Fawning Over Ham
It seems like every couple of months the LA Times discovers there are young-Earth creationists out there. And every time they make this discovery they feel compelled to write bemused but respectful articles about them.
Here's their latest foray into this genre. The subject is Answers in Gensis front man Ken Ham:
Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With dinosaur puppets and silly cartoons, he was training them to reject much of geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.
“Boys and girls,” Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, “you put your hand up and you say, 'Excuse me, were you there?' Can you remember that?”
The children roared their assent.
“Sometimes people will answer, 'No, but you weren't there either,'” Ham told them. “Then you say, 'No, I wasn't, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.'” He waved his Bible in the air.
“Who's the only one who's always been there?” Ham asked.
“God!” the boys and girls shouted.
“Who's the only one who knows everything?”
“So who should you always trust, God or the scientists?”
The children answered with a thundering: “God!”
For some reason this reminds me of a scene near the end of the movie Firestarter. Drew Barrymore plays an eight-year old with the power to start fires with her mind. She and her father (who has some gnarly superpowers of his own) are captured by some obscure, and thoroughly evil, government organization that wants to use her as a weapon. One especially evil fellow, played by George C. Scott, poses as a janitor and manages, via a series of cleverly planned subterfuges, to win Barrymore's trust. He then uses that trust to manipulate her into cooperating with the government types.
One thing leads to another and Barrymore's father, played by David Keith, contrives a clever escape plan that culminates with Barrymore and Keith touchingly reunited in a barn. It looks like they're going to get away with it. But then Barrymore casually mentions that her friend the janitor wants to come with them. Keith's face melts in horror since he knows, I forget how, that the janitor is one of the bad guys. He realizes that Barrymore has told Scott about their plan.
Scott is concealed behind some bales of hey on the second floor of the barn. Keith turns, his horror turning to anger, and yells something like, “Congratulations! You managed to fool an eight-year old. You proud of yourself?”
That's all Ham is doing. He's shamelessly fooling children. And the Times' editors believe that such a man deserves respectful coverage in a major article.
Don't expect the Times to make it clear that everything Ham says is nonsense. Certainly not. They're too busy being bemused and above it all:
In two 90-minute workshops for children, Ham adopted a much lighter tone, mocking scientists who think birds evolved from dinosaurs (“if that were true, I'd be worried about my Thanksgiving turkey!”).
He showed the children a photo of a fossilized hat found in a mine to prove it doesn't take millions of years to create ancient-looking artifacts. He pointed out cave drawings of a creature resembling a brachiosaur to make the case that man lived alongside dinosaurs after God created all the land animals on Day 6.
In a bit that brought the house down, Ham flashed a picture of a chimpanzee. “Did your grandfather look like this?” he demanded.
“Noooooo!” the children called.
“And did your grandmother look like that?” Ham displayed a photo of the same chimp wearing lipstick. The children erupted in giggles. “Noooooo!”
“We are not just an animal,” Ham said. He had the children repeat that, their small voices rising in unison: “We are not just an animal. We are made in the image of God.”
The children have an excuse. They don't know any better. But how is it possible that there are adults in this country unable to see how mind-numbingly stupid that is?
The article does, inadvertently, manage to get at something important:
As the session ended, Nicole Ableson, 34, rounded up her four young children. “This shows your kids that there are other people who are out there who believe what you believe, and who have done the research,” she said. “So they don't think 'This is just my parents believing in fairy tales.' ”
I've made precisely this point myself. For the rank and file creationists, the service offered by people like Ham has nothing to do with providing scientific information. Do you think for one second that Ableson really cares about paleontology or genetics?
These people know they believe the Biblical account, but they also understand that they don't really know anything about science. So here come people like Ham to give slick, polished performances with the right balance of jargon and folksiness to sound both scientific and approachable at the same time. What service does Ham provide? He allows people like Ableson to be content in their ignorance, confident that there are people smarter and more knowledgable than they who share their beliefs.
I'll close with one more quote:
Emily Maynard, 12, was also delighted with Ham's presentation. Home-schooled and voraciously curious, she had recently read an encyclopedia for fun — and caught herself almost believing the entry on evolution. “They were explaining about apes standing up, evolving to man, and I could kind of see that's how it could happen,” she said.
Ham convinced her otherwise. As her mother beamed, Emily repeated Ham's mantra: “The Bible is the history book of the universe.”
Caught herself almost believing the entry on evolution. Charming.