I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

SCOTUS, flags, and dino-riding grandpas…it was quite a week here in the ILYBYGTH International offices. Here are some of the stories that caught our eye:

Can campus art disrespect the flag? Kansas says no, at IHE.

kansas u flag

Revoking your artistic license…

Trump and affirmative action in higher ed:

Get elite higher ed out of the social-justice game. Rachel Lu at The Week.

How many creationists does it take to lock in a tax rebate? Examining Ark Encounter’s attendance claims at RACM.

Getting rid of AP: a bad call, says Chester Finn.

Kavanaugh and the Christians:

Turkish creationist under fire, at NCSE.

Creationist Ken Ham shoots for satire, at BB.

ham on triceratops

Photographic evidence: Chester Cornelius Ham III in action…

Taylor U. ousts prof for sexual aggression, at IHE.

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Biblical Peanut Butter at the Museum of the Bible

What is the Museum of the Bible for? Its conservative-evangelical founders insist it is supposed to be more like the Smithsonian than the Ark Encounter, but recent revelations have left me puzzled.motb-peanut-carver.jpeg

Here’s what we know: Thanks to the generosity and diligence of an ILYBYGTH correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous, your humble editor recently came into possession of some MOTB publications.

Most intriguing, MOTB publishes a glossy booklet, 99 Earth-Shattering Events Linked to the Bible. As the title promises, this publication offers biblical connections to 99 key events in human history, from the Magna Carta to Nelson Mandela.

Some of them have left this reader scratching his head. They certainly seem more Ark Encounter than Smithsonian. Am I missing something?

For example, the book credits the Bible for inspiring George Washington Carver to “Unlock . . . Peanut’s Potential.” We all know Carver’s remarkable story. In this telling, though, it was not grit or genius or perseverance that fueled Carter’s career, but rather the text of Genesis I. “To Carver,” the booklet explains,

This Bible passage revealed the potential of what he could do with the peanut to help others be lifted from poverty—particularly, the struggling African American farmers.

To this reader, the connection seems…strained, to say the least. Dr. Carver may have been an earnest Bible-believing Christian and he may have given his faith credit for his work. But so did the white-supremacist politicians and their violent allies who forced African American scientists into segregated institutions.

How can we credit the Bible for one, without also blaming it for the other? To me, this seems like Wallbuilders history–not a sincere attempt to understand the past, but rather a collection of awkward celebrations that distort the historical record.

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…

The Ol’ College Tri-al

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

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Watch out! It’s a trap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Those darn college professors…

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

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

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

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

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

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Can college students protect their faith?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saddle Sore at the Ark Encounter

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

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Dinos dinos dinos…

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

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

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

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

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Lots of dinos on board…

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

How did Ham respond?

I know the Bible doesn’t specifically address this question, but . . . we can use the reasoning skills God gave us and His Word to come up with an answer. . . . I can think of many animals that have been tamed. . . . why not some of the dinosaurs? Who knows what they were doing? It seems to me we should at least allow the possibility that some could have been tamed to help with transportation, maybe even farming, hauling heavy loads (the strong ones!) and other things.

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

aig dino question book

Did people ride dinosaurs? Yes, Virginia…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Ararat Great Again

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

Trump make america great again

It’s the hat, stupid.

 

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

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

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

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

reclaim your school

Good news/Bad news…

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

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Reclaim your rainbow…

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

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

Arking the Right Questions

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

john oliver ark manure

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

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

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

PACE 1096 diplodocus

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

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

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

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

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Plenty of room for all kinds of dinosaurs on board…

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

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From the Ark Encounter: Focus on the HOW…

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

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A #2 solution…

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

For family reasons, I spent Christmas this year in scenic Florence, Kentucky. florence yallOnce the presents were opened and the piñatas destroyed, I snuck off to see the newish jaw-dropper from Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis: The Ark Encounter.

It really was a remarkable sight—an enormous ark rising out of the Kentucky fields. For the next few days, I’ll be sharing my reflections about the trip.

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Wowzers.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, I’m no creationist, but I’m not interested in poking fun at the young-earthers. I don’t even want to get into a shouting match about why this kind of science doesn’t make sense to me. Rather, as I finish up my new book about American creationism, I wanted to use my visit to understand radical creationism better. And it worked, sorta. My trip has my head whirling with questions like the following:

  • How does the Ark museum help explain why so many white evangelicals love Trump?
  • If the idea of dinosaurs hanging around with people is so radically different from mainstream science, why does AIG harp on it so much?
  • Why the fascination with poop?
  • Do other museums these days put huge blown-up comic books on the walls?
  • Who are the young-earth creationists competing with?
  • Why are the AIG folks so obsessed with college?

Right off the bat, though, I can’t help but remark on the most obvious lesson I learned from my field trip: In many ways, the Ark Encounter is at least as much about making money as about saving souls. Like all museums everywhere, we had to overpay for parking—ten bucks in a mostly-empty lot. And like all museums everywhere, for some reason we could have coughed up fifty-one cents for a squashed-penny Ark Encounter memento.

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Squeezing every penny out of visitors…

Zombie Science on Noah’s Ark

Smart people don’t say it’s not science.  Some call creation science “dead science.”  But anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear can see the bustling activity in the world of creation science.  A recent blog post from Answers In Genesis offered an introduction to what creation science can look like.  If it’s not dead, but not quite alive in the normal sense, maybe the best term for this sort of research is “undead science” or “zombie science.”

Alternative Science in Action

Alternative Science in Action

As those of us who follow the creation/evolution debates are well aware, Answers In Genesis is planning a big new museum project.  They want to build a replica of Noah’s Ark to prove its practicality.  Indeed, this ark project has attracted a sub-controversy of its own, with secularists complaining about public tax benefits going toward this explicitly sectarian religious project.

In a recent blog post, AIG explained some of the scientific challenges of their Ark project.  AIG demonstrated some of the unique features of the sort of creation science practiced by AIG scientists. As the post explained, one of the challenges of designing a replica Ark is figuring out how many animals would be on board.  Most believers in a literal world-wide flood do not insist that Noah’s Ark contained two of every species we have today.  Rather, they say that the Ark contained two of every “created kind,” as described in Genesis.  That is, the Ark did not have two wolves, two dingoes, two foxes, two dogs, etc.  Instead, the Ark had two of the “kind” of canine.

The term AIG scientists use to describe these “created kinds” is “baramin.”  In the recent blog post, AIG uses the example of the mule deer to show how scientists can figure out what kind of created kinds were on the Ark.  Creation scientists hypothesize that fossils from the baramin must be in a certain fossil layer, since those fossils were predictably laid down at a certain point in the Genesis flood.  In this case, the most likely fossil deposits, according to AIG, were from “moschids buried in rock layers deposited by localized catastrophes just after Flood.”  Those samples allow creation scientists to figure out what the baramin on the ark would likely have looked like.

Is this science?  It’s tempting for those of us outside the circle of creationism to pooh-pooh this sort of thing as outlandish non-science.

But more thoughtful non-creationists have offered more subtle explanations.  Philosopher Philip Kitcher, for example, argued that we should understand this not as non-science, but as “dead science.”  This sort of thinking, Kitcher said, had a long and influential career as mainstream science.  However, it has been replaced by better science.

Historian George Marsden also offered an explanation of this sort of scientific thinking.  Marsden argued that early creationists worked in a Baconian framework.  Science, according to this way of thinking, must begin with an authority.  From that firm starting point, scientists can collect and classify information.  This is not non-science, but rather a certain form of dissenting science.

Throughout the twentieth-century history of creationism, creationists themselves have insisted on the scientific legitimacy of their projects.  The leading creation scientist of the 1920s, George McCready Price, repeatedly argued that non-creationists were behind the times.  As Price told an audience in London just a few months after the 1925 Scopes trial,

I am perfectly confident that any competent person who will take the time to traverse the evidence now available on this side will reach the same conclusion that I have reached—namely. That the theory of Organic Evolution was a very plausible theory for the times of comparative ignorance of the real facts of heredity and variation and of the facts of geology which prevailed during the latter part of the nineteenth century; but that this theory is now entirely out of date, and hopelessly inadequate for us, in view of the facts of geology and of experimental breeding as we know them.  We are making scientific history very fast these days; and the specialist in some corner of science who keeps on humming a little tune to himself, quietly ignoring all this modern evidence against Evolution, is simply living in a fools’ paradise.  He will soon be so far behind that he will wake up some fine morning and find that he needs an introduction to the modern scientific world.

Mainstream scientists in the 1920s and ever since would dispute Price’s prediction.  But in every generation since the 1920s, creationists have developed and honed their distinct version of science and of scientific research.  As this Ark Encounter article makes clear, over the past century creationists have identified research problems and research methodologies that are utterly foreign to mainstream science.  They have built schools, museums, and academic publications.  They have changed and honed their thinking.

“Dead” science does not grow and change in this way.

So if this sort of creation science is thriving and changing, it seems misleading to adopt Kitcher’s label of “dead science.”  I know creationists won’t like the idea of calling it “zombie science” or “undead science.”  But is there a better term to describe this unique sort of active-but-dead kind of research?