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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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?

The Creationist Harvard Is…

Quick: If you are a die-hard young-earth creationist, where would you want your kid to go to college? Bob Jones? Cedarville? They are both on Ken Ham’s list of “safe” schools. In fact, though, radical creationists are in a more complicated dilemma when it comes to elite higher education.CREATION COLLEGE MAP

Here’s what we know: In spite of their long-simmering resentment over the state of mainstream and liberal higher education—as I documented in Fundamentalist U—radical creationists are still trapped in a bitter one-way love affair with elite colleges. In the past, young-earth creationists pointed with pride to the credentials of people such as Kurt Wise.

Dr. Wise earned his PhD in the Harvard lab of the late Stephen Jay Gould. Yet Wise famously clung to his young-earths beliefs. As he wrote a few decades ago,

I am a young age creationist, because that is my understanding of the Scripture. . . . if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.

For years, Wise’s devotion to young-earth beliefs, coupled with his Harvard credentials, earned him the love and respect of the radical creationist community. And now radical creationists have another Crimson hero to celebrate. Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson recently explained his academic journey in the pages of WORLD Magazine. Dr. Jeanson also earned his PhD at Harvard without giving up his young-earth beliefs. As WORLD explained,

Jeanson entered Harvard with a burning desire to find a cure for cancer. He emerged with a determination to push back against evolution and help people struggling with science-religion tension find their way back to Biblical truth.

So what? This celebration of a real live creationist who studied in the world’s greatest university is still a source of enormous pride among radical creationists. As Ken Ham bragged on his blog, Dr. Jeanson’s career proves that their science is really science. As Ham put it,

Creation science is such an exciting field. Many people have this idea that creationists don’t do research, but that’s not true. Many creation scientists are actively involved in exciting discoveries regarding the world around us.

Ham’s celebration of creationist achievement highlights the century-old creationist dilemma. On the one hand, they need to explain to themselves why mainstream science no longer values their vision of proper science. Usually, that means dismissing bitterly those mainstream institutions as “deluded” or “biased.” On the other hand, though, radical creationists yearn endlessly for recognition from those same mainstream institutions.

HarvardShield

Who wants to go to Harvard? We all do…

Harvard has long symbolized the very best and worst of these trends in higher education. Henry Morris, the godfather of radical American creationism, called out Harvard by name in his book The Long War Against God. Harvard went wrong, Morris warned, back in 1869 when Charles Eliot took the helm. In Morris’s telling, Eliot appointed John Fiske, like Eliot a Unitarian, to “introduce and popularize evolutionism in the Harvard curriculum” (pp. 46-47).

Yet as the recent celebration of Dr. Jeanson makes clear, radical creationists still relish the thought of a Harvard diploma. In their view, Harvard may be a terrible and terrifying spiritual institution, but creationists still love it deep down in their hearts.

What Are Radical Creationists Afraid Of?

What are radical young-earth creationists afraid of? One pastor’s tale about coming out to his flock as a creationist who accepts evolution gives us a few clues. As always, it’s not actually evolutionary theory people loathe, but something else.

The Rev. Matt Herndon shared his experience recently at BioLogos. Like a lot of creationists who accept mainstream evolutionary science, Herndon began his adult life as a radical young-earth creationist. As he put it,

I had grown up a young-earth creationist, even defending the position in college and my early days as a church planter. Slowly, though, I grew dissatisfied with the scientific credibility of young-earth explanations. Also, it gradually became less and less obvious to me that Genesis was intended to be read as a scientific description of events in natural history. And the scientific evidence for evolution and an old earth grew steadily more compelling.

None of this really challenged my faith, which is not rooted in a certain interpretation of Genesis, but (among other things) in the historical resurrection of Jesus and my personal encounter with divine grace. In fact, opening myself up to the scientific consensus gave me a new pair of glasses through which to see the beauty and truth of Christian doctrine.

Before he came out as an “evolutionary creationist,” his church had been split, he explained, between young-earth creationists, evolutionary creationists like himself, and undecided creationists. He thought that meant he could safely reveal—as a staunch Christian and creationist—his new acceptance of evolutionary theory.

AIG foundations

For radicals, evolutionary theory itself isn’t the problem. It’s what they think evolution supports that troubles them…

He was wrong.

When he recommended a book supporting evolutionary creationism on Facebook, his church splintered. There was gossip, anger, hard feelings, and eventually a sizeable faction of young-earthers left the church. Why?

In Rev. Herndon’s opinion, the young-earthers left because they were afraid of what their church would become. They were afraid of what would happen to any church without a firm young-earth pastor. As Herndon explained,

To them, evolution isn’t one issue among many that Christians should deal with. It is THE issue that Christians must NOT “compromise” on. For a pastor to “compromise” on a literal reading of Genesis is, in their minds, not a disagreement. It’s a heresy.

In the end, it was not the science or theology that the young-earth radicals were afraid of. After all, they had long been members of a church that was divided between different types of creationism. But when the pastor came down on the moderate side, the radicals left. They didn’t stay to debate the science of radical creationism or mainstream evolutionary theory. They didn’t try to help Herndon see the theological problems inherent in his new ideas about evolution.

To radical young-earth creationism, mainstream evolutionary theory is mainly a problem for what it implies, not what it says. For generations now, radicals have told one another that mainstream evolutionary theory is a gateway drug, a slippery stepping stone to a devil’s brew of pernicious ideas and trends.

Back in the 1970s, for example, in the Kanawha County (WV) school controversy I’ve written about in my book about educational conservatism, one of the creationist protest leaders explained what he disliked about a new set of textbooks. The Rev. Avis Hill explained to an interviewer that there was not just one thing wrong with the books.

Yes, the books were bad, Hill explained. They were full of “that garbage, that trash, that four-letter words.” They encouraged students to “act out a street riot.” They encouraged the sorts of delinquency Hill deplored,

students drinking and . . . smoking their dope. . . . leaning against the wall with their feet on the wall dirtying and defacing the school with initials and names all over it.

Some of the people who liked the new books, Hill admitted, were Christians, but they were the sorts of Christians who were friendly to “gays and homosexuals . . . and being proabortion.”

When pressed, the Rev. Hill had a quick shorthand that he thought captured all these dire cultural trends. In the end, Hill explained, the problem with the new textbooks was that they were contaminated by “attitudes of evolution and all that.”

Avis Hill was far from the only radical creationist to bundle together a host of cultural issues under the vague but all-encompassing label of “evolution and all that.” National young-earth leaders such as Henry Morris and Ken Ham do the same.

In a recent edition of his book The Long War Against God, for instance, Henry Morris argued that evolutionary thinking was bad science, but more important, it had

Practically eliminated the semblance of Bible-based behavior from American life.

Evolutionary thinking, Morris insisted, could be blamed for increased rates of

premarital sex, adultery, divorce, and homosexuality. . . .Unrestrained pornography. . . . Prostitution, both male and female, is at an all-time high, as is its attendant criminal activity. . . . [and] this rapid change in abortionism from criminality to respectability. . . . [plus] the modern drug crisis (rock music, peer pressure, organized crime, etc.)

Morris is not the only radical creationist leader to make these connections. As Ken Ham is fond of arguing, evolutionary theory is the foundation on which all other social ills are built. Unless creationists take a radical, fundamentalist stance against moderate forms of creationism, Ham insists, their churches will be lost.

Taking a firm line against Rev. Herndon’s evolutionary creationism, then, was likely about cultural issues rather than about actual evolutionary science. The radicals who left were likely asking themselves the questions they had been asked since the 1960s: Do you oppose homosexuality? Do you oppose abortion? Are you against crime? Drugs? Rock music? If the answer is yes, radicals have heard for decades, you can’t remain in a church under moderate creationist leadership.

Of course, none of those questions is really about evolutionary science itself, but together they give radicals a clear line of defense. Remaining in a church under moderate creationist leadership, radicals often believe, means supporting abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and even organized crime. The only option is to get out before the inevitable moral decline.

What are radicals afraid of? Not evolutionary science itself. They are afraid of slipping into a temptingly reasonable cultural position. They are afraid of being too soft on abortion rights, homosexuality, rock music, and drug use. The radicals who left Herndon’s church did not mind praying with non-radical creationists. But when their pastor came down against radical creationism, they felt they had to get out fast. Accepting mainstream evolutionary science, for many radicals, is not really about evolution, but about opening the door to a slew of cultural trends they find abhorrent.

How Roy Moore Put Jesus on a Dinosaur

It’s ugly. And weird. The accusations against Roy Moore in the Washington Post are hard to read without shuddering. It got even uglier and weirder when some evangelical leaders actually supported Moore’s alleged actions. Yet those familiar with the history of American fundamentalist institutions see a familiar pattern in this depressing story. And maybe I’m too deep in my new book about American creationism to think clearly, but it seems to me these sorts of attitudes help explain radical young-earth creationism.

If you haven’t seen the story, it’s grim. The Washington Post shared allegations by women that Roy Moore had groped and kissed them back in the 1970s, when they were young teenagers and he was a thirty-something lawyer. To complicate things, Judge Moore has always been a controversial figure, insisting on keeping a 10-commandments monument in his courtroom even when ordered to remove it. Moreover, Moore just won a contentious GOP primary election in the US Senate race. He’s facing a tough battle with his Democratic opponent.

That history helps explain the continuing support for Moore among conservatives. Almost 40 percent of Alabama evangelicals say they are MORE likely to support Moore after these accusations. Only 28 percent say they’re less likely to do so.

We might be understandably tempted to see the whole thing as just another episode in today’s bare-knuckled political free-for-all. Judge Moore defended himself in those terms, after all. He claimed the whole story was just a cynical smear campaign against him. Real conservatives, he tweeted, needed to see through the fake news. In his words,

The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal — even inflict physical harm — if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me. I believe you and I have a duty to stand up and fight back against the forces of evil waging an all-out war on our conservative values!

From Liberty University, President Jerry Falwell Jr. took Moore at his word. The accuser, Falwell intoned, was not as “credible” as Moore. The same thing happened to President Trump, Falwell noted, yet Trump heroically triumphed.

The story, according to Moore and Falwell, is one of brave conservatives fighting false accusations. In today’s climate, it makes some sense to me that people on both sides would rally around someone who they thought was falsely accused by the “forces of evil.”

But nitty-gritty politics don’t really explain the way some evangelical leaders seem to actually condone Moore’s alleged actions. They don’t just deny the allegations. They deny that there’s anything wrong with them. Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler noted that Joseph and Mary had a similar age difference when they married.

Jesus on a dinosaur

If mainstream science says it couldn’t have happened, it must be true.

“Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter,” Ziegler told the Washington Examiner. “They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Other evangelical leaders rushed to disagree. At Christianity Today, for instance, Ed Stetzer emphasized that evangelicals are not okay with Moore’s alleged actions. As Stetzer put it,

Christians don’t believe the message that is coming from some of Moore’s supporters. Actually, most of us find it really creepy.

Those of us who live outside of the charmed circle of American evangelicalism might have a difficult time understanding why Stetzer even needs to make such a statement. Of course it’s creepy!

As I finish up my book manuscript about American creationism, I can’t help but see enormous parallels between Ziegler-style rationalizations and radical young-earth creationism. As I detail in the book, by the late 1950s America’s conservative evangelicals faced a difficult situation. Unlike their fundamentalist parents in the Scopes generation, by 1960 evangelicals had to cope with the fact that mainstream scientists had generally agreed on the outlines of modern evolutionary theory. They had a few options: Reject creationism altogether along with their evangelical beliefs; accept the scientific strength of mainstream evolutionary thinking but claim that it didn’t change their evangelical religion; or reject mainstream science utterly.

Following the lead of theologian John Whitcomb Jr. and engineering professor Henry Morris, thousands of earnest evangelicals chose the third option. They believed Whitcomb and Morris that mainstream scientists had followed Satan’s red herring and abandoned true science. As Whitcomb and Morris put it in their 1964 preface,

extrapolation of present processes into the prehistoric past or into the eschatological future is not really science.

In order to have true biblical faith, Whitcomb and Morris argued, Christians needed to reject radically the claims of mainstream science. There was a better science out there, a biblical science, that insisted on a young-earth and a literal interpretation of the “days” in the Bible’s six-day creation story.

genesis flood 1961 ed

Why would (false) scientists lie?

Before the 1960s, not many evangelical Christians believed those things. After that, however, young-earth creationism became a mainstream belief among conservative evangelicals.

What does any of this have to do with Alabama’s Senate race? Then and now, conservative evangelicals have nurtured a unique sense of persecution, of their role as a beleaguered minority, unfairly ejected from their rightful role as America’s conscience and moral guardians, usurped and despised. A mainstream society that can treat good Christians that way, the thinking goes, must be following a false trail. When challenged or threatened, then, it is not very difficult for some evangelicals to reject huge swathes of mainstream thinking. Such mainstream thought, after all, had been led astray by the “forces of evil.”

In Moore’s case, we see how quickly some supporters wrapped Moore’s alleged actions in a sheaf of pages from Scripture. And in the case of rejecting mainstream science, it was relatively easy for thousands of evangelicals to believe outrageously radical scientific ideas.

When you assume that mainstream thinking is from the devil, it becomes very easy to accept ideas that the rest of us find bizarre. It becomes easy to think that sexual predation has Gospel roots, or that Jesus could have cavorted happily with Brontosaurus.

HT: MM

Creationist College History, Part II: Parting the Waters

I know, I know, it has been hard to sleep for the last couple days. With the cliff-hanger ending of my last guest post about evangelical colleges at Righting America at the Creation Museum, I’m sure it has been difficult to wait for the sequel.genesis flood 1961 ed

Well, wait no longer: Today at RACM you can read the second half of my argument about the way evangelical higher education influenced the career of American creationism.

The Surprising History of Turkey’s Creationism

A devilish Jewish conspiracy? A beloved Christian import? Recent news from Turkey builds on the surprising evolution of creationism in that country.

Here’s what we know: Alpaslan Durmus, the Turkish education minister, denounced evolution as “beyond their [students’] comprehension.” It will be removed from K-12 textbooks. Durmus explained that the government thought evolution was too “controversial;” that students “don’t have the necessary scientific background and information-based context needed to comprehend.”

Turkish education minister cuts evolution

Evolution’s out

That’s not the surprising part. After all, even when Turkish official textbooks did discuss evolution, they were hardly fair, balanced, or free of religious bigotry. According to The Financial Times, earlier Turkish textbooks warned students that Darwin “had two problems:  first he was a Jew; second, he hated his prominent forehead, big nose and misshapen teeth.” The books mocked Darwin’s lack of formal education, noting strangely that he preferred to spend his time with monkeys in the zoo.

For a while, then, Turkey’s public schools have catered to popular bigotry about evolutionary ideas. Turkey is hardly alone. Evolution is deeply unpopular in many Muslim-majority countries. According to Salman Hameed of Hampshire College, fewer than a fifth of Indonesians, Malaysians, and Pakistanis say they think evolution is true. Only eight percent of Egyptians do. Turkey is no exception. Just as in the United States, evolutionary theory is widely denounced, even if it is not widely understood. Anxious leaders curry favor with conservative religious populations by throwing Darwin under the bus.

It is not news, then, that Turkey’s government is trying to win support among religious voters by eliminating evolution from textbooks. We might be surprised, however, by the history of cross-creationist connections that have long linked Turkey’s Islamic creationists to San Diego’s Christian ones.

The_Creationists_by_Ronald_Numbers

A worldwide flood of creationism

As historian Ronald Numbers described in The Creationists, in the mid-1980s the minister of education in Turkey wrote to the San-Diego based Institute for Creation Research. Turkey’s schools, the minister wrote, needed to “eliminate the secular-based, evolution-only teaching dominant in their schools and replace it with a curriculum teaching the two models, evolution and creation, fairly” (pg. 421).

The relationship between powerful Turkish creationists and American creationists thrived. In 1992, a Turkish creationism conference invited ICR stalwarts Duane Gish and John Morris as keynote speakers.  Professor Numbers also describes the founding in 1990 of the Turkish Science Research Foundation (Bilim Arastirma Vakfi, or BAV).  In Numbers’ words, “For years BAV maintained a cozy relationship with Christian young-earth creationists, feting them at conferences, translating their books, and carrying their message to the Islamic world” (pg. 425).

However, Numbers concluded, “the partnership between the equally uncompromising Christian and Muslim fundamentalists remained understandably unstable” (425). Numbers cited the rhetoric of American creationist leader Henry Morris: “Mohammed is dead and Jesus is alive!” As Numbers noted acerbically, such talk was “hardly calculated to win Muslim friends” (425).

It’s not shocking, then, that Turkish and American creationists keep one another at arm’s length, in spite of American outreach to Turkey and lavish and expensive efforts by Turkish creationists to woo American scientists.

Here’s the last question: Will Turkey’s recent move finally convince pundits to stop saying that the United States is the only country in which creationism thrives? Will creationism finally be seen as the world-wide conservative impulse that it really is?

HT: V(F)W; JC

Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Be a Creationist on Campus…

Who’s the racist? In creation/evolution debates these days, you’re likely to hear creationists tar evolution as a racist idea. Recently, however, young-earth creationist impresario Ken Ham complains that creationist anti-racism has now been labeled a racial “microaggression.”

It has long been a favorite claim of creationist activists. At the end of the twentieth century, for example, veteran creationist campaigner Jerry Bergman argued that Darwin’s evolutionary ideas led in a direct line to the Nazi Holocaust. From the Institute for Creation Research, too, Henry Morris insisted that creationists were the true anti-racists, since they believed all humans came from the same original two ancestors.

Small wonder, then, that creationists today are flummoxed by their renewed role as racists. Ken Ham took umbrage at a new list of microaggressions published by the University of California. As have many campus commentators, the UC list warns that some statements intended to be innocent or race-neutral may actually carry undertones of white privilege. For instance, to say that race doesn’t matter, or that one does not believe in race, can be seen by some as a fair-minded anti-racist statement. For others, however, such “color-blind” statements de-legitimize the unique difficulties experienced by racial minorities.

Ken Ham does not seem interested in those sorts of distinctions. Rather, he tackles the UC accusation head-on, insisting that his creationist anti-racism is the only truly scientific position. As he puts it,

Really, “races” is just an “evolutionized” term we shouldn’t use anymore because the idea is simply not true. So for the University of California to say that we shouldn’t say there’s only one race flies in the face of what observational science has clearly shown to be true! And of course, the Bible makes it obvious there is only one race because all humans are descended from Adam! The University of California (and many other campuses) is trying to suppress certain ideas and promote only one worldview—even contrary to observational science. Our starting point really does matter!

To this reporter, Ham’s umbrage seems to miss the point. By the time California students had time to be offended by his creationist anti-racist microaggression, wouldn’t they already be even more put out by his macro-aggressive creationist evangelism?

The Missionary Imposition in Our Public Schools

They’re out there. In spite of decades of talk about “Godless” public schools, there are plenty of Christian teachers who see their work as a missionary endeavor. That ain’t right, but conservative Christians aren’t the only ones to use public schools to spread religious ideas.

As a new cartoon from young-earth creationism ministry Answers In Genesis makes clear, lots of conservative Christians like the idea that public-school teachers will do their best to preach the Gospel as part of their jobs.

Heroic missionaries in our public schools?

Heroic missionaries in our public schools?

The creationists at AIG are certainly not alone in their celebration of public-school missionary work. At the conservative Christian Pacific Justice Institute, for example, Brad and Susanne Dacus encourage teachers to evangelize on the job. As Marc Fey of Focus on the Family writes about their work, it will help teachers spread the Gospel in “one of the greatest mission fields in our country today, our public schools.”

This sort of missionary vision for America’s public schools has a long history. Going back to the 1940s, groups such as Youth For Christ worked to get old-time religion into modern public schools. Beginning in 1945, as the idea of the “teenager” took on new cultural clout, YFC founder Torrey Johnson hoped to make YFC a group that would speak in the language of the new teen culture. As he explained to YFC missionaries, young people in the 1940s were

sick and tired of all this ‘boogie-woogie’ that has been going on, and all this ‘jitterbugging’—they want something that is REAL!

As early as 1949, YFC leaders such as Bob Cook argued that “high school Bible club work [was] the next great gospel frontier.” As he put it, YFC must aggressively evangelize among secular public high school students, since “atomic warfare will most certainly finish off millions of these youngsters before routine evangelism gets around to them.” By 1960, YFC claimed to have formed 3,600 school-based Bible clubs in the United States and Canada.

By 1962, these ad-hoc Bible clubs had been organized into a YFC program known as “Campus Life.” Campus Life included two main components, outreach to non-evangelical students and ministry to evangelical students.

In order to engage in this public school evangelism, national YFC leaders told local activists they must “invade the world where non-Christian kids are.” As an operations manual for Campus Life leaders warned its readers, their first entry into that hostile territory could be frightening. It described common feelings among YFC evangelists on their first approach to a public high school:

There it looms—a huge, humming, hostile high school. Hundreds, thousands of students, a professional corps of teachers and administrators, all busily turning the wheels of secular education.

To you, it’s a mission field. It has masses of kids who need spiritual help, even though most of them don’t know it. You and the Lord have decided to invade that field through the strategy called Campus Life.

This missionary attitude about public schools has also had a long and checkered history among creationists. Writing in 1991, for example, Henry Morris of the Institute for Creation Research called public schools “the most strategically important mission field in the world.”

As have other conservative Christians and creationists, the ICR repeatedly described public schools as unfairly biased against Christianity. As Henry Morris’s son and intellectual heir John D. Morris put it, “today’s public high schools and state universities are confrontational to the creationist student.” Aggressively secular teachers, John Morris warned, “take it upon themselves to ridicule Christianity and belittle and intimidate creationist students.”

Throughout the 1980s, ICR writers described the double impact of their missionary work in public schools. First, it would protect creationist kids from secularist hostility. Second, it could bring the Gospel message of creationism to students who would not hear it elsewhere. Missionary teachers had a unique opportunity. In 1989, one ICR writer explained it this way: “As a teacher,” he wrote, “you are a unique minister of ‘light.’ Your work will ‘salt’ the education process.” Similarly, in 1990 John Morris argued that the greatest hope for a decrepit and dangerous public school system lay with “Christian teachers who consider their jobs a mission field and a Christian calling.”

Every once in a while, you’ll hear young-earth creationist activists insist that they do not want to push creationism into public schools. But they certainly do want to make room for creationism. They hope to use public schools as a “mission field” to spread their Gospel.

They shouldn’t. But before we get too angry about it, we need to reflect on what this really means for our creation/evolution debates.

To folks like me, the most important value of public education is that it is welcoming to all students and families. It should not push religious values upon its students. It should not even imply that one sort of belief is proper and others are not.

As my co-author Harvey Siegel and I argue in our upcoming book (available in February!), the goal of science education must not be to indoctrinate children into any sort of belief about human origins.

Modern evolutionary science is currently our best scientific explanation of the history of human life. Therefore, we need to teach it in science class, unadulterated with creationist notions of design or supernatural intervention.

But too often, the implied goal is to free students from the shackles of their outdated religious ideas. Too often, the goal of evolution education is to change student belief about natural and supernatural phenomena. Progressive teachers like me sometimes slide into an aggressive ambition to help students see the world as it really is.

We shouldn’t. Not if students have religious reasons for believing otherwise. As I’ve argued at more length in the pages of Reports of the National Center for Science Education, too often evolution educators make the same mistaken “Missionary Supposition” that has tarnished conservative Christianity.

Are creationists in the wrong when they use public schools as a “mission field?” Definitely.

But they are not wrong because their religion is wrong.

They are wrong because public schools by definition must remain aggressively pluralist. They must welcome people of all religious faiths, and of none. In order for evolution education to move forward, we must all remember that public schools can’t promote any particular idea about religion, even the religious idea that young-earth creationism is silly.

Creationism Then & Now

Do you read Ted Davis? For folks interested in the creation/evolution debates, Professor Davis has long produced essential historical analyses of the various voices of creationism in all their befuddling complexity. I was reading one of Professor Davis’ essays on the Biologos Forum recently and it raised some perennial questions: Can we compare the dissenting science of today’s creationists to the scientific ideas of long ago? Can today’s creationists claim a long legacy of prestigious scientific antecedents?

Cutting-edge creation science, c. 1827

Cutting-edge creation science, c. 1827

Davis is writing these days about science and creationism in antebellum America. In this post, he explains the school of “Scriptural Geology” that attracted religious scientists in the early 1800s. Scholars such as Princeton Seminary’s Samuel Miller and Anglican minister George Bugg rebutted new(ish) ideas of an ancient earth.

Professor Davis pointed out the remarkable similarities of their 19th-century arguments with the 21st-century arguments of today’s young-earth creationists. As Davis put it,

Readers familiar with Henry Morris or Ken Ham will find many of their ideas, expressed in substantially the same ways and for the same reasons, in the pages of Bugg’s book.

Now, Professor Davis would be the last person to ignore historical context or to misunderstand the historical changes that have wracked the world of creationist scientists. Yet his comparison to the Scriptural Geologists to Answers in Genesis or the Institute for Creation Research points out the radical changes that have taken place in the realms of creationism and science.

In the 1820s, discussions of the age of the earth still had some fading legitimacy among mainstream scientists. Even as late as the 1920s, when American politicians such as William Jennings Bryan insisted that “Darwinism” was losing scientific prestige, their claims made some sense. In the 1920s, for example, mainstream scientists had not yet cobbled together the modern evolutionary synthesis. They had not yet figured out how to reconcile the mechanism of natural selection with the maintenance of beneficial mutations.

As I describe in my upcoming book, mainstream science has changed enormously over the course of the twentieth century. Positions that made some scientific sense in 1827, or 1927, lost those claims as the 20th century progressed.

As an obvious result, there yawns an enormous gulf between the work of George Bugg and that of Ken Ham or Henry Morris. Today’s young-earth creationists are forced to take the role of utter scientific outsiders. They are forced to dismiss the entirety of mainstream evolutionary science as deluded.

Of course, as Professor Davis explains, earlier “creationists” such as Miller and Bugg also felt like scientific outsiders. But their position was radically different. Saying nearly the exact same thing, as always, can mean very different things, depending on when one says them.