Parents who read homeschool blogs or plan to attend an upcoming home educator conference will be aware of recent events concerning Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham vis-a-vis bible scholar Peter Enns and Apologia science textbook author Jay Wile. Because of the positions that these three individuals represent in relation to natural science and biblical interpretation, the controversy involving Ham, Enns and Wile is significant and relevant to the concerns of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) and this Homeschool Science Resources website.
Who are Ken Ham, Peter Enns and Jay Wile?
Ken Ham is founder and president of Answers in Genesis (AiG) and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. The organization is devoted to defending Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) and biblical literalism against any view of natural history that accepts geologic time-scales or biological evolution requiring anything less than a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts. Ham is a frequent speaker at Christian homeschool conventions, whose organizers and attendees generally agree with his YEC (and anti-evolution) position.
Peter Enns is a PhD Old Testament Bible scholar who has recently written the first book of a homeschool Bible curriculum called Telling God’s Story (Olive Branch Books). No stranger to controversy, Enns taught at Westminster Theological Seminary from 1994 to 2008, when he left WTS as a result of views he expressed in his 2005 book Inspiration and Incarnation – Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker Academic). Several months later he became a Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies at the BioLogos Foundation, an organization “committed to promoting a perspective on the origins of life that is both theologically and scientifically sound.” This includes acceptance and promotion of evolution as science. Enns is a frequent blog contributor on the BioLogos Forum.
Jay Wile is a PhD nuclear chemist and author of the popular Exploring Creation with… homeschool science textbook series. Like Ken Ham, Jay Wile is a strong advocate of Young-Earth Creationism. He founded Apologia Educational Ministries in 1994 to support publication of his science textbooks. In 2008 he sold the company, and in 2010 Wile left Apologia because of philosophical differences with the new owners. He continues to lecture and blog about critical thinking and the Christian worldview in science education and homeschooling, including to oppose mainstream scientific consensus about evolution and environmental issues such as global warming.
What’s the news about Ken Ham, Pete Enns and Jay Wile?
Briefly, here is what has transpired:
- Spring 2011: Great Homeschool Conventions schedules Ham, Enns and Wile as featured or workshop speakers at four regional conferences, the first of which occurred March 3-5 in Memphis, TN. Coincident with the introduction of his Bible curriculum, Enns gives three talks relating to Christian Bible education.
- March 15, 2011: Ken Ham blogs to warn homeschoolers about Peter Enns before the second convention in Greenville, SC the following weekend. Ham labels Enns a “compromiser” and makes his readers aware of Pete Enns’s association with the Evolutionary Creationist (EC) views of the BioLogos Foundation. Ham declares that the teaching of Peter Enns “is outright liberal theology that totally undermines the authority of the Word of God.” Ham calls Enns’s position “an attack on the Word–on Christ.”
- March 16, 2011: Jay Wile blogs to refute the accusations made by Ken Ham that Pete Enns’s views and approach to teaching the Bible are unbiblical. While being clear that he does not agree with Enns about the creation narratives, Wile strongly supports the participation of Enns at the convention as being part of healthy dialogue and an “opportunity for critical thinking.” The blog post provoked over 600 comments, many of them expressing outrage that Wile would defend Enns and rebuke fellow YEC Ham.
- March 18 and 20, 2011: Jay Wile blogs again and again about Pete Enns after taking the opportunity to attend his workshops at the conference that weekend. Both posts are very complimentary of the perspective Pete Enns brought.
- March 20, 2011: Ken Ham posts a warning on Facebook about both Enns and Wile, reiterating his concern that Enns represents dangerous, liberal theology.
- March 25, 2011: The advisory board of Great Homeschool Conventions disinvites Ken Ham from its two remaining regional conventions, citing as the reason his mean-spiritedness toward Peter Enns. Christianity Today reports the story as well.
- April 1, 2011: Ken Ham continues to blog about the views of Pete Enns.
Why are these events significant?
There are several noteworthy aspects of these developments:
- The very fact that Great Homeschool Conventions (GHC) is allowing Peter Enns to speak at all is significant. It was obviously a shock to Ken Ham and his supporters.Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) has been the dominant view of biblical theology and natural science represented in the Christian homeschool community to date. Indeed, anti-evolutionary creationism is one of the formative and defining perspectives of most Christian homeschool cooperatives. One would assume that GHC organizers were aware of the background, views and associations (i.e., with the BioLogos Foundation) of Pete Enns before allowing him to present. They must have known that he does not align himself with their stated YEC view — indeed that his approach to biblical interpretation and inspiration does not require or support young-earth conclusions. Yet, they clearly defend the qualifications and value of Peter Enns to present about Christian Bible education. Of course, none of Enns’s talks at these conventions were directly about biblical interpretation in relation to science. Nevertheless, one wonders if the actions of GHC are a sign of greater openness in the future to more diverse Christian perspectives regarding creation-evolution issues. Or, will a backlash of displeasure from homeschoolers cause the GHC (and other homeschool networks) to retreat and entrench to preserve their support base? Only time will tell.
- How will these events impact initial sales of Telling God’s Story, the new Bible curriculum by Pete Enns? Is the controversy good or bad publicity? How will this affect and be affected by Enns’s association with respected homeschool speaker and author Susan Wise Bauer? Enns and Bauer are colleagues from graduate school, and Telling God’s Story has the same publisher and complementary style and format as Bauer’s four-volume curriculum Story of the World – History for the Classical Child. (The connection to Bauer has not been overlooked by Ken Ham.) The Enns curriculum appears to be unlike other Bible curricula that currently exist, and it is likely to provide the sort of approach that at least some parents have been desperate to find.
- What will be the effects of and on the BioLogos Foundation, whose mission and agenda could not be more opposite (within the Christian worldview) from that of Answers in Genesis? BioLogos President Darrell Falk has addressed the recent events in blog posts on April 1 and April 6.
- Jay Wile’s comments on the events are impressive for how they differentiate him from Ken Ham, though both are ardent young-earth creationists who many might assume are cut from the same cloth. Clearly, Wile’s style and approach to apologetics and Bible-science issues derive from a different sort of “scientific” method. The immediate response by Wile following Ham’s initial blog post indicates that he comes by his convictions honestly – that is, he commented before the GHC decision to disinvite Ham, not afterward (which might have been perceived as a way to protect his reputation). Indeed, he is likely to lose some supporters who feel like they must now throw their support behind either him or Ham.
What does this have to do with the ASA Homeschool Science Resources website?
If you are visiting this website for the first time, you should know that the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is an association of Christians who are professional scientists. Our purpose is to investigate the relationship of Christian theology and natural science and thereby to edify both Christian and scientific communities. This Homeschool Science Resources (HSR) Project is intended to fulfill these purposes for the Christian homeschooling community. By reviewing and providing information about available curricula, textbooks and other science education resources, we hope to assist parents in choosing tools to effectively teach science subjects to their children.
Are you struggling as a parent to comprehend how science ought to be understood in relation to Christian faith? Are you searching for practical resources to help teach and discuss science from a particular perspective in your homeschool? We have you in mind as we build this HSR website. In several important ways, we are positioned to provide the kind of help that no other site can:
- First, unlike the individuals and organizations discussed in this post, we have no commercial interests (i.e., do not sell curricula or advertising) and do not depend on the homeschool community (public approval) for support. Administration of this project is completely voluntary.
- Second, we do not promote only one specific position on science and faith topics. Although many ASA members have views akin to those of the BioLogos Foundation (some individual are members of both organizations), we represent a broad range of denominations, scientific disciplines and views of biblical interpretation in relation to science. This differentiates our mission from BioLogos’s mission.
- Third, our membership includes highly qualified scientists (and theologians concerned with science issues) in a variety of fields. Scientists join our organization because they care deeply about exploring the nuances and wonder of science-and-religion issues. We are a highly educated bunch. Some are very prominent scientists and theologians. Each individual has particular views but knows and respects other perspectives within the Christian worldview.
- Finally, we want to provide information and resources that are practical. We are not interested in creating a forum for noisy debate and endless strings of comments. Our goal is to review textbooks and available resources in a rigorous and generally objective manner so that you have sufficient information to make purchase decisions and/or to locate appropriate materials to supplement a purchased commercial curriculum to provide additional perspective.
For example, we assume that parents would like to know how and why Jay Wile’s approach is different than Ken Ham’s (theologically and/or scientifically) before choosing to teach their children with materials from one or the other source. And parents who are more trusting of the scientific community might wish to know how and why both Jay Wile’s and Ken Ham’s versions of Creationism are considered disproven scientific theories by most believing physicists, geologists and biologists. And how might we begin to understand and teach respectfully about different Christian views on the historicity of Adam and the Fall, biblical interpretation of Genesis 1-11, creation doctrine and theology, the nature of revelation and inspiration of the Bible, and the meaning of infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture?
No one is sure how the recent controversy concerning Ham, Enns and Wile will affect the kind of science that parents will have the opportunity to study and consider in the homeschooling world (e.g, conferences, co-ops and the like) in the coming months and years. We hope, along with Jay Wile, that a diversity of views are allowed to be presented as the entire Christian community struggles to properly understand the mysteries and wonder of faith in Christ for our time.
However volatile debate becomes in the broader community, you can expect to find useful and practical information here. Visit again soon.
–Douglas Hayworth, PhD; HSR Project Coordinator