Extremely Mainstream

It’s uncomfortable. Listening to a high government official denounce evolutionary theory and Islam makes me nervous for the future of the USA. More important, though, it brings us back to a tough question: When is an idea “extreme?” Our answers matter, because extremism can be kicked to the curb, but strong disagreement can’t.

pruitt

Terrible? Yes. Outside the mainstream? No.

To SAGLRROILYBYGTH, this discussion will feel familiar. In recent weeks, we’ve been wondering if young-earth creationism really counts as “hate speech.” We’ve debated whether tax-funded student groups should be free to discriminate. We’ve examined the decisions of conservative Californians to shun a speaker they considered “extreme.

The details of the story this week are different, but the issue is the same. Scott Pruitt, former state senator and current head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has had some of his old laundry aired in public. In thirteen-year-old radio interviews, Director Pruitt talks about a range of issues, from science to the Second Amendment.

Is evolution really the best explanation for the diversity of species? Quoth Pruitt,

There aren’t sufficient scientific facts to establish the theory of evolution, and it deals with the origins of man, which is more from a philosophical standpoint than a scientific standpoint.

Should some kinds of guns be banned? Not according to Pruitt:

If you can tell me what gun, type of gun, I can possess, then I didn’t really get that right to keep and bear arms from God. . . . It was not bequeathed to me, it was not unalienable, right?

Is Islam a religion that deserves constitutional protection? Pruitt thinks so, but he didn’t object when one of the interviewers called Islam

not so much a religion as it is a terrorist organization in many instances.

To a person like me, those ideas are both ridiculous and frightening. Ridiculous because they articulate a vast ignorance of the history of our Constitution, of evolutionary science, and basic knowledge about Islam. Frightening, because they articulate a vision of proper government that could include radical violations of Constitutional rights and dangerous inaction concerning gun control.gallup islam

But here’s the rub. The author of a Politico article about Pruitt’s 2005 interviews denounces Pruitt’s

stances that at times are at odds with the broader American mainstream, and in some cases with accepted scientific findings. [Emphasis added.]

For starters, I won’t call attention to the goof in the article about the Supreme Court’s 1947 Everson decision. The author thinks SCOTUS ruled against tax-funded bussing for Catholic schools in that landmark case, but in fact the decision went the other way.

The real issue here is not SCOTUS history, but rather the difficult definition of “mainstream.” I’ll admit it: I’m angry about Pruitt’s views. I’m angry that someone with such opinions would be posted to the head of a scientific government agency. But that doesn’t mean that Pruitt’s ideas are out of the mainstream. When an idea is shared by a plurality of Americans, how can it possibly be out of the mainstream?gallup guns

Gallup polls, for example, indicate that more than a third of American respondents who say they are not prejudiced against Muslims still have an unfavorable view of Islam. Yes, you read that right. Of the people who say they are NOT prejudiced against Islam, 36% still say they don’t like it. Of the people who say they ARE prejudiced against Muslims, that number jumps to 91%.

Similarly, the number of Gallup’s respondents who think America needs stricter gun laws has dropped in the last three decades. In 1991, 78% of respondents wanted stricter gun laws. In 2017, that number was only 60%.

The same is true with evolution. Large majorities of Gallup respondents agree that humanity was either created recently or created by God over time. At best, mainstream evolutionary theory has captured the hearts of a small minority of Americans. It’s only “mainstream” among a small coterie of scientists.gallup creationism poll may 2017

If Director Pruitt agrees with large segments of the American population—sometimes a majority—how can his views be called “at odds with the broader American mainstream”?

The distinctions matter. If an idea is extreme, or discriminatory, or illegitimate, or non-mainstream, it seems fair to push that idea outside the boundaries of polite political or cultural discussion. If not, we have to talk about it.

Like it or not, Director Pruitt’s terrible ideas are as American as apple pie.

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

The deep freeze hasn’t slowed down the pundits. Here are a few ILYBYGTH-themed stories that crossed our desk this week:

What’s wrong with being polite? It might be coded white supremacy—Steve Salerno blasts the campaign against “white-informed civility” at WSJ.

In Google’s shadow: San Francisco public schools failing African American students, from LATimes.

Why is it so hard to recruit and retain teachers? The story from McDowell County, West Virginia, at Hechinger.Bart reading bible

Islam and Evolution, at Beliefnet.

Peter Greene asks if Queen Betsy’s time has already come and gone, at Curmudgucation.

Christian college suspends its pastor for officiating at a same-sex wedding, at IHE.

Cruel and unusual? Baltimore teachers complain that cold classrooms are inhumane, at NYT.

Understanding the un-understandable:

Trumpism on campus: At The Atlantic, Elaine Godfrey looks at the fight for the soul of the College Republicans.

Charter schools aren’t doing the job, by Michelle Chen at The Nation.

College is doomed. Demographic shifts predict fewer students and fewer tuition dollars, at IHE.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another rip-roaring week has come and gone in the offices of ILYBYGTH. Here are some stories you might have missed:

Anti-Muslim? Or pro-secular? School-prayer debates in Ontario.

Forget about free speech and violent protests for a second. At WaPo, Jeffrey Selingo argues that there are much bigger problems to worry about in the world of higher education.Bart reading bible

Southern evangelical churches wonder what to do about their Confederate monuments.

Summer vacation is here. From the Fordham Institute, Christopher Rom says we need to get rid of it. And it’s not because we’re not all a bunch of farmers anymore.

Jerry Falwell wants in. But other university leaders want out. Queen Betsy’s Ed Dept is having trouble filling its ranks.

The more things change…Southern Baptist Convention debates an anti-racism resolution.

More Trumpian tragedy: Cabinet meeting relives the opening of King Lear.

Helicopter parenting and the authoritarian personality: Pratik Chougule makes the case at the American Conservative.

Teaching climate change: A rundown of the latest developments.

DeVos’s Ed Dept. closes a sexual-assault investigation at Liberty University.

What do we do when a religion is all about racial violence? The question of Odinism.

Will vouchers help? Only at the edges, two researchers claim. Positive effects from vouchers are due to something else.

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

Helen A. Handbasket, America’s Schoolteacher

It can get weird. Sometimes, as a mild-mannered historian, I get a overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Sometimes stories from today’s headlines seem to shamble straight out of the past.

Case in point: As I warm my heels down here in sunny Florida, I got a little freaked out by the startling similarities of the letters in today’s local newspaper to those I uncovered in the research for my book about educational conservatism. Whatever the decade, it seems, people like to take potshots at teachers. Since the 1920s at least, it has been a popular national pastime to criticize the vast incompetence and presumed political chicanery perpetrated by our local teachers.

First, some background. SAGLRROILYBYGTH might have noticed a warmer, more humid tone in these pages lately. It’s due to the fact that I’ve been enjoying some family vacation time in sunny Florida. As a compulsive culture-war chatterer, though, I couldn’t just sit back and sip something. I cracked open the local paper, and 1949 jumped out.

Florida newspaper

Hello? It’s 1949 calling…

The story in the Charlotte Sun from Executive Editor Jim Gouvellis concerned a controversial recent event by local politician Paul Stamoulis. Stamoulis had given a series of lectures about the dangers of Islam. Some folks thought it was a good idea. Others thought it was a scary abuse of power by a right-wing ideologue.

Editor Gouvellis opened up the pages of today’s paper to letters from the community. The issue of political Islam was relatively new, but the tone of the letters was eerily similar to those I found in archives around the country, from the 1920s through the 1980s.

In particular, I was creeped out by the echoes from Pasadena’s school controversy between 1949 and 1951. Back then, an intrepid local newspaper editor tried the same thing. He asked for letters from the community. What did people think of their schools?

Pasadena indep

Nossir…I don’t like it.

The issues were different. Today’s Floridians are weighing in about the propriety of an elected official using public money to make inflammatory speeches. In Pasadena, parents were mad about the alleged misdemeanors of “progressive education.” You’d think the two things would have nothing in common.

But they do. Lots of people–wherever they live, whenever they lived–seem to assume that teachers are terrible. Public-school teachers, at least.

And to your humble editor, the tone and target of today’s letters seem shockingly similar to that of Pasadena, 1949. So similar, in fact, that I thought I’d try a little experiment. I’ll post below a clip from today’s Florida newspaper mixed in with a bunch from Pasadena, California, 1949.

Can you pick out the local one? Without cheating and clicking on the story link above?

  1. There is a growing feeling among parents that there is something amiss in our public schools.
  2. As for your comment and others’ regarding [XXX]’s lack thereof of a formal educational background, I do believe that perhaps we need more such “teachers” in our educational system today, based upon the misinformation being spoon-fed to our children by today’s so-called educators.
  3. Another claim that the teaching fraternity continually push forward is that they are grossly underpaid.  My observation is that in [XXX] this is untrue.  For nine months’ work and occasional brush-up courses in the summer they receive the same salary or better than competent office help receive for 11 ½ months’ work.
  4. I have personally felt that the modern school system of education is based on politics. . . . This larger percentage is easy prey to propaganda leaders and naturally look up to them, thinking the fault lies in themselves and not in the school system of education.
  5. In my opinion, the honorable school board is using our youngsters as educational guinea pigs.

Can you tell which one of these is today’s newspaper and which is from your grandparents’?

The Biggest Creationists in the World

Is Christianity the most creationist religion?  Islam?  A new study from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East suggests some surprising conclusions about the relationship between religion and creationism.

The study by Pierre Clément of the Université de Lyon used a questionnaire distributed to teachers throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.  Fifteen of the questions had something to do with evolution.

Creationist hotspot, whatever your religion...

Creationist hotspot, whatever your religion…

Perhaps not surprising, in countries where teachers tended to be more religious, they also tended to be more creationist.  In Algeria, for example, 91.9% of respondents identified as Muslim.  Only 1.3% called themselves atheists or agnostic.  And over 90% of those Algerian teachers thought that “Only God” was responsible for the origin of humanity.

Compare that to France, where just over half of teachers identified as atheist/agnostic, 38.1% called themselves Catholic, and 1.5% said they were Muslims.  Only about 2% of French teachers thought that “Only God” was responsible for the creation of humanity.

The authors had wondered if Islam tended to push teachers harder toward creationism than did Christianity.  That is, do Muslims tend to be more creationist than Christians?  Their conclusion: Not in these countries, it seems.  As Clément put it,

There is not a specific effect on the Muslim religion itself on the teachers’ conceptions of evolution, but a more general effect of their degree of belief in God, whatever their religion.

In creationist-heavy countries, that is, Christians and Muslims agree.  On creationism at least.

What If Stories, Part Deux: War, Islam, and the Ottoman Empire

How would creationism have looked different if World War I had never happened?  That’s the question the National Center for Science Education is asking these days.

In the second post of the series, Taner Edis of Truman State University asks how creationism would have evolved differently in the Islamic world.  How did the cataclysm of the war change Muslim’s attitudes about evolution?  How did the war-time collapse of the Ottoman Empire change the course of creationism in the Islamic world?  Take a look at Professor Edis’ post to find out.

Atheist Creationists

Why do people believe that the world was created in pretty much its present form within the past 10,000 years or so?  Because the Bible tells them so?

Not necessarily.

A new YouGov poll reports that significant percentages of non-Bible-believing religious folks adhere to creationist beliefs, too.  Even more puzzling, many non-religious folks agree.

As reported by the National Center for Science Education, the new poll offers some minor changes to the traditional “sticky” number of around 45% of American adults who choose a young-earth creationist explanation of the origins of humanity.  In this poll, conducted earlier this month, only 37% of respondents agreed that “God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years.”

But more interesting than the minor fluctuations in the total number were the breakouts by religious belief.  A whopping 59% of Protestant respondents chose the creationist answer.  30% of Catholics; 17% of Jewish respondents.

But here’s the kicker: 2% of atheist respondents also thought creationism offered the best explanation of humanity’s origin.  That’s a small percentage, of course, but a stumper nonetheless.  Did they not understand the question?

Even more puzzling, just under a quarter of “nones” chose a creationist answer, too.  That is, of those who identified their religion as “nothing in particular,” 24% selected a creationist explanation of humanity.  24%!

These numbers baffle me.  If a small but significant number of atheists can be creationists, and a large percentage of nones can be, then our notion of creationism as the province of a diehard subculture of “fundamentalist” Protestants doesn’t make sense.

We could add, of course, that in this survey the largest percentage of creationist respondents did not come from Christianity at all.  64% of Muslim respondents selected the creationist explanation.  Significant numbers of other non-Christians agreed: 35% of Hindus opted for creationism.

Who are America’s creationists?  Perhaps our image of a Bible-wielding tent evangelist needs to be updated.

 

Which Religious Right? A New Islamic College for America

Whom do we think of when we think of religious conservatives in the United States?  Folks who want to censor and ban books?  Who want to get kids out of public schools and into religious one?  Who question the authority of mainstream science?

Most important for today’s post, who do we think of when we think of religious folks who start their own schools and colleges in order to pass along their religious traditions?

The obvious suspects, of course, are conservative Protestants, especially those from the evangelical tradition.  As I argued in my 1920s book, conservative evangelicals have worked hard throughout the twentieth century to save young people from pernicious ideas such as materialism and evolution.  They have founded influential schools and colleges in order to do so.

But in this century, we need to consider a new type of conservative religious school, the Islamic academy.

Recently, Religion & Politics featured an excerpt from Scott Korb’s new book about Zaytuna College, “the Nation’s first Muslim liberal arts college.”

As Korb notes in this excerpt, Zaytuna College has big plans.  Its founders hope to make Zaytuna “a place where . . . the text of the Koran could meet the context of American culture.”  Korb also argues that Zaytuna’s famous co-founder, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, is best understood as “conservative.”

In some ways, Sheikh Hamza’s educational ideology seems to echo that of his Christian co-conservatives.  For instance, Korb points out that Yusuf works with his siblings to promote religious homeschooling.  He has warned fellow Muslims, “We absolutely must remove our children from state schools.”

Though Korb’s excerpt did not include this, Sheikh Hamza has also worked together with other religious-conservatives intellectuals to discourage the availability of pornography in hotels.  Sheikh Hamza has publicly critiqued arrogant mainstream science, science that purports to know more than it can reasonably justify.

In all these ways, Sheikh Hamza and his new college seem to parallel the thinking of conservative Protestants in the United States.  However, there are some important differences.  Look, for example, at the books he recommends.  Some are classics from the conservative canon.  Michael Behe’s intelligent-design polemic Darwin’s Black Box made the list, as did William Bennett’s Book of Virtues, Newt Gingrich’s To Renew America and John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down.  Nothing most conservative evangelicals might not endorse.  But Sheikh Hamza’s reading list includes progressive favorites, including Howard Zinn’s People’s History of America and Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

More important, history matters.  Korb points out that many journalists have been too quick to call Sheikh Hamza a “‘moderate’ or ‘progressive’ Muslim” due to Sheikh Hamza’s stern anti-terrorism.   Yet even a profoundly conservative Muslim educator in 2013 faces a very different educational landscape than that faced by conservative evangelicals in 2013, or 1973, or 1913.  Unlike conservative evangelical Protestants, conservatives of other traditions don’t have the common feeling of having “lost” public education in America.  For conservative Muslims, like conservative Catholics and other sorts of conservative religious folks, the public schools in the United States have historically been hostile institutions.  Not so for many conservative evangelical Protestants.  Throughout the twentieth century and continuing today, anyone paying attention can hear a lingering desire among conservative evangelicals to “Reclaim YOUR School.”

What will it mean to have a new conservative college in the United States?  One from a very different faith tradition?  Perhaps this will continue the broadening of “conservatism” in America.  As James Davison Hunter predicted so many years ago, perhaps our culture wars will continue to change into broad, diverse coalitions of the “orthodox” against those on the other side.

 

Richard Dawkins Encourages Creationism

Does Richard Dawkins’ brand of in-your-face science atheism push religious people to embrace a “creationist” identity?

That’s a common argument—one I heartily agree with—made recently by Andrew Brown in his Guardian blog.

In this case, Brown argues that Dawkins’ attitudes push British Muslims, especially disaffected youth, to adopt more radical creationist positions.

Brown reports a talk by Salman Hameed, who insisted that Muslims often feel forced to make a false choice between science and faith. Not surprisingly, many choose faith.  Hameed related a telling anecdote.  One young woman reported attending a lecture in which

the lecturer started by asking if there were any creationists in the room. She put her hand up, because she believes that God created the universe, and was immediately singled out for humiliation.   

In the case of young British Muslims, Brown makes a compelling argument.  Already facing a crisis of cultural identity, many young British Muslims come to see their religious identity as a way to channel their feelings of alienation.  In such a Dawkins-influenced climate, young British folks may feel pressured to reject modern science as part of their assertion of an oppositional Muslim identity.  As Brown puts it,

Because there is a self-consciously oppositional culture among young poor Muslims, who feel themselves stigmatised and disadvantaged, they can tend to embrace creationism simply because they know it’s wrong by the lights of the majority. Dawkins’ dismissal of Muslim creationism as “alien rubbish” was not only found as a YouTube clip on the EDL website for a while, but also used in the propaganda of Harun Yahya, the Turkish creationist and self-publicist. The emotional logic is clear: if this rich, sneering white man is against it, it must be good for disaffected young Muslims who feel that they are themselves treated as “alien rubbish”.

Brown is right on.

Offering a false choice between religion and science fuels creationism.  As Brown points out here, so does suggesting a false equation of “Western” or “White” with “atheist.”  Better, as Brown says, to engage in the arduous and awkward task of building true dialogue.