The Creationist Dream, Part II

What should public-school biology classes look like? A couple days ago, I shared an article from an evangelical magazine, c. 1967. It told a story of a creationist high-schooler who bravely stood up to her evolutionist teacher. As a result, the class put biology aside and had a spontaneous prayer meeting.

As one astute reader noted, it sounded like a fifty-year preview to the new film God’s Not Dead.

Whatever your beliefs about creationism and evolution, there was something dead wrong in the story. Something that just didn’t fit with the ways the creation/evolution battle really works. And this something was besides the hokey language and the Leave-It-To-Beaver creationism.

What was wrong? Was it

  1. No teacher really feels that gung-ho about teaching evolution?
  2. No student really cares that much about creationism?
  3. No parents would encourage their kid to publicly preach that way in a public school?
  4. There would never be that sort of religious revival in a public school? or
  5. A teacher would not likely be that clueless about the religious beliefs of her students?

Let’s take them one by one. In the story, the teacher was a mean-eyed evolutionist. She ridiculed creationist belief, while being stupidly ignorant of the fact that most of her students shared those beliefs. Could a teacher really feel that gung-ho about teaching evolutionism? Well, clearly the character was an utter caricature, but I think it is certainly possible for teachers in 1967 or 2014 to feel a passion for enlightening students with the truth of evolution. I would say that most teachers don’t feel this sort of mission, but some do.

What about number 2? Do any students really feel so intensely devoted to their creationist beliefs that they would risk public humiliation to express them in class? Just as with number 1, I think this would be unusual in the real world, but by no means impossible.

Would parents really encourage their kids to preach in a public school? Some would. Again, not likely in the same Richie-Cunningham tone presented in this story, but I don’t find it beyond belief that parents might want their children to stick up for their beliefs in public schools. Some parents likely encourage their kids to see their public schools as a sort of mission field. And there is a literature out there helping parents help their kids to evangelize properly in their public schools.

Could it work? As number 4 suggests, is this sort of religious revival beyond the possibility for a public school? Not at all. These days, for instance, public-school children are encouraged to meet at the flagpole of their schools one day in September. Just like in the story, this strategy promises “amazing transformations” of students and school culture.See you at the pole

So I agree with the sharp commenters who voted for number 5. It is possible, of course, that a teacher might have no idea that her students shared fervent creationist beliefs. But in general, that doesn’t happen much. As Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer argued in their book Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms, teachers tend to fit in with their communities. As they put it, “traditional districts and cosmopolitan districts tend to hire teachers whose training, beliefs, and teaching practices serve to reinforce or harmonize with the prevailing local culture.”

From the Archives: The Creationist Dream

What do creationists want? I know, I know, there are lots of different sorts of creationists out there. As a group, though, I think I found a story that might just articulate some of the fondest hopes and dreams of American creationists. There’s a terrible flaw in the story, and I challenge you to find what it is.

For those of you who are just joining us, I’m working on a history of conservative evangelical and “fundamentalist” colleges and universities. This year, thanks to the munificence of the Spencer Foundation, I’m traveling around to different schools to dig into the history of this network. This week, I’m visiting sunny Biola University in Los Angeles.

Biola University (originally the Bible Institute Of Los Angeles, get it?), in addition to its main job of cranking out missionaries and teachers, also published an influential evangelical magazine, The King’s Business. It was in the November 1967 edition that I found this little gem.

The King's Business, November, 1967

The King’s Business, November, 1967

I’ll give you the gist of the article. Then I challenge readers to pick out where this creationist fantasy veers most sharply from reality.

We read the story of Hope, the daughter of a fundamentalist minister. Gathered around the dinner table one night, Hope collapsed into tears. At (public) school that day, she finally confronted her aggressive evolutionist biology teacher, Miss Landon. Hope told her teacher that she didn’t believe in evolution. As she told her parents, “I felt I couldn’t sit there and take it any longer.”

The teacher ridiculed her. “I didn’t suppose,” Miss Landon said in front of the whole class,

anyone living in our enlightened age had such old-fashioned ideas. It surprises me that a person who has had the advantages of a modern educational system can be so narrow-minded. Surely there are not many who believe as you do.

Hope felt humiliated and ashamed. But she stood her ground. At the dinner table, as she sobbed, her father put his hand on her shoulder and said,

huskily, ‘Daughter, it gives us great joy to hear you tell this. Who would have thought that so soon after being saved [two weeks before] you would have an opportunity to witness so boldly to your teacher and classmates?’

Hope felt revived. She prayed hard before going to bed, and felt her dad was right. As a result,

Hope returned to school the next day with a song on her lips as well as in her heart. The Lord Jesus seemed to be walking at her very side and a great peace filled her soul. She felt no fear now of encountering Miss Landon again, even though she might be asked to give further ‘reason for the hope within her.’

Sure enough, the next day her evolution-loving teacher challenged Hope to prove that other students felt the same way. To Miss Landon’s surprise,

Before she had finished speaking, nearly half of the girls were standing. What followed can best be described as an old-fashioned ‘popcorn meeting.’ It seemed that everyone wanted to talk at once. Some were wet-eyed; others, with their arms around Hope, were asking her forgiveness for letting her stand alone. Miss Landon was at a loss to know how to handle the situation. She couldn’t be expected to know, since she had never attended a revival service or been asked to pray for souls under conviction. So she just stood there, helplessly looking on.

Finally it occurred to her that perhaps Hope could handle the group. Hope caught her distressed, appealing look, and in a calm voice said, ‘Let us all kneel in prayer.’

The praying and confessing continued throughout the 40-minute class period and Miss Landon made no effort to stop it. The girls may not have learned any biology that day, but many of them learned to know God in a new and real way.

That’s the story.

Now here’s the challenge: Where is the biggest, most obvious goof in this tale? Where does this creationist dream depart most obviously from the realities of evolution and creationism in American public schools?

Now, before people complain, let me offer a few caveats. First, we all understand that not every creationist hopes to have public schools turn into a “popcorn meeting,” whatever that is. And we know that the hokey tone of this story is more a result of its age than of its creationism. The aw-shucks brand of parenting displayed here would fit in just as well with Ward and June Cleaver as it would with Charles and Grace Fuller.

Given all that, I still assert that this story fails the sniff test. There is one element here that simply screams out “fantasy.”

Is it:

  1. No teacher really feels that gung-ho about teaching evolution.
  2. No student really cares that much about creationism.
  3. No parents would encourage their kid to publicly preach that way in a public school.
  4. There would never be that sort of religious revival in a public school.
  5. A teacher would not likely be that clueless about the religious beliefs of her students.

I’ve got to get back to work now, but I’ll offer my answer soon.

Atheists and Creationists Agree on This…

You know what they say about the middle of the road: you won’t find anything there but yellow stripes and dead armadillos. In the creation/evolution debates, the John Templeton Foundation has staked out some ground in that dangerous middle. And predictably, the only thing that fervent creationists and obstreperous atheists can agree on is that the Templeton Foundation is terrible.

What does the Templeton Foundation do? According to their website, the foundation

serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

In general, the foundation uses its money to encourage dialogue between religion and science. With its prizes and grants, it encourages people to bridge the gap. For instance, the foundation provided millions of dollars to help launch BioLogos. How might scientists and theologians come together, BioLogos asked, to help evangelical Christians (and others) understand that evolution was nothing more than the “Language of God?”

Is "compromise" a compliment or a curse?

Is “compromise” a compliment or a curse?

Here at ILYBYGTH, this seems like an eminently worthwhile project. Time and time again, we have seen that science and evolution can wear very different cultural faces. Why bundle together ideas that do not necessarily have to go together? Why feed conservative worries that any understanding of science will somehow doom their children to atheism and immorality? Why not help Christians learn evolution? Why not recognize that some “creationists” really do embrace evolution? Why not listen to the life stories of Christians who have learned that evolution is not the devil spawn they were led to believe?

Partisans disagree. The Templeton Foundation has become the target of angry attack from the hardened edges of both creationism and atheism.

At the young-earth creationist ministry Answers In Genesis, for instance, leader Ken Ham recently blasted the efforts of the foundation. “Sadly,” Ham warned readers,

instead of pointing people to answers from God’s Word about history, organizations like BioLogos and the Templeton Foundation are actively discrediting the Bible’s history. Instead of encouraging people to start with God’s Word, they praise those who impose man’s ideas into the Bible.

Ham might not agree with science pundit Jerry Coyne on much, but they agree about the dangers of the Templeton Foundation. For different reasons, of course. Coyne blasts the foundation for watering down the message of real science, of truckling to culturally powerful and wealthy religious aficionados. “If there is to be interchange” between scientists and theologians, Coyne wrote recently,

let it be not a constructive dialogue but a destructive monologue, one in which science’s efforts knock the props out from under faith, one by one. And religion has nothing to say to scientists, at least nothing that will help us in our work. All religionists can do is educate us about the nature and influence of divine fairy tales that have inimically influenced world culture. Do we really need that?

Now, just because the Templeton Foundation has united both atheists and creationists against it doesn’t prove that the foundation is doing the right thing. But it seems logical to me that if our goal is to help people of every background understand the science of evolution, we should not spurn allies who promise to help. If theologians and scientists can come together to improve public understanding of what the Templeton Foundation calls the “Big Questions,” it seems to me an excess of self-righteousness to oppose it.

Here’s How We Get a Creationist in the White House

It will take more than six twenty-four hour days. Months ahead of time, the team to put Ben Carson in the White House has been assembled and is feverishly working to get a solid creationist in the White House in 2016.

As Eliana Johnson reports in National Review Online, Carson hasn’t announced his candidacy, but his team is now interviewing thirty-five potential staffers for a possible White-House run. When Johnson asked Carson if he were serious, Carson dodged. “We believe in being prepared,” Carson said,

And that requires a sophisticated and complex infrastructure if I decide to run. . . . It’s like the Boy Scouts: Be Prepared.”

Does Carson think he can win? He told Johnson that the recent mid-term elections pushed him closer. “People are starting to wake up,” Carson told her.

Conservatives love Carson. His rags-to-riches tale and unapologetic religious conservatism, along with his stop-complaining messages to his fellow African Americans, have endeared him to the conservative wing of the party.

That doesn’t mean he has a chance. In the past, conservative hard-liners have entered the primaries even if they don’t think they’ll win. Their goal, in some cases, has been to move the party in a more conservative direction. By running as an unyielding social conservative, Carson will force other GOP hopefuls to tack toward the right.

And whether he wins or not, Carson will bring a dose of good old-fashioned Seventh-day Adventist creationism to the race. Seventh-day Adventism, as historian Ron Numbers argued so convincingly, played a leading role in converting American religious conservatives to a young-earth creationism.

Have you read it yet?

Have you read it yet?

Of course, just because Carson is a member of that staunchly young-earth creationist denomination, it doesn’t mean that he would emphasize those beliefs from the White House. After all, similar fears were raised by conservatives when Catholics such as Al Smith (1928) and John F. Kennedy ran for President. Each candidate had to assure voters that policy would not be dictated from the Vatican.

But Carson has taken a different approach. Instead of distancing himself from the rather extreme form of creationism that is official dogma in his church, Carson has publicly embraced it. In an interview last year, Carson doubled down on his SDA creationism. “I’ve seen a lot of articles,” Carson explained,

that say, ‘Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist, and that means he believes in the six-day creation. Ha ha ha.’ You know, I’m proud of the fact that I believe what God has said, and I’ve said many times that I’ll defend it before anyone. If they want to criticize the fact that I believe in a literal, six-day creation, let’s have at it because I will poke all kinds of holes in what they believe. In the end it depends on where you want to place your faith – do you want to place your faith in what God’s word says, or do you want to place your faith in an invention of man. You’re perfectly welcome to choose. I’ve chosen the one I want.

Maybe I’m viewing the world through evolution-tinted glasses, but I can’t help but think that such a firm statement of YEC belief will be off-putting for many voters. But even if Carson can’t win the race, he can pull his fellow Republican prospects into more firmly creationist positions. By standing firm on a six-day recent creation, Carson can make the entire GOP field friendlier to creationism.

Take a Trip to a Science Museum with a Creationist

“See, fossils!  That’s science.”  So says Megan Fox, self-identified creationist homeschool mom, Tea Partyer, blogger, and Latest YouTube Sensation.

We’ve taken plenty of museum trips here at ILBYGTH: to the Institute for Creation Research’s museum in San Diego, to the big Creation Museum in Kentucky, and even to a medley of creation and mainstream science museums.  Now there is a new option: Take a trip to Chicago’s Field Museum with Megan Fox.  In this half-hour video, Fox explains all the problems with mainstream science.

Plenty of commentators have blitzed Mrs. Fox with insults.  More interesting will be an attempt for those of us outside the creationist community to find out what this creationist thinks about mainstream science.

I’m no creationist-basher, but Mrs. Fox does seem to have an unpleasantly loud and in-my-face personality.  Predictably, bloggers have teed off on her “expose” of mainstream science at the Field Museum. Atheist PZ Myers called Fox “Smug and Stupid.” At Dangerous Minds, she was called a “blithering idiot,” and worse.

I would imagine that many of the intelligent creationists out there wouldn’t have chosen Fox as their ideal spokesperson. But what if we watch her museum tour as a chance to learn more about her creationist vision of science? Historians have worked hard—maybe too hard—to explain the philosophical underpinnings of creationist and Protestant fundamentalist science.

Many agree with George Marsden, who has argued that at heart, fundamentalist science hearkens back to the scientific principles laid down in the 1600s by Francis Bacon. As Marsden wrote in Fundamentalism and American Culture (2006 edition, pg. 59):

the role of the interpreter, according to the same Baconian assumptions, was not to impose hypotheses or theories, but to reach conclusions on the basis of careful classification and generalization alone.

Other historians have agreed. Mark Noll, for example, argued in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (pg. 197),

Creationists regularly reaffirm the principles of Baconian science: no speculation without direct empirical proof, no deductions from speculative principles, no science without extensive empirical evidence.

Perhaps the most careful student of conservative Protestant encounters with mainstream science, Jon Roberts, argued similarly in his 1988 book Darwinism and the Divine in America (pp. 41-42 of that first edition from the University of Wisconsin Press),

Nonscientists were also enamored of the Baconian method, for they believed that it was the surest route to the certainty they associated with science. Asa Mahan, a prominent philosopher who served as the first president of Oberlin College, presented in 1872 a typical statement of the prevailing view within the American Protestant intellectual community: ‘Science is knowledge systematized. Into a scientific process, nothing but what is absolutely known can enter.’

Is this what Megan Fox is doing? More interestingly, which term fits Fox better: “blithering idiot” or “Baconian loudmouth”?

I think a better term for Fox’s scientific vision is one used by historian Ted Davis. Though the roots of Fox’s attitude toward proper science may have originated in Baconian principles, it seems misleading to suggest that Fox selected a Baconian framework out of thin air. Like most of us, Fox’s ideas of proper science seem to come from a mix of sources, some of them only dimly understood.

So, instead of calling Fox “Baconian,” I think we should use Davis’s label of “folk science.” As Davis explains, the term came from Jerome Ravetz, Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems (1971).

Of course, it is not only creationists who practice “folk science.” As Dan Kahan argues, there is not much daylight between creationists and non-creationists when it comes to actual knowledge about evolution. Most of us have only the vaguest grasp on the real meanings and implications of mainstream science. Unlike Mrs. Fox, however, most of us are willing to learn mainstream science when we go to the Field Museum, not try to pit our folk-ish understandings against the efforts of mainstream science educators.

HT: GB

Asking the Right Questions about Creationism

Is America a “creation nation?” Or have polls tended to inflate the numbers of creationists out there? In an effort to give a more nuanced answer to these questions, BioLogos has published Jonathan Hill’s survey results. Hill offers some powerful insights into central questions:

  • How many Americans really believe in creationism, evolution, or some mix?
  • Who cares the most about it?
  • Who cares at all?
  • And, most important, what factors go into making someone a creationist or an evolution supporter?

You may have seen this report referred to in Emma Green’s recent Atlantic article. Until now, however, you wouldn’t have been able to read the report for yourself. Green’s article had the provocative title “You Can’t Educate People into Believing in Evolution.” True enough, but that’s not news to readers and contributors to ILYBYGTH. Those who take time to read what’s out there about creationism know that creationism is not simply a lack of knowledge about evolution. Rather, creationism is better understood as part of a religious identity.

Professor Hill was funded by a BioLogos grant to conduct a large representative survey in the USA. He found that the typical Gallup polls seem to distort the numbers. In those repeated Gallup polls, respondents have three options: (1) humans evolved guided by God, (2) humans evolved on their own, and (3) humans were created within about 10,000 years. In those polls, since the 1980s about 40-45% of respondents have chosen the “young-earth creationist” answer (3). Somewhere between 9-19% have selected the “atheistic evolution” answer (2), and the rest chose number one, the theistic evolution model.

Gallup Questions and Answers

Gallup Questions and Answers

As even the Gallup folks would likely agree, these positions are not very subtle. They don’t allow respondents to explain or describe their own beliefs. Rather, they push people to pick one of three limited options. Professor Hill’s survey allowed people to say they were unsure. It also asked respondents to address different aspects of these beliefs separately. Finally, Hill asked Americans to say how certain they were about their beliefs.

Not surprisingly, those questions yielded very different results. When people can respond to different aspects of creationism differently, they tend to be more nuanced in their responses. For example, in Professor Hill’s survey, only eight percent of people affirmed their belief in both six literal days of creation and the recent creation of humanity.

When taken together, Hill found that 37% of respondents were “creationists,” 16% were “theistic evolutionists,” and 9% were “atheistic evolutionists.” The rest held mixed beliefs or were unsure. When you limit these numbers to those who said they were “very” or “absolutely certain” of their views, then only 29% of respondents were creationists, 8% were theistic evolutionists, and only 6% were atheistic evolutionists.

Also intriguing, only those who hold creationist or atheistic evolutionist beliefs tend to be sure they are correct. They also tend to think it matters to be correct. About three-quarters of creationists said they were sure about their beliefs, and about two-thirds of them said that it mattered a great deal. Among atheistic evolutionists, about 70% were sure of their beliefs, and about half thought it mattered a good deal. In contrast, among those who were unsure about humanity’s origins, only about one quarter thought it mattered a great deal.

In our continuing sniping at one another over the issues of creation and evolution, these numbers themselves matter a great deal. Since large numbers of Americans don’t know about these issues and don’t really care, the debates quickly become dominated by those on either end who feel confident about their own beliefs and who feel sure that it is important to be correct on these questions. We might see a debate between Science Guy Bill Nye and creationist impresario Ken Ham, but we won’t be as likely to see a round-table discussion between people in the middle.

Professor Hill’s survey also buttresses another conclusion popular here at ILYBYGTH: creationism and evolution are not mainly about what you know. Rather, they are questions about who you are. People do not simply pick creationism or evolution out of a neutral grab-bag of ideas. Creationists do not tend to abandon creationism in large numbers when they learn the ideas of evolution. Rather, creationism and atheistic evolution both seem most prevalent among people with recognizable clusters of identity markers. As Professor Hill concluded,

The most important takeaway here is that individual theological beliefs, practices, and identities are important, but they only become a reliable pathway to creationism or atheistic evolutionism when paired with certain contexts or certain other social identities. These positions are not free-floating ideas that individuals snatch from the air after considering all the alternatives; rather, they are found in certain social locations, and they become most plausible when shared with others (especially for creationists).

Read the results for yourself. There’s far more in the report than we can discuss here. For example, the survey raises a host of questions that we want to know more about:

  • Why are atheistic evolutionists so white?
  • Is certainty more important than knowledge?
  • How can we motivate those who don’t really care about creationism to get more involved in public policy debates?

Is Sex Ed Religious Persecution? Is Evolution?

Am I persecuted if my kid is taught sex ed that goes against my religious beliefs?  That’s the question coming out of Arizona this morning.

And it has echoes far beyond the questions of contraception and sex ed.  If kids have a constitutional right to protection from ideas that challenge their religions, it will change the ways we teach evolution, history, literature…really, everything.  But so far, courts have generally not recognized conservatives’ claims of religious persecution. The good news is that there is a simple solution, though it’s one that everyone might hate.

But that doesn’t stop conservatives from making their cases.  As the New York Times reports, a new sex-ed textbook controversy is roiling school politics in Arizona.  Back in 2012, conservatives pushed through a state law mandating that adoption be given preferential treatment in schools.  That is, children in Arizona public schools have to be nudged toward thinking of adoption as a more moral choice than abortion.  An alert parent noticed that a commonly used biology textbook discussed contraception, including the drug mefipristone. According to the NYT, mefipristone can be used to terminate a pregnancy.

A pro-choice lemur...

A pro-choice lemur…

In Gilbert, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, the school board voted narrowly that the information violated the 2012 law. What to do? The Gilbert school board ruled that two textbook pages must be removed, somehow.

So far, so ho-hum.  In school controversies, textbooks have been snipped, blacked-out, removed, even burned.  What’s more, the narrative told by conservative school board member Julie Smith seems almost like pages from a tired old script. As I note in my upcoming book about educational conservatism in the twentieth century, nearly every conservative activist has told a similar story. From the 1920s to the 1970s, conservatives have insisted that they were floored by the salacious, socialist, or heretical material their kids brought home from school.

Mrs. Smith brings this tradition into 2014. As she told the New York Times, when her son told her what he was learning about contraception, “I almost drove off the road.”

But Mrs. Smith did not stop with this old chestnut. She also insisted that including this material in textbooks represented an unconstitutional abuse of her religious freedom. As she told the NYT, by having her son read about contraception, the schools “have violated my religious rights.”

Is Smith right? Do religious conservatives have a constitutional right to free exercise of religion in public schools? Is that right violated when public schools force students to learn ideas that contradict their religions?

This question received the most thorough examination in the tortuous path traced by the case of Hawkins County, Tennessee, in the late 1980s. Parents complained that textbooks promoted a bevy of anti-Christian ideas, including secular humanism and occultism. These conservative parents wanted to have their children exempted from reading such anti-religious material.

Mozert makes his case...

Mozert makes his case…

The conservative parents had some initial success in court, but eventually the 6th circuit court ruled against them. In the opinion of that court, the children did not have the right to protection from exposure to mainstream ideas. If the children had been forced to perform religious acts, the court ruled, the parents would have had a better case. But public schools have a duty, not just a right, to expose children to the best current knowledge about every subject, including presumably sex ed.

It’s not for me to tell conservatives what to do, but in this case, it seems Julie Smith is pursuing a losing strategy. Claiming to be religiously persecuted because children are exposed to mainstream ideas is not going to work. If, instead, conservatives could claim that their children were being forced to perform religious acts, conservatives would have a better case.

And, IMHO, contraception is not the right issue for conservatives to pursue with this strategy. Public schools don’t FORCE students to use contraception. Schools simply give students information about contraception.

Conservatives might have a better shot with evolution. Folks like me want to give every person in the United States more information about evolution. There is nothing religious about this goal. For me and other evolution mavens, evolution simply represents the best current science, and students must be exposed to the best current knowledge in every field.

The way I see it, exposing students to knowledge does not violate anyone’s religious rights. But here’s the kicker: The fact that I have a secular purpose in teaching evolution does not mean that evolution does not have religious meanings for others. Again, I don’t want to dictate political strategy to conservatives, but it seems to me creationists could have some success if they claimed that their children have a constitutional right to a certain sort of protection from evolutionary ideas in public schools. Not a right to be protected from hearing or reading those ideas. That would count as simple exposure.

But creationist kids WOULD have a right to be protected from performing religious acts in public schools. For some religious groups, saying that humans evolved from other animals is a religious act. For some religious groups, saying that the earth is billions of years old is a religious act.

In other words, IMHO, public schools have a right and a duty to expose all children to the best current knowledge in all fields. In biology, that means human evolution without any supernatural guidance. In geology, that means an ancient earth and cosmos. At the same time, however, creationist kids have a right to freely practice their religions. And they have a right to insist that the government does not push religious actions upon them. If their religion forbids them from saying that the earth is ancient, kids have a right not to be coerced into saying such things.

This may seem like an unsolvable situation, but there is a simple solution. Public schools and public school teachers have a simple two-word answer to all these conundrums. Instead of pushing students to say that the earth is ancient and that humans have evolved, teachers need only to help students to understand that scientists think these things to be true.

By letting kids say “Scientists say” humans evolved; by letting kids say “Scientists say” the earth is ancient, public schools protect themselves from charges of religious indoctrination. And at the same time, creationists get schools that will not be hostile to their faiths.

The bad news for Julie Smith from Gilbert, Arizona is that she cannot claim any similar sort of constitutional protection. Even if the fact that her son is learning about contraception causes her to drive her car off the road, the public school is not persecuting her by teaching such things.

Conservatives LOVE Science

Or at least they like it very much.  Or maybe they love it, but they’re not in love with it.  That’s the argument coming out of Dan Kahan’s Cultural Cognition project these days.

Professor Kahan takes issue with the slanted punditry that has latched on to recent analyses of social attitudes toward science. Too often, commentators inflate their claims about the extent to which self-identified “conservatives” have lost faith in scientists and scientific institutions.

Kahan's Kollage of Kwestionable Klaims

Kahan’s Kollage of Kwestionable Klaims

As Professor Kahan points out, a closer look at those findings gives a much different picture. In a nutshell, since 1974 there has been a noticeable decline in the number of conservatives who say they feel “a great deal” of confidence in the leaders of scientific institutions. Some wonks seized on this finding to claim that conservatives were anti-science.

Nertz, says Professor Kahan. The number of conservatives who say they feel “a great deal” of confidence in scientists may have declined, but the total number of conservatives who say they feel either “a great deal” of confidence or “only some” confidence in science has remained fairly steady.

Even more compelling, Kahan notes that these same conservatives rank “science” near the tops of their lists of social institutions they trust. Since 1974, only medicine or the military has outranked science as the number one most trustworthy social institution among conservatives. Other institutions, , such as organized labor, the President, the Supreme Court, education, TV, and, yes, even religious institutions and big corporations, have ranked lower on conservative rankings of trustworthiness.

You heard that right.  Overall, conservatives have consistently voiced greater trust in the institution of science than in the institution of religion.  Conservatives since 1974 have evinced more trust in science than in big business.

Check out Kahan’s argument for yourself. He has charts and graphs ‘n’ stuff, so you know it’s true.

A Brazillion Creationists Out There

How powerful is creationism worldwide? Some pundits have suggested that creationism is unique to the USA. But recent news from Brazil indicates that global creationism may be gaining steam.

The latest report from Brazil comes to us from the National Center for Science Education. Proposed legislation in that country would introduce US-style creationism to Brazilian public schools. My Portuguese is no good, but according to the NCSE report, this bill insists that schools include creationist science, including “the ideas that life has its origin in God, the supreme creator of the whole universe and of all things that compose it.”

Why? Because, in the words of the bill’s sponsor, “the creationist doctrine is prevalent throughout our country.”

Is it? Some science pundits, such as Bill Nye, contend that this sort of creationism is “unique” to the United States.

In this case, The Science Guy is flat-out wrong. Creationism—even if we limit it to just the Christian kind—is a global phenomenon. And the reasons for that globalism matter.

Pundits like Bill Nye might assume that creationism thrives in those corners of the globe that have not yet been incorporated into the global conversation. In some isolated regions, this theory goes, the obvious truths of evolution have not yet penetrated.

But that explanation gets it backward. The reason for thriving creationism in Brazil is not due to ineffective science education. It is due, rather, to explosively effective religious education. That is, Brazilian creationists are not simply religious primitives who have been isolated from the gospel of evolution. Instead, they are religious innovators who have been connected to a global gospel of creationism.

As usual, historian Ron Numbers—my grad-school mentor—put it best. In his book The Creationists, Ron captures this experience with a pithy chapter title: “Creation Science Floods the World.”

A growing force in Brazilian politics...

A growing force in Brazilian politics…

Throughout the twentieth century, conservative evangelical Protestants have successfully spread their religion throughout Latin America, finding a particularly congenial home in Brazil.

As a recent study from the Pew Research Center for Religion & Public Life makes clear, US-style evangelicalism has aggressively moved into Brazil, courting the country’s Catholics and converting them in large numbers.

For a hundred years, evangelical groups have spread via missionary organizations into Brazil. As Andrew Chestnut of Virginia Commonwealth University explains, groups such as the Assemblies of God have been particularly successful in Brazil. With this Pentecostal denomination, at least, Brazilian locals have taken over and made it their own. And they are now asserting their power politically.

For instance, the author of the recent creationist legislation, Marco Feliciano, is an Assemblies of God pastor. And he insists that Brazilians are on his side. Poll numbers back him up. According to the NCSE report, fully 89% of Brazilian respondents think creationism should be taught in Brazil’s public schools. Nearly that many, 75%, think ONLY creationism should be taught.

I’ve argued in the past that evolution educators often have a missionary zeal to spread the truth about evolution. This news from Brazil suggests that evolution’s missionaries are just not as good as the creationist types.

Firing Creationist Scientists

HT: AT

Can a scientist be fired for simply being a creationist? Or for teaching what Glenn Branch has called “zombie science?” In contrast to what sharp-tongued activists on both sides may say, the answer is not at all clear. The case of Mark Armitage in the California State University system brings these questions back to the fore.

Armitage, a microscopist formerly at Cal State Northridge, is suing his former employer for wrongful termination. Armitage had discovered some soft-tissue residue in a fossil from a Triceratops horn. Like many young-earth creationists, he took this as proof that the fossil layer was thousands of years old, not millions.

Though he left his creationist conclusions out of his peer-reviewed publications about the fossil, he did not leave those conclusions out of conversations with students. And, though Nature magazine could not get a satisfying answer from Cal State Northridge, it seems those conversations were the problem. Armitage was not accused of doing a bad job as a microscopist. That’s why he’s suing.

Armitage complains that he was fired for his religious beliefs. According to Armitage, he had always been open and forthcoming with his colleagues about his religious beliefs. He had always been praised for his work in the microscope labs. But he had also been open and forthright in sharing his views with students. And that seems to have been the problem. After one such conversation, Armitage claims that the department chair of biology “stormed” into Armitage’s microscope lab and roared, “We are not going to tolerate your religion in this department!!”

Does Armitage have a case? Can a public university fire a scientist for being a creationist? Or for teaching students creationism?

It seems as if it would be easier to decide these issues at the K-12 level, but the case of John Freshwater demonstrates how complicated it can be even there. Freshwater was an Ohio middle-school teacher fired for teaching creationism in a public-school science class. Freshwater hoped to appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court. He didn’t make it, but the lower courts didn’t give us the satisfying precedent we might hope for. The Ohio Supreme Court avoided any decision about Freshwater’s constitutional right to his religious and academic views. Instead, the Ohio court decided against him due to his insubordination.

When it comes to teaching creationism in public higher ed, the case is even more fudgy. Consider the case of Emerson McMullen at Georgia Southern University. McMullen attracted negative attention from the Freedom From Religion Foundation for his blatant preaching of creationist religion in his history of science classes. The FFRF asked GSU to discipline McMullen, but the issue raises difficult questions of academic freedom. Even staunch anti-creationists such as PZ Myers and Larry Moran worry about this kind of college crackdown on creationists.

Even more confounding, the federal government does not seem to have any qualms about employing young-earth creationists as scientists. As we noted a while back, Douglas Bennett and Brent Carter worked for decades as geologists for the US Bureau of Reclamation, all the while actively promoting young-earth creationism.

Maybe the long government careers of Bennett and Carter provide the central clue. Maybe the government can employ creationists as scientists, but it can’t pay them to teach creationism as science. As far as I can tell, neither Bennett nor Carter taught anyone anything. And Armitage was fired, it seems, not for believing creationist ideas, but for teaching them as science.

Which returns us to our central question: Should public universities get rid of creationist scientists? Should they only get rid of them if the creationists in question actually teach creationism as science? Or should there be a more energetic inquiry into the scientific thinking of publicly funded scientists?

Are creationists the victims of religious persecution?  Jerry Bergman says yes...

Are creationists the victims of religious persecution? Jerry Bergman says yes…

For their part, creationists have long complained, like Mark Armitage, that they have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. Over thirty years ago, Jerry Bergman insisted that he had been fired from Bowling Green State University solely for his religion. As he argued in his 1984 book The Criterion,

Several universities state it was their ‘right’ to protect students from creationists and, in one case, from ‘fundamentalist Christians.’ . . . This is all plainly illegal, but it is extremely difficult to bring redress against these common, gross injustices. This is due to the verbal ‘smoke-screen’ thrown up around the issue. But, a similar case might be if a black were fired on the suspicion that he had ‘talked to students about being black,’ or a woman being fired for having ‘talked to students about women’s issues.’

Creationists today are just as positive that Armitage is the victim of both religious and scientific persecution. As the Pacific Justice Institute put it,

It has become apparent that ‘diversity’ and ‘intellectual curiosity,’ so often touted as hallmarks of a university education, do not apply to those with a religious point of view. This suit was filed, in part, to vindicate those ideals.

Similarly, the headline in the ferociously conservative World Net Daily screamed, “Scientist Fired for Making Dinosaur Discovery.”

As Armitage’s lawsuit wends its way through the courts, I have a hunch that even the most conservative creationists might privately acknowledge that Armitage was not fired for his discovery. Rather, Armitage seems to have been fired for teaching students that the earth is likely only several thousand years old.

As Nature magazine concluded in its recent story about the affair, employers can’t legally fire someone for his or her religious beliefs. But employers can fire employees for conduct that goes against the mission of the institution. If radically dissenting visions of science undermine the assumptions of secular mainstream science, can a creationist scientist be fired?

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