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.”


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.

Copy-editing Out Evolution

In our continuing creation/evolution culture wars, copy-editing out evolution is the oldest trick not in the book. Historian Adam Shapiro has showed us how textbook publishers have always done it. Today we see a spanking new example of this old trick from Arizona.

Trying Biology

Leave evolution in, take “evolution” out…

As Professor Shapiro noted, back in the 1920s publishers made big promises about cutting evolution out of their textbooks. In many cases, though, they left the content the same and merely took the word “evolution” out of their indexes. Sometimes they changed the word “evolution” to “development” in the text itself.

Usually, this wasn’t due to any ardent love or hate for science or creationism. Rather, publishers just wanted to sell books. If buyers wanted evolution out, so be it. But changing text was expensive, so publishers tended to make the smallest changes they could get away with.

We see today similar edits in Arizona. This time around, though, it looks as if standard-makers really do want to water down the teaching of evolution.

AZ evol edits 2018

Change over time…

Here’s what we know: The latest science standards up for adoption in Arizona have made a bunch of changes. Time after time, the Department of Education has revised out evolution. Here are a few examples (you can see the whole thing here with changes marked in green):

4 The theory of evolution seeks to make clear the unity and diversity of organisms, living and extinct, is the result of evolution organisms.

43           Life Sciences: Students develop an understanding of patterns and how genetic information is passed from generation to generation. They also develop the understanding of adaptations contribute to the process of biological evolution how traits within populations change over time. [sic]

69           Gather, evaluate, and communicate multiple lines of empirical evidence to explain the mechanisms of biological evolution change in genetic composition of a population over successive generations.

Will this sort of editing make any difference? Will science teachers in Arizona change what they are doing based on these cosmetic changes? Does it matter if creationists believe in “change in genetic composition of a population over successive generations,” but refuse to accept the evidence for “biological evolution”?

We’ve All Got It All Wrong

Whether you call yourself a conservative, a progressive, or something else, if you’re like me you’ve probably got it all wrong. As I was reminded in a discussion last night, those of us who try to shape schools usually make a huge mistake—one we could recognize if we just thought about it for half a second.univ of hawaii

Here’s the background: I was happy last night to talk with some graduate students at the University of Hawaii. (No, I didn’t get to go there in real life. I wish. We used cutting-edge interwebs technology to talk.) They had read my book about the history of educational conservatism and they had some great questions, ideas, and experiences to share.

As I argue in the book, it’s difficult to generalize about conservative activists. Just like progressives, conservative thinkers and doers come from a dizzying array of backgrounds and they are motivated by a huge spectrum of ideas and beliefs. But one thing they do share—at least the ones I studied—is an unexamined faith that school shapes society. I hate to quote myself, but this is how I put it in the book:

Educational conservatives have insisted, in short, on two central ideas. First, schools matter. Conservatives, like their progressive foes, have rarely questioned the notion that the schools of today generate the society of tomorrow. Second, because schools matter, their content and structure must be guarded ferociously. Ideas that challenge inherited wisdom must not be crammed down the throats of young, trusting students. And teachers must not abdicate their roles as intellectual and moral authorities. Educational conservatism, in other words, has been the long and vibrant tradition of defending tradition itself in America’s schools. Without understanding this tradition, we will never truly understand either American conservatism or American education.

One idea on which everyone can agree, in other words, is that schools shape society. The reason so many of us spend so much energy on school reform is precisely because we think it matters. For some conservatives in the twentieth century, teaching kids evolution was dangerous because it threatened to take away their moral and religious compass. For others, teaching kids about sex was a bad idea because it tended to unhinge their self-control. And for yet others, teaching kids socialist ideas was obviously terrible because it would lead to the corruption of their morals and of the entire society.


You can fix schools all you want, but you can’t fix the outcomes…

Last night, the Hawaii students shared stories that helped puncture those school-reform assumptions. One student, for example, reported that he came to the realization that he was conservative in high school. He was guided to that realization by his favorite teacher. At first, I assumed that the teacher was a conservative, too, and inspired the student by reading Hayek and Burke and smoking a pipe. In fact, the student told us, his favorite teacher was a heart-on-her-sleeve liberal. She taught social studies in a progressive way, one that hoped to help students examine their own ideas and decide questions for themselves. In the student’s case, that meant he came to the realization that his ideas were apparently “conservative.” The left-y teacher, in other words, didn’t indoctrinate this student into leftism, but precisely the opposite.

Another Hawaii student told a very different story. She only realized that she was a liberal when she was teaching Sunday school at her church. The goal was to help young people deepen their religious faith, but it had the opposite effect on her. Instead of becoming more religious, teaching Sunday school convinced this student that her church was full of hooey.

What’s the takeaway? Once we hear the stories, it seems pretty obvious. School doesn’t really work the way we sometimes think it will. No matter what our politics, we can’t control the future of our students by teaching them X or Y or by keeping them away from Z or A. Students are not predictable, programmable outputs. They have their own ideas and backgrounds and sometimes our best-laid plans at shaping America’s future will come out in ways we didn’t predict.

The Most Important Part of Radical Creationism

What is the most important thing secular people need to know in order to make sense of young-earth creationism? It’s nothing specifically scientific. It’s not even anything directly theological. The vital key to understanding radical creationism is something different. As a recent commentary reminds us, creationism thrives because it has a powerful intellectual defense mechanism.


From Answers In Genesis: Creationist defense mechanisms.

As I finish up my new book about American creationism, I’m struggling with a lot of difficult questions. Perhaps the hardest of all is the durability of radical ideas about science and nature. For those of us who aren’t creationists, it can be difficult to understand how anyone can be educated, aware, and intelligent while still thinking the earth is only about 6,000 years old.

Why don’t they abandon those ideas as soon as they hear how scientifically impossible they are?

As Nelle Smith pointed out recently, radical creationism has a powerful defense mechanism: Satan. Creationists don’t only believe in dissident science. They also are told—over and over again—that their scientific ideas are under attack. The attack has many sources—Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, local science teachers, etc.—but the true source of the attack is always more nefarious.

As Smith puts it,

growing up in many evangelical churches means to be told, repeatedly, that the devil will always seek a foothold, and once you give him one you’re well on the road to hell, to losing your faith, to destroying your witness. That’s scary stuff. To begin to doubt evangelicalism is not simply a mental exercise. For many like me, it’s to feel a void opening, the earth dropping out from beneath you. It’s to face the prospect of invalidating your entire existence.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, naïve anti-creationists have often failed to understand this key part of radical creationism. Like the affable Bill Nye, anti-creationists have assumed that they can convince and convert creationists simply by explaining the outlines of mainstream evolutionary theory. Anti-creationists have assumed that the evidence will be enough to change people’s minds.

What we non-creationists have failed to understand is that creationists are expecting to hear arguments that seem to make sense. They are ready to see evidence that looks convincing. They know what to do when they are presented with so-called facts that purport to poke holes in their worldview.

The central story of radical young-earth creationism isn’t one of science and religion. Rather, it’s a story of faith and doubt, of steadfastness and wavering, of obedience and sin. When arguments for evolution seem convincing, creationists can dismiss them as yet another alluring trick of Satan to fool the unwary.

To be sure, every once in a while, creationists raised to watch for the devil’s scientific snares change their minds. They embrace evolutionary science and abandon their old creationist mindset. But as Nelle Smith writes, to do so requires a wholesale revolution in their ways of thinking about good and evil, right and wrong. It’s not a simple matter of accepting evidence or mulling competing arguments.

For many creationists, the arguments of mainstream evolutionary scientists aren’t attractively modern. They are as ancient and as seductive as the serpent’s whisper to Eve.

Bad News for Creationists

It’s no skin off my nose, but I can’t help but wonder what creationists will say now. And not just the more radical young-earth creationists, but all the dissenting scientists who insist for religious reasons that our species must have begun with two and only two ancestors in the Garden of Eden. As reported in the New York Times, the science of human origins is getting better and better. What will creationists do?

human history map

The science doesn’t come close to matching the Bible…

Here’s what we know: This weekend the New York Times profiled the work of Harvard’s David Reich. Dr. Reich and his team have plucked DNA from ancient human bones. Using new techniques, the team has been able to create new maps of human and other groups dating back tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. The ultimate goal?

Dr. Reich’s plan is to find ancient DNA from every culture known to archaeology everywhere in the world. Ultimately, he hopes to build a genetic atlas of humanity over the past 50,000 years.

Here’s the problem: for many creationists, even those who are willing to believe in an ancient universe and planet, the idea of a real, historic Adam & Eve is absolutely non-negotiable. As we’ve examined before in these pages, even creationists who accept the science of evolutionary theory in general balk at the notion of abandoning the Garden story. Even institutions such as Wheaton College that openly embrace evolutionary creationism shudder to advertise their faculty’s skepticism about a real historic Adam & Eve.

So what will creationists do now? Here’s my guess: The more radical young-earth crowd will simply dismiss the new discoveries in human origins as simply more fluff n stuff, more flawed conclusions from flawed pseudo scientists based on flawed assumptions. But among creationists who have embraced evolutionary science in its particulars, while insisting on the fundamental truths of divine creation as described by the Bible, each new scientific discovery will present a new got some splainin to do

As the scientific evidence gets stronger and stronger for a complex, multi-site origin of the human species, creationists will have some splainin to do.


Just When I Thought I Was Out…

Okay, so long story short: I’m down in sunny Philadelphia, enjoying a talk with Jonathan Zimmerman’s students at Penn about Fundamentalist U. I planned to stay a little extra to sneak in some time in the Lancaster archives at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

No such luck. Springtime snowstorm shuts down the town. I’m stuck in a hotel room with a PBJ and nothing to do. So I figured I’d catch up on some Sopranos and forget about schools, culture wars, and creationism for an hour or two.

And right there in season six, Tony Soprano gets a visit in the hospital from a fundamentalist evangelist. The guy picks up Tony’s book about dinosaurs and goes off on the ways the whole dinosaur story was a big myth propagated by false scientists. The earth, he says, was created six thousand years ago. Dinosaurs and humans lived side by side, just the way Answers In Genesis says they did.

My favorite line? Tony’s sidekick reflects on the young-earth creationist message:

What’s he sayin?…there were dinosaurs back with Adam n Eve? … No way. T-Rex in the Garden of Eden? Adam n Eve would be runnin all the time scared sh*tless. But the Bible says it was paradise.

Now, SAGLRROILYBYGTH know young-earth creationists have a ready answer for this young gangster’s objections. Bonus snowstorm points for anyone who can remember how Ken Ham would clear up this seeming contradiction…

My Heroes Have Always Been Teachers

Now I just don’t know what to think. I have long admired heroic teachers like Susan Epperson and all the less-famous Susan Eppersons out there. Our ILYBYGTH conversations lately, though, have me wondering. Are teachers heroic if they buck the rules to teach the way they should? …what if they think they should teach Christianity or white supremacy? Or if they’re gun-toting rage-aholics?

Maybe people don’t remember Susan Epperson anymore. She was a science teacher in Arkansas in the 1960s. Due to a law passed during the 1920s evolution/creation battles, she was legally barred from teaching her students about evolution. She did it anyway.

Instead of just keeping her science subversion quiet, Epperson took her case all the way to the Supreme Court, where the anti-evolution law was tossed out.

Epperson has always been a hero of mine. Not only her, but all the teachers out there who go against idiotic system rules to teach children the way they deserve to be taught. It can be as simple as ignoring an order to focus only on test-related content and instead help a student discover what she thinks about a poem or painting. It can be as fundamental as introducing students to the real, ugly history of race relations in the USA, even though a school principal advises against doing anything “controversial.”

But with recent stories about white-supremacist teachers and the history of left-wing teacher purges I’m not sure what to think anymore. If teachers are heroic for teaching “what’s right” instead of what’s in the state-approved curriculum, how can we police creationist and other teachers for breaking the rules to teach their own peculiar moral visions?

reclaim your school

Can my heroes out-sneak your heroes?

After all, as political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer found, the most important influence on most high-school biology teachers is not the state curriculum. It is the values of the local community. If teachers think creationism is the right thing for their students, they’ll teach it, no matter what the curriculum says.

And activists on both the right and the left encourage teachers to ignore the rules and teach “what’s right.” Brad and Susanne Dacus, for example, have published a handy-dandy guide for teachers who want to inject more Christianity into their teaching. As they put it,

Worrying about your public schools changes nothing. . . Knowing how YOU can make an impact in your school can change everything!  Public schools have dramatically changed over the last several years.  Now is not the time to give up on your school.  Now is the time to stand up and be heard!

For those of us who want secular public schools, these promises sound worrisome. Yet we can’t help but recognize that the same heroic impulse to fight the system underlies both Epperson’s pro-science activism and the Dacus’s pro-Jesus work.

Is there any way we can encourage heroic teachers, but only the kinds we agree with? Sounds pretty hypocritical to me. As Professor Clarence Taylor argued recently in these pages, do we need to defend ALL teachers’ rights to political activism, even if we hate it? Or is there some way to support teacher activism for “our” side while fighting teacher activism for “theirs?”

The Dilemma of the Fundamentalist Intellectual

It’s tough to be a conservative evangelical intellectual these days. As a recent exposé at Religion & Politics makes clear, they are still addicted to mainstream academic credentials, even when those credentials can be nearly impossible for them to achieve.

Why is it so difficult for conservative evangelicals to earn mainstream academic credentials? In part, it’s due to the stark and growing divide between mainstream institutions and evangelical intellectual assumptions. As I’m arguing in my new book about evangelical higher education, in the late nineteenth century conservative evangelicalism lost its place as the presumed intellectual backbone of America’s colleges and universities. I think historian Jon H. Roberts said it best. In the late 1800s,

Truth claims based on alternative epistemologies—tradition, divine inspiration, and subjective forms of religious experience—increasingly lost credibility within the academy.  In addition, the recognition that knowledge itself was fallible and progressive cast doubt on the legitimacy of venerable doctrines.  Claims that ongoing inquiry would eliminate error and establish truth fostered an iconoclasm toward orthodoxies.

In response, conservative evangelicals—calling themselves “fundamentalists”—built a dissenting network of higher-educational institutions. It wasn’t only brick-and-mortar schools. Fundamentalists created their own accrediting agencies, athletic leagues, alumni organizations, and more. These independent evangelical institutions allowed academics to rack up titles and honors without participating in mainstream thinking. As we’ve noted recently, the fetish for credentials has always included a frenzy of cross-institutional honorary doctorates.

sacred secular university

The empire really was in ruins.

But it’s still not enough. Throughout the twentieth century and continuing today, conservative evangelicals have yearned for more than just their own credentials. They have oohed and aahed at their colleagues who have earned mainstream academic respectability.

One notable case occurred during the mid-century creationism wars. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, evangelical intellectuals squared off (again) over the question of a young earth. Did belief in the Bible require belief in a literal six-day recent creation? In a literal world-wide flood?

At the 1948 meeting of the creationist American Scientific Affiliation at Calvin College, for example, geochemist J. Laurence Kulp battled with Calvin botanist Edwin Y. Monsma. Monsma defended the young-earth position. Kulp trashed it as mere “foolishness.” With his PhD from Princeton and his faculty berth at Columbia, Kulp’s mainstream credentials helped carry the day. As historian Ronald L. Numbers described, many ASA members were “ready to follow Kulp in boldly shedding the trite fundamentalist apologetics of the past.” Creationism, yes. Young earth, no.

At least in part, Kulp’s bona fides from outside the charmed circle of fundamentalist institutions helped convince many conservative evangelical intellectuals that Kulp’s ideas had oomph.


Creationists love credentials…

Today, we see a sad case of inflated credentials from another evangelical intellectual. As Professor Jill Hicks-Keeton of the University of Oklahoma points out, a recent publicity appearance to promote the new Museum of the Bible highlighted conservatives’ desperate drive for mainstream academic credentials.

Professor Hicks-Keeton describes the spiel of Jeremiah Johnston of Houston Baptist University. Professor Johnston hopes, in his organization’s words, to “teach Christians to be Thinkers and Thinkers to be Christians.”

But in his quest to wow evangelical audiences, according to Hicks-Keeton, Dr. Johnston played fast and loose with his resume. Hicks-Keeton sleuthed a little deeper. As she puts it,

Johnston’s academic credentials sound impressive: “He has studied at Oxford,” the pastor said. The CTS [Christian Thinkers Society] website’s bio for Johnston includes a list of presses with whom he has published, led by one of the most prestigious in the guild: Oxford University Press. During his talk to the congregation, Johnston repeatedly performed such credentials for church members by dropping academic words the average churchgoer would not have encountered (shema, protois, verisimilitude) and by flagging his own academic work. . . . A closer look at his curriculum vitae reveals that his educational pedigree is unrelated to Oxford University, a premiere institution of scholarship. The “Oxford” mentioned by Pastor Daniel is actually the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies—identified by its website as “an independent Christian charity.” Johnston’s publications with OUP amount to four brief, co-authored contributions to encyclopedias and edited volumes, which are not subjected to the rigors of peer review.

Ouch. For any academic—evangelical or not–these charges sting.

Why would Professor Johnston puff up his credentials, when they are so easy to deflate? I don’t know Johnston, but my hunch is that he shares the century-old dilemma of all fundamentalist intellectuals. In spite of their long efforts to free their minds from the shackles of mainstream academic thinking, they are still wed to the same hierarchy of prestige as everyone else.