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We believe that the question of the age of the earth is a question of interpretation, not a question of inspiration (as our co-founder Dr. Norman Geisler explains so simply and succinctly HERE. See also the additional resources listed at the end of this article.) We also believe that there is a second, more immediate topic of discussion—the question of apologetic methodology
In a recent fundraising letter to Answers in Genesis (AIG) constituents, AIG founder and president Ken Ham discussed some issues he found troubling regarding his dialogue with Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) professor Dr. Richard Howe at last October’s 2017 SES National Conference on Christian Apologetics. In an effort to clarify these issues, SES offers the following response in the spirit of continuing the healthy dialogue that we seek to promote and from which we believe all Christians of goodwill will benefit. Whenever we are attacked for our commitment to honest intellectual pursuit, we will respond with more openness and dialogue.
We invited Mr. Ham to participate in the type of dialogue that we seek to model and foster at our events and on our campus, exemplified by the fact that we have both young-earth and old-earth biblical inerrantists as members of our faculty and staff (including past adjunct professor Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson who is currently a research biologist and speaker with AIG). We also are committed to having inerrantist conference speakers who are both old-earth and young-earth to model the kind of “safe-space” discussion and dialogue that will help all Christians of goodwill who are seeking the truth to better understand what it is that God is telling us in Holy Scripture. At no time was Mr. Ham’s dialogue with Dr. Howe publicly promoted as a “debate,” informal or otherwise. Both men were aware of and agreed prior to the event to the interview-style format and general questions they would be asked. None of this should have been a surprise to Mr. Ham.
More to the point, the agreed upon topic of the dialogue was not the age of the earth, but the question of apologetic methodology. Dr. Howe is a young-earth creationist himself, which is why he was chosen to participate in this discussion, and agrees with Mr. Ham on many issues. Rather, the topic was “God’s Word or Man’s Word: From Where Must Apologetics Begin.” The dialogue was meant to be about the most prudent and effective way one should go about defending the truth claims of Christianity to unbelievers. It is uncharitable for Mr. Ham to accuse Dr. Howe–who has actually been part of the AIG-led Grand Canyon tour that presents their young earth evidence–of holding “weak” convictions or not being “knowledgeable of the biblical and scientific arguments in favor of young-earth creation.” In addition, that was not the topic either man was asked to discuss.
In both Mr. Ham’s fundraising letter and during the dialogue, he accused SES (and Dr. Howe specifically) of taking him out of context and misunderstanding AIG’s “approach to apologetics.” The title of the dialogue, “God’s Word or Man’s Word,” was derived from the way Mr. Ham characterizes the apologetic task, namely, that one must start with God’s Word rather than man’s word when discussing the truth claims of Christianity with unbelievers. As an institution that promotes and teaches classical apologetics (i.e., starting with sensible reality and meeting people where they are), we disagree with Mr. Ham’s approach to apologetics, which is why we invited him to discuss the issue in the first place.
In the very letter in question, Mr. Ham makes it evident that we have accurately understood his position when he states, yet again, “I kept hammering away that it was an authority issue—that the battle over the age of the earth came down to God’s infallible Word versus man’s fallible word.” Our contention is that Mr. Ham fails to realize those words are in fact his words, or his interpretation of God’s Word. We should all remember that our understanding of God’s Word never carries the same authority as God’s Word itself does. Believers should always approach God’s Word with humility and never equate their understanding of God’s Word as being as comprehensive or as infallible as God’s Word itself is.
As Dr. Howe made clear in the discussion, what other kind of interpretation can man have other than that of a man? The question is not whether it is man’s interpretation (or “man’s word”). Rather, the question is how do we know which man’s interpretation is correct. That is why, again, we believe that the question of the age of the earth is a question of what the Bible is saying not what the Bible is. We all agree that it is God’s infallible and inerrant Word. The question under discussion on the dialogue between two young earth advocates (Ham and Howe) was one of apologetic methodology.
We are very disappointed that Mr. Ham would use his fundraising letter to disparage our hospitable invitation to engage in open and respectful dialogue. One will be hard pressed to find a more conservative and steadfast seminary dedicated to teaching and defending the foundational doctrines of the historic Christian faith. SES is one of the last bastions of a robust view of biblical inerrancy. This makes Mr. Ham’s disparaging remarks even more unfair and unhelpful at a time when there is so much important work to be done for the furtherance of the Gospel that we both cherish.
I invite each of you to watch the video of the full conference discussion between Mr. Ham and Dr. Howe discussion and engage with the issue for yourself. In addition, we will be posting blog articles in the coming weeks, responding to more specific issues concerning this dialogue. In fact, SES is so committed to furthering this dialogue, that we have extended an invitation to Mr. Ham to participate in a formal debate at next year’s conference. In the meantime, the following resources will offer what we believe is the proper context for engaging in this discussion and search for the truth. I hope and pray that you will continue to engage with us as we seek together to more fully understand God’s inerrant revelation to us as believers. SES commits to you that we will continue this dialogue in the spirit of Christian charity. Please join us.
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- Watch the full dialog between Dr. Howe and Mr. Ham here (the dialog begins at approx. the 00:13:30 mark)
- Watch the event debrief with Dr. Howe and Adam Tucker (the relevant discussion begins at approx. the 00:20:00 mark)
- Read Dr. Howe’s blog from several year’s ago regarding Mr. Ham’s “God’s Word/man’s word” dichotomy
- Read the attached article by Dr. Geisler from the special young-earth presuppostionalism issue of the 2013 SES Christian Apologetics Journal
- Read the 2014 online interactions between SES co-founder Dr. Norman Geisler and Mr. Ham regarding the interpretation/inspiration issue: