Where Are Disney’s Creationists?

At first, it seems like a reasonable question. Ham no disney creationists

Radical creationist Ken Ham is the questioner in this case. He’s wondering why Disney can have an LGBTQ character, but not a radical creationist one. As he puts it,

I wonder if Disney will introduce a biblical creationist character who refutes all their paganism, or a bible-believing Christian who witnesses to others?

…and when Ham puts it like that, it’s immediately obvious why Disney won’t include a radical creationist as one of their characters. The mantra of inclusion doesn’t include everyone. People who insist that they are the only ones who have the Truth can’t be part of the multicultural community.

After all, Disney has plenty of creationist characters. How about Snow White? She famously prays n stuff. If she is a Christian, she likely believes that God is involved in the creation of life.

Or how about Friar Tuck? As a man of God, Tuck certainly would have believed in creation.

So it’s not creationism that is the problem for Disney. No, it is Ken Ham’s particular version of creationism, what we call “radical” creationism. As Ham writes, he doesn’t just want creationist Disney, he wants a character “who refutes all their paganism.”

That’s something Disney’s not likely to include. Looks like Ham will have to stick with VeggieTales.

Hitting Radical Creationists Where It Hurts

Fighting about science doesn’t help. Radical creationists have an answer for their radically different views about DNA, population genetics, radiometric dating, etc. Where they don’t have an answer is elsewhere.Burge v ham tweet

As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, the thing that distinguishes radical creationists from the rest of us isn’t really science or religion. Instead, it is good old-fashioned culture-war anger. Radical creationists like Ken Ham (what do I mean by “radical creationist?” Check out my explanation here) share a lot of theology with non-radical creationists. Where they differ—or, to be more precise, where they differ most markedly—is in their political and cultural attitudes.

Trying to puncture the scientific vision of radical creationism is not a losing battle—it is pretty easy to do. But it IS a meaningless battle. Radical creationists are very well prepared to have their dissenting science mocked and even overturned. Nothing Bill Nye can say, in other words, can ruffle their creationist feathers.

But the culture-war claims of radical creationists are different. Like radicals’ scientific claims, they can be fairly easily debunked. Unlike radicals’ scientific claims, however, debunking creationists’ culture-war claims threatens to upend the entire project of radical creationism.

Exhibit A: Ryan Burge and the true numbers on Southern Baptists. A significant element of radical creationists’ culture-war appeal rests on an assumption that Christians are not Christian enough any more. Arch-radical Ken Ham often warns his followers that Christians have slipped away from the true faith. In fact, however, as Ryan Burge recently demonstrated, Ham’s claims of conservative declension are wildly overstated.

Exhibit B: Dan Williams and abortion history. Ken Ham often warns that opposition to abortion is a primary element of real Christianity. Historically, however, there have been plenty of conservative evangelicals who had disagreed. As Prof. Williams demonstrated in Defenders of the Unborn, the evangelical fervor against abortion rights is a fairly recent development.

Exhibit C: Karen Pence and “unchanging orthodoxy.” Sometimes, conservatives will claim that they are only defending ancient truths delivered once for all to the saints. But as I’ve argued in places like the Washington Post, many central ideas of radical creationism are not really ancient truths at all.

The common thread: Radical creationism is built on a foundation of shaky claims and assumptions about history and society. Leaders like Ken Ham build their following by warning that America is under constant threat from secularism and sex. Evolutionary theory is only the most obvious efflorescence of the Satanic temptations. If people want to debunk creationists, it is pretty easy to point out that their historical assumptions do not match reality. It has only recently been considered of vital Christian importance to oppose abortion rights, for example. And young-earth creationism—the way it is embraced these days—is a novel idea, not an ancient Christian truth.

To make their cases, radical creationists use far more than just their radical science. Ken Ham, for example, teamed up with a creationist pollster to tally up the dangers lurking to creationist youth. The need for a radical science like the one offered by Answers in Genesis only makes sense as a desperate last-ditch move. It only seems necessary or sensible if mainstream culture has gone to the dogs. To make that case, radical creationists like Ken Ham often rely on spotty statistics and shoddy history. For example, as Ham warned in his 2009 book Already Gone,

we are one generation away from the evaporation of church as we know it. . . . unless we come to better understand what is happening and implement a clear, biblical plan to circumvent it.

Desperate times, Ham warns, call for desperate measures.

But, as Ryan Burge points out, what if the times aren’t really so desperate for conservatives? What if America isn’t really going to hell in a handbasket? Those claims have nothing to do with the science of creationism, but they have everything to do with maintaining Christians’ willingness to accept radical ideas like young-earth creationism.

When historians and social scientists puncture those intellectual supports, it becomes harder and harder for young-earth creationism to convince Christians that radical options are required.

Creationism’s Middle Ground—Is It Enough?

The radical creationists at Answers in Genesis have offered an explanation of their vision for proper evolution education. Short version: They want all kids to learn about mainstream evolutionary theory, in a way. Is there enough here for a long-lasting compromise?

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing about it, but I’m up to my eyeballs with my new book about creationism. I sent the manuscript to the Oxford folks and we’ll have a book ready for shelves soon. I’m arguing in the book that the real problem in America’s long-running culture war about evolutionary theory isn’t really evolutionary theory itself. (It’s about something, but for the full argument you’ll have to wait for the book version.)

This morning, the radical creationists at AIG offer a lengthy exposition of their view of proper evolution education (starting at 18:04 in the video above). (Why use the term “radical creationist?” My explanation here.) It gives us a chance to ask: Is there enough middle ground here for all of us? Or do radical creationists want too much?

First, a little background: Ken Ham and some colleagues from Answers In Genesis are reacting to evolution-education outreach from the Genetic Literacy Project, starting at about 18:04 in the youtube clip above. The outreach was apparently targeted to college instructors, hoping to help them help students overcome their religious resistance to evolutionary ideas.GLP AIG

There are a lot of things in this AIG commentary that we can all agree on. Let’s review a few of the big ones:

First of all, we can all agree that evolution educators shouldn’t be trying to convert their students toward or away from any religion. As one of the AIG commentators describes (19:19), the article is essentially asking,

How do you become an evangelist for evolution? To convert these backwater, very confused creationists into the “truth” that they would follow Science?

I don’t think the Genetic Literacy Project folks would explain their goals that way, but we don’t have to agree on that. We can agree that science educators have no desire to promote any specific religion.

Second, students should be learning more than just terms and facts about evolution. They should be learning a deep understanding of the underlying ideas. As the AIG commentator put it,

We need to promote true science and teach [students] how to think scientifically . . . not just dump facts at them.

Third, radical creationists should stop using bogus arguments against evolution. These radical creationists agree that those bogus arguments only muddy the waters. As another chimed in,

We wanna make sure we’re not setting up straw men or being fallacious with an evolutionary worldview so when we refute it we refute what they actually believe.

coloring book beginners bible basicsAlso, we can all agree not to poke fun at radical creationists for no good reason. The first image on the GLP evolution-education presentation was of a macho Jesus riding on a scary dinosaur. If you’re interested in American creationism, you’ve probably seen the image. It looks like it comes from a sad creationist coloring book, but in fact it was created by artist Derek Chatwood in 2014 to poke fun at radical creationism. It is not an artifact of American creationism, but rather a clever and cruel insult. The radical creationists objected to the (18:30),

stupid cartoon on the front. I don’t understand why this idea of Jesus riding a dinosaur…they keep using this…. I hate seeing this picture. It’s just a caricature of what creationists believe.

We can all agree on that. We can agree on all these things, and they are big things:

1.) There’s no need to insist on cartoonish misrepresentations of creationist ideas.

2.) Creationists should not make bogus straw-man arguments about evolutionary theory.

3.) Kids should learn more than facts about evolution; they should learn to “think scientifically.”

4.) And evolution education should not try to preach any religious idea to students.

Are we all in agreement about everything? Certainly not. The radicals at AIG insist that evolutionary thinking is itself a religion. It’s not. The radicals want children to learn, in the end, why evolutionary science is inadequate for explaining major changes in species. It’s not. They want to teach children that they must choose between mainstream science and their religion. They don’t.

Those are huge areas of disagreement and we can’t simply ignore them. When it comes to our public schools, however, we have enough agreement to move forward. We can all agree that science class should not mock religion of any kind. We can agree not to focus on fake arguments about the other side, and that students need to learn a deep understanding of the ideas that led to mainstream evolutionary theory.

Can we agree on the rest? No. To create a productive science class, though, we don’t need to.

Are Public Schools “Churches of Atheism?”

Once again, I totally agree with radical creationist Ken Ham about something. Not that the earth was created only about 7,000 years ago. Not that a real worldwide flood wiped out everything except Noah’s Ark. But I agree with him 100% that public schools should not serve as churches of atheism. However, as I know, you know, and large majorities of Americans know, public schools aren’t churches of any sort. How can we tell? Americans LIKE their local schools. They don’t like church.ham tweet churches of atheism

Mr. Ham has not grasped that fact. He is fond of warning his followers that public schools are not community resources, controlled and paid for by the community based on democratic processes, but rather sinister institutions—“churches of atheism”—dedicated to stripping children of their faiths, to belittling any religious viewpoint, and to cramming sexual immorality down children’s throats.

gallup school a or b

People tend to give high grades to their children’s schools.

The problem is, that’s not what public schools do in real life. I know because I spend my days visiting public schools in my area. I don’t see the kinds of mind-control efforts Mr. Ham is so nervous about. I see hard-working teachers who help their students become the best versions of themselves.

It’s not just me. The most careful surveys of public-school science teaching don’t find huge majorities of teachers cramming atheism down students’ throats. As political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer found in their huge survey of high-school science teachers, the biggest determining factor for the way teachers teach is community sentiment. If the local community wants more mainstream science, teachers teach it. If they want it watered down with creationism, teachers tend to oblige.

Worst of all for Mr. Ham’s radical Chicken-Little-ism, most Americans understand that. Gallup pollsters have asked Americans what they think of their public schools. By and large, people LIKE the public-schools their kids attend. What don’t people like? Church.

gallup church attendance

Americans are voting against church–with their feet.

So if public schools were really “churches of atheism,” as Mr. Ham contends, you’d think more people would be dissatisfied. You’d think more people would stop going. That’s not what is happening. It’s good news for the rest of us, even if it is not good news for Ken Ham and his radical allies.

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.


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.