Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ken Ham: The Evolution of a Bully

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 of 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?   

* * * * * * * *

AIG prayed for my request :)
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".

* * * * * * * *

exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science
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. 


  1. Wow. Once again I am in awe of the depth and breadth of your research. Thank you, dear friend, for taking/making the time to investigate these things and share them with us. XO

  2. Sounds to me like you have swallowed the evil sandwich. You have disobeyed God by accepting and believing information whose source is found in secular, evil men and women. God said the secular world is deceived so why are you taking their words over God's?

    Ken Ham is not God nor is he perfect but you shouldn't disobey God and reject the truth because of he can't explain something to your satisfaction or makes mistakes.

    You have to answer this question for yourself: Where in the Bible do both God and Jesus give believers permission to take science over their word?

    1. No one knows what Paul & the unknown authors of the NT actually wrote because there are no extant copies from the 1st & 2nd centuries. We have copies of copies of copies of what the unknown copyists wrote down that later became the New Testament Canon. So it is hard to reject what no one actually knows. Those who practice the Christian faith today are not practicing what the followers of the historical Jesus did back in the 1st century. Actually, the Jewish Jesus of Nazareth would find the vast majority of Christian dogma to be repulsive and offensive to his God. Amazing what the facts of history reveal about the many different and often contradictory Christian beliefs. So take your faith-based ignorance and futile attempt to bully somewhere else. You will find that the light of knowledge illuminates the darkness of ignorance and you have no where to hide in the illumination of reason.

    2. Thats a terrible thing to say.
      We have gone beyond being a select group of ignorant, uneducated people from the levant. The world is far better understood, and we have far better access to real knowledge and information.
      If God really wanted to have his words believed over rational scientific method & its results, he should have done better job of communicating. Being all knowing & powerful, he should have seen it coming.

  3. Congratulations! I, too, have taken a similar journey, and no longer live under the tyranny of fundamentalism!

    To theologyarchaeology:

    The answer to your final question is a glorious, "No!" We don't have to answer your silly question, because we no longer live our lives according to an ancient middle eastern tribal mythology or the words of a first century apocalyptic rabbi.

  4. OH NO! I got to the end and I'm gutted!
    You don't have to throw Jesus out with Ken.
    Ken's a twit - anyone with even a vague idea of anything scientific knows that.
    But Jesus loves you and died for you.
    I'm so sorry that crazy creationists have wrecked your faith. If you're anywhere near Sydney please come to my church and you would be welcome to start again.
    I like dinosaurs also - and cosmology - and 13 billion light year old galaxies - and I love Jesus. It's not a contradiction :-)

    1. As somebody who went through what seems like precisely the same process, perhaps I can shed light on it.

      I always believed Truth matters. The bible says "the truth shall set you free", and "I am the way the TRUTH"etc.

      I always said I won't believe anything was truth without rational reason. I believed in Christianity, because I thought the infallibility of the Bible was proof of god.

      It isn't. And dismissing the creation account as metaphorical does not help the other problems with the bible, which are countless.

      And without the Bible, there is no other rational reason for me to believe in God. And trust me, it isn't for lack of knowledge. I have a 146 IQ, and I'm over a month into a drawn-out debate on with a guy that has a MA degree in Christian Apologetics, and I found it sadly easy to debunk every reason he brings.

      Burden of Proof says that claims without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence. We apply this principle nearly universally... In legal areas, scientific areas, in philosophical areas, and in claims we hear in daily life.

      There is no reason to exempt religious claims like "But Jesus loves you and died for you".

      Faith-based religions, like Christianity, are perfectly fine, as long as they stay faith-based. Be happy, and live your life how you choose.

      But when you start making Gnostic claims of knowledge, THEN you have a burden of proof, you cannot fulfill.

      And its those Gnostic Christians that are continually becoming extremists, or worse, effecting public policy.

      Did you know the Supreme court just ruled that if an Atheist at a Town Hall meeting doesn't like a Christian prayer, he/she can leave? What's next, our right to vote?

      What happened to separation of Church and state? People who admit their religion is faith-based, are far less likely to push it on others, so that's my goal. I don't care to convert anyone away from their religion, only to remind people it is faith, not evidence based.

  5. Their God made me an atheist. And who are they to question His plan?

  6. As a believer in Christ and a believer in the Word of God, It saddens my heart that you once knew the light but have turned away from it. If your intent of this blog was to turn believers away from Jesus Christ, the Word of God, or anything else that has to do with our foundation I'm pretty sure you failed. If you put this much time and effort into studying and finding your way back to Him you may have made some progress. Ken ham is not perfect he is human, but his teachings are true and logicial if you think about it. In a day and age where everyone and everything is turning as far away from Christianity as possible, He is a true light in this dark dark world. I pray for you because when you close your eyes for the very last time, where you go or what happens to you is not an "option" and there will be only 2 choices up or down. I truly hope your willing to bet eternity on you being right.

    1. "As a believer in Christ and a believer in the Word of God, It saddens my heart that you once knew the light but have turned away from it. If your intent of this blog was to turn believers away from Jesus Christ, the Word of God, or anything else that has to do with our foundation I'm pretty sure you failed.... [Ham's] teachings are true and logical if you think about it."

      A critical aspect of truth and truth-seeking is that the genuine truth-seeker has the responsibility to turn away from that which is known to be false. In terms of scientific terminology, there is the concept of falsification, which is that one you learn that an idea is wrong, then you abandon it and do further research.

      The problem with young earth creationists is precisely that they adamantly refuse to do this.

      In regard to Jeri's "intent" to be to turn people away from the religious doctrine of young earth creationism or from the broader religious beliefs which derive from the same principles of religious faith that lead to believing in religious doctrines (e.g., believing in ideas based on circular reasoning and without regard to having good real world evidence to back them up), Jeri doesn't need any such intent because you young earth creationists demonstrate these cognitive failures so well yourselves. Which is Jeri's point in the first place.

  7. The Book of Genesis is far more rational, logical and scientific than the theory of evolution:

    1. You are not qualified to say that, unless you are a scientist in the Earth and life fields.

      Only an incredibly fool would disagree with nearly 99.9% (literally) of experts in ANY field, when not themselves an expert.

  8. "Sensing that Christianity required abandoning their intellectual integrity..." Actually, believing in molecules-to-man evolution requires abandoning intellectual integrity. Information does not, cannot arise spontaneously out of matter or energy. DNA contains profoundly complex information which requires a Creator. Macro-evolution requires the continuous addition of new information to the gene pool. Where is that information supposed to have come from? It's an impossibility.

    1. Lori you have no clue how science are so wrong on everything you commented. DNA does not require a creator it only codes for chemicals which involves physics and mystery there. DNA has evolved over 3.8 billions years to nature complexity that you think has to be design....quite the opposite. Macro is the same as micro but over eons of info to the gene pool are you really serious? You don't know how molecular biology works and it shows....enjoy your sheer ignorance of science.

    2. Here is the issue. You are not an expert on the issue, therefore you don't have the ability to intelligently disagree with the consensus of experts.

      Nearly 99.9% (literally) of experts who have dedicated their lives to the earth and life sciences, support evolution.

      If you aren't a scientist yourself, its very, very, foolish to argue with that.

  9. Hi Jeri,

    Your story is unfortunately all too common. I, like you, was raised being taught youth earth creationism from people like Ken Ham, and I accepted it as fact.
    As my love for Astronomy and science grew with me into adulthood, I tried unsuccessfully to defend my faith in God because the scientific evidence thrown at me was (for the most part) sound. When my Geology lecturer spent the last hour for the Semester bashing the book of Genesis into rubble, I was shattered.
    I never gave up on God, though, so the only thing I could do at the time was search for answers.
    I went back to my Creation magazines, but all of sudden I could see that they were filled with nothing more than scientific opinions. There was not one shred of evidence presented to support their claims - on any subject! So I threw them all in the bin.
    The logic I used was: If Genesis 1:1 is true, and the Bible is the irrerant and inspired words of God himself, then he must also be the Creator of the Universe (the Scientist behind all the science).
    Then I went to our local Christian bookstore... I saw all the young earth materials for sale on several shelves, and then I saw it: a book written by a PhD Astro-Physicist who is also an Evangelical Pastor, namely Dr Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe.
    The book was called "The Creator and the Cosmos", and I read it faster than any other book I had ever read.
    Not only was the book filled with scientific evidence, but he quoted bible passage after bible passage (hundreds of them!) revealing how the Bible accurately described the characteristics of the universe, and had predictive power as well.
    When the internet became accessible, I went to and read countless more information concerning science and faith. It was an awesome experience! My faith was not only restored, but stronger than ever.

    Dr Hugh Ross' most impressive attribute is his demeanour. He never says anything hurtful, judgmental, ad-hominem, or patronising about or to anyone.
    He presents his reasons to believe and encourages you to make up your own mind.

    Jeri, I would encourage you to check out his website. It is loaded with great information. He is an old earth creationist.

    BTW: He is Ken Ham's #1 enemy within the church. Hugh is constantly called a "compromiser", and he's even told Hugh that he worships a different God than Ken does... nasty stuff. I personally believe that Ken Ham is deceitful, spiteful, hateful, and the biggest compromiser who calls himself a Christian. I can't abide his demeanour.

    1. I really loved Francis Collins' book "The Language of God". It helped me immensely and I often recommend it to my Christian friends. The BioLogos website is pretty cool, too. It's just the "creator" thing that I don't get anymore. My faith melted for a lot of reasons. This is just one of them.