate the issues instead of using such nasty language about others?
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Christian Philosopher Says Science Doesn’t Oppose Faith– Read Ken Ham’s post for his own perspective and words on the topic.
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The two peas in this religious pod – Ham and Plantinga – may disagree about interpretation of scripture but both adhere to the principle that it has authority in matters of conflict between scientific models that work contrary to scriptural models that don’t.
And that’s the problem for which there is no middle ground: either we allow scripture to have authority OR we grant that authority to reality to test any claims made to describe how it operates – and not to our faith, derived and interpreted from scripture.
So although Plantinga can try to sound more accommodating to scientific models that work contrary to scripture (and busily try to find some wiggle room through interpretation to make the two fit together), when push comes to shove both Ham and Plantinga are on the same side of this uncrossable divide… as long as each continues to assume that their authority from scripture is true and that their interpretation of it is empowered by this truth… even in the absence of any means to demonstrate a justification independent of their faith-based assumption as to how they know it is true.
Two peas in a pod.
How do you know that something is true?
Because there is utility in knowing it? If so, who defines ‘utility’?
Because it helps predict future states of reality based on past states? If so, what do you do with the fact that some of the information for predicting may only lie in the future? From Back From the Future:
Furthermore, if so, what do you do with the fact that quantum physics is, to-date, 100% phenomenological, meaning that it doesn’t say anything about ontology, about what really exists?
If neither of these guesses, other readers may be interested to know how you discern truth.
P.S. It would be neat to see your take on Fitch’s Paradox of Knowability (alternative treatment with axioms laid out). If you reject one of the axioms, which one? If you see the logic as invalid, how? If neither, then what do you do with the logical conclusion that all knowable truths are already known? That would indicate an omniscient being who could teach us truths, a vastly different conception of ‘know’ such that non-persons can ‘know’, or that the collective knowledge of all human beings right now is at a global maximum (unless there are aliens).
I’m not sure how far to push this, but I really think you’re operating on a false dichotomy which you expressly want to make a dichotomy so badly. Perhaps that says more about your own assumptions and desires than it does about the state of affairs in religious belief.
Yes, well, you’re not alone.
I think there’s a fundamental incompatibility between the method of science and the method of faith which is revealed by incompatible knowledge claims. I do not think there is neither a middle ground nor any means to grant equivalent respect to contrary knowledge claims.
There is a veritable host of non believers (and scientific organizations) lined up against such a position as mine. I think the reason is because many people have fooled themselves into thinking that incompatible knowledge claims will eventually work themselves out between science and religion while we can continue to get along as one big happy family (see the <a href="http://www.nas.edu/evolution/Compatibility.html"National Academy of Sciences as but one example of this accommodation). I think this is magical thinking as well as the rather offputting tendency for liberals to tolerate the intolerable in the name of tolerance over principle (see the ridiculous refusal for the British Student Union to condemn IS… again, in the name of tolerance!).
Sorry to be a stick in the mud, but this tendency to sacrifice principle (in the case of incompatible knowledge claims, the principle of respecting what’s actually true) in the name of ‘respect’ I think is a recipe for disaster (like the one being played out in regards to human caused climate change… trying to accommodate deniers with a respect their denial simply doesn’t deserve because the incompatible claims upon which they are justified simply aren’t true). I think the methods themselves – evidence-adduced versus faith-based – are irrevocably incompatible and each of us must choose one or the other. And only one works to produce knowledge.
How could we Christians who disagree with YEC approach the Creationists? I hear the anger and derision- on both sides- is there any way past it?
or the comment. I agree, there is much anger on both sides of the debate. I think a good approach would be to focus on areas of agreement, discern real areas of disagreement, and honestly work towards if not reconciliation of views, an understanding.
Well, J.W., you have made a good point here. I was looking at some other blogs by Ham, especially one where he was invited to dinner by the president of BioLogos and Dr. Hugh Ross. Ken Ham reminds me of a lot of our older brothers and sisters who hold to certain traditions so much that they get angry when others come along and asked to dialogue and possibly change that tradition. Ham really does believe that it is peoples’ view of Genesis that is leading younger Christians a stray, therefore, there is no point for him to meet with others and stop calling others compromisers. In my honest opinion, many children leave the Christian faith later in life, not because they were given a “bad interpretation of Genesis,” but because they were raised in weak theology with an indifferent view of the Christ! We almost must be careful who we meet with and do not meet with and the names that we give them when we disagree, if for nothing else, we should be loving still in our approach to others because Christ was loving in His approach.