Creating Jobs

Is it worth it? Ken Ham says heavens yes. John Oliver says hell no. This week on Last Week Tonight (5:42-8:12) Oliver rips into tax incentive schemes in general, and the Kentucky uber-creationist Ark Encounter project in particular.

 

Oliver’s accusations aren’t new. Critics such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have long criticized Kentucky’s willingness to forego sales tax revenue as part of an incentive program for the huge Ark project.

After all, as AU points out, Kentucky’s goal is the creation of “jobs, jobs, jobs.” To work at Ark Encounter, though, potential employees must be conservative evangelical Christians. And not just any sort of evangelical. They have to embrace Answers In Genesis’s specific vision of true creationism. They are encouraged to love non-fundamentalist Christians, but they must agree that all non-fundamentalists are going to hell forever. Ark employees can’t be gay. And if they’re single, they must agree to a chastity clause in their contracts. AU thinks such beliefs should never be supported with tax incentives.

John Oliver, as always, is more interested in zingers. As he points out, Ark Encounter includes some stuff that is just pure wackiness, such as a section devoted to the question of manure. Where did all the poop go?

Moreover, Oliver skewers the notion of signing a chastity pledge when the entire purpose of the Ark was to encourage sex, sex, sex, among the animals. As Oliver puts it, they didn’t get on the Ark two-by-two so that every animal would have a “swim buddy.” I’m too embarrassed to repeat Oliver’s most hilarious name for the Ark (it rhymes with “duck boat”), but if you watch to the end of his clip you’ll see how he ties together the Ark Encounter, the Entourage movie, zebras drowning in feces, and masturbation.

It’s hilarious, but it raises important questions. Should religious groups enjoy tax privileges? Ken Ham’s answer is that saying no would be pure discrimination. He points out that his group is not receiving any money from the state, but is rather simply not paying some taxes that would never have been paid in the first place if he didn’t bring hordes of creationist tourists to the area.

Oliver says no. He thinks ALL tax-incentive programs need to be held to higher standards.

Americans United says no, too, but for different reasons. They argue that tax money and tax incentives should not be allowed to fuel divisive, sectarian religious programs.

What do you think? Should creationists be allowed to profit from tax programs that other groups use? Or should tax incentives be restricted to less-controversial organizations?

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Florida Christians Speak Up for Satan

Have you seen them? Conservative religious folks these days like to push new school laws that would protect students’ rights to be religious in public schools. And it has led to some pretty odd bedfellows.

These laws, often called Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Acts, generally insist that students can’t be stopped from expressing their religious ideas in class assignments and school activities. Several states have passed or considered similar bills.

No one disagrees that students in public schools have every right to be religious. They can pray, wear religious symbols, and join religious clubs. These bills want to take those rights one step further. If cheerleaders in Texas want to hold up Bible-based placards, for example, these laws would protect their rights to do that. If valedictorians in Tennessee want to lead a prayer at graduation, these laws say that’s okay.

On my recent trip to sunny Gainesville, Florida, some of the edu-gators (ha) were talking about a similar new bill in Florida. The state Senate just approved it, and the House will be voting next week.

Opponents are dismayed. One high-school biology teacher worried that this bill would smash any protections against religious preaching in public schools. “Does this mean,” he asked,

That a teacher or school personnel can then talk about stuff like the age of the Earth and evolution from a religious perspective, and if someone was to try to counsel them not to do that, would that be discrimination against the teacher?

Americans United for Separation of Church and State shared similar worries.  As they argued,

A student, for example, could use every assignment that includes a class presentation as an opportunity to convince any non-believers in the class that they need to accept Jesus to achieve salvation. Alternatively, students in science classes could try to turn every class discussion into a debate about evolution vs. creationism.

Supporters of Florida’s bill put it in a different light. Senate sponsor Dennis Baxley said his bill “protects everybody.” He was especially concerned about students such as Erin Shead.  As SAGLRROILYBYGTH* may recall, ten-year-old Erin was asked to write about her hero. She picked God. Her teacher asked her to pick someone else.

In Florida, and around the country, conservative Christians are pushing these types of laws in order to clarify Erin’s right to admire God in class. But the Florida debate is producing some weird rhetoric. The selling point of these bills—at least one of them—is that they are not meant to push Christianity, but rather to protect students’ rights to practice any religion.

And one Florida activist isn’t shy about spelling out what that means. Pam Olsen of the Florida Prayer Network told Florida lawmakers that the bill wasn’t just a Christian power play. Everyone, she insisted, would be protected. As she put it,

That means Christian, it means Muslim, it means Jewish, it means the Satanic people. Because that is a religion now.

Okay, so, hrmmmmm…I can’t help but wonder what would happen if a group of Satanists really did speak out in favor of this law. Or if a group of Satanist students started a “prayer circle” at their local Florida public school.

Would the Florida Prayer Network support them?

*Sophisticated and Good-Looking Regular Readers of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell, of course.

 

What Does School Look Like in Christian America?

Talking about education in general is like talking about sex in general. There are a few things that are usually true, but it’s only interesting once you get down to specific cases. A recent article in the Kokomo [Indiana] Tribune gives us a look at the way evangelical Christianity still dominates the public schools of Greenwood, Indiana. As tempting as it might be for pundits to say that the Supreme Court kicked God out of public schools in 1963, in reality God is still very much a fact of life in many American schools.

We need to remember, though, that this is not simply a time warp. A public school run by conservative evangelical Protestants today is profoundly different from the way that kind of school would have been fifty years ago, or a hundred years ago.

In Greenwood, it seems, the public schools are not just friendly to evangelical Protestantism. They are dominated by it. The Bible class, for example, is taught by the gregarious and popular Peter Heck. As the article notes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching classes about the Bible in public schools. Constitutionally, the courses need to be taught about the Bible as an historical and literary document. They should not be taught devotionally, as a way for students to deepen their Christian faith.

What the Heck is going on here?

What the Heck is going on here?

Heck’s class seems to do the latter. On the day the reporter went in to observe, students were learning how to use the Book of Judges to consider ways that God could use anyone to accomplish His goals. The watchdog group Americans for the Separation of Church and State charged that Heck’s conservative religion influenced the message in his classroom. On his radio show, Heck blasted President Obama and articulated his support for the conservative group American Family Association.

If Heck allowed his conservative Christian activism to influence his teaching, he was not the only one. Karol Evenson told the Kokomo Tribune that she used the school’s Christmas pageant to help spread the Gospel. When she’s teaching about the birth of Christ, Evenson told the newspaper,

I just get real passionate about that when I’m teaching it, so it allows me to share things. A lot of times, I tell the kids, ‘I’m not asking you to believe, I’m hoping that you do and that you will, but I’m trying to get you to feel the music and what we’re singing about.’ A lot of the kids here do believe it, so when they are singing those pieces, it’s such a blessing for me.

At the highest levels, too, the district supports this sort of religious infusion in the classroom. Superintendent Tracy Caddell denied that the Greenwood schools taught any religious doctrine. But he admitted that he saw the teaching staff as

a community of Christians who also are teachers and educators, and I don’t think any of us leave our faith at the door because the bell rings. . . . Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and that doesn’t stop just because the school bell rings. . . . As a leader, I’m hoping that we’re promoting what people would call Christian values. However, we’re not promoting or teaching Christian doctrine. There’s a big difference.

As Professor Mark Chancey found in his study of Bible classes in Texas, this sort of attitude is not uncommon in America’s public schools. Nor is this new. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision in Abington v. Schempp (1963), in which prayer and Bible reading had supposedly been ruled unconstitutional in American public schools, political scientists Kenneth Dolbeare and Phillip Hammond found that many schools simply continued with their traditional prayers.

Depending on where you go to school, it seems, you might just get a dose of religion as part of your public-school day. Yet things have changed in the past fifty years. Back in 1963, I doubt the teachers and superintendents in towns like Greenwood would bother to say that they did not teach Christian doctrine. Back then, it is likely that a school like Greenwood High would not think twice about teaching Christian values.

Does that matter? I think it does. Fifty years ago, in places like Greenwood, the Bible teacher would not have the same pugnacious spirit as Peter Heck has today. On his radio show, it seems, Heck not only speaks from the perspective of a conservative evangelical Protestant, but assumes that his values are under attack. In his first book, Heck argues that “Christians Can Save America.”

Similarly, Greenwood’s superintendent acknowledged that his district flouted some of the norms of today’s secular culture. “Over time,” Superintendent Caddell told the Kokomo reporter,

we’ve gotten so worried about political correctness in this country that people have not had the opportunity to feel comfortable being a Christian in a public school. I think that’s sad, because that’s who you are.

The conservative Christians running public schools in Greenwood, Indiana—like Christians who do similar things in other American schools—are not simply trapped in the past. As I argue in my new book, in order to understand American education, we need to understand the ways conservative attitudes have shifted over the generations.

In Greenwood, at least, conservative school leaders understand that they are doing something outside of the norms. They just disagree with those norms.

Jesus vs. Koch Bros. in Kansas

So…what IS the matter with Kansas? Last week in the Guardian, Sarah Smarsh offered a mistaken look at the way big money and big religion work together to erode public education in the Sunflower State.

The way Smarsh describes it, “extremist Christians” have been fooled into working with “fundamentalist capitalists.” They both want to privatize public schools, but for different reasons. Her article underestimates and misunderstands the long tradition of American conservatism. New histories, including my new book on educational conservatism in the twentieth century, have laid out the long roots of deep organic connections between religious conservatives and free-market conservatives.

Smarsh describes current education policy in Kansas as dictated from “that ancient place where the religious and the greedy mingle.” As she puts it,

Today, the religious right and wealthy free-marketeers both long to privatize a system that educates 50 million students, but for different reasons. One wants to make 50 million Christians; the other, 50 million paying customers.

As Smarsh explains, at its root this alliance of religion with capitalism results from a cynical conspiracy among the big-money folks. She quotes Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

The unholy union, he told me by phone from his Washington office, begins with the money holders. “They look at the shock troops of the religious right, and they think, ‘How can we tap into that power? How can we get them to endorse our agenda of privatization?” Boston theorized. In matters of public education, which the religious right finds distasteful along moral lines, “they’re already more than halfway there.”

In reality, according to Boston, big-money folks like the Koch brothers don’t care about Jesus. They only want to get their paws on the public-school sector to weaken the influence of the government and strengthen private business.

I’m no Koch fan. Nor am I a conservative Christian. I do indeed find it believable that some big-money types have hoped to co-opt religious conservatives to get their votes. But to say that the alliance of conservative Christians with big-business is some sort of elaborate scam does not fit the facts.

Right fools left...

Right fools left…

Just as Thomas Frank’s popular book What’s the Matter with Kansas did a decade ago, Smarsh’s argument resolves puzzling situations by resorting to conspiratorial explanations. Frank argued, roughly, that conservative schemers managed to convince working-class voters to vote Republican by waving the bloody shirt of abortion and gay rights. In essence, conservative strategists fooled people into voting against their own economic interests by emphasizing culture-war hot-button issues.

In Frank’s argument, conservative voters come off as dupes, conned into voting for Kansas Republicans because of an irrational attachment to pro-life ideas. Smarsh makes similar implications. Big business free-marketeers manipulate conservative Christians into fighting against public education, in this line of argument.

Let me be as clear as I can be: I don’t doubt that some libertarian business folks might HOPE to enact such a scheme, but the notion that conservative Christians are somehow rustic pawns of a corporate megalith are far too simplistic and Manichean.

Folks like Smarsh and Frank (and me, to be fair) have a hard time understanding how conservative Christians could support privatization, so they (we) jump to a false conclusion that big business has somehow fooled religious conservatives.

More careful historical treatments have noted the far more complicated connections between big business and evangelical Christianity. Kim Phillips-Fein, for example, looked at the roots of business conservatism in her 2009 book Invisible Hands. Phillips-Fein is certainly no fan of big business, but she describes the way industry leaders such as J. Howard Pew of Sun Oil dedicated much of their fortune to promoting evangelical Protestantism. This was more than a scheme or a scam. It was a long-term effort to promote conservative Christianity and big-business. It was an effort to bring both together for the good of both.

...or does it?

…or does it?

As I’ve found, too, many religious conservatives have embraced big business for reasons that Smarsh and Frank don’t seem to understand. Many religious conservatives have not been fooled into supporting capitalism, but rather see capitalism as an inherent part of their American Christian tradition.

In educational conservatism, at least, the deep organic connections between Jesus and capitalism were not imposed by any move of the sinister Koch brothers. Rather, religious conservatives themselves have long insisted that schools must teach both capitalism and Protestantism. Even a cursory familiarity with the writings of leading conservative activists will make these connections clear.

For instance, in a description of the decades-long educational activism of Mel and Norma Gabler, biographer Jim Hefley connected the dots (emphasis added):

The Gablers also began to grasp progressive education’s grand scheme to change America. They understood why the new history, economics, and social study texts trumpeted Big Brother government, welfarism, and a new socialistic global order, while putting down patriotism, traditional morality, and free enterprise. Simply stated, Mel and Norma realized that the Humanists in education were seeking to bring about the ‘social realism’ which John Dewey and other ideologues had planned for America.

For its part, big business also has a long tradition of pushing for more Jesus in public schools. The National Association of Manufacturers, for example, an industry group, offered in 1939 a new curriculum for schools nationwide. It was vital, NAM leaders argued, for schools to combine “the historical and spiritual foundations of the American system of government, free enterprise and religious liberty.”

I’ll say it again: I don’t doubt that tycoons such as the Koch brothers might hope to manipulate religious conservatives. But it hardly counts as manipulation to encourage conservatives to support a cause they already support.

When journalists such as Thomas Frank or Sarah Smarsh paint a conspiratorial picture of hapless religious conservatives taken in by evil-genius financiers, they do a disservice to those of us hoping to get a better understanding of the ways cultural politics really work in this country.

Jesus in Public Schools: In through the Back Door?

Is it okay for religious missionaries to use public schools as recruiting grounds?

Usually we say no.  But what about when the religious missionaries just want to help struggling districts?  What if they promise to leave the Jesus at the door and just provide social services to low-income students?

In the pages of Christianity Today we read of the public-school leadership of evangelical Don Coleman.  Coleman recently won election as chair of Richmond, Virginia’s school board.

For those of us who watch the intersections of public education and religiosity, ought we be concerned by Coleman’s attitude that “education is one of the greatest open doors for urban missions”?

According to the Christianity Today piece, Coleman supports a heavily intertwined church and state.  Local churches “adopt” students, in order to help students overcome significant personal problems.  Coleman wants local churches to become so helpful to schools in low-income areas that the public schools eventually welcome churches’ help.

The story raises some tricky questions.  Personally, I think a students-first approach is a good idea.  As Coleman says, “We don’t fight over prayer.”  Why can’t churches help struggling public schools?  Seems like a win-win.  Seems like someone would have to be pretty heartless to oppose helping a young woman go to college while the rest of her family languishes in jail.

But the underlying issues don’t seem any different from other school-church cases.  Constitutionally, public schools ought to be institutions in which all students are made to feel welcome, regardless of religious or non-religious background.  What about non-Christian students in Richmond schools?  Will they feel equally at home in schools “adopted” by evangelical Christian churches?  Or what about atheist students?  Ought public schools be places in which they have the gospel preached to them by outside missionaries?

Worst of all, we must ask if there is a racial or class bias at play here.  Richmond’s schools are heavily black and poor.  Would students in a more affluent or whiter school district be subjected to religious proselytization as part of their school day?  Or, if they were, wouldn’t activist groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation or the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have more to say about it?

 

 

 

We’re All a Bunch of Losers

Both sides in our continuing culture wars assume they are losing.  Why?

We can see some recent examples from smart people on either side of the creation/evolution controversy right here on ILYBYGTH.

Recently, I argued that evolution was winning.  Winning big.

Some of the responses to that argument show that both sides are reluctant to admit they might not be losers in this fight.

For example, Tim, a self-identified homeschooling creationist, agreed that evolution was winning.  As he put it,

Creationists do not want creationism in public schools because it would taught incorrectly. Most pastors do not know how to accurately teach creationism, how in the world would we expect the average person to be able to? Does this in some sense prove evolution is winning? Sure, I could give you that. But we already know it will.

On the other hand, Bunto Skiffler took me to task for dangerously naïve optimism.  As he argued,

I believe General Westmoreland said something similar about our involvement in Vietnam before the start of 1968.

sincerely,
a person who lives in the fiefdom of Texas right now

Why doesn’t anyone want to admit they might be on the winning side?

I think the answer may lie with our very different definitions of winning and losing.

For evolution-promoters like me, creationists seem to be winning when they can impose any sort of non-evolutionary science in public-school classrooms.  Or even in private-school classrooms.  The fact that nearly half of American adults seem to agree with a strongly creationist idea about the origins of humanity makes it seem to folks like me that creationism is winning.

On the other hand, creationists might hearken back to a time when America’s public schools evinced a recognizably Protestant religiosity.  Back when kids in public schools read the Bible—the Protestant Bible, that is—prayed with their teachers, and generally learned that God wanted them to be better students.  Seen from that perspective, today’s public schools with their goals of pluralism and secularism might make it look as if evolution has won the field.

We must also consider the fact that pundits on both sides emphasize their own victimhood.  Reading the produce of Americans United or the Freedom from Religion Foundation makes American public schools seem under siege by powerful religious zealots.  On the other side, browsers of literature from the Alliance Defending Freedom or the Family Research Council might be forgiven for concluding that fire-breathing secularists crush any attempt at including healthy religion in public schools.

In other words, being a loser is attractive.

Each side emphasizes their own loser status in order to mobilize followers.  Evolution activists won’t be motivated to get off the couch if they are told that evolution is winning.  Creationist activists, similarly, might relax if they are told they need only be patient.

We’re all a bunch of losers in this fight.  Except, of course, we’re not.

I’ll say it again: Seen from an historical perspective, evolution education is winning.  If you don’t believe it, read my book.  Creation/evolution struggles have only deadlocked in the past thirty years or so.  In the 1920s, evolution barely made a dent.  Now evolution promoters feel put out if creationists have any influence at all.

Evolution is winning.  I’m not afraid to say it: I’m a winner.

 

Can an Atheist Pray in Greece?

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a new public-prayer case.  At issue here is whether a town worked hard enough to include religious diversity in its public prayers.

The town of Greece, New York, outside of Rochester, has been accused of favoring Christianity in its pre-meeting prayers.  The Second Court of Appeals ruled in Galloway v. Town of Greece that the town meeting prayers had favored Christianity over other religions.

According to USA Today, the Arizona-based group Alliance Defending Freedom appealed to the US Supreme Court on behalf of the town.

SCOTUS decided in 1983’s Marsh v. Chambers that legislative meetings can be opened with a prayer, as long as that prayer does not favor one religion, denomination, or sect over another.   The Second Court of Appeals explicitly noted that this case does not challenge that precedent.  “We do not hold,” the court wrote, “that the town may not open its public meetings with a prayer or invocation.  Such legislative prayers, as Marsh holds and as we have repeatedly noted, do not violate the Establishment Clause.”

What is at issue here is whether or not Greece worked hard enough to include religious and non-religious diversity in its opening prayers. The original suit, brought by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, charged that the overwhelming majority of the prayers represented Christianity.

The court granted that the town had the intention to represent a proper diversity of religious beliefs, but in practice, most of the prayers implied that Christianity was the town’s religion.  As the court described, a permissible public-prayer policy must be

inclusive of multiple beliefs and makes clear, in public word and gesture, that the prayers offered are presented by a randomly chosen group of volunteers, who do not express an official town religion, and do not purport to speak on behalf of all the town’s residents or to compel their assent to a particular belief….

In other words, it is not enough for a town to allow a diversity of religion in public prayer.  According to the Second Court of Appeals, in any case, public meetings must work harder to dispel the perceptions of a “reasonable objective observer under the totality of the circumstances” that the town tips one way or another.

Will SCOTUS agree?  Or will they rule that it is enough merely to welcome a diversity of belief?

School Choice: Not Just for Conservatives Anymore?

Have you seen the yellow scarves around?

Image Source: Huffington Post

Image Source: Huffington Post

They are the symbol of National School Choice Week, going on right now.

In a one-minute off-the-cuff interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, scarf-clad Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker claimed that the issue of school choice had outgrown ideology.  Support for school choice, Walker insisted, now “transcends party lines, it transcends ideological beliefs. . . .”

Walker himself is not exactly the poster child for post-culture-war dialogue.  His anti-union policies led to an unsuccessful recall attempt in Wisconsin.  In early 2011, Walker’s moves to curb collective-bargaining prerogatives led to a virtual caricature of the culture wars descending on the Capitol in Madison.

The history of “school choice” has been an ideological mishmash.  On one hand, one of the earliest and most influential proponents of vouchers has been free-market guru Milton Friedman.  As I argued in an article in Teachers College Record, Friedman saw vouchers as the single biggest reform to fix American education.  The quest for more school choice has been enthusiastically embraced by leading conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation.

Many liberals have offered across-the-board denunciations of vouchers and “school choice.”  Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, for instance, calls vouchers a thinly disguised propaganda program to divert tax dollars to religious schools.

However, some progressive leaders have supported vouchers and charter schools as a way to deliver better education to students who felt trapped in bad public schools.  Recently, however, outspoken voucher supporter Howard Fuller insisted that voucher programs must set clear limits.  If the programs did not specifically target low-income students, Fuller argued, they became just a shill for rich people.

Some education scholars have argued that the rhetoric of school choice has mainly served to redefine American democracy.  Instead of promoting equitable education choices, these authors contend, “school choice” tends to assume that free-market solutions are the only solutions, the best possible educational goals.

So is Governor Walker’s claim just a conservative pipe dream?  Has the goal of “school choice” overcome all ideological resistance?  Or will we see yet another split, between “progressive” supporters of school choice and “conservative” supporters, with “progressive” choice focusing on greater equity, and “conservative” choice emphasizing the God of the Free Market?

Creationists Excel in Science

What’s wrong with teaching creationism?  Some folks say creationism will block America’s students from learning science.  I oppose the teaching of creationism as science in public schools, but this argument does not hold up.  As uncomfortable as it might be for non-creationists like me, we need to abandon the false argument that creationism is incompatible with learning science.

We see it now and again.  For instance, in a recent editorial in Church & State, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State insisted that creationism “leaves youngsters woefully unprepared for the demanding science courses many of them will encounter in college.”

Similarly, in his recent Youtube video against creationism, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” insisted that creationism would cripple science education.  “I say to the [creationist] grownups,” Nye announced,

“if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine, but don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.”

This is a powerful argument.  We must teach science well and thoroughly, otherwise young people will not be able to understand the world.  Young people robbed of scientific education will not be able to contribute to society.

Unfortunately for those of us who want to promote more comprehensive evolution education, this argument does not hold up when we examine it closely.  Turns out creationist students can do just fine with science.  We need to grapple with this inconvenient truth.  It seems that—somehow—creationists do fine with science.

Consider a few examples.

From the recent headlines, US Representative Paul Broun received a lot of criticism for his comments that evolution, along with embryology and the Big Bang, were “lies from the pit of hell.”  Many of Broun’s critics insisted that Broun was utterly ignorant of science.  Now, I don’t agree with Broun’s ideas about evolution or astrophysics.  But we non-creationists have to acknowledge that Broun, an MD with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, is not really utterly ignorant of science.  He certainly understands it differently, but it is a false refuge to conclude that he is simply ignorant.  He has been educated in science.  It appears he somehow chooses creationism in spite of this education.

Or take one of the most famous creationists of the twentieth century, Henry Morris.  In spite of Bill Nye’s lament that creationism will block the flow of “engineers that can build stuff,” Morris held a PhD in hydraulic engineering from the University of Minnesota.  At the same time, Morris led the way for a new sort of creationism with his books and institutional leadership.

There are other leading creationists with scientific credentials.  Kurt Wise, for instance, earned his PhD in geology at Harvard.

But we non-creationists could take some solace from the notion that exceptions are always possible.  We could tell ourselves that a few outliers do not prove that creationism is somehow compatible with scientific education.  Like the folks at Project Steve, we could take comfort from the fact that overwhelming numbers of scientists DO embrace evolution.

However, those who have looked closely at the broader picture suggest that creationists often do just fine with mainstream science education.

Political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, for instance, found in their large-sample survey of high-school biology teachers that many self-professed creationists had completed lots of college-level science classes.  Of the teachers who professed a belief in young-earth creationism, 32% had completed a full-semester course in evolutionary science.  More than one in ten (13%) held a graduate degree in science.  Almost half (49%) had earned forty or more college credits in biology.

These creationists managed to do fine in what Americans United called “the demanding science courses” in college.  The creationist teachers, to evolutionists’ chagrin, must be acknowledged to be among Bill Nye’s “scientifically literate voters.”

Clearly, something else is going on here.  For those of us outside the circle of creationist thinking, it is difficult to understand how creationists can combine the utterly unscientific notions of a young earth with such widespread success in the highest levels of academic science.  How do they do it?

David Long’s ethnography provides at least one clue.  Long studied creationist students enrolled in a secular biology program at a large public university.  The results suggest some disturbing lessons for those of us who want a more thorough evolutionary education.  As one of his informants described, doing well in college science classes was a snap.  “I take those really big classes,” this student informed Long,

“because it’s really easy to excel in those huge classes.  I mean, I got like a hundred on every test.  You have to be an idiot pretty much not to.  If you just sit, and you listen to what they’re saying, and you know how to take tests, it’s very easy to do well in those classes.”

Long’s ethnographic study can’t tell us how common this experience is among creationist students.  But it suggests a far more complicated educational reality than the black-and-white schemes suggest by Bill Nye and Americans United.  In a nutshell, creationists do fine in college science classes.  They do fine in science-related careers such as engineering, teaching, and medicine.

If we really want to improve evolution education in the United States, we need to wrestle with this perplexing fact: Creationists excel in science.