Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ken Ham, Evolutionary Creationism and Reality

Ken Ham has recently taken to the airwaves to lambast those of us who accept the science of evolution but also profess a faith in Jesus Christ as savior and Lord.  This was reported in the Christian Post a few weeks back and I am just now getting around to commenting on it.  Stoyan Zaimov writes:
Young-Earth Creationist Ken Ham, who is getting ready for the opening of the Ark Encounter in Kentucky on July 7, has accused Christians who support the theory of evolution as being people who follow a "religion of death."

"Christians who accept millions of years are mixing the religion of death with the religion of life — death came after sin, Jesus conquered it. Evolution requires death over millions of years, death is a 'friend' that produces life and death ends it all," Ham wrote in a Facebook post over the weekend.

"The Bible describes death as an enemy that will one day be destroyed — through Christ's death and resurrection we are offered life with God. Creation is a religion of life — death is a result of sin, our Creator paid the penalty for sin and offers the free gift of salvation — it's all about life. Christianity vs. secularism is really a battle between the religion of life and the religion of death," he added.
This notion that physical death is the direct result of the fall is a pervasive teaching in modern evangelical Christianity. Has it always been this way, though? Leaving aside all of the genetic and palaeontological evidence that humanity cannot be traced back to a single pair of individuals, is the notion of no physical death before the fall a tenable idea? It isn't from a population standpoint as a world such as that would be massively overpopulated in very short order. As one person wrote about that post: “Was God bad at math?”  Another commented: “How would the threat of death have meant anything to Adam had he not been acquainted with it?”

Theologically, the doctrine of original sin has also been the recipient of much scholarship over the centuries such that Ham's perspective is but one of many.

The current construct of original sin owes much of its formation to Augustine, who, Otten argues, misread Romans 5:12.  He writes:
The RSV reads the following: ‘Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned’. Yet unlike contemporary exegetes Augustine does not read that death spread to all men because all men sinned, as has the Greek original behind the RSV, but ‘because all men sinned in this one man’. All emphasis is therefore on Adam as the progenitor of the human race, whose role is synecdochical for all humanity. Hence we find the human race thrown or
‘lumped’ together as a doomed mass (massa damnata), as it depends entirely on God’s grace for its redemption. If we pursue this line of thought, Calvin’s teaching of double predestination, to the effect that before creation God has elected some for salvation and others for damnation, does not seem that far away, given that it operates on a similar idea that the genealogy of the entire human race can be telescoped into the one figure of Adam in Paradise.
Otten is not the only one who argues for an alternate understanding of original sin. Duffy notes, for example, that there is no actual doctrine of original sin in scripture. He writes:
Notwithstanding, the classical doctrine emerged from reflection on Genesis 2-3. The Adamic myth, however, is not primarily speculation about the first humans committing the first sin, the guilt and consequences of which mark all succeeding generations. As Paul Ricoeur insists, the story is penitential in motive, a reflection of Jewish penitential spirit as revealed in the Psalms and the prophetic literature. The real thrust of the Yahwist's Adam myth is to separate the origin of evil from the origin of being.
John H. Walton argues for a priestly role for Adam, which he is given in Genesis 2: 15:
We can presume that it is in this role that Eve serves as a complementary helper to Adam (not simply as a reproductive partner5). This priestly role, not mentioned in the first account, would support an understanding of Adam and Eve as the fountainhead for humanity that may be understood as representational rather than biological. Adam (and eventually Eve) is plausibly differentiated not as the only members of their species, but as the designated representatives of their species in the center of sacred space—a species that has been endowed with the image of God (an act of [functional] creation). If one were to adopt this hypothesis, Adam and Eve would not necessarily be the first humans in God’s image or those through whom all humanity is descended.6 But as the human representatives (priests) serving in God’s presence, the disorder of sin would be seen as entering the world through them, and all humans would now be subject to that disorder and would be seen as being corporately subject to sin through these representatives. That disorder has permeated human nature.
The most important issue in Romans (and theology in general) is that people in the image of God sinned, and therefore all are subject to sin and death and in need of salvation. Adam was our first High Priest, and Christ is our ultimate High Priest. The Bible therefore could be read as requiring only that the sin of our representative Adam extended to us all, as the salvation of our representative Christ is extended to us in a similar manner.
If sin did not originate in one biological man, then it has no fixed point in time.  Seen in this light, the necessity of having a six-thousand year creation is removed, allowing for the span of time that conventional science suggests describes the universe in which we live.  It also opens up the possibility that the prehistory of humanity is one of an ongoing saga of evolution.

Zaimov closes with another Ham quote: 
In another message in March, he said Christian leaders who do not interpret the creation account in Genesis 1-11 literally are leading people astray.

“Genesis 1-11 is like the foundation to a house. The whole structure stands upon it — all of our major doctrines like sin, salvation, the coming consummation, marriage, and more are grounded in Genesis," Ham wrote in his post at the time.

“Sadly many Christian leaders say Genesis isn't literal history and in doing so they undermine the foundation. No wonder such a large percent of church millennials don't defend marriage as for one man and woman. They no longer have a foundation to base their thinking on,” he added.
Two things came to mind when I read this.  First, the foundation to a house can be one of several different shapes.  It might be round (Conrad Hyers' understanding that the creation story's purpose is to establish the one true God by dispelling the pantheistic gods), or oblong (Walton's understanding that the creation story is a story of the ordering of the sacred space of the temple) or even square (Ken Ham's six-day literal reading of Genesis).  There are many different ways of reading these passages, most of which do not entail a literal understanding of them. 

The second thing that struck me is that, because we might not have a six-day understanding of our creation has little bearing on our understanding of marriage, since that is mentioned throughout the Bible. Paul waxes cogently about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 as well as other scattered places. 

Ham's statement that evolutionary creationists are compromising is, therefore, without merit and his contention that the Genesis account is literal history is fraught with controversy.  This is not the place for an examination of the deficiencies of the young earth model, theologically, but they exist and they are numerous.  Evolutionary creationists can rest assured that they are worshipping the One True God and have not compromised on their faith.

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