Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Joel Edmund Anderson: The Heresy of Ham

In my convalescence, I finished Joel Edmund Anderson's The Heresy of Ham: What Every Evangelical Needs to Know About the Creation-Evolution Controversy.

The book is a work of passion, borne out of exhaustive examination of Answers in Genesis and some terrible treatment by fellow “Christians” who hew only to the young earth model and cannot see beyond that. The book covers the early church and how the church fathers saw the collected works that became the Bible and how it addressed the numerous heresies that arose in the first two centuries after Christ. Then it works directly into how the Reformation altered the understanding of the early church and the theological chaos that followed. He finishes up with how young earth creationism, as practiced by Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis is heresy. This is laid out succintly here:
The heresy of Ham that is actively “subverting, destabilizing, and destroying” the core of the Christian faith is the claim that a modern, scientific interpretation of Genesis 1-11 as literal history is fundamental prerequisite for the trustworthiness of the Gospel of Christ. It is the claim that if the universe is not 6,000 years old, if there was no historical Adam and Eve, and if there was no worldwide flood 4,000 years ago, then that would make God a liar, that would mean there is no such thing as sin, and that would mean Christ died for nothing. Such a message is heresy, and that message has subverted, destabilized, and destroyed the Christian faith of many people, has destroyed careers, and unfortunately, has taken root within a significant portion of Evangelical Christianity.
Along the way, he quotes liberally from the writings of the Hammish one, himself, who clearly has no idea how science is actually practiced.  One point that he makes, though, that is quite interesting is that, when comparing Ham to enlightenment thinkers who sought to divest the bible from the practice of science, he notes that Ham is, in fact, no different.  For example:
In an ironic twist of fate, we find that Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins are both thorough Enlightenment thinkers who share the same fundamental worldview. Both have determined that the physical sciences are the ultimate determiner of truth and reality, and the trustworthiness of the Bible is dependent on whether or not Genesis 1-11 is scientifically accurate. Such thinking actually turns the medieval notion of theology being the “queen of the sciences” on its head.
He is quite correct about this. If we are to take the Primeval History as scientifically accurate, and it is the foundation of our faith, then it MUST reflect reality.  The two are inextricably linked: if we find holes in the scientific accuracy of the PH, then our faith crumbles.  It can do nothing else.  If, on the other hand, we view parts of the PH as non-literal, then science and faith can be decoupled, a position that Ken Ham is unwilling to take.  Yet, if we decouple them, then faith thrives and scientific discourse retains its integrity.  Otherwise, we have what Michael Dowd calls “Flat Earth Religion.” It is not capable of growing theologically or spiritually and it is always on the defensive, always fending off attacks from mainstream science.  Young Earth creationism cannot grow spiritually because it is eternally tied to how it understands physical reality.  That is ironic, indeed.

This, to me, is the central heresy in not just Ken Ham's understanding of reality but in young earth creationism, in general: that is it tied to physical reality and that our understanding of who God is, is tied to this reality.  It deprecates the spiritual realm in favor of what is tangible and observable.  In some senses, young earth creationists argue that the physical world is all there is and that the PH reflects this physical world.  So much for faith.

He ends his book with a clarion call in the last chapter:
Many sincere Evangelical Christians today are desperately trying to “get back to the early Church,” thinking for some reason that back then things were just perfect. “If only we could get back the to the early Church,” some think, “then we would be the kind of Church Christ wants!” As well-intentioned as that kind of thinking may be, the fact is, it is entirely misguided. Our challenge as Christians today isn’t to “get back to the early Church.” Rather, it is to take the creedal [sic] fundamentals of the Christian faith—the Capital-T Tradition that defines the Church and that articulates what Christians have always believed—and translate that Living Tradition to our world today, and thus let the transforming power of the Holy Spirit work through the Church, which is the Body of Christ, continue to redeem, not just individual people, but communities, societies, and ultimately the world.
P.S. A caveat to the book: I would ordinarily give it five stars because of the content but, as I noted above, it was clearly written in passion and frustration.  As a result, it is written in a very colloquial, almost conversational style.  The advantage to this is that you feel the frustration that he feels.  The disadvantage is that the prose is, often, repetitive and he sometimes makes assertions that are not directly or completely sourced, and the reader has to go elsewhere to determine their veracity.  From an academic perspective, this is annoying.

I enjoyed this book, despite the slight misgivings above and, if you, like me, have always wondered whether or not young earth creationism borders on heresy, this might answer the question for you.  


  1. Anonymous8:17 PM

    Jim, that's really interesting. I'm reading John Walton's books, and the depth of meaning he finds in Gen. 1-3 is in stark contrast to the one-dimensional physical-only meaning YEC finds. Perhaps heresy isn't a bad term for it! Best wishes and prayers for your rapid recovery! Darryl B.

  2. That's interesting. I am starting Walton' first book in the series next. It should come as no surprise that Ken Ham has condemned him as well.

  3. Going back and rereading this post, it occurs to me that it is probably best not to write when I have pain killers in my system, or at least to proofread a bit better.

  4. Hey, I came across your book review...thanks for the plug! If I can add one thing, I found your criticism actually a good thing--I wrote the book to purposely be rather non-academic in its language. I was hoping that your average Christian in the pew, without much knowledge of this issue, would be able to pick the book up and read it with very little problem.

    Thanks again!

  5. Quite happy to plug the book. I did thoroughly enjoy it and think that it is very timely. I fear, however, that the people who need to read it will not.