Top U.S. creationist's invitation as keynote speaker for Alberta homeschooling convention draws fire

An Alberta homeschooling group that came under fire in 2016 for booking controversial reality-TV couple Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar for its annual convention is again facing heat — this time for inviting leading U.S. creationist Ken Ham to speak.

Alberta Home Education Association invited Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis ministry, which runs Creation Museum

U.S. creationist Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis ministry says it seeks 'to expose the bankruptcy of evolutionary ideas, and its bedfellow, a "millions of years old" earth (and even older universe).' (Les Schofer/Answers in Genesis)

An Alberta homeschooling group that came under fire in 2016 for booking controversial reality-TV couple Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar for its annual convention is again facing heat — this time for inviting a leading U.S. creationist to speak. 

Ken Ham is listed as one of three keynote speakers at the annual Alberta Home Education Association (AHEA) convention next April in Red Deer.

Ham, an Australian native, has built a thriving ministry in Kentucky. He is the president and CEO of Answers in Genesis ministry, which focuses "on providing answers to questions about the Bible — particularly the book of Genesis — regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth."

In describing itself on its website, Answers in Genesis says: "We also desire to train others to develop a biblical worldview, and seek to expose the bankruptcy of evolutionary ideas, and its bedfellow, a 'millions of years old' earth (and even older universe) ... the Bible — the 'history book of the universe' — provides a reliable, eyewitness account of the beginning of all things, and can be trusted to tell the truth in all areas it touches on."

The ministry also runs the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in Kentucky.

'Denies the age of the Earth'

Calgarian Paul Ens says he walked away from his Christian faith after reading Ham's creationist literature and started a YouTube channel dedicated to debunking Ham's teachings.

"As a citizen of Alberta and a father, I'm very concerned that Ken Ham is being brought in on multiple levels — primarily that he is a science denier. He denies evolution, he denies the age of the Earth," Ens said.

He says the fact Alberta's Home Education Association has booked Ham to speak raises questions.

"It signals to me that this homeschool group is not serious about following provincial curriculum or proper science education for their children," he said.

Ens says he spent much of his life believing what Ham believes and also worked with a youth ministry. A few years ago, he decided to read up on the secular takes of the history of the planet.

"The more I delved into it, the more my eyes were opened and I was rather appalled," Ens said.

"As an adult, I'm definitely behind the eight ball because I learned what Ken Ham taught, so I would like to spare both my children and other children from being kind of behind in life because they followed these backwards teachings."

'Dinosaurs and the Bible'

Ham isn't the only creationist on the bill for the convention.

The bio of Calvin Smith, who is also speaking at the convention but not as a keynote speaker, says he has "personally witnessed the devastation brought to our youth by the teaching of evolutionary rationalism. But he also saw the life-transforming effect of biblical answers that encourage people to know that God's Word can be trusted from the very first verse."

Smith will be speaking about "dinosaurs and the Bible."

A spokesperson for the AHEA declined a request for an interview, but said the group brings in a variety of speakers, is not exclusionary and works to offer the widest variety of resources to parents.

Concerns over education and public dollars

Alberta Liberal leader David Khan says people have freedom of religion, but it shouldn't interfere with their education.

"It is a problem if they're teaching this instead of the Alberta curriculum. And in fact I think I would have a problem if they were teaching this to children using public dollars in a homeschooling environment at all," he said.

Education Minister David Eggen says the association does not receive any direct funding from the province. 

Home-schooled students are funded indirectly through school boards or private school authorities.

'Worry about their judgment'

Ens says he wants the education minister to better oversee homeschooling, for example, by pre-approving teaching materials and family lesson plans, and beefing up standardized tests with "enough science in them that our children aren't hindered."

When he was with the youth ministry, Ens says he met homeschooling families who reported teaching one curriculum but in fact focused on religious teachings while leaving out science entirely.

He worries they'll buy Ham's curriculum at the conference.

"Unfortunately, Ken's material is so anti-science, anti-education, his entire ministry is based upon keeping people back and holding back ideas," Ens said.

"I worry about any organization that would celebrate this man. I don't deny them their right; I just worry about their judgment."

With files from Jennifer Lee and the Calgary Eyeopener.