Where Were You Radicalized?

Have you seen it yet? Emily Nussbaum asked a simple question on Twitter: Where were you radicalized? I admit I haven’t read all the responses, but there’s one obvious one that I have heard from lots of my ex-evangelical friends that I’m not seeing.where were you radicalized

Some of the responses are compelling. Patrick Deneen, for example, blamed the effete and impudent snobs. Where was Deneen radicalized?

Princeton University, upon hearing colleagues using the words “flyover country” without irony or embarrassment, and where being anti-Christian was an acceptable and even required prejudice.

Other respondents share stories of feminist, economic, anti-war, or other radicalizing epiphanies. But here’s my puzzle: I’m not seeing tons of responses from people who say they were radicalized in church. I thought I would.

I don’t mean the people who heard a left-wing pastor sing and play guitar. I mean the people who sat in pews and listened to the conservative, maybe fundamentalist spiel over and over until they rejected the whole thing.

As I polish and revise my creationism book, I came across example after example of evangelicals who turned away from creationism precisely because of the young-earth ideas to which they were exposed at church.

For example, as two intrepid evangelical scholars relate, they met plenty of students who were “radicalized” due to the intellectual shortcomings of young-earth creationism. As one student told them,

My parents saw evolution as incompatible with religion; I agree, and when I decided the evidence did not support a 6-day creation, I stopped believing in God.

So for all those left-leaning evangelicals and ex-evangelicals out there, where were YOU radicalized? Was it in Sunday school? At church? At your religious school?

Advertisements

Civil Debate? Catcall? Or Creationist Ruse?

What would YOU call it? Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro says it’s nothing but civil debate. Leftist darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dismisses it as a mere catcall. SAGLRROILYBYGTH might be reminded of something else: a long-standing creationist plea for attention.catcall ocasio cortez

Here’s what we know: Ben Shapiro offered a cool ten grand to Democratic primary winner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to debate. If you’ve been on vacation too long, you might need a little backstory. Ocasio-Cortez attracted tons of attention recently with her upset win in a New York Democratic primary election. She has electrified the Sanders left with her energy and victory.

On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez denounced Shapiro’s offer as nothing more than “catcalling.” Shapiro responded that he only wanted “discussion and debate.”

I’m curious to hear what you think: is it legitimate for Shapiro to offer $10,000 for a debate? Or is that merely an extension of rude, aggressive unsolicited male attention?

And finally, how about this: is Shapiro’s debate offer a remix of an old creationist tactic? For years now, radical creationists such as Joseph Mastropaolo have offered $10,000 to any mainstream scientist willing to debate the facts of evolutionary science. In the opinion of one mainstream scientist, such tactics are obviously a “scam designed to lure the unsuspecting” into a shoddy creationist publicity stunt.

Is that what’s going on here? Is Shapiro merely hoping to attract attention? Or does he really want to engage in a civil debate? Or, as Ocasio-Cortez accuses, is this the equivalent of verbal street thuggery?

The Historical Lesson Historians Need to Learn

Who owns your history? Who gets to decide, that is, what is “real” history and what is politically motivated claptrap? For too long, academic historians like me have had it easy. We have glibly assumed our ability to define the boundaries of authentic historical thinking. A smart recent essay made that case once again. But as all of us should, the author needs to study the lessons of a different sort of history. After all, we have been down this road before.

If you’re not familiar with the history wars, a quick look at the bumptious career of David Barton might help. Barton touts himself as a historian, tirelessly exposing the lies of left-wing academic historians. In short, he wants to prove that the United States was founded to be an evangelical nation.

jefferson lies

Calling it “pseudo” history isn’t enough…

A few years back, Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies suffered an ignominious release. After the book’s initial publication, activist academics demonstrated the book’s many falsities and basic errors. The publisher recalled the book. Instead of retreating in embarrassment, Barton supporters doubled down. Most notably, Glenn Beck promised to re-release the book.

What are we to think of this episode? Barton’s book was terrible history, by the standards of mainstream academic history. But it was enormously popular and no amount of expose could deflate its appeal among certain readers.

To SAGLRROILYBYGTH, this might sound hauntingly familiar. Since the 1960s, mainstream scientists—including conservative evangelical scientists—have pulled their hair and gnashed their teeth at the claims made by young-earth creationists. Time and time again, in the face of repeated scientific refutations and debunkings, young-earthers have staked their claim to represent the cause of true “science.”

For an earlier generation, gallopers like Duane Gish steadfastly refused to give up their claim to be the real scientists in the room. These days, Ken Ham does the same thing.

As my friend and co-author Harvey Siegel argued in our book about evolution education, it makes no sense—logically or strategically—to try to prove them wrong. That is, it will always be impossible to prove that Gish and Ham are “pseudo” scientists. There is a better way to talk about the differences between mainstream science and radical young-earth creationism.

It has been difficult enough for mainstream scientists and science pundits to accept this awkward and uncomfortable fact. It seems even more challenging for academic types in other fields. In the field of academic history, for example, mainstream professors have grown accustomed to being unchallenged in their ability to define real historical thinking from the fake kind. When challengers like David Barton raise their head, too many of us are only able to sputter. Too many of us are too confident that Barton’s blather will be rejected as low-quality scholarship.

Consider, for example, a terrific recent essay by mainstream historian Patrick Iber of my beloved alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. In the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Professor Iber wonders if there is any way to preserve his preferred sort of historical thinking in the Age of Trump.

As Iber asks,

Is there anything that can be done to prevent basic historical facts from going the way of climate science, seen essentially as politically motivated rather than the result of serious professional study?

Unfortunately, the short answer is no. Indeed, even asking the question shows how far behind the times we academic historians are. Mainstream scientists and science activists have been struggling with these sorts of challenges for a long time. Creationism and climate-change-denialism have long forced mainstream scientists to examine their claims and their public image. Academic historians have tended to be able to ignore such things.

No longer. As Iber puts it,

there is a market for pseudo-historical grift.

Definitely. And to be as clear as possible, I agree entirely with Professor Iber’s anti-crappy-history position. However, we historians need to learn the tough lessons that mainstream academic scientists learned long ago. Namely, we can’t de-fang bad history simply by calling it “pseudo” history. We can’t assume that our credentials and mainstream institutional affiliations will make America listen to our pleas to reject crappy history.

In short, we can’t rest easy that our definition of good historical thinking will win the day based solely on its persuasive power. It won’t. We don’t have the luxury to conclude, as Professor Iber does, that exposing people to historical thinking will tend to make people agree with our vision. As Iber optimistically insists,

Seeing oneself as a part of history tends to be equalizing: It exposes the radical contingency of your own existence, which usually results in taking the humanity of others as seriously as your own.

I wish that were true. But as the career of David Barton proves, seeing oneself as a part of history can result in very different conclusions. Historical thinking is not a wholly owned subsidiary of left-leaning academic types like Professor Iber or me.

If academic historians aren’t more savvy, we risk getting run over by the vastly more popular sorts of history that are out there.

Why Do the Fundamentalists Love Tracey Ullman Now?

Next to saddle-wearing dinosaurs, nothing gets under arch-creationist Ken Ham’s skin like the idea of anti-Christian persecution. So I guess it’s no surprise that he has eagerly embraced Tracey Ullman’s latest character. I’m not sure I understand what Ullman is doing, comedically speaking, but she has certainly picked up on one of the notions closest to the hearts of fundamentalist Protestants.

In this bit from her BBC sketch show, Ullman portrays an evangelical Christian character, Patricia Hughes. In this sketch, Dr. Hughes has totally nailed a job interview until she lets it slip that she is a Christian. The reaction is swift and sure. Hughes is suddenly seen as a “nutter” and hustled out of the room.

The radical wing of conservative evangelicals loves it. As Ken Ham crowed about the comedy sketch,

surprisingly accurate & also a reminder of what’s coming to the USA as free exercise of Christianity is already being persecuted with increasing intolerance of Christians.

Of course, Ken Ham’s persecution complex is nothing new. For generations, as I describe in my recent book about conservative-evangelical higher education, evangelical intellectuals and academics fretted that they had been unfairly shut out of mainstream academic life.

Bergman the criterion

Is Tracey Ullman joining the creationist team?

In high-profile creationist cases, too, evangelical academics have yelped about their persecution for decades. [Check out our longer ILYBYGTH treatment of the issue here.] In a 1984 book, for example, Jerry Bergman complained about his treatment at Bowling Green State University. As he warned,

As the dominant, ‘official orthodoxy’ in our public schools is evolution, those who oppose it will experience the persecution common to the minority in a dissonant religious environment. . . . Several universities state it was their ‘right’ to protect students from creationists and, in one case, from ‘fundamentalist Christians.’ . . . . This is all plainly illegal, but it is extremely difficult to bring redress against these common, gross injustices.  This is due to the verbal ‘smoke-screen’ thrown up around the issue.  But, a similar case might be if a black were fired on the suspicion that he had ‘talked to students about being black,’ or a woman being fired for having ‘talked to students about women’s issues.’

With this long history of persecution anxiety, it is no surprise that radical creationists like Ken Ham would embrace Ullman’s new persecuted-Christian character. I can’t tell quite what Ullman’s joke is—she doesn’t strike me as a Kirk Cameron type, but these sketches certainly don’t seem to be snarky toward evangelicals. Instead, they portray Ullman’s evangelical character as sympathetic and reasonable, faced with petty bigotry from secular types.

Am I missing something obvious? Is there maybe some British part of Ullman’s comedy that I’m missing? Or is she really taking the side of conservative evangelicals?

A Creationist Surprise

SAGLRROILYBYGTH can skip this post entirely. For those who are already familiar with the real contours of American creationism, there’s nothing new in this story. But for those who think American creationism means only Kentucky’s arks and Texas’s fist-thumping school-board leaders, read on. Real American creationism—even the radical young-earth sort—can be found where you might least expect it.

AP creationism

Big Apple, Small Timeline

The Associated Press yesterday poked a New York City sore spot. For years, critics and victims have charged the city’s “ultra” Orthodox yeshivas with cruel educational neglect. Today’s story confirms it. Boys in these schools are typically taught scanty secular knowledge. They can graduate, for example, without having learned much English, non-sacred history, or math. Girls tend to learn more about secular subjects, but their overall educational status is decidedly lower than that of boys.

As yesterday’s story tells the tale,

At the ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools Pesach Eisen attended in Brooklyn, most of the day was spent studying religious texts with classes taught in Yiddish. One class at the end of the day was spent on secular subjects including English and math, enough to be “able to go to the food stamps office and apply.”

“Everything was super basic. … Nobody took it seriously, so even if you were a studious person you had no chance,” said the now-32-year-old Eisen, who had to take remedial classes and study intensively on his own before he succeeded in graduating from college in 2016.

These Hasidic schools are once again the subject of lawsuits. It’s not only the schools themselves that are under fire, but Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Education. Critics charge the government with lackadaisical investigation and enforcement of legal minimums of educational standards, even for private schools.

It’s not only secular history, math, and English-language that gets shunted aside. For the approximately 115,000 students in these schools, modern science is extirpated. As one student told the AP,

They erased anything about dinosaurs. . . . Anything more than 5,000 years old was erased.

So when you go out looking for American creationism, don’t just steer South to the Ark Encounter and the Texas school board room. Be sure to spend some time in the Big Apple where radical creationism is thriving.

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.

dinosaurs-of-eden-pic.jpeg

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.

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.

sarah-sanders-tweet-red-hen

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.

Christian Cakes and Creationism

You’ve probably seen it by now: SCOTUS issued a weirdly narrow ruling in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. In short, conservative religious people can’t be forced to cooperate with same-sex weddings, IF people are mean to them. It might seem strained, but it is a similar sort of argument to the one I’m making in my new book about creationism. And we don’t have to agree with Phillips (I don’t) to agree with this SCOTUS decision.

masterpiece cakeshop protest

…but it IS about an important principle that can apply all over the culture-war landscape.

Here’s what we know: Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips refused to create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The couple sued and won. Phillips appealed. Yesterday, SCOTUS sided with Phillips, but only because Phillips had been treated with hostility by the lower court. As Amy Howe explained on the SCOTUS blog,

[Justice Anthony] Kennedy observed, the “neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised” by comments by members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. At one hearing, Kennedy stressed, commissioners repeatedly “endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, implying that religious beliefs and persons are less than fully welcome in Colorado’s business community.” And at a later meeting, Kennedy pointed out, one commissioner “even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.” “This sentiment,” Kennedy admonished, “is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.”

In other words, Phillips won because his sincerely held beliefs were not respected, not because Phillips has a right to refuse service to people.

It’s a ruling that has already led both sides to claim victory. It will also surely bring on more contempt and ridicule like this. But IMHO, this decision sets the right tone—a rare one these days.

I don’t say that because I agree with Phillips. I don’t. I don’t even agree that he has a right to refuse service to people based on their sexual orientation. He doesn’t. But he DOES have the right to have his beliefs respected, understood, and considered deeply.

What does it have to do with creationism? For generations now, we’ve heard complaints from creationist parents and activists that their views are not respected or included in public-school science classes. [Check out Teaching Evolution in a Creation Nation for my full treatment of these complaints.]

As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism, creationists DO have a legitimate reason to complain. They have every right to be respected and included in public schools. They DON’T have a right to teach religiously inspired science in secular public schools, though. And they DON’T have any right to opt out of learning basic building blocks of knowledge.

It might seem as if there’s no way to square this circle. As Justice Kennedy ruled yesterday, however, it is possible to insist on respect without simultaneously endorsing an exclusionary practice.

What Vouchers Can Do: Florida Tax-Funded Fundamentalism

I guess we shouldn’t really call it an “exposé” because it doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t expect. Still, it can be eye-opening to see the sorts of things voucher programs can do. This week, the Orlando Sentinel explores the content of fundamentalist textbooks used at area private schools. The story prompts us to ask a tough question about voucher programs: Is it fair to limit voucher programs only to religions we like?

ACE florida 1

Should taxes pay for these textbooks?

As I’ve argued in a couple of academic articles, the history of fundamentalist textbook publishing is key to understanding both the “Christian-school” movement and the subsequent evangelical homeschooling exodus.

Without the work of school publishers such as A Beka Book, Accelerated Christian Education, and Bob Jones University Press, I believe, conservative evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s would not have been able to open so many small private schools. And without pre-made curricular materials, evangelicals would not have been able to leave school by their millions in the 1990s to homeschool.

Plus, no one should think that these fundamentalist textbooks are static or monolithic. As I explored in a chapter in AJ Angulo’s terrific book Miseducation, ACE, A Beka, and Bob Jones are all very different from one another, and all have radically changed their treatment of topics such as US History.

It’s not just me: Dr. Jonny Scaramanga has devoted his early academic career to exploring the curriculum to which he was subjected as a youth. Dr. Scaramanga argues that Accelerated Christian Education never escaped its racist, homophobic origins, despite some surface changes and lip service to liberalization.

As the Orlando Sentinel explains, voucher programs in Florida are sending tax dollars to schools that use textbooks by the “big three” fundamentalist school publishers. As the investigators discovered, the textbooks are full of creationism, ethnocentrism, and historical denialism. As OS puts it,

[Investigators] found numerous instances of distorted history and science lessons that are outside mainstream academics. The books denounce evolution as untrue, for example, and one shows a cartoon of men and dinosaurs together, telling students the Biblical Noah likely brought baby dinosaurs onto his ark. The science books, they added, seem to discourage students from doing experiments or even asking questions. . . .

The social studies books downplay the horrors of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans, they said. One book, in its brief section on the civil rights movement, said that “most black and white southerners had long lived together in harmony” and that “power-hungry individuals stirred up the people.”

We have to ask: Is this sort of thing okay for a tax-funded school? After all, there is nothing in this story that should come as a surprise. If we want to allow voucher programs that send tax money to private schools, we should expect some of those dollars to pay for curricula we disagree with. Is that okay?

ace florida 2

Hard-hitting curriculum for Florida’s third-graders. This sample comes from an Accelerated Christian Education reader.

Or, to put it in nerdier terms: How should policy-makers decide if religious schools qualify to participate in tax-funded programs? It can’t be simply on the basis of our own personal religious views. For example, I believe the ACE, BJU, and Abeka textbooks are terrible and I would never want my kid to use them in school. But my personal preferences can’t suffice to dictate policy. How can we decide which religious schools qualify for tax-funded voucher programs?

One option would simply be to make ALL religious schools off-limits for voucher-funded students. In some cases, though, that would seem to keep deserving kids from getting a higher-quality education than their local public schools can provide.

Another option would be to rule out schools that limit their students’ life chances. As one of the OS investigators argued, for example, using these creationist textbooks would hurt students. As the article explains,

“Students who have learned science in this kind of environment are not prepared for college experiences,” said Cynthia Bayer, a biology lecturer at the University of Central Florida who reviewed the science books. “They would be intellectually disadvantaged.”

But WOULD they? Anyone who knows the real story of American higher education knows that creationist students have plenty of creationist colleges they can attend. Is it fair to say that students can’t study creationist books because they don’t agree with mainstream science? Isn’t that the whole point of private schools in the first place?

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m firmly against using tax dollars to fund private religious schools. I think we should nix ALL religious schools from that sort of public funding. But we can’t do it only for some religious schools and not for others, based on the fact that we don’t like some of the religions. And we should not be surprised to find out that voucher programs are doing precisely what they were designed to do: Fund religious schools.

The Right Recipe for Science Missionaries

Thoughtful exposition? Or bacon ‘n’ eggs? Rick Potts is trying to spread the word about evolutionary science to America’s creationists. Is he taking the best approach?

As described in the Smithsonian Magazine, Potts hopes his traveling exhibition can reach those “rural, religious, remote” places that the Smithsonian “deemed ‘challenging’—places where the researchers suspected that evolution might still be a contentious subject.”

ephratastatue

Too much for some…

To this observer, Potts seems to be on the right track. I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism that the problem is not knowledge but something else. No amount of yelling or state standards will puncture resistance to mainstream evolutionary science. Rick Potts seems to agree. As the Smithsonian article describes,

Potts was going for something more subtle: Not conversion, but conversation.

“Our goal is to lower the temperature,” he says.

Could it work? One disgusted local from Ephrata, Pennsylvania felt offended from the get-go. She was freaked out by a statue of a naked early-human mother and baby at the entrance to the library hosting the exhibit. As she put it,

Library abortions would probably be more offensive . . . but that would probably be it.

If even this most diplomatic attempt at spreading the word about evolution is too much for some creationists, then are all attempts to converse with creationists doomed to failure? Are some people and some communities so firmly set against mainstream science that even a friendly, caring outreach project like this is too much?

Writing for BioLogos, Brad Kramer points out the obvious problem and suggests a difficult solution. As he explains, no matter how big the smiles were, the science missionaries were still obviously missionaries. And nothing is easier to resist for religious people than sermons from another religion.

So is there no hope? The problem is bigger than science, bigger than religion. The root of the difficulty is TRUST. What can be done? As Kramer argues, the answer isn’t very attractive for those of us who want quick solutions. Kramer suggests bacon and eggs:

If all Rick Potts had done in Ephrata was spend a month eating breakfast with people at local diners, introducing himself as an evolutionary scientist, and explaining that he doesn’t hate Christians, an enormous amount of good would have been accomplished.