I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

SCOTUS, flags, and dino-riding grandpas…it was quite a week here in the ILYBYGTH International offices. Here are some of the stories that caught our eye:

Can campus art disrespect the flag? Kansas says no, at IHE.

kansas u flag

Revoking your artistic license…

Trump and affirmative action in higher ed:

Get elite higher ed out of the social-justice game. Rachel Lu at The Week.

How many creationists does it take to lock in a tax rebate? Examining Ark Encounter’s attendance claims at RACM.

Getting rid of AP: a bad call, says Chester Finn.

Kavanaugh and the Christians:

Turkish creationist under fire, at NCSE.

Creationist Ken Ham shoots for satire, at BB.

ham on triceratops

Photographic evidence: Chester Cornelius Ham III in action…

Taylor U. ousts prof for sexual aggression, at IHE.


Can You Find the Creationist Joke in this Picture?

Breaking news from Kentucky: Arch-creationist Ken Ham has found a photograph of his great-great-grandfather riding a dinosaur! Proof that humans and dinos lived together in the not-so-distant past? No, not really, but it is proof of a couple of other things about young-earth creationists.

ham on triceratops

Photographic evidence: Chester Cornelius Ham III in action…

First of all, it is proof that creationists like Ken Ham can take a joke. As Ham tweeted about the spoof,

Shhh…don’t tell the atheists this is satire as they’ll believe it’s true.

Second of all, it points out that the topic of people riding dinosaurs is still intensely sensitive among Ham’s type of radical creationist. As I’m teasing out in my new book about creationism, the idea of people on dinosaurs is touchy. As Ham is well aware, the idea of humans riding dinosaurs has long been used to ridicule Ham’s ideas.

For example, Charles P. Pierce opens his book Idiot America with a story of his trip to Ham’s Creation Museum. The first thing Pierce noticed was a statue of a dinosaur with a saddle, a display Pierce derided as “batshit crazy.”

So maybe it makes sense for Ken Ham to be defensive. Yes, there is a statue of a dinosaur with a saddle at his museum, Ham responded. But that was “just a fun part for kids,” not part of the real science on display.


Page 42.

I’d like to be fair to Ham, but his position on dinosaurs with saddles seems, at best, inconsistent. In his 2001 book Dinosaurs of Eden, for example, he includes pictures of dinosaurs carrying people and goods. Yet he insisted that he has never claimed that people rode dinosaurs. As he put it,

I don’t know where people get the idea that people rode dinosaurs. I mean, there’s no evidence in the Bible that that is so.

If we wanted to give Ham the benefit of every doubt, we might conclude that Ham has changed his opinions about dinosaurs and saddles since 2001. Yet in a 2016 book, Ham repeated his idea that dinosaurs would likely have been used for all sorts of purposes by humans. As he explained,

We see and hear [in the Bible] about all sorts of animals being tamed by man. . . . why not some of the dinosaurs? Who knows what they were doing? It seems to me we should at least allow the possibility that some could have been tamed to help with transportation, maybe even farming, hauling heavy loads (the strong ones!) and other things.

While I’d like to give Ken Ham credit for having a sense of humor and being able to poke fun at himself, I’ll admit I’m a little perplexed. Ham’s AIG organization insists that the real story about humans riding dinosaurs is the “head-scratchingly bizarre” fixation of atheists on the idea of dinosaurs wearing saddles. Such ideas, AIG sometimes suggests, are not really Ham’s ideas, but only fake news meant to “discredit and malign creationist groups.”

Yet Ham and AIG continue to promote the notion of people riding dinosaurs.

I’m stumped. Maybe the joke is on me.

What Would Abbie Say?

The news from Kansas: It’s still possible to rile the rubes by disrespecting the flag. In most other ways, though, we Americans seem to have totally changed our attitudes about what constitutes “disrespect.” It’s hard not to wonder what Abbie Hoffman would say.

kansas u flag

Revoking your artistic license…

Here’s what we know: The University of Kansas has moved a controversial display of the US flag. The display, a piece by artist Josephine Meckseper, was titled “Untitled (Flag 2).” She flew the flag with a picture of a striped sock on it, as well as an array of busy lines. Meckseper claimed her work was meant to highlight the fractured, divided nature of current American politics.

In a way, Kansas proved her right. Outraged veterans and politicians insisted the work was disrespectful. They insisted the campus remove the flag. Governor Jeff Colyer agreed, and the university complied.

What would Abbie say? Hoffman was famously arrested for wearing a shirt made from the US flag in 1968. Since then, everything related to the politics of flag-fashion seems to have changed. These days, prominent patriotic conservatives tend to wear the flag without giving it a second thought. It’s even easy to buy flag underwear.

abbie hoffman flag shirt

Respect the threads…

According to the flag code, the key seems to be the intention of the wearer. No one is supposed to wear an actual flag. But is it disrespectful to wear a flag-patterned shirt, as US Air Force General Richard Myers did in 2005?

There’s more: The code says the flag should never be displayed horizontally, but USA-loving football fans routinely cheer at such displays.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at New York Jets

They love America, but they don’t seem to like the traditions of proper flag etiquette…

To this reporter, it appears that Americans no longer care about the details of patriotic flag etiquette. As long as people seem to be cheering for the flag, they can do anything they want with it.

However, the instant someone seems to be disrespecting the flag, either in a fashion sense, an artistic sense, or a kneeling-NFL sense, a certain sort of patriotic conservative will predictably react angrily. In Kansas’s case, that sort of anger is politically impossible to resist.

It’s Friday: Stay Focused!

Fundamentalist U & Me: Kurt Morris

Welcome to our latest edition of Fundamentalist U & Me, our occasional series of memory and reflection from people who attended evangelical colleges and universities. [Click here to see all the entries.] The history I recounted in Fundamentalist U only told one part of the complicated story of evangelical higher education. Depending on the person, the school, and the decade, going to an evangelical college has been very different for different people.

This time, we are talking with Kurt Morris, a mental health advocate, writer, storyteller, and speaker in Boston. Morris attended Taylor University from 1997 to 2001 and has a masters in Library Science from Indiana University, Bloomington, and a masters in American Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Boston.Kurt Morris

ILYBYGTH: How did you decide on Taylor? What were your other options? Did your family pressure you to go to an evangelical college?

I never really wanted to go to college but didn’t know what else to do with my life and my parents pushed the idea of how important it is to get a college education. I went to Taylor because I was too scared to go anywhere else. I dealt with a lot of anxiety as a teen (and still do to some extent) and the idea of going to school where I wouldn’t know anyone was terrifying to me. Especially a big state school. My sister went to Taylor and so I knew that I would at least know her and her friends. Also, my parents agreed to pay for college if I went to a Christian college, but not if I went to a non-Christian college.

ILYBYGTH: Do you think your college experience deepened your faith? Do you still feel connected to your alma mater? What was the most powerful religious part of your college experience?

I don’t think my college experience necessarily deepened my faith, nor did it make it weaker. It just kind of was. I can’t think of any powerfully religious part of my experience beyond evening floor prayers and chapels. I feel slightly connected to my alma mater, mainly because I’m part of a Facebook group of alumni who are quite liberal.

ILYBYGTH: Would you/did you send your kids to an evangelical college? If so, why, and if not, why not?

I don’t have kids and don’t know if I will, but I’d let them make their own decision on where to attend college. However, given that my partner and I aren’t Christians, it would be rather odd if our children did want to attend an evangelical college.

ILYBYGTH: Do you still support your alma mater, financially or otherwise? If so, how and why, and if not, why not?

I don’t support my alma mater in any way. I never have and never will. I haven’t kept them in the loop as far as my contact info so I haven’t received any solicitations in probably ten years or more. As I’m not a Christian and as I didn’t really enjoy my experience there I don’t see any reason to support them.

ILYBYGTH: If you’ve had experience in both evangelical and non-evangelical institutions of higher education, what have you found to be the biggest differences? The biggest similarities?

I went to state schools for my graduate degrees and loved them. When I went to the first one I still considered myself a Christian (although I was slowly falling away from the evangelical movement in which I was raised) and when I went to the second grad program I wasn’t a Christian. It was great to be around diverse groups of people with open minds. Going to an evangelical college, especially one like Taylor that is in a rural setting, can place you in a bubble.

I’d say beyond the basic structure (both have buildings, classes, professors, homework, projects) there were few similarities. At Taylor we had rules about when men and women could be in one another’s rooms. You couldn’t live off campus until your senior year. You couldn’t drink, do drugs, or smoke. People often had issues if you cussed or didn’t go to church or chapel.

The classes at Taylor, while they provided a good foundation in history, were never intellectually challenging. I never felt like I had to really dig and question my beliefs like I did in my grad programs. Things definitely skewed conservative at Taylor while they skewed incredibly liberal for my grad programs.

ILYBYGTH: If you studied science at your evangelical college, did you feel like it was particularly “Christian?” How so? Did you wonder at the time if it was similar to what you might learn at a non-evangelical college? Have you wondered since?

I only took a couple general education requirements for my science classes. One was environmental science and one was geography, which had a lot to do with geology. I didn’t feel like they were particularly Christian. I imagine the classes at a non-evangelical college would be somewhat similar as far as subject matter but it’s not something I’ve thought about.

ILYBYGTH: Was your social life at your evangelical college similar to the college stereotype (partying, “hooking up,” drinking, etc.) we see in mainstream media? If not, how was it different? Do you think your social experience would have been much different if you went to a secular institution?

Ha ha ha! It was definitely not similar. I was a pretty straight-laced kid in college so I wasn’t really interested in partying anyway. I partied much more in my graduate programs although even that was slightly more reserved than what one sees in the media. At Taylor I spent a lot of time going to concerts in nearby college towns and being into music. Some people drank at those shows but I wasn’t interested in drinking anyway so it wasn’t a big deal to me. I’m not really sure if my situation would’ve been different at a secular institution. I might’ve just latched on to a church and spent most of my time with those folks. I find it hard to imagine I would’ve partied and hooked up with people when I was college-aged, even at a state school. I was a pretty insecure, depressed, anxious kid.

ILYBYGTH: In your experience, was the “Christian” part of your college experience a prominent part? In other words, would someone from a secular college notice differences right away if she or he visited your school?

I think someone from a secular college definitely would’ve noticed a difference. In fact, the few times my friends who went to the nearby state school came to visit they thought the place was weird. The vernacular used and the rules were so foreign to them. And these people were Christians, too!

ILYBYGTH: Did you feel political pressure at school? That is, did you feel like the school environment tipped in a politically conservative direction? Did you feel free to form your own opinions about the news? Were you encouraged or discouraged from doing so?

Taylor definitely skewed politically conservative. I felt I could form my own opinions about the news. I was pretty liberal as far as political interests go—I was reading Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn if that says anything. I picked them up on my own after hearing about them through interviews with punk bands I listened to. I’m sure the school would’ve loved to have us all have the same opinions on political issues, but I didn’t care. That said, I certainly skewed conservative on a number of social issues: gay marriage, abortion, etc. I still felt those were bad things but no longer feel that way.

ILYBYGTH: What do you think the future holds for evangelical higher education? What are the main problems looming for evangelical schools? What advantages do they have over other types of colleges?

I think as Church membership declines and more young people come out as non-believers (as statistics show is happening) some schools will have a difficult time staying open. I’m sure there will be some mergers and closings. Still, I don’t think we’re going to see the end of evangelical colleges in our lifetimes. One thing they certainly provide is a safe setting for believers. Evangelical colleges are bubbles where one can theoretically grow in one’s faith and not feel threatened. That’s a very comforting proposition (and somewhat the reason I attended Taylor) so I think as long as there are people who feel threatened by the secular world, there will be a place for evangelical schools.

Thanks, Kurt!

Did YOU attend an evangelical college? Are you willing to share your experiences? If so, please get in touch with Adam at the ILYBYGTH editorial desk at alaats@binghamton.edu

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Amidst the summer doldrums, the world kept on turning. Here are some stories that caught our eye this week:

SCOTUS and higher education:

In defense of segregation, at CJ.


Seventy years and counting…

Should anti-Trumpists remain civil? A reminder of “the last time the Left got nasty,” at Politico.

God likes both poems and equations: Michael Shermer reviews Alan Lightman’s Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine at NYT.

UFO history: A craze that keeps on crazing, at PM.

Law professors against Title IX “retaliation,” at Cornell Sun.

Wisconsin Supreme Court rules in favor of conservative faculty curmudgeon, at IHE.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

It’s finally feeling like summer here in the northeast USA. And as always, the culture-war news ticker didn’t cool down this week. Here are a few ILYBYGTH-themed stories we noted from the past seven days:

What’s wrong with Value-Added Measures? Peter Greene breaks it down at Forbes.

The department the GOP loves to hate: A short history of Republican attempts to close the Department of Ed, at CHE.


Tweeting but not eating…

To serve or protest? The Red Hen flap:

What would Elon Musk want a school to look like? At Ars Technica.

Jim Stump of Biologos takes on the ten most common misconceptions about evolutionary theory.

What does the Janus decision mean for schools, students, and teachers? Pro and con at SCOTUSblog.

Colorado takes the “liberal” out of “liberal-arts education.” At CHE.

Can we be educated and aware if we don’t know squat about religion? Grayson Quay says no at AC.

Sorry, Joe

What do you do when you don’t like the person you’re spending your life with? As a historian, I’ve studied lots of people with whom I didn’t agree. Alice Moore, Bob Jones, Max Rafferty, and Don McLeroy come to mind. In each of those cases, though, I never doubted the sincerity of my subjects. I didn’t agree with their goals or moral visions, but it was always clear to me that they were trying to make the world a better place, as they saw it. With this new book, though, I’m finding Joseph Lancaster to be a truly despicable person: Pathetic at best, scheming and self-obsessed at worst.

I haven’t been in this situation before. What are we supposed to do when we can’t sympathize with our subjects? In the past, I’ve always admired the people I’ve studied. Even when we were from different ends of the culture-war spectrum.

alice moore again

Ms. Moore makes her case in a crowded 1974 school-board hearing…

Take Alice Moore, for example. I wrote a lot about Moore’s work in Kanawha County, West Virginia in my book about conservative educational activism in the twentieth century. On nearly every issue, Moore and I are diametrically opposed. Yet she agreed to talk with me about her memories and commitments and she was delightfully kind, humble, and self-effacing. The better I came to know her, the better I understood that she was brave, intelligent, and public-spirited. We’ll never agree, but she’s a good person.

As I delve into the Lancasterian school craze of the early 1800s, though, I’m finding that Joseph Lancaster himself was not a good person. I’m finishing a productive month of research into his archived papers at the American Antiquarian Society. With this rich collection of letters and personal papers, I’ve been able to dig deep into Lancaster’s head.

It’s not a pretty sight.

As I read through his personal notebooks, for example, I’m struck by the fact that he was always more interested in fame and fortune than educational reform. From his earliest days, he was making notes to himself about how much money one could earn as a grasping school-master.

Folio page sample

Notebook of a horrible man…

In his interactions with his friends, family, and colleagues, too, Lancaster was relentlessly self-centered, vindictive, and paranoid. His first backers, the Royal Lancasterian Society, got tired of bankrolling his extravagant spending habits. They cut him off, financially, and offered him a good job as a school superintendent with a good salary.

How did he respond? Viciously and aggressively. When a long-time friend advised Lancaster to take the offered job, Lancaster exploded. As Lancaster put it, he refused to be the “hireling or parlour dog” of his former associates.

It got worse. Lancaster’s first wife was subject to some sort of unspecified mental illness. She seemed delusional, hiding things all around the house and unable to maintain a polite façade. How did Lancaster respond to her malady? Here’s what he told his fourteen-year-old daughter in a letter from 1819:

As to poor Mother—this one thing I am determined on, I will never allow her to be an annoyance, and interrupt our comfort or our business—if she does, she must go—if not, it will be all well but I will not ruin thy temper, and my own—destroy our peace and impede her interests as well as our business—because of her wild nonsense which she can restrain.

The more I find out, the deeper I dislike. For me, this is new. How do historians handle it when they don’t like their subjects?

Papal Fundamentalism

It’s not what they meant to happen, but it seems to be happening a lot these days. As we heard from recent King’s College graduate Christian McGuire, some smart young evangelicals are turning to the Catholic Church. Evangelical-watchers have been seeing it lately everywhere we look. Thanks a tip from a SAGLRROILYBYGTH, for example, I ran across these charismatic folks who are enamored with Catholic tradition. It might feel like a new trend, but this “papal fundamentalism” has been predicted since the 1920s.


Called it.

Rollin Lynde Hartt called it in 1925. Hartt may not be a household name today, but during the 1920s he was considered a leading expert on fundamentalism in the popular press. The Rev. Hartt was a liberal Congregational minister, dedicated to puncturing what he saw as the profoundly negative implications of the surging fundamentalist movement among his fellow Protestants. He hoped fundamentalism would wither and die away, but he feared (correctly) that fundamentalism wasn’t going anywhere.

When Hartt predicted the coming-together of the fundamentalist movement and the Catholic Church—what he derided as “Papal Fundamentalism”—he meant it as an insult. Hartt thought fundamentalism shared Catholicism’s un-Christian fetish for merely human authority. As Hartt put it in a 1925 magazine article,[1]

there is something essentially Catholic about the Fundamentalists’ demand for reliance upon authority; and in temperament every good Fundamentalist is a good Catholic.


[1] Rollin Lynde Hartt, “The Disruption of Protestantism,” Forum 74 (November 1925): 680-683.

Red Hen Creationism

I’ll bet we don’t agree about this one. As you’re sick of hearing by now, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was politely kicked out of a DC-area restaurant. Sanders complained about the fundamental incivility of her political foes. Whatever we think about defenestrating Sanders, we need to consider the implications of this dust-up for our creation/evolution discussions.


Kicked out for Trumpism…

You’ve likely read them all by now: Progressive types have argued that it was okay to be rude to Sanders, because Sanders was personally responsible for defending a horrific, hateful public policy. Conservative pundits call this episode an “appalling” example of the totalitarian mindset of the left. My favorite analysis came from someone I don’t usually agree with who laments the dangerous situation we are all in.

What does any of this have to do with creationism?

Like Sanders, a lot of creationists feel “kicked out” of public schools. They insist that schools teaching mainstream evolutionary science without any creationist science are not welcome places for their creationist kids.

So here’s the question: Do creationists have a right to feel welcome in public schools?

The ILYBYBTH answer: Yes, absolutely. But there’s a ‘but.’ As savvy creationists should want just as much as the rest of us, public schools need to avoid teaching any religious ideas in a devotional way. That is, public schools need to teach kids about religion, but they should never preach any particular religion.

Creationists have never been ejected from public schools. What WAS ejected—and very properly—was the idea that any religiously inspired science should have an equal voice in science classes.

As I’m arguing in my new book, the biggest disagreement in our continuing creation/evolution battles is not actually about creation or evolution. Rather, the problem is a breakdown of trust. If we hope to teach mainstream science in a way that welcomes all people to our public schools, we need to be much clearer about the things that we do and don’t disagree about.

For example, we should all agree on this: All creationists are always welcome in public schools. If they feel otherwise, we need to fix that. But creationism itself is not welcome, at least not as part of the official curriculum. If anyone feels otherwise, we need to fix that, too.