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Thursday, September 07, 2006

St. Augustine and Kent Hovind

Entries in two recent Christian Carnivals have praised the science materials produced by Kent Hovind's organization. Another post, also part of a Christian Carnival, has argued that this isn't wise. So has a second, also part of a Christian Carnival. I don't think so, either.

I'm going to make some general observations about these three posts, and Dr. Hovind. I have four issues with posts of this type (that is, using Hovind to argue that young-earth creationism is true).
Claiming that young-earth creationism is the only valid Christian belief is a mistake. This is true whether it's Hovind, me, or anyone else. Christians disagree on origins! This post says that requiring belief in young-earth creationism for church membership would have excluded "Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, Gleason Archer, Francis Schaeffer."
To name only one other Christian view of origins, Intelligent Design has gotten a lot of attention over the last decade, and many Christians have embraced it enthusiastically. However, it isn't the same thing as young-earth creationism, which shows that there is more than one Christian view. (Here's a web page, identifying six different views of origins, five held by at least some Christians, and attempting to point out their strengths and weaknesses in a fair manner.)

Hovind does not present convincing evidence. I can't say that none of his evidence is convincing, since I haven't seen it all, but I examined "articles" on his web site. You can see what I found, and why I say that his evidence is not convincing, in the last part of this post. Here's a web page, pointing out a number of problems with Hovind's work.

Hovind does not have scientific credentials. There is a Wikipedia article about him, which describes his educational history in some detail. The facts presented there indicate that Hovind's doctorate is from an institution of questionable academic reputation, and is not in science. This has not been disputed. (Anyone can contribute to the Wikipedia. Articles may be disputed. When they are, Wikipedia shows this. Here's an example of an article which is partly in dispute. Presumably, if the article was seriously incorrect, Hovind or a staffer would have disputed it.)

The truth is the truth, whether presented by scientists or non-scientists, but Hovind seems to be presenting himself as if he did have scientific credentials when he doesn't, and that looks like deception.

Hovind is in some legal trouble, and is rather far out politically. (See the same Wikipedia article for details, which are not in dispute.) Even one of the posters who seemed to believe that his stuff was the greatest ever commented that he was a little far out in some areas. Again, this doesn't make what he says false, and could be the result of persecution, but it could also mean that he has been doing some things with his taxes that he shouldn't have.
All this, of course, does not prove that young-earth creationism is false. It may be false, and it may be true. I wish to concern myself here only with Dr. Hovind. It seems to me (and I am certainly not alone) that Dr. Hovind's work offers no reliable support for young-earth creationism. Using it, therefore, not only does not help the cause of young-earth creationism, but gives it an unnecessary black eye. It is as if, say, Bill Clinton were invoked as a spokesman for the sanctity of marriage, George Bush for pacifism, or Barry Bonds for drug-free athletics. Answers in Genesis, one of the most important young-earth creationist organizations, has criticized Hovind*.
As to St. Augustine, he had something to say about being careful about origins apologetics:
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.” St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis. vol. 1, Ancient Christian Writers., vol. 41. Translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J. New York: Paulist Press, 1982. My source was here.

Thanks for reading.

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Addendum, September 10, 2010:

*Answers in Genesis has modified their criticism of the website, based on changes in it. See here for their republication of their criticism, with modification included. I don't believe that the original article criticizing Hovind remains on the web, but my impression is that they have republished it, with a disclaimer. My impression, based on some examination of the Hovind web site on this date, is that at least some of the uses of invalid arguments for young-earth creationism have been corrected. This, of course, neither proves or disproves young-earth creationism.

Kent Hovind has been imprisoned for tax evasion. See the Wikipedia article on him.


Corey said...

You can find Hovind's videos on Yahoo and Google video web pages as well as YouTube. Apparently, the videos are not copyrighted, so anyone can copy them.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks. You are right. I did a Google search on "Kent Hovind," then tabbed to Video, and found the videos. I'm listening to one now.