The Hidden Tribes of Creationism

Care a lot about the age of the earth? The origin of humanity? The actual historical existence (or not) of Adam & Eve? If so, you’re an oddball. According to a new report, however, you’re an oddball who probably gets a lot more attention than you deserve.hidden tribes chart 1

In their study of culture-war polarization, the folks at More In Common didn’t ask directly about creationism. In their survey of 8,000 adult Americans, though, they came up with a bunch of categories into which Americans divide themselves. Instead of using the usual demographic categories of race, class, gender, age, religion, and so on, they split respondents into seven major groups:

  • Progressive Activists
  • Traditional Liberals
  • Passive Liberals
  • Politically Disengaged
  • Moderates
  • Traditional Conservatives
  • Devoted Conservatives

Time and time again, they found, the loudest voices on the margins dominated public debates, in spite of the fact that a large “Exhausted Majority” hoped for more compromise. As the report puts it,

Public debates are often dominated by voices that come from the furthest ends of the spectrum and who are the least interested in finding common ground. This makes it much harder to make progress on these issues, deepening the frustration felt by many in the middle.

On most issues, the people on the edges have diametrically opposed views and hold them very strongly. That is not the case for most people on most issues.

hidden tribes chart 2They didn’t ask specifically about creationism, but their findings translate well. As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism, Americans don’t really disagree as much about creationism and evolution as we’d think if we only read the headlines.

For example, when most people think about “creationism” these days—IF they think about creationism—they tend to think of the extreme young-earth creationists who make the most noise. Pundits such as Ken Ham dominate the headlines about “creationism,” even though their beliefs represent only a tiny fraction of the real landscape of American creationism.

Think about it: if we define “creationism” as a basic belief that some sort of higher power had something to do with the way life has come to be, then almost ALL Americans would fit into that category. Even leading “evolutionists” such as Ken Miller would fit. Professor Miller is one of America’s leading explainers and promoters of evolutionary theory, yet he is also a believing Christian. When it comes down to it, Miller wrote in his 1999 book Finding Darwin’s God,

God is every bit as creative in the present as He was in the past.

Is Prof. Miller a “creationist?” By any reasonable definition, of course he is. But when Americans fight about “creationism” vs. “evolution,” we don’t make room for the vast middle ground that includes religious scientists like Miller.

As the Hidden Tribes report states, most Americans

are going about their lives with absurdly inaccurate perceptions of each other.

Radical creationists think they are the only ones who care about God and creation. Radical atheists warn that creationist armies are scheming to turn public schools into madrassahs. In the vast middle ground, people think “creationism”  must include a radical belief in a literal world-wide flood or a literal special creation in the Garden of Eden.

It doesn’t. There are plenty of ways to be a “creationist” while still accepting the explanatory power of mainstream evolutionary theory. In reality, there isn’t a flat-out culture war between creationists and the rest of us. There can’t be, because in reality almost all Americans are creationists of one sort or another. And almost all Americans want their children to learn evolutionary science.

You can be excused for not believing it, though, because the loudmouths on the outer edges distort all of our discussions.

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

It’s been a busy week here in the offices of ILYBYGTH International! Here are some of the stories that came across our desk that we thought you might find interesting:

Trump’s proclamation for Education Week.

What was the “city on a hill” really about? Not what Reagan thought, at WaPo.

Two insufficient ways schools teach WWI. At TC.

wilson addressing congress

This WILL be on the test!

School privatization takes a hit in the mid-term elections, at T74.

Freaking out yet about the Asia Bibi case? At the Guardian.

What do you do if you support teacher strikes but lose your bid for Congress? Run for President, at Politico.

More swings than a school playground: Hillary Clinton is back IN the Texas history standards, at DMN.

Are evangelicals cracking up? Eric Miller interviews Paul Djupe at R&P.

we can foresee almost no circumstances at this point that would intervene in the mutual love affair—the equally yoked relationship—between white evangelicals and Trump. But, that necessarily entails a crackup of evangelicalism.

More than double-secret probation on the line: Dartmouth sued for allowing “Animal House” antics by three well-funded professors, at IHE.

Are the real anti-Semites on the Left? At Spectator.

What can conservatives and progressives agree on? Deriding tax breaks for Amazon, at the Federalist.

Jill Lepore on her new non-textbook textbook, at CHE.

A former school superintendent describes his disillusion with testing at Chalkbeat.

We’re not playing the long game for our kids.

Rutgers changes its mind: It’s okay if a white professor is anti-white, at FIRE.

Yale White Student Union_1542397045372.jpg_62387087_ver1.0_640_360

This isn’t what he wanted…

Money-laundering Bible college busted, at CT.

Will the real populist please stand up? R.R. Reno at TAM.

When the ruling class ignores or derides the unsettled populace (as is happening today — deplorables, takers, and so forth), the restlessness jells into an adversarial mood. A populist is anyone who gains political power on the strength of this adversarial stance.

Did Rutgers Just Fulfill the Dreams of White Supremacists?

He’s off the hook. Professor James Livingston has been cleared of charges of racism and harassment by Rutgers University. He might be relieved, but hidden in Rutgers’ decision is a kernel of racial thinking that might dismay Livingston and the rest of us.

Yale White Student Union_1542397045372.jpg_62387087_ver1.0_640_360

This isn’t what he wanted…

SAGLRROILYBYGTH may remember this oddball story. Last summer, historian James Livingston caught grief for his satirical (and IMHO hilarious) anti-white FB rants. As a resident of Harlem, the white professor expressed dismay at the gentrification and suburbanization of the neighborhood. As he put it,

OK, officially, I now hate white people. I am a white people, for God’s sake, but can we keep them — us — us out of my neighborhood? I just went to Harlem Shake on 124 and Lenox for a Classic burger to go, that would be my dinner, and the place is overrun by little Caucasian assholes who know their parents will approve of anything they do. Slide around the floor, you little shithead, sing loudly, you unlikely moron. Do what you want, nobody here is gonna restrict your right to be white. I hereby resign from my race. Fuck these people. Yeah, I know, it’s about my access to dinner. Fuck you, too.

And, in a later post,

I just don’t want little Caucasians overrunning my life, as they did last night. Please God, remand them to the suburbs, where they and their parents can colonize every restaurant, all the while pretending that the idiotic indulgence of their privilege signifies cosmopolitan–you know, as in sophisticated “European”–commitments.

Did these anti-white rants mean Livingston was racist? That he would not be fair to the white students in his classes? That he was guilty of discrimination and harassment? Recently, Rutgers said no. According to documents posted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Rutgers concluded that Livingston’s posts were beyond humor, but they were not “pervasive,” nor were they directed toward any of his own students. Most important, Rutgers noted that no students had ever complained about Livingston, even in the months following the scandal.

its okay to be white

…or this.

Buried in this apparent vindication of Professor Livingston’s rights to academic freedom, though, is a nugget that should cause great consternation to Livingston and his ilk. To wit: Prof. Livingston defended himself, in part, by saying that there can be no such thing as racism against white people. As the dominant class, Livingston contends, white people by definition can’t be the victims of racism. Portentiously, the university disagreed. As Rutgers put it,

The University makes no such distinction, but prohibits discrimination based on any race, in a blanket manner. As such, from a legal and Policy perspective, “reverse racism,” to the extent it is defined as offensive or intimidating conduct directed at another because he or she is white, is indeed possible and prohibited.

I think it’s a safe guess that Rutgers didn’t mean to do it, but this chunk of legalese seems to confirm the fondest dreams of alt-right pundits. For decades now, conservatives and right-wingers have argued that white people deserve to be treated as just another protected class.

Just recently, we’ve seen a spate of campus activism based on this notion that white students deserve protection, too. Would this Rutgers ruling set a precedent?

Professor Livingston may have won his battle, but did his victory lose a war?

Mobbed Up

I’ll say it: Right-wing mobs are way scarier than left-wing mobs. It seems like the British government agrees, but are we all victims of our own biases? Or is there really something true about it?

The Asia Bibi story is terrifying. If you haven’t been following, it concerns a Christian woman in Pakistan who was convicted of blasphemy for drinking out of a water jug used by Muslim women. After surviving calls for her execution and serving several years in prison, her sentence was thrown out recently.

Under threats against her life, Bibi’s family has requested asylum in countries such as the UK. To the dismay of some critics, the government dithered, wondering if saving Bibi would harm UK/Pakistan relations.

So here is our question this morning: Are right-wing mobs like the ones calling for Bibi’s head scarier in general than left-wing mobs?

Consider the following recent examples: Last year, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a “pro-white” mob marched in support of neo-Confederate values. In the fracas, a right-winger killed a counterprotester with a car.

Of course, we’ve seen other frightening mobs recently from the other side of our culture wars. At Middlebury College, for example, protesters in masks accosted and physically threatened Charles Murray and a member of the Middlebury faculty. At Evergreen State College, protesters shouted down faculty who disagreed with their plans for a campus-wide boycott. Perhaps most dramatically, masked left-wingers swept through Berkeley last year to shut down a right-wing protest.

We could go on and on. Conservative pundits such as Tucker Carlson have lamented their abuse at the hands of chanting leftist mobs. From the other side, Christine Blasey Ford—the woman who accused new SCOTUS Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault—has had to move four times, hire private security, and give up her job.

To this reporter, though, the two sides don’t seem the same. Threats from the right seem far more deadly than those from the left. Maybe it’s because in the USA, the right is the side of guns and absolute values. The right is the side of “Fightin Side of Me.” The left, on the other hand, is the side of hippies and self-empowerment. It is the side of skepticism and postgraduate degrees.

I know those are just stupid stereotypes and we can think of plenty of counter examples. For instance, soccer hooligans cause far more mob havoc than do NASCAR fans.

Still…is it only my bias, or is there really something more frightening about right-wing mob violence?

What Does Education Look Like from 1600 Penn. Ave?

It doesn’t mean much, but Trump’s official statement for “Education Week” tells us a little more about the hopes and dreams of America’s conservative education activists. It also includes one stumper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The roots of “Education Week,” c. 1941

First, a little background on “Education Week.” As I found out in the research for my book about educational conservatism, Education Week started roughly a century ago as an effort to bring conservatives and progressives together for a whole-community focus on public schools.

The leading players were the American Legion for the conservative side and the National Education Association for the progressives. The Legion hoped to use Education Week to fight socialist subversion in America’s public schools. They hoped the week would give a much-needed shot of patriotism and community oversight to possibly subversive teachers.

These days, Education Week mostly passes unnoticed by everyone. In line with tradition, however, President Trump issued a formal proclamation in support of it. Predictably, he hit a few notes calculated to warm the hearts of conservatives.

First, he included conservative educational dog-whistle #1:

Parents are a child’s first teacher.

At least since the 1920s, conservative activists have looked askance at the role of the teacher and school in forming children’s characters. Harping on the leading role of parents has long served as a promise to respect conservatives’ vision of proper education. As I argued in the pages of Newsweek, though, it’s not always as simple as people tend to think.

americanism address

The plan, c. 1934

Second, he used the c-word a lot. As Trump proclaimed,

We are also protecting and expanding parents’ access to a wide range of high-quality educational choices, including effective public, charter, magnet, private, parochial, online, and homeschool options.

Next, Trump’s proclamation noted that the primary goal of school should be to prepare students for employment. In the words of the proclamation,

My Administration is committed to ensuring that America’s students and workers have access to education and job training that will equip them to compete and win in the global economy.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH recall, Trump made headlines last summer with a proposal to roll together the Departments of Education and Labor into a giant “workforce” department. It hasn’t always been the dream of conservatives to abolish the federal role in public education (see this Time article for my longer explanation of the history) but since the 1940s it has been a reliable conservative vote-getter.

So far, so good. Trump’s proclamation hit the notes calculated to encourage conservative education activists. But what about his oddball third paragraph? Here it is in all its glory:

Each student is unique, with their own distinct experiences, needs, learning styles, and dreams.  Thus, education must be customized and individualized as there is no single approach to education that works for every student.  My Administration encourages parents, guardians, educators, and school leaders to rethink the way students learn in America to ensure that every American receives a high-quality education that meets their needs.  We empower teachers to create learning environments that are challenging, relevant, and engaging.  When families are free to choose where and how their children learn, and when teachers are free to do their best work, students are able to grow and explore their talents and passions.

On the face of it, this paragraph seems to be balancing the ideological teeter-totter a little bit. Trump seems to be speaking to the progressive crowd, calling for student individualization and teacher empowerment.

How are we supposed to take it?

When I channel my inner curmudgucrat, this paragraph sounds like just another use of phony “personalized” buzzwords to sneakily privatize public education. Or if I remember the lessons of Larry Cuban and David Tyack, it might sound like a bureaucratic recognition of the eternally conflicted goals of public education.

Or maybe, just maybe, the proclamation simply doesn’t deserve this much parsing. Maybe it is merely the product of a group of Trump-bots who wanted to say something without saying anything.

I would love it if someone could explain it to me.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Armistice Day, a century later. Subterranean rivers of ecstasy and violence, a generation later. This week saw a lot of remembrance and few new shockers:

Fart jokes land a professor in hot water at CHE.

fartenberry CHE

Ha ha ha…you’re fired.

How many people go to Ark Encounter? Parsing the attendance numbers at FA.

We’ve been here before: Andrew Bacevich’s lessons from the Sixties at AC.

Once more the subterranean river has unleashed the forces of ecstasy and violence. . . . And as in 1968, little evidence exists to suggest that the nation’s political class has the capacity to comprehend what is occurring, much less the wit and courage needed to address the problem. . . . [Yet] the center will ultimately hold. The market for ecstasy and violence will once more prove to be limited and transitory.

When is personalized learning not? Peter Greene at Forbes.

Young evangelicals and politics at NYT.

…gulp. Is this billboard real? At Snopes.

trump christ

…really?

Wisconsin university spends $5,000 to bring porn star to campus, at JS. HT: MM

UFOs, 19th-century style. The Great Airship Delusion at RCP.

great airship delusion

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…

Trump bans CNN reporter from White House, at CNN.

Why don’t people put their money where their kids are? At TIASL.

From “no excuses” to “restorative justice” at some KIPP schools. Chalkbeat.

It DID happen here: The history of American pogroms at Politico.

Christian Front

Christian Fronters, c. 1940

Teacher strikes move north: Anchorage teachers walk out of school-board meeting. At ADN.

Is Bucky back? Gov. Walker’s ouster in Wisconsin provides glimmer of hope to UWisconsin, at CHE.

Armistice Day recollections:

Fundamentalism’s Retreating American Horizon

It’s not about Darwin. It’s not even about Jesus. We see again this morning that radical young-earth creationism—at least Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis brand—is built on a vision of American history in which fundamentalists are always under more and more attack.ken ham on the moon

Here’s what we know: This morning Ham tweeted a nostalgic video about Apollo 8. On that mission, astronauts circled the moon for the first time on Christmas Eve, 1968. In a live broadcast, astronauts read the opening verses from Genesis.

We can ignore the obvious stuff, like the fact that Ken Ham misdescribed this 1968 moon circling as the 1969 moon landing. We’re more interested this morning in Ham’s take-away from the video itself. What lesson did Ham draw?

2: The culture has changed–NASA sadly would not allow this today

Of course, as historians and SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, back in the 1960s, Ham’s predecessors were articulating very similar laments about the dangerous trends in American culture. In early 1963, for example, Samuel Sutherland of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (BIOLA) warned of the dangerous effects of the recent SCOTUS ruling against Bible-reading and teacher-led prayer in public schools.

What would happen now? Sutherland warned the SCOTUS decision might

Make our country an atheistic nation, no whit better than God-denying, God-defying Russia herself. . . . in prohibiting the name of God to be used in any form of prayer, [SCOTUS] are in effect advocating that the children be taught atheism.

Sutherland wasn’t alone in warning that 1960s America had gone to the atheist dogs. In 1965, for example, in the pages of Carl McIntire’s Christian Beacon magazine, one writer warned that the banishment of teacher-led Christian devotions from public schools

will mean the division even more sharply of this nation into communities of the secular and the Church, which will inevitably lead to more expression of the secular and more repression of the Christian. When this happens, repression, restriction, harassment, and then outright persecution will be the natural course to follow in secular opposition to Christian witness.

In the glorious 1960s, then, Ken Ham’s predecessors were making the same kinds of warnings that Ham is making today: Things used to be better for conservative evangelical Protestants. Public schools and public policy used to speak in the tones of evangelicalism.

Over and over again, across the decades, fundamentalist Cassandras have articulated a similar historical vision. The past was always better. The present–no matter what year–is characterized by a bitter sense of loss, by a grief for a glorious Christian past stripped away by scheming secularists and soft-minded false Christians.

It doesn’t have much to do with actual creationism, of course, or with evolutionary science. But this relentless alarmist nostalgia does a lot to help us understand why some evangelicals yearn to Make America Great Again.

If It’s Been Worse, Will It Get Better?

It’s not all that comforting, really. But as historians and old people with good memories know, today’s violent political climate is depressingly not new. With synagogue shootings and Trump-fueled mail bombings, it’s hard not to panic. Yet Andrew Bacevich thinks there is some grounds for wary optimism. Should we agree?

We don’t need to go all the way back to the earliest days of our nation when rebels took up arms against the fledgling federal government. We don’t even need to go back to the ugliest days of American political history, when a US Congressman beat a US Senator into a coma on the floor of the US Senate. No, we only need to remember events in our lifetimes (for those of us of a certain age). In the 1970s, political bombings were a regular feature of American life.

economis political violence

Comforting? …or terrifying?

Whatever your political beliefs, there’s no doubt that the left-wing violence of the groups such as the Weather Underground in the 1970s threatened the fabric of American civil life. As Bacevich points out, back then the left succumbed to a despairing, violent “nihilism.” The Weather Underground issued a call to

Amerika’s youth to use our strategic position behind enemy lines to join forces in the destruction of the empire.

doern

Public Enemy #1

They tried, but they failed. And Bacevich hopes today’s alt-right will sputter as well. As he puts it,

The ebb and flow of events in the 1960s should give us confidence that the center will ultimately hold. The market for ecstasy and violence will once more prove to be limited and transitory. Today’s alt-right is no more likely to win the support of ordinary Americans than did the Weather Underground during the infamous Days of Rage.

I’d like to agree, but I admit I’m skeptical. I get nervous when I see our President ejecting journalists from the White House on trumped-up accusations. I get nervous when elections return avowed neo-Confederates to office—in Iowa of all places.

What do you think? Do you share Bacevich’s cautious optimism? Or do you think that Norman Mailer’s ‘“subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires,” expressing the “concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation”’ will overwhelm its banks one time too many?

Heresy and the Death of the Sniff Test

It can’t be real. That was my first impression when I saw pix of the blasphemous billboard circulating around the interwebs. It just looked too hokey and too perfectly outrageous. But, as Sam Wineburg is telling us, we need to be asking different questions these days. Our old-fashioned sniff tests are way out of date. What’s worse, even Wineburg’s hopeful prescription can’t help us with some problems. Namely, as with this billboard, political realities have gotten so bizarre I’m losing hope that any of us will have much luck discerning the true from the troll.

trump christ

This can’t possibly be real…can it?

It looks so perfectly anti-Christian that I was sure it had to be a spoof. And spoof it may be, but at the very least it seems to be a real billboard. According to Snopes,

The billboard is undoubtedly real, though it is not yet clear who paid for it and when it was erected. A spokesperson for DDI Media, the St. Louis company which owns the billboard itself, told us they could not share such information.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, I personally don’t care about heresy, but I am absolutely flummoxed that any self-identified Christian would equate the Donald with The Christ. The entire episode seems like more proof of Sam Wineburg’s new argument. We can no longer trust our sense of what “looks” and “feels” real and legitimate. It’s just too easy to fake it.

Among other things, Professor Wineburg describes his study of internet readers. He asked ten academic historians to decide which group was more trustworthy based on their websites, the American College of Pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics. One (ACP) is a legitimate professional organization of doctors. The other (AAP) is an anti-gay splinter group.

Turns out, these historians—all of them hyper-trained to read and decode complicated texts—weren’t very good at figuring out how to evaluate on-line legitimacy. As Wineburg writes,

Typically, the historians would size up a site within seconds.  Snap judgments were often based on a site’s “look” or its official-sounding name. . . . [one] chose the established American Academy of Pediatrics, not because of differences in the organizations’ stature or pedigrees (he never ventured beyond the two sites to learn about these organizations respective backgrounds), but because of the fonts on their webpages.

As Wineburg points out, evaluating online information based on these sorts of impressions is woefully out of date. Back in the wild 1990s, we used to be able to evaluate information based on the look of the website. Shoddy graphics, sketchy organizational details, and over-long web addresses were all easy give-aways.

These days, those markers are simply too easy to fix. A fly-by-night extremist organization can have a website that looks and feels legit.wineburg why learn history

Wineburg has hope. Students and the rest of us can learn better tools to detect online fraud and fakery. We can learn to read the web laterally instead of trusting any one website.

As this billboard episode shows us, though, perhaps we need to be more concerned than that. For me, the billboard appeared fake not only because it looked poorly made, but because its message was so outrageous. So, yes, I thought it was fake because it looked kind of blurry and because it didn’t include any information about its source. But I also thought it was fake because no Christian could possibly have intended to advertise such a blatantly blasphemous message.

Yet someone did. Clearly, the old fashioned sniff tests can’t help us anymore. Fake information can look real. Even worse, though, ideas that would have been too hateful to see bruited about in public spaces now seem common.

Fundamentalist U at HES

Maybe I should have taken a quantitative turn at Albuquerque! I was honored and delighted to have a group of top historians discuss Fundamentalist U at the recent History of Education Society meeting in sunny Albuquerque. They raised some tough questions and we had a great discussion about the need for a better historical understanding of evangelical higher education.

The panel was put together by Professor Andrea Turpin of Baylor University. She invited academic heavy-hitters AJ Angulo, Milton Gaither, and Katrina Sanders. The inestimable Jonathan Zimmerman served as our chair.

HES 2018

Professors Sanders, Gaither, Angulo, and Turpin. Yours truly in the back.

All of the panelists had nice things to say about the book, which was great to hear. But they also raised insightful questions. For example, why doesn’t the book include a clearer description of the numbers of institutions involved? It would have been fairly easy to do and it would have helped readers get a sense of the scope of the evangelical-college movement over time.

Also, the book claims to examine the history of evangelical higher education, but it leaves out large swathes of evangelical schools. Where are the Pentecostals? The Peace-Church schools? It’s a fair point and one I readily acknowledge. The focus of my book is on a subgroup of the evangelical tradition, schools that called themselves “fundamentalist” at some point in time.

We talked about the top-down focus of the book, too. Yes, I tried hard to include student experiences as much as possible, but the central theme of the book, as Professor Gaither pointed out, was

the narrow channel administrators had to navigate between the Scylla of angry fundamentalists watching their every move for signs of creeping secularization and the Charybdis of parents, students, and accreditation bodies who wanted to make sure that the education being provided was respectable.

Last but not least, we discussed the challenges of my sources. In some cases, I was only given access to small parts of archival collections. I wasn’t allowed at all into some archives, like at Bryan College. How did this curated set of papers influence my ability to draw fair conclusions?

All fair questions. And, as I particularly appreciate, questions that demonstrate a keen understanding of the book and my goals. Even given these limitations, I consider the book to be worthwhile. (To be clear, the panelists agreed on this point as well.)

First of all, for historians and others interested in American higher ed, we absolutely must include this family of institutions in our considerations. Too often, we hear pundits and policy-makers talk about the ideological draft of “American higher ed” in ways that seem willfully blind to the true diversity of the higher-ed landscape.

Second, though this wasn’t the focus of these educational historians, we will never understand religious bodies and religious identities if we don’t do a better job of studying affiliated educational institutions. As I argued in Fundamentalist U, too often observers and historians have assumed that we should understand fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism on theological grounds. That’s useful, but it’s not enough. If we really hope to get a handle on what it has meant to be an evangelical, we need to see what evangelicals have done with their schools. And we need to ask why.

[Oh, and I also saw a roadrunner. I guess they’re like pigeons down there…]

HES 2018 roadrunner

meep meep.