Ken Ham’s Colossal Failure: Samantha Field’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons.

Many of my high-school days were spent reading books like Darwin’s Black Box and The Case for a Creator. My church and family were six-day Young-Earth Creationists, and defending this interpretation of Genesis 1-2 from Neo-Darwinian or Gap theory was central to my faith system at the time.

Without a literal understanding of those chapters, I believed, the Gospel fell apart.

For many years I made it my mission to stay current with all the creationist arguments—I’m fairly certain I’ve read any layman-accessible book on the subject that was published before 2005, and I read the Answers in Genesis blog and Ex Nihilo (now called Journal of Creation) fairly consistently up until 2009. Creationism was important enough to me that I defended it even when I struggled with the rest of Christian theology and the concept of a loving God in particular.

In college, I decided that it was pointless for me to keep reading only books written by creation scientists, so I started picking up other works like The God Delusion and A Brief History of Time. Dawkins’ book rattled me because he agrees with fundamentalists about the nature of God but is far starker and blatant in his descriptions, but nothing any of these books said about creation really shook me. I already had arguments that “disproved” their position.

During this time, I got involved in a fairly heavy internet debate on creationism that went on for weeks. Interestingly enough, even though the debate started out extremely antagonistic, it grew milder and eventually I became friends with a few people from the “opposition.”

Toward the end of that conversation, one of my fellow debaters brought up a point I’d never encountered before: endogeneous retroviruses. He sent me a few journal articles about it, and after reading them I was deeply disturbed. ERV insertion points in human and chimp genomes matched too closely for comfort, and I was sick and tired of the “common creator” defense. A common creator could explain a lot of things from an early 20th century phylogeny perspective but not with modern understandings of genome mapping—and most especially not ERV insertion points.

So, I did what any good creationism-defender would do: I wrote a letter to Answers in Genesis. I outlined the debate I was in, included links to the journal articles, explained all the research I’d already done (which included everything AiG had on genetics at the time), and asked if there was a creation scientist who’d studied ERVs and had a compelling argument against them as evidence for common ancestry.

The letter I got back was … infuriating would be putting it mildly.

They sent me a link to an AiG article on genetics that didn’t even mention ERVs (they’ve since updated a page to include it after I called them on it last year, but they only fall back on their position regarding “junk DNA” and don’t engage with the evidence satisfactorily), and then they went on to call into question my salvation, my faith, my relationship with Jesus, my intelligence, and my dedication to creationism.

They didn’t even bother answering my question.

They sent back an irrelevant blog post and then told me that my actual problem was not having enough unflinching, blind, unquestioning faith in the creationism model.

If I really believed in creationism, then my confidence should be unassailable and no amount of evidence for common ancestry should bother me, they said.

That was when the house of cards come crashing down. I’d spent the last few years struggling with other aspects of my faith, struggling to believe in God, struggling to believe that Christianity was true. I’d clung to creationism like a lifeline because if I could prove creationism, then Christianity was a fact no matter my doubts about the matter, and I didn’t have to go through the excruciating process of asking questions I didn’t want to think about.

I’d turned to AiG in a literal moment of desperation because they were my intellectual stronghold. AiG supposedly encouraged learning, thinking, engaging, criticizing, evaluating. They represented the last reserve I had in keeping my fundamentalist faith intact, of believing in Christianity as a literal, falsifiable, provable fact.

What I received from them was the opposite of everything I’d trusted them to be. I thought my question would be received warmly, my willingness to engage with evolutionary arguments praised.

Instead they shamed me for daring to do what I’d always believed was a central part of creation science: asking questions.

At that moment, I could no longer in good conscience defend creationism or any other part of my fundamentalist faith—the only faith system I believed had an ounce of integrity or truthfulness on its side. I was rudderless.

It’s been five years since then and I’ve managed to reclaim my identity as a Christian, although Ken Ham would probably condemn me and my progressive beliefs in the harshest language possible. In a way, I should probably thank him. Without such a colossal failure on his part, I might never have had the opportunity to really start questioning everything I believed.

35 comments

  • Well, good for AiG…I guess?

  • I find stories like this so sad, how blind dogmatic insistence on one particular view of the meaning of Genesis has resulted in so many young Christians losing their faith. I’ve been challenged in this regard myself over the last few years, and have been hugely comforted after encountering the Biologos / Evolutionary Creationism movement. Reading books by respected scientists who have managed to reconcile their Christian faith with science gives me hope for the future, as I realized that faith and science do not have to be contradictory, and one does not have to deny physical reality to be a Christian. I wouinld encourage anyone else struggling with this apparent contradiction to checkout the resources on http://biologos.org/ as a starting point to discovering that Christians can accept modern science as true without compromising their faith.

    • I think the principle you’re referring to is NOMA (non overlapping magisteria) which posits religion and science investigate exclusive domains. Its validity is hard fought over from both sides.

      http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Theistic_evolution

      – TheLemur

      • Yes. It was taught as something so obvious it didn’t even need a special name in the ELCA church of my childhood. On the Origin of Species and its many sequels and spinoffs are about how physical life has grown and changed in the material world. The Bible is a collection of books about, among other things, the ways in which the material and spiritual realms touch. Attempting to read Genesis as if it were a text on evolution is like trying to make apple pie with oranges.

    • I actually found Biologos and people like Francis Collins first, while still a Christian and trying to figure out the Creationism thing. It was comforting to know I could be reasonable, logical, science-minded and still keep my faith. I lost my Christianity a while later, for mostly different reasons. But for many of us who are no longer Christians, questioning Creationism was Step 1.

      • Once you eliminate the literal creation narrative, even liberal interpretations of Christianity seem rather pointless.

        8:00 to the end in particular

        – TheLemur

      • I looked at it from minute 7:55, not the rest. God intervened by plagues and mass murder? The Christian view is that God intervened in the form of sending Jesus not to condemn, but to save. Jesus is God himself – God never demanded any of his servants as a sacrifice, but sacrificed himself for them.
        As for watching on and doing nothing for ages – that is the idea of Hitchens. Just because we know of what God did by and in Jesus, does not mean he did nothing for the time before we have writing of. Hitchens is arguing from ignorance. You could as well say nothing happened to a people group that did not have writing.

      • Hmmm, I don’t think I agree with that assessment, John Smith. Perhaps things like Original Sin are pointless (something I never believed in anyway, even as a conservative Christian). But I think that Christianity can be practiced in a healthy manner. ‘Course I haven’t personally seen that very often, but a few people have shown me it’s possible.

      • Two books that helped me figure out the creation texts from a Christian perspective: Kenneth Miller’s “Finding Darwin’s God” and Peter Bouteneff’s “Beginnings”. Many Christians don’t realize that literal seven-day Young Earth Creationism is actually more of a modern interpretation of the Genesis creation texts. Early Christians were not this literalist. In fact, both Augustine and Origen rejected a literal six-day understanding of the creation text.

  • This is why creationism is going to fail – young people have access to too much information.
    I also believed that creation scientists wanted to look at all the evidence. That bit of the mask is off now.

    • I think you need to revisit the definition of “brainwash”. I was a child/teen/adult who was actually brainwashed into believing Creationism. It wasn’t a choice based on science, information, and research. I accepted evolution as an adult after weighing all the evidence and making an informed choice. Not brainwashing. If an adult chooses creationism after weighing all the evidence, that is also not brainwashing. If a child is told from birth that God wants them to believe one thing only, that anything else is displeasing to Him, that everyone else is wrong because He says so, and makes it clear that any other viewpoint will result in rejection and spiritual and physical sanctioning and thus putting psychological pressure on the child, THAT is brainwashing.

  • Pingback: This is what ATI teaches families like the Duggars – Samantha Field

  • Benjamin A. Tagle

    Welcome to the real world. I hope you continue to find happiness and peace. And thank you for your honesty.

  • Wende,

    I am so glad to see that this experience did not send you away from the church altogether. Welcome to the Christian world of some 1.8 billion worldwide who belong to denominations whose doctrines accept the findings, theories, and methods of modern science while at the same time seeing God as the author of all of it.

    Christ’s Peace

    • Hi chiefley, thank you for your encouraging words. I want to let you know that I am not the author of this story. Samantha Field is. I am on the editorial team for Homeschoolers Anonymous. Part of my responsibilities is posting stories that others submit to us.

  • I’m not a literal creationist, but I can’t help but wonder what this means for Christianity as a whole if it didn’t happen exactly as described. Was there a need for Jesus if there was no literal Adam? That may be beyond the scope of this post, though.

  • Barry Desborough

    Congratulations, Wende, for getting yourself out of what I think of as the “lobster pot” of creationism. I see that the AiG article you linked to raises only one “objection” to ERVs, the C4 gene variants. Here’s a piece I wrote a while ago about that. Note the link to the contents page of the FAQ it is a part of. You may find it of interest. https://erv-faq-for-creationists.wikispaces.com/David+DeWitt+at+AiG+says+ERVs+do+not+line+up+with+the+expected+evolutionary+progression.+What+gives%3F

    What sources did you go to to learn about ERVs?

    • Hi Barry Desborough, Thank you for your encouragement and input. I want to let you know that I am not the author of this story. Samantha Field is. I am on the editorial team for Homeschoolers Anonymous. Part of my responsibilities is posting stories that others submit to us.

      • Barry Desborough

        Yes, I worked that out after I had commented, but there was no way to edit. Thanks for posting, Wende, and congratulations to Samantha. 🙂

  • Barry Desborough

    Spotted an outright lie in the AiG article you linked to.

    “Further, when it comes to DNA, there may be genetic hotspots that are prone to the same mutation. For example, humans and guinea pigs share alleged mistakes in the vitamin C pseudogene without sharing a recent common ancestor.”

    We share the same set of mutations in our vitamin C gene as the anthropoid apes. Guinea pigs do _not_ have the same set of mutations.

    See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3145266/

  • “ask me no questions and ill tell you no lies” The cry from religion.

  • Hey there Wende. I hear your frustration with AiG re retrovirus. Some of the stuff they come up with is concerning. However, may I suggest that the assertion that the tiny bit of scrambled and deteriorated gene sequence that is said to be the remnant of a past viral infection is based on an assumption? Scientists have never observed a retrovirus pass the germ line and fix in the genome. The age old creationist argument that God had no need to create junk, which initially was what ERVs were said to be, as they reside in the non coding area of the genome, is still a good point. As time goes on more and more function has been attributed to ERVs. Scientists are now arguing about the term ‘function’ and what it means.

    If genes reflect physical traits then one would expect that the more similar two species are to each other, the more the genomic make up would be similar. ERVs could placed where they are because that is where they need to be to perform their function. Indeed these so called ERVs may not have been inserted at all. They may not be the remnant of a previous infection.

    There are also ERVS that would disprove claims of common ancestry. However, this evidence is hand waved away with all sorts of complicated explanations as to why ERVs are where they are not supposed to be and are not where they should be in various species. eg horizontal transfer.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1346942/

    I am not a YEC, and I don’t care if life evolved or not, yet I don’t have total confidence in many claims around TOE either.

  • I guess I have started to believe that God started the world including evolution, and that six days could have been truly six million years for alI we know. My mindset is not very popular though on either side of the fence.

    • Your mindset is shared by some 1.8 billion Christians worldwide who belong to denominations whose doctrines say what you just said.

      • If I said that out loud at my former church I would be called a heretic. Considering I am already considered back slidden it shouldn’t matter.

        Nice to know that I am not alone.

  • Moderator note: Comments by the user “Thomas” have been removed due to repeated violations of our comment policy on a different and more recent article despite a warning. For anyone unfamiliar with our comment policy, you can view it here: https://homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com/forum/

  • Well I think John Smith said it all..

    “Once you eliminate the literal creation narrative, even liberal interpretations of Christianity seem rather pointless.”

    If the bible does not mean what ‘basically’ it says (a little tolerance over perfectly literal) then you might all just as well chuck it in.. as our young people are doing in droves. Join the atheists.. the Godless vacuum.. The universe obviously made itself from nothing.. and life emerged from the mud.. by itself.. and there is no purpose to your meaningless life.!

    You see there are a large number of human scribble-ings listed here as ‘authoritative’ references to various degrees on various subjects.. If one of those becomes your ultimate authority for truth.. as the original poster indicated.. well the outcome is fairly predictable -> John Smith.. and well documented by many of the responses here.

    Most of us do not know who we really are.. we don’t know just how ‘evil’ we really are. The observable fact that we live in a universe in bondage to decay and we are going to suffer pain and death I would suggest is simply consistent with the biblical teaching and narrative. To understand ‘evil’ you first have to define it.. (you have to read the bible)

    EVIL = PLAYING GOD

    It is not the antithesis of moral good..!

    I would suggest assuming the mantle of judge over any other person in a vulnerable situation and which is not specifically authorised by God.. I suggest you are playing God.. and that is evil. I say this because there are specific warnings in the bible about even taking the roll of ‘teacher’. So I and you have to be careful what we say.. a little fear is required. So what’s my point..

    Evil is a spiritual word.. atoms know nothing of it.. the atheist has no proper basis for defining the word and Hitler was not just not just mistaken he was right.! There are a number of other spiritual words in fact I would say human life is lived within three interconnected overlapping spheres of experience.. PHYSICAL – MORAL – SPIRITUAL this is the reason most of you liberal Christians hang on in spite of evolutionary science. It is simply the observable everyday truth about our lives.

    Unfortunately you are not able or no longer want to see why evolution is not just wrong but impossible. A theory which in the words of the worlds leading scientists today “removes the need for God or the supernatural”.. The problem you are having is the bible is absolutely full of the supernatural. Its peppered throughout what we cannot help but take as a narrative record of history with a spiritual purpose. It is moreover not just intellectually confronting.. its mind boggling.

    Its not just Genesis.. Joshua 10:12,13 “Joshua spoke to the Lord.. “Sun stand still.. Moon stop.. The sun stood still and the moon did not move until the nation had conquered its enemies.. written in the book of Jashar.. The sun stood still.. and didn’t go down for a whole day”. But how difficult is giving sight to man born blind? To even contemplate a journey with the God of the bible is and should be firmly understood to be utterly and completely other. The only question you need to answer is “How big is your God” really.. what can he do?.. actually what do you judge he cannot do..? Well it is also recorded “there is nothing to difficult for God”.. (look it up)

    Where does that leave the person who actually wants to know God (spiritually) and the Truth (scientifically).. Let me tell you secret of the kingdom here.. God is the Truth.. or he is noting at all.

    I am going to give you just one example which is the very basis of evolution (life made itself without the help of God).. it is a simple equation..

    MASS + ENERGY = INFORMATION (if evolution is true)

    Let me now inform you there is no observation, model or demonstration or computer simulation which in any way scientifically verifies this equation. So the current claim if we can only find liquid water somewhere else in the universe there could be life is NOT TRUE. How do we know this…?

    Information is now a confused term in the literature.. why.. because a proper definition based on observation immediately rules out evolution.. How so?

    Information is descriptively a non-random non-repeating ordered set (position order = spelling). That alone precludes it to be the product of random variation of any kind. But its the ‘ordering’ that is the real problem. Information has 5 observable characteristics..

    1. It is composed from a finite alphabet of codes
    2. It has a grammatical structure
    3. There is a machine to write it
    4. There is a machine to read it
    5. It has a purpose

    The required machinery to read and write information must (like all design) be specified by information..! So information is required before you can have information..! The recursive conundrum can only be solved by an original un-created infinite mind.. God. The bible’s description of God as inhabiting eternity is apt.

    By the way even Richard Dawkins admits life is information rich. DNA has all of the above..

    As for the rest of the argument I can only point you to my blog at [http://vh-mby.blogspot.com.au/ “The God Law”] where I formally falsify the algorithm of evolution..

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