Ken Ham Versus Richard Land on Young Earth Creationism
Who is Richard Land? Richard Land is the President of Southern Evangelical Seminary, who had to resign from his presidency of the ERLC after the breaking of a few scandals, including the use of a few unwise (and conceivably racist) words about Trayvon Martin as well as charges of plagiarism. While the former was probably an unfortunate case of foot-in-mouth syndrome, the latter was more serious and well substantiated.
Land is also an ardent anti-Calvinist and serves on the advisory board for the Southern Baptist anti-Calvinist group, Connect 316. Land was also one of the last standing supporters of the disgraced and disqualified Ergun Caner, who refused to relinquish his endorsement until inescapably forced.
Land is also under current criticism by Young Earth creationists (YEC) for what is – as best as can be understood, at least partially convoluted reasons.
Ken Ham, the director of Answers in Genesis, criticized a professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary in a recent fundraising letter, which you can read here. The story is this: Ham was invited to a “dialogue” at an apologetics conference hosted by Southern Evangelical Seminary in which 1500 or so people attended. Sadly, a number of Old Earth creationists (OEC) made presentations at the conference. Ham dialogued with Dr. Richard Howe, who is the professor mentioned above, and then criticized him in the aforementioned letter for being “weak in his convictions and not very knowledgeable of the biblical and scientific arguments in favor of Young Earth Creationism.”
Now, it should be stated that Howe is a Young Earth Creationist. The problem – according to Ham – is that Howe used the apologetic approach common among Old Earth creationists, which is to argue not from the presupposition of the authority of Scripture, but the interpretation of Scripture.
My paraphrase is as follows: Ham seems to claim an apologetic method that is part evidentialist (providing scientific evidence for YEC) and part presuppositional (arguing from the presupposition of the authority of Scripture.) Ham’s contention is that Howe – and by extension, Southern Evangelical Seminary and its president, Dr. Land – seem willing to put the authority of God’s Word on trial. The perspicuity of Scripture is clear on YEC, and making OEC a matter of simple interpretation rather than rejecting the Bible’s authority is the accusation of Ham toward SEC, Howe and Land.
For Ham, however, it seems from a summary of his fundraising letter that it wasn’t the authority of Scripture he was defending so much as the pespicuity (clarity) of Scripture.
They made it confusing regarding how to read and understand God’s Word. My “opponent” kept emphasizing man’s interpretation of God’s Word. But under the premise that academics can interpret Genesis as teaching millions of years and that it is not an important issue, Dr. Howe stated that we can all agree to have different interpretations—and just dialogue together!
IT SEEMS MANY OF THESE ACADEMICS ARE SAYING THAT THE AVERAGE PERSON CAN’T FULLY UNDERSTAND THE WORD OF GOD FOR THEMSELVES.
We are seeing a trend in which it seems many of these academics are saying that the average saint can’t fully understand the Word of God for themselves, but must instead listen to what these “learned” people are saying. In fact, during the “debate,” Dr. Howe made reference to the fact that “everyone should have a Hebrew scholar in their life” to help them fully understand Scripture!
That’s why during this “debate” I said that God’s Word is for all people for all time. And its message (even though there are difficult passages) is easy for anyone to understand—and that it’s not difficult to understand Genesis if we just read it and take it as written, as did Jesus, Peter, and Paul in the New Testament. That’s how most orthodox Christian scholars accepted Genesis up until the 19th century when the idea of millions of years (which came out of deistic and atheistic naturalism) began to infiltrate the church.
A PARENTHETICAL CLARIFICATION ON MY STANCE
I am a presuppositional apologist, and even for me, Ken Ham is not presuppositional enough. Don’t get me wrong; I took my family to the Ark Creation Museum this summer and we loved it, it was well done, and I’m glad Ham does what he does. However, as I discussed with Sye Ten Bruggencate on my podcast several years ago, I was not comfortable with paying Bill Nye to blaspheme God and put Scripture on trial. Again – for me – Ham is not presuppositional enough. That being said, Ham does the best job of combining evidentialism and presuppositionalism of anyone I have heard. Although providing scientific evidences, Ham is clear that the Word of God is his ultimate authority, and that is good. That is very, very good.
As a Young Earth creationist, I have little tolerance for a seminary that would have Old Earth creationists – especially if they’re teaching theistic evolution – present their material at a conference. Why would I have little tolerance for that? Because I agree with Ham that (with few exceptions), YEC or OEC is a matter not of interpretation, but of authority. I agree with Ham on that premise. The Scripture is clear. Believe it or deny it.
Clearly, I am biased. Be forewarned.
LAND’S RESPONSE TO HAM’S CRITICISM
Land wrote on SEC’s website in response…
We believe that the question of the age of the earth is a question of interpretation, not a question of inspiration… We also believe that there is a second, more immediate topic of discussion—the question of apologetic methodology.
Clearly, I disagree that the age of the earth is a question of interpretation for most. But, one thing is for sure – Land clearly (admirably so) laid out his opposing position to Ken Ham. As convoluted as this controversy is with all its moving parts, there is at least hard disagreement on one point; Richard Land does not believe the Scripture is abundantly clear on creation and believes there’s room for different interpretations (the kind of different interpretations represented in the SEC faculty).
We also are committed to having inerrantist conference speakers who are both old-earth and young-earth to model the kind of “safe-space” discussion and dialogue that will help all Christians of goodwill who are seeking the truth to better understand what it is that God is telling us in Holy Scripture.
With Norm Geisler as the co-founder of SEC, the term “inerrantist” is vitally important. Inerrancy was the cradle in which Southern Evangelical Seminary was born, and homage to it has to be paid. So, Land writes that they invited “Inerrantist conference speakers who are both old-earth and young-earth,” which is sure to set off YEC’s like myself and Ken Ham. Let’s face it – we do not typically equate Old Earth Creationism with inerrancy, because let’s face it, the vast majority of OEC’s are liberals who deny inerrancy.
It was cute, warm, and cuddly of Dr. Land to provide a “safe place for discussion and dialogue,” though. Bless his heart, may the snowflakes be warmed (but not melted).
The title of the dialogue, “God’s Word or Man’s Word,” was derived from the way Mr. Ham characterizes the apologetic task, namely, that one must start with God’s Word rather than man’s word when discussing the truth claims of Christianity with unbelievers. As an institution that promotes and teaches classical apologetics (i.e., starting with sensible reality and meeting people where they are), we disagree with Mr. Ham’s approach to apologetics, which is why we invited him to discuss the issue in the first place.
Well, there you have the disagreement in a nutshell. SEC is not presuppositional. They put God on trial and they put God’s Word of trial. That’s their apologetic method. That’s exactly what Ham was complaining about in his Answers in Genesis letter. If God’s word is clear, it needs no complicated interpretation (the kind and type of which can turn a Young Earth narrative into an Old Earth interpretation). Ham wrote in his letter…
Compromise positions on Genesis are permeating our seminaries and other Christian institutions. Academics have come up with all sorts of fanciful ways to twist the Scriptures to try to fit in millions of years. It’s almost like the Gnostics who claimed some sort of special knowledge. Many of these academics are telling the average person, “Trust us. We’ve done in-depth theological study, and you need to reinterpret God’s Word as we tell you to.”
There’s so much compromise about Genesis today. And now we see compromise on marriage and gender, as people increasingly compromise other parts of the Bible. The message the church presents is not clear—it’s not certain. And as 1 Corinthians 14:8 tells us, when there’s an uncertain sound, people will not be prepared for the battle.
Land does exactly in his SEC website article what Ham accuses SEC of doing in his AIG letter. Land writes…
In the very letter in question, Mr. Ham makes it evident that we have accurately understood his position when he states, yet again, “I kept hammering away that it was an authority issue—that the battle over the age of the earth came down to God’s infallible Word versus man’s fallible word.” Our contention is that Mr. Ham fails to realize those words are in fact his words, or his interpretation of God’s Word. We should all remember that our understanding of God’s Word never carries the same authority as God’s Word itself does. Believers should always approach God’s Word with humility and never equate their understanding of God’s Word as being as comprehensive or as infallible as God’s Word itself is.
SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT AGAIN?
First, this controversy is not about the age of the Earth. It seems that while SEC is very comfortable with Old Earth Creationism (comfortable enough to have them speak and put them on staff), those with whom Ham disputed (or is disputing) were Young Earth creationists.
Secondly, this is not ultimately about presuppositonal versus classical apologetics. Although this plays a role in the controversy, there’s another underlying issue that is more pertinent than an apologetic methodology. That issue is present, but it’s not the main issue.
Thirdly, this is not a controversy about inerrancy, as both sides claim to be inerrantists.
This is a controversy that’s really about the Perspicuity of Scripture. Ken Ham is on one side, saying the Bible is sufficiently clear and understandable. Richard Land is on the other side, saying that the Bible is not sufficiently clear and so there must be charitabile tolerance toward diverse “interpretations” of Scripture.
So, pick your side. But when you do, make sure you know what the controversy is about.
[Contributed by JD Hall]
PS…I will leave you with this question; if the Scripture cannot be understood, why does it matter if it is inerrant?