Why I’d Rather Debate Ken Ham Than Ben Corey

Anti-science, anti-gay, psuedoscientist who thinks I will burn for eternity in hell

Anti-science, anti-gay, psuedoscientist who thinks I will burn for eternity in hell


Anabaptist, progressive, anti-violence theologian who doesn't care that I poke fun at his hair

Anabaptist, progressive, anti-violence theologian with good hair for his age.


When I first ‘met’ Ben Corey I burned him pretty hard.

I mean, another Christian blogger on Patheos talking about the meaning and purpose found in a life with Jesus Christ? How could I not?

It was the usual “wow, your theology is really convenient to your personal set of ethics; wow, you conveniently cherry-pick the Bible; wow, you like the Pope because you have no idea what it’s actually like to live somewhere that is directly influenced by the Catholic Church,” sort of thing.

You know that atheist who knows a lot, but unfortunately knows that he knows a lot, and is highly skilled at provoking difficult conversations with theists who weren’t looking for a fight? That was me.

Sorry, Mr. Corey.

We’ve gotten to know each other a bit better over the last few months, mainly because Mr. Corey refused to accept that he was my enemy and consistently reached out by insisting that we could be friends. It’s been both an unexpected and positive experience for me.

So, to repay Ben Corey for his friendship, I’m going to use him in a blog post meant to criticise Christian theology.

You’re welcome Mr. Corey. I know I owe you a beer.

One thing Ben and I haven’t been able to do yet, considering that we’ve never actually met face-to-face, is have a real one-on-one debate. It’ll probably happen sometime in the years to come. But when I initially challenged him on his own blog, I was thrown off because his theology wasn’t something I’m familiar with. I have a passing knowledge of Anabaptism, which is how Ben loosely identifies, but not enough to know the hermeneutics or apologetics that Ben utilises to defend his faith.

Which is a huge problem when an atheist challenges (or is challenged by) a Christian in the public forum. We have to do this sort of ritual mating dance to figure out what species they are and what language they speak.

There are an estimated 40,000 Christian denominations in existence. 40,000 ways to interpret one book. Never mind all the additional religious texts and treatises like the Apocrypha and the Book of Concord that some Christians take as doctrine and others don’t.

When atheists debate each other in matters of science, you can be reasonably assured that they’re going to be following a strict set of rules. They’re going to adhere to the scientific method, they’re going to try to avoid logical fallacies, and if they don’t they can be held accountable and their argument is weakened. There is no such advantage with Christians. When Christians challenge our arguments we have no idea what parts of the Bible we can use to refute them because we don’t know what they take seriously or literally and what they dismiss as allegorical or of less importance.

Which is why I’d rather debate Ken Ham then Ben Corey.

One of the first articles I challenged Mr. Corey was one in which he asked whether certain parts of the Bible were literal or metaphorical and if the question even mattered. One of the arguments he asserted was that the Book of Exodus, whether literal or not, is a strong statement on the evils of slavery. When I pointed out that there are verses in the very next book of Leviticus that are very pro-slavery, his answer basically said that there are certain parts of the Bible that can only be understood through the lens of Jesus, and that if it went against the message of Jesus than it doesn’t literally mean what it says.

Which was frustrating, to say the least.

Essentially, I feel unable to use the Bible to defend my own atheistic stance because I will always be accused of not taking it in the right context. Almost every Christian will assert that the passages of the Bible need to be viewed with the right system of hermeneutics, the right apologetics, the correct translation. And if you don’t use all the correct systems, then you loose the true meaning.

Which translates into “Of the 40,000 possible meanings behind this verse, you haven’t chosen mine.”

So when I bring up the more violent parts of the Bible, the parts that directly contrast his own anti-violence worldview, I’m not viewing it through the right lens. When I challenge a blogger like Mark Daoust on how the Canaanite genocide matches the idea of a loving God, I’m told that the Book of Joshua is to be taken as a literary epic that shows the just nature of God and not a historical record. Whatever that means. The literal 6-day creation, Noah’s Ark, Jonah, the Plagues of Egypt, they’re literary, allegorical, parables.

But the literal death and resurrection of Jesus, his miracles, his divinity, those are absolutely true and literal and must be taken on faith.

Head. Pounding. Desk.

Now over to Ken Ham, who I’m sure you’re all familiar with after his highly publicised debate with Bill Nye. Ham, one of the leaders of the Answers in Genesis movement and the founder of the Creation museum, is a Biblical literalist. He takes all of the Bible to mean exactly what it says. Creation, Flood, Exodus, crucifixion etc.

I think Ham’s beliefs are ridiculous bordering on dangerous, but at least I know what the rules are. At least I can be confident that when I bring up an incident in the Bible he’s not going to interrupt and say “Now you need to understand, that may not have actually literally happened.” Ham may be borderline delusional, but at least he’s honest. He’s trying to sell a collection of ancient texts as the literal Word of God. And he’s adamant that it’s all the literal Word of God, not just this part and that part and maybe this bit right here. He’s drawn the line in the sand. All or none. Ken Ham at least has enough respect for his intellectual opponents to not expect us to have to use guess work to figure out his theological standards.

So if I, for example, bring up the Canaanite genocide, I already know that Ham views the account exactly how the Bible portrays it. As a literal event condoned and commanded by God. No guesswork on my part as to how allegorical I’m supposed to take it.

Christians like Ham claim that if you reject the inerrancy and literacy of one part of the Bible, you can do the same to the rest. I agree. And I do. Christians like Ben Corey claim that you can dismiss the literal meaning and sometimes even the importance of certain parts of the Bible but not others. Because…well, I don’t really know. That’s the point. And everyone but a literalist is going to have a different answer.

See why I find Ken Ham to be strangely refreshing?

I know Mr. Corey better than I ever will Ken Ham, but I know so much more about Ham’s beliefs than Corey’s. I know Mr. Corey believes in the literal death and resurrection of Jesus. I’m pretty certain he accepts the divinity of Jesus. He says he’s accepts the Theory of Evolution but I don’t know if that applies to human beings. I don’t know if he believes in Adam and Eve or what that means for the doctrine of original sin. I have no idea what his beliefs are concerning hell. For that matter, I don’t know if he believes that I’ll be in hell.

With Ken Ham, I do. I may not like it, but at least I know. I can engage. I can stand on a level playing field.

So, to my Christian readers, this is what I’m asking of you. Stop saying that atheists don’t understand the Bible. Be honest with us and say that we don’t accept the interpretation you choose to work with.


Pictures found at answersingenesis.com and formerlyfundie.com

13 thoughts on “Why I’d Rather Debate Ken Ham Than Ben Corey

  1. It seems a little disingenuous to say ‘You can engage’ Ken Ham. You can engage anyone. Sit down, have a conversation, ask questions. You even admitted that you don’t know Ken Ham, so you can’t ‘engage’ him, you just find it easier to attack his position because it is simplistic and easy to attack. We all enjoy punching down. But digging into Ben’s theology would be a little more work. I assume you would find it equally frustrating debating a Jew because they also rarely read the bible in the literalist way of Ken Ham. And it’s their book! Everything excellent is as difficult as it is rare.

    • Yes and no. This wasn’t meant to say “I want to debate Ham because his positions are stupid and I could win.” I’m saying it’s easier to debate Biblical literalists because I know the standard that they debate the Bible from. With other Christians I don’t know what the standard is, and when I do I don’t know how it’s defended, and when I learn that I don’t know which parts of the Bible they hold to that standard.

      So yes, with someone like Ben I would have to learn more about him and his theology before engaging him in a debate, but I don’t always have that opportunity. The one thing I can say about literalists is that they’re consistent. Usually. That’s my point.

  2. This is a great post. It is certainly eye opening to me, to hear what an atheist’s feelings or experience of my theology might be.

    If I could offer a counter example. I would rather debate Richard Dawkins than you. You seem to have far more nuance and room for agnostic realities than he does.

    Maybe if I could offer up an explanation of the difference between Benjamin’s and Ken’s understanding of scripture:

    Imagine the Bible was a newspaper. Ken Hamm is someone who picks up that paper and says, “every word of this is factual recorded literal history.” The front page headlines, the news articles, the Arts and Entertainment section, the sports commentary, the letters to the editor, the advertising, the editorials, the classifieds, the short stories, the political cartoons… All of it can be understood in the same way.

    Benjamin on the other hand is saying, “hey wait, you can’t read this all the same way”.

    You can’t read an editorial like a news article. You can’t read a letter to the editor like sports commentary. You can’t read that short story like a classified ad.

    Now imagine that newspaper is thousands of years old, in different languages, and seems to be about God.

    Here is the problem with Ken Hamm, he thinks the Bible is only news articles or headlines. He stopped learning about newspapers when he was 10.

    But any astute news reader knows that even the objective “news articles” and “headlines” are not objective at all. The are biased, slanted and they don’t give the whole story. In fact, no newspaper can tell the whole sorry from every angle.

    Anyways, I don’t know if this helps but hopefully it is some background as to why it isn’t anyways easy to pin us down own what we say the bible is really meaning.

    • The newspaper analogy is a good one but it falls flat on one point. In a newspaper, the editorals, sports, headlines, arts and entertainment, and classifieds are clearly spelled out. And if there’s any argument, one can simply go to the editor and ask.

      Not so in Christianity. No one can agree on what’s a headline and whats an opinion piece or anything else. And I’m not just talking about literalists verses non-literalists or Evangelicals verses Catholics verses progressives. No one can agree. On anything. What one person claims is literal truth is claimed by another to be allegory, by another to be loosely based on truth with some exaggeration, and by another to be not even part of the Bible.

      And the Bible itself, unlike a newspaper, certainly doesn’t go out of it’s way to say ‘This fact, this is fiction.’

      • You are correct about our ability to clarify… but it is the same in historiography and literature scholarship.

        Now, I would argue that the Bible does tell us give us clues to genre. When St. Paul writes, “Dear friends in Christ…” we know it is a letter. When Genesis says “In the beginning…” we should hear something akin to “Once upon a time…”

        However, my view on this stuff is not shared by many Christians. But it it shared by a good deal of professional (and serious) biblical scholars. Yet, again, the fundies have their own “scholars”.

        Wow… this is confusing.

        I guess I would say there are loosely defined camps. But denominations rarely set the boundaries. I am Lutheran and so is my congregation, but how I read the bible and how most of them do is not the same. If you got together most of my denominational clergy colleagues we would have a similar approach to scripture, but the pastors of other churches in my town differ widely from my view.

        So to your point that nailing Christians down on how they read scripture is tough… welcome to the club. This is the world we work and live in. 😉

    • Other issues with the newspaper analogy include: when such a paper prints a story which turns out to be patently false then the whole paper becomes suspect in its reliability as a source for truth; there are other sources which can verify a newspaper’s claims; if a paper reports two completely contradictory stories as fact, it loses its credibility; and so on…

  3. Reblogged this on hitchens67 Atheism WOW!! Campaign and commented:
    I completely AGREE!! This is an awesome post in that it explains the frustrations of those people that get blindsided by cherry-picking Christians! These people are nothing more than theists of convenience! They really don’t believe in the bible, they just can’t go that extra step and say that it’s just a bunch of goddamned fables with absolutely no basis in reality! At least with the fanatic deluded people you know where you stand, and at least these people, idiots though they are, actually BELIEVE in the book of nonsense that they preach! Hell, even Bill ‘the douche bag’ O’Reilly has said that the bible is ‘parables’ and not actual happenings! Really? Shit people, if your gonna believe in fairies, it’s not that much harder to believe in the doctrine given to man BY the fairy himself!

    • Are you… criticizing progressive Christians for not taking the whole Bible literally? I would think that an interpretation of the Bible and Christian faith that allows for a broader worldview would be a welcome thing for society. I mean, if you’d like, I could go start a Crusade or burn a Wiccan at the stake… if that would make you feel more comfortable in your obvious dislike of my entire religion.

      Seriously, I don’t hate you. I understand your deep dislike and skepticism of religion. I’ve been there at various times in my life, and I’ve been in church since I was about 5 years old. But, it’s really unfair to hold an entire group of people in the 21st century responsible for the mistakes and atrocities committed centuries past. I would also hold that it’s unfair to hold every single religious person to the same standard as our fundamentalists and extremists. I appreciate The Irish Atheist’s willingness to engage with our community, even though he disagrees. I wish that you could have the same level of understanding and willingness.

  4. Interestingly enough I wish we had more public debates going on between the likes of Mr. Corey and yourself as opposed to the rather cartoonish debate we had between Ham and Nye which I felt accurately conveyed the narrow mindset of Americans in that it has to be one or the other. I don’t think a debate between you and Mr. Corey would be a debate in which you would be trying to outsmart one another or catch one in a logical fallacy but rather, to explore another person’s way of thinking. In truth, there should be no shame in feeling as if you’ve lost a debate to someone like Mr. Corey. If the debate was intellectually stimulating, then it was a debate worth having.

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