Ken Ham is the head of the world’s best known creationist organization, the one that built two religious theme parks in Kentucky – the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter. When he gets frustrated, it appears that his true self comes out.
He’s frustrated and what he had to say about me, about science and about education is fairly amazing.
The thing that set him off was fairly predictable. Earlier this week, I wrote an essay about Evolution Weekend 2017 – the annual opportunity for religious groups all over the world to come together to discuss the relationship between religion and science. Hundreds of congregations are doing just that and, through the support of its parent organization, The Clergy Letter Project, they are demonstrating their support for the teaching of evolution. They are also making it abundantly clear that the facts of evolution pose no threats to their religious beliefs.
Since this is the 12th Annual Evolution Weekend and since approximately one million people have participated in Evolution Weekend events, Ken has had numerous opportunities to get frustrated and act out. He’s taken most of them. But let’s focus only on his latest statements offered in response to my recent piece.
And even though what he wrote wasn’t very long, and there’s something to dissect in every paragraph, I will only address two of his main points: his definition of science; and his perspective on public education.
In a section headed “Do Creationists Promote ‘Alternative Facts’?” Ham categorically states, “Creationists don’t deny science—we love science!” He then goes no to explain what he does deny: “What we do deny is the naturalistic, evolutionary interpretation that many scientists impose on the evidence.”
That one sentence is the crux of the matter. Or even more to the point, Ham’s use of the word “naturalistic” should end the debate about the value of his “science.” Science, by definition, has to be “naturalistic.”
The methodology of science, a methodology that was created centuries ago, long before Darwin, is based on the concept of falsifiability – a requirement that for something to fall within the realm of scientific investigation it must be open to testing. The opposite of “naturalistic” is “super-naturalistic” and, again, by definition, the super-natural is not amenable to investigation by science. The super-natural, if it exists, is beyond the reach of science.
One more quick point about this. Scientists are methodological naturalists and that simply means that they understand that the methodology of science requires that they only investigate natural phenomena. But, even as they use science to better understand the natural world, not all scientists are philosophical naturalists, and that means that those scientists are comfortable with the belief that there might be something more than the natural world. The critical point here is that while science is dependent, fully and completely, on naturalistic explanations, science does not require an acceptance of philosophical naturalism.
When Ham proudly claims to refute naturalistic explanations, he fully refutes science. There is no science except for that based on naturalistic explanations.
Let me turn even more briefly to the claim about education Ham makes in his article. In a section entitled “Is Evolution Really Under Attack?” he argues that no such attack exists and that evolution “has been taught as fact for decades.”
Regardless of his claims, the reality of the situation is very different. First, numerous studies have repeatedly shown that evolution is given very short shrift in public school classrooms, mostly because teachers and administrators are nervous about the controversy it might create.
Second, the legislative attacks on the teaching of evolution continue unabated. A wonderful paper in Science magazine in 2015 by Nicholas Matzke detailed the changing nature of the creationists attacks on the teaching of evolution from 2004 to 2015. Beyond that, in January, 2017 alone, creationist bills have been introduced in three states: Indiana; Oklahoma; and South Dakota. Finally, as I recently wrote, the Texas State Board of Education just rejected the advice of an expert panel it charged and opted to continue to ensure that creationism can be taught to Texas public school students.
Where does all of this leave us? Ken Ham and his creationist organization have, by his own words, divorced themselves from science. He may “love” his version of science, but his version is not what is being practiced by real scientists all over the globe.
Similarly, simply saying that evolution isn’t under political attack by legislators doesn’t make it so. The facts prove otherwise.
But why would you expect anything different from someone who built a model ark in an attempt to demonstrate the reality of his view of the world. Consider just two points:
• The ark doesn’t have any animals on board! Instead, there’s a petting zoo alongside the ark and about 30 pairs of stuffed animals inside. Although Ham was quoted as claiming that Noah brought about 8,000 pairs of animals onto his ship, Ham's replica omits 99.63 percent of those animals. The New York Times offers an explanation by quoting Tim Chaffey, an Answers in Genesis employee. “[T]here will be only about 30 pairs of stuffed animals on the Ark Encounter because there just isn’t enough space. ‘We have to have dozens and dozens of bathrooms for visitors. Noah didn’t have to have that,’ Mr. Chaffey said.” I don’t think that the missing 7,970 pairs of animals would fit into the "dozens and dozens" of bathrooms on the ark; and
• The ark did make room for a pair of stuffed unicorns, according to a report by NPR.
Happy Evolution Weekend!