High Stakes Creationist Testing

Another day, another creationism bill in Alabama. So far, so snooze. But did you know—I didn’t—that some of today’s creationism bills and laws include sections on how to grade creationist test answers? And because they do, it makes no sense to me why creationists would support these bills.get fuzzy evolution

Here’s what we know: Creationism watchdog National Center for Science Education recently posted the news from Alabama. A new bill would allow teachers to teach both creationism and evolution as science.

Here’s the kicker: Students are allowed to choose either creationism or mainstream science. Whatever they choose, they can get credit on tests as long as their answers match what the teacher taught them.

Apparently—also news to me but not to the folks at NCSE—Kentucky has long had a similar creationism law on the books. Here’s the Kentucky language:

For those students receiving such instruction, and who accept the Bible theory of creation, credit shall be permitted on any examination in which adherence to such theory is propounded, provided the response is correct according to the instruction received.

Okay, now call me silly, but doesn’t this sort of law present a terrible dilemma for creationists? I understand why the evolution mavens at NCSE don’t like it, but I am surprised that Kentucky’s or Alabama’s creationists do.

After all, conservative evangelicals celebrated when SCOTUS agreed to ban bland, ecumenical school prayers in 1962, as I demonstrated in this academic article. They loved the idea of school prayer, of course, but they hated the idea that their children would be praying the wrong prayer in public school.

These laws seem to push the same buttons. Why would creationists fight for laws that hem them in theologically? Because creationism is so ferociously controversial, that is, how could creationists give the thumbs up to a law that tells children one form of creationist thinking?

As SAGLRROILYGTH are well aware, nothing peeves young-earth creationist impresario Ken Ham more than his rival creationists. How can Alabama’s creationists decide WHICH creationism schools should teach? How can creationists smile if their children come home from school mouthing different creationist visions from those of their church?

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The Ol’ College Tri-al

Want to scare a fundamentalist? Tell them you’re sending their child to a state university. As I’m arguing in my new book about evangelical higher education, anxiety about college has always been a primary concern of Protestant fundamentalists and other conservative evangelicals. Today’s fundamentalists are no different, as I discovered in my recent visit to the Ark Encounter. In this last (I promise) post about the Ark Encounter, I have one final puzzle about the ways the Kentucky creationists depict the dangers of mainstream higher education.

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Watch out! It’s a trap!

First, the history: When evangelist Bob Jones explained his reason for starting his own college in 1926, he liked to tell the story of one woeful Christian family who had scrimped and saved to send their daughter to a fancy university. As Jones told the tale,

At the end of nine months she came home with her faith shattered. She laughed at God and the old time religion. She broke the hearts of her father and mother. They wept over her. They prayed over her. It availed nothing. At last they chided her. She rushed upstairs, stood in front of a mirror, took a gun and blew out her brains.

Who wouldn’t be scared by that sort of story? Or consider the following example, reprinted throughout the early 1920s by a number of fundamentalist pundits. It was supposedly a letter to the folks at home from a recent college graduate. As he put it,

My soul is a starving skeleton; my heart a petrified rock; my mind is poisoned and fickle as the wind, and my faith is as unstable as water. . . . I wish that I had never seen a college.

For fundamentalists in the 1920s, the dangers of college weren’t only about debt burdens and sexual assault. College itself threatened to rob children of their faith, leave them “poisoned.”

Like now, fundamentalists back then didn’t just rely on hearsay. They devoured social-science reports of the deleterious religious effects of college. Most famous was James Leuba’s study of student religiosity, published in 1916. Leuba found that most college freshmen (85%) called themselves Christians, but only 55% of recent college graduates did so. The upshot, fundamentalists told themselves, was that the college experience must do something to undermine evangelical faith.

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Those darn college professors…

What was true in 1916 seems just as true a century later. Conservative evangelicals—at least the ones who built Kentucky’s Ark Encounter—are convinced that mainstream higher education is a spiritual minefield.

There’s good reason to think they’re right, at least in part. Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund studied elite academics and found that there did indeed seem to be some elements of anti-evangelical bias among them. Evangelical professors told Ecklund they tended to keep their faith “closeted.” Others reported hearing offhand comments in the faculty lounge deriding “stupid Christianity.”

While elite academics weren’t as uniformly anti-religious as some evangelicals might assume, they did tend to be less religious than the rest of the population. And a small minority told Ecklund that they actively sought to cure students of their religious proclivities. One physicist told her that he viewed religion as a “virus” that he hoped to cure. A social scientist said she started her classes with the following disclaimer:

You don’t have to distance yourself from religion and think about it from an outside perspective, but you do if you want to succeed in this class.  And so if you don’t want to do that, then you need to leave.

If I were an evangelical parent (I’m not), I would hesitate to send my child into an environment where they would be confronted with that sort of hostile, ignorant attitude. And certainly, Ken Ham and the Answers In Genesis crowd are intensely anxious about the goings-on in mainstream higher education. Ham explained his reasoning in a critique of ILYBYGTH a while back, and my trip to the Ark Encounter confirmed it.

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Can college students protect their faith?

Most of the exhibits were fairly predictable, if odd. They depicted the problems with mainstream evolutionary theory and old-earth creationism. They showed the way day-to-day life on the ark could have happened. Not what I’d expect to see in a mainstream science museum, but pretty close to what I expected to find at the Ark Encounter.

On the top floor, though, I was surprised by what I found. Ark Encounter includes a long corridor dedicated to a huge, walk-through comic-book tract. The comic book’s images have been blown up to fill the walls of the corridor, and visitors walk through the story. The plot is familiar—a student wonders about her faith. After some trials, she embraces it.

One of the trials is her smarky college professor. The central characters walk into a lecture hall, where they are told,

The Bible is full of contradictions—written by people with no knowledge of science. The earth isn’t 6,000 years old, and there’s no way the millions of species of animals could fit on Noah’s Ark…

One of the characters is a young-earth creationist and he patiently defends his faith to two friends, but their college experience puts that faith to a severe test.

The exhibit itself was a surprise, but the content wasn’t. The fears and anxieties of fundamentalists in 2018 aren’t too different from those of fundamentalists in 1918. But here’s the thing that’s been bugging me: Why does the Ark Encounter devote so much wall space to this college story, when Ken Ham thinks that the college years are already too late for successful soul-saving?

As Ham wrote in his 2009 book Already Gone, the kids that are leaving fundamentalist faith are making those decisions in their middle-school and high-school years. As Ham puts it,

Many parents will fork out big bucks to send these students to Christian colleges, hoping to protect them in their faith. But the fact is, they’re already gone.

If Ham wants his flock to understand that the college years are too late, why include this huge exhibit on the dangers of college at the Ark Encounter?

Saddle Sore at the Ark Encounter

I just don’t get it. No, no, no, I’m not talking about the seemingly obviously false idea that the entire earth was really deluged in a flood and that eight humans survived on a floating zoo. And no, I’m not talking about the diorama at Ark Encounter depicting humans fighting dinosaurs and giants in a kind of Colosseum of Doom. I’m not talking even talking about young-earth creationist notions that humans and dinosaurs lived together, or that the earth and everything is only a few thousand years old.

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Dinos dinos dinos…

I can’t say I really understand those things, but that’s not what’s been bothering me since my trip to the Ark Encounter. Here’s the riddle that’s on my mind: If Ken Ham is embarrassed by the notion of people joy-riding on dinosaurs, then why does the Ark Encounter make such a big deal about the dinosaur angle? Why don’t they downplay it? I have a hunch, but I’d be happy to be educated on the subject by SAGLRROILYBYGTH.

We know Ken Ham is touchy about mockery related to dinosaurs wearing saddles. A few years back, for example, he reacted furiously to journalist Charles P. Pierce’s jokes about the Creation Museum. For Pierce, the idea of dinosaurs with saddles was the perfect epitome of “Idiot America.” Never one to back away from a fight, Ham huffed,

Those who oppose the Creation Museum, having by and large given up on trying to argue logically and scientifically against the information presented in its exhibits, are resorting more and more to a mocking, scoffing, and a ridiculing approach. . . . The dinosaur with the saddle is obviously just a fun part for kids—it has nothing to do with any of the teaching exhibits, and nothing to do with the first-class dinosaur exhibit and all the teaching signs.

Fair enough. But it doesn’t answer my question. If Mr. Ham knows that so many people find the idea of dinosaurs and humans living together ridiculous and laughable, why does he harp on it so incessantly? The Ark Encounter, for example, prominently features dinosaurs in cages next to other sorts of animals.

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Lots of dinos on board…

Ham’s publications, too, willfully emphasize the notion that people must have put saddles on dinosaurs. A book I picked up in the gift shop features questions about radical creationism from kids. One ten-year-old from Michigan asked, “Did we use dinosaurs for transportation?”

How did Ham respond?

I know the Bible doesn’t specifically address this question, but . . . we can use the reasoning skills God gave us and His Word to come up with an answer. . . . I can think of many animals that have been tamed. . . . why not some of the dinosaurs? Who knows what they were doing? It seems to me we should at least allow the possibility that some could have been tamed to help with transportation, maybe even farming, hauling heavy loads (the strong ones!) and other things.

Not just dinos with saddles, but dinos with plows, carts, and all sorts of other bizarre combinations. Why, oh why, would a radical creationist harp on this notion, when he knows that it will lead to mockery and contumely from the outside world?

aig dino question book

Did people ride dinosaurs? Yes, Virginia…

I have a hunch. First of all, I think many of us never rise above a Flintstones level of understanding the real relationship between dinosaurs and later life forms. For many people—creationist or not—it is not shocking to think of dinosaurs and humans living side by side, attending drive-in movies together.

But there’s more going on than just an appeal to ignorance. I think the Answers In Genesis crowd is convinced that dinosaurs are the key to their creationist kingdom. If they can show people dinos and humans living together, it might shake up people’s assumptions that the earth is far older than 6,000 years or so. If people see dinos wearing saddles and plowing fields, it might prompt them to say, “Hey, weren’t dinosaurs extinct long before people started farming?” The question, AIG might hope, would lead to a healthy shake-up of people’s thinking; it would give AIG missionaries a chance to offer their young-earth answer.

At least, this is the explanation from AIG stalwarts such as Buddy Davis. Davis calls dinosaurs “missionary lizards.” As Davis explains,

As non-Christians hear the biblical explanation of dinosaurs, many have been, and will be, challenged to listen to the rest of what the Bible states. We rejoice that many have been won to the Lord using the true history of these missionary lizards.

For AIG’s radical creationists, then, the notion of humans and dinosaurs living together is not something to be embarrassed about, but something to be trumpeted. If enough people see dinosaurs with saddles, the thinking goes, then they will be compelled to explore AIG’s creationist ideas.

Is it working? Not really. As George Bishop of the University of Cincinnati found, radical creationists aren’t any more consistent than the rest of us. Professor Bishop poked the usual poll numbers and found some strange results. Of people who said that humans had been created recently, over half also believed that dinosaurs had gone extinct over 65 million years ago.

Nevertheless, if my recent trip to the Ark Encounter is any guide, the creationists at AIG have confidence that their focus on dinosaurs will help people see the light.

Making Ararat Great Again

What does Noah have to do with homosexuality? For that matter, what does creationism have to do with Donald Trump? The connections might seem jagged, but those of us who hope to understand the real contours of radical American creationism need to understand the connections between the Rainbow Covenant and Trump’s hat. My recent visit to the Ark Encounter gave me a sharp reminder of the cultural politics of creationism.

Trump make america great again

It’s the hat, stupid.

 

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing it, but I can’t help repeating myself: Lots of white evangelicals have always harbored a Trump-ish white nationalist attitude. Not all of them, of course. White evangelicals have also been the most ferocious critics of their coreligionists on this score.

Moreover, the relationship between evangelical religion and chest-thumping American nationalism has always been complicated. White evangelical Americans have tended to think of the USA as both a uniquely Christian country and a dangerously sinful one. As I argued in an academic article a while back, the “establishment-or-outsider paradox” that George Marsden described so long ago has always been a constant source of tension when it comes to evangelical thinking about schools and culture.

For many conservative evangelicals—especially those on the harder-right end of the broad evangelical spectrum—public schools in particular have been the leading symbol of this tension. In the white evangelical imagination, public schools used to be great. They used to lead children in prayer and Bible reading. In the past fifty years, one popular conservative-evangelical story goes, public schools went terribly awry. In practice, evangelical pundits warn one another, America kicked God out of the public schools.

For a large and influential segment of the white evangelical public, this scary story has a silver lining. In spite of the frightening changes in American public education, there is hope. Conservative evangelicals have told one another, for example, that they can “reclaim” their local schools.

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Good news/Bad news…

The notion of reclaiming, of taking back, resonates with radical creationists, too. As I browsed the gift shop at the Ark Encounter, I found a fat stack of postcards. Many of them harped on the theme of “taking back” the symbol of the rainbow. Instead of representing gay pride, the Kentucky creationists hope, the rainbow can once again symbolize conservative evangelical faithfulness.

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Reclaim your rainbow…

It is a central theme for American young-earth creationism, and one that has very little to do with theology or science. The language of many radical creationists is peppered with talk about the good old days, when evangelical Christianity WAS mainstream American religion, when “Merry Christmas” WAS the thing to say to each other in December, when public schools DID reinforce evangelical faith.

Once we grasp this enduring theme among radical creationists, it’s not so difficult to see the appeal of Trump. Any candidate who promises to make America great again will get the white-evangelical vote, or at least the vast majority of it.

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

For family reasons, I spent Christmas this year in scenic Florence, Kentucky. florence yallOnce the presents were opened and the piñatas destroyed, I snuck off to see the newish jaw-dropper from Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis: The Ark Encounter.

It really was a remarkable sight—an enormous ark rising out of the Kentucky fields. For the next few days, I’ll be sharing my reflections about the trip.

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Wowzers.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, I’m no creationist, but I’m not interested in poking fun at the young-earthers. I don’t even want to get into a shouting match about why this kind of science doesn’t make sense to me. Rather, as I finish up my new book about American creationism, I wanted to use my visit to understand radical creationism better. And it worked, sorta. My trip has my head whirling with questions like the following:

  • How does the Ark museum help explain why so many white evangelicals love Trump?
  • If the idea of dinosaurs hanging around with people is so radically different from mainstream science, why does AIG harp on it so much?
  • Why the fascination with poop?
  • Do other museums these days put huge blown-up comic books on the walls?
  • Who are the young-earth creationists competing with?
  • Why are the AIG folks so obsessed with college?

Right off the bat, though, I can’t help but remark on the most obvious lesson I learned from my field trip: In many ways, the Ark Encounter is at least as much about making money as about saving souls. Like all museums everywhere, we had to overpay for parking—ten bucks in a mostly-empty lot. And like all museums everywhere, for some reason we could have coughed up fifty-one cents for a squashed-penny Ark Encounter memento.

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Squeezing every penny out of visitors…

Creation Cold War

Maybe we’ll get a creationist James Bond out of it. After all, the US/USSR Cold War was horrible in a lot of ways, but it created fertile ground for great spy stories. Now, it seems radical creationists are worried about their own inter-creationism cold war. Beyond Kentucky and Austin, Texas, the spiritual battlefields have spread to Latin America and beyond.

This represents a different sort of global creationism. SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware that creationism has always been a global phenomenon, despite the mistaken proclamations of Bill Nye and others. News from Korea and Turkey, to cite just two examples, is unmistakable on that point.

Today we see evidence that creationism is also globalized in a different kind of way. Like the USA and USSR in the twentieth century, it looks like some creationist ministries are conducting a global cold war for the hearts and minds of evangelical believers.

At leading young-earth ministry Answers In Genesis this morning, Ken Ham celebrates a new Mexican outpost. According to Ham, AIG has been conducting considerable outreach in Latin America already. As he explains, AIG has been

sending speakers to over 30 conferences each year in Central America and South America. We’re also teaching in four seminaries and eight secular universities each year.

I’d love to know more about the teaching in those secular universities! But that is question for a different day. Today, we’re curious about Ham’s cold-war warning. As he writes,

Sadly, two apologetics ministries that teach a compromised view of Genesis chapters 1–11 now have representatives teaching throughout Latin America. They will lead many churches and their leaders astray by encouraging the church to compromise the clear teaching of God’s Word in Genesis.

It certainly seems as if AIG is girding its loins for a proxy fight in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. But who are the other two creationist groups he’s talking about? I looked at a few of the usual suspects and came up with only one likely possibility.

It seems the evolutionary creationists at BioLogos have also been conducting Latin American outreach. Among the different sorts of creationists, none rile up Ken Ham more than BioLogos, so I’m guessing that’s one of Ham’s two creationist competitors.

Who is the second? I looked first at Hugh Ross’s Reasons to Believe. They are usually the second creationist foe of the AIG crowd. I couldn’t find any reference to Latin American outreach by RTB, though. I did find a reference to an RTB “partner,” which may be on Ham’s list. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries claims to preach the conservative-evangelical Word in Latin America. A quick look at their website wasn’t satisfying, though. It was hard to tell the degree to which RZIM focuses on creationism in its outreach. Could RZIM be the second of Ham’s creationist competitors? Or is he worrying about a different group?

Whoever the creationist competition is, if history is any guide, AIG may have spectacular successes in its efforts. Other conservative evangelical outreach programs have made astounding inroads into formerly Catholic-dominated areas. Perhaps AIG will follow that pattern.

Creating Jobs

Is it worth it? Ken Ham says heavens yes. John Oliver says hell no. This week on Last Week Tonight (5:42-8:12) Oliver rips into tax incentive schemes in general, and the Kentucky uber-creationist Ark Encounter project in particular.

 

Oliver’s accusations aren’t new. Critics such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have long criticized Kentucky’s willingness to forego sales tax revenue as part of an incentive program for the huge Ark project.

After all, as AU points out, Kentucky’s goal is the creation of “jobs, jobs, jobs.” To work at Ark Encounter, though, potential employees must be conservative evangelical Christians. And not just any sort of evangelical. They have to embrace Answers In Genesis’s specific vision of true creationism. They are encouraged to love non-fundamentalist Christians, but they must agree that all non-fundamentalists are going to hell forever. Ark employees can’t be gay. And if they’re single, they must agree to a chastity clause in their contracts. AU thinks such beliefs should never be supported with tax incentives.

John Oliver, as always, is more interested in zingers. As he points out, Ark Encounter includes some stuff that is just pure wackiness, such as a section devoted to the question of manure. Where did all the poop go?

Moreover, Oliver skewers the notion of signing a chastity pledge when the entire purpose of the Ark was to encourage sex, sex, sex, among the animals. As Oliver puts it, they didn’t get on the Ark two-by-two so that every animal would have a “swim buddy.” I’m too embarrassed to repeat Oliver’s most hilarious name for the Ark (it rhymes with “duck boat”), but if you watch to the end of his clip you’ll see how he ties together the Ark Encounter, the Entourage movie, zebras drowning in feces, and masturbation.

It’s hilarious, but it raises important questions. Should religious groups enjoy tax privileges? Ken Ham’s answer is that saying no would be pure discrimination. He points out that his group is not receiving any money from the state, but is rather simply not paying some taxes that would never have been paid in the first place if he didn’t bring hordes of creationist tourists to the area.

Oliver says no. He thinks ALL tax-incentive programs need to be held to higher standards.

Americans United says no, too, but for different reasons. They argue that tax money and tax incentives should not be allowed to fuel divisive, sectarian religious programs.

What do you think? Should creationists be allowed to profit from tax programs that other groups use? Or should tax incentives be restricted to less-controversial organizations?

Are We in Danger from the Bigots and Ignoramuses?

Are you afraid of creationists? If you’re a secular, progressive person like me, you might be. You might fret that our school boards and textbook publishers are being bullied by radical creationists who want to inject theocratic rules into our classrooms. If that’s you, I’ve got two bits of good news for you. First, you’re not alone. And second, you’ve got nothing (much) to worry about.

Don’t get me wrong: It makes sense for us to be nervous. These days, the top levels of political power are in the hands of creationists or their puppets. The Ed Secretary, the Vice President, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development…all are devoted radical creationists. So why not worry?

Darrow and Bryan at Scopes

“Are you now or have you ever been…an ignoramus?”

After all, plenty of smart people have warned us about the looming creationist threat. Back in the first years of our current creation/evolution controversy, for example, Maynard Shipley warned that creationist “armies of ignorance” were forming, “literally by the millions, for a combined political assault on modern science.” As Shipley put it in 1927,

The Fundamentalists are well organized; they are in deadly earnest, believing as they do that their particular brand of religion cannot survive and flourish together with the teachings of religious liberalism and modern science.  For the first time in our history, organized knowledge has come into open conflict with organized ignorance.

Shipley wasn’t alone back then. Perhaps most famously, attorney Clarence Darrow literally made the case against creationism at the Scopes Trial. When creationist celebrity William Jennings Bryan said that Darrow wanted to poke fun at the Bible, Darrow disagreed. His goal, Darrow said, was

preventing bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States.

These days, science activists share Darrow’s and Shipley’s worry. The National Center for Science Education, for example, named its blog in honor of Maynard Shipley’s 1920s-era Science League of America. As the NCSE’s Josh Rosenau explained, Shipley’s fight against creationist “armies of ignorance” was “eerily similar” to the NCSE’s twenty-first century mission.

Don’t get me wrong—I agree with Rosenau and his 1920s forebears. We all need to be vigilant to maintain the true inclusivity of our public schools. No single religious (or anti-religious) group can be allowed to dictate class content. Given free rein, creationist activists would love to do just that—to purge mainstream evolutionary science from the classroom. For that matter, many creationist activists would likely want to doctor the reading lists in English class too and take history classes in theocratic directions. Just ask David Barton.

But as I finish up my book about American creationism, I’m more convinced than ever that we don’t need to freak out. Why not? Because radical creationists these days aren’t even allowing themselves to dream about organizing in their millions for a combined political assault on modern science. Rather, radical creationists are preoccupied with far more limited sorts of activism. These days, radical creationists aren’t storming scientific citadels. Instead, they are building Berlin Walls to keep their fellow creationists inside their threatened and shrinking areas of influence.

How do I know?

This week, I’m reading Ken Ham’s 2009 book Already Gone. Ham is the organizational wizard behind America’s leading radical creationist outfit, Answers In Genesis. In Already Gone, Ham reports the findings of an AIG survey by sympathetic market researcher Britt Beemer. Beemer surveyed roughly 1,000 twentysomethings who had been brought up in radical young-earth creationist homes and churches.

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A leak in the ark.

What did Beemer find? Most creationist twentysomethings had stopped going to church. Many of them had ditched their young-earth beliefs. Even more alarming to Beemer, the percentages of young people who had moved from young-earth creationism to an acceptance of evolutionary theory was higher among people who had regularly attended creationist Sunday-school classes. That’s right—going to a young-earth Sunday school every week when they were kids tended to make creationists abandon radical young-earth creationism in their twenties.

In light of those scary (to them) findings, Ham and Beemer made some suggestions. Long term, yes, Ham wants to foment a true “revolution” in American society. He really does want to “change the culture.” In other words, Ham would love to organize his creationist armies in their millions for a combined assault on modern science. But “strategically,” Ham argues, radical young-earth creationists need to recognize that their armies are melting away. The goal of young-earth creationists, Ham insists, must be—for now—to turn inward, to focus on teaching their children how to remain radical in the face of overwhelming social pressure to renounce young-earth beliefs. (Quotes from page 165, sixth printing, 2009.)

So, if you’re a secular person, should you be nervous about the political influence of theocratically minded creationists? In one sense, you should. Activists like Ken Ham don’t pretend they don’t want to move America back toward an imagined golden age of fundamentalist dominance. But in a day-to-day sense, you don’t need to worry. Radical creationists these days are on the defensive. They might fuss and fume about changing laws and SCOTUS decisions, but in fact they are preoccupied with patching holes in their own sinking ship.

Are Evangelical Colleges Obsolete?

What is the point of sending your kid to a conservative religious college? For almost a century now, many conservative evangelical families have worried that if they didn’t, liberal or secular colleges would steal the faith of their Christian children. New research data suggest that those fears might no longer be realistic. But the new study won’t reassure evangelical parents or college administrators.

As I’m arguing in my new book about the history of evangelical higher education [shameless plug: Pre-orders available now!], a leading reason evangelicals established their own network of dissenting colleges and universities in the 1920s was the fear that mainstream college robbed children of their faith.

As he appealed to fundamentalist parents to send their kids to his new Bob Jones College, for example, evangelist Bob Jones Sr. liked to tell a scary story: A good Christian family scrimped and saved to send their precious daughter to a fancy mainstream college. “At the end of nine months,” Jones reported,

she came home with her faith shattered. She laughed at God and the old time religion. She broke the hearts of her father and mother. They wept over her. They prayed over her. It availed nothing. At last they chided her. She rushed upstairs, stood in front of a mirror, took a gun and blew out her brains.

Never fear, Jones said. Though mainstream colleges had gone to the dogs, new fundamentalist schools like his could be trusted to protect children’s faith in the crucial college years.

Those fundamentalist fears were not left back in the early twentieth century. Today’s conservative leaders, too, warn of the deadly spiritual threat of liberal colleges. A few years back, young-earth creationist pundit Ken Ham defended his insistence on pure creationist colleges. As he put it, too many schools—even nominally evangelical Christian ones—end up putting intellectual

stumbling blocks in . . . children’s way that could lead them to doubt and ultimately disbelieve the Scriptures.

In every century the evangelical assumption has been the same: The college years are a uniquely important and a uniquely dangerous time for young people. If children are raised in conservative evangelical homes, skeptical college professors might turn them away from their family faith.

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Could be worse; could be Notre Dame…

New data from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggest that colleges aren’t really to blame when young people ditch their religion. At least, not anymore. PRRI’s Daniel Cox explains that more young people these days are leaving their religions before they enter college. As he writes at FiveThirtyEight,

Seventy-nine percent of young adults age 18 to 29 who have become religiously unaffiliated report having made this decision during their adolescent and teen years. But this was not always the case. Those age 65 or older who left their childhood religion reported doing so much later: Only 38 percent who reported leaving their religion did so during their childhood years. The majority (63 percent) of unaffiliated senior citizens left during their college and post-college years.

In other words, the college years USED TO be a vital time, a time of choosing to leave or stay with one’s childhood religion. It seems like that’s not really true today.

Does this mean that conservative evangelical colleges have become obsolete? If one main purpose of those schools is to nurture and protect evangelical faith, it seems as if they are not useful. Rather, if we accept this data, it would seem that evangelicals should focus on K-12 schools instead.

And we should note that evangelical college leaders might look at this data in a more optimistic way. According to the PRRI study, evangelical Protestants are losing adherents at a much lower rate than other American Christian groups. Evangelicalism is still losing young people, that is, but much slower than Catholicism or “mainline” Protestantism. It could be argued that evangelical colleges have helped stem the anti-religious tide among evangelical young people.

Still and all, I’m glad I’m not president of an evangelical college. If I were, I would wonder what to tell parents of potential students. If I couldn’t promise to help protect students’ faith, I wouldn’t have much else to talk about.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

This week the interweb’s series of tubes heated up with plenty of ILYBYGTH-related material. Here are some of the stories we might have missed:

It’s not just segregation. In NYT, John Rury and Derrick Darby on the history of racial imbalances in the rate of harsh school punishments.

Leo Ribuffo at HNN on Trump, Nixon, and anti-Semitism in the Oval Office.

Evangelicals for Obamacare.Bart reading bible

Inside the mind of school-choice maven Eva Moskowitz. Why do teachers call the NYC charter-school leader “Evil” Moskowitz?

Why is young-earth impresario Ken Ham mad at Princeton University?

AG Sessions: Free speech for campuses, not for NFL sidelines.

“Why in the hell would I pay 60 grand a year to have my child’s life ruined?” Mary Poplin at Christianity Today on the dangers of “secular privilege” in higher education.

Can an academic journal nowadays publish a defense of colonialism? The latest on the Third World Quarterly hullabaloo from CHE.

What will make conservative parents happy? Michael Petrilli looks at school choice at National Affairs.

Harvard, Queen Betsy, and school choice: Peter Greene tears apart Devos’s Harvard speech.