Young Earth, Young People, and Abandoned Faith

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on July 10, 2013 with the title, “Ken Ham, Young Earth Creationism, Young People Abandoning Their Faith: My Daughter’s Story.”

This story pains me.  It’s a personal one.

Parenting is very challenging. Homeschooling children has also been a challenge. When we began homeschooling our children, we chose to do so for a number of reasons.  We wanted to have better oversight over the curricula our children were taught because we wanted to give them a solid Christian foundation.

As typical Christian parents, we did not want them to have “worldly” influences. We got support at homeschool conventions, conferences. I spent time on the internet in e-mail groups, message boards, etc, and got support and information there. In the Christian homeschooling arena, Creationism was taught in the science curricula. Evolution was labeled as evil and we needed to protect our children from those false ideas.

Ken Ham spoke on the homeschooling circuit and we went to his seminars.  Others echoed his ideas and if you were a Christian homeschooler, you very likely taught your children Young Earth Creationism (YEC), as this was the primary science taught in the available Christian homeschooling texts – at least that I saw in my circles.

Science has never been my “thang.”  I don’t need to know the process of how we got here. The Bible told me how we got here.  I believed what it said and that settled the issue for me.   I didn’t need to discuss it further.

My husband, however, is an engineer.  He is very interested in knowing the process of things. I can’t imagine him not wanting to know how things work.  Engineers live and breathe processes.

Teaching creationism was a perfect fit for my husband.  He took the kids to creationism seminars over the years, bought quite a few creationist books about dinosaurs and the origins of the earth, and the kids soaked it up.  I found our eldest daughter devouring the books just for fun. She was sold. It was a foundational issue for faith, just like Ken Ham always said.

Here is a quotation by Ken Ham to students at Bob Jones University:

 “The majority of Christian colleges in this nation won’t take a stand on a literal Genesis, as you do here at Bob Jones University,” he said. And that compromise, according to Mr. Ham, is the very reason that some Christian young people are abandoning their faith. He said, “We have increasing numbers of people who have been led to doubt the history in the Bible, and so they don’t believe the Gospel based on that history.”

A couple of months ago, my older kids and I were at a restaurant and Hannah, 26 yrs old, shared with me a pivotal experience.  I hadn’t heard this story before.  Remember, science bores me.  When she talked this time about science, I was not bored.  I listened with great sadness and also understanding.  It made sense to me.  I asked Hannah if she would share her story here and she agreed.

I do not agree with Ken Ham anymore.  I hope my daughter’s story will open your eyes to another side of the story which Mr. Ham would not dare to admit.  His intentions may be good in holding so strongly to the YEC teachings, but we cannot dismiss that his ministry and possibly livelihood depend upon it.

I don’t care if people believe in Young Earth Creation or not.  To me, it is not a salvation issue or gospel issue.  But the YEC-only way of believing did not work for my daughter, it backfired. I think it’s important to take a closer look at this issue.  Hannah’s story follows.

*****

My Experience with Young Earth Creationism

by Hannah Smith

While on a break between classes at the local community college, a previous homeschooled friend I knew from church and I were sitting at a table chatting in the main lobby. I honestly have no idea how the subject came up, but we were talking about YEC and evidences for it. I was trying to explain Carbon-14 dating (it’s not the easiest thing to break down off-the-cuff, but I was pretty sure I knew the very basic fundamentals of it in order to have it make sense to her.

As I was trying to explain it, one of my classmates overheard our conversation and came over and joined the conversation. He very efficiently sliced-and-diced my YEC “points” and “evidence”, but since I felt I hadn’t brushed up on the subject in a year or two, I’d investigate it more in the light of the contradictions he’d brought to surface. I wanted to see if I could do more in-depth research on the topic and figure out if and how much of what he was saying could be verified and where the disconnect between our two viewpoints occurred.

So after I went home, I dug up our trusty creationism-is-true-sort-of books commonly found in good Bible-Believing Homeschooling YEC family’s libraries. After reading the articles and chapters, I did what my father always said to do and “checked the source” – probably more to see if there were books completely dedicated to the topic of Carbon-14 dating that I could look up in the local library.

Flipping to the end of the book with the citations I was shocked that pretty much all of the sources for their proof was from other Christian YEC-believing books. So I quickly determined that they were just quoting what other people who believed similarly where saying, rather than going to scientific journals and scholarly articles written by secular authors and scientists. For example, take a look at the following excerpt taken from an article at Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis site (Doesn’t Carbon Dating Disprove the Bible?):

In 1997 an eight-year research project was started to investigate the age of the earth. The group was called the RATE group (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth). The team of scientists included:

    • Larry Vardiman, PhD Atmospheric Science
    • Russell Humphreys, PhD Physics
    • Eugene Chaffin, PhD Physics
    • John Baumgardner, PhD Geophysics
    • Donald DeYoung, PhD Physics
    • Steven Austin, PhD Geology
    • Andrew Snelling, PhD Geology
    • Steven Boyd, PhD Hebraic and Cognate Studies

That looks very impressive – every single person, a PhD. But they probably all have a vested interest in this – 3 of those 8 people have written books advocating YEC and you can find that information one simple mouse-click away from the article.

Look at the sources quoted at the end of the article – they go back to other Christian Scientists with published books on the subject (the scientists above) – unless they are quoting the opposing viewpoints for comparison.

I found this info out in about 1 minute while I was writing the first paragraph above, about the same amount of time it took me five and half years ago, when this originally occurred. This kind of circular reasoning raised (and honestly still raises) major red-flags for me from a logical and scientific standpoint. If they can’t find outside sources, how does them quoting from their friends make it true?

This was the starting point of me doubting my faith. I never recovered from it.

14 comments

  • I’ve read quite a few stories of de-conversion.and for many people, once the creationism idea falls, the rest falls like a house of cards. If I’ve been lied to about that,what else have I been lied to about.

    None of the major religions question the latest scientific discoveries about the origins of the earth. The catholic church has gone on record as saying that the story of creation is just that. If I were designing a religion from the ground up, I would never include beliefs that are so easily dis proven. The Catholic church has been in business for long enough to know that clinging to beliefs that are unscientific is not a good strategy of long term growth.

  • I am a home school mom that loves science. I am also a YEC. I am now 41 years old. I have gone back and forth and round and round on this issue. I attended public school my whole life. I attended 1 year of Bible college, but did not take science. I teach my kids from YEC books – mostly not Ken Hamm – but some. I talk about evolution and creationism. I will discuss it with my children and they can decide. There is a lot of reasons one would be a YEC. There are lots of reasons to turn from God or from homeschooling or whatever.

    Thanks for sharing this. I want my children to be well prepared to think through, study and speak about what they believe. I am proud of you that you searched out what you were learning.I encourage you to continue to so so. As I said I love science. Learning of how things work and the world is completely amazing.

    • You say that there are a lot of reasons to believe YEC. I can only think of one reason. The bible is a series of stories written by different men over a period starting at least two millennia ago. These men were the thinkers of their time. They speculated about unknowns, including the origins of man, given limited information available at the time. This was before much of what we now know about geology, physics, biology and astronomy etc. was known.

      Unlike many other religions, and other Christian sects, fundamentalist Christians treat the bible as, not a book of stories, but something that is literally true and has no errors or contradictions. YEC has, beyond any doubt, been proven impossible.This creates a cognitive dissonance for fundamentalist Christians because everything in the Bible has to be literally true. There are Christian apologists like there are Mormon apologists. Mormon apologists work hard to refute any questions about Joseph Smith finding the gold tablets and sticking his head in his hat and translating, what turned out to be funeral documents,

      I can’t think of any other reason to believe in YEC other than a desire to rationalize a belief that an ancient book that is a hodge podge of stories written by different people at different times, is 100% literally true.

  • Good for you, Coco Mama. I am glad you are allowing your children to see alternate views so they can investigate for themselves as well. Belief in YEC is not necessary to be a Christian as some would like us to believe.

  • Julie Anne, you don’t even have to believe in that old pagan myth of resurrection. (Yes, it’s originally a pagan story, used by Paul to more easily rope pagans into his new faith, Christianity.) According to your New Testament, the man Jesus of Nazareth instructed his followers to give their belongings to the poor and follow him. He equated himself with the “least among” his followers, thus warning them to be kind to the poor. He also instructed his followers to live by the Golden Rule. Take out Paul’s resurrection myth, and Jesus can be viewed as a simple itinerant teacher ahead of his time on many subjects (not all; he accepted slavery, for example). Remember, unlike our post-Enlightenment 21st Century, Jesus was as ignorant of scientific reality as everyone else in the Bronze Age.

    • Oh! OK! You sound like a smart person, guess I’ll take your word for it!

      • I’m assuming by the sarcastic tone of your comment that you don’t agree with something Lois said. What is it about Lois’s comment that you don’t agree with it.

  • It’s not exactly a matter of disagreement–I have no objection to people stating opinions I disagree with. It’s more the tone of the comment, which (at least in the first couple sentences) appears to presume to be informing the reader of something they didn’t know before and are expected to accept. To state a highly debatable opinion as fact without backing it up with evidence is to presume that one’s word will be accepted as authoritative. (Her later phrasing, “can be viewed…” is much more appropriate and courteous.) It’s considered highly offensive when Christians do it, and rightly so. (Or, similarly, when Christians back up their arguments only with Bible verses, as though expecting non-Christian listeners to accept the Bible as authoritative.) I think that standard should apply to others as well.

    • That wasn’t an opinion. It was a statement of fact. It is a fact that many of the so called “pagan” religions present in the Roman empire during the first century CE included resurrection myths. Some included a remarkable number of similarities to the Christian resurrection myth, particularly the cult of Mythra’s beliefs which shared a great deal with the Christian myths. That Paul was the source of the use of those myths in christianity is something I have not done enough research regarding to know whether it is in the area of speculation or fact, but those are the options. Either it is a speculation about an unknown fact (did he or did he not do it) or it is a statement of a known fact. In absolutely no manner did Lois Manning state an opinion.

      • Oh! OK!

        …There are people out there debating whether a historical person by the name of Jesus of Nazareth *even existed or not*, and you think that with a little more research you might be able to ascertain whose idea his resurrection was with enough certainty to qualify as “fact”?

        It seems pretty weird, to be honest (presuming you do believe Jesus existed and taught, etc) to finger Paul for starting the story at all. Why him? He was a latecomer. If the story was made up, it makes more sense to assume the people at the scene, the original disciples, did it; if not, you’ve got this latecomer initiating and spreading this story that all the leaders (and presumably all the converts up to that point) in the city where the movement started knew was a lie. Lots of eyewitnesses to the contrary. You can suborn some of the people some of the time, but attempting to suborn all of them would be messy. Very messy, and not calculated to catch on nearly as universally as it would have needed to. In all likelihood it would have split the movement and you really WOULD have Christianity and Paulianity.

        That’s an opinion, if you like: my synthesis from historical testimony using my logic and experience of human nature. (Well, and at the end there that’s a speculation.) If I were a scholar and could do it better with massive footnotes citing primary sources, it would still be an opinion, if a much more quotable and trustworthy one. What it would not be, even then, is a fact. Not because I’m wrong (though I could be–this is how opinion works, and it would be good to acknowledge this, folks) but because these are not matters where theories are testable or provable. They are matters of testimony, and the witnesses can’t even be cross-examined.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    This kind of circular reasoning raised (and honestly still raises) major red-flags for me from a logical and scientific standpoint. If they can’t find outside sources, how does them quoting from their friends make it true?

    Hannah, this is called “The Larry-Moe-Curly School of Documentation”:
    1) Larry cites Moe as a source.
    2) Moe cites Curly as a source.
    3) Curly cites Larry as a source.
    4) NYUK! NYUK! NYUK!
    You find this all the time in Conspiracy Theory and various Fringe Phenomena/Fringe Beliefs.

  • I’m a former homeschooling mother and also worked on my masters in microbiology. My comment is directed at Julie-Ann and Heather.
    What I want to mention is that as homeschoolers, in the movement over the past 10 years, there has been a teaching that tells moms that we have to teach YEC as a foundation to our children’s faith. So we buy all the books, get CD’s, and teach it as foundational to our faith. The problem is that the bible does not teach that at all. Where do we hear Paul telling the churches to teach this? I believe the problem for Heather is that her foundation was not built on the rock, as Paul tells us, but on shaky ground…a scientific foundation that appeals to our intellect. (Not that I claim to know Heather’s background, only that this article points to that, I’m sure there is much more at play here, I’m only addressing this article)
    In fact Paul warns Timothy to stay away from any such debates in 1 Tim 6. Learning about science findings that contradict the norm of evolution is fascinating…but isn’t our foundation.

    There is another problem that I see here. The argument that scientists in YEC books only quote each other. Well, from a strictly science point of view, that is not unusual at all. When I would research soil antibiotic transfer, I looked up and quoted scientists that supported my theory. It’s not always great science, but it’s how it’s done. Now as a once scientist, I believe there is sufficient data to question evolution. So I enjoy hearing the evidence for YEC. Remember that the belief that the earth was flat was once the accepted position of science. Every scientist believed this at one time, and any scientist that did not was not accepted as a serious scientist. Keep in mind that only one was credited for disproving it. And whether he quoted others who supported him or not was irrelevant. I once worked for a scientist who opposed evolution, she was not religious, she just did not agree with the theory, but she let me know that it was unacceptable for her to discuss it, write about it, or debate it. Otherwise she would have difficulty getting published.
    If you write research about a topic that only 20 other scientist are looking into, you can only really quote from them, and maybe a few others, but your choices are limited. This is not a faith issue, this is a science community problem.
    I thought this might help Heather put her experience into perspective. Remember that Paul wrote that we know in part only. Scientists know in part only no matter what side they are on. And they usually are on one side or the other. Unfortunately there are politics at play here…and to get published, you have to play by their rules. To deviate from it means you have to make your own science community from which to draw most of your research that supports you. Science is filled with flaws. That is why it cannot be a foundational issue of faith. I lived it, saw it, and was disappointed by it. Then fell for the idea that YEC must be my kids’ foundation…but that was wrong too. Science is just that…science. If you have faith, your foundation must be much stronger!

  • Patricia, thanks for your comments. I agree with both of your major points – first, yes I think it’s absolutely a mistake to make the YEC position foundational to anyone’s faith. Scientists who accept the YEC position based on their interpretation of Genesis may make observations, form hypotheses, design experiments, make predictions, record results and write papers from that perspective. And they may present explanations for the data which seem compelling or not. And they may make mistakes, and some of their hypotheses may be proven conclusively wrong or strengthened by later observations. Such is the nature of science for all scientists, regardless of their religious or other beliefs or assumptions prior to doing science in a particular area. We shouldn’t make our faith dependent on a scientific explanation regardless of who offers it. And YEC scientists are in the same boat as any other scientists in that regard. Some of them have done some good science in their area, written some good papers. As have thousands of scientists who would never give any credence to the overall YEC hypothesis. Also, some YEC-accepting or rejecting scientists have put forward many hypotheses that have been overcome by later contradictory data. None of that good or bad work in science directly bears on the acceptence of Genesis as inspired scripture. It just doesn’t. And we shouldn’t believe or lead our children to believe that it does. I think Ken Ham is just wrong to try to do that, although some of the scientists who are doing science from a YEC frame-work have done some good science.

    And, secondly, you’re absolutely right about the small number of individuals involved in the RATE study citing each other’s research being absolutely a symptom of the small community researching a particular problem, not unique to YEC-accepting scientists by an means, and not at all necessarily evidence of any circularity in reasoning or research. It’s just not an indicator either way.

  • Not learning basic biology in favor of YEC has only stunted my progress as an adult in college. I’ve had to go back and learn things I should’ve learned in high school, things other teens take for granted. I finally understood the concept of natural selection last year, at 30 years old, after some private discussions with my entomology teacher because I didn’t understand what we were learning. I credit Biologos.org for helping me reconcile my faith with science and for their courses on evolution 101 and other helpful things. Teaching real science should be mandatory for homeschoolers and public-schoolers alike. You’ll only hurt your kids and stunt their growth and education if you don’t.

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