The Straw Man of Anti-Intellectualism

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A few months ago, I coauthored an article reviewing a new book entitled The Anointed. The book was a very anti-academic, tabloid-like look at several Christian leaders and ministries, including Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis. The New York Times recently published their review of the book, and not surprisingly, found it to be worthy reading material.

The review, much like the book, focused on the perception that ministries such as Answers in Genesis are anti-intellectual because their leaders do not have advanced degrees. Molly Worthen, author of the NY Times review, stated, “Why would anyone heed ersatz ‘experts’ over trained authorities far more qualified to comment on the origins of life or the worldview of the founding fathers?” She also wrote, “Still, a reader of ‘The Anointed’ is likely to conclude that the average evangelical hates the academic establishment almost as much as he loves Jesus.”

Ms. Worthen has not done her research and is blatantly ignoring the fact that AiG employs several speakers and scientists with advanced degrees from major universities. (She obviously accepted the authority of the book on this matter without question.) If AiG and Ken Ham “hate” the academic establishment, then why do they currently employ four people with PhDs in different areas of science and history and an MD? Ms. Worthen and the book’s authors Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens have committed a straw man fallacy. This fallacy is committed “when a person misrepresents his opponent’s position and then proceeds to refute that misrepresentation rather than what his opponent actually claims.” [1] These authors claim we are anti-intellectual, even though we are not, and then argue against our supposed anti-intellectualism.

An outcome of this supposed anti-intellectualism is that the Bible is not correctly interpreted and understood. In other words, the Bible is not clear and only people with advanced degrees or professionals can tell others what it really means. Ms. Worthen wrote the following:

Stephens and Giberson note their subjects’ zest [referring to Ken Ham and others] for “unmediated” truth, for bypassing professionals and presenting “evidence” directly to the Christian masses—just as Martin Luther, with his calls for sola Scriptura, bypassed Catholic priests.

This is a very chilling statement. The reformers (like Luther) believed in the perspicuity (clearness) of Scripture and fought and died to have the Bible in a common language that everyone could read. [2] It seems Giberson and Stephens want to take us back to a time before the Reformation and once again take the Bible out of hands of the “layman” and put themselves in a position of authority over it just like the priests did in Luther’s day.

The conclusion of Ms. Worthen’s review states the following:

Self-styled experts like Ham appear to be spokesmen of certitudes. But their promises to reconcile the Bible with modern thought do not conceal that this balancing act has forced evangelicals to live in a crisis of intellectual authority—a confusion so unabating that it has become the status quo.

She is right in the sense that this is an issue of authority—the authority of man versus the authority of God. We do not strive to “reconcile the Bible with modern thought,” but rather we strive to help people understand that ideas such as evolution and millions of years are based on man’s ideas about the past and not God’s Word beginning in Genesis. We desire for Christians to understand there is a crisis concerning authority in our modern society but that the Bible is clear and is the ultimate authority.

Keep fighting the good fight of the faith!

[1] Jason Lisle, “Logical Fallacies: Straw-Man Fallacy,” September 29, 2009.

[2] Tim Chaffey, “How Should We Interpret the Bible, Part 1: Principles for Understanding God’s Word,” February 22, 2011.

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