The Surprising History of Turkey’s Creationism

A devilish Jewish conspiracy? A beloved Christian import? Recent news from Turkey builds on the surprising evolution of creationism in that country.

Here’s what we know: Alpaslan Durmus, the Turkish education minister, denounced evolution as “beyond their [students’] comprehension.” It will be removed from K-12 textbooks. Durmus explained that the government thought evolution was too “controversial;” that students “don’t have the necessary scientific background and information-based context needed to comprehend.”

Turkish education minister cuts evolution

Evolution’s out

That’s not the surprising part. After all, even when Turkish official textbooks did discuss evolution, they were hardly fair, balanced, or free of religious bigotry. According to The Financial Times, earlier Turkish textbooks warned students that Darwin “had two problems:  first he was a Jew; second, he hated his prominent forehead, big nose and misshapen teeth.” The books mocked Darwin’s lack of formal education, noting strangely that he preferred to spend his time with monkeys in the zoo.

For a while, then, Turkey’s public schools have catered to popular bigotry about evolutionary ideas. Turkey is hardly alone. Evolution is deeply unpopular in many Muslim-majority countries. According to Salman Hameed of Hampshire College, fewer than a fifth of Indonesians, Malaysians, and Pakistanis say they think evolution is true. Only eight percent of Egyptians do. Turkey is no exception. Just as in the United States, evolutionary theory is widely denounced, even if it is not widely understood. Anxious leaders curry favor with conservative religious populations by throwing Darwin under the bus.

It is not news, then, that Turkey’s government is trying to win support among religious voters by eliminating evolution from textbooks. We might be surprised, however, by the history of cross-creationist connections that have long linked Turkey’s Islamic creationists to San Diego’s Christian ones.

The_Creationists_by_Ronald_Numbers

A worldwide flood of creationism

As historian Ronald Numbers described in The Creationists, in the mid-1980s the minister of education in Turkey wrote to the San-Diego based Institute for Creation Research. Turkey’s schools, the minister wrote, needed to “eliminate the secular-based, evolution-only teaching dominant in their schools and replace it with a curriculum teaching the two models, evolution and creation, fairly” (pg. 421).

The relationship between powerful Turkish creationists and American creationists thrived. In 1992, a Turkish creationism conference invited ICR stalwarts Duane Gish and John Morris as keynote speakers.  Professor Numbers also describes the founding in 1990 of the Turkish Science Research Foundation (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, or BAV).  In Numbers’ words, “For years BAV maintained a cozy relationship with Christian young-earth creationists, feting them at conferences, translating their books, and carrying their message to the Islamic world” (pg. 425).

However, Numbers concluded, “the partnership between the equally uncompromising Christian and Muslim fundamentalists remained understandably unstable” (425). Numbers cited the rhetoric of American creationist leader Henry Morris: “Mohammed is dead and Jesus is alive!” As Numbers noted acerbically, such talk was “hardly calculated to win Muslim friends” (425).

It’s not shocking, then, that Turkish and American creationists keep one another at arm’s length, in spite of American outreach to Turkey and lavish and expensive efforts by Turkish creationists to woo American scientists.

Here’s the last question: Will Turkey’s recent move finally convince pundits to stop saying that the United States is the only country in which creationism thrives? Will creationism finally be seen as the world-wide conservative impulse that it really is?

HT: V(F)W; JC

Free Speech Firestorm Jumps the Creationist Gap

Everyone supports free speech. But these days, academic “free speech” has become the latest creationist tactic to wedge creation-friendly science into schools. Mostly, that has been a K-12 effort, but it seems like creationist tactics have piggybacked their way into higher education.

The latest incarnation comes from the University of Wisconsin. Conservative lawmakers have promoted a bill to protect free speech on campus. To be fair, the conservatives who push Wisconsin’s bill insist that it has nothing to do with classroom topics, creationist or otherwise. The target, they insist, are leftist radicals who won’t allow conservative speakers on campus.

Wisconsin free speech

Let creationism ring?!!?!???

In Wisconsin’s case, the headline-grabbing incident was a talk by conservative pundit Ben Shapiro. In November 2016, Shapiro was shouted down for about twenty minutes before campus police kicked out the shouting protesters. Conservative lawmakers hope their bill will guarantee a balanced ideological environment; an infusion of conservative ideas on campus. The bill is patterned after other campus free-speech bills, inspired by the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix.

To this reporter, though, it seems like the current higher-ed furor over free speech has leaped the curricular gap. Here’s what I worry about: Campus free-speech efforts will be used to protect the “free speech” of creationists and other conservative folks locked out of mainstream science. Attempts to box out creationist ideas will be stymied.

Full disclosure: I can’t even pretend to be neutral on this one. I love my alma mater and I quake at the notion that lawmakers would pass any sort of law demanding or prohibiting certain forms of teaching. It’s not just an intellectual or political thing, either. If big granting organizations such as the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health think UW is shackled by creationist science, they will be less likely to fund UW-based projects. Alumni will shy away from sending in donations. Students will be less likely to bring their tuition dollars. In short, the possible negative ramifications of a move like this could be huge.

But at this point, my dear SAGLRROILYBYGTH, you may be asking yourself a smart question: What does this conservative political move to welcome conservative speakers have to do with creationism?

First, the background: For years now, creationists have pushed for “academic freedom” bills in K-12 schools. The idea is to protect teachers and students from harassment or discrimination if they choose to voice their creationist ideas. Seattle’s Intelligent-Design mavens at Discovery Institute, for example, have offered the following language in their “academic-freedom” petition:

Teachers should be protected from being fired, harassed, intimidated, or discriminated against for objectively presenting the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory. Students should be protected from being harassed, intimidated, or discriminated against for expressing their views about the scientific strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian theory in an appropriate manner.

The idea is to mandate the intellectual rights of creationists in K-12 schools, to protect teachers and students from any sort of negative reaction to their zombie science. If successful, these bills put science education in a legal gray area. A school can’t insist on teaching mainstream science. Teachers can’t insist that students learn it.

We’ve seen glimmers of this sort of creationist “academic freedom” dispute in higher ed, too. Remember Eric Hedin at Ball State? He earned tenure after facing charges of preaching intelligent design. Or Mark Armitage at Cal State Northridge? He successfully sued after facing discrimination for his creationist publications.

The Wisconsin bill, however, introduces a new element to these creationist “academic freedom” battles in higher education. According to Madison’s Capital Times, the bill’s sponsor is a convinced young-earth creationist. His bill would create a Council on Free Expression. Creationist students who feel persecuted could file complaints with this Council.

In the give-and-take in the Wisconsin legislature, skeptical Representative Terese Berceau questioned Jesse Kremer, the bill’s sponsor, on this question. What if, Berceau asked, a student in a geology class argued that the earth was only 6,000 years old?

“Is it okay for the professor to tell them they’re wrong?” Berceau asked during the lengthy session on May 11.

“The earth is 6,000 years old,” Kremer offered.  “That’s a fact.”

Representative Kremer insisted the new law would not affect classroom discussions. But he affirmed that a creationist student—any student—who felt discriminated against could take his or her complaint to the Council on Free Expression.

Again, I know I’m not thinking clearly and calmly on this one. I’m nervous about the possible ramifications of Kremer’s bill and I’m likely to make creationist mountains out of conservative molehills.

Am I being overly paranoid? Or will conservative free-speech bills end up giving creationist students in college the ability to jam up the works of mainstream science classes? Will efforts to set up an intellectual preserve for conservative ideas on campus end up giving creationists more control over college classes? And, most important, will that new creationist influence stymie the mainstream science that usually goes on in Madison?

They Love You but They’re Going to Brexit

I admit it: I don’t get out much. I live in the USA. I study the history of the USA. I spend my time trying to understand parts of the USA that just don’t make any immediate obvious sense to me—things like creationism and fundamentalism. So my ears perked up when I heard that the new “kingmakers” in the UK were guided by “a mixture of old-time religion and secular nativism.” Based on the flurry of news about them, they certainly sound like US-style religious culture-warriors.

DUP

Look familiar?

But I don’t know much about it. Here’s what I’m reading: After Theresa May’s drubbing in the recent election, her Conservative Party has had to partner up with the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland. The DUP is an odd duck in Europolitics. As one European journalist described them, they don’t fit in in Europe, but “to an American, especially from the deep South, the party would seem much more familiar.”

After a quick look, it does sound eerily similar, but not exactly the same. The DUP are against LGBTQ rights; they are anti-abortion; they are climate-change deniers. Many of its leaders are regular church-goers; many leaders are creationists. Due to the turbulent and violent recent history of Northern Ireland, they also have ties to right-wing paramilitary groups.

Like many American fundamentalist groups, the DUP was founded by a Presbyterian hard-liner. The Reverend Ian Paisley—in yet another connection to historical American fundamentalism—was motivated by a political and theological anti-Catholicism.

Carl McIntire 1970

Carl McIntire, American Fundamentalist, 1970

Of course, there are big differences. Being anti-Catholic in Ireland is a world away from being anti-Catholic in Texas. Being a “militant” Presbyterian in a warzone is different from being a “militant” Presbyterian in New Jersey.

Yet the connections still seem palpable. According to The Economist, at least, the DUP is motivated by the same sense of usurped proprietary nationalism that fuels American fundamentalist outrage. As that paper put it,

What unites many voters of Protestant heritage, whether religious or not, is a feeling that the tide of history has, in some mysterious and unfair way, turned against them. . . . The DUP speaks to the fears and aspirations of those voters—sometimes in subliminally religious language and sometimes in more secular tones.

Educate me, SAGLRROILYBYGTH: Am I missing something? We hear time and time again that no other post-industrial society fuses together God and society the way American conservatives like to do. From what I can tell, the theocratic dreams and creationist textbooks of the DUP sound awfully similar.

Science Missionary Flounders in Ohio Public School

It’s difficult to believe that smart, educated, well-dressed people still haven’t gotten the message, but apparently…they haven’t. It has just happened again: A well-intentioned science missionary has blundered into hostile territory. He was flummoxed when angry locals didn’t immediately embrace his message. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: If you really want to teach real science to creationists or climate-change deniers, you need to take a different approach.

Here are the details from the most recent episode: The New York Times carried the story of a smart and credentialed science expert who deigned to enter Trump territory to teach climate change. Some students balked. The teacher wasn’t prepared for such hostility. He doubled down in his attempt to help denialists see the light. Some did, but others turned implacably against him and his climate-change message.

00climateclass-02-master675

Why won’t you agree I’m right…?

Let me be crystal-clear from the outset. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to do a better job of spreading the word about real science. I am dismayed by Trump’s anti-intellectual climate-change denialism. I cheer and support all efforts to teach good science.

But I can’t understand how so many of my allies still suffer from the “missionary supposition.” Like the science teacher in this story, they think that the obvious truth of climate change (or evolution) is enough to convince everyone they meet. Even worse, as in this case, some science missionaries approach their mission fields with a lamentable arrogance. Students in this story didn’t like the way the teacher kept reminding them that he was doing them a big favor; telling them that he had given up higher-paying jobs to come help them. One particularly hostile student fled from the class, complaining that the message was only that she was “wrong and stupid.”

What should the teacher have done instead? Happily, the NYT called ILYBYGTH science-communication guru Dan Kahan. And Professor Kahan told them the obvious truth: Denying science is not about knowledge, it is about identity. When the people in this particular science class responded angrily to the science missionary, it was because they felt attacked, insulted, and condescended to.

Whether you’re Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, or a classroom science teacher, the lessons have been clear for a long, long time. If we really want people to know and understand climate-change science or evolution, we need to ditch our missionary suppositions. We need to get rid of our assumption that people who don’t agree with us are simply ignorant. Or evil.

Like any teacher worth his or her salt, our first goal should be to get to know our students, to connect with them as people, not to treat them as sadly deficient ignoramuses. If and only if we do that can we ever hope to be trusted enough to talk about sensitive ideological issues.

I’ll say it again: Nothing in this prescription includes watering down science to flatter hostiles. Never would I suggest we skirt controversy in order to keep everyone happy. Rather, the smart play is to recognize our own blundering missionary history. Instead of plunking down in hostile territory and assuming that locals will rush to embrace our message, we need to take time to understand why people distrust us.

How Many Americans REALLY Believe in a Young Earth?

The new numbers are out. And they are, well, new. But before we leap to any conclusions about the numbers of Americans who believe in a recent divine creation of our species, we need to look at the full story.

Here’s what we know: The new Gallup poll about creationism shows a dip in numbers of respondents who think humanity was created in “pretty much its present form” within the past 10,000 years or so. Since the 1980s, the number has hovered at about 44-47% of respondents. This year, it dropped to only 38%.

gallup data 2017

Are we getting better at science? Or only getting better at answering poll questions?

We might want to say that the radical form of young-earth creationism is losing steam. And it might really be. But there’s a more nuanced conclusion we can draw if we scratch a little deeper at the numbers.

Before we begin, though, we need to lodge a complaint about terminology. Gallup calls people “creationists” only if they believe that humanity was created in its current form within the last 10,000 years. Sure, those folks are creationists, but so are the many people who believe God created humanity over a longer stretch of time. Calling only young-earth types “creationists” means taking sides in a family feud between branches of the evangelical/creationist family, as I’m arguing in my current book about evangelical higher education. I don’t think the Gallup folks really mean to do that and they should take a hard look at their terminology.

But let’s put those gripes to one side for now. Gallup gives us some demographic info about the YEC respondents. Not surprisingly, a large majority of people who go to church every week (65%) opted for a recent direct creation of humanity. And exactly half of non-Catholic Christian respondents did.

This demographic info helps us see a more likely real portrait of Americans’ beliefs about the origins of our species. When we ask more targeted questions about people’s beliefs, we get a far more complicated picture. Political scientist George Bishop of the University of Cincinnati crunched some different polling data from Harris. Of those who picked Gallup’s recent-creation option, Bishop found, over half (56%) also believed that dinosaurs had gone extinct over 65 million years ago. Over half (54%) also believed that all non-human animals share common ancestors.

In other words, among the people who picked Gallup’s recent-creation-of-humans option, lots of them also believe in evolution and an ancient earth.

Other poll questions have come up with similarly confounding results. The 2009 Harris poll, for example, found that only 29% of respondents agreed that “Human beings evolved from earlier species.” But a much larger 53% of respondents said they “believe Charles Darwin’s theory which states that plants animals and humans have evolved over time.” With such drastic differences, it’s hard to know what Americans truly believe.

So what can we make of all these higgledy-piggledy poll results? Here’s what I think: If we want to know how many people want to identify politically as young-earth creationists, then Gallup’s numbers are trustworthy. Lots of active evangelicals know that they are supposed to think that our species has been created recently.

But if we want to know what people really think about evolution and creation, the Gallup numbers are not very helpful. In most cases, as I’m arguing in my current book about American creationism, people don’t really have clear, coherent ideas about evolution and creation. Most of us hold in our heads a grab bag of ideas and beliefs, facts and falsehoods.

We don’t find it difficult, for some reason, to believe in both Adam & Eve and evolution. We don’t find it challenging to accept the notion of an ancient earth while still holding on to our belief in a recent creation. In short, what Americans believe about creationism and evolution is far more jumbled than what we tell pollsters we believe.

Shame on You!

Okay, kids, time to fess up. Some of you students at conservative schools have been trying to cheat on your exams…haven’t you. Here’s how we know: Our editorial page here at ILYBYGTH lets us see the terms people type into their Google machines. Lately, as final-exam time swings near, we’ve noticed a definite uptick in the number of hopeful plagiarists.

search terms

What are you looking for?

It is often fun and enlightening to read the search terms. Mostly, they are from people interested in the same issues that trouble SAGLRROILYBYGTH: higher education, creationism, evangelicalism, conservatism, etc.

Here are some of the recent examples:

  • does hillsdale college teach evolution

  • is the moody institute anti catholic?

  • gay pride rainbow painted on wheaton bench

I hope those searchers found what they were looking for. Sometimes, the search terms themselves make for a kind of interwebs poetry. Once, for example, your humble editor was touched by this plaintive search:

  • Can a creationist and evolutionist be in love?

Obviously, too, some of our searchers will probably move on disappointed. Lots of people, for example, are just looking for information and don’t give a whoot for all our ILYBYGTH culture-war dickering.

For example, the person who searched for “Kentucky attractions” probably didn’t find what she was looking for.

But none of that is what we’re talking about today. In the past week or so, your humble editor has noticed a definite trend. Check out the search terms below and tell me I’m not seeing would-be plagiarism:

  • Discuss the value of traditional education;

  • What are the main problems of evolutionary theory? How do alternate ideas such as theistic evolution, progressive creation, day-age creationism, and gap theory fall short of a biblical understanding;

  • In a mid-length essay (5-7 pp.) describe the historical development of traditional education;

  • Essay creationism superior.

To me, these look obviously like test questions. And not just any tests. The kinds of schools that want students to write these sorts of essays can only be conservative religious schools. Right? Only students at conservative religious schools would be likely to be asked to write out the problems with evolution. Or the values of “traditional education.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that students at conservative schools worked hard to cheat their way through their morally elevating curricula. During the research for my current book about evangelical higher education, for example, I came across one sad-sack letter in the Moody Bible Institute archives.

In 1931, an alumnus wrote to the MBI administration with a fulsome confession. When he was a first-year student, he had cheated on every “examination, mid-term and final, through-out the year.” He had never been caught. He had never even been accused. But this student was so “conscience stricken” he pleaded with the administrators to take away all his credits.

They obliged.

Perhaps someday the cheaters and plagiarists who are hoping to evade their work by dipping into the ILYBYGTH archives will meet a similar fate. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

What’s Missing from this Creationist School?

Is young-earth creationism an inward-looking fortress? …or a missionary outpost? News from Kentucky is pushing your humble editor in a new direction.

Here’s the latest: Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis (AIG) organization is partnering with Renewanation (it’s easier to read when you cut it into three: Renew-A-Nation) to open a new creationist school near the Creation Museum. Students will get free family passes to the museums. Teachers will be able to use the museum as a teaching aid.

So far, so obvious. But the announcement adds new fuel to an old debate about young-earth creationism. Is it meant to be a form of evangelical outreach? Or is it rather just a way to circle fundamentalist wagons?

Some scholars have made strong cases for the latter. In his wonderful book God’s Own Scientists, anthropologist Chris Toumey argues that young-earth creationism is not about outreach. Rather, young earth science

preaches mostly to those who are already converted, and its effect is more to sustain the beliefs of the converted than to change other peoples’ convictions.

AIG watchers Bill and Susan Trollinger, too, argue that young-earth creationism is more about protecting than witnessing. As they put it in a recent blog post,

In the end, it is all about protecting the children.

On the other hand, the language of young-earth creationism is full of missionary talk. The reason dinosaurs are such a powerful creationist weapon, Ken Ham likes to say, is because they are “missionary lizards.” The goal of his ministry, Ham insists, is to reach as many benighted people as possible with the saving gospel of Genesis.

As I wrestle with this question for my new book about American creationism, I’ve tended to think that we need to take Ham’s missionary talk at face value.

The announcement of a new AIG-partnered school, however, leaves a few things conspicuously absent. The goal of the new school, according to AIG, will be to help creationist students remain creationists. When they are confronted with mainstream ideas about science and religion, they will have convincing ways to rebut. As AIG puts it,

[Our new school] wants to help curb the trend of young people walking away from the church by equipping them—from kindergarten through their senior year—with apologetics, using logic and critical-thinking skills.

AIG’s partner, Renewanation, promises to inculcate a biblical worldview that will give students everything they need to resist the intellectual and spiritual trends of modern America.

twelve-stones-academy-logo

Safe Spaces

What are the most prevalent “myths” the school wants to disprove? You might think they’d be things such as “natural selection is our current best understanding of the ways species came to differentiate from one another.” Or something such as “the Bible is a powerful spiritual tool, but it was cobbled together over generations by fallible human editors.”

Nope.

The “myths” blasted by the Renewanation folks are much more closely focused on the insular community of young-earth creationists. They don’t seem interested in reaching non-creationists with their message. Rather, they mostly want to convince the converted that their school is the only way to keep their children safe.

What are the most prevalent “myths” the Renewanators want to debunk?

  • Christian schools are too expensive.
  • They don’t have good sports programs.
  • They aren’t really necessary, just optional.

In every case, Renewanation clearly targeted the already converted. Their argument is not about missionary fervor; it is about safety and protection for the already convinced. Most remarkably, the notion of young-earth creationism itself was not a huge part of the appeal. Rather, the goal of this new school—and of the Renewation school network as a whole—is to provide an insular educational setting in which young-earth creationist students can learn to remain young-earth creationists, no matter what.

The goal is not (only) to teach young-earth creationism. Rather, it is to teach young-earth creationists.

And, of course, there is no reason why YEC can’t be both an insular fortress and a missionary outpost. The fortress protects the missionaries as they do their work. This school announcement, though, certainly seems to be more about the “protecting” part than the “outreach” part.

Squelching LGBTQ at Wheaton

It’s not in the rulebook. It doesn’t need to be. As at every evangelical college, there is one unwritten rule at Wheaton College that administrators must enforce with merciless rigor. We see it again recently with Wheaton’s ruthless crushing of student attempts to celebrate LGBTQ rights. This attitude is not an exception to Wheaton’s relatively liberal, tolerant, inclusive brand of evangelical Christianity. Rather, as I’m arguing in my new book, there is an unmentionable but inviolable third rail in evangelical higher education, one that no administrator dares to touch.

First, some background for SAGLRROILYBYGTH who aren’t familiar with the world of evangelical higher education: In the family of evangelical colleges and universities, Wheaton has long claimed special status as the “Fundamentalist Harvard.” The college—just outside of Chicago—committed to the fundamentalist movement in the 1920s. In the 1940s, Wheaton led the way in a fundamentalist reform movement, confusingly known as new-evangelicalism, or simply evangelicalism. These days, Wheaton prides itself as the academic jewel in the evangelical crown, alma mater of evangelical academics, intellectuals, and celebrities.

Given the relatively inclusive atmosphere at Wheaton and among Wheaton’s elite alumni, it may seem surprising that the school has cracked down recently. Most famously, it moved to fire a tenured professor who had seemed too friendly to Islam. Now, as alum William Stell reports in the pages of Religion Dispatches, the administration has crushed student expressions of LGBTQ pride.

We shouldn’t be surprised. The unwritten rules are as old as evangelical higher education itself. And they are implacable.

According to Stell, students surreptitiously inserted a rainbow flag into the school’s display of flags of the world. It was quickly removed. Then, students painted a campus bench in a rainbow display. It was painted over. A student who displayed a rainbow flag in a dorm window was forced to remove it.

The message is clear: Wheaton does not want the evangelical public to think that the school is too friendly to LGBTQ rights. But why not?

wheaton gay pride bench

Before & after, from Religion Dispatches…

The school’s history makes it clear. Wheaton, like every other evangelical college and university, has an absolute need to be seen as a safe environment for evangelical students. Anything that is seen as threatening has always been ruthlessly purged from the school’s public image.

There is a lot of wiggle room in the nebulous concept of “safety.” The boundaries of “safe” evangelical environments have changed over the decades. The process has been messy and confusing.

In the 1920s, for example, Wheaton posted student volunteers outside the downtown movie cinema to make sure no Wheaton students were watching movies. In the early 1960s, the administration rammed through an addendum to the school’s statement of faith, clarifying that all faculty believed in a real, historic Adam and Eve. In 1960, too, the administration tried to bury a faculty report calling for greater anti-racist activism among the white evangelical public.

Clearly, the generally accepted evangelical attitude about safe ideas and behaviors changes over time. In the 1960s, polite student rebels won a relaxation of the strict rulebook. They were allowed to decide for themselves if certain movies or TV shows met high evangelical standards for moral decency. And Wheaton’s official attitude toward creationism has changed. The administration no longer feels much need to pander to the notion that only young-earth creationism can save students from atheism. These days, too, the cautious racial conservatism of the administration in the 1960s is an embarrassment for Wheaton.

In short, Wheaton’s administration can go with the flow when enough evangelicals agree that an idea is not dangerously anti-Christian. But there is no clear or simple way to know when that threshold has been reached, and students and faculty have always been punished mercilessly if they cross the invisible line.

Consider the example of Critique. In the early 1960s, the administration clamped down on a student newspaper, Brave Son. In response, five Wheaton students published their own newspaper. They did it all themselves: Wrote it, paid for it to be published, distributed it. Their goal was to puncture some of the crusty fundamentalist attitudes that still dominated campus. As one of the student editors put it,

Christian education must exist in [a] free atmosphere . . . or we will have no choice but to reject Christian education.

The upstart publication was crushed. The student editors were suspended for a full year. As one sympathetic faculty member complained, the punishment seemed excessive. After all, the students had broken no rules. They had, in fact, engaged with important questions of faith and freedom. They had done so in a thoughtful Christian way.

It didn’t matter. They were kicked out for “insubordination.” As one student reported, then-President V. Raymond Edman put it in stark terms. “This college,” Edman reportedly told the student,

will be a place Christian parents can send their children to with the confidence that their faith will be established and not shaken.

The rule is clear, even if it is unwritten. Evangelical colleges like Wheaton can embrace student and faculty dissent. Their campuses benefit from a vigorous intellectual give-and-take that includes a wide and diverse set of voices. But nothing can ever suggest that a school is not a safe environment for evangelical youth. Any glimmer that the school promotes un-safe thinking or behavior must be crushed utterly.

critique student paper BGC

From the archives: student dissent at Wheaton, c. 1963

These crackdowns are not exceptions; they are the rule. Listen to just one more example from 1960. In that year, a faculty committee was empowered to investigate Wheaton’s racial history. The committee decried the way the school’s original anti-racist evangelicalism had been swamped by white supremacist attitudes. The faculty group called for aggressive anti-racist policies.

The administration was sympathetic. Top leaders also wanted to fight for greater racial egalitarianism. But as one administrator at the time put it,

Will some of the parents of our students regard a tacit approval of inter-racial marriage as a danger to their children?

Even asking the question in those terms made the administration’s response clear. Any whiff of danger was unacceptable. They buried the faculty report.

Today’s surprisingly harsh crackdown on student LGBTQ sympathies may seem out of line with Wheaton’s intellectual vigor. It may seem odd for an academically elite school—one that embraces students of all backgrounds, of all nationalities and all races—to crush these seemingly mild and harmless expressions of student LGBTQ sympathies.

We shouldn’t be surprised. They did it decades ago with student and faculty civil-rights activism. They did it decades ago with faculty ideas about progressive creationism. They did it this decade with faculty ideas about God and Islam. And they’re doing it now with student expressions of LGBTQ pride.

No matter what, Wheaton must retain its reputation as a safe campus. For now, the administration clearly believes that LGBTQ pride is outside the boundaries of safe ideas for evangelical youth. Until that changes—until the administration is convinced that a large segment of the evangelical public is cool with LGBTQ pride—the administration will continue its surprisingly harsh no-tolerance policy.

Desperate Times at Bryan College

They might seem like two totally separate things. First, Bryan College awards an honorary doctorate to a young-earth creationist pundit. Second, Bryan’s president conducts some financial hocus-pocus to keep the school officially in the black. They might seem separate, but they are both symptoms of the same deep malaise that plagues Bryan. Moreover, they are irruptions of the perennial life-or-death tension that has always dictated policy at all conservative evangelical schools.

Here’s what we know: Last week, Bryan College awarded an honorary doctorate to young-earth impresario Ken Ham. Bryan President Stephen Livesay praised Ham, saying,

In a day when most of the culture and, sadly, many Christians proclaim a naturalistic worldview, Ken Ham boldly and persuasively argues for a biblical understanding of “In the beginning God.”

At the same time, yet another trustee resigned from Bryan’s board. Wayne Cropp, one of the few trustees who remained after the Night of the Long Knives in 2014, finally had enough. He claimed that President Livesay had sneakily made some real estate transfers to make it look as if Bryan College were in better financial shape than it really is.

Ken Ham hooded at Bryan

I love you but you’re going to boost enrollments…

Now, your humble editor has absolutely no insider knowledge about these goings-on. But based on the research for my current book about the history of evangelical higher education, I can say with confidence that these two events are likely part of the same desperate survival strategy.

In a nutshell, President Livesay is doing whatever it takes to keep Bryan College alive. Like many small colleges in the United States, Bryan is always teetering on the brink of financial collapse. At Sweet Briar, remember, wealthy alumni had to pony up extra just to keep the lights on. Unlike many small colleges, however, Livesay has an extra trump card he can play. And he’s been playing it for years.

In order to attract students with their life-sustaining tuition dollars, Livesay—like leaders at all evangelical colleges—can plant a flag for fundamentalism and young-earth creationism. In Bryan’s case, the school has taken drastic steps to purge any whiff of creationism that doesn’t meet the strict young-earth standards of Ken Ham.

As I discovered in my recent research, the pattern is as old as fundamentalist higher education itself. For example, Wheaton College in Illinois experienced a drastic rise in enrollments when it joined the fundamentalist crusade in the 1920s. Before it became the “Fundamentalist Harvard,” a majority of Wheaton’s students came from Illinois. After it planted a flag for fundamentalist higher education, a full three-quarters of its students came from outside the state. And attendance boomed. Between 1916 and 1928, the college grew by over four hundred percent in terms of student attendance.

It can be a risky game, though. Relying on a reputation as a staunchly fundamentalist or young-earth creationist school can bite schools in the behind. In the 1960s, when Wheaton’s leaders wanted to shake off some of the intellectual baggage of the fundamentalist movement, their enrollment numbers took a huge hit.

In 1964, a total of 8,528 potential Wheaton students had asked for admissions information. Only three years later, that number plunged to only 6,403. Why? Admissions Director Charles Schoenherr had an idea. In a memo to President Hudson Armerding, Schoenherr asked plaintively, “To what extent have rumors about Wheaton going ‘liberal’ hurt?”

Like Bryan, Wheaton relies on reputation to keep tuition dollars coming in. And like Bryan, Wheaton has long relied on honorary doctorates to shore up that reputation. Between 1920 and 1965, Wheaton gave out 180 honorary doctorates.

And the top leadership at Wheaton, just like at Bryan, did not hesitate to use those doctorates to reassure anxious fundamentalist parents. In 1962, then-President V. Raymond Edman wrote to one distressed parent. The parent had heard rumors that Wheaton no longer respected its fundamentalist roots. She had heard that the school had embraced evolution. Was it true? As she put it, “What grieves me most is that our daughter may lose her faith at Wheaton. Is this possible?”

Not in the slightest, President Edman assured her. How could she know for sure? Because prominent creationist Harry Rimmer held an honorary doctorate. Furthermore, Edman told her, the entire faculty at Wheaton were “convinced fundamentalists.”

If you didn’t have a calendar handy, you could simply swap out some names and the story could be from Dayton, Tennessee. Bryan President Stephen Livesay is desperate for dollars. So he gives Ken Ham a hug and a doctorate. At the same time, he rams through an iffy land deal that balances the books, sort of.

The names have changed, but the game is the same. Bryan College is desperate. Like a lot of small colleges, it is running on a financial knife edge. Unlike many schools, though, Bryan has a chance to appeal to a cultural niche market. If Livesay can convince young-earthers that his school is true to their ideas about science and faith, he might just attract enough tuition-paying students to keep Bryan alive. Until then, he’ll have to cook some real-estate books to pump a few more breaths into his campus.

HT: KT

Why Bill Nye Won’t Save the World

I like Bill Nye. I watched his show with my kid. He’s great. I wish he would call me up and we could go eat french fries together. But he won’t save the world, for two main reasons.

On his new show, Bill Nye Saves the World, Nye repeats the same errors about creationism that he has always made. At heart, Nye seems to believe that the main trouble with America is its lack of knowledge about science, our “science illiteracy.” Nye plans to save the world by clearly explaining real science. It won’t work.

On episode five, for example, Nye gives a quick description of the long history of our planet. He even goes out of his way to ridicule the notion of Noah’s ark. Where did life on this planet come from? We don’t know, Nye clarifies, but possibly it blasted in from Mars.

This sort of approach will have only a negative impact on our continuing creation/evolution squabbles. It will do nothing to bring good mainstream science to the creationist multitudes. Its only effect will be to cement them (most of them, at least) even more firmly in their dissident notion of young-earth creationism.

Why will Nye’s approach be so counter-productive? Not only because it is so hokey and strained. As I’m arguing in my current book about American creationism, the main problem comes from two common and related mistakes.

First, Nye falls prey again to the lamentable missionary supposition. Like many science wonks, Nye assumes that the truth—the scientific truth—is so powerful that mere exposure to it will convince people of its truth.

The notion is so remarkably naïve that it is difficult to know where to start. Consider the similar case of vaccinations. If people are simply unaware of the existence and benefits of vaccinations, then providing information will help. Especially if we do it in a fun, entertaining way. But if people already believe that vaccinations are dangerous, and, more important, if they believe that vaccine-promoters will be targeting them with fun, entertaining falsehoods, designed to confuse and beguile them…then we need a different approach.

Creationism, especially in its American young-earth variant, is not merely an absence of knowledge about evolution. Creationism is not a deficit. Creationism is an alternate, dissenting social system, complete with its own schools, textbooks, museums, conventions, TV shows, and celebrities.

And that brings us to the second, related problem with Nye’s approach. Not only is his show not spreading knowledge, it is actually building resistance. Like a lot of science pundits, Nye heightens the religious stakes by talking about “saving the world.” Instead of presenting this as a question of cool-headed deliberation and policy discussion, Nye’s apocalyptic attitude reinforces religious resistance.

In other words, by talking in all-or-nothing terms, Nye gives credence to religious dissenters who insist that religious people have to choose between their religion and mainstream science.

What should he do instead? He should not water down his I-F*$%&@9-Love-Science message. He should not imply that different views are all equal. He should not truckle to religious sensibilities by suggesting that all scientific ideas—even creation-science ones—have the same merit.

But he should learn more about creationism and American creationists. If he did so, he’d find out that there are plenty of creationists out there who also love science. Real, mainstream science. He should establish working alliances with those creationists to marginalize radical notions about creation and evolution. He does not need to endorse any particular view. All he needs to do is point viewers to religious people who agree with him.

Otherwise, he won’t save the world.