Flipping the Culture Wars

“Which side are you on?” When Pete Seeger asked that question, he wanted to push vacillating leftists to the workers’ side. In today’s culture-war politics, one could be forgiven for being confused which side is which. As a recent commentary at American Conservative points out, the right used to be the side of stuffy censorship and outraged morals. Now that mantle has been claimed by the left.

The culture-war flip isn’t only in the world of art. During the twentieth century our creation/evolution battles experienced a dizzying reversal. In the 1920s, as I recount in my history of educational conservatism, conservatives wanted to ban evolutionary theory outright. Even more, many conservative activists had success in making their theocratic vision for public schools legally binding.

At issue in the Scopes Trial, for example, was Tennessee’s law against the teaching of human evolution. Back then, mainstream science activists were fighting merely to have evolutionary theory included in public schools.

By the end of the twentieth century, the situation had flipped. As creationist pundit Duane Gish famously but incorrectly protested in 1995, at the Scopes Trial Clarence Darrow insisted “it was bigotry to teach only one theory of origins.” In fact, it wasn’t Clarence Darrow who said it, but Darrow’s fellow counsel Dudley Field Malone.

gish teaching creationism public schools

If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu…

But Gish’s sentiment was correct. At the Scopes Trial, evolution’s defenders insisted that all sides should be heard. By 1995, the tables had turned, and creationists merely wanted a seat at the table.

At American Conservative recently, Nick Phillips argued that the same culture-war flip has happened in the world of art. These days, we see progressive campaigners insisting that offensive images be banned. We hear of college protesters fighting to eliminate statues and paintings that portray sexist, racist themes. And Phillips asks,

We used to have a word for people who sought to enforce restrictions on the bounds of public discourse in order to insulate sacred norms from attack by non-believers. They used to be called “conservatives.” How did this happen? Why are leftists acting like conservatives?

Of course, this dynamic is as old as politics itself. Whoever has power works hard to keep it. Ideas that challenge the status quo are threats to whomever benefits from that status quo. When creationists appeal to our sense of fairness and inclusion, they have merely recognized that they can no longer simply legislate their vision. And when progressive art activists seek to ban images, they are demonstrating their feeling of proprietary control over the goings on in art houses and college campuses.

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High Stakes Creationist Testing

Another day, another creationism bill in Alabama. So far, so snooze. But did you know—I didn’t—that some of today’s creationism bills and laws include sections on how to grade creationist test answers? And because they do, it makes no sense to me why creationists would support these bills.get fuzzy evolution

Here’s what we know: Creationism watchdog National Center for Science Education recently posted the news from Alabama. A new bill would allow teachers to teach both creationism and evolution as science.

Here’s the kicker: Students are allowed to choose either creationism or mainstream science. Whatever they choose, they can get credit on tests as long as their answers match what the teacher taught them.

Apparently—also news to me but not to the folks at NCSE—Kentucky has long had a similar creationism law on the books. Here’s the Kentucky language:

For those students receiving such instruction, and who accept the Bible theory of creation, credit shall be permitted on any examination in which adherence to such theory is propounded, provided the response is correct according to the instruction received.

Okay, now call me silly, but doesn’t this sort of law present a terrible dilemma for creationists? I understand why the evolution mavens at NCSE don’t like it, but I am surprised that Kentucky’s or Alabama’s creationists do.

After all, conservative evangelicals celebrated when SCOTUS agreed to ban bland, ecumenical school prayers in 1962, as I demonstrated in this academic article. They loved the idea of school prayer, of course, but they hated the idea that their children would be praying the wrong prayer in public school.

These laws seem to push the same buttons. Why would creationists fight for laws that hem them in theologically? Because creationism is so ferociously controversial, that is, how could creationists give the thumbs up to a law that tells children one form of creationist thinking?

As SAGLRROILYGTH are well aware, nothing peeves young-earth creationist impresario Ken Ham more than his rival creationists. How can Alabama’s creationists decide WHICH creationism schools should teach? How can creationists smile if their children come home from school mouthing different creationist visions from those of their church?

Science and the Action Flick

It’s been said by enough smart people that we should start listening. Religion and science aren’t at war. This morning, a recent story about science and abortion suggests a new analogy for understanding the role science has always played in our hundred-years’ culture war. It has more to do with Jackie Chan and Bruce Willis than Galileo and John Scopes.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH won’t be surprised to hear it. Historians like Ronald Numbers and sociologists like Elaine Howard Ecklund have long since punctured the tired old myth that religion and science have always been on opposite sides of our culture-war trenches.

The old story is that religious conservatives fear and loathe science. They insist—the myth says—on anti-scientific ideas about a young earth because they don’t like science. They fight against scientific progress using stem cells because they prefer God to knowledge. They put their heads in the sand and bat science away with a swat of their annotated Bibles.

It’s just not accurate. As Professor Ecklund writes in her recent book, her surveys of evangelical Protestants found very different attitudes. They like science and they think science and religion can get along. For example, evangelicals are actually slightly less likely than the general population (13.9% of evangelicals compared to 14.9% of all respondents) to think that science does more harm than good. And, as Ecklund puts it, evangelicals

are actually significantly more likely than the general population and significantly more likely than any other religious group to see religion and science as having a collaborative relationship.

News from the abortion front shows how the religion/science dynamic actually works. As Emma Green reports in The Atlantic,

New technology makes it easier to apprehend the humanity of a growing child and imagine a fetus as a creature with moral status. Over the last several decades, pro-life leaders have increasingly recognized this and rallied the power of scientific evidence to promote their cause. They have built new institutions to produce, track, and distribute scientifically crafted information on abortion. They hungrily follow new research in embryology. They celebrate progress in neonatology as a means to save young lives.

Nor is this conservative religious fondness for science new. As I argued in my book about educational conservatism, in the 1920s anti-evolution leaders counted on mainstream science to disprove Darwin’s ideas about natural selection. At the Scopes Trial, for instance, proto-creationist William Jennings Bryan assumed he could put leading scientists on the stand to disprove the atheistic pretensions of false evolutionary science.

It was only when Bryan couldn’t find credentialed scientists (except for one impressive gynecologist) willing to take his side that he decided to fight against the use of expert scientific testimony.

Today’s pro-life activists are on the other side. They’re finding proof for their claims from mainstream science, and they’re thrilled. These conservative religious activists don’t fear science. They don’t loathe science. Rather, they desperately want to use science to prove themselves right. Science is only bad when it seems to go against them.

To our ILYBYGTH eyes, this situation suggests the need for a new way of thinking about the culture-war relationship between science and religion. They are not at war. We don’t see religious conservatives fighting against science. Rather, we see both sides eagerly glomming on to any science-y sounding proof of their position.

So here’s my humble suggestion for a better way of imagining the real relationship: Science is like the gun in the big fight at the end of action movies.

Hear me out: In any decent action flick, the final fight between the hero and the main villain takes a ridiculously long time. Each combatant will sustain enough blows to fell a charging rhino, yet they continue to battle. In a lot of the good fights, one or the other of the combatants will pull out a gun at some point. He or she smugly thinks the fight is over, but the gun will inevitably be batted away. As the fight progresses, both combatants desperately strive to reclaim the gun, to end the fight once and for all.

The way I see it, science is the gun. Both sides want it. Both sides recognize its power. Both sides hope that they can use it to end this too-long conflict by seizing it and using it against the other side. The gun is only bad when the other guy has it. From abortion to creation to sexuality, everyone wants to claim that science is on their side, no matter what that side is.

Wait…ARE Creationists Just Dumber?

If you ask the Richard Dawkinses and the Bill Nyes of the world, creationism is a pretty simple problem. Those who won’t accept the evidence for mainstream evolutionary theory must be “ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked…)”. Those of us who know better have always pooh-poohed such simplistic science chauvinism. We argue instead that creationism is not mainly a question of knowledge, but of identity. A new study from the UK seems to challenge our assumptions. Maybe people who don’t accept evolution simply aren’t understanding it.

Here’s what we know: A group of researchers at the University of Bath studied over a thousand teenagers. Unlike studies in the USA, these teenagers showed a strong correlation between academic knowledge and acceptance of evolutionary theory. That is, students who understood evolution better tended to accept it more readily. Students who didn’t understand it as well tended to dismiss evolution or to say that both mainstream evolutionary theory and creationism could somehow both be true.

Here’s how the authors describe their conclusions:

before teaching, students with low acceptance had lower understanding of both evolution and of genetics; the low-acceptance students sat disproportionately in the foundation (rather than higher) science classes; low-acceptance students showed lower increments in the understanding of genetics; and student gain in the understanding of evolution correlated positively with gain in the understanding of genetics. We find no evidence either for a role for psychological conflict in determining response to teaching or that strong rejectors are more commonly of a higher ability.

We don’t want to jump to any grand conclusions of our own, but it seems for these students at least, better understanding and knowledge of mainstream evolutionary theory really did lead to greater acceptance.

understanding evolution

T’aint natural…

Does this mean UK creationists just don’t get it? I don’t think so. But I think it does underscore the notion that mainstream evolutionary theory is not a particularly intuitive thing. It is difficult for us to comprehend central notions of deep time and population genetics. As people such as Kostas Kampourakis have pointed out in detail, our intuitions seem to point us away from a thorough understanding of concepts such as natural selection.

Are creationists dumber? No. For these students, though, a passing acquaintance with mainstream evolutionary theory apparently led them away from it, not toward it.

HT: VW

How Many Climate-Change Deniers Do You Know?

Count em up. Or, if you’re a denier yourself, do it backwards: How many climate-change accepters do you know? A recent interview with sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund shows that the real issue with science denialism isn’t knowledge or ignorance. It isn’t religion or science. It’s something else.ecklund religion science

Ecklund is talking these days about her latest research. In the past, she asked elite academics how much they knew about religion. In her new book, she’s sharing her data about religious people. How many scientists do they know? What do they think about science?

In this interview, Professor Ecklund offers a compelling description of the real problem with climate-change politics. As she puts it,

Scientists tend to think that it’s all about knowledge. It’s not actually about teaching people better—there’s good science out there, there’s nearly total consensus that climate change is happening and that humans have something to do with it. But certain groups of constituents really need to build relationships with a scientific community. Once you have a relationship with someone, and you don’t think they’re crazy, then information can pass over that relational tie. [Emphasis added.]

Do religious ideas matter? Sure. Is scientific training important? Of course. But the real issue is trust. When people don’t trust all those “Al Gore” scientists, it doesn’t matter how much talking and outreach scientists do. As Ecklund suggests, if you thinks someone is crazy (or “ignorant,” or “wicked”), it doesn’t matter how many charts and graphs they show you. If you think someone is crazy or evil, you won’t believe what they tell you, no matter what.

And though it hurts to admit, the trust question goes both ways. For those of us who want to see more and better climate-change education, resistance can seem sinister. Indeed, in this very interview, the interviewer criticized Ecklund for being too naïve. The real problem with climate-change denial, the interviewer wrote, comes not from distrust or dissent, but from

well-documented lobbying and misinformation campaigns by fossil fuel interests—which target religious conservatives and the politicians who represent them with cultural kowtows…

In other words, it’s easy to see climate-change denialism as nothing but a dangerous mix of the ignorant and the wicked. For the interviewer, Ecklund’s research is suspicious because it goes against something “the general observer” knows full well. The irony is palpable.

People like the interviewer (and me) are just as susceptible to trust issues as are climate-change denialists. We don’t trust oil companies and their lackies, so we assume that climate-change denial must result from self-serving cover-ups. When research like Ecklund’s disrupts what we think we know, we’d prefer to deny it.

It’s easy to do, because most of us don’t generally hang around with people from the other side. Aside from the annual awkward Thanksgiving dinner, that is, most of us don’t interact with people who disagree about climate change or other tough topics. As Ecklund suggests, many climate-change denialists don’t have productive, healthy relationships with mainstream climate-change scientists. And those of us on the other side don’t know any real live denialists.

The result? We don’t trust one another. We don’t trust the other side’s motives. For denialists, accepting human-caused climate change can seem like a sucker move, a capitulation. For the rest of us, denying the well-founded scientific evidence for human-caused climate change seems the same.

Does ignorance matter? Yes. Does religion influence these issues? Sure. But beyond and behind those sorts of things, as Professor Ecklund points out, the real question is TRUST.

The Ol’ College Tri-al

Want to scare a fundamentalist? Tell them you’re sending their child to a state university. As I’m arguing in my new book about evangelical higher education, anxiety about college has always been a primary concern of Protestant fundamentalists and other conservative evangelicals. Today’s fundamentalists are no different, as I discovered in my recent visit to the Ark Encounter. In this last (I promise) post about the Ark Encounter, I have one final puzzle about the ways the Kentucky creationists depict the dangers of mainstream higher education.

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Watch out! It’s a trap!

First, the history: When evangelist Bob Jones explained his reason for starting his own college in 1926, he liked to tell the story of one woeful Christian family who had scrimped and saved to send their daughter to a fancy university. As Jones told the tale,

At the end of nine months she came home with her faith shattered. She laughed at God and the old time religion. She broke the hearts of her father and mother. They wept over her. They prayed over her. It availed nothing. At last they chided her. She rushed upstairs, stood in front of a mirror, took a gun and blew out her brains.

Who wouldn’t be scared by that sort of story? Or consider the following example, reprinted throughout the early 1920s by a number of fundamentalist pundits. It was supposedly a letter to the folks at home from a recent college graduate. As he put it,

My soul is a starving skeleton; my heart a petrified rock; my mind is poisoned and fickle as the wind, and my faith is as unstable as water. . . . I wish that I had never seen a college.

For fundamentalists in the 1920s, the dangers of college weren’t only about debt burdens and sexual assault. College itself threatened to rob children of their faith, leave them “poisoned.”

Like now, fundamentalists back then didn’t just rely on hearsay. They devoured social-science reports of the deleterious religious effects of college. Most famous was James Leuba’s study of student religiosity, published in 1916. Leuba found that most college freshmen (85%) called themselves Christians, but only 55% of recent college graduates did so. The upshot, fundamentalists told themselves, was that the college experience must do something to undermine evangelical faith.

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Those darn college professors…

What was true in 1916 seems just as true a century later. Conservative evangelicals—at least the ones who built Kentucky’s Ark Encounter—are convinced that mainstream higher education is a spiritual minefield.

There’s good reason to think they’re right, at least in part. Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund studied elite academics and found that there did indeed seem to be some elements of anti-evangelical bias among them. Evangelical professors told Ecklund they tended to keep their faith “closeted.” Others reported hearing offhand comments in the faculty lounge deriding “stupid Christianity.”

While elite academics weren’t as uniformly anti-religious as some evangelicals might assume, they did tend to be less religious than the rest of the population. And a small minority told Ecklund that they actively sought to cure students of their religious proclivities. One physicist told her that he viewed religion as a “virus” that he hoped to cure. A social scientist said she started her classes with the following disclaimer:

You don’t have to distance yourself from religion and think about it from an outside perspective, but you do if you want to succeed in this class.  And so if you don’t want to do that, then you need to leave.

If I were an evangelical parent (I’m not), I would hesitate to send my child into an environment where they would be confronted with that sort of hostile, ignorant attitude. And certainly, Ken Ham and the Answers In Genesis crowd are intensely anxious about the goings-on in mainstream higher education. Ham explained his reasoning in a critique of ILYBYGTH a while back, and my trip to the Ark Encounter confirmed it.

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Can college students protect their faith?

Most of the exhibits were fairly predictable, if odd. They depicted the problems with mainstream evolutionary theory and old-earth creationism. They showed the way day-to-day life on the ark could have happened. Not what I’d expect to see in a mainstream science museum, but pretty close to what I expected to find at the Ark Encounter.

On the top floor, though, I was surprised by what I found. Ark Encounter includes a long corridor dedicated to a huge, walk-through comic-book tract. The comic book’s images have been blown up to fill the walls of the corridor, and visitors walk through the story. The plot is familiar—a student wonders about her faith. After some trials, she embraces it.

One of the trials is her smarky college professor. The central characters walk into a lecture hall, where they are told,

The Bible is full of contradictions—written by people with no knowledge of science. The earth isn’t 6,000 years old, and there’s no way the millions of species of animals could fit on Noah’s Ark…

One of the characters is a young-earth creationist and he patiently defends his faith to two friends, but their college experience puts that faith to a severe test.

The exhibit itself was a surprise, but the content wasn’t. The fears and anxieties of fundamentalists in 2018 aren’t too different from those of fundamentalists in 1918. But here’s the thing that’s been bugging me: Why does the Ark Encounter devote so much wall space to this college story, when Ken Ham thinks that the college years are already too late for successful soul-saving?

As Ham wrote in his 2009 book Already Gone, the kids that are leaving fundamentalist faith are making those decisions in their middle-school and high-school years. As Ham puts it,

Many parents will fork out big bucks to send these students to Christian colleges, hoping to protect them in their faith. But the fact is, they’re already gone.

If Ham wants his flock to understand that the college years are too late, why include this huge exhibit on the dangers of college at the Ark Encounter?

Saddle Sore at the Ark Encounter

I just don’t get it. No, no, no, I’m not talking about the seemingly obviously false idea that the entire earth was really deluged in a flood and that eight humans survived on a floating zoo. And no, I’m not talking about the diorama at Ark Encounter depicting humans fighting dinosaurs and giants in a kind of Colosseum of Doom. I’m not talking even talking about young-earth creationist notions that humans and dinosaurs lived together, or that the earth and everything is only a few thousand years old.

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Dinos dinos dinos…

I can’t say I really understand those things, but that’s not what’s been bothering me since my trip to the Ark Encounter. Here’s the riddle that’s on my mind: If Ken Ham is embarrassed by the notion of people joy-riding on dinosaurs, then why does the Ark Encounter make such a big deal about the dinosaur angle? Why don’t they downplay it? I have a hunch, but I’d be happy to be educated on the subject by SAGLRROILYBYGTH.

We know Ken Ham is touchy about mockery related to dinosaurs wearing saddles. A few years back, for example, he reacted furiously to journalist Charles P. Pierce’s jokes about the Creation Museum. For Pierce, the idea of dinosaurs with saddles was the perfect epitome of “Idiot America.” Never one to back away from a fight, Ham huffed,

Those who oppose the Creation Museum, having by and large given up on trying to argue logically and scientifically against the information presented in its exhibits, are resorting more and more to a mocking, scoffing, and a ridiculing approach. . . . The dinosaur with the saddle is obviously just a fun part for kids—it has nothing to do with any of the teaching exhibits, and nothing to do with the first-class dinosaur exhibit and all the teaching signs.

Fair enough. But it doesn’t answer my question. If Mr. Ham knows that so many people find the idea of dinosaurs and humans living together ridiculous and laughable, why does he harp on it so incessantly? The Ark Encounter, for example, prominently features dinosaurs in cages next to other sorts of animals.

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Lots of dinos on board…

Ham’s publications, too, willfully emphasize the notion that people must have put saddles on dinosaurs. A book I picked up in the gift shop features questions about radical creationism from kids. One ten-year-old from Michigan asked, “Did we use dinosaurs for transportation?”

How did Ham respond?

I know the Bible doesn’t specifically address this question, but . . . we can use the reasoning skills God gave us and His Word to come up with an answer. . . . I can think of many animals that have been tamed. . . . 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.

Not just dinos with saddles, but dinos with plows, carts, and all sorts of other bizarre combinations. Why, oh why, would a radical creationist harp on this notion, when he knows that it will lead to mockery and contumely from the outside world?

aig dino question book

Did people ride dinosaurs? Yes, Virginia…

I have a hunch. First of all, I think many of us never rise above a Flintstones level of understanding the real relationship between dinosaurs and later life forms. For many people—creationist or not—it is not shocking to think of dinosaurs and humans living side by side, attending drive-in movies together.

But there’s more going on than just an appeal to ignorance. I think the Answers In Genesis crowd is convinced that dinosaurs are the key to their creationist kingdom. If they can show people dinos and humans living together, it might shake up people’s assumptions that the earth is far older than 6,000 years or so. If people see dinos wearing saddles and plowing fields, it might prompt them to say, “Hey, weren’t dinosaurs extinct long before people started farming?” The question, AIG might hope, would lead to a healthy shake-up of people’s thinking; it would give AIG missionaries a chance to offer their young-earth answer.

At least, this is the explanation from AIG stalwarts such as Buddy Davis. Davis calls dinosaurs “missionary lizards.” As Davis explains,

As non-Christians hear the biblical explanation of dinosaurs, many have been, and will be, challenged to listen to the rest of what the Bible states. We rejoice that many have been won to the Lord using the true history of these missionary lizards.

For AIG’s radical creationists, then, the notion of humans and dinosaurs living together is not something to be embarrassed about, but something to be trumpeted. If enough people see dinosaurs with saddles, the thinking goes, then they will be compelled to explore AIG’s creationist ideas.

Is it working? Not really. As George Bishop of the University of Cincinnati found, radical creationists aren’t any more consistent than the rest of us. Professor Bishop poked the usual poll numbers and found some strange results. Of people who said that humans had been created recently, over half also believed that dinosaurs had gone extinct over 65 million years ago.

Nevertheless, if my recent trip to the Ark Encounter is any guide, the creationists at AIG have confidence that their focus on dinosaurs will help people see the light.

Eden and Zion

When you picture radical creationists, what do you think of? As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, it’s all too easy to fall into misleading stereotypes. Instead of asking about “creationism,” we need to get into the habit of talking about “creationisms.” After all, creationism in the USA and in the world is not one thing, but many. A new survey of LDS (Mormon) beliefs about creation and evolution gives us yet another reminder of this diversity.

Benjamin Knoll and Jana Reiss asked a sample of LDS members two questions about evolution. Here is a breakdown of their results:

God created Adam and Eve sometime in the last 10,000 years and humans did not evolve from other life forms.”

  • 53% “I am confident and know this is true.”
  • 21% “I believe and have faith that this is probably true.”
  • 13% “I believe this might be true, but I have my doubts.”
  • 7% “I believe this is probably NOT true.”
  • 6% “I am confident and know this is NOT true.”

“Evolution is the best explanation for how God brought about the emergence and development of life on Earth.”

  • 24% “I am confident and know this is true.”
  • 25% “I believe and have faith that this is probably true.”
  • 17% “I believe this might be true, but I have my doubts.”
  • 13% “I believe this is probably NOT true.”
  • 20% “I am confident and know this is NOT true.”

As always, the poll numbers leave us hankering for more. Some of the most contentious issues among American creationists were left out. We see that huge majorities of LDS members think our species was created as the Bible describes. But what do LDS members think about the age of the earth and universe? Do they think there might have been a long “gap” between creations? Or maybe that the “days” of creation were really long “ages?”

This survey just doesn’t say. However, it does give us some very helpful insights into LDS thinking on these questions. Not surprisingly, a large majority of LDS respondents agrees that humanity was created specially and recently. Also not surprisingly, the notion of God-guided evolution seems very divisive among LDS members.gallup creationism poll may 2017

Though the questions and possible responses don’t match up perfectly, it seems from this survey that LDS members are more likely than Americans as a whole to embrace a recent, special creation of our species. As Gallup has reported for the last few decades, the number of Americans in general who choose a recent special creation of humanity has fluctuated between 38 and 47%.

LDS respondents also seem a little less likely than Americans as a whole to take God out of the process. The Gallup numbers suggest that more and more respondents choose a God-free explanation. Among LDS respondents, only 13% didn’t think a recent special creation was likely.

Though they represent only 1.5% of all Americans, LDS members have unique clout in Utah. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that evolution remains a contested topic in Utah’s public schools.

Making Ararat Great Again

What does Noah have to do with homosexuality? For that matter, what does creationism have to do with Donald Trump? The connections might seem jagged, but those of us who hope to understand the real contours of radical American creationism need to understand the connections between the Rainbow Covenant and Trump’s hat. My recent visit to the Ark Encounter gave me a sharp reminder of the cultural politics of creationism.

Trump make america great again

It’s the hat, stupid.

 

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing it, but I can’t help repeating myself: Lots of white evangelicals have always harbored a Trump-ish white nationalist attitude. Not all of them, of course. White evangelicals have also been the most ferocious critics of their coreligionists on this score.

Moreover, the relationship between evangelical religion and chest-thumping American nationalism has always been complicated. White evangelical Americans have tended to think of the USA as both a uniquely Christian country and a dangerously sinful one. As I argued in an academic article a while back, the “establishment-or-outsider paradox” that George Marsden described so long ago has always been a constant source of tension when it comes to evangelical thinking about schools and culture.

For many conservative evangelicals—especially those on the harder-right end of the broad evangelical spectrum—public schools in particular have been the leading symbol of this tension. In the white evangelical imagination, public schools used to be great. They used to lead children in prayer and Bible reading. In the past fifty years, one popular conservative-evangelical story goes, public schools went terribly awry. In practice, evangelical pundits warn one another, America kicked God out of the public schools.

For a large and influential segment of the white evangelical public, this scary story has a silver lining. In spite of the frightening changes in American public education, there is hope. Conservative evangelicals have told one another, for example, that they can “reclaim” their local schools.

reclaim your school

Good news/Bad news…

The notion of reclaiming, of taking back, resonates with radical creationists, too. As I browsed the gift shop at the Ark Encounter, I found a fat stack of postcards. Many of them harped on the theme of “taking back” the symbol of the rainbow. Instead of representing gay pride, the Kentucky creationists hope, the rainbow can once again symbolize conservative evangelical faithfulness.

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Reclaim your rainbow…

It is a central theme for American young-earth creationism, and one that has very little to do with theology or science. The language of many radical creationists is peppered with talk about the good old days, when evangelical Christianity WAS mainstream American religion, when “Merry Christmas” WAS the thing to say to each other in December, when public schools DID reinforce evangelical faith.

Once we grasp this enduring theme among radical creationists, it’s not so difficult to see the appeal of Trump. Any candidate who promises to make America great again will get the white-evangelical vote, or at least the vast majority of it.

Arking the Right Questions

John Oliver thought it was just quirky. There’s a more obvious explanation.

john oliver ark manure

For the full scoop on poop, go to 6:20.

As I discovered on my recent trip to the creationist Ark Encounter, the displays spend a LOT of time explaining where all the poop went. They also explain in great detail how Noah crammed huge dinosaurs on a boat.

There’s more going on here than simple scatophilia. Other radical creationists, too, like to focus on some sorts of questions for sensible reasons. If we spend all our time talking about HOW Noah handled all the dinosaur manure, for example, we’ve already conceded the most important point, which is that Noah really existed with his real ark surviving a real world-wide flood. With dinosaurs on board.

PACE 1096 diplodocus

How do SCIENTISTS think Noah squeezed dinosaurs onto his ark? From PACE 1096 (1986 edition)

The folks at Answers In Genesis aren’t the only ones to ask HOW questions instead of WTF questions. The fundamentalist curriculum specialists at Accelerated Christian Education, too, like to help young creationists focus on the details of their creationist vision. In PACE 1096, for example, creationists will read that Noah could easily have solved the problem of fitting huge dinosaurs on his ark if he simply used juvenile dinosaurs.

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From the Ark Encounter: It’s easy if you just use the small dinosaurs…

That’s the general argument at Ark Encounter, as well. Visitors will see charts and graphs of various species, explaining clearly how enormous dinosaurs could have been squeezed onto the ark. The dinosaurs themselves were comfortably situated in roomy cages on the deck.

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Plenty of room for all kinds of dinosaurs on board…

What about all the poop? The Ark Encounter offers an extensive explanation. In their vision, Noah and his crew fitted their boat with an elaborate system of pipes and pulleys. Excrement could easily be flushed into the floodwaters. Fresh water was collected on the roof, thanks to the endless rain.

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From the Ark Encounter: Focus on the HOW…

By focusing on these sorts of detailed, science-y sounding explanations, young-earth creationists can reassure themselves and their children that the ark really could have worked. I have to imagine that such conversations serve a vital function: By talking at length and in detail about HOW these things happened, creationists can rest assured that they DID happen.

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A #2 solution…