Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ken Ham's Really Dumb Question

In fact, it's one of the dumbest creationist arguments – and that's saying something. Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis, loves to ask "Were you there?" in the face of the evidence for evolution. The idea is that evolutionists can only infer evolution from our current information, but creationists have an eyewitness to support creation: God was there, and he tells us how it happened in the Bible. Here's Ham indoctrinating a crowd of children with this ridiculous argument. He's trained them sickeningly well.

There are two gigantic problems with Ham's question. First, it severely underestimates the power of indirect empirical evidence. Just because we have to infer a conclusion doesn't mean the evidence used to do so can't be extremely reliable. If we have many pieces of evidence at a crime scene (blood, fingerprints, clothing fibers, etc.) at a crime scene all matching one murder suspect, that person is quite rightly convicted. The myriad converging lines of evidence for evolution mirror this scenario quite well. And in fact, the eyewitness testimony that Ham values so highly is notoriously fallible.

The second massive problem with Ham's argument is that it severely overestimates the reliability of the Bible. We don't have direct eyewitness testimony from God about creation; we have an ancient book written by people who claim to be speaking on God's behalf. As I wrote in this post, claims must be weighed in light of the quality of the source, not just the quality of the source's alleged source. And our source, as it turns out, is terrible: the Bible's errors, contradictions and atrocities make it highly unlikely that it was authored by an omniscient, omnibenevolent God.

I'll summarize by paraphrasing a response to Ham's question that I particularly like, which goes as follows:
Creationist: How do you know evolution happened? Were you there?

Evolutionist: I didn't need to be there. We have strong evidence from archaeology, biogeography, embryology, genetics and other fields that it happened. What evidence do you have for your position?

Creationist: God was there, and he wrote about it in his book!

Evolutionist: You mean the book riddled with evils, errors and inconsistencies? Do you have any evidence that God wrote it? If not, how do you know that he did? Were you there?


  1. Actually, you have mischaracterized what Ken Ham and his organization says about evidence.

    They continually point out that evidence isn't brute...it's always interpreted in light of our presuppositions, so Creationists and Evolutionists will always interpret that same evidence differently.

    He's pointing out that there are various ways to explain the same evidence, and that fossils and rocks and things don't explain themselves, they must be explained.

  2. Anon,

    I'm not mischaracterizing anything. His actual argument really is that God was there and wrote about it in his "history book." And the argument really is flawed for precisely the reasons I mentioned.

    Your bit about the interpretation of evidence is a separate issue. It's true that evidence can be interpreted in different ways, but that's trivial to point out. Flat earthers could say the same thing, but that doesn't make them any less wrong. The problem is that young earth creationists have to twist and stretch their explanations to fit a set of data that makes perfect sense in light of an old earth and evolution.