What If Stories, Part IV: War and Creationism in Europe

How did World War I change creationism in Europe?  Check out part four of the National Center for Science Education’s series.

If you’ve been following the series, you’ve read what historians Ron Numbers, Taner Edis, and Adam Shapiro had to say.  How did World War I change the history of creationism in the USA?  In Turkey?  In textbooks?

In today’s post, Abraham C. Flipse of VU University Amsterdam puts in his two cents.  Flipse attracted attention a couple years ago with his history of creationism in the Netherlands.

Obviously, the devastation of the war was much closer to home in the Netherlands.  How would creationism’s history have been different in this “stronghold of creationism” if the war had never happened?

Read Dr. Flipse’s post to find out!

Women against Woman

What counts more: The fact that you’re a conservative or the fact that you’re a woman?  In Texas, conservative women seem to vote as conservatives first and women second.

A new poll from Public Policy Polling reveals that Texas women prefer conservative (male) gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott over liberal (female) candidate Wendy Davis.

There’s no doubt about the relative ideology of the two candidates.  Attorney General Abbott has consistently run as the conservative choice.  So much so that the liberal Texas watchdog group Texas Freedom Network refers to Abbott as an “extremist.”  And Davis has been called a “liberal folk hero” for her inspiring personal story and ferocious filibustering of an anti-abortion bill.

But when it comes to voting, more Texas women prefer Abbott.  According to a poll of 559 registered voters conducted between April 10-13 (margin of error +/- 4.1%), Abbott has a 49 to 41 percent lead among women.  About a third of women had a favorable image of Davis, while almost half had an unfavorable opinion.

Of course, this might not be a simple matter of conservatism trumping gender.  Abbott has a much longer record in Texas politics.  It would make sense for him to crush any opponent, no matter what gender.  And it’s silly to think that there is a single “women’s” position on issues such as abortion, education, or the economy.

Nevertheless, conservative politicians have struggled to fight the image that they are conducting a “War on Women.”  It doesn’t help when blundermouthed GOP leaders such as Todd Akin represent conservatism in the minds of many voters.

This news from Texas shows that conservatives can win among female voters.  In Texas, it seems, women voters put their conservatism first, their gender second.




Conservative Politicians Need an Education

If you want to be President, go to college.  Eventually.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has announced his intention to return to college to finish his bachelor’s degree.  The conservative Walker dropped out of Marquette University as a senior and never looked back.  Until now.

With presidential aspirations on the table, Governor Walker has decided to complete his undergraduate education.  He’ll use a program for working adults at the University of Wisconsin.

Makes us wonder: Would his opponents have used Walker’s incomplete college education against him?  Called him just another ignorant conservative?  As I’ve argued in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere, “ignorance” is one of the go-to accusations made against conservatives.

Doesn’t seem like good politics, with the vast majority of adults in a similar boat.  Only about one in five adults in the United States has a college degree.  Nevertheless, Governor Walker seems to think it’s not worth the risk.  These days, part of the resume for POTUS must include higher education.  But don’t tell that to G-Wash and Honest Abe.


What If Stories, Part III: Schools, Scopes, and the War

What if World War I had never happened?  How would the history of creation/evolution controversies have changed?  That’s the question the folks at the National Center for Science Education blog are asking these days.  In today’s third post of the series, historian Adam Shapiro makes his case for a vastly different story without the Great War to stir the pot in 1914-1918.

Shapiro’s the right person to ask.  His recent book Trying Biology offered a smart new argument about the importance of textbook publishing in the history of creationism in the United States.

So how does Shapiro think World War I changed things in the world of American creationism?  You’ll have to read his NCSE blog post to find out.

School Is Not the Place for Education

What does it mean to be educated?  This morning at The Imaginative Conservative, Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg blasts public schools for punting on this central question.

Rummelsburg relates his long quest to dig into the basic philosophy of public education.  No one he’s asked, he tells us, is able to answer the simple question: What is an education?

Rummelsburg, a veteran public-school teacher himself, asked public-school teachers, students, and administrators.  Most of the respondents, according to Rummelsburg, hemmed and hawed with answers about mastering standards and earning a diploma.  One math teacher, he tells us, paraphrased Steve Forbes.  What is an education?  This teacher answered, “Replacing an empty mind with an open one.”

When he asked his county superintendent’s office, he got a list of four points:

  1. You will get as many definitions of education as the number of people you ask.

  2. To be educated means to have learned enough language and math to be a good citizen.

  3. It is not about the subject being taught, but what the teacher does with her audience. It is all about the student teacher relationship and what she can get them to do.

  4. That is the answer today, the answer tomorrow will be different.

[I assume this was Rummelsburg interpretation of the superintendent’s office’s answers.  The language sounds a little too frank to come from a public official.]

What should the answer have been?  Rummelsburg wants teachers and schools to hew closer to GK Chesterton’s definition of education.  Education must not be thought of as a simple thing, but as a “method.”  It should be a transmission of all that is best in our culture.  The only way to do that properly, Rummelsburg concludes, is to separate out the unfairly conjoined notions of “school” and “education.”

As he concludes,

It is a terrible crime to hand the formation of our children over to an enormous class of uneducated teachers, yet that is what we have done. As it stands, there is nothing redeemable about the public schools or the lies they instil in our children. . . . Let us take our children back and assume our responsibility as their first teachers and teach them as they ought to be taught.

Certainly, Rummelsburg’s argument that today’s public schools have utterly lost their way resonates with intellectuals on both the cultural right and left. And I have a deep sympathy for his insider’s critique of public education. I work with many public-school teachers and administrators, and nothing makes me more pessimistic about our public schools than the number of teachers who choose to homeschool their own children.

But is Rummelsburg’s method sensible? If we can’t get an adequate philosophical definition of education from teachers and school administrators, does that mean that schools are not educating students?

Would this work for other institutions? For example, if I asked everyone who worked in my local supermarket to explain “the market,” would I get a coherent answer? An answer that captured the essence of social and economic exchange? Probably not. But does that mean that my supermarket is not functioning as a market?


Eat a Meanwich, Michelle Obama

Kids don’t eat their vegetables.  No news there.  But new rules about school lunches have got some students and their parents up in arms against an overreaching federal government.

As described by the LA Times, the new rules mandate more fruits and vegetables for school lunches.  This seems like a good thing.  But as the LA Times editors argued recently,

the program is afflicted by rigid, overreaching regulations that defy common sense. Schools must provide items from five food groups, including a fruit and a vegetable, every day. Students must choose three items, even if they’re not hungry enough for all of them, and at least one must be produce. But fruits and vegetables rank as the least popular items, so requiring schools to offer one of each for each student practically guarantees that an enormous amount of fruits and vegetables will go to waste.

More colorfully, the editors at Twitchy compiled a series of student tweets about the new lunch rules. Be warned: these tweets include some harsh language, most of it directed at First Lady Michelle Obama. Obama, of course, has made healthy food one of her signature programs. One student memorably complained, “Sorry michelle obama but i dont wanna eat crusty ass broccoli for lunch at school.”

One mom complained, "This is sad!"

One mom complained, “This is sad!”

As historian Susan Levine demonstrated, the history of school lunch is fraught with the politics of poverty, influence, and agriculture. In their early days, powerful US Senators such as Richard Russell of Georgia promoted school lunches as a guaranteed market for struggling farmers. In the 1960s, federal policy-makers began to see school food as a way to address economic inequality in society. By guaranteeing meals for low-income students, it was hoped, school food could even the playing field somewhat.

So there’s nothing new about school lunch as a tool of social engineering. And there’s also nothing new about conservative outraged reactions. As Baylen Linnekin insisted in the pages of Reason recently,

The government’s efforts to pad school lunch enrollment numbers by expanding the program should be seen as what it is: a cynical attempt to avoid admitting failure. There’s nothing palatable about that.

Even here, though, it seems libertarian and/or conservative pundits will be on tricky terrain. Perhaps the new lunch program is unpopular. And perhaps the government has assumed an enormous role in the feeding of America’s children.  But who wants to be on the side of nixing fruits and vegetables?

Shelfies III: What Do Smart Conservatives Read?

–Guest Post by Patrick Halbrook

[Editor’s Note: This post continues our series of bookshelf photos.  See contributions from yours truly here and here.  What’s on your shelf?  Send your shelfie to us at alaats@binghamton.edu.]   

An avid reader of ILYBYGTH, I am probably atypical in that I read this blog not so I can understand conservatives, but so I can find out how liberals understand me.  So when Adam asked his readers to send in shelfies, I thought it might be beneficial for others to see what conservative Christian educators like myself have been up to lately in our reading habits.  Here’s a sampling of ten books from my shelves that have influenced me over the years, and that anyone interested in unraveling the mysteries of conservative Christian educators would do well to explore.

What's on Your Shelf?

What’s on Your Shelf?

  1. Richard M. Gamble, ed., The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being (2007) – Whether motivated by historical curiosity or a search for wisdom (or both), anyone interested in education will find a rich resource in this 500 page anthology. It features selected writings by Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, Albert Jay Nock and C.S. Lewis, and many more.
  2. John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching (1885)– This book is required reading at the school where I teach. Although its terminology is a bit dated (the principles of pedagogy are described as scientific laws—how 19th century!), the principles are as powerfully applied today. There is an interesting story behind this book. Gregory, a university president in Illinois, wrote this book with Sunday School teachers in mind. Then, in 1917, a new edition was published, stripped of all references to the Bible. The book later became popular among Christian educators, who used the abridged version for years before bring pleasantly surprised to discover an original edition. A new edition was published in 2004 by Veritas Press, with the religious language restored.
  3. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1943) – Lewis wrote over sixty years ago, but the problems that he identifies with education sound just as relevant as ever to a good conservative like me. Is there room left, in a world obsessed with progress, for traditional, universal values, or for God? Or, as Lewis argues, do we rid ourselves of these things do our own detriment? The Abolition of Man explicates a philosophy that Lewis explored elsewhere in his fiction, such as in his Space Trilogy.
  4. Louis Berkhof and Cornelius Van Til, Foundations of Christian Education: Addresses to Christian Teachers (1990, from lectures originally delivered and published in 1953) – The writing is a bit dry (okay, really dry), but anyone who wants to understand why some Christians (and Calvinists in particular) insist that education cannot be religiously neutral should consider reading this book.
  5. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?  The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1975) – Like many evangelicals, I have been enormously influenced by the work of Francis Schaeffer in the way I think about culture. Also like many evangelicals, I disagree with many of his conclusions while still being deeply inspired by the monumental task he took upon himself of evaluating the cultural and intellectual history of the West from a Christian perspective. This book is accompanied by a quirky ten-part video series now available on DVD, parts of which I show to my high school students from time to time.
  6. Joseph Baldaccino, ed., Educating for Virtue (1988) – This book features essays by various conservative authors like Russell Kirk. They mourn many of the developments in education from the past century and focus on restoring the role of moral formation in literature and history classes.
  7. Douglas Wilson, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (1991) – Spinning off of Dorothy Sayers’s essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” (1947), this book begat the Classical Christian education movement. In it, Wilson attempts to lay out a philosophy of education which avoids the Scylla of academic rigor without God and the Charybdis of anti-intellectual Christian fundamentalism. Put it on your must-read list if you want to understand current trends in Christian schooling. Wilson’s influence, along with the Association of Classical & Christian Schools (which he helped form) has been profound.
  8. Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, 3rd ed. (2004) – First published in 1999, The Well-Trained Mind has become one of the most popular reference works in the homeschooling movement. Bauer is a professor at the College of William and Mary and was homeschooled as a child by her mother, the book’s co-author. Like Douglas Wilson, Bauer owes much to Dorothy Sayers for her paradigm for education. My wife and I, who are homeschooling our own children, are finding this book indispensable. (Readers of ILYBYGTH may be interested to know that tensions have erupted in the homeschooling world over the past few years regarding young-earth creationism, with Bauer on one side and Ken Ham on the other, and with homeschooling conferences being put in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between the two.)
  9. Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had (2003) – Writing for adults in this book, Bauer guides her reader through the classics, offering advice along the way on the skills of journaling and of asking critical questions of the texts. I especially enjoyed her historical surveys of the development of various literary genres (including the novel, the poem, autobiography, drama, and history writing). The goal of the book is to help prepare readers to go on to read the classics on their own, many of which she recommends and summarizes to get readers started on their journey.
  10. Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans, Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning (2006) This book offers a variation on the Classical Christian education theme. Littlejohn and Evans (both Christian school administrators) sum up their philosophy thus: “If we believe that Christian living is the fulfillment in this life of what God intends for human beings—if being a Christian is, in fact, ‘good for us’—then we can legitimately conclude that living in a Christ-influenced society can be good for anyone, even those who do not profess the faith personally. A gracious, articulate citizen who has learned to consider and to communicate within the whole range of human concerns will find it much easier to influence those living in the modern world than will those who have missed this set of skills in their education.”

About the author: Patrick Halbrook teaches at a classical Christian school near Raleigh, North Carolina.  His research interests include the history of Christian education and the intersection of science and religion, and for his master’s thesis he explored the role of the Scopes trial in American memory.  You can reach Patrick at phalbrook@carychristianschool.org.

What If Stories, Part Deux: War, Islam, and the Ottoman Empire

How would creationism have looked different if World War I had never happened?  That’s the question the National Center for Science Education is asking these days.

In the second post of the series, Taner Edis of Truman State University asks how creationism would have evolved differently in the Islamic world.  How did the cataclysm of the war change Muslim’s attitudes about evolution?  How did the war-time collapse of the Ottoman Empire change the course of creationism in the Islamic world?  Take a look at Professor Edis’ post to find out.

Ken Ham Is My Guidance Counselor

Why does Ken Ham care where you go to college? Where you send your kids?   Because “college” is more than just a collection of classes and academics. For religious conservatives as for everybody else, “college” represents a formative experience. The ideas one will encounter, the personal connections one will make, and the changes in one’s outlook and worldview all make the college years some of the most transformative in our lives.

In recent years, Ham, America’s (and Australia’s) leading voice for young-earth creationism, has established himself as the arbiter of creationist orthodoxy in college attendance. And his word carries weight in the world of evangelical higher education.

Recently, for instance, Ham warned readers at Answers In Genesis about the dangers of attending Calvin College. Students at that storied Christian school, Ham explained, were “being influenced . . . to undermine the authority of Scripture in many ways.” When faculty engage in evolutionary research and teaching that might turn away from Ham’s strict attitudes about knowledge and creation, Ham warns, students will too often abandon their creationist faith.

As a precaution, Ham offers readers a list of schools that adhere to the young-earth creationism taught by Ham’s Answers In Genesis ministry. To be safe, Ham warns, parents and students ought to stick with schools that have proven their fidelity to these ideas.

Ham’s anxiety over the crumbling orthodoxy in Christian higher education is nothing new. As I argue in my 1920s book, many of today’s evangelical schools had their origins in the founding decade of American fundamentalism. Back in the 1920s, religious schools often faced a choice between fundamentalist orthodoxy and modernist adaptation. Most chose modernism. The University of Chicago, for example, founded as a Baptist beacon of learning, became the leading voice for theological modernism, employing such folks as Shailer Mathews and Shirley Jackson Case. In contrast, a few Christian schools, most famously Wheaton College, sided with the fundamentalist movement.

Leading fundamentalists in the 1920s also founded a spate of new schools to embody their theological and cultural conservatism. Perhaps most prominently, evangelist Bob Jones Sr. opened Bob Jones College (now Bob Jones University) in 1926. The goal of this school was to form the fundamentalist character of young people while educating them in the best traditions of arts and sciences. In order to reassure parents that the school would never slide toward theological modernism or cultural liberalism, Jones and his allies established a rock-ribbed charter. This charter hoped to guarantee the continuing orthodoxy of the school. The charter’s second paragraph outlined that orthodoxy:

The general nature and object of the corporation shall be to conduct an institution of learning for the general education of youth in the essentials of culture and in the arts and sciences, giving special emphasis to the Christian religion and the ethics revealed in the Holy Scriptures, combating all atheistic, agnostic, pagan and so-called scientific adulterations of the Gospel, unqualifiedly affirming and teaching the inspiration of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments); the creation of man by the direct act of God; the incarnation and virgin birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; His identification as the Son of God; His vicarious atonement for the sins of mankind by the shedding of His blood on the Cross; the resurrection of His body from the tomb; His power to save me from sin; the new birth through the regeneration by the Holy Spirit; and the gift of eternal life by the grace of God.

Perhaps most notably, the next line specified that this charter “shall never be amended, modified, altered, or changed as to the provisions hereinbefore set forth.” Also remarkable, according to a 1960 reminiscence by Bob Jones Sr., at its founding BJU decreed that every graduating senior would pledge to monitor the school’s continuing fundamentalism. “Should the policy and conduct of the University ever, in my lifetime, deviate, in the slightest particular, from the letter or spirit of this Creed,” seniors would promise,

I hereby pledge myself to exert all my influence to affect a change in conditions; failing which, I will resort to such legal measures as the courts may offer to the end that the institution may be kept true to the University Creed and the original intentions of the founder.

Most evangelical colleges established similar creeds and many promised never to amend them. Not many others, to my knowledge, required such strict supervision by their alumni.

These days, Ken Ham has taken over the role of orthodoxy’s gadfly. In addition to his warnings about waverings from his definition of creationism at Calvin College, Ham has warned that other evangelical schools might be threatening the faith of their students. And Ham’s warnings carry weight.

In one recent episode at Bryan College, for example, Ham’s public worries about faculty orthodoxy led the school’s leadership to instigate a new sort of creationist orthodoxy pledge for faculty. From now on, faculty must publicly avow their belief in a real, historic Adam and Eve. As I argued at the time, the fallout from Bryan College’s policy shift might lead to a shake-up of faculty. More directly relevant, the furor at Bryan seems to testify to Ham’s influence. Worried that creationist parents might not send their students and their tuition dollars, Bryan’s leaders acted to shore up their image as a home of young-earth creationist orthodoxy.

Also intriguing, I must ask again if the drive to protect their reputations as safe theological and cultural havens has led some conservative evangelical schools to cover up incidents of sexual assault. Of course, these are very serious allegations, and I do not ask these questions lightly. I am certainly not accusing Ken Ham or the leadership of these schools of condoning sexual assault. But the drive to present a public face as a uniquely safe environment for fundamentalist students certainly puts undue pressure on college leaders. It is not unfair to wonder if such pressure might lead schools to downplay any cases that might threaten those reputations.

Outside the world of conservative evangelical Protestantism, colleges spend an inordinate amount of time and treasure to attract students. Flashy dorm rooms, high-visibility sports programs, celebrity faculty, and lavish campus lifestyles all hope to convince families to send their kids and their money to certain schools. The pressure on recruiters is intense.

There is a similar pressure on evangelical colleges. Influential voices such as that of Ken Ham are able to exert outsized influence by warning creationist families toward or away from certain schools. Without Ham’s imprimatur, conservative schools may lose the loyalty of students and families.


“Conservative Thought” or “Bigotry”? A Conservative Professor Makes Waves

Is it “conservative” or “bigoted” to express skepticism toward sensitivity training about transgender people? About sexual-harassment investigations?

Steven Hayward finds himself facing these questions as he completes his one-year position as visiting professor of conservative thought at the famously left-leaning University of Colorado at Boulder. ILYBYGTH readers may remember the program that brought Hayward out to Boulder. Conservative critics of the university had complained that the school did not include any conservative intellectual presence. As a result, outside political pressure pushed through the program to welcome a series of one-year visiting professors to the campus. The hope was that these prominent conservative intellectuals would spark debate and a more profound sense of intellectual diversity.

Steven Hayward

Steven Hayward

Predictably, the sparks have begun flying. Hayward has been accused of bigotry. His representations of conservative thought, he has charged, have been said to “‘border’ on ‘hate speech.’” In response, Hayward declared, “they’re welcome to fire me if they want.”

What’s the issue? Hayward publicly questioned university policies about sexual harassment and gender sensitivity training. In an interview and an editorial a few weeks back, Hayward asked if the CU philosophy department was really guilty of sexual harassment. In his editorial, Hayward compared the investigation to a witch hunt:

Unquestionably philosophy is among of the most male-dominated disciplines in universities today, but inviting outside review by the American Philosophical Association’s (APA) Committee on the Status of Women was guaranteed to produce a finding as predictable as the Salem Committee to Investigate Witchcraft in 1691. The irony of this situation is the unacknowledged reversal of the presumption of “privilege” that was at the heart of the original (and justified) feminist complaint about sexism a generation ago. While it may still be justified in the case of academic philosophy, it should not be beyond question whether mere statistical “underrepresentation” should be regarded as prima facie evidence of guilt, and therefore allowing the APA report to assert damning findings about the whole department while disclosing virtually no concrete facts.

And recently, Hayward poked fun at campus sensitivity trainings. New faculty at Boulder, as at many college campuses, must attend a session geared toward increasing their awareness about transgender sensitivity. What pronouns should we use when addressing students? How can we avoid unintentional offense to those who do not fit into neat traditional gender divisions? Hayward dismissed this sort of training as “gender-self-identification whim-wham.”

Students reacted with predictable fury. “Bigotry is not diversity,” proclaimed student editorialists Chris Schaefbauer and Caitlin Pratt. In Hayward’s breezy dismissal of the complaints of sexual harassment in the philosophy department, Schaefbauer and Pratt charged, he engaged in the worst sorts of “victim-blaming.” In his dismissive comments about sensitivity toward gender-identity issues, Hayward “invalidate[d] the lived realities of transgender individuals and mock[ed] the LGBTQ community as a whole.”

The kerfuffle has raised some important questions about intellectual diversity and culture-war politics. Is it possible for a university to include a diversity of opinions? Or is there a need for inclusive environments to police any ideas that challenge that sense of inclusivity?

As we’ve seen recently with the case of Brendan Eich at Mozilla, some issues seem to include less wiggle-room than others. It is widely considered “bigotry” these days to oppose same-sex marriage. But I would suggest, in spite of what some conservative intellectuals have asserted, that it is not seen as bigotry to oppose abortion. It might be seen as “bigotry” to make fun of non-traditional attitudes toward gender identity, but it is generally not seen as bigotry to press for lower taxes or more free-market solutions to social problems.

Can a university include a diversity of opinions about sexual-harassment policies? About gender-sensitivity training? Or, to paraphrase one pithy conservative commenter on Hayward’s blog, have birkenstocks become the new jackboots?

It wasn’t a tough call to predict this sort of situation. Back when Hayward was announced as the first Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought at Boulder, your humble editor made the following guess:

this experiment seems certain to degenerate into the most fruitless sort of culture-war grandstanding.

It’s not very satisfying to be proven right when the case was so clear. It can be depressingly difficult to engage in discussions that cross culture-war trench lines.

Conservative thought has always struggled with accusations of bigotry. By framing themselves as defenders of tradition and traditionalism, conservative intellectuals have put themselves in the position of defending the gender and racial hierarchies that were part and parcel of those traditions. Perhaps most famously, conservative intellectual guru William F. Buckley supported segregationism in the 1950s. Though Buckley later repudiated those views, we must ask a difficult question: Will conservative intellectuals always have to defend yesterday’s traditions?

And, on the other side, student leftists have struggled with accusations of hypersensitivity. It is not difficult to lampoon campus activists. Students preach diversity while sometimes demonstrating a stern intolerance toward ideas that ruffle their feathers.

Is this just a question of irreconcilable cultural politics? Will conservative intellectuals continue to outrage leftist sensibilities? Or is there some way to find agreement about the definition and value of intellectual diversity across the culture-war trenches?



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