These Twelve Teachers Terrify Me

Me, I don’t think more guns in school are a good idea. But if we were to go ahead with such a plan, we have to find a better way to figure out who our gun-toters will be. A recent Gallup poll offers a frightening scenario.

The poll finds that teachers overall don’t want guns. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of polled teachers oppose the idea. A significant majority (58%) think it will make schools less safe.gallup on teachers with guns

The scary result is different. Some teachers (18%) said they’d be willing to carry guns at work. Of those, two-thirds told pollsters they were “very confident” that “with special training [they] could handle a gun effectively in a live shooting situation at [their] school.”gallup on teachers with guns 2

Am I crazy? Or are these twelve-out-of-a-hundred teachers who think they know just what to do with a deadly weapon the LAST people who should be packing heat in school? Have we forgotten the lessons of Farva?

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Eden and Zion

When you picture radical creationists, what do you think of? As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, it’s all too easy to fall into misleading stereotypes. Instead of asking about “creationism,” we need to get into the habit of talking about “creationisms.” After all, creationism in the USA and in the world is not one thing, but many. A new survey of LDS (Mormon) beliefs about creation and evolution gives us yet another reminder of this diversity.

Benjamin Knoll and Jana Reiss asked a sample of LDS members two questions about evolution. Here is a breakdown of their results:

God created Adam and Eve sometime in the last 10,000 years and humans did not evolve from other life forms.”

  • 53% “I am confident and know this is true.”
  • 21% “I believe and have faith that this is probably true.”
  • 13% “I believe this might be true, but I have my doubts.”
  • 7% “I believe this is probably NOT true.”
  • 6% “I am confident and know this is NOT true.”

“Evolution is the best explanation for how God brought about the emergence and development of life on Earth.”

  • 24% “I am confident and know this is true.”
  • 25% “I believe and have faith that this is probably true.”
  • 17% “I believe this might be true, but I have my doubts.”
  • 13% “I believe this is probably NOT true.”
  • 20% “I am confident and know this is NOT true.”

As always, the poll numbers leave us hankering for more. Some of the most contentious issues among American creationists were left out. We see that huge majorities of LDS members think our species was created as the Bible describes. But what do LDS members think about the age of the earth and universe? Do they think there might have been a long “gap” between creations? Or maybe that the “days” of creation were really long “ages?”

This survey just doesn’t say. However, it does give us some very helpful insights into LDS thinking on these questions. Not surprisingly, a large majority of LDS respondents agrees that humanity was created specially and recently. Also not surprisingly, the notion of God-guided evolution seems very divisive among LDS members.gallup creationism poll may 2017

Though the questions and possible responses don’t match up perfectly, it seems from this survey that LDS members are more likely than Americans as a whole to embrace a recent, special creation of our species. As Gallup has reported for the last few decades, the number of Americans in general who choose a recent special creation of humanity has fluctuated between 38 and 47%.

LDS respondents also seem a little less likely than Americans as a whole to take God out of the process. The Gallup numbers suggest that more and more respondents choose a God-free explanation. Among LDS respondents, only 13% didn’t think a recent special creation was likely.

Though they represent only 1.5% of all Americans, LDS members have unique clout in Utah. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that evolution remains a contested topic in Utah’s public schools.

The Headline You’ll Never Read

Cereal gets stale after about two weeks. Cheese can last a while. Milk goes bad much quicker. But conservatives never seem to tire of hysterical warnings about left-wing takeovers of public schools. Your humble editor experienced a dizzying bout of déjà vu this morning reading Newt Gingrich’s furious warning about the influence of “radical, left-wing” teachers. I had to check my watch and even my calendar to make sure what year it was. It serves as another reminder: When it comes to culture-war rants about public education, there is one headline that we’ll never see.

breaking-news

The headlines we’ll never see…

Don’t get me wrong: I understand why conservative activists like Gingrich want people to think left-wingers are taking over public schools. No conservative parent is likely to open her wallet for a politician who tells her there’s nothing much to worry about. So Gingrich tries to build back his political clout by warning FoxNews readers about a “thinly veiled attempt to instill radical, left-wing political views in impressionable children.”

Gingrich is reacting to an obscure story out of Minnesota, dug up by conservative muckrakers. In Edina, Minnesota (population 51,350), the school board is apparently implementing a new inclusivity curriculum. Students will read books such as A Is for Activism. [SAGLRROILYBYGTH may remember the title from earlier fuss-and-feathers controversies about it.] As Gingrich fumes, “This is pure, unapologetic political indoctrination of American youth.”

As I argued in my book about the history of educational conservatism, Gingrich is reading word-for-word from an old conservative playbook. In the 1930s, for example, conservative activists went haywire over a textbook series by progressive-ish scholar Harold Rugg. Back then, leaders of the American Legion foamed and fumed that Rugg’s educational scheme “encourages the totalitarian borers-from-within who would destroy our democracy.”

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Boring…boring…boring…(c. 1941)

There’s no doubt that Harold Rugg really did hope to push American school and society to the political left. And I’m guessing some of the teachers in Edina feel the same way. But the notion that teachers and education professors are able to sneakily install a mind-warping left-wing curriculum in American public schools is simply ludicrous. Even if we wanted to—and again, I admit that some teachers and ed-school professors really do want to—such conspiracy theories miss a central truth about American education.

And that fundamental truth about schools and schooling generates the headlines you’ll never see. By and large, when conservatives want to rile up their base, they need to dig pretty hard to find teachers and districts that veer very hard to the political left. By and large, most schools are fairly traditional places, focusing on non-controversial tasks such as preparing students for jobs or college. Teachers, by and large, tend to avoid controversy.gallup people like their local schools

And that, perhaps, is what makes Gingrich’s job so hard. We know that most people—whatever their political affiliation—are happy with their local public schools. When Americans actually send their kids to a public school, they tend to be very happy with that school, even if they are pessimistic about the state of public education as a whole.

For Gingrich to get any attention, he has to pick out unusual examples of school districts far away that are doing something fairly unusual. Why? Because most of Gingrich’s audience is actually HAPPY with their local schools. Those schools don’t dabble in anything even remotely controversial. If a local community is Gingrich territory, the schools will be, too

How Many Americans REALLY Believe in a Young Earth?

The new numbers are out. And they are, well, new. But before we leap to any conclusions about the numbers of Americans who believe in a recent divine creation of our species, we need to look at the full story.

Here’s what we know: The new Gallup poll about creationism shows a dip in numbers of respondents who think humanity was created in “pretty much its present form” within the past 10,000 years or so. Since the 1980s, the number has hovered at about 44-47% of respondents. This year, it dropped to only 38%.

gallup data 2017

Are we getting better at science? Or only getting better at answering poll questions?

We might want to say that the radical form of young-earth creationism is losing steam. And it might really be. But there’s a more nuanced conclusion we can draw if we scratch a little deeper at the numbers.

Before we begin, though, we need to lodge a complaint about terminology. Gallup calls people “creationists” only if they believe that humanity was created in its current form within the last 10,000 years. Sure, those folks are creationists, but so are the many people who believe God created humanity over a longer stretch of time. Calling only young-earth types “creationists” means taking sides in a family feud between branches of the evangelical/creationist family, as I’m arguing in my current book about evangelical higher education. I don’t think the Gallup folks really mean to do that and they should take a hard look at their terminology.

But let’s put those gripes to one side for now. Gallup gives us some demographic info about the YEC respondents. Not surprisingly, a large majority of people who go to church every week (65%) opted for a recent direct creation of humanity. And exactly half of non-Catholic Christian respondents did.

This demographic info helps us see a more likely real portrait of Americans’ beliefs about the origins of our species. When we ask more targeted questions about people’s beliefs, we get a far more complicated picture. Political scientist George Bishop of the University of Cincinnati crunched some different polling data from Harris. Of those who picked Gallup’s recent-creation option, Bishop found, over half (56%) also believed that dinosaurs had gone extinct over 65 million years ago. Over half (54%) also believed that all non-human animals share common ancestors.

In other words, among the people who picked Gallup’s recent-creation-of-humans option, lots of them also believe in evolution and an ancient earth.

Other poll questions have come up with similarly confounding results. The 2009 Harris poll, for example, found that only 29% of respondents agreed that “Human beings evolved from earlier species.” But a much larger 53% of respondents said they “believe Charles Darwin’s theory which states that plants animals and humans have evolved over time.” With such drastic differences, it’s hard to know what Americans truly believe.

So what can we make of all these higgledy-piggledy poll results? Here’s what I think: If we want to know how many people want to identify politically as young-earth creationists, then Gallup’s numbers are trustworthy. Lots of active evangelicals know that they are supposed to think that our species has been created recently.

But if we want to know what people really think about evolution and creation, the Gallup numbers are not very helpful. In most cases, as I’m arguing in my current book about American creationism, people don’t really have clear, coherent ideas about evolution and creation. Most of us hold in our heads a grab bag of ideas and beliefs, facts and falsehoods.

We don’t find it difficult, for some reason, to believe in both Adam & Eve and evolution. We don’t find it challenging to accept the notion of an ancient earth while still holding on to our belief in a recent creation. In short, what Americans believe about creationism and evolution is far more jumbled than what we tell pollsters we believe.

Bad News for Everyone

Have you seen it yet?  The new Gallup poll on creationism and evolution is out.  The numbers are about the same as they have been for the past thirty years.  But beyond those numbers, the backgrounds of Gallup’s respondents has some bad news for creationists.  It also has bad news for evolution-lovers.

Stable Numbers Since the 1980s

Stable Numbers Since the 1980s

Since the 1980s, Gallup’s pollsters have been offering respondents three options about the origins of humanity.  This time, 42% chose the young-earth creationist option: “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”  In contrast, 31% chose “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided the process.”  A whopping 19% selected “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in the process.”

Those numbers have remained fairly stable for the past generation.  But another result of the recent poll numbers needs some examination.  The young-earth position is much more common among less educated adults.  For those with less than a high-school diploma, 57% selected the young-earth option.  A far smaller proportion, only 27%, of Americans with a college degree chose the young-earth explanation.

"Organized Ignorance?"

“Organized Ignorance?”

This is bad news for everyone.

For creationists, these numbers suggest that more education means less creationism.  Throughout the lifespan of American creationism, creationist intellectuals have fought a rearguard action against accusations of ignorance.  In 1927, for example, Minneapolis fundamentalist leader William Bell Riley told a reporter,

Every time I hear the argument that this is a controversy between experts on the one hand, and, as someone has said, ‘organized ignorance,’ on the other, I smile.  This is not a debate between the educated and the uneducated.

Riley’s smile grew more and more strained as the 1920s wore on.  And later generations of creationists found it even more difficult to take the intellectual high ground.  These numbers mean bad news for them.

But the numbers mean bad news for evolution mavens, too.

Though more college grads embrace a non-young-earth understanding of the origins of humanity, 27% is still a significant number.  It means that over a quarter of adults who have been to college—educated adults, that is—select a young earth as the best explanation.  Over a quarter!  Some of those, to be sure, may attend what young-earth creationists embrace as “Creation Colleges.”  Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis, for example, publishes a list (and a map!) of schools that he views as faithful to the Bible’s obvious meaning.

But many of those college-educated young-earth creationists likely attend non-creationist colleges as well.  As anthropologist David Long demonstrated in his study of creationists at a large public university, studying biology at a secular university does not tend to shake the faith of creationist students.  Of his interview subjects, only one abandoned her creation faith as she majored in biology.  And it wasn’t the science that convinced her.  She had already begun to move away from her faith in high school, due to an early pregnancy and the sour reaction of her church community.

As I argued a while back in the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, anti-creationists are too fond of calling all creationists “ignoramuses.”  Certainly, some folks must embrace creationism because they just don’t know better.  But many educated adults DO know about evolution.  They simply choose young-earth creationism instead.  That is a troubling fact that anti-creationists have always had a hard time dealing with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bible as America’s Book: Americans Love the Bible

I don’t care much about the Bible.  I admit it.  In my work as a historian of American conservatism and conservative Christianity, I’ve tried a couple of times to study the Bible systematically.  After all, the Bible and its phraseology play a large role in the culture of the people I’m studying.  At the very least, I need to cultivate a familiarity with it so that I can catch the references that fly around so fast and furious in Fundamentalist America.  So I’ve tried to read the Bible.  Turns out I can read it if I have to, but I admit I’ve never felt any of the spiritual power that many Christians have described.

I can take it one step further.  I don’t think the Bible can help me figure out my problems.  I don’t think it has much to say about my personal life.  I feel even more strongly that the Bible doesn’t have any answers for our common cultural or political life.  Intellectually, I agree with skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and others who have dismissed the Bible as a collection of ancient myths, trapped in the provincial traditions of one group of Middle Eastern nomads.

For most of my life, I assumed such attitudes were normal.  I thought that most Americans agreed that the Bible must not be used as the simple truth about life and eternity, but rather as a collection of moral tales from one religious tradition.

I felt confirmed that my attitudes matched those of lots of Americans by seeing hilarious religion jokes by folks like George Carlin (wait for it) and the makers of Family Guy.

I thought such irreverent attitudes about the Bible were the norm.  They still seem to be the norm among my circle of professional and personal acquaintance.  But they are not.  If we want to understand life in America, and especially if we hope to understand Fundamentalist America, we need to recognize the significant power of the Bible in the lives of most Americans.  If we can believe Gallup poll data, we must acknowledge the continuing deep reverence for the Bible among most Americans.  For instance, one 2000 poll asked respondents, “Do you believe the Bible answers all or most of the basic questions of life, or not?” 65% of respondents answered yes.  65%!  That is a significant majority.

And consider these responses to an often-repeated Gallup question:

  The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken   literally word for word The Bible is the inspired word of God but is not to be   interpreted literally The Bible is a collection of myths and fables.
1976 38 45 13
1980 40 45 9
1991 32 49 9
1993 35 48 14
1998 33 47 17

Looking at these results, especially if we combine the first two Bible-friendly categories, we see truly impressive majorities of American respondents view the Bible as the word of God.  Even when we only consider those who think of it as the literal truth, the numbers are still fairly large—certainly large enough to attract the attention of political strategists and advertisers.

Just as with similar questions about evolution, we must acknowledge that the number of Americans who don’t embrace the Bible is remarkably small.  We need to avoid the arrogance and self-importance of many Bible skeptics.  Instead of asking, Why do so many Americans seem to believe in the Bible or creationism?, we really should be asking, How have such small minorities of evolutionists and Bible skeptics been able to achieve such influence in American culture?

I know many ILYBYGTH readers will not be surprised by these statistics.  Anyone who knows much about life in Fundamentalist America recognizes the large majorities Fundamentalism can claim.  But many folks outside of Fundamentalist America’s boundaries have very little idea how isolated they are.  Like me, many people only interact with folks who tend to believe in evolution, with people who do not look to the Bible as their source of answers to life’s problems.  If we hope to understand Fundamentalist America, we need to acknowledge the continuing power of the Bible among such commanding majorities of Americans of every background.