Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The conservative (evangelical/fundamentalist) Christian homeschool pope

Edited to add (7/5/2013):  After being "called" on calling Mr. Ham "Pope Ham," I have apologized publicly. (I [Edited 7/9/2013]still need to go went to him personally/privately on Friday, 7/5/2013.) I have also been able to state--I think more clearly than ever before--not only why his article bothered me so much but, far more importantly, what I appreciate about him and how and why I wish he would alter some of his methodologies. You can find that post here.


In the latest Answers magazine (p. 35), Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, claims that Sonlight’s treatment of old- and/or young-earth and/or evolutionary creation is not balanced:
Already, two publishers—Sonlight and Christian Schools International—don't openly support a young-earth position. They claim to offer a "balanced" treatment, but it isn't.
He adds no commentary that would bolster his position. He simply makes the claim.
Note: In his primary article, Ham references an Atlantic magazine article that spurred a Christianity Today article where Sarita and I are quoted which, in turn, speaks of Sonlight as “an exception” to the curricula that emphasize young-earth creationist views to the exclusion of others. The Atlantic article mentions Christian Schools International; it doesn't reference Sonlight. However, the author of the CT article writes that
Sonlight . . . offers a diversity of homeschool curricula that allow parents to teach various theories of origins. "The YEC position is strong and ingrained in the homeschool movement," said Sonlight president Sarita Holzmann, who homeschools her children and believes in a young earth. "That might be to our detriment." She says students need to be able to evaluate different positions.
The author and/or editor of the article made several obvious mistakes in her comments about Sonlight.

For example: When it comes to origins, Sonlight only features young-earth creationist books and provides virtually no counter-balancing arguments against anything that those books say. The curriculum does include a few books in areas other than science that obviously assume an evolutionary perspective. The fact that the company simply carries those books seems to have led to its being banned from the Christian Home Educators of Colorado conference.

But rather than actually presenting full-blown arguments for the various theories of origins (as the CT article seems to suggest it does), wherever non-young-earth or pro-evolutionary references occur in its texts, Sonlight either refuses to assign those pages or it dutifully offers young-earth creationist "arguments" against the pro-evolutionary content.

Meanwhile, Sonlight does offer some mild notes of encouragement to non-young-earth-creationist parents as it "permits" or even "encourages" such parents (along with the young-earthers) to teach as they see fit.

But the fact is, there is little if any content in the curriculum that would enable students truly to "evaluate" positions other than young-earth creationism.

Indeed, even outside its curriculum, while in the past the company carried a few titles in the back section of its catalog that questioned a young-earth perspective, those books disappeared from the catalog several years ago.

Still, that, apparently, is not good enough for Mr. Ham.
Considering what Sonlight actually does, I would dearly love to know what Ham thinks “balanced” looks like. I am particularly curious because of what he says in the main body of his article (p. 34):
Does [what I have said] mean that homeschooling parents should never expose their children to evolutionary ideas? Of course not. Homeschoolers certainly need to address different views about origins and other controversial issues in their teaching, but they need to do so in the clear context that God's Word is truth and compromising views are error!
Ahh! That last phrase actually answers my question, doesn't it?

If I'm reading him accurately, a “balanced” presentation, from Mr. Ham's perspective, means one that not only “openly support[s] a young-earth position,” but vigorously opposes any other. And Sonlight doesn't oppose alternative perspectives vigorously enough. It offers too much legitimacy to such alternative positions.

You see, the truth is, Sonlight mildly--almost to the point of silence--does "address" different views about origins by simply defining viewpoints other than the young-earth perspective and acknowledging that some Christians hold these viewpoints. Moreover, it acknowledges that some Christian homeschoolers might hold such views and suggests that they can feel free to teach them.

And that, apparently, is too much for Mr. Ham.

Because the truth is, from everything I have seen, Sonlight nowhere offers opportunities within its curriculum--i.e., from within the books it carries or from its Instructor's Guide notes-- . . . Sonlight nowhere offers opportunities for opponents of the young-earth perspective to speak for themselves. It simply acknowledges that some parents might believe differently and suggests that they can teach as they see fit.

And that is what Ham and people like him disapprove. Sonlight does not come out strongly enough with statements to the effect that views alternative to or opposing a young-earth perspective are clearly "compromising" and "in error."


It strikes me: Ham seems to view himself much like a Pope. He has a lock on the Truth. He speaks definitively and infallibly concerning how the Bible is to be interpreted. Like religious leaders of yesteryear who were willing to burn at the stake those who held differing opinions about baptism; or like those even today who break fellowship over different perspectives on eschatology (pre-, post-, or a-mill; preterist; or whatever), so Mr. Ham seems bent on ensuring his followers remain separated from those with whom he disagrees.

If you agree with Ham about the age of the earth and the basic young-earth viewpoint, that's okay, but not good enough.

If you teach a young-earth viewpoint, that's not good enough, either.

You must never suggest that you "merely" believe in young-earth creationism. You must adamantly assert that young-earth creationism is true: THE truth. Indeed, you will have gone too far over to "the other side" if you even contemplate the idea that those with whom you disagree might have some potentially good reasons to view the Bible from a perspective different from yours, because--so Pope Ham has decreed--anyone who holds a view different from yours (i.e., different from Ham's) is, simply, wrong, "compromising," "in error." End of discussion.