I have a secret to confess. This isn’t the kind of thing that’s likely to be popular with atheists (or skeptics in general), but I have to get it off my chest: I think Ken Ham is amazing. I think that he’s the best thing to happen to religious-secular dialog ever. Before you shut the browser tab/window, please hear me out…
Ken Ham has made a whole bunch of these dialogues much, much easier, because as soon as someone mentions his name as a source, you know immediately exactly where they are coming from: complete and utter ignorance. You don’t need to slowly or carefully gauge their knowledge of law, scripture, history, geography, or anything else that touches on “facts”, because they (by referring to Ken Ham as someone they support) have just indicated that they, at best, have a long-distance relationship with reality.
His recent post (linked to via Do Not Link, because I’m not improving his rankings…) is a prime example of the kind of ignorance and lies he trades in. Putting aside his failure to situate the billboards in context (i.e. the owner of the billboard company in question 1) effectively has a monopoly and 2) is a devout self-proclaimed Christian), we have a few more egregious pieces of nonsense involved:
One of the billboards directly attacks the Bible, telling people to “lead with your heart. Not with your bible”—intentionally not capitalizing Bible! These billboards are a direct attack on the authority of Scripture.
Putting aside (yup, again) the whole capitalisation thing (because really?), the notion here that
scripture Scripture is any kind of authority is just nonsense. As a Young Earth Creationist, Ham is definitely committed to the (demonstrably false) idea that the Earth is just a couple thousand years old, but there’s no basis for that in the bible: Christians, world-wide, disagree on this. Sure, he thinks that they’re wrong, but what reason do we have to take his word for it? I mean, given the basic factual errors in the bible (world-wide flood, deposits of salt in farmland, somehow getting all around the world in time to save them all from drowning, mixing of salt-water fish and fresh-water fish, and all of this is just from one sub-section of one book in the bible Bible), it’s clear that it’s just a waste of paper, ink, and time.
But you see, these billboards—as well as the ones in Canada—demonstrate a fundamental problem: they’re focused on making man the authority, not God. And really, that’s the basic message of atheism. Atheists believe there is no purpose in life, no meaning or reason for existence—so why not just “believe in yourself” and lift up your own ideas in authority over the Word of God?
When people equate Theology/Religion with Philosophy, it bothers me. It bothers me, because any first-year Philosophy Major should (or anyone having taken a decent first-year Philosophy intro class) be able to spot a significant problem with Ham’s babble: “a purpose in life”, “meaning” and “a reason for existence” are three entirely unrelated things. And this kinda cuts to the core of Ham’s ignorance.
A good first year introduction to Philosophy will touch on “meaning”, one of the three ancient questions of Philosophy (“What is there?”, “How do we know what is there?”, “How should we live?”), and anyone who did well in class will list the possibilities:
- There is no meaning in life
- There is meaning in life and
- Meaning is derived externally (from things external to us)
- Meaning is derived internally
Ham, and religious folk in general, want to attribute all meaning to
fiction their god, so denying the existence of their god means that there is no meaning in life, provided that you fail to reevaluate “meaning” from the start, and weigh the possibility that meaning is derived internally (by setting goals, by choosing actions that feel ‘meaningful’, etc, etc). Really, when Ham (or anyone else) says “If you don’t belief in [my] god, then your life has no meaning”, they’re really saying “I haven’t thought about this question, but you should listen to me anyway!”
Your “purpose in life” (as opposed to “a purpose to life”) is again something that you define for yourself. And if you feel that your purpose in life is to serve a fictional deity of your choice: that’s something that you defined for yourself. Likewise, if you argue that the only meaning in your life is when you pray or act in accord with how you believe that fictional deity wants you to, you are the one defining that.
To claim that atheists believe “believe there is no purpose in life, no meaning or reason for existence” is akin to an avid football fan declaring that people who aren’t interested in football have no purpose in life, no meaning or reason for [their] existence: it’s obviously rubbish. But hey, this is the guy who’s selling junk bonds to Christians. Par for the course, I guess…?
So someone tells me that they think that Ken Ham says some smart things? I can immediately decide whether I want to sink several hours into basic, elementary-school-level explanations about the world, or walk away. He saves me so much time!