Answers in Genesis Seen as a Cult

on May 29, 2010

Is Answers in Genesis a cult? Apparently so, according to Eastern Nazarene College professor Karl Giberson, a prominent theistic evolutionist.

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We’ve mentioned Giberson before: in November 2008 we discussed Giberson’s Harvard Club defense of theism (against the backdrop of belief in evolution), and last August we responded to a Giberson-coauthored opinion piece in USA Today defending theistic evolution. In that article, Giberson and his coauthor took aim at our own Creation Museum, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Answers in Genesis and our museum are a target in yet another Giberson-authored item in USA Today, America’s national newspaper. This one appeared earlier this week.

The primary target of Giberson’s piece this week, however, is the so-called “new” atheists—such as Daniel Dennett, Jerry Coyne, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris, all of whom Giberson mentions. But before that, he writes about recently in-the-news theologian Bruce Waltke, whose evolution-related resignation we reported on last month. Giberson says

[Waltke] was driven by theological gatekeepers to resign from his seminary. But Waltke was immediately snapped up by a similar seminary, indicating that partial thawing has begun even on the frozen waters of fundamentalism. This is incredibly encouraging. [Waltke] warned that Christians who deny scientific facts are in danger of becoming a “cult.” This might suggest that Ken Ham and his Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., are becoming less relevant, as they speak for—and to—an increasingly smaller band of hyperconservative biblical literalists. Ham’s followers, ironically, are exactly what Waltke warned us about—a cult, with their own separate science.

As the above paragraph reveals, the reason Giberson focuses on dogmatic atheists who “[oppose] . . . any thawing of the chilly relations between science and religion” is because he apparently considers young-earth creationists a dying breed. Is this attitude—and his accusation that we are a cult—justified?

First, let’s dismiss a few blatant errors Giberson commits (which, we’re confident, he’s had corrected before). For one thing, we are not “biblical literalists” in the sense of taking everything the Bible says literally. Instead, we apply the same basic rules of interpretation to Scripture (viz., a textually based, historical-grammatical approach) that most readers use for any document. This leads us to interpret some passages literally and others figuratively, based on the appropriate textual cues. So we take Jesus’ statement “I am the door” in a figurative sense, but we take the accounts of His virgin birth, miracles, crucifixion and resurrection as literal history. For another thing, the term “hyperconservative” strikes us as uninformative name-calling. We hold to the predominant view of the Christian church throughout its history with respect to creation, the Flood, and the age of the creation, and our guess is that most of Giberson’s religious views (e.g., on the Resurrection) are no less conservative/fundamentalist than our own.

Second, there is the question of what constitutes a “cult.” Dictionary definitions generally emphasize the small size of cults (with some exceptions) and the existence of charismatic (often psychotic) leaders or objects of veneration. But polls have shown that large numbers of Americans (generally between a third and a half) believe in a recent supernatural creation—a fraction that usually is similar to those believing in some form of evolution, including theistic evolution (like Giberson). Prime evidence is offered by Gallup poll data, which illustrates that young-earth creation is actually a very popular view (as is illustrated in part by the more than one million visitors the Creation Museum has had in three years). And while Darwinian evolution has a stronger grip among scientists, there remain hundreds of scientists who have spoken out against Darwinian dogma and many more (including a growing number outside the English-speaking world) who accept a recent creation and global Flood as Genesis teaches.

He misrepresents creationist views of science.

Finally, when Giberson writes of young-earth creationists’ “separate science,” he misrepresents creationist views of science. Young-earth creationists respect and use the scientific method for research, but we emphasize its requirements (e.g., falsification of theories via testable hypotheses), many of which break down when applied to unrepeatable historical events. The inclusion of untestable ideas about the past under the umbrella of “science”—and the confinement of “science” to theories that exclude God—are perversions of science. Further, doesn’t Giberson believe in the historicity of Christ’s resurrection and virgin birth?  (If he doesn’t, then he is outside the bounds of orthodox Christian belief.) Yet we all “know” that science has “proven” humans cannot rise from death and that virgins don’t have babies. So what does Giberson have to say for his “cultish” views and “separate science” on those subjects?

By the way, USA Today on Friday printed our letter to the editor in response to Dr. Giberson.

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