Hitting Radical Creationists Where It Hurts

Fighting about science doesn’t help. Radical creationists have an answer for their radically different views about DNA, population genetics, radiometric dating, etc. Where they don’t have an answer is elsewhere.Burge v ham tweet

As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, the thing that distinguishes radical creationists from the rest of us isn’t really science or religion. Instead, it is good old-fashioned culture-war anger. Radical creationists like Ken Ham (what do I mean by “radical creationist?” Check out my explanation here) share a lot of theology with non-radical creationists. Where they differ—or, to be more precise, where they differ most markedly—is in their political and cultural attitudes.

Trying to puncture the scientific vision of radical creationism is not a losing battle—it is pretty easy to do. But it IS a meaningless battle. Radical creationists are very well prepared to have their dissenting science mocked and even overturned. Nothing Bill Nye can say, in other words, can ruffle their creationist feathers.

But the culture-war claims of radical creationists are different. Like radicals’ scientific claims, they can be fairly easily debunked. Unlike radicals’ scientific claims, however, debunking creationists’ culture-war claims threatens to upend the entire project of radical creationism.

Exhibit A: Ryan Burge and the true numbers on Southern Baptists. A significant element of radical creationists’ culture-war appeal rests on an assumption that Christians are not Christian enough any more. Arch-radical Ken Ham often warns his followers that Christians have slipped away from the true faith. In fact, however, as Ryan Burge recently demonstrated, Ham’s claims of conservative declension are wildly overstated.

Exhibit B: Dan Williams and abortion history. Ken Ham often warns that opposition to abortion is a primary element of real Christianity. Historically, however, there have been plenty of conservative evangelicals who had disagreed. As Prof. Williams demonstrated in Defenders of the Unborn, the evangelical fervor against abortion rights is a fairly recent development.

Exhibit C: Karen Pence and “unchanging orthodoxy.” Sometimes, conservatives will claim that they are only defending ancient truths delivered once for all to the saints. But as I’ve argued in places like the Washington Post, many central ideas of radical creationism are not really ancient truths at all.

The common thread: Radical creationism is built on a foundation of shaky claims and assumptions about history and society. Leaders like Ken Ham build their following by warning that America is under constant threat from secularism and sex. Evolutionary theory is only the most obvious efflorescence of the Satanic temptations. If people want to debunk creationists, it is pretty easy to point out that their historical assumptions do not match reality. It has only recently been considered of vital Christian importance to oppose abortion rights, for example. And young-earth creationism—the way it is embraced these days—is a novel idea, not an ancient Christian truth.

To make their cases, radical creationists use far more than just their radical science. Ken Ham, for example, teamed up with a creationist pollster to tally up the dangers lurking to creationist youth. The need for a radical science like the one offered by Answers in Genesis only makes sense as a desperate last-ditch move. It only seems necessary or sensible if mainstream culture has gone to the dogs. To make that case, radical creationists like Ken Ham often rely on spotty statistics and shoddy history. For example, as Ham warned in his 2009 book Already Gone,

we are one generation away from the evaporation of church as we know it. . . . unless we come to better understand what is happening and implement a clear, biblical plan to circumvent it.

Desperate times, Ham warns, call for desperate measures.

But, as Ryan Burge points out, what if the times aren’t really so desperate for conservatives? What if America isn’t really going to hell in a handbasket? Those claims have nothing to do with the science of creationism, but they have everything to do with maintaining Christians’ willingness to accept radical ideas like young-earth creationism.

When historians and social scientists puncture those intellectual supports, it becomes harder and harder for young-earth creationism to convince Christians that radical options are required.

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