I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another week come and gone–here are some ILYBYGTH-themes headlines you might have missed:

Should colleges ban the laptop?

Trump Trump Trump! More news this week from the land of Lord Dampnut:

Reza Aslan and Lawrence Krauss go head to head: Is religion a good thing?

Could the Museum of the Bible have thwarted Roy Moore-philia? George Weigel connects the dots at National Review.Bart reading bible

Why do school reformers charge in without thinking first? Curmudgucrat Peter Greene offers an explanation.

If Roy Moore wins his election, he still won’t be the worst senator Alabama has ever sent to Washington.

Let’s segregate our schools better, from Rann Miller at Salon.

Is this a “Sputnik moment” for civics education? Robert Pondiscio and Andrew Tripodo make the case at Flypaper.

How did we get the bajillion-dollar Bible Museum? At IHE, Scott McLemee reviews Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby.

From the Creation-Museum-watching Trollingers: How does the Bible relate to creationism and vice versa?

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Here’s Why Public Schools Will Never Eliminate Creationism

If the spotlight-loving science pundit Lawrence Krauss really thinks public schools can eliminate creationism in one generation, he’s off his rocker. But he’s in good company. Through the years, all sorts of writers and activists have made grandiose plans to use public schools for one sweeping reform or another. Unfortunately for them, that’s just not how America’s schools work.

The original bus from hell...

The original bus from hell…

To be fair, in the Krauss quotation pirated here by the young-earth creationist ministry Answers In Genesis, Krauss does not say that this will be a school thing. He only says that we can teach our kids—in general—to be skeptical. Clearly, in the conservative creationist imagination of the folks at AIG, this teaching will take place in the public schools.

This AIG cartoon illustrates the many ideological trends that they think are taught in the public schools. Evolution, homosexuality, abortion, . . . all these ideas are poured down the throats of innocent young Christians in public schools. Furthermore, AIG thinks, Christian belief and practice are banned and ridiculed.*

In culture-war battles like this, both sides made sweeping and incorrect assumptions about public schooling. If the schools teach good science, Krauss and his allies assume, then creationism can soon be eliminated. If the schools teach good religion, AIG thinks, then children will go to heaven, protected from evolution and other skepticism-promoting notions.

As I argue in my recent book, these assumptions are hard-wired into our culture-war thinking. Both progressives and conservatives tend to assume that the proper school reform will create the proper society.

In the 1930s, for instance, at the progressive citadel of Teachers College, Columbia University, Professor George Counts electified his progressive audiences with his challenge. Public schools teachers had only to “dare,” Counts charged, and the schools could “build a new social order.”

Decades later, conservative gadflies Mel and Norma Gabler repeated these same assumptions. Conservative parents, the Gablers warned, must watch carefully the goings-on in their local public schools. “The basic issue is simple,” they wrote.

Which principles will shape the minds of our children? Those which uphold family, morality, freedom, individuality, and free enterprise; or whose which advocate atheism, evolution, secularism, and a collectivism in which an elite governs and regulates religion, parenthood, education, property, and the lifestyle of all members of society?

Professor Counts would not likely have agreed with the Gablers on much. But he would have agreed that the ideas dominating public schools matter. If the wrong ideas leach into the schools, then society will lurch in dangerous directions.

These days, both Professor Krauss and the creationists at AIG seem to have inherited these same assumptions. However, as this screenshot from AIG’s facebook feed demonstrates, public school classrooms are far more complicated places than any of our school activists have allowed. No matter what standards we write about science or religion, public schools will continue to function in ways that represent the wishes of their local community. No matter how daring they are, a few progressive teachers do not have the power to build a new social order.

Similarly, we cannot use schools to eliminate creationism. If we want people to think scientifically, then we need to wage a much broader campaign. We need to convince parents and children that modern evolutionary science is the only game in town.

Because even if we wanted to, we could never ram through any sort of school rule that would be followed universally. Even if public schools officially adhere to state standards that embrace modern evolutionary science, schools themselves will vary from town to town, even from classroom to classroom. The only way to change schools in toto is to change society in toto.

Chicken and egg.

As we see in this facebook interchange, one evangelical teacher claims she teaches with the “overwhelming support of parents and administration.” Another says she teaches her children in public schools to recognize the logical necessity of a creator.

These facebook comments are not anomalies. According to political scientists Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, about 13% of public high-school biology teachers explicitly teach creationism. Another 60% teach some form of evolution mixed with intelligent design and creationism.

Not teaching the controversy, avoiding the controversy

Not teaching the controversy, avoiding the controversy

Why do so many teachers teach creationism? Because they believe it and their communities believe it. As Berkman and Plutzer argue, teachers tend to embrace the ideas of their local communities. In spite of the alarmism of the folks at AIG, public schools just aren’t well enough organized to push any sort of agenda. Public schools will never eliminate creationism. They just can’t.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing it, but I’ll say it again: Schools don’t change society; schools reflect society.

*(Bonus points if you can explain why AIG is against saving the whales!)

You Don’t Need a Young Earth to Get to Heaven

Do creationists use intimidation and spiritual threats to coerce young people to believe?  Not as often as some critics assume.

Young-earth creationist leader Ken Ham of the organization Answers In Genesis repeated his call recently that Christians do not need to believe in a young earth.

For outsiders like me, this can appear puzzling.  After all, those of us outside the circle of conservative evangelical belief often assume that all conservative evangelical Protestants spend their time sweating over their eternal fate.  We might make the mistake of assuming that conservative evangelicals thrive by threatening sinners with hellfire, brimstone and damnation.

Take, for example, the Christian beliefs of young-earth creationists.  From the outside, it’s tempting to assume that the more insistent YECs must somehow bully new generations into embracing their beliefs.  After all, those beliefs are so radically different from the ones embraced by mainstream science that it seems impossible for young people to become YECs unless compelled.

This is why some prominent atheists have called this kind of creationism “child abuse.”  As we’ve seen in these pages, smart young people brought up in the faith have wondered why their trusted adult leaders sold them a scientific bill of goods.  As Anna wondered recently in her illuminating ILYBYGTH series about her youth as a YEC, “It is still a bit difficult for me to look back on authority figures and members of my community that I looked up to and respected and wonder: are they just ignorant, or are they purposely deceptive?”

For us outsiders then, it can seem surprising that arch-creationist Ken Ham takes time to point out that young-earth belief is not a salvation issue.  That is, Ham insists that good Christians can disagree about the age of the earth.  As he puts it,

Many great men of God who are now with the Lord have believed in an old earth. Some of these explained away the Bible’s clear teaching about a young earth by adopting the classic gap theory.

Others accepted a day-age theory or positions such as theistic evolution, the framework hypothesis, and progressive creation.

Scripture plainly teaches that salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ, with no requirement for what one believes about the age of the earth or universe.

Ham hastens to add that discarding a belief in a young earth can have “very severe consequences.”  In sum, since the Bible clearly describes the origins of earth, disregarding that message puts Christians on the very slippery slope to disregarding Biblical authority as a whole.

“All biblical doctrines,” Ham concludes, “including the gospel itself, are ultimately rooted in the first book of the Bible.”

Make no mistake: Ken Ham wants you to believe in a young earth.  But this is not a threat.  This is not a tent-preacher warning that only YEC can save your soul.

Too many outsiders like me ignore these kinds of nuance in the intellectual world of conservative evangelical Protestantism.  We end up calling YECs child abusers or worse, without taking the time to understand the real culture of young-earth creationism.  That might make for good headlines, but it does so at the heavy cost of relying on caricature rather than reality.

Is This Child Abuse?

Arch-creationist Ken Ham wants to train up a spiritual army of young Christian creationists.  Does that count as child abuse?

I’m no creationist, but I just don’t think so.

Ham trumpeted the training of a new generation of young “soldiers” at an Answers In Genesis conference at Atlantic Shores Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  By teaching young people the truths of young-earth creationism, Ham claimed he was “preparing them for the spiritual war going on around us.”

Image Source: Answers in Genesis

Image Source: Answers in Genesis

This language of child soldiers makes me nervous.  Plus, I don’t like the notion that young people are being turned away from real evolutionary science by this sort of religion posing as science.  To me, this seems like another painful example of the ways faith has been tangled unnecessarily with real evolutionary science, resulting in bad science and tortured theology.

But it is child abuse?

Leading skeptics have called it that, folks such as physicist Lawrence Krauss and biologist Richard Dawkins.  They assert that cramming this false science down young people’s throats counts as abuse.

Let’s look at both sides of this argument.

Why might someone call this child abuse?

1.)    These young people are being told things are true, when they really aren’t.  They are being taught, to cite just one example, that dinosaurs and humans coexisted a few thousand years ago.  Worst of all, relationships of close trust between parents, teachers, and children are being exploited to promote the veracity of this false science.  Loving mothers, loving fathers, caring teachers tell innocent young people that this is scientific truth.  Ingenuous young people take their word for it.  Such deception is abusive.

2.)    In this essay, Ken Ham explicitly calls them soldiers—spiritual soldiers, but soldiers nonetheless.  This seems a terrible violation.  Young people should not be exploited as culture-war cannon fodder.

Why might defenders disagree?

1.)    There is no threat or coercion here.  Though it may come as a surprise to outsiders like me, Answers In Genesis makes it very clear that believing in a young earth and recent special creation are not required for Christian salvation.  In other words, Ken Ham and his colleagues do not threaten young people with terrifying visions of hellfire if the children don’t embrace creationism.

2.)    The parents and teachers seen here are apparently sincere in their belief that creationism is true.  They are trying to pass that truth to their children and pupils.  There’s nothing abusive in passing along the best knowledge to the next generation.

3.)    Though science pundits such as Bill Nye have argued against it, believing the young-earth creationism of Answers In Genesis will not hurt the life chances of these young people.  According to Gallup polls, nearly half of American adults share a belief that humanity has only been around for a few thousand years.  And as I’ve argued elsewhere, careers in science-related fields do not seem thwarted by a belief in young-earth creationism.  Consider the case of US Representative Paul C. Broun Jr. of Georgia.  Broun is a fervent creationist, a medical doctor, and a member of Congress.  Not a bad career!

Image Source: Answers In Genesis

Image Source: Answers In Genesis

Is it child abuse?  No.  And calling it that is irresponsible.  After all, there is real child abuse out there.  It is horrific and terrifyingly common.  Calling this sort of science/religion education ‘child abuse’ is only an ill-considered scare tactic.

Perhaps this argument could use some illustration from another religious tradition.  Consider the recent career of child abuse in the Catholic Church.  As we all know only too well, the despicable actions of some priests and prelates in that church have caused untold suffering.

But the abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic Church does not extend to its anti-scientific teachings.  After all, the Catholic Church teaches young people that certain wafers and wine can magically transform into flesh and blood.  And then young people are taught to eat that flesh and drink that blood.  For outsiders like me, teaching children to engage in this sort of ritual cannibalism is creepy and anti-scientific.  It is also demonstrably false: the wafers and wine are always really just wafers and wine.  Nevertheless, it is not child abuse for Catholics to teach their children this mystery of transubstantiation.  Calling such teaching ‘child abuse’ would disrespect the real suffering that real child abuse has caused within the Catholic Church.

A similar logic may apply in this case.  The young-earth creationism peddled by Answers In Genesis is not true.  But it is sincerely believed by its adherents.  Teaching those ideas to young people is not child abuse.

Unfortunately, we can picture what real abuse might look like in similar cases.  As Billy Graham’s grandson has pointed out recently, evangelical Protestant organizations have also engaged in real child abuse.  They have conspired, just as did the Catholic hierarchy, to cover up that terrible real abuse.  We could imagine a scenario in which a Protestant organization such as Answers In Genesis called together thousands of children and abused some of them.

But that is not the case here.  This was an educational gathering.  To call it ‘child abuse’ makes a mockery of the all-too-real threat of abuse.

 

Does Science Hate God?

If God loves science and scientists love God, why do we keep hearing that they hate each other?

It’s the $64,000 question Daniel Silliman asked yesterday on his terrific blog.*  As Silliman points out, the “warfare thesis” between religion and science just doesn’t hold water.

Yet films such as The Unbelievers attract enormous attention and support.  In that upcoming documentary, leading science pundits Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss apparently insist that true science must crush false religion.

Silliman could have extended the point on the other side, as well.  Plenty of religious leaders have encouraged the legend of warfare between true religion and “science falsely so-called.”  Young-earth creation leader Ken Ham, for instance, insists on the importance of this “struggle over the question of authority.”

Silliman ends with a great question for fans of The Unbelievers:

The real question that this documentary raises, though, is why there’s such a market for the conflict thesis. Why does it persist in its obfuscations and false oppositions so long after it was demonstrated to be historically bankrupt as a theory and demonstrably empirically false?

Is it because a fight is just more interesting than a compromise?  Is it due to our reality-show culture in which viewers insist on drama?  Or are there substantial differences, necessary hostilities, that persist in the face of historians’ denial of the warfare thesis?

*You can tell it’s a great blog because he lists yours truly as one of his links.  Thanks!

Dinosaur Quizzes and Beleaguered Minorities

Have you seen it?  The dinosaur quiz below has been making the rounds lately.

dino quiz

Source: Answers in Genesis

This seems like a good chance for an ILYBYGTH gut check: What does this quiz tell us about creationism and American education?  For fans of evolution, this quiz confirms that creationism is a looming threat.  For young-earth creationists, though, this quiz and its public career tell us that Biblical creationists have become a righteous minority, besieged on all sides.

Here’s the story so far:  This quiz apparently came from a fourth-grade classroom at a private Christian school in South Carolina.  A parent posted it online when he found out to his dismay that his daughter had been learning this account of the origins of life.

What does this tell us about the state of American education?  Depending on your perspective, it can teach very different lessons.

For some commenters at r/atheism, this quiz serves as proof of the creeping power of Christian fundamentalism.  One poster noted, “They’re teaching these kids how to respond to people who spread the ‘evils of the world,’ in order to defend their faith.  It’s just very, very sad.”

Another agreed.  “This is just disgusting, my goodness,” he or she noted, concerning the fact that so many accredited schools in the United States teach this kind of science.  “I would really love to see a full on description of what is required to be taught to remain accredited, and then see if I could develop a program based around worship of FSM [i.e., the Flying Spaghetti Monster] that would meet those requirements.”

For young-earth creationist leader Ken Ham, however, the brouhaha over this quiz tells a very different lesson.  Ham complained that the backlash to this quiz proves that atheists have taken over America.  As he put it recently,

It seems that since the last presidential election, atheists have grown more confident about having something of a license to go after Christians. These secularists want to impose their anti-God religion on the culture. They are simply not content using legislatures and courts to protect the dogmatic teaching of their atheistic religion of evolution and millions of years in public schools. There is something else on their agenda: they are increasingly going after Christians and Christian institutions that teach God’s Word beginning in Genesis.

The danger, Ham and his colleague Mark Looy warned, should be readily apparent: “the atheists want your children. They are aggressively trying to demonize and marginalize Christians in their attempts to recruit your children for atheism or secularism.”

So who is the victim here?  Is it besieged Christians, defending their schools against dominant atheism?  Or is it science and reason, holding out in a last-ditch effort to save American education from Taliban-ism?

I’ll go out on a limb and try to define America’s educational consensus on this one.  The overwhelming majority of Americans agree, I’ll argue, that private schools can teach whatever they wish.  But there is one enormous exception: schools cannot teach doctrines that will cause harm to students or the wider society.

Obviously, this kicks the discussion back to the definition of “harm.”  We will all agree that teaching students how to rob liquor stores will ultimately be bad for both students and society.

But does teaching creationism constitute harm?  To anyone?  Here’s where tempers get heated.  I do not endorse young-earth creationism, but I believe the harm it does to students and society is far less than the harm that would be done if steps were taken to coerce schools to teach evolution.  Let schools teach young-earth creationism.  Try to persuade–not force–people to teach their children evolution instead.

Smart people disagree.  Some folks consider teaching young-earth creationism to be no harm at all.  Others, such as physicist Lawrence Krauss, consider teaching creationism to be a form of “child abuse.”   

Whichever side of this fence you fall on, this dinosaur quiz and the response it has generated can serve as a creationism quiz, a quick check of your attitudes toward this alternative science.  Does this sort of teaching harm students?  Does this sort of education harm society?