Creationist College History, Part II: Parting the Waters

I know, I know, it has been hard to sleep for the last couple days. With the cliff-hanger ending of my last guest post about evangelical colleges at Righting America at the Creation Museum, I’m sure it has been difficult to wait for the sequel.genesis flood 1961 ed

Well, wait no longer: Today at RACM you can read the second half of my argument about the way evangelical higher education influenced the career of American creationism.

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What Goes on at Creationist Colleges?

Thanks to Bill and Sue Trollinger, the wizards behind Righting America at the Creation Museum, I’ve had a chance to share a few of my ideas about the vital role played by higher education in the evolution of American creationism.

Gustafson chimes cartoon bible a myth at many colleges

Evolution has always been forbidden fruit, but not always in the same ways. This cartoon came from Biola University’s student paper, c. 1939.

This morning RACM has kindly published the first half of my argument about the tangled and troubled history of creationism at America’s evangelical and fundamentalist colleges and institutes. As you might suspect, even though fundamentalists all agreed that evolution was bad, they didn’t agree on much more than that.

Check out the full two-part argument at Righting America at the Creation Museum.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Believe it or not, Labor Day is already here. Time to put away those white shoes, fellows. It has been a hectic last week of summer here at ILYBYGTH. Here are a few stories of interest that you may have missed:

Are some cultures better than others?

Love means never having to say you’re sorry: Trump pardons Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

At The Gospel Coalition, an open letter from Christian scholars denouncing racism.

Are white evangelicals more racist than Christian?

The problem with “privilege.” Jeffrey K. Mann wants us to look beyond race and gender.

What happened to all the Christian bookstores?

Yes, you read it correctly: Reese Witherspoon will be playing the role of a defector from the “God-Hates-Fags” Westboro Baptist Church.

Where are all the sinister atheists who are trying to undermine Christian America? The Trollingers couldn’t find them at the American Atheists Convention, from Righting America at the Creation Museum.

Family sues NYC schools over their son’s “gender expansive” preference for dresses. The school accused the parents of sexual abuse.

Vouchers and stealth vouchers: The Progressive offers a guide to the wild and woolly world of public-school funding options.

What should conservative evangelicals think about gender and sexuality?

Only in New York: A Brooklyn school principal accused of recruiting her students into the communist movement.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

You may have had difficulties reading the headlines after you burned your retinas looking at the solar eclipse, so we here at ILYBYGTH have done the work for you. Here are some headlines of note from the past week:

Should I stay or should I go? Trump’s evangelical advisors split on splitting.

Update from Arizona: Federal judge rules that the ban on ethnic studies program was racially discriminatory.

Penn State rejects talk by white nationalist Richard Spencer. President Barron: Spencer’s ideology is “abhorrent and contradictory to our University’s values.”Bart reading bible

Should you red-shirt your kindergartener?

They liked him then, they like him now: White evangelicals oppose calls to impeach Trump by big margins.

How can you get Ken Ham and Jerry Coyne to agree? Talk about the similarities between abortion and infanticide.

Don’t like Trump? Is it because, deep down, you know he is you? John Burtka IV argues that Trump IS America.

What do atheists think of creationists? The Trollingers speak at the American Atheist Convention, from Righting America at the Creation Museum.

Looks like Liberty University has some ‘splainin to do. Disclosures suggest Trey Falwell owns a “gay-friendly flophouse with an on-site liquor store” in Miami. Zoiks.

What’s Missing from this Creationist School?

Is young-earth creationism an inward-looking fortress? …or a missionary outpost? News from Kentucky is pushing your humble editor in a new direction.

Here’s the latest: Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis (AIG) organization is partnering with Renewanation (it’s easier to read when you cut it into three: Renew-A-Nation) to open a new creationist school near the Creation Museum. Students will get free family passes to the museums. Teachers will be able to use the museum as a teaching aid.

So far, so obvious. But the announcement adds new fuel to an old debate about young-earth creationism. Is it meant to be a form of evangelical outreach? Or is it rather just a way to circle fundamentalist wagons?

Some scholars have made strong cases for the latter. In his wonderful book God’s Own Scientists, anthropologist Chris Toumey argues that young-earth creationism is not about outreach. Rather, young earth science

preaches mostly to those who are already converted, and its effect is more to sustain the beliefs of the converted than to change other peoples’ convictions.

AIG watchers Bill and Susan Trollinger, too, argue that young-earth creationism is more about protecting than witnessing. As they put it in a recent blog post,

In the end, it is all about protecting the children.

On the other hand, the language of young-earth creationism is full of missionary talk. The reason dinosaurs are such a powerful creationist weapon, Ken Ham likes to say, is because they are “missionary lizards.” The goal of his ministry, Ham insists, is to reach as many benighted people as possible with the saving gospel of Genesis.

As I wrestle with this question for my new book about American creationism, I’ve tended to think that we need to take Ham’s missionary talk at face value.

The announcement of a new AIG-partnered school, however, leaves a few things conspicuously absent. The goal of the new school, according to AIG, will be to help creationist students remain creationists. When they are confronted with mainstream ideas about science and religion, they will have convincing ways to rebut. As AIG puts it,

[Our new school] wants to help curb the trend of young people walking away from the church by equipping them—from kindergarten through their senior year—with apologetics, using logic and critical-thinking skills.

AIG’s partner, Renewanation, promises to inculcate a biblical worldview that will give students everything they need to resist the intellectual and spiritual trends of modern America.

twelve-stones-academy-logo

Safe Spaces

What are the most prevalent “myths” the school wants to disprove? You might think they’d be things such as “natural selection is our current best understanding of the ways species came to differentiate from one another.” Or something such as “the Bible is a powerful spiritual tool, but it was cobbled together over generations by fallible human editors.”

Nope.

The “myths” blasted by the Renewanation folks are much more closely focused on the insular community of young-earth creationists. They don’t seem interested in reaching non-creationists with their message. Rather, they mostly want to convince the converted that their school is the only way to keep their children safe.

What are the most prevalent “myths” the Renewanators want to debunk?

  • Christian schools are too expensive.
  • They don’t have good sports programs.
  • They aren’t really necessary, just optional.

In every case, Renewanation clearly targeted the already converted. Their argument is not about missionary fervor; it is about safety and protection for the already convinced. Most remarkably, the notion of young-earth creationism itself was not a huge part of the appeal. Rather, the goal of this new school—and of the Renewation school network as a whole—is to provide an insular educational setting in which young-earth creationist students can learn to remain young-earth creationists, no matter what.

The goal is not (only) to teach young-earth creationism. Rather, it is to teach young-earth creationists.

And, of course, there is no reason why YEC can’t be both an insular fortress and a missionary outpost. The fortress protects the missionaries as they do their work. This school announcement, though, certainly seems to be more about the “protecting” part than the “outreach” part.

Safety Schools: The Exciting Conclusion

Apologies to all the SAGLRROILYBYGTH who haven’t been able to sleep for the last few nights. I know, I know, we’ve all been on the edge of our seats. Well, rest easy: The second part of my argument about Cedarville University is now live over at Righting America at the Creation Museum.

How does Cedarville’s recent purity campaign fit in to the history of evangelical higher education? Check out the exciting conclusion.

Purity Policy at Cedarville U

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware that evangelical colleges tend to insist on stricter rules for student behavior than do secular or liberal schools. Faculty members, too, are held to high expectations for orthodox thinking and behavior. Those tensions are a big part of my new history of evangelical and fundamentalist higher ed.

The goings-on at Cedarville University in Ohio, though, seem to be more extreme than the norm. By insisting on a new definition of “purity” in its curriculum, based on Philippians 4:8, the administration at Cedarville has some evangelical intellectuals scratching their heads in confusion.

righting america at the creation museum

Keeping an eye on Cedarville…

The folks at Righting America at the Creation Museum have been watching Cedarville closely. Recently, they asked your humble editor to offer some historical perspective. Are Cedarville’s new purity rules an odd exception to the usual functioning of evangelical schools?

Today, they kindly published my two cents. (Well, technically one cent. They’ll publish the second half soon.) Check out my argument over at Righting America at the Creation Museum.

Are Cedarville’s purity police something dramatically new? Or just par for the course at evangelical institutions? What do you think? Please head over to RACM to add your insights and comments.