[UPDATE Dec. 12, 2017: This article has been updated to include a response from Ken Ham, who leads Answers in Genesis]
Southern Evangelical Seminary has taken exception to a recent fundraising letter in which Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham questions an SES professor's belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, even though the professor believes as Ham does that the earth was created in six days.
Ham was part of a dialogue event at the SES National Conference on Christian Apologetics in October, titled "God's Word or Man's Word: From Where Must Apologetics Begin?" He insisted that unwavering belief in God's Word must be the beginning of any apologetics discussion and criticized SES Professor Emeritus Richard Howe for arguing that a defense of the faith can begin with a discussion of natural law.
Ham said in his assessment of the event that Howe "seemed rather weak in his convictions and not very knowledgeable of the biblical and scientific arguments in favor of young-earth creation. And he is very opposed to the way that I, and AiG in general, defend Genesis."
SES President Richard Land, calling the young-earth creationist's comments "unfair and unhelpful," asserted in a statement, "One will be hard pressed to find a more conservative and steadfast seminary dedicated to teaching and defending the foundational doctrines of the historic Christian faith. SES is one of the last bastions of a robust view of biblical inerrancy."
Land explained that Ham had been invited to take part in a dialogue event with fellow young-earth creationist Howe to discuss the pros and cons of two different approaches to "apologetic methodology."
"The dialogue was meant to be about the most prudent and effective way one should go about defending the truth claims of Christianity to unbelievers," wrote Land.
At issue were the two different approaches to Christian apologetics, one espoused by Ham and the other by Howe.
The issue concerns the way in which human beings know reality, Land asserted afterward in a CP interview. "Mr. Ham's approach to apologetics is that one must presuppose the totality of a 'biblical worldview.' Dr. Howe's approach to apologetics is that one must demonstrate that the Christian Gospel is true," Land said. (Land is also Executive Editor of The Christian Post.)
In an essay, Howe categorizes these two methods as the Classical method — "which the Christian is to marshal arguments and evidence demonstrating that the Christian faith is true" — and the Presuppositional method — "which the truth of the Christian faith (in its entirety, together with the Bible in its entirety) must be granted to be true before any knowledge or reasoning (even reasoning against the Christian faith) is possible."
Howe holds to the Classical method while Ham supports the Presuppositional method. Their event at SES was scheduled as a conversational dialogue rather than a debate.
In response to Ham's characterization of the conversation, Land of SES said that Ham missed the point of the dialogue. The discussion was not about the age of the earth, but rather the pros and cons of the Classical method and the Presuppositional method.
"We should all remember that our understanding of God's Word never carries the same authority as God's Word itself does. Believers should always approach God's Word with humility and never equate their understanding of God's Word as being as comprehensive or as infallible as God's Word itself is," he stated. "[W]e believe that the question of the age of the earth is a question of what the Bible is saying not what the Bible is."
Though the event was designed as a dialogue, Ham told The Christian Post that "the dialogue with Dr. Howe actually turned out to be more of an informal debate."
"In fact, 'debate' is the word Dr. Howe used around the 50-minute mark to describe our interaction at SES. Our debate ended up becoming a discussion over the age of the earth and whether death, disease, and bloodshed occurred for millions of years before Adam sinned. We somewhat discussed apologetic methods only at the beginning of our debate," he described.
"The new debate that is now happening on the internet is because SES is desperately trying to justify what I would call their compromise stand regarding the age of the earth as well as the authority of Scripture as it relates to Genesis."
In a letter posted at the Answers in Genesis website last month, Ham noted that while the conference "had some good presentations" on other issues, it concerned him that "old earth" creationism was prominent at the event.
"Compromise positions on Genesis are permeating our seminaries and other Christian institutions. Academics have come up with all sorts of fanciful ways to twist the Scriptures to try to fit in millions of years," wrote Ham.
Land clarified that all SES trustees, faculty, and staff, which include both young-earth and old-earth creationists, believe the Bible is infallible and inerrant. The issue of the age of the earth — which was not the focus of the conference dialogue — is a matter of interpretation, he noted.
Despite Ham's letter, Land said SES is "committed to furthering this dialogue," so much so that they have extended an invitation to Ham to participate in a formal debate at next year's conference.