Does Anyone Actually Read the Index?

My eyeballs are beginning to chafe.  This week, I’m finishing up the index for my new book.  It’s a lot of work, even though I had a gifted grad student do most of the intellectual heavy lifting.

How the sausage gets made...

How the sausage gets made…

So now I’m wondering: Does anyone actually read the index?  I know professional academic historians do.  In fact, that’s one of the first cheap tricks we learn in our PhD programs.  We flip quickly to the back to see what we can glean from the index.  What are the book’s themes?  What are its main ideas?  Its blind spots?

But do any normal people read a book’s index?  Make no mistake, I’m compiling a kick-ass index, whether anyone ever reads it or not.  But I can’t help but wonder if readers will find useful my painstaking distinctions between “authoritarian teaching” and “traditional education.”

Coming soon...

Coming soon…

Will anyone care that I spent so many long hours in a stuffy library teasing out the nuances of “educational conservatism” as opposed to the broader category of “conservatism” in general?

 

 

A Christian in the Lion’s Blog

Okay, be honest: How many of us are brave enough to try talking with people who really really hate us?  I talk a good game, but in real life I hardly ever interact with people very different from me.  Recently on the arch-evolutionist/atheist blog Why Evolution Is True Don McLeroy tried to defend his religion.  I don’t agree with McLeroy’s ideas about God or science, but I have to give him credit for his willingness to talk civilly with his culture-war enemies.

You may remember Dr. McLeroy as the Texas dentist who came to educational power a few years back on the Texas State Board of Education.  Viewers of the documentary The Revisionaries will remember some of McLeroy’s positions.  He wanted less evolution and more country music.  He wanted less hip-hop and more Ronald Reagan.

Those of us outside the world of young-earth creationism were wowed to hear McLeroy teach his Sunday-school class the verities of his religion.  How did all those animals fit on the ark?  Easy! How was it possible that all the evidence of an ancient earth was wrong?   No problem!

And some viewers poked fun at McLeroy for his anti-expert opinions.  “I disagree with the experts,” McLeroy famously intoned in The Revisionaries.  “Someone has to stand up to them.”  To many skeptics, this sort of attitude demonstrated McLeroy’s willful ignorance.  Why WOULDN’T we want experts to decide our school curricula, critics asked incredulously?  As I argued at the time, however, McLeroy’s ideas about proper expertise have a long and storied history among educational conservatives.

In his recent appearance on Why Evolution Is True, McLeroy defends his Biblical epistemology.  McLeroy had pointed out elsewhere that 500 witnesses had attested to Jesus’ rebirth.  For McLeroy, that seemed to be important evidence.  Not surprisingly, the commenters of WEIT tore McLeroy apart.  Some did it politely, calling him “Dr. McLeroy.”  Some did not, referring to him as “Donnie-boy.”

The crux of the disagreement concerned the nature of evidence and how we can know something.  For McLeroy, Paul’s biblical statement that 500 witnesses had seen the Risen Jesus seemed conclusive.  As the readers of WEIT pointed out—and I wholeheartedly agree—there are enormous holes with this sort of knowing.  How can we know Paul really consulted 500 other witnesses?  How do we trust what Paul thought he saw?  Indeed, how can we know Paul was a real person at all?  For folks like me and the commenters on WEIT, such evidence does not count as convincing.

For folks like Dr. McLeroy, the Bible’s writings carry greater weight.  If the Bible attests to something, we know with confidence that it is true.  If the Bible says God created the universe in six days, then we have no need to doubt it.  We can trust that it is true.  Indeed, if we don’t trust that it is true, we risk calling God Himself a liar.

'Cause the Bible Tells Me So...

‘Cause the Bible Tells Me So…

Obviously, these two very different attitudes toward knowledge have a difficult time communicating with each other.  But there seems to be a cottage industry of efforts to do so.  Conservative theologian Doug Wilson and atheist-at-large Christopher Hitchens spent some time together in the film Collision.  As Wilson and Hitchens found out, there is not much point in shouting at each other.  Each side misunderstands the other in such fundamental ways that time is better spent chatting politely and drinking beer.

In his recent appearance, Don McLeroy thanked WEIT commenters for their opinions, and promised to read the books suggested.  But he did not seem likely to be convinced.  Nor did WEIT readers seem likely to turn to the Bible the next time they had a question about science, history, or politics.  Nevertheless, McLeroy pointedly maintained his famous good-natured politeness.

In the end, that might be the extent of dialogue we can expect across these profound culture-war chasms.

 

Creationist Credentials and the Toilet-Paper Doctorate

What does it take for a creationist to earn a PhD?  As arch-anti-creationist Jerry Coyne pointed out yesterday, not a whole lot.  Coyne looked at the embarrassingly weak doctoral work of young-earth creationist Kent Hovind.  This sham dissertation leads us to ask again about the paradoxical relationship between creationism and credentials.

patriot bible university

Hovind’s Alma Mater

It does not take a creationist-hater like Professor Coyne to find big problems with Hovind’s doctoral work.  Hovind cranked out a hundred awkward pages of claptrap about creationism under the auspices of Patriot Bible University of Del Norte, Colorado.

Intelligent creationists might cringe at this sort of hucksterism, with good reason.  It allows even the most accomplished creationists, such as Harvard-educated Kurt Wise, to be lumped together with this sort of snake-oil academic flim-flam.

Throughout the history of the creation/evolution debates, creationists have struggled to prove their intellectual bona fides.  It hasn’t been easy.  For the first generation of modern anti-evolutionists, it came as a surprise to find that their ideas no longer held sway at leading research universities and intellectual institutions.

As Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education demonstrated recently, this 1920s revelation led anti-evolutionists to scramble for certifiable creationist experts.  The most famous anti-evolutionist of the 1920s, William Jennings Bryan, groped awkwardly among scientists to find some who opposed “Darwinism.”

Bryan wasn’t alone.  As I note in my 1920s book, all the anti-evolution activists of the 1920s were obsessed with demonstrating that creationism[*] had expert support.  T.T. Martin, for example, who attracted attention with his eye-catching booth at the 1920s Scopes monkey trial, listed his expert supporters relentlessly.  In his book Hell and the High School, 67 out of 175 pages consisted of nothing more than lists of anti-evolution experts and their backgrounds.

Experts! Experts! Get Yr Experts Here!

Experts! Experts! Get Yr Experts Here!

Another anti-evolution activist from the 1920s showed similar determination.  On a typical page of Alfred Fairhurst’s Atheism in Our Universities, Fairhurst included only 23 original words.  The remaining 107 consisted of quotes from “leading writers on evolution.”

Writing in 1922, Arthur Brown used the same tactic.  He piled up impressive-sounding lists of experts and scientists who disputed evolution.  Why should readers accept evolution, Brown asked, when it had been discarded by the likes of

world-renowned men like Virchow of Berlin, Dawson of Montreal, Etheridge of the British Museum, Groette of Strassburg University, Paulson of Berlin, Clerk Maxwell, Dana, Naegeli, Holliker, Wagner, Snell, Tovel, Bunge the physiological chemist, Brown, Hofman, and Askernazy, botanists, Oswald Heer, the geologist, Carl Ernst von Baer, the eminent zoologist and anthropologist, Du Bois Reymond, Stuckenburg and Zockler, and a host of others. . . .  It seems to be a fact that NO opinion from whatever source, no matter how weighty or learned, is of any account with those who are consumed with the determination to reject the Bible at any cost, and shut God out of His universe.

As I traced in my 1920s book, following the work of historian Ron Numbers, this impressive-sounding list did not really make the point Brown hoped it would.  The names he listed came from earlier generations or from scientists who agreed with evolution’s broad outlines but disagreed on details.  But Brown, like Bryan, Martin, Fairhurst, and virtually all other creationist activists felt compelled to establish the academic credentials of anti-evolutionists.

Hovind’s case reminds us of this peculiar conundrum of credentials among creationists.  One does not have to be an evolutionary bulldog like Professor Coyne to find Hovind’s academic pretensions silly and reprehensible.  Hovind’s work certainly gives skeptics such as Professor Coyne an easy route of attack.

For those of us who don’t care to attack or defend creationism, though, Hovind’s doctoral ouvre offers different lessons.  Once a dissenting group has been turned away from mainstream institutions, credentials become both more precious and easier to attain.  At least since the 1920s, that is, anti-evolutionists have scrambled to find expert backing for their beliefs.  But once creationism had been kicked out of elite research universities, it became far easier for creationists to claim credit for academic work at bogus universities.  If universities themselves are suspect, in other words, the ridiculousness of diploma mills like the Patriot Bible University becomes less damning.

[*] The term “creationism” is an anachronism here.  Anti-evolutionists in the 1920s did not call their beliefs “creationism” yet.  But I’ll use it just to keep things readable.

US Government Employs Creationist Scientists

Thanks to the ever-watchful Sensuous Curmudgeon, we learn of plans to open a new, enormous creation museum near Boise, Idaho.  But in exploring the announcement of this planned mega-museum, we came across an interesting tidbit: Two of the creationist scientists involved in this project worked for the US government as geologists.  Does this mean that the government is funding creation science?  And does it prove the creationist claim that their experts are engaged in “real” science?

As reported yesterday by the Boise Weekly, the Northwest Science Museum has big ambitions.  Its founders want to open an enormous display area, 300,000 to 450,000 square feet.  They hope to build a full-size replica Noah’s Ark that could rival the plans of the more-established Creation Museum in Kentucky.

Big Plans for Boise

Big Plans for Boise

Whether or not the Idaho creationists succeed in their lavish plans, they will likely end up adding another stop to those who want to tour the nation’s many creation museums.  More interesting, the announced plans also raise crucial questions about creationism and government support for religion.

In their attempt to raise funds for their new project, the leaders of the Boise museum published a prospectus that includes information about themselves.  According to this document, the leadership team includes two experienced geologists.

Douglas J. Bennett, founder of the museum, has degrees in geology and science education from Boise State University.  For the past eighteen years, Bennett has worked as a geologist for the US Bureau of Reclamation.  Similarly, museum founder Brent Carter earned a degree in geology from a large public university and worked for 42 years as a geologist for the same US Bureau, retiring with the title of Chief Geologist of the Pacific Northwest Region.

More than the opening of a new creation museum, these careers raise important questions for those of us interested in issues of evolution and creationism.

First, some might suggest that long governmental careers for these ardent and active creationists implies government support for religion.  But does it really?  After all, the government likely hired them to do specific jobs.  They had the necessary qualifications.  Whatever they chose to do in their private lives wouldn’t be any of the government’s business.  Nor would the government be supporting these men’s religious work, as long as each geologist didn’t do his creationist research while on the clock.

More interesting, we have to ask what these careers tell us about the intersection of mainstream science and creation science.  In the recent debate between leading creationist Ken Ham and leading science pundit Bill Nye, Nye repeated his charge that creationism blocked kids from learning science.  Ham retorted with several examples of successful creationist scientists and engineers.

The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to help the creationist case.  After all, if they have both had successful careers as geologists, how can we say that creationists can’t do science?  One might suggest that the sorts of engineering tasks these creationists engaged in were not primary science.  But it seems to me a stretch to say that these creationist geologists did not have careers specifically in the science that is contested.  In other words, both of these men worked as geologists, though their religious beliefs gave them very non-mainstream ideas about that geology.

Consider—again from the museum prospectus—the tasks Bennett claimed to have worked on for the US government.  As part of his job, Bennett

Performed surface and subsurface geotechnical studies and exploration programs utilizing diamond drill, power-auger, test pits, tunnels, and other processes to secure data for seismotectonic, ground-water, and other special studies of dams, reservoirs, canals, tunnels, spillways, power plants, and related structures.

One might say that none of this engineering work includes primary geological research.  And if it did, someone who believed in a young earth and a recent world-wide flood would be at a crippling disadvantage.  But anti-creationists sometimes make a different point.  Bill Nye, for instance, has warned that a creationist nation will soon fall behind in technology and engineering.

The careers of Bennett and Carter seem to demonstrate the weakness of that argument.  Indeed, Nye argues that creationism will turn kids away from science-related careers.  But in the case of these two men, at least, it was precisely their religious beliefs that led them to careers in geology.

So does this case show government support for creationism?  Not really.  But it does offer evidence that creationism does not necessarily deter young people from going into science-related careers.  Indeed, because of the tumult over the nature of biology and geology, perhaps creationist beliefs actually drive some young people into careers in science.

 

 

A Trip to a Catholic-School Science Fair

Science Fairs are great.  At their best, they allow students some freedom to experiment and learn on their own.  At their worst, they still provide hilarious examples of wacky adolescent science.  Recently, we saw a field report from the National Center for Science Education blog.  Peter Hess asked the question: What passes for “science” at a Catholic science fair?

In these pages, we’ve eagerly read reports from the field as science mavens visit various sorts of science fairs.  P.Z. Myers has argued that creationist students actively use science fairs to subvert the mind-numbing mental boundaries imposed by creationism.  Greg Laden visited a creationist homeschool science fair and found that some of the science was not bad.  At least not much worse, Laden thought, than the crappy science on display at non-creationist science fairs.

Cutting-edge science from a non-religious science fair...

Cutting-edge science from a non-religious science fair…

Hess found to his great relief that his kids’ Catholic school promoted mainstream science, without adulteration from theology.  Students came up with ambitious projects, such as measuring the distraction levels posed by cell phones and texting.

How distracted are drivers? This kid was not looking to the Bible for answers...

How distracted are drivers? This kid was not looking to the Bible for answers…

Hess also talked with some of the teachers.  Those teachers, too, did not see any conflict between Catholicism and teaching mainstream science in their classes.  One teacher offered an opinion that echoed the view of the late Stephen Jay Gould.  As middle-school teacher Joseph Nagel told Hess,

I sometimes consider science to be the constant investigation of the external world, a quest to analyze and understand the physical world, exclusive of human experience.  Religion I see as the eternal internal investigation, a search to explore and understand what lies within and between us, an examination of the human experience.  If science is our understanding of the world, religion is our understanding of us.  Maybe science is the ‘how’ and religion is the ‘why.’

Of course, different Catholic schools might have different approaches.  But my experience matches up closely with that of Hess.  I taught for a decade in Catholic schools in Milwaukee.  Though we sometimes had arguments about the novels we’d teach or the theology we’d teach, there was never any glimmer of controversy over the science we’d teach.

In fact, at least one of our science teachers also taught biology (or was it chemistry?) at a local public, secular community college.  When I asked him if he taught science differently at our Catholic school, he responded just as did the teachers Hess talked to: “Why would I?”

 

Zombie Science on Noah’s Ark

Smart people don’t say it’s not science.  Some call creation science “dead science.”  But anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear can see the bustling activity in the world of creation science.  A recent blog post from Answers In Genesis offered an introduction to what creation science can look like.  If it’s not dead, but not quite alive in the normal sense, maybe the best term for this sort of research is “undead science” or “zombie science.”

Alternative Science in Action

Alternative Science in Action

As those of us who follow the creation/evolution debates are well aware, Answers In Genesis is planning a big new museum project.  They want to build a replica of Noah’s Ark to prove its practicality.  Indeed, this ark project has attracted a sub-controversy of its own, with secularists complaining about public tax benefits going toward this explicitly sectarian religious project.

In a recent blog post, AIG explained some of the scientific challenges of their Ark project.  AIG demonstrated some of the unique features of the sort of creation science practiced by AIG scientists. As the post explained, one of the challenges of designing a replica Ark is figuring out how many animals would be on board.  Most believers in a literal world-wide flood do not insist that Noah’s Ark contained two of every species we have today.  Rather, they say that the Ark contained two of every “created kind,” as described in Genesis.  That is, the Ark did not have two wolves, two dingoes, two foxes, two dogs, etc.  Instead, the Ark had two of the “kind” of canine.

The term AIG scientists use to describe these “created kinds” is “baramin.”  In the recent blog post, AIG uses the example of the mule deer to show how scientists can figure out what kind of created kinds were on the Ark.  Creation scientists hypothesize that fossils from the baramin must be in a certain fossil layer, since those fossils were predictably laid down at a certain point in the Genesis flood.  In this case, the most likely fossil deposits, according to AIG, were from “moschids buried in rock layers deposited by localized catastrophes just after Flood.”  Those samples allow creation scientists to figure out what the baramin on the ark would likely have looked like.

Is this science?  It’s tempting for those of us outside the circle of creationism to pooh-pooh this sort of thing as outlandish non-science.

But more thoughtful non-creationists have offered more subtle explanations.  Philosopher Philip Kitcher, for example, argued that we should understand this not as non-science, but as “dead science.”  This sort of thinking, Kitcher said, had a long and influential career as mainstream science.  However, it has been replaced by better science.

Historian George Marsden also offered an explanation of this sort of scientific thinking.  Marsden argued that early creationists worked in a Baconian framework.  Science, according to this way of thinking, must begin with an authority.  From that firm starting point, scientists can collect and classify information.  This is not non-science, but rather a certain form of dissenting science.

Throughout the twentieth-century history of creationism, creationists themselves have insisted on the scientific legitimacy of their projects.  The leading creation scientist of the 1920s, George McCready Price, repeatedly argued that non-creationists were behind the times.  As Price told an audience in London just a few months after the 1925 Scopes trial,

I am perfectly confident that any competent person who will take the time to traverse the evidence now available on this side will reach the same conclusion that I have reached—namely. That the theory of Organic Evolution was a very plausible theory for the times of comparative ignorance of the real facts of heredity and variation and of the facts of geology which prevailed during the latter part of the nineteenth century; but that this theory is now entirely out of date, and hopelessly inadequate for us, in view of the facts of geology and of experimental breeding as we know them.  We are making scientific history very fast these days; and the specialist in some corner of science who keeps on humming a little tune to himself, quietly ignoring all this modern evidence against Evolution, is simply living in a fools’ paradise.  He will soon be so far behind that he will wake up some fine morning and find that he needs an introduction to the modern scientific world.

Mainstream scientists in the 1920s and ever since would dispute Price’s prediction.  But in every generation since the 1920s, creationists have developed and honed their distinct version of science and of scientific research.  As this Ark Encounter article makes clear, over the past century creationists have identified research problems and research methodologies that are utterly foreign to mainstream science.  They have built schools, museums, and academic publications.  They have changed and honed their thinking.

“Dead” science does not grow and change in this way.

So if this sort of creation science is thriving and changing, it seems misleading to adopt Kitcher’s label of “dead science.”  I know creationists won’t like the idea of calling it “zombie science” or “undead science.”  But is there a better term to describe this unique sort of active-but-dead kind of research?

 

 

Bad News for Everyone

Have you seen it yet?  The new Gallup poll on creationism and evolution is out.  The numbers are about the same as they have been for the past thirty years.  But beyond those numbers, the backgrounds of Gallup’s respondents has some bad news for creationists.  It also has bad news for evolution-lovers.

Stable Numbers Since the 1980s

Stable Numbers Since the 1980s

Since the 1980s, Gallup’s pollsters have been offering respondents three options about the origins of humanity.  This time, 42% chose the young-earth creationist option: “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”  In contrast, 31% chose “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process.”  A whopping 19% selected “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process.”

Those numbers have remained fairly stable for the past generation.  But another result of the recent poll numbers needs some examination.  The young-earth position is much more common among less educated adults.  For those with less than a high-school diploma, 57% selected the young-earth option.  A far smaller proportion, only 27%, of Americans with a college degree chose the young-earth explanation.

"Organized Ignorance?"

“Organized Ignorance?”

This is bad news for everyone.

For creationists, these numbers suggest that more education means less creationism.  Throughout the lifespan of American creationism, creationist intellectuals have fought a rearguard action against accusations of ignorance.  In 1927, for example, Minneapolis fundamentalist leader William Bell Riley told a reporter,

Every time I hear the argument that this is a controversy between experts on the one hand, and, as someone has said, ‘organized ignorance,’ on the other, I smile.  This is not a debate between the educated and the uneducated.

Riley’s smile grew more and more strained as the 1920s wore on.  And later generations of creationists found it even more difficult to take the intellectual high ground.  These numbers mean bad news for them.

But the numbers mean bad news for evolution mavens, too.

Though more college grads embrace a non-young-earth understanding of the origins of humanity, 27% is still a significant number.  It means that over a quarter of adults who have been to college—educated adults, that is—select a young earth as the best explanation.  Over a quarter!  Some of those, to be sure, may attend what young-earth creationists embrace as “Creation Colleges.”  Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis, for example, publishes a list (and a map!) of schools that he views as faithful to the Bible’s obvious meaning.

But many of those college-educated young-earth creationists likely attend non-creationist colleges as well.  As anthropologist David Long demonstrated in his study of creationists at a large public university, studying biology at a secular university does not tend to shake the faith of creationist students.  Of his interview subjects, only one abandoned her creation faith as she majored in biology.  And it wasn’t the science that convinced her.  She had already begun to move away from her faith in high school, due to an early pregnancy and the sour reaction of her church community.

As I argued a while back in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, anti-creationists are too fond of calling all creationists “ignoramuses.”  Certainly, some folks must embrace creationism because they just don’t know better.  But many educated adults DO know about evolution.  They simply choose young-earth creationism instead.  That is a troubling fact that anti-creationists have always had a hard time dealing with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Files Are In!

Well, there’s nothing more to be done about it now.  I’ve just sent my final draft of my next book manuscript to the publisher.  There’s a sense of relief at being done, but also trepidation at the impossibility of further revisions.  After years of researching, writing, then revising, revising, revising, it’s hard to believe I won’t be able to keep tweaking and improving.

Pre-order your copy today!

Pre-order your copy today!

In general, though, I’m extremely pleased with the shape of the manuscript.  In a nutshell, I try to make the case that we’ve seen a potent tradition of educational conservatism in the United States, one that has had a decisive impact on the structure and content of schooling.  And, I argue, that tradition has not been recognized by historians or education scholars.

To make this case, I examine in four looooong chapters the four biggest school controversies in twentieth-century America: the Scopes Trial of 1925, the Rugg textbook controversy of 1939-41, the Pasadena superintendent ouster of 1950, and the Kanawha County textbook battle of 1974-75.  What did conservatives say and do in these controversies?  In each case, the attention-grabbing events attracted conservative participation from both locals and national leaders.  In each case, the issues prompted conservatives to articulate their visions of proper schooling.  To me, that’s the interesting question.

We’re still a ways from final publication.  The publisher will send me proofs in July.  At that stage, I’ll put together the index and fine-tooth-comb the proofs for any typos.  But I won’t be able to make substantive changes at that point, just minor corrections.

During these last weeks, as I’ve been going over the copy-edited chapter files, I’ve been very grateful for the careful work of the editor.  She or he pointed out some embarrassing errors on my part and I’ve been able to make changes in the argument.  Hopefully this draft is as crystal-clear as I can make it.

I’m looking forward to hearing what readers think of the book.  For that, I’ll have to wait until 2015.  The press will release the book on January 12, 2015.  Pre-orders are available!

 

Take the Creation Museum Challenge

We can gnash our teeth.  We can pull our hair.  But no matter what we do, the Creation Museum of Answers In Genesis has pulled it off.  With its new $1.5 million dinosaur exhibit, the flagship museum of young-earth creationism has successfully mimicked the outward appearance of mainstream scientific museums.

Big Valley Creation Science Museum

Big Valley Creation Science Museum

It used to be easy.  Creationist museums used to be only sad little affairs.  They used to look like this one from Alberta, Canada.  The Big Valley Creation Science Museum, pictured here, may do a great job in spreading the creationism gospel.  But no idle tourist would be likely to confuse it with mainstream museums such as the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History or Boston’s Museum of Science.

It used to be easy for outsiders like me to mock the lame pretensions of the many creation museums that dotted our great land.  And Canada.  As one angry visitor noted, even the bigger creation museums used to have strange, sad displays like this one from San Diego’s Creation and Earth History Museum.

Not a Lot of Big Bang for your Buck

Not a Lot of Big Bang for your Buck

But here’s the new challenge: Can you tell which of the three pictures below comes from Kentucky’s Creation Museum display and which come from the Smithsonian and Boston’s Museum of Science?  As arch-creationist Ken Ham explained gleefully recently, this new display of a million-dollar Allosaurus fossil puts Ham’s Creation Museum in the same league as those mainstream museums.  As Ham put it,

For decades I’ve walked through many leading secular museums, like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and have seen their impressive dinosaur skeletons. But they were used for evolution. Now we have one of that class, and it will help us defend the book of Genesis and expose the scientific problems with evolution.

So take the Creation-Museum challenge.  Just by looking, can you tell which of these images comes from a young-earth creationist museum and which come from mainstream ones?  (Don’t cheat.  But once you’ve given it a try, you can click on each image to see its provenance.)

Is this "real" science?"

Is This “Real” Science?”

Or Is It This One?

Or Is It This One?

Millions of Years?  Or Millions of Dollars?

Millions of Years? Or Millions of Dollars?

This successful mimicry is important.  In creationism’s twentieth-century struggle to establish alternative educational institutions to rival those of mainstream science, young-earth creationists often wrestled with significant disadvantages.  Not least of these were questions of funding, as historian Ron Numbers described in his must-read book The Creationists and I detailed in my 1920s book.  In the case of this priceless fossil, rich creationists Michael and Stephen Peroutka donated it to help the Creation Museum with its work.

It would be nice to think that America’s public would make its decisions about the age of the earth and the origins of humanity by weighing evidence and considering counter-claims.  To people like me, the Creation Museum’s claim that this well-preserved fossil serves as proof of a worldwide flood 4,300 years ago seems absurd.

But I don’t think we need to be very cynical to guess that appearance matters.  As Dan Kahan argues, what people believe about creation and evolution usually has more to do with their cultural identity than it does with scientific evidence.  If Answers In Genesis can make their museum LOOK like the Smithsonian, many visitors will assume it is just as good.  And if Answers In Genesis can crank out peer-reviewed science publications that attest to the scientific veracity of their claims, many readers will assume their science is just as good.

So take the Creation Museum challenge.  If you can’t tell the difference, how can you expect anyone else to?

 

Evolution Rock

I ran into some mysterious evolution-related lyrics in a trademark song by my favorite band ever.

Of course, this is not the first time rockers have messed with evolutionary themes.  ILYBYGTH readers may remember our ponderings about Bruce Springsteen’s muddled ideas about evolution.  And thanks to Jonny Scaramanga we all learned something about the vibrant creation-rock scene.

But I guess I had never listened closely enough to the lyrics of MC5’s “Sister Anne.”  The Detroit outfit’s signature song starts out like this, the best I can decode:

Sister Anne don’t give a damn about evolution

She’s a liberated woman, she’s got her solution

Like a dinosaur, she’s going off the wall

She’s gonna make it her own crusade

It raises two obvious and difficult questions.  First, how much more evolution-rock is out there?  Not to be too nerdy about it, but how deeply do the questions of evolution and creationism sink into the marrow of American culture?  If we hear the echoes of creationism even in the skudjiest of Motor City rock anthems, is there anywhere we won’t find them?

The second question is much simpler: What the *@#% do these “Sister Anne” lyrics mean?  The title character seems to be some sort of soul-saving, evolution-hating, sexy Catholic nun.  I know she can…but can what?

 

 

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