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

Here are a few stories for your beach reading. What do the radical creationists say to the flat-earthers? What do politically liberal Christians say about Trumpism? Why do some conservatives think colleges have grown more racist? All that and more…

What do Christians have to say about “Christian Nationalism?” At RNS.christians against christian nationalism

Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.

Radical creationists resort to poetry to prove they aren’t flat-earthers. At AIGKHB.

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).

Guess what? Rich people have advantages in school. The latest non-surprise: Affluent students tend to get more time on tests. At NYT.

From Weston, Conn., to Mercer Island, Wash., word has spread on parenting message boards and in the stands at home games: A federal disability designation known as a 504 plan can help struggling students improve their grades and test scores. But the plans are not doled out equitably across the United States.

In the country’s richest enclaves, where students already have greater access to private tutors and admissions coaches, the share of high school students with the designation is double the national average. In some communities, more than one in 10 students have one — up to seven times the rate nationwide, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.

Race and Man at Yale. New conservative National Association of Scholars report critiques Yale’s segregationist practices, at NR.

Yale’s segregationist practices have been in place for a generation before today’s students were born. Yet 40 years of neo-segregation seems to have increased, rather than decreased, racial resentment.

Is Professor Wax a “repugnant” racist? Or a perfect example of why we have tenure? It’s both, at CHE.

Many have described Wax’s case as a difficult test of academic freedom and its limitations. It’s not. Tenure and academic freedom, as we currently understand them, were literally created in response to another prominent scholar’s getting canned for making inflammatory statements on race and immigration.

Florida man: No evolution in public schools, at FCS.

I won’t support any evolution being taught as fact at all in any of our schools.

The GOP just got a little bit whiter. The last black Republican in the House of Reps is retiring, at NYT.

For white evangelicals, the question of “civility” in politics is…complicated. At RIP.

RIP civility scoreRemember John Allen Chau? The aggressive missionary killed last year at an isolated island in the Pacific? Outside Magazine offers a gripping new portrait.

John stuck to his belief that it was his duty to go to North Sentinel. The islanders were damned to “eternal fire” if they never heard the Gospel, and as an outdoorsman with a knack for making friends in new places, John was one of the few souls in Christendom who could save them. It felt ordained, John said, like God was calling him. Patrick [John’s father] believed his son was deceiving himself. This wasn’t just about helping the Sentinelese or obeying God. This was about John’s Messiah complex. He described his son as a victim of fantasies, fanaticism, and extremism.

What is the nation’s largest non-profit charter-school network up to? Moving from “no excuses” classrooms to “joyful” ones. At Chalkbeat.

Did a recent commission mistake the causes of racial disparities in school discipline? One member says yes, at WE.

The commission purports to find, however, that “students of color as a whole, as well as by individual racial group, do not commit more disciplinable offenses than their white peers.” According to the commission, they are simply punished more. Readers are left to imagine our schools are not just occasionally unfair, but rather astonishingly unfair on matters of discipline.

The report provides no evidence to support its sweeping assertion and, sadly, there is abundant evidence to the contrary. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics surveys high school students biennially. Since 1993, it has asked students whether they have been in a fight on school property over the past 12 months. The results have been consistent. In 2015, 12.6 percent of African-American students reported being in such a fight, while only 5.6 percent of white students did.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Even in the holiday week, stuff kept happening. Here are a few stories that caught our eye:

ILYBYGTH Prize for Hilarious Hack: Florida billboard’s cute puppy delivers Satanic blessing, at FA.Satan is the one true god billboard

The past and present of Liberty football, from Paul Putz. It’s about more than prostitutes:

Will protests and activism follow? Will risk-averse administrators at major college programs decide that a game against Liberty is not worth the trouble? Will elite black high school athletes decide they don’t want to play for Trump University?

Other People’s Children: Walmart heirs push charters for African American students, at AP.

What happens to teachers’ unions after the Janus decision? At EWA.

Christmas 1924: When the Klan marched in Fort Worth, at ST.Fort worth KKK

Do young-earth creationists have any rebuttal for their flat-earth critics? RA says no.

Zoiks: Legislation to keep teachers from talking politics, at Curmudgucation.

Should teachers exhort their students to vote for a particular candidate? No. Do teachers have the right to discuss controversial political issues in their classroom, without being forced to present opposing views? Of course they do– imagine a class a teacher must explain how Nazis and slave owners had valid points of their own.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Hot, dry summer weather. Just right for flat-earthism…? All that and more in our weekly round-up of ILYBYGTH-themed stories from around the interwebs:

“In God We Trust:” Six states have laws approving motto banners in public schools. At Fox.

in god we trust

Why outsource your religion to your government?

Can a medieval scholar defend white men? Conservatives say yes, at RCE.

How many people think the world is flat? Discussing the poll numbers at SA.

Anti-white racism? Or free speech? Rutgers agrees to punish white professor for anti-white screed, at IHE.

Tearing down statues at UNC: The long history of protests over “Silent Sam,” at HS.

 . . . on June 2, 1913, Silent Sam was dedicated on commencement day with speeches from then Gov. Locke Craig and Confederate Civil War veteran Julian Carr. Carr praised the Confederate Army as the saviors “of the Anglo Saxon race in the South” and recalled “horse-whipp[ing] a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” for offending a Caucasian woman on Franklin Street.

New federal lawsuits hope to provide more tax money to private religious schools, at WSJ.

Is this a big deal? Historians weigh in on Manafort and Cohen rulings at HNN.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

You may still be on summer break, but here at ILYBYGTH International we are back to school. And that means back to reading headlines and crying in our coffee. Here are some of the stories that upset us this week:

“The Lynching Industry:” W.E.B. DuBois’s 1916 account of a lynching, at Slate.

lynching crowd

The ugly historic truth…

The Maryland mess: Big-time-sporting unto death, at IHE.

Free college tuition? Or 2020 election scam? At Chalkbeat.

Americans aren’t the only ones who don’t know their history. Almost half of Russians are not aware of the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, at the Guardian.

“This will go down in your permanent record:” Florida’s new hyper-surveillance of students, at Curmudgucation.

Suddenly, the same-sex rules matter at an Indiana Catholic school, at FA.

Colorado’s no-gay-wedding baker back in the courts, at RNS.

Banning Alex Jones: Steve Coll at the New Yorker.

It’s not that white evangelicals are supporting Trump in spite of their religion. Some Trumpists are making Trump their religion, says Alex Wager at the Atlantic.

Trumpism proposes a system of worship formed in direct opposition to bourgeois moral logic, with values that are anti-intellectual and anti–politically correct. If mainline Protestantism is a bastion of the educated, upper-middle class, the Church of Trump is a gathering place for its castoffs.

Higher education on the ropes this week:

Conservative Master’s University is in danger of losing its accreditation, at The Signal.

Evangelical journalists blast evangelical university’s censorship, at World Magazine.

Test score fever: Larry Cuban tells a 1970s tale of test nuttiness.

Wowzers: Teaching a flat earth, at FA.

Canadian evangelical university scraps its mandatory student rules, at CT.

A Real Modern Family

Bad news for the rest of us: When it comes to radical views about science and religion, we can’t assume that those views are somehow isolated on the fringes. Take a look at this flat-earth video and you’ll see what I mean.

 

According to Hemant Mehta, the video comes from a homeschool family of nine in Alberta.

So here’s the kicker: We know flat-earth beliefs are pretty extreme. Even radical young-earth creationist organizations like Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis disavow flat-earthism. But we can’t and shouldn’t therefore assume that flat-earthism is somehow socially isolated to obviously “fringe”-type characters. If we really want to understand our culture-war differences about religion and science, we have to come to terms with the fact that radicals don’t look radical.

To this reporter, for example, the house, fashion, and even lame jokes shown in Jessica Faith’s flat-earth video don’t seem all that different from the houses, fashions, and lame jokes on mainstream TV shows such as Modern Family. And Jessica herself bears at least a passing resemblance to Modern Family’s Claire Dunphy.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH don’t need a reminder, but here it is anyway: There’s nothing un-modern about radical science and radical religion. A “modern family” could just as easily be flat-earth homeschoolers as anything else.