What Do Radical Creationists Really Care About?

Sure, creationists care about creationism. But as SAGLRROILYBYGTH know well, radical creationists these days tend to talk a lot more about other culture-war issues. (What counts as “radical” creationism? Check out the classification system I’m using in the new book.)

what do radical creationists care about

Ken Ham’s tweets categorized: October 4, 2019–November 4, 2019.

This morning, I got curious about the relative emphases different issues got by radical creationists, so I did an unscientific little test. I perused the tweets of young-earth creationist leader Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis for the past month. I noted the top issue in each of Ham’s threads.

In some cases, issues could have been counted in different ways, but I limited each thread to what I thought was presented as the most important issue. For example, in recent tweets about the AIG Pastors’ Conference, Ham tweeted about both the topic of the conference–racism–and the proceedings of the conference. I placed each tweet in only one category, based on my reading of what Ham was presenting as the most important issue.

The results are not very surprising to people who follow the goings-on at Answers In Genesis. Sure, AIG cares about promoting its flashy Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. But by far the most important issue–at least in terms of tweet volume–is the threat posed by LGBTQ rights. Just over a quarter of Ham’s tweets warn followers of the dangers of Drag Queen Story Hour, same-sex marriage, and transgender equality.

So what? It’s not news, really, that Ken Ham should primarily be understood as a fundamentalist minister who draws a culture-war line based on young-earth creationism, rather than as a science activist who happens to have conservative religious beliefs. This tweet-chart only demonstrates the way Ham’s focus these days is anti-LGBTQ first, creationism second.

Don’t Tell Me It’s All About Abortion and Racism

I know, I know: you’re as sick of reading about white evangelical support for President Trump as I am. We keep seeing over and over again that white evangelicals are among Trump’s strongest supporters. But I can’t help it—this morning I came across another bit of evidence that evangelical Trumpism goes deeper than mere strategic considerations. This seems like more proof that some conservative evangelicals feel a much deeper connection to Trumpism than we might think.

Ham fake news tweet

Scientific evidence? …Fake News!

Smart people will give you good explanations for evangelical Trumpism. Some say white evangelicals support Trump because they are all racist. Others will explain that white evangelicals—even younger ones who are okay about LGBTQ rights—support Trump as a strategic move to fight abortion rights.

Those explanations are helpful, as far as they go. But this morning I stumbled across more evidence that confirms my ILYBYGTH hunch: White evangelicals–some of them, at least–don’t just stick with Trump for strategic reasons. They don’t cling to Trump because they like Trump’s racism.

For a lot of the most conservative white evangelicals, Trump isn’t just the least-worst option, he is a rare leader who really gets them.

Exhibit A: This morning, radical creationist leader Ken Ham tweeted out his disgust with mainstream science. As the fundamentalist faction of evangelicalism has done for a hundred years now, Ham protested against the basic assumptions of mainstream thinking. This morning, Ham objected to new findings that might explain the story of Noah’s Ark and the flood.

When scientists wonder if a new discovery of shipwrecks could help explain widespread myths about global flooding, Ham counters that such thinking is clearly ignorant. The real story of Noah Ark and the flood, Ham explains, is in the Book of Genesis.

There’s nothing new about that part of Ham’s argument. Ham’s Trumpish conclusion, however, is telling. As Ham explains,

the author of this article says there was a Flood in Noah’s day as the Bible records, but then the author either didn’t read or totally rejects the details of the account that make it clear Noah’s Flood was global–covering the entire globe. This article is more fake news. [Emphasis added.]

There you have it, folks! “Fake news.” For the most conservative members of the white evangelical network, Trump’s approach to reality matches their own. For decades, fundamentalists have warned that mainstream ideas about sexuality and science were balderdash. Radical creationists like Ken Ham and his mentors have scrambled to prove that the “evidence” of mainstream science can be dismissed.

When Trump stumbled into power, fundamentalists liked more than just Trump’s anti-abortion stance. They liked more than just his support for white racism. In addition to all that, Trump’s vision of reality resonates deeply with white fundamentalists. For them just as much as Trump, the ability to dismiss evidence as “fake news” is deeply satisfying.

Gov’t Fights Anti-Christian Bias: Will Conservatives Celebrate?

Maybe you didn’t see this one, because no one seems to be talking about it. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed suit against a Pennsylvania company for bias against three Christian employees. On first blush, it seems like a story that culture-war conservatives would want to celebrate.

EEOC

Big Government fighting for persecuted Christians…

After all, this seems to be good news for conservative Christians. In this case, the EEOC alleges that three workers were insulted and treated badly. Their Pentecostal religion was demeaned as a “disgusting cult.” The suit points out that creation of a “hostile work environment and disparate treatment” due to the workers’ national origin and religion constitutes “unlawful practices.”

On its face, this diligent protection of conservative Christians might seem like good news for anxious religious conservatives. Very different types of conservative Christians have lamented the fact that mainstream society and government persecute traditional Christians.

From the crunchy side, for example, Rod Dreher warns,

the cultural left—which is to say, the American mainstream— has no intention of living in postwar peace. It is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.

And from the Kentucky creationism side, Ken Ham has insisted,

It’s not enough to just tell students, ‘Believe in Jesus!’ Faith that is not founded on fact will ultimately falter in the storm of secularism that our students face every day. . . . Our country has forsaken its Christian soul. We need to see that for what it is.

Rod Dreher and Ken Ham probably wouldn’t agree on much, but as Christian conservatives they agree that mainstream society has turned hopelessly anti-Christian. Yet I’m guessing they won’t take this story as good news. Why not?

First, it is simply bad strategy for them to notice. Like a lot of conservative cassandras, Dreher and Ham have both put all their chips on a persecution story. A more complicated version of that story won’t help them much.

If more thoughtful folks like Dreher DO comment on this story, they could explain it a couple of ways. First, they might claim that conservative religion was more of a free-rider in this case. The government was really interested in protecting these particular Christians because they were also insulted for their Puerto Rican heritage. Plus, intellectuals like Mr. Dreher might point out that this sort of legal protection is beside the point. Sure, the EEOC might fight against insults and harassment, but the EEOC will then turn around and persecute Christians who do not recognize LGBTQ rights. The actual beliefs of conservative Christians, Dreher might say, are nowhere protected.

So although these three plaintiffs might have the government on their side when they are mocked for being Puerto Rican Pentecostals, Mr. Dreher might retort, when they actually try to live their lives as demanded by their Christian faith, they become instead the target of the EEOC.

Or maybe conservative pundits just won’t say anything at all.

I’ll Give You $1,000,000 if This Creationist Plan Works

Here comes Halloween, and in the USA that means giving out candy to neighborhood kids who come to your door dressed as Elsa. The radical creationists at Answers in Genesis have offered their fundamentalist friends a way to spread the gospel among trick-or-treaters. Can we put aside our differences about creationism and evolution for a second just to consider this simple question: Would any child REALLY prefer a creationist tract to a candy bar?

First, a little background: Like a lot of super-conservative Christians, the folks at Answers in Genesis are nervous about Halloween. They warn that this holiday can turn children’s heads and embroil them in the very real dangers of witchcraft and Satanism.

AIG money treats

Want some candy? How about these tracts instead?

What can Christian parents do? AIG suggests giving out tracts featuring dinosaurs and fake million-dollar bills. As AIG leader Ken Ham enthuses,

Kids love these, and it’s a fun way to share the gospel—something worth far more than a million dollars!—with children and their families.

Ken Ham and I disagree on a lot of things, but this just might be the simplest, starkest disagreement we’ve had.

“Kids love these”? Really? I can’t imagine many kids being excited to receive a fake million dollar bill instead of a Kit Kat or Twix. If I were a creation-evangelist, the last thing I would do is replace candy with fake money and creationist propaganda. I can’t imagine a better way to turn kids AWAY from the radical-creationist message.

Why Don’t Christian Colleges Brag about This?

If you’re interested in evangelical higher education, you’ve probably read Daniel Silliman’s piece in Christianity Today by now. And you may have asked why more Christian colleges don’t advertise their sensible approach to deepening students’ faiths. Today the other shoe drops over at the fundamentalist creationist ministry Answers In Genesis.ham on evang colleges

Silliman was following up on new survey data that show students in evangelical colleges are

more likely to feel unsettled about spiritual matters, unsure of their beliefs, disillusioned with their religious upbringing, distant from God, or angry with God than their peers at secular schools as well as those at mainline Protestant and Catholic institutions.

As Silliman found, in many cases, evangelical colleges actively promote religious crises in their students. Why? Because true faith requires it. As one college president told Silliman,

It’s part of the design of college and part of the design of being a young adult. Struggle is built in. What we try to provide are professional staff and faculty who are rooted in their own faith and able to journey alongside, in ways that honor the journey of the student.

Sounds smart, right? Especially for secular people like me, this kind of approach to Christian education makes admirable sense. So why don’t more evangelical institutions brag about it?

As I found in the research for Fundamentalist U, evangelical higher ed has always been ferociously divided about this approach to faith formation. Lots of administrators, families, and faculty members have always shared this vision. They have agreed that young Christians need to be open about their doubt, just as they are about their faith. The goal of evangelical higher education—in this vision—has been to be there for students when they doubt, guiding them lovingly and Christian-ly through this predictable crisis.

But not everyone has agreed. As fundamentalist creationist Ken Ham recently charged, Christian colleges who don’t protect their students from doubt don’t deserve to call themselves Christian at all. As Ham accused, colleges that help their students struggle with doubt

compromise God’s Word beginning in Genesis & aren’t teaching creation apologetics & a truly Christian worldview.

The right way to protect faith, Ham argues, is not by challenging it. Instead, evangelical students should be taught how to “stand against the secular attacks of the day,” not how to doubt and question. For parents who agree, Ham offers his list of “Creation Colleges,” staunch conservative schools that promise not to challenge faith.

So why don’t more evangelical colleges brag about their approach to faith formation? Because the world of conservative evangelical higher education has always been divided about it. Not just between more conservative schools and less, but even within many schools themselves.

At less-conservative schools like the ones Silliman talked about, I’ll bet dollars to donuts some faculty members and some trustees hope for a less-wishy-washy approach to student doubt. And at more-conservative schools like the ones Ken Ham praises, I bet there are faculty members and students who yearn to be in an environment in which they can talk more openly about their doubt and struggle.

Why Would a Christian Tell Kids to Cheat?

Usually whenever arch-creationist Ken Ham says something shocking, it is because of the zombie science or harsh anti-LGBTQ animus involved. This time, however, I was shocked to see that Ham seemed to be teaching creationist children to cheat in school.

ken ham gay wedding

Mean-spirited? Sure. But Ham’s recent advice goes even further…

To see why he would do such a thing and to read my take on why Ham’s advice is actually GOOD news for the rest of us, click over to Righting America for my two cents.

The Ink Is Dry!

For all you secular people out there: Have you ever wondered why so many religious people seem determined to make themselves look as stupid as they possibly can? And for the Christians: Tired of people assuming that you hate science? If so, my new book is just for you. I’m happy to announce that I’ve signed a contract for my new book about American creationism and evolution. Jesus and the Dinosaurs: Bridging the Impasse on Teaching Evolution will be published soonish with Oxford University Press.

Jesus on a dinosaur.jpg 1

Why???

Why another book about creationism? A bunch of years ago, my sister-in-law asked me why so many Americans believed in outlandish things, such as a 6,004-year-old planet, and a real, literal, even-though-it-is-absolutely-impossible worldwide flood. As she put it back then, “Why do they keep putting Jesus on a dinosaur?”

This book is my way-too-long answer to her question. I argue that secular people like me and my sister-in-law tend to misunderstand creationism. We tend to think that most creationists hold fairly radical views about religion and science. We tend to think that tons of our fellow Americans–up to 40% if we believe the new Gallup numbers–think that God created our species recently in Iraq.

In my new book, I’m arguing that we Americans have always had the wrong arguments about evolution and creationism. In fact, when it comes right down to it, the crux of our arguments have not really been about evolutionary science at all. Rather, the idea of evolution has been smushed into a contorted shape; “Evolution” has become an ill-fitting stand-in for all kinds of modern and post-modern cultural norms.

gallup creationism 2019

…can this really be true? Can this many Americans really believe in a radical creationist idea?

When radical creationists like Ken Ham and Henry Morris fume and fret about evolution, they are fighting about something much bigger. Yes, they dislike evolutionary ideas. Those ideas, however, are only the canary in the devil’s coalmine. The real dangers–from their perspective–come from a spiritual attitude that spurns God’s authority, that questions gender roles and sexuality, that allows abortion rights and encourages religious skepticism.

aig dangerous public school bus

Answers In Genesis, “One Generation Away,” 2015

As Ken Ham’s organization loves to point out, thinking in evolutionary terms is not necessarily dangerous in itself, but it is very dangerous in its spiritual implications, especially for innocent young minds. Once people believe in a long evolutionary history, Ham warns, they will be open to changing their ideas about sexuality and morality. The public-school bus, Answers In Genesis warns, takes kids down the road to environmentalism, abortion rights, and LBGTQ rights.

So when the radical fringe of young-earth creationism warns about the dangers of evolutionary thinking, they’re not actually angry about evolution itself. Indeed, as I found in the research for my book about evangelical higher education, conservative-evangelical colleges –even including the uber-conservative ones that Ken Ham calls “Creation Colleges” –teach evolutionary theory to their students. They just do it in their own way.

More than that, once we really understand American creationism, we understand that radical young-earth creationists are not typical creationists. When it comes right down to it, most Americans are creationists of one sort or another. Most religious people embrace some vague idea that God (or gods) had a role in creating life. But for most people, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want our children to learn the best modern science. Most Americans are creationists, in other words, and most creationists want their children to learn evolutionary theory.

So why do we keep fighting about evolution? In the new book, I’m making the case that “Evolution” stopped being about evolutionary science a long time ago. When we fight about “Evolution,” we’re not fighting about evolutionary science. We’re fighting about LGBTQ rights, and abortion, and the proper role of evangelical Christianity in our government.

Will my lil book stop all these fights? Course not. But it can’t hurt to clarify the real terms of our culture-war disagreements and stop shouting uselessly across our culture-war trenches.

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.

I Guess I Owe Bill Nye an Apology

Sorry, Bill. You were right. I was wrong. Back when you agreed to debate radical creationist Ken Ham, I thought you couldn’t possibly do any good. Like a lot of other nerds, I thought that merely explaining the basics of mainstream science was necessary, but not sufficient. I didn’t think Nye’s presentation–no matter how good it was–could deter any radical creationists from preferring their own brand of fundamentalist science.

marty sampson ken ham

…turns out there are still people out there who just haven’t heard about real science.

Looks like I was wrong in at least one case. This morning, Ken Ham lamented the defection of an evangelical music star. I don’t know anything about Marty Sampson or Hillsong, but apparently one of the reasons Sampson gave for giving up on evangelical religion was because of mainstream science. As Sampson announced,

Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.

Five years ago, when Nye agreed to beard Ham in the creationists’ lions’ den, I thought he was making a strategic mistake. I thought Nye misunderstood the nature of radical American creationism. As I wrote at the time,

Bill Nye’s assumption that young-earth creationism represents a lack of scientific knowledge is more than just an embarrassing ignorance on Nye’s part. The educational and political tasks in cases of naïve non-knowledge are worlds apart from the educational and political tasks in cases of intentional or constructed non-knowledge. In the case of evolution education, if creationists were simply unaware of evolutionary science, then outreach programs would have a good chance of success. The task would be simply to spread information. But in reality, evolution education must recognize that many students and families are not simply ignorant, but resistant to this form of knowledge. Educational efforts must strive first to understand the reasons for this resistance. Only then can evolution educators hope to develop effective strategies to teach evolution.

But…I guess in at least this one case, a creationist Christian really DID find the truths of mainstream science compelling. Marty Sampson appears to have converted away from conservative evangelicalism–at least in part–due to his exposure to mainstream scientific ideas. And if this famous creationist is feeling this way, I’m guessing there are plenty more among the rank and file who are moving more quietly away from radical creationism and conservative evangelical religion.

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?