An edited, condensed version of a 2001 radio debate in Jamaica between Ken Ham and Ronnie Thwaites.
Ken Ham [KH]: ‘If Genesis 1–11 is not true, then neither is any Christian doctrine, or the Gospel of Jesus Christ—because they are all dependent upon the history in Genesis 1–11. The entrance of sin and death because of a literal man’s fall, the doctrine of marriage based upon a man made from dust, a woman from his side, and so on. Ultimately, every single doctrine comes from Genesis. And the Bible is not just a book of religion. It really does touch on science—geology, biology, astronomy, anthropology. And where it does, it’s true. If it’s not, then you can’t trust its message of salvation.
I’m certainly not against science. In fact, in real science, like the science of genetics, all you see is that the information in animals and plants is either redistributed or lost, but you never see new information. The Bible says that God made distinct kinds of animals and plants, and, genetically, that’s exactly what you see. “In the beginning God created,â€? is confirmed by science, which shows us that life is built on a code system. Code systems only ever come from an intelligent source, they never come from matter by themselves.
I know that there are many in the church who claim that you can believe in evolution, millions of years and so on, and I certainly wouldn’t say they’re not Christians, but I’d say they’re inconsistent. If you believe in millions of years, there were diseases like cancer in the fossil record before sin, yet God said everything He made was very good. In fact, death was the penalty for sin, which is why Jesus Christ died on the Cross and was raised from the dead. So there are Biblical issues here, there are scientific issues, but these are between real science in the present and one’s beliefs about the past.’
Moderator: So you accept a literal translation of what is written in Genesis.
Virtually all of Christianity’s doctrines, directly or indirectly, are based in Genesis. For instance, the creation of a man and woman is the basis for heterosexual marriage. The creation of man in God’s image is the basis for the sanctity of human life. And the origin of sin is the basis of our need for a saviour, Jesus Christ, the ‘last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45).
KH: I accept the same translation of Genesis that the New Testament writers did. Paul, Jesus—they all quoted from Genesis as literal history, and I accept it as literal history. It’s written as historical narrative. If it’s not literal history, then the New Testament has to be thrown out.
Ronnie Thwaites [RT]: ‘I don’t agree with that. My faith doesn’t tell me that every doctrine of Christianity hangs on Genesis 1–11 at all. I believe that Genesis is the story of a good God, a Creator, it is a tale of the emergence of the people of Israel, but I don’t think that my salvation is based on science.’
KH: If the message of salvation doesn’t depend upon Genesis, then I’d like to ask where sin came from, and why people are sinners?
RT: Sin comes from human fall, from diverting from that which we know is good and that which God teaches, and has given witness, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ, to be wrong.
But if we’re not descendants of one man who sinned, then how do we know where sin came from?
No, that question doesn’t bother me. Why does everything hang upon that?
Well, because Paul says in the New Testament, ‘by one man sin entered the world.’
Sure, that story is a very illustrative one, but to jump from there to say that everything that Paul teaches hangs upon it, or that it has to be scientifically verifiable or that in it can be found the germ of all science is respectfully not my faith, or my reasoning.
So there wasn’t one man to start with?
No, I’m not going to—I really don’t know, my faith doesn’t demand that. There is a story of Creation that involved one man. I see the goodness and the hand of God in that. But that does not take me the additional distance of believing or accepting that seven days literally passed in respect of Creation, and so on.
So, where did we come from?
I’m sorry, am I being questioned? I don’t mind answering and witnessing to my faith, but I think it is you who are putting forward the proposition.
We’re talking about the history of a people, we’re talking about a story of Creation. Isn’t it wonderful, isn’t it beautiful that we have a God who intervened, who created, who loved, and who told us the story of a people? Why do we have to—what is the great purpose of ensuring the literalism of this, and forcing this spiritual text?
Deacon Ronnie, I presume you take Genesis 1:1 literally, because it says in the beginning God created, and you said you believe in Creation. But where do you stop taking the Bible literally, and where do you begin to make it a metaphor?
I don’t have to answer that question. What I read in Genesis and in the Pentateuch is the story of God’s goodness, of His intervention in time, and His Creation. There are so many people who don’t accept the existence of God, much less His creative genius in the world, much less the wonder and gift of His Son Jesus, that I am almost reluctant to have a discussion which appears to make it as if there are vast differences between us. I feel we are going back to the 19th century and Scopes monkey trial.
Moderator: Mr Ham … explain why you are insisting on this literal interpretation.
Well, for one thing, the whole of the rest of the New Testament is dependent upon a literal Genesis … and if Genesis is not true, if there was no literal man, and a literal woman, if it’s just an interesting story, then in the New Testament, where Jesus Christ is called the last Adam because He takes the place of the first Adam, He died for the—
No, no, no, nobody said it’s an interesting story, at least I don’t. I put it much higher than that. But it is certainly not literal science as I understand science.
Well—tell me what you think is the best evidence for evolution.
No, I—that doesn’t really interfere with my faith, you know, evolution is quite consistent for me with the presence of a good, creative God who intervenes and who can do all things, can arrange evolution and who chose to have His servants write a story of Creation which holds the germ of truth of His revelation, without my having to interpret literally that the woman beside me is a creature of my rib.
Well, if you believe in millions of years, you have death and disease like cancer before sin. Because the fossil record that shows these things was supposedly laid down over millions of years. The Bible says that death came after sin. That’s in the New Testament. And what about the fact that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15 and Ephesians 5, and Jesus in Mark 10 and Matthew 19, refers to Genesis as a historical event?
Well, you know, I’ll have to turn to Mark 10 for that and those things, and—
It says He made them male and female from the beginning.
Sure, I—He—male and female, fine, He made them from the beginning, I have no doubt that this took place, but that does not tie me to a slavish literal interpretation of this—the historicity of the Bible, as I have studied the history of Scripture, doesn’t require that.
The reason Jesus died on the Cross is in Genesis, the origin of sin and death. Also the origin of clothing, and of marriage. The only reason marriage is one man and one woman is because God made a literal man and a literal woman—
What I think that Genesis does for me in respect of marriage, Mr Ham, is by the metaphor of the rib and that story, it tells me of the wonderful closeness and the mystical union, not only between God and His church, but between two human beings who become one flesh.
Well, Jesus, in Matthew 19, said, ‘Have you not read, he which made them in the beginning made them male and female and said for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife and they will be one flesh.’ Because Eve was taken from Adam, they were one flesh, and that’s what Jesus is quoting, the history of ‘one flesh,’ not just a metaphor. If marriage is based on a metaphor, you could make it mean whatever you want—
You can draw eternal truth, you can draw absolute truth from that.
How do you determine what is absolute truth from a metaphor?
Believe me, we could spend all evening doing that. What I am more chagrined [about] is the exclusiveness of, and with the greatest of respect, the tendency to bigotry of, your interpretation.
Oh, it’s not bigotry, it’s Biblical.
Well, the fundamental Christians say this, I suppose the Taliban says this—
Excuse me, don’t put me in the same category as the Taliban.
May I introduce you to a Jamaican religious context, which has a tendency towards a greater understanding and a sharing and love than your first aphorism, your statement?
Let me introduce you to a Christianity that teaches the love of God who came to Earth to die for man, because the first man, Adam, of whom we’re all descendants, in fact all those genealogies—
A love of God who you tell me every doctrine concerning Him of any importance hangs on the first eleven chapters of the Bible?
Absolutely. Can you name one doctrine that doesn’t? Salvation is based on real history, truth. There was a real man called Adam. Look at Mary, in Luke it has the ancestors of Mary going all the way back to a real man Adam. Where do those ancestors stop being real people and become metaphors?
They don’t stop being that. They can well be literal, the ancestry of the mother of Christ doesn’t as far as I’m concerned relate integrally.
So when those ancestors go all the way back to Adam, and he’s included, was Adam a real person?
To a first man, sure, but that still doesn’t take me to a conclusion that every aspect of this is to be equated with verifiable scientific, historical truth.
Well, at least we’re now starting to concede that there was a real first man.
No, believe me—there—that there was, that a man was created, that God intervened in a creative way in the history of the world, thank God for that, there has never been any doubt in my mind about that.
There’s no doubt in my mind, either, because it’s recorded in Genesis. If Genesis is a metaphor, maybe the bit about creation of man is a metaphor, so maybe there wasn’t a real man.
Mr Ham, what you end up saying is that there is no explanation that is at all acceptable, creditable, of any origin of humanity, of any account of history, if it does not accord with Genesis 1–11.
Absolutely, because that is the real history of the world ... look at what the Bible claims for itself, that over 3,000 times it’s the Word of God and it’s real history—look at the message of salvation in the New Testament, the message of Jesus called the last Adam, He literally died on a cross and was raised from the dead, because we are literally sinners, because we are literally descendents of one man, because that history’s true. If it’s not true, neither is the message of salvation.
Evolution is one of the big stumbling blocks to people today being receptive to the Gospel. People who go to university and colleges know that if evolution is true in the sense that chance, random processes formed man and he just evolved, and if the Bible’s account of history’s not true, then they become consistent and say, well, we’re not going to trust the message of morality and salvation from the Bible [cf. John 3:12].
I don’t think that evolution is a stumbling block in respect to their Christianity. The two main stumbling blocks are division and animosity between professing Christian groups, and the fact that people don’t see us consistently following the One who came and who loved us so much that He gave Himself for us.
Speaking all over the world, I’ve seen many, many, many people come and thank us for helping them understand they can really trust the Bible—because their religious leaders told them it was just a metaphor or it didn’t really matter, or you can believe in evolution, millions of years … . They’ve then listened to the wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ and been converted, and we know that they’re going to be in Heaven. That’s the whole reason that I do what I do.