Dragging Creationism into the Twenty-First Century

At first, it might seem confusing. Why is radical-creationist pundit Ken Ham so upset about men in heels? It might seem like “Sparkle Leigh” has nothing to do with evolution or creationism or any of that. If we want to understand young-earth creationism, however, we need to understand that these sorts of culture-war standoffs are absolutely central to radical creationism itself.Ken Ham drag school

Here’s the latest: Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis has been warning about the looming threat of men in drag reading books to schoolkids. As Ham warned last year,

If you think our Western culture can’t get any more perverse than it already is, think again! In a new trend, public libraries in America are hosting “Drag Queen Story Hours,” where drag queens (generally, men who wear feminine clothing or makeup to entertain people) come and read books, sing songs, and do crafts with children in the library.

What does that have to do with the idea of a young earth, a literal world-wide flood, and the rejection of modern evolutionary science? Well, nothing, from one perspective. Accepting the power of evolutionary theory does not somehow force people to endorse drag culture. Accepting a non-literal reading of the Book of Genesis doesn’t either.

On the other hand, if we hope to understand radical creationism, we have to understand the fact that things like drag culture, changing gender norms, and even pedophilia are absolutely central. Radical young-earth creationism has always been about building walls to fend off looming cultural changes, not building labs to produce new scientific ideas.

As I’m arguing in my new book (exciting news on that front coming soon), radical creationism is not really a protest against the science of evolutionary theory as such. Rather, radical creationism is all about holding the line against changing cultural norms. Back in the 1950s, when conservative-evangelical Bernard Ramm promised his evangelical friends that science should not scare them, fundamentalists disagreed.

The radical-creationist movement was born out of a deep-seated feeling that traditional American culture was threatened. Evolutionary theory became the canary in the devil’s coalmine, but the real threats came from elsewhere. Changing sexual norms, changing gender relations, and changing attitudes about everything from proper dress to proper politics fueled the movement.

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Why attack evolutionary theory? Let me count the ways…

At its heart, however, radical creationism has never actually been about evolution itself. Rather, as cartoons and pamphlets have shouted for decades now, evolution is only the convenient place to draw the line, the convenient place to defend against everything from feminism to abortion to communism.

So why is Ken Ham so upset about men with sparkles and heels? It’s not really about evolutionary theory, but it is absolutely central to radical creationism.

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What Is Pat Robertson Up To?

You heard it here last: Pat Robertson has come out against Alabama’s new anti-abortion law. It is not an isolated incident. As SAGLRROIYBYGTH recall, Robertson has also recently criticized radical creationism. We have to ask: What is Robertson doing?

Here’s what Robertson said:

I think Alabama has gone too far. They passed a law that would give a 99-year prison sentence to people who commit abortion. There’s no exception for rape or incest. It’s an extreme law. They wanna challenge Roe versus Wade, but my humble view is this is not the case we wanna bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one’ll lose.

On its face, this could be a simple strategy statement. Fight abortion rights? Sure—but do it in a way that will win. Given Robertson’s other recent culture-war positioning, however, I can’t help but wonder if there is something else going on.

Consider Robertson’s recent statements about young-earth creationism. Not only has he mocked young-earth beliefs as “nonsense” and “embarrassing,” but he has promised to add a class at his Regent University to help conservative Christians combat young-earth ideas.Ham v robertson

Is Robertson trying to situate himself as a reasonable Christian conservative, different from the hard-right folks? Is he willing to bet his culture-war credentials against radicals such as Answers In Genesis’s Ken Ham and Alabama’s Terri Collins? And, if so…do you think it will work? Can Pat Robertson create political space for a not-quite-so-radical Christian Right?

Why Progressives Should Cheer for Creationism

Good news for science, but bad news for progressive culture warriors: We’ve got a smart conservative voice preaching to the creationist choir. In National Review this week, geneticist Razib Khan makes the obvious case that conservatives should not paint themselves into a science-denial corner.  If conservatives were to listen to Dr. Khan, progressives would be in trouble, but there’s no need for my fellow progressives to fret.

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Why won’t Dr. Khan’s argument get anywhere? Exhibit A:

As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism (more news on that front soon), there is no logical reason for evolutionary theory to be so scary to American conservatives. As Dr. Khan sensibly explains,

evolutionary biology is nothing for conservatives to fear, because it is one of the crowning achievements of modern Western civilization. It should be viewed not as an acid gnawing at the bones of civilization, but as a jewel. The science built upon the rock of Charles Darwin’s ideas is a reflection of Western modernity’s commitment to truth as a fundamental value. And many Christians well-versed in evolutionary science find it entirely compatible with their religious beliefs.

Absolutely true. Moreover, Dr. Khan points out a strategic truth that should leave progressives trembling. Namely, if conservatives ever got over their evo-phobia, they would have a powerful new weapon with which to fight culture-war battles. As Khan puts it,

the political implications of evolutionary biology do not favor the Left. Today many on the Left reject the very idea of human nature, to the point of effectively being evolution deniers themselves. They assert that society and values can be restructured at will. That male and female are categories of the mind, rather than of nature. In rejecting evolution, a conservative gives up the most powerful rejoinder to these claims.

Khan hopes to turn the culture-war tables. For example, if conservatives could put together credible arguments against same-sex marriage based on science rather than the Bible, they would have a far stronger political case. After all, almost all American voters revere the idea of science (even if they sometimes define ‘science’ in odd ways), but only a minority care about the Bible.

Moreover, Dr. Khan has history on his side. Historically, evolutionary theory has been used politically to fight for a wide range of political ideologies. Back in the 1920s, for example, it was the politically progressive pro-evolution side that used evolutionary theory to fight for eugenics and “scientific racism.” There is no logical reason–theological or otherwise–why today’s conservatives could not use evolutionary theory to fight for their conservative political beliefs.

However, there is one enormous flaw in Dr. Khan’s argument. Yes, conservatives should embrace evolutionary science. They should turn the idea of ‘evolution’ into a battle field instead of merely retreating from it. But they won’t.

Consider the case of former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Jindal is a smart cookie—Ivy League degree, biology major, Oxford graduate degree…the works. There is no doubt that Governor Jindal understands the scientific power of evolutionary theory. Yet when he was asked about his policy on creationism, Jindal hedged. He hemmed and he hawed and he finally agreed that he wouldn’t want to tell anyone that they should learn about evolutionary theory.

What does any of that have to do with Dr. Khan’s argument? Plenty. Evolutionary theory is a simple no-go for American conservatives. It’s a third rail. Conservative politicians will have no more luck embracing Dr. Khan’s suggestion than progressive ones would have with Larry Summers’ ideas about gender.

So for that reason, progressives should celebrate the political power of creationism. In many ways, the conservative coalition’s addiction to fighting evolutionary theory is one of its greatest weaknesses. Progressives’ only hope is that smart conservatives like Dr. Khan remain lonely voices shouting into the anti-science conservative wind.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Dive in to the latest collection of stories from the interwebs of interest to SAGLRROILYBYGTH:

Pat Robertson mocks young-earth creationism on his 700 Club, at CN.

manning atlah

Westboro, NYC.

Westboro, NYC: Stories of child abuse from religious school leader, at HP.

People who attended the school describe its leaders as being rabidly homophobic. Manning would often talk about evil “faggots.” Teachers would echo those sentiments, describing gay people as demons who were doomed to go to hell. A message from Manning on the school’s website directs parents to “Stop the homosexual brainwashing of your children!”

Christians under attack, at AC.

Such ideological efforts have spawned not only attempted social ostracism, but a culture ripe for anti-Christian violence by the mentally unhinged.

Methodist colleges face LGBTQ dilemma: Should they stay or should they go? At CD.

Will Senator Warren’s college-debt plan lift her chances in 2020? Large majorities support the plan, even if they don’t support Warren. At TH.

Why are evangelical megachurches adopting Catholic traditions? At America.

old school Catholic practices are in. Yes, that celebrity Protestant pastor is wearing a stole with Our Lady of Guadalupe on it.

Synagogue shooting: Is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to blame?

Did Common Core work? Not really, at Chalkbeat.

Creationists Lovin Trump

I admit it: I don’t get out much. And when I do, I mostly hang out with people a lot like me. And people like me don’t understand how anyone could like President Trump. So I’m always curious about the people who are lovin Trump.

Creationists lovin trump

Young-earthers agree: GOAT!

I got a clue this afternoon–turns out at least one young-earth creation aficionado agrees with Rachel. I couldn’t help myself and I scanned through some of the other comments. Why do Americans love Trump? people lovin trump

For some of them, at least, Trump is a real hero, not just someone who will stack SCOTUS with anti-abortion justices. As “Funkfuzz” contributed, some see Trump as the hardest-working, toughest-talking “lover of America” we’ve ever had in the White House.

I don’t see it, but I do understand why some radical creationists love Trump so much. After all, as I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, radical young-earth creationists don’t really disagree with other creationists about theology. That is, young-earth creationists are usually not more conservative in their theology than are other types of creationists.

The thing that distinguishes young-earth creationists most sharply from other evangelical creationists is not their theology. Rather, it is a deep cultural conservatism, a nostalgic yearning for a Christian America that never was. It’s no surprise, then, that radical young-earth creationists would hop on board the Trump train, hoping to Make America Great Again.

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.

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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.

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.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Democratic socialism, evangelical racism, and dirty dogs: This past week saw a lot of action. Here are some of the top stories that crossed our desk:

Lots this week about the connections of racism and evangelicalism.

1.) An interview with Jemar Tisby at R&P:

every time that the white community—especially Christians—failed to confront racism in its everyday, mundane forms, they created a context of compromise that allowed for an extreme act of racial terror like planting dynamite at a church. That’s the idea of complicity. It’s not that every Christian was a foaming-at-the-mouth racist hurling racial slurs and burning crosses on peoples’ lawns.

2.) The dangers of racism for the future of evangelical religion, at CT:

a warning sign for those concerned about the possible waning of evangelicalism in the United States. While current survey data says that white evangelicals have not experienced statistically significant population declines in the last decade, this will likely not continue into the future.

maga smithsonian 3

Art to choke hearts.

Wow. Trumpy artist sues to get his painting displayed at the Smithsonian, at TI.  HT: TWOILH.

High school doesn’t have to be boring, at NYT. HT: LC.

Harvard University: Creationist factory? Interview with creationist Harvard PhD at WORLD.

What do today’s teens worry about? Not what you might think, at The Economist.

TEEN WORRIES ECONOMISTSOCIALISM 2020

Preaching Christianity to Christians, at RNS:

Christianity as merely a family tradition only requires maintaining the tradition. . . . Sadly, many people in the Bible Belt are haunted by the idea of Christ, while not understanding His love for them.

Queen Betsy threatens the budget for Special Olympics, but the budget goes up. Turns out this happens a lot, from MS.

dirty dogCountry dog? City dog? An argument for letting dogs be dogs at FPR:

while city dogs enjoy ever more doggy parks, doggy play dates and dog-friendly shops and stores, their elevated status burdens them with human-dominated constraints.

Can conservatives find a way to love Trump? At RCP:

Many [conservatives] are repulsed by [Trump’s] crudity, thin-skinned nature, and vitriolic personal attacks. . . . But—and this is crucial—conservatives and many independents recognize Trump’s biggest achievement, beyond strengthening the economy and rebuilding the military, is his persistent effort to roll back the administrative state, with its endless regulations and executive orders.

Creationists: Have You Stopped Beating Your Wives?

Sometimes, it’s all in the way you phrase the question. Newish poll results from the Pewsters underscore the fact: Americans aren’t really sure what to think about creation and evolution. It all depends on how you ask.

Here’s what we know: The folks at Pew Research Center experimented with different ways to ask respondents about evolution and creationism. As they discovered,

our estimate of the share of Americans who reject evolution and express a creationist view drops considerably (from 31% to 18% of U.S. adults) when respondents are immediately given the opportunity to say God played a role in human evolution. [Emphasis in original.]

Pew evolution questionsOther pollsters have come to similar conclusions. As the National Science Board found, what people say about evolution can change wildly when the questions are worded differently. In 2012, NSB asked two different sets of questions. When they asked people if “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals,” a small majority (52%) said no.

But when NSB asked if “according to the theory of evolution,” humans evolved from other species, a much larger group (72%) said yes. In a way, those responses make perfect sense. Lots of people might know that mainstream scientists agree about evolution, but still not think evolution really happened.

Other poll results, though, get weirder. A decade ago, George Bishop looked at poll numbers and came up with some flatly contradictory results. For example, it seems some people—a lot of people—agree that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago (69%). However, because 40% of respondents also think that dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans, there seems to be some impossible crossovers going on.

What do Americans really think about evolution and creationism? Depends on how you ask the question. By and large, people don’t care too much about it and they certainly don’t care about intellectual consistency. And that’s not a jab at creationists alone—people who say they accept evolution often can’t explain its basic ideas. (Don’t believe it? Check out this study or this one.)

One thing seems likely: Those of us who want more and better evolution education should be encouraged by the fact that the number of intentional, hard-core, consistent radical creationists is nowhere near as high as we are sometimes told.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

More strikes and the looming s-word this week. Here are some of the news stories you might have missed from the past seven days:

Denver: Teachers out on strike today, at CBS4.

Trump’s 2020 Gamble: Does anyone still tremble at the threat of ‘socialism?’

From Righting America: If there was a real global flood, why did God need to kill all the babies? All the animals?

(How) can evangelical colleges survive? With online classes? Or by getting back to what they’ve always done best? At CHE.

Christian Persecution Update: Campus Christian group scores legal win in Iowa LGBTQ case, at IHE.