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.

OTR COVER

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.

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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.

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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 challenge.you 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.

HT: HD

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.

The_Creationists_by_Ronald_Numbers

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.

Genesis, Free Speech, and Hate Speech

What would arch-creationist Ken Ham say if someone accused him of hate speech? We don’t have to guess. At his recent talk at the University of Central Oklahoma, Ham defended his vision of proper Christian morality. Did he capture ancient Christian wisdom? Or spout off twenty-first century bigotry?

ham speech audience UCO

Part of the 500-person audience at UCO.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH recall, we’ve tussled over this issue recently. When UCO rescinded Ham’s original invitation, we wondered if free speech was still alive. I argued at the time that free speech was something of a red herring in this case–and many similar college cases. The real issue is sponsorship. The student organization at UCO did not want to pay Ham to speak, due to Ham’s views on sexuality and marriage.

In the end, UCO President Don Betz squared the circle by using money from a separate slush fund to pay for Ham’s visit. And the talk went off without a hitch. During the Q&A, one audience member asked Ham directly about gay rights. Here’s how the interchange went, according to Religion News Service:

One questioner — a self-described “spirit-filled Christian” and member of the LGBTQ community — said: “I sought the Lord and churches for why I feel attracted to the same sex. I found the church nor churches’ traditional view on (LGBTQ) fit my experience of hearing the Lord speak directly to me. Science, not the church, gave me peace. How can you say my experience of still being a child of God isn’t valid?”

Ham said he would start by asking how the person heard from God: “My way of dealing with that would be to say, ‘Let’s judge what the actual written word of God says. Let’s judge what you’re saying against what it says.’

“Because I have a different worldview in relation to marriage and gender doesn’t mean I hate that person,” Ham added. “Sometimes, people accuse us of hate speech because we disagree with them. It’s a clash of worldviews. That doesn’t mean we hate someone. In fact, the Bible commands us to love everyone, and that’s what we do.”

What do you think?

From my perspective, Ham’s answer sidesteps the central point. I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, but my hunch is that anti-Ham protesters at UCO didn’t care if Ham personally hated or loved them. The real question is whether or not he wanted to take away their civic rights to marriage equality.

Extremely Mainstream

It’s uncomfortable. Listening to a high government official denounce evolutionary theory and Islam makes me nervous for the future of the USA. More important, though, it brings us back to a tough question: When is an idea “extreme?” Our answers matter, because extremism can be kicked to the curb, but strong disagreement can’t.

pruitt

Terrible? Yes. Outside the mainstream? No.

To SAGLRROILYBYGTH, this discussion will feel familiar. In recent weeks, we’ve been wondering if young-earth creationism really counts as “hate speech.” We’ve debated whether tax-funded student groups should be free to discriminate. We’ve examined the decisions of conservative Californians to shun a speaker they considered “extreme.

The details of the story this week are different, but the issue is the same. Scott Pruitt, former state senator and current head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has had some of his old laundry aired in public. In thirteen-year-old radio interviews, Director Pruitt talks about a range of issues, from science to the Second Amendment.

Is evolution really the best explanation for the diversity of species? Quoth Pruitt,

There aren’t sufficient scientific facts to establish the theory of evolution, and it deals with the origins of man, which is more from a philosophical standpoint than a scientific standpoint.

Should some kinds of guns be banned? Not according to Pruitt:

If you can tell me what gun, type of gun, I can possess, then I didn’t really get that right to keep and bear arms from God. . . . It was not bequeathed to me, it was not unalienable, right?

Is Islam a religion that deserves constitutional protection? Pruitt thinks so, but he didn’t object when one of the interviewers called Islam

not so much a religion as it is a terrorist organization in many instances.

To a person like me, those ideas are both ridiculous and frightening. Ridiculous because they articulate a vast ignorance of the history of our Constitution, of evolutionary science, and basic knowledge about Islam. Frightening, because they articulate a vision of proper government that could include radical violations of Constitutional rights and dangerous inaction concerning gun control.gallup islam

But here’s the rub. The author of a Politico article about Pruitt’s 2005 interviews denounces Pruitt’s

stances that at times are at odds with the broader American mainstream, and in some cases with accepted scientific findings. [Emphasis added.]

For starters, I won’t call attention to the goof in the article about the Supreme Court’s 1947 Everson decision. The author thinks SCOTUS ruled against tax-funded bussing for Catholic schools in that landmark case, but in fact the decision went the other way.

The real issue here is not SCOTUS history, but rather the difficult definition of “mainstream.” I’ll admit it: I’m angry about Pruitt’s views. I’m angry that someone with such opinions would be posted to the head of a scientific government agency. But that doesn’t mean that Pruitt’s ideas are out of the mainstream. When an idea is shared by a plurality of Americans, how can it possibly be out of the mainstream?gallup guns

Gallup polls, for example, indicate that more than a third of American respondents who say they are not prejudiced against Muslims still have an unfavorable view of Islam. Yes, you read that right. Of the people who say they are NOT prejudiced against Islam, 36% still say they don’t like it. Of the people who say they ARE prejudiced against Muslims, that number jumps to 91%.

Similarly, the number of Gallup’s respondents who think America needs stricter gun laws has dropped in the last three decades. In 1991, 78% of respondents wanted stricter gun laws. In 2017, that number was only 60%.

The same is true with evolution. Large majorities of Gallup respondents agree that humanity was either created recently or created by God over time. At best, mainstream evolutionary theory has captured the hearts of a small minority of Americans. It’s only “mainstream” among a small coterie of scientists.gallup creationism poll may 2017

If Director Pruitt agrees with large segments of the American population—sometimes a majority—how can his views be called “at odds with the broader American mainstream”?

The distinctions matter. If an idea is extreme, or discriminatory, or illegitimate, or non-mainstream, it seems fair to push that idea outside the boundaries of polite political or cultural discussion. If not, we have to talk about it.

Like it or not, Director Pruitt’s terrible ideas are as American as apple pie.

Can Science Oppose Heresy?

In a sense, it’s as old as Galileo. In another, though, our question today shows the uniquely modern state of our current culture-war climate. Can someone stand up for science by opposing heresy? If we really want to understand culture-war thinking, we need to make sense of the ways they can, even if we don’t agree with them.

ramm science scripture

MUST science denial be heresy?

A conservative lament about gender-bending school policy brings this question to our attention. Ideas about gender fluidity, Margot Cleveland argues, turn otherwise intelligent people into thugs and morons. In her view, insisting that young people can and should be able to identify their own genders is both “science denial and heresy.”

I don’t agree, but that’s not the main point here. More important, I want to know how any idea can do those do things at once. How can an idea—any idea—claim to be both religiously and scientifically orthodox?

For secular people like me, it seems like a contradiction, a paradox. Yet for conservative religious intellectuals, this notion has long been both obvious and vitally true.

After all, in the street-level, Bill-Nye sense of the word, “Science” can’t really care about heresy or orthodoxy. As Neil deGrasse Tyson defines it, “Science” means the opposite of such things. In his words,

Science discovers objective truths. These are not established by any seated authority, nor by any single research paper. . . . Meanwhile, personal truths are what you may hold dear, but have no real way of convincing others who disagree, except by heated argument, coercion or by force. . . . in science, conformity is anathema to success.

Before we talk about Cleveland’s claims about heresy and science, let’s acknowledge a few things to start.

  • First, for the past fifty years or so, philosophers and historians have challenged Tyson’s simplistic definition of science. One person’s voodoo might be another’s science, and so on. Fair enough.
  • And some pundits might say that Cleveland was talking about a merely coincidental agreement between her idea of religious orthodoxy and science. That is, she might be saying that religious orthodoxies about eternal, unchanging, God-assigned gender identities happen to be biologically true as well. She might only be saying people are born with a certain set of sex characteristics and it is not scientifically nor religiously true that they can change their gender identity at will.

Those things make sense to me, but they don’t get to the heart of our dilemma. The interesting question, the difficult question is whether or not heresy and science denial can really go together as a general rule.

When it comes to the questions of evolution, climate change, sexuality, and now gender identity, conservative religious thinkers have long argued that they can. Indeed, that they must. To my mind, it is this point that is most important. If secular people like me want to really understand conservative religious thinking, we need to try harder to understand this logic. To me, it seems obviously false. To many people, though, it is compelling.

It is not only fundamentalist young-earthers who have made this case. Consider the most famous creationist dissenter from young-earth thinking, Bernard Ramm. In the 1950s, Ramm shattered the complacency of fundamentalist science with his blockbuster book, The Christian View of Science and Scripture.

In some ways, Ramm’s anti-young-earth work can be said to have sparked the modern young-earth renaissance. After all, it was in furious response to Ramm that John Whitcomb Jr. penned the young-earth counter-blockbuster The Genesis Flood in 1961.

Ramm denounced young-earth fundamentalist thinking in no uncertain terms. Young-earthers, whom Ramm called the “hyperorthodox,” missed the point of both science and scripture. Ramm explained,

If the theologian teaches that the earth is the center of the solar system, or that man first appeared on the earth at 4004 BC, or that all the world was submerged under water at 4004 BC and had been for unknown millennia, he is misinterpreting Scripture and bringing Scripture into needless conflict with science.

Instead, Ramm argued religious thinkers needed to reclaim their roles as scientific leaders. Real science, decent science, productive science, Ramm insisted, needed to be guided by the “light of revelation.” Without it, science could only be either “cheap or ironical.”

What does any of this have to do with gender-identity curriculum in California or Indiana? The way I see it, we have two ways to interpret arguments like the one made by Margot Cleveland. Either she is saying that religious truth and scientific inquiry happen to agree about gender identity, or she is making the much stronger case that religious truth and scientific truth must always agree about everything.

For those of us outside the world of conservative religious thinking, this second argument is very difficult to comprehend or even to recognize. Many of us default to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s heresy-promoting vision of true science. If we want to understand our religious friends and neighbors, though, we need to understand a world in which heresy is the very heart of science denialism.

We Don’t Disagree about Evolution—We Just Hate Each Other

Why can’t we stop fighting about evolution and creationism?  As I put the final touches on my new book about American creationism, one obvious but counterintuitive point keeps presenting itself: Creationists love science and want their kids to learn evolutionary theory. So why the endless battle? This morning at Heterodox Academy, Musa Al-Gharbi makes some points about culture-war confrontation that help explain the problem.

ebenezer-exhibit

We all love science, we just hate each other.

Al-Gharbi reviews some of the literature on the futility of culture-war shouting matches. We might think a reasoned, sensible argument will convince anyone who isn’t absurdly prejudiced. It seems the opposite can be true. Studies have found that stubbornness and intractability can increase when people are moreintelligent, educated, or rhetorically skilled.”

Why? Intelligent, informed, sophisticated people are more likely to be committed to ideas and ideologies. They are more experienced at the kinds of mental gymnastics that can help justify and rationalize seemingly illogical positions.

What can be done? Al-Gharbi suggests three general suggestions for improving real communication:

#1: LOWER THE PERCEIVED STAKES OF THE DISAGREEMENT OR CONFLICT

#2: APPEAL TO YOUR INTERLOCUTOR’S OWN IDENTITY, VALUES, NARRATIVES, FRAMES OF REFERENCE WHEN POSSIBLE

#3 LEAD BY EXAMPLE. MODEL CIVILITY, FLEXIBILITY, INTELLECTUAL HUMILITY, GOOD FAITH IF YOU WANT OTHERS TO DO THE SAME

Could these suggestions help creationists and non-creationists talk to each other more productively?

Consider a few obvious points.

First of all, it may seem like a tired old idea to SAGLRROILYBYGTH, but some people out there still don’t get it. Creationists aren’t anti-science. Not even the most extreme sorts of young-earth creationists are. As we’ve seen in these pages, young-earth creationists spend millions of dollars to give their creation museums the look, feel, and intellectual heft of mainstream science museums.

And, as trenchant critics Bill and Sue Trollinger point out, the Creation Museum doesn’t oppose science. To the contrary, the creationists at Answers In Genesis took pains to create something that looks like a “cutting-edge, state-of-the-art natural history museum.” In Kentucky, at least, radical creationists might not agree with me about the definition of good science, but they definitely love science itself.

righting america at the creation museum

We don’t have to agree with creationism to do a better job of understanding it.

Even when it comes to the science of mainstream evolutionary theory, creationists and non-creationists agree on big questions. Here at ILYBYGTH, we’ve heard from creationist homeschool moms who read Richard Dawkins to help teach their kids about evolution. And we’ve noticed ardent Texas creationists who want schoolkids to read the latest evolutionary science.

If we all want the same things—though maybe for different reasons—why do we keep fighting about evolution?

At least in part, we non-creationists need to take a good hard look in the mirror and see if we’ve been following Al-Gharbi’s advice. Have we tried to lower the perceived stakes of our conflict? Have we tried to really understand creationism and creationists? And have we spoken civilly and humbly to our creationist neighbors?

Too often, the answer is an angry no.

Consider just a few of the most famous examples.

Our most famous evolution mavens tend to speak angrily and ignorantly about creationism. They tend to do what they can to increase the stakes of our disagreements.

Richard Dawkins, for example, repeatedly blasts creationists as nothing but ignoramuses or worse. He tells anyone who listens that a profound understanding of modern evolutionary theory is the best way to cure religious people of their “god delusion.” As he promised about his book of that title, “religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

It’s hard to imagine a better way to raise the perceived stakes in our creation/evolution disagreements than to insult all creationists and promise that evolutionary theory will lead them to atheism.

It’s not just the irascible Dawkins, though. The friendlier Science Guy Bill Nye also tends to muff his chances at better communication. In his recent book Undeniable, for example, Nye lambastes creationists as people “casting doubt on science and unbelievers.”

As we’ve seen, though, creationists love science. It’s the unbelievers they’re chary about.

What’s the takeaway here? When it comes to our creation/evolution battles, those of us who want more and better evolution education will be wise to avoid these sorts of unnecessary and unhelpful blunders. We should work hard to understand creationism better. We should try to build on our vast areas of agreement instead of focusing on the things we won’t agree about. And we should avoid preaching to our own choir with gratuitous and inaccurate insults of our creationist neighbors and friends.