Monday, May 16, 2011

2011 CHAP Convention -- Ken Ham

Smoked ham, not Ken Ham
On May 13th and 14th, I attended the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP) annual convention in Harrisburg, PA. Held in the sprawling Harrisburg Farm Show Complex, the CHAP Convention attracts thousands of Christian homeschooler families from across Pennsylvania, as well as prominent Religious Right organizations and speakers. This year's line-up of speakers included Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis, Doug Phillips from Vision Forum, Phillip Telfer from Media Talk 101, and many more.

A homeschooling convention offers a unique opportunity to learn about fundamentalist Christian thought, given that it focuses on presenting distilled, basic ideas about fundamentalism to the next generation. Let's start with some of Ken Ham's workshops, which addressed everything from creationism to deconversion among youth. Ham, founder of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, briefly appeared in Bill Maher's 2008 film Religulous.

In a Friday morning workshop entitled "Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It," Ham addressed widespread deconversion among formerly Christian youth (a topic addressed in his 2009 book Already Gone.)

Ham lamented that two-thirds of youth will reportedly leave the Christian faith by college age, warning listeners that it only requires the loss of one generation to lose a culture. Pointing to decreasing church attendance and church closures in Europe, Ham claimed that where the UK and Europe are today, the U.S. will be tomorrow if Christians fail to act. Because most churches, youth groups, homeschoolers, and other youth-oriented programs do not teach apologetics to young people, the next generation of Christians is not being equipped to defend the faith, he insisted. Given that some Sunday schools encourage doubt among young people, youth who attended Sunday school are more likely to defend abortion, same-sex marriage, and premarital sex, Ham claimed disapprovingly.

Celebrating the U.S. as the greatest Christianized nation on the planet, Ham claimed that the U.S. contains the largest number of churches, Christian colleges, and Christian media outlets. However, when he asked the audience if the U.S. was becoming more or less Christian, most audience members responded "less." Ham complained that "moral relativism" was allegedly infecting U.S. culture, noting disapprovingly that America is no longer a nation that trusts one God, but a religiously heterogeneous nation that trusts many gods.

Because this cultural change has occurred in government, courts, schools, and churches, the church has a far weaker hold on U.S. culture, he asserted. Ham was particularly unhappy with public schools, which he accused of being against Christ because they are not for Christ. Likewise, he lambasted textbooks which claim that humans can explain reality without God through natural processes, a position he equated with atheism. Youth are being taught apologetics for defending these non-Christian ideologies, he told the audience, while religious communities are failing to teach young people apologetics for their faith. In the face of such thinking, Ham set up a false dichotomy by claiming that there are only two religions in the world: God's religion, and the idea that humans determine truth.

Ham emphasized the importance of a literal, inerrant interpretation of the Biblical creation story in Genesis 1-11. He disapproved of Christian parents telling their children that it was acceptable to believe in evolution and the Big Bang, emphasizing that such ideas aren't what God teaches in Genesis 1-11. "Are you saying God got it wrong?" he asked rhetorically.

If the authority of earlier parts of the Bible is undermined, Ham argued, Jesus' authority is undermined, given that Jesus authority is supposedly grounded in the rest of the Bible. Ideas about heterosexual marriage, sin, death, and Jesus' sacrifice on the cross all have roots in Genesis 1-11, making inerrant belief in them seminal to Christian faith. Thus, teaching young people apologetics for defending Genesis 1-11 was paramount for solidifying their faith, he concluded.

Throughout the workshop, images and phrases appeared on a screen next to Ham, but the final image made me chuckle: a castle labeled "God's word" firing cannons at the burning, collapsing remains of another castle labeled "man's word." Floating above the "man's word" castle were large balloons with labels such as "gay marriage" and "euthanasia", being popped by cannon fire from the "God's word" castle.

I found it interesting that Ham did not discuss the reasons behind youth deconversions, content with the assumption that teaching young people apologetics would stem the tide of deconversions. Wouldn't it be more fruitful to discuss the reasons behind these deconversions, rather than assuming that anemic Christian education is the culprit?

Furthermore, Ham's talk revealed his distaste for American pluralism, a trait he shares with other fundamentalist Christians. The reality of pluralistic society, in which fundamentalist Christianity is not the dominant ideology and faiths must compete in the marketplace of ideas, is a thorn in the side of right-wing fundamentalists. Discomfort with this reality and the ideas it brings with it -- LGBT equality, religious diversity, evolution, secularism, etc. -- appear to fuel the engines of many fundamentalists.

On Friday afternoon, Ham headed another workshop entitled "Answers for the Most-Asked Questions about Creation, Evolution and Genesis". Intended to address some of the most frequently-asked questions about the Genesis 1-11, the workshop offered another glimpse into Ham's ideology.

The first question Ham addressed was whether or not evidence confirmed the existence of an infinite God. In response, Ham argued that stable laws of nature were evidence against a random universe. Ham also pointed to DNA as evidence for an intelligent creator, comparing DNA to a code for building a human. Because DNA is a patterned code rather than a random arrangement of molecules, it suggests an intelligent creator, he argued. One cannot say that matter gave rise to life, he insisted, because this would indicate that matter gave rise to information systems. Thus, he concluded, evolution is impossible because life could not have arisen by itself from matter.

I found these arguments less that convincing. Assuming for arguments sake that order in the universe suggests an intelligent creator, why would it necessarily provide evidence for Ham's Biblical deity? Such order says little about the number of intelligent designers at work in the universe, or the nature of the god(s)' participation in the creative process. A deity or deities could directly create life, or simply set mechanisms in motion that allow life to come about (the "watchmaker" concept of God), the latter of which would allow for evolution.

Ham's arguments also fail to fully answer the problem of infinite regression (that is, who created the creator), a subject he discussed in his talk. Ham shared an anecdote of a boy who asked him who made God, to which Ham replied that the only thing that solves the problem of infinite regression is an infinite, timeless creator God. I did not feel that this was a satisfactory answer -- rather, he simply used God as a stopgap and moved on.

The second question Ham addressed was whether or not the six days of creation described in Genesis were literal days. Ham replied that the Hebrew word for "day" (yom) is used prolifically in the Old Testament, but can also be used to describe a literal Earth day. He scoffed at critics who insisted that creation was spread out over millions of years by making "day" a relative term in Genesis. Additionally, he sneered at people who use 2 Peter 3:8 -- which claims that a day is like a thousand years to God -- to justify this position. 2 Peter 3:8 was intended to show that God exists outside of time, he claimed, and has nothing to do with the definition of "day" in the Genesis creation account.

This argument, too, left me cold. The entire argument was based on the assumption that the Genesis account of creation is factually accurate, failing to demonstrate if and why it was accurate.

The third question Ham discussed was whether or not Christians can believe in millions of years. Ham accused materialists and atheists came up with the idea that fossils were laid down over millions of years in order to invalidate the story of Noah's ark. God's word is the only infallible dating method (!), he told listeners.

Moreover, Ham insisted that if one believes that death and destruction have been taking place in nature over millions of years, one must therefore believe that God created the world that way as "good". One cannot have millions of years of death before the arrival of sin, since death came after sin. Either God's word is infallible, or dating methods for the age of the Earth are fallible, he insisted.

Again, Ham automatically assumed that the Biblical creation account was factually correct, using this as the foundation for all of his other arguments. By failing to demonstrate why and how the Biblical account was accurate, and therefore by putting the cart before the horse, he constructed a weak argument.

Finally, Ham addressed the question of where Cain found a wife. Ham pointed to Genesis 5:4, which indicated that Adam had sons and daughters, deducing that Cain must have married one of his sisters. This was not abominable at the time, he argued, as incest would not be banned until later in the Bible.

Insisting that God does not change, but rather he changes the rules to accommodate for the effects of sin, Ham tried to explain the emergence of the Biblical incest ban via genetics. The human genetic code was sound before the fall, he claimed, but mutations emerged as a result of sin after the fall. As mistakes accumulated in the human genome, incest was forbidden as a means by which to prevent similar mutations among relatives from accumulating in bloodlines.

These arguments left me shaking my head. First, mutations are simply changes that come about in a creature's genomic sequence, not necessarily mistakes, and their effects can be positive, neutral, or negative for the creature. Second, as usual, the argument assumes that the stories of Genesis are literally true, without first demonstrating their veracity.

Many of Ham's answers rested upon a literal, inerrant interpretation of scripture, which would have resonated with fundamentalist attendees at the convention but struck me as alien. By setting up a self-contained belief system that presupposes the literal truth of scripture, these arguments left little room for outside evidence.

To learn more about the 2011 CHAP convention, click here. To read a post on Doug Phillips' workshops at 2011 CHAP, click here and here. To read concluding thoughts about the convention, click here.


  1. Well, as usual, I'm throwing up a little in my mouth, as I assume you were too. I love how Jesus is heavily rooted in Genesis 1. That given,launch into craziness!

  2. Donna -- CHAP was definitely ... interesting. Fortunately, I seem to be developing a tolerance to these sorts of events.

  3. Wouldn't it be more fruitful to discuss the reasons behind these deconversions, rather than assuming that anemic Christian education is the culprit?

    Uh, that would constitute looking at evidence and drawing a conclusion from it, and his entire talk demonstrates that he doesn't do that. He simply assumes whatever conclusion he wants, and declares any evidence to the contrary invalid because it doesn't support the conclusion.

    This is actually encouraging since it implies that religionists' efforts to stop the secularization of the next generation will be ineffective -- because those efforts will not be informed by any realistic understanding of the process they're opposing.

  4. Infidel753 -- A hopeful thought that gives me something to be glad about!

  5. I pointed out on facebook that if one believes Adam was a literal human, they have to believe Genesis ch 1 is wrong, since the two creation accounts have mutually exclusive orders of creation. Someone pointed out that Paul's justification of Jesus' death rely on Adam and original sin. They use Paul to prove Genesis 2, ignoring Mark, Matthew and Luke and Genesis 1. But could they see the illogic of it? No, because they were too emotionally invested in Paul and Genesis 2.

  6. Wow! The mental gymnastics must be exhausting.

    With all the effort he puts into explaining the literal insanity of the Bible, one would think he might pick up a scholarly tome on his sacred scripture's origins. It would open up a whole new world where he could create even more fictional facts with abandon.

  7. Cognitive Dissenter -- If you think Ham was wild, wait until I post on Doug Phillips.

  8. Prairienymph -- Some people are just adamant about a particular theological position, and they're impossible to budge.

  9. I think all home schooling is abusive, regardless of whether or not religion is involved. Children need to be exposed to people from different backgrounds and points of view.

  10. Libhom -- I look askance at homeschooling when it is used to indoctrinate children into a narrow fundamentalist worldview. I definitely agree that children need to be exposed to different ideas and points of view.


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