The Creationist Debate We Really Need

Finally! I hope Pat Robertson takes him up on it. Far more than the meaningless 2014 debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, a face-to-face discussion between different types of Christian creationists would pack a lot of punch.

Ham v robertsonHere’s what we know: As he has done in the past, aged Christian culture warrior Pat Robertson has publicly mocked young-earth creationism. On his apparently-still-a-thing TV show 700 Club, Robertson offered the following tidbit,

You know, this universe that we live in is about 14 billion years old and there’s no question about it. . . . And we have tremendous geological records and all the rest of it. And that 6,000-year stuff just doesn’t compute. But we, as Christians, we need to know the truth.

Robertson has also put his college where his creationism is. He has added a course in anti-young-earth-creationism for students at his Regent University. Is he still a creationist? Absolutely! Is he still conservative? Definitely! And does he oppose the idea that “real” Christians need to shut themselves off from modern science? Yes he does.

And that’s why Robertson’s version of creationism is such a deadly threat to radical young-earthers like Ken Ham. And Ham knows it.

So this morning Ken Ham challenged Pat Robertson to an intra-creationist debate. To this non-creationist observer, it seems like a much more important kind of debate than the one between Ham and Nye.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH will recall, back in 2014 both Ken Ham and Bill Nye could afford to be affable and courteous. Neither of them had much chance of convincing people on the other side of the issue. That is, Ham’s young-earth creationists weren’t likely to be suddenly converted to a secular scientific mindset. And Nye’s “Science Guy” fans were not about to become radical young-earth creationists.

bill-nye-ken-ham-debate-wide

Snooze-a-riffic.

A Ham/Robertson debate would be much different. As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism (stay tuned for exciting news on that front soon), the real trench lines in America’s long culture war about creationism are not between secular Science Guys and radical young-earth creationists. Rather, the most bitter fights are between different types of Christian creationists, fighting to establish their specific vision of creationism as The Real Christian position.

That’s why Ken Ham is so terrified of Pat Robertson. Any credible conservative evangelical has the chance to steal Ham’s creationist followers. In the past, you may recall, Ham flatly refused to even meet with the conservative evangelical creationists at BioLogos.

Why? Because unlike Bill Nye, competing Christian creationists speak the same language as Ken Ham. They value the same Biblical precepts. They cherish the same theological commitments. If conservative Christians hear from competing creationists, they might realize that the young-earth emperor doesn’t really wear any clothes.

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Attention: Fellow Cheapskates!

Good news: if you’ve been waiting for the right time to acquire your copy of Fundamentalist U, wait no longer!

fundamentalist u cheap

These prices can’t last…

I can’t pretend to understand the logarithmic mysteries of Amazon.com, but it seems like they drop the price everytime they come close to selling out their latest batch.

Sales have been brisk, so right now they have dropped the price to a measly $12.25. You can’t even get in to see Endgame for that! So grab your copy while the grabbin’s good!

Long Island School of Doom

HT: SB

More proof: The suburbs are eating our children. It’s another terrible school-shooting story, this time from Long Island, New York. And this one has a twist that has me feeling distressed and mystified. What does this story tell us about the nature of American school and American childhood?

connetquot cache

What the cops found. Might they have found this is a thousand teenage bedrooms?

Here’s what we know. According to the local newspaper, three students at Connetquot High School in Bohemia, New York had plans to blow up their school. The kids were overheard making plans on the bus. When police searched their homes and lockers, they found a bunch of stuff, including

two laptops, three BB guns, a homemade ax and books about serial killers and forensics, along with “The Anarchist Cookbook,” which includes bomb-making instructions.

Now, I have to admit I am deeply biased. When I was a sulky suburban teen, I also owned a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook. I probably owned books about serial killers. If I could have I would have loved to own a BB gun. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I saw it as a kind of joke, nothing more.

The authorities in Bohemia weren’t predisposed to laugh it off. The kids were charged with felony conspiracy charges.

An alarming story, no? But here’s the kicker. This same high school has been the target of two more student attacks over the years. Back in 2010, two students attempted to buy guns and make bombs, presumably with a plan to destroy the school. One of the students, Christopher Franko, received a three-to-nine-year sentence.

Back in 2007, two students were arrested for planning a Columbine-style shooting spree at the very same school.

We’ve got to ask: What the hell is going on at Connetquot High School? These are students who have it all, relatively speaking. They are attending a nice school in a nice neighborhood with plenty of green grass and fresh air.

Yet instead of growing up healthy and happy, these Long Island teens keep wanting only to blow the whole thing sky high. What gives? Why do even privileged children of America—some of them, at least—feel such a deep and abiding violent resentment of the friendly school that Bohemia ‘shaped, made aware,/ Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam’?

I don’t think we can take bitter comfort that this teen violence is somehow restricted to Bohemia, New York. After all, the Connetquot shooters were merely copying generations of bomb-throwing schemes among privileged American youth.

So we have to ask the tougher version of the question: Is this town somehow merely the epitome of suburban teenage angst? Is there something rancid buried in the heart of the American suburban dream that is festering in the souls of its comfortable youth?

Gay Trump Card

Okay, folks, here’s another head-scratcher from the world of America’s educational culture wars. SAGLROILYBYGTH have probably already seen the latest expose of James Manning’s ATLAH school. So here’s the puzzle for this morning: In spite of long efforts on the Left to combat racism, is it really only on the fundamentalist Right that the war on racism has been won? Where white and black fundamentalists agree on the meanings of race and racism? I don’t know what to think.

manning atlah

Westboro, NYC.

First, a little background: If you haven’t seen the HuffPost expose, it’s worth your time. Pastor James Manning has attracted attention in the past for his fervent and ferocious anti-LBGTQ views. He made wild accusations that Starbucks was infusing lattes with semen. His church sign went into full Westboro mode at times, proclaiming “Jesus would stone homos” and “Obama is a Muslim. Muslims hate fags. They throw fags off buildings.”

Now Manning is facing accusations of abuse of his students and congregants. According to the HuffPost article, Manning locked a student in a dark basement, used sexually suggestive language with minors, and clamped down viciously on any murmur of dissent in his school and congregation.

The recent expose leaves lots of big questions unexamined. Most telling, the racial ideology/theology of Pastor Manning throws a monkey wrench into any simple culture-war divisions. For instance, according to HuffPost, his school uses both A Beka and Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) materials. ACE, at least, has been credibly outed as a congenitally racist and white supremacist outfit.

ACE MLK

What do white fundamentalist think about race and racism?

One might think that Manning simply didn’t care about the entrenched racist attitudes in the ACE materials because he was looking for fundamentalist schoolbooks and couldn’t find any that weren’t racist.

Maybe.

In other publications, though, Pastor Manning has insisted on some non-conventional racial attitudes. He furiously attacked President Obama. And in the clip below, he insists,

Not only am I not an African American, but I’m not a black man.

[Warning: Video below contains extremely offensive racial language.]

I don’t want to jump to too many conclusions, but I can’t help but wonder if Manning’s outside-the-box racial ideology makes him generally comfortable with the racial ideology of the Accelerated Christian Education materials. After all, fundamentalist curricular materials talk about more than just race.

When it comes to student learning and behavior, for example, Manning’s school touts its “memory/articulation/discipline” approach. It is a traditional approach that comports nicely with the classroom ideology of A Beka Book. As one of A Beka’s promoters promised, A Beka materials do more than just teach facts. At an A Beka school, one leader promised,

You learn the Bible.

You learn that God created.

You learn the worth of your soul.

You master the three R’s and other subjects.

You sit up straight and pay attention.

You learn that it is right not to cheat.

You learn to recite when called upon.

You learn honor and respect for your parents.
You learn respect for authority.

You learn that a man’s word is his bond.

You learn that a job worth doing is worth doing well.

You learn personal initiative.

You develop pride in America.

You learn that the free enterprise system is still the best system.

You learn that competition is healthy.

The goal of a school like this, according to A. A. “Buzz” Baker, is not only to teach a few fundamental religious truths. Rather, a good fundamentalist school will bundle those religious facts into a deeply conservative view of life and learning.

To this reader, Manning’s radically traditionalist, violently anti-LGBTQ school fits perfectly into this fundamentalist educational attitude. At first, we might think that the rest of the fundamentalist package—anti-gay, pro-discipline, pro-memorization, pro-Bible—allows African-American conservatives to overlook the racist component of fundamentalist textbooks.

I think the truth is more complicated than that. In the case of ATLAH schools, at least, the racial ideology/theology of white fundamentalism has leaped over the color line. In this one case, at least, both white and black fundamentalists embrace similar notions of race in these United States. I don’t think those notions are healthy, but like violent anti-LBGTQ rhetoric, they seem to have been taken to heart in some surprising quarters.

The Man Who Will Make Elizabeth Warren President

I haven’t heard her say it and I can’t figure out why not. Senator Warren’s campaign promise of free college for all has a long and successful history in these United States and you’d think she’d be crowing about that. As historians are well aware, “free college” is far older than the Charleston and filtered cigarettes.

Here’s the scoop: You’ve heard Senator Warren’s plan for free college tuition and diminished student-loan debt. You may have heard that this kind of plan is nothing new. As William J. Reese pointed out in The Origins of the American High School (Yale UP, 1995), in the 1800s Americans faced a dilemma that feels familiar to us today. Reformers weren’t sure what to do about high schools, the “people’s” college. Back then, very few young people attended high schools, but those who did could use their diplomas to give their careers a boost.

At the time, high schools were generally paid for with a mix of public and private funding. Students often paid tuition but the schools usually also received some money from local and state governments.

Baltimore High School Reese

People were willing to pay for it back then.

Sound familiar?

Reformers back then successfully lobbied for greater public funding and greater government oversight and control. Senator Warren would be wise to depict her plan as an heir to this storied American tradition. She could deflect a lot of criticism using tried-and-true political strategy.

For example, according to Business Insider, some folks oppose Warren’s plan as elitist and expensive. As BI reports,

Critics of Warren’s plans argue that free college and debt forgiveness would force taxpayers, most of whom don’t have college degrees, to fund the education of students from wealthy families.

We’ve been down this road before. As Prof. Reese noted, these same criticisms came up in the 1800s. The problems back then were all negotiable. For example, in 1866, the high school in New Haven, Connecticut dropped its Greek curriculum because lower-income voters saw it as an unnecessary frill, a sop to Yale-bound richies.

Overall, though, free (people’s) college became an accepted part of America’s public-school system. There’s no reason why Senator Warren can’t learn from the long history. She should give Prof. Reese a call.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Still getting snow up around here, but May is just around the corner. The weather wasn’t the only wild thing this past week. Here are a few of the stories from the interwebs that captured our attention in the past seven days:

I didn’t say what I said: Trump’s NRA speech fact-checked by NYT.

god guns trump

Make Buttons Great Again…

Michael Ruse on “Darwinian existentialism,” at HNN.

Darwin did not disprove God. When he wrote his great Origin of Species, 1859, he still believed in a deistic god, a god of unbroken law.  But he made it possible not to believe in God and to be, in the words of Richard Dawkins, a “fulfilled atheist.” More importantly, Darwin suggested that the deity is like the common perception of the God of Job, indifferent to our fate.

Unintended consequences: San Francisco’s deseg plans makes schools more segregated, at NYT.

You really didn’t do the reading. But you’re not alone. At CHE, an analysis of college-student reading and a prescription to improve it.

Women and the Christian Right: An excerpt from Emily Johnson’s new book at R&P.

Professor Coyne makes the case: Secular humanism is not a religion. At Quillette.

the absence of evidence is indeed evidence for absence if the evidence should have been there. That’s why most of us are confident that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist. The same should go for most religious truth claims.

How has the religious composition of the major political parties changed since 1978? Great charts from RIP.RIP dems change

Houston high school enacts dress code…for parents. From AP.

“No one can enter the building or be on the school premises wearing a satin cap or bonnet on their head for any reason,” Principal Carlotta Outley Brown said in a letter to parents dated April 9. “You also cannot wear a shower cap of any kind in the building.”

Let em debate: A conservative case for free conservative speech at NR.

High-school artist takes heat for her painting, at IME.

trump nope

Acceptable student art?

 

Why Would Conservatives Want to Turn This Into a Religious Thing?

Not to beat a dead horse here, but I’m truly perplexed. During the long long hours I spent yesterday watching Endgame, I couldn’t stop thinking about our recent discussion. David French and other intelligent conservatives want to insist that America’s culture wars are primarily “a religious dispute.” I disagree, but the real question is this: Why do conservatives want to say that they are? The answer seems obvious to me, but maybe I’m missing something.

 

Here’s a little background: In his argument for free campus speech, French made the following assertion:

It’s time to recognize the American culture war for what it is — a religious dispute — and incorporate it into America’s existing religious pluralism.

As strategy, I get it. If conservative ideas are a religious imperative, they will get more respect. If culture wars are religious disputes, then both sides should get equal status, at least from the perspective of the government. But as an intellectually coherent way to understand America’s culture wars, I don’t get it. Lots of people share religious ideas yet find themselves on opposite sides of culture-war issues such as race, gender, and sexuality.

One sharp reader offered a better defense than French did. As PH put it,

we are certainly talking about competing ideas and systems of ethical and metaphysical values, beliefs, and commitments concerning the nature of reality, the basis for human flourishing, and ideal social norms. These are ideas based on faith as much as they are on reason or science. Personally, I think “religious” is a pretty good word for that, even if we’re not talking about formal organized religious groups or particular theological traditions.

The way I see it, though, people who share the same religion still disagree about key culture-war issues. For proof, we don’t need to look any further than the Veep’s office. Does Mike Pence represent conservative evangelical Protestantism? The community of Taylor University says both yes and no. And, as I argued recently in WaPo about Karen Pence’s lame defense of her anti-LGBTQ school, there is not a single, undisputed “orthodox” rule about proper social policy for LGBTQ people. Plenty of conservative evangelical Protestants are plenty “orthodox,” yet they disagree with the Pences on these issues.

So to me, it seems achingly obvious why some conservatives might want to redefine political disagreements as religious ones: For at least half a century now, politically conservative people have tried to insist that only their politically conservative version of religion is the true version of religion. They have argued that people who disagree with them cannot possibly be true Christians or Muslims or whatever.

is segregation scriptural

There was more than theology at play then, and there is now…

If real, “orthodox” Christianity insists on racial segregation, for example, as Bob Jones Sr. famously argued in 1960, then the US government has no right to demur. If real, “orthodox” Christianity requires belief in a literal six-day flood and a recent creation of humanity, for example, as Ken Ham famously argues today, then evangelicals have no business questioning it.

Just like questions of LGBTQ rights, however, neither of those ideas are really as simple as conservatives like to think. Debates about them divide people who share the same religious backgrounds. The cultural battles over racism, creationism, and sexuality are not battles between people who have different religions. They are fiercest between people who SHARE religious ideas but have different ideas about public policy.

So are America’s culture wars “a religious dispute?” Only if we use a tortuous definition of the phrase. To say that conservative positions on sexuality, race, or gender are just being “orthodox” only makes sense as a political strategy. As an actual description of the divides we face on such issues, it doesn’t help at all.

Conservatives Should Be Nervous About This

I’m no conservative, but if I were I wouldn’t be celebrating this recent essay by David French. I’d be quaking in my penny loafers. If we’ve learned nothing else from the history of the culture wars, it’s that this kind of talk heralds the bitter end.

Here’s what we’re talking about: In the pages of National Review this week, conservative pundit David French made the case for freer conservative speech on college campuses. He decried the tactic used by progressive students to declare conservatives beyond the pale of civil discourse. Too often, French lamented, aggressive progressives freeze out any conservative challenge by labeling it “dehumanizing.”

As French puts it,

An atmosphere that is devoid of truly meaningful debate is one that is more likely to give birth to bankrupt ideas. And the woke progressive monocultures in quarters of academia and Silicon Valley have advanced and protected both the idea that speech is violence and the idea that disagreement is dehumanizing — especially when disagreement touches on matters of race, gender, and sexuality.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are aware, I’m no conservative myself, yet I’m on the record as agreeing with French that college campuses should welcome real culture-war debates. If I were a conservative, though, I would be terrified to hear French talking this way. If I knew my culture-war history, I’d know that this line of argument is always a memorial to a battle lost long ago.

Consider the case of creationism in public schools. A hundred years ago (ish), at the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, the defenders of evolution education pleaded with America to allow evolution to be heard. As lead attorney Dudley Field Malone made his case,

For God’s sake let the children have their minds kept open — close no doors to their knowledge; shut no door from them. Make the distinction between theology and science. Let them have both. Let them both be taught. Let them both live….

It was a desperate argument for a losing side. Evolution education was not popular in 1920s America, at least not in places such as Dayton, Tennessee. As I discovered in the research for my first book, anti-evolution laws were usually only the sharp point of a much vaster campaign to impose theocratic rule on America’s public schools.

Fast forward seventy years, and the argument had switched sides. By the 1990s, it was the radical creationists who were pleading to have children’s minds kept open. They made their case for inclusion because by the 1990s creationists were just as desperate as Dudley Field Malone was in the 1920s. In 1995, arch-creationist Duane Gish told crowds it was now the creationists who were frozen out. Gish insisted he only wanted to fight against the “bigotry” of excluding creationism.

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

What does any of this have to do with David French? A lot. Evolution-lovers like Dudley Field Malone only pleaded for inclusion when they were frozen out. Radical creationists like Duane Gish only begged for inclusion when they had already decisively lost the creationism culture war. By the 1990s, Gish’s brand of young-earth creationism had already become a relic of an imagined fundamentalist past, a fossilized idea that no longer had any real chance of returning to its spot in the American mainstream. It was still popular in fundamentalist pockets, but it had zero chance of returning to its former glories in the Princetons and Harvards of these United States.

If I were a conservative, I’d worry that French’s let-me-in rhetoric heralds the same sorry state for his outdated ideas about sexuality, gender, and race. Don’t get me wrong: I think there are strong conservative arguments that can be made in favor of greater inclusion of traditional sexual norms, but French ain’t making em.

The idea that traditional gender ideas should be included because all ideas should be included won’t convince anyone. Moreover, the fact that French feels obliged to make this case shows how desperate he is. If I were a conservative, these kinds of arguments would make me very nervous about the current state of conservatism in America.

The Conservative/Christian Coalition Gets Weird…

You scratch my back, I’ll…erm…pretend I didn’t just see that dinosaur on Noah’s Ark. It’s not news that more-secular conservatives have long paired up awkwardly with Christian conservatives. With T-Diddy in the White House, though, things seem to be reaching a crescendo of ultimate weirdness. A couple of recent news stories underline the contortions that both sides have to go through to make America great again.

PRRI-Trump-Favorability-and-white-evangelicals-2015-2018-1-1024x683

Fox n Friends strategist: Who’da Thunk We’d Be Hanging out with Dinosaurs for this…?

First of all, let’s clear the air of a few stubborn misconceptions. As we’ve pointed out over and overSAGLRROILYBYGTH are likely tired of hearing it—there’s absolutely nothing “new” about the idea of conservative evangelicals getting involved in politics. The so-called “New Christian Right” of the 1970s was not the first time that evangelicals decided to jump into the political fray. As historians such as Daniel K. Williams, Matthew Avery Sutton, and yours truly have argued for years, evangelical Protestants have always been politically hyperactive.

As any historian knows—and any savvy evangelical could tell you—the evangelical community has always included political conservatives, political progressives, and a bunch of people in the political middle. The emergence of the “New Christian Right” was not a question of evangelicals getting into politics for the first time, but rather an always-awkward alliance between politically conservative evangelicals and the conservatives within the Republican Party.

Having said that, let’s look at some of the recent unpleasantness. At evangelical Taylor University in Indiana, for example (see our further coverage here), Vice President Mike Pence has caused a furor over his invitation to deliver a commencement address. Politically progressive members of the Taylor community have protested.

Not surprisingly, non-evangelical conservatives have weighed in to support the university’s decision. Non-evangelical conservatives have highlighted the justice of the conservative evangelical side at Taylor. For example, Fox & Friends tracked down a politically conservative alumnus of Taylor, who told them,

The vice president has very orthodox Christian beliefs – very traditional beliefs – that a vast majority of Christians believe. His political views are shared by a large section of America, so it’s not a radical choice, and I think people should be able to engage and disagree with his views and do it in a mature fashion.

The conservative PJ Media concluded,

Sadly, this incident illustrates yet again the trend of liberals demonizing dissent from their ideas. Conservative speech is not violence, and Mike Pence is not “rooted in hate.”

It’s no surprise that secular conservatives would jump in to side with evangelical conservatives at Taylor. After all, secular progressives have done the same thing for the anti-Pence side. Things get a little weirder, though, on a different episode of Fox & Friends.

fox n friends at the ark encounter

just…wow!

One of the F&F hosts, Todd Piro, goes on a tour of Answers In Genesis’ Ark Encounter. With a straight face, so to speak, the F&F segment shows the creationist megalith in all its zombie-science glory. The camera pans over dinosaurs in cages. Piro interviews visitors who sincerely praise the displays. As one earnest youth explains,

Not only did it give you the Biblical side, but it gave you a lot of scientific facts.

In his introduction, Piro says the Ark is just… “Wow!”

Not, ‘Wow, do you really believe that dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans?’

Not, ‘Wow, do you really believe that a flood could have actually covered the entire planet?’

But, ‘Wow, this is a neat museum, full of learnin n stuff.’

Now, I’m no conservative, but I can understand perfectly well why non-evangelical conservatives would fall all over themselves to support Taylor’s conservative evangelicals. After all, both evangelical and non-evangelical conservatives can agree on their opposition to LGBTQ rights.

But I’m truly flabbergasted when I see non-evangelical reporters describing the Ark Encounter as if it were just another neat museum. How is it possible for anyone who is not themselves a radical young-earth creationist to see the Flintstones-level scientific displays and not ask about them? How is it possible that any journalist can see dinosaurs in cages and not wonder how they count as “scientific facts”?

Watching Piro sugar-coat the radical science on display at the Ark Encounter, one can almost hear the political calculations going on in the offices of Fox & Friends. We can almost hear the implicit deal non-evangelicals want to cut with evangelical conservatives. “You give us a solid 81% vote for T-Diddy,” we can hear them thinking, “You give us university commencement speeches for Pence, and we’ll give you a cake-walk visit to your kooky Bible-science museum and a stirring defense of your stubborn resistance to LGBTQ rights.”

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Even with big holidays, this was a humdinger of a week. Pence commencement, tortured homeschoolers, and, yes, the progressives come out against Buttigieg’s progressive Christianity:

This week’s special: More proof—no one knows how to draw the line between church, state, and school.

For the Easter season: History’s other victims of crucifixion, at H&H.

A progressive voice speaks out against Buttigieg’s progressive Christianity, at FA.

once the satisfying adrenalin rush subsides, we need to ask ourselves if this is really where we want to take the American political dialogue. Arguing over how to define a “real” Christian might have its place — in churches and homes — but not at the top level of policy-making.

More from Taylor as the Pence parade comes to town:

dino at ark encounter

Vote Pence 2020!

A new route to school segregation: Wealthy areas splitting off to form their own school districts, at EW.

What’s wrong with leasing? At FPR.

to the extent that we can practice it virtuously, ownership can result in a greater investment in society and considerable potential for self-development. We should not give it up so easily. In a leased reality we are less aware of our limits and more subject to the winds of economic change and the whims of corporations.

Erm…Fox & Friends goes full creationist with a happy visit to Ark Encounter.