You’d Think Radical Creationists Would Want to Keep This Quiet

At first glance, one might think that radical young-earth creationists like Ken Ham would want to cover it up. But he doesn’t. Ham loudly crows about the fact that learning science can turn his flock away from his creationist vision of proper Christianity. Once we understand the world of radical American creationism a little better, though, Ham’s strategy makes a lot more sense.

marty sampson ken ham

Why wouldn’t Ken Ham keep this sort of thing quiet?

First, a few background facts. Recently, Marty Sampson of evangelical mega-group Hillsong announced that he was “genuinely losing” his religion.  Sampson later insisted he hadn’t abandoned Christianity, but that his faith was on “shaky ground.” Why? Because, Sampson wrote, among other things, science keeps debunking the basic beliefs of conservative evangelical Christianity.

Now, if we didn’t understand the landscape of American creationism, we might think that radical young-earth creationists like Ken Ham would be embarrassed by such announcements. We might think they wouldn’t want people to know that mainstream science has the power to deflate true religious beliefs.

In fact, though, the opposite is true. Leaders like Ken Ham tweet Sampson’s apostasy from the rooftops. As Ham wrote,

This sad situation about this person is a reminder the church & parents need to teach apologetics to counter today’s attacks on God’s Word.

What’s going on? Why would arch-creationists like Ken Ham advertise the power of mainstream science to puncture conservative evangelical faith? The answer goes back to the 1950s, when modern radical young-earth creationism was born. The real enemy of radical creationism is not modern science, but rather modern evangelical belief that accepts evolutionary theory without abandoning evangelical faith.

Since its inception in the 1950s, radical young-earth creationists have always insisted that only their draw-the-line science can protect Christians from atheism and damnation. The first generation of radical creationists was responding to other evangelical writers such as Bernard Ramm, who made a convincing case that evangelical Christians need not fear modern science. The two could go together.

In response, Ken Ham’s mentor, Henry Morris, teamed up with theologian John Whitcomb Jr. to write The Genesis Flood. In that book, Whitcomb and Morris argued that there was no Ramm-ian middle ground. In spite of what conservative Christians might have heard, Whitcomb and Morris insisted, there were

really only two basic philosophies or religions among mankind.

One was true evangelical Christianity. The other was based in evolutionary thinking, and it showed up in

ancient idolatries or primitive animism or modern existentialism or atheistic communism!

Because there were only two options, W&M argued, Christians faced a stark choice. They could believe in real Christianity, including a steadfast belief in a young earth and the recent miraculous creation of humanity, or they could choose evolutionary thinking, a philosophy that

must have its source in the pride and selfishness of man and ultimately in the pride and deception of the great adversary, Satan himself.

For Ken Ham and his mentor Henry Morris, the essential reason for adhering to young-earth doctrine was because the only other option was atheism. Marty Sampson’s public agonies over faith and science only bolster that faith. For Sampson, doubt and skepticism seem to lead directly to rejection and atheism. There is no suggestion of a middle ground, of a world in which one can be 100% Christian yet accept modern science. For Ken Ham and other radical creationists, that is music to their ears.

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I Guess I Owe Bill Nye an Apology

Sorry, Bill. You were right. I was wrong. Back when you agreed to debate radical creationist Ken Ham, I thought you couldn’t possibly do any good. Like a lot of other nerds, I thought that merely explaining the basics of mainstream science was necessary, but not sufficient. I didn’t think Nye’s presentation–no matter how good it was–could deter any radical creationists from preferring their own brand of fundamentalist science.

marty sampson ken ham

…turns out there are still people out there who just haven’t heard about real science.

Looks like I was wrong in at least one case. This morning, Ken Ham lamented the defection of an evangelical music star. I don’t know anything about Marty Sampson or Hillsong, but apparently one of the reasons Sampson gave for giving up on evangelical religion was because of mainstream science. As Sampson announced,

Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.

Five years ago, when Nye agreed to beard Ham in the creationists’ lions’ den, I thought he was making a strategic mistake. I thought Nye misunderstood the nature of radical American creationism. As I wrote at the time,

Bill Nye’s assumption that young-earth creationism represents a lack of scientific knowledge is more than just an embarrassing ignorance on Nye’s part. The educational and political tasks in cases of naïve non-knowledge are worlds apart from the educational and political tasks in cases of intentional or constructed non-knowledge. In the case of evolution education, if creationists were simply unaware of evolutionary science, then outreach programs would have a good chance of success. The task would be simply to spread information. But in reality, evolution education must recognize that many students and families are not simply ignorant, but resistant to this form of knowledge. Educational efforts must strive first to understand the reasons for this resistance. Only then can evolution educators hope to develop effective strategies to teach evolution.

But…I guess in at least this one case, a creationist Christian really DID find the truths of mainstream science compelling. Marty Sampson appears to have converted away from conservative evangelicalism–at least in part–due to his exposure to mainstream scientific ideas. And if this famous creationist is feeling this way, I’m guessing there are plenty more among the rank and file who are moving more quietly away from radical creationism and conservative evangelical religion.

Radical Creationists Fall into the Poetry Trap

Want to understand American creationism? Then don’t dig into Charles Darwin or even Bill Nye. The key to American creationism isn’t science, not even its peculiar “zombie” science. No, to understand radical American creationism, we need to look instead to poetry and the fundamentalist impulse.

Here’s the latest: today’s leading radical creationist Ken Ham recently defended his young-earth position against charges of flat-earthism. As Ham bemoaned,

now it’s not just atheists arguing the Bible teaches a flat earth—it’s some Christians, too, who’ve sadly fallen for flat-earth arguments and now believe that’s what the Bible teaches. But does it?

No, it doesn’t. Now, flat earthers will frequently bring up poetic passages, such as verses from Psalms or Job, and say those verses teach a flat earth because phrases like “ends of the earth” or references to a setting sun appear. But those passages are poetry—by definition poetry is filled with literary devices such as metaphors, similes, and figures of speech. The biblical text is meant to be interpreted naturally, according to the genre. And poetry is clearly intended to be understood within the context of abundant literary devices that are not meant to be taken so woodenly and literally (i.e., God does not literally lie us down in green pastures as per Psalm 23:2).

For those who know the history of American creationism, Ham’s use of the “poetry” defense must seem either brutally cynical or woefully ignorant. Here’s why: Back in the 1950s, fundamentalist Protestant scholars tried to move away from Ham’s preferred sort of radical young-earth creationism. They wanted to remain creationists, but they didn’t want to be bound to scientifically outlandish notions such as a 6,000-year-old earth or a literal world-wide flood.

How did they interpret the creation passages in Genesis? You guessed it: as poetry.

Most influentially, Bernard Ramm argued in his 1954 book The Christian View of Science and Scripture that simple young-earth creationism made a huge theological mistake. As Ramm wrote,

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

When the Bible describes creation, Ramm argued, it was speaking poetically, in popular, accessible language. Such language, Ramm thought, did not “theorize as to the actual nature of things.” Rather, it explained God’s role as a personal, engaged Creator in poetic language that people everywhere could understand.

AIG fortress cartoon

For radical creationists, the problem with evolution is what it supports…

The modern American radical-creationist movement was born as an attempt to directly refute Ramm’s ideas. John Whitcomb Jr. and Henry Morris set out in their blockbuster creationist hit The Genesis Flood to prove that Genesis was not poetry, but history.

As always, though, poetry is in the eye of the beholder. How were conservative evangelicals supposed to choose where to draw the line? How were they supposed to decide if talk about a flat earth was meant to be read poetically or literally? Or passages about a world-wide flood? Or the age of the planet?

In the end, the answers came down to something besides science or even theology. For Whitcomb and Morris in the 1960s and 1970s, or Ken Ham today, insistence on a literal young earth and literal world-wide flood is not a scientific decision or a theological one, but rather a very popular kind of draw-the-line-ism, a fundamentalist promise that traditional beliefs must be protected at all costs.

For example, when John Whitcomb Jr. and Henry Morris made their first case for radical young-earth creationism, they insisted that there were only two ways to see the world—young-earth creationism or “evolutionism.” On the creationist side stood Jesus and the Scriptures. On evolution’s side were only “ancient idolatries or primitive animism or modern existentialism or atheistic communism!”

AIG foundations

Supporting evolution, for Ken Ham, means supporting abortion and homosexuality.

Throughout his long career, Henry Morris insisted that only a rigid, literalistic, radical creationism stood between true religion and a host of pernicious ideas. In The Long War Against God, for example, Morris warned that a poetic reading of Genesis would mean an endorsement of “premarital sex, adultery, divorce, and homosexuality” as well as ”Unrestrained pornography. . . . [and] Prostitution, both male and female.” Don’t forget, Morris warned, that “evolutionary thinking” lead to “abortionism.” And the Holocaust. As well as, presumably, cannibalism, not to mention “the modern drug crisis (rock music, peer pressure, organized crime, etc.)”

When Henry Morris insisted on reading Genesis as literal rather than poetic, he wasn’t making a theological statement. He was not making a scientific statement. Rather, Morris was appealing to America’s fundamentalist impulse, the desire of many conservative Christians to draw the line somewhere.

For Morris and his erstwhile protégé Ken Ham, the threat of evolution isn’t really theological or scientific. Rather, as Ham never tires of repeating, evolutionary thinking is the foundation of a host of modern social ills, from abortion rights to LGBTQ rights; from youthful disrespect to internet pornography.

I can’t help but wonder if Ham is aware of the long history of his poetry defense. Does he know that Bernard Ramm used the same argument against his mentor’s radical young-earth beliefs? Does Ham just not care? Or, rather, does he understand that his followers don’t really care about science or theology, they are just looking for someone to tell them where to draw the line, where to take up a fundamentalist defense of traditional values?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Hot enough for ya? Even in this July heat wave, the interwebs kept cranking out stories about schools and dinosaurs n stuff. Here are some of the top items in this week’s news roundup:

“We Believe in Dinosaurs:” the new radical-creationist documentary is out. A review at LHL.

Lots of talk about Biden, busing, and the 1970s.

Israel’s minister of education comes out in favor of LGBTQ “conversion” therapy, at Newsweek.

Interview with Elaine Howard Ecklund on the love affair between science & religion, at BBC.

Divinity is out at Liberty U., but pop music is in, including The Jonas Brothers’ dad. At RNS.

The passion we have is not just to train a bunch of people to go into the music industry — or just go into the Christian music industry, for that matter — but to be equipped as musicians that go into the music industry fully equipped to do what they believe God’s called them to do, whether it’s the mainstream market or the faith-based market.

What should an online teacher do when she sees a child being abused on the other side of the planet? At EdSurge.

What do you call yourself when you’re Catholic but you feel evangelical? How about “born-again Catholic”? At RIP.

East Carolina University couldn’t have denied Trump a forum to “send her back” even if they wanted to, at CHE.

Feminist “hate speech:” The gender wars roil academic philosophers, at IHE.

Can Massachusetts Ban Creationism?

Or maybe the more important question is this: Will this bill work? Its goal is to keep “science denialism” out of the Massachusetts curriculum. I’m all for it, but I don’t think it will actually do the job.

AIG camp

They may be kooky, but radical creationists are also “age-appropriate.”

Here’s what we know: According to the National Center for Science Education and the Lowell Sun, a bill before the state legislature would ban climate-change denialism, anti-vaxxism, and creationism from the state’s curriculum. The bill’s sponsor said that his goal was to prohibit teaching that climate-change denialism deserves equal consideration to climate-change science.

As one supporter put it,

The fact that there are many people who believe and insist the earth is flat — enough to fill a whole cruise ship, it turns out — or that vaccines are deadly or who believe evolution is not real and that climate change is not taking place and that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn’t matter is all evidence that science education needs to be strengthened and kept understandable against those who would deliberately sew [sic] confusion.

As always, the devil will be in the details. The mechanism of this bill would be to insist on only “peer-reviewed” and “age-appropriate” materials in science classes.

And there’s the rub.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, radical young-earth creationists are not simply science “denialists.” They do not pooh-pooh peer-reviewed research or age-appropriate materials. The radical group Answers In Genesis, for example, operates its own clunky “peer-reviewed” research journal.

aig peer reviewed

If “peer-reviewed” is the rule, they can follow it…

And whether you love them or hate them, the fundamentalist creationist missionaries at AIG produce plenty of “age-appropriate” materials. They are always trying to convince and convert America’s children to their Flintstones-level science. It might not be good science, but there’s no doubt that it is “age-appropriate.”

I support Massachusetts’s efforts to keep their public-school science classrooms secular. I agree that we should not teach zombie science or other forms of theologically motivated science in public schools. Unfortunately, however, I don’t think this bill will do the trick.

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.

evil tree new

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.

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.

jindal

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.