It’s Not about Evolution

What makes young-earth creationists fight so hard against mainstream science? Hard as it is for outsiders like me to understand, it’s not really about evolutionary theory itself, as today’s headlines remind us.ham sex selection

Here’s what we know: This morning, young-earth impresario Ken Ham warned the twittersphere about the dangers of sex-selective abortions. And his warning helps us understand the real issue at stake for most young-earthers.

Ham was referring to a recent article about sex-selective abortions. As Ham fumed,

What a depraved world we live in. Many secularists want kids to decide their gender after birth, but in the meantime many determine biological sex before birth to specially eliminate girls! What a shocking mess when people abandon God’s Word!

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH will notice right off the bat, there’s nothing about evolution involved in these claims. Ham, of course, would likely say that evolutionary theory is lurking in the background of everything, but this morning Ham doesn’t actually talk about evolution. As usual, today the issue for Ham is not specifically the science of evolution, but something else. So if Ham and other YEC pundits aren’t really anxious about evolutionary theory itself, what are they worried about?

As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, radical young-earth creationism isn’t actually about evolution. It is about drawing a line.

As Ken Ham often points out, the dangers come from two directions. First, there are lurking “secularists” who are trying to deprive Christians of both their civic rights and their religious beliefs. Second, ever since the days of Bernard Ramm (1956), some conservative evangelical Christians have worried that any open consideration of the theological implications of mainstream evolutionary theory will lead to a galloping retreat from faith.

As they have since the days of The Genesis Flood (the 1961 book, not the event), radical young-earth creationists have argued that the only way to preserve true Christian belief is to draw a hard line against mainstream evolutionary science.

As today’s updates show, most of the arguments in favor of young-earth creationism are not really about evolutionary theory itself. Instead, they warn Christians about the likely results of considering the merits of mainstream science.

Instead of asking, “What are the theological implications of mainstream science?” YEC pundits ask, “Do you want to kill more girl babies?”

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How Creationists Win

For those of us who want secular public schools and mainstream evolutionary science only in public-school science classes, the news from Arizona could be either a glass half-full or half-empty. Either way, though, it serves as a clear reminder of how creationism wins.

Here’s what we know: In Arizona, the superintendent of public instruction picked Joseph Kezele to serve on an eight-person board reviewing state science standards. Kezele is the president of the Arizona Origin Science Association. He is an ardent young-earth creationist. In his work on the board, he has nudged the standards toward more skepticism about mainstream evolutionary theory.

To this reporter, the story reveals the most important reason creationists win. As I’m arguing in my new book, it’s not really about evolutionary science itself. Before we get to that main reason, though, let’s look at some of the contributing factors:

1.) Creationists win by being polite.

Kezele’s fellow board members don’t like his radical creationism, but they do like him. As the University of Arizona’s William Roth told the Phoenix New Times, in all their interactions Kezele was “polite and thoughtful.”

2.) Creationists win by taking advantage of their grandparents’ work.

In this case, Kezele has credentials as a faculty member at Arizona Christian University. A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Education specifically identified Kezele’s faculty status as the main reason for Kezele’s inclusion on the board.

Though Arizona Christian University itself was founded only in 1960, it is part of the evangelical higher education network I described in Fundamentalist U. Since the 1920s, creationists founded their own network of universities specifically, in part, to provide a home for creationist scientists like Kezele.

These days, creationists like Kezele can only have higher-ed credentials because of the work of their parents, their grandparents, and in some cases, their great-grandparents. The fundamentalists who stormed out of mainstream colleges and started their own schools built a network that is still providing credentials and paychecks to radical creationists today.

3.) Creationists win by not asking for much.

In Arizona, according to Professor Roth, Kezele never tried to “foist any kind of creationism” on the committee. As Roth put it,

I never got the impression that he was really arguing for the inclusion of creationism in the standard. . . . I think he was pretty aware of the court rulings that religion is not going to be taught in science class.

Kezele did nudge the committee, though. For example, Kezele put his feet down to insist that the language be changed. Instead of explaining evolution as “THE” explanation for speciation, the new standards call evolution “AN” explanation. It’s a huge difference, to be sure, but worlds removed from actually adding any specific creationist content to the standards.

Historically, compared to the anti-evolution campaigners of the 1920s who sought to impose theocracy on America’s public schools, today’s creationist activists are fighting for curricular scraps and crumbs.

4.) Most important, creationists win these days for reasons that have nothing really to do with evangelical theology or evolutionary science.

It’s just politics. The superintendent who appointed Kezele wants creationism and evolution both to be included in public school science classrooms. But if she had not been elected, someone else who also favors creationism probably would have. As Arizona Central reported, Superintendent Diane Douglas was re-elected sought re-election from among a field crowded with creationism-friendly candidates. [Thanks to GB for the correction!]

Of the five Republican candidates for the job, four ardently supported teaching some sort of creationism in public schools. They may have had their personal reasons for wanting it, but they also made an obvious political calculation. If anyone is going to be elected in Arizona, that is, she must promise to make public schools creationism-friendly.

The reasons the candidates gave for supporting creationism in public schools were all about culture-war politics, not theology or science.

Candidate Frank Riggs, for example, argued that students needed creationism to be good Americans. As he put it, high-school students

should know what our founding fathers believed and put in our founding documents . . . “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” . . . We can’t skip over that, or we do a huge disservice to our students.

Another candidate, Tracy Livingston, poured some unadulterated MAGA rhetoric into the mix. Why should public schools include creationism? In her answer, Livingston bemoaned the “fact” that

Schools don’t even allow Merry Christmas anymore.

Why support creationism in public schools? For candidate Livingston, at least, it was part of a culture-war playbook. To Make America Great Again, schools needed to give Christianity a special spot. Children needed to be taught in a vaguely Christian atmosphere, one that included creationism.

It’s not science. It’s not even really religion. Instead, the main reason for creationist victories is simple, ugly, culture-war politics.

How do creationists win? Lots of reasons. They win if they are polite. They win if they take advantage of the long work of previous generations, establishing creationist institutions that can provide credentials. They win if they don’t ask for much, but insist on a little.

Most importantly, though, they win because they own the Republican Party in some locations. To win election as state superintendent of public education, candidates raced to out-creationist one another. Creationism has become yet another culture-war red flag. It’s not really about theology or science, but about what side you want to be on.

Creationists’ REAL Long Game

Let me be clear: I’m against pushing religious ideas into public schools. If they were wise, creationists should ALSO be against it. The real long game for American creationists—even radical young-earth creationists—should be to secularize schools, not jam more religion in there.

Here’s what we know: Writing for Americans United recently, Rob Boston warned secular folks like me,

The Creationists Are Playing The Long Game. You Should Too.

From my perspective, it appears Boston is preaching to the wrong choir. Instead of warning secular people about creationist schemes, Boston and his allies should be helping creationists recognize their own long-game interests.

Yes, Boston acknowledged, for the past fifty years radical creationists have experienced a series of crushing courtroom defeats. Nevertheless, creationist activists haven’t given up. As Boston pointed out, creationist and their political allies are trying to water down evolution education or cram creationism-friendly materials into public schools in Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, and two counties (1, 2) in Florida.

As Boston warned,

Mind you, this is just a sampling of stories from within the past few years. If you put words like “evolution” and “creationism” into AU’s web search engine, you’ll pull up many more stories going back years. I guarantee that some of the stuff you read will curl your hair.

It’s great that we win in court (although I worry that even that may start to slip if Brett Kavanaugh ends up on the Supreme Court), but the creationists are obviously not daunted by their legal losses. They aren’t going away, so you should not either.

I’m in full agreement with Boston in terms of public-school policy. There is no legitimate reason to squeeze devotional material into public schools, whether it is in the form of teacher-led prayer or religiously inspired science. However, I have two beefs with this warning:

1.) The recent activities of creationists in public school don’t represent a “long game,” but rather a disconnected set of hail-mary scrambles by local religious radicals. And

2.) The folks who try to jam creationism into public schools are not aware of their own best interests. They don’t seem to be aware of the advice of young-earth creationist leaders such as Ken Ham or Don McLeroy.

Again, I’m no creationist, much less a partisan of radical young-earth thinking. But if I were, I would advise my compadres to follow the thoughtful advice of young-earth leaders.

already-gone

Creationists warn creationists: The kids are not alright.

Ken Ham, for example, has made very clear his position that young-earth creationism is a dwindling, minority viewpoint. As Ham wrote in a 2009 book, for example,

six out of ten 20-somethings who were involved in a church during their teen years are already gone.

Too many creationist churches and Sunday-schools, Ham warns, are not actively teaching children an intellectually and spiritually substantial young-earth doctrine. As a result, when young people get the chance, they abandon young-earth thinking. Far from pushing creationist ideas into public-school science classes, Ham would recommend that ardent creationists focus on building their own churches. As Ham put it elsewhere, his job is to serve as a “Nehemiah,” building walls to protect young-earth creationist churches from moral and theological compromise. As Ham expressed the idea,

We at [young-earth ministry Answers In Genesis] are busy “rebuilding a wall.” We are equipping God’s people to defend the Christian faith, and I believe we are doing a great work for God. We are busy being “watchmen”—warning people of those who undermine the authority of the Word of God.

Far from plotting to take over public-school science classrooms, Ken Ham hopes his young-earth friends will build walls to protect the few remaining churches that still teach unadulterated young-earth beliefs. As Ken Ham eagerly tells anyone who will listen, young-earth creationism is a besieged minority position. Time after time (see here, here, or here for examples), Ham and his organization have protested against unfair discrimination against young-earth creationists.

So what? If any creationist stopped for a minute to think about it, he or she would recognize the obvious implications. If their religious ideas represent a minority position; if they are discriminated against by the wider society; if they are besieged wall-builders; if they are losing adherents . . . then their real long game in public education should be to promote a rigorous and unyielding secularism.

Just as other religious minorities throughout American history have been the most ardent adherents of secular public schools, so too should young-earth creationists adopt the long-game strategy of keeping all religion—including their own—out of public schools.

It just makes sense. If creationism is now a minority position, it stands only to lose if religion is imposed in public schools. In our society, majority decisions about school policy will win the day. Yes, in some places creationists can muster up a temporary, short-term, local majority to cram through their religion. That will fade, however. Over time, establishing the precedent of pushing religion into public schools will hurt creationists more than anyone else.

mcleroy

What is the REAL creationist long game, Dr. McLeroy?

I don’t ask creationists to take my word for it. As former Texas state school board chairman and young-earth creationist Don McLeroy told me recently, no intelligent, strategic creationists want public schools to teach creationism. As Dr. McLeroy put it,

All, and I mean all of my creationist friends welcome the mandated teaching of evolution and always have. . . . The number one misrepresentation of creationists is that we want to teach creationism in the public schools. You can search all my public comments and you will never find a statement advocating the teaching of creationism.

When it comes right down to it, the people who should MOST want religion out of public schools are religious minorities. These days, young-earth creationists are precisely that. If they were playing in their own best interests, creationists would hop on the secularism train.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

No more wearing white, I guess. Around here, we’ve already had to turn on the heat. The interwebs stayed hot, though. Here is our weekly roundup of ILYBYGTH-themed stories:

Starving for Jesus: Wisconsin family kills one child, nearly kills another in Christian fast, at WSJ.

falwell on nike

Football, America, and God too.

Christian college drops Nike over anthem protests, at CHE.

Gresham Machen and segregationism at the old Princeton Seminary, at FM.

Wowzers, the big story: The inside resistance in the White House, at NYT.

Meanwhile, Trump explains the “great job” he’s doing to Bob Woodward, at WaPo.

Nobody has ever done a better job than I’m doing as president. (12:52)

Senator McCain’s legacy as a school reformer, at T74.

Great Books as the solution to campus protests, at CHE.

Both reactionary pundits mocking campus speech codes and the social-justice warriors they love to hate are complicit in reproducing the kinds of inequality that tribalism feeds on.

Is education a “fundamental right?” Jill Lepore reviews Justin Driver in The New Yorker.

Coming out to young-earth creationists, at BioLogos.

The politics of Christian crafts: Kristen Kobes Du Mez on “Hobby Lobby Evangelicalism.”

What Are Radical Creationists Afraid Of?

What are radical young-earth creationists afraid of? One pastor’s tale about coming out to his flock as a creationist who accepts evolution gives us a few clues. As always, it’s not actually evolutionary theory people loathe, but something else.

The Rev. Matt Herndon shared his experience recently at BioLogos. Like a lot of creationists who accept mainstream evolutionary science, Herndon began his adult life as a radical young-earth creationist. As he put it,

I had grown up a young-earth creationist, even defending the position in college and my early days as a church planter. Slowly, though, I grew dissatisfied with the scientific credibility of young-earth explanations. Also, it gradually became less and less obvious to me that Genesis was intended to be read as a scientific description of events in natural history. And the scientific evidence for evolution and an old earth grew steadily more compelling.

None of this really challenged my faith, which is not rooted in a certain interpretation of Genesis, but (among other things) in the historical resurrection of Jesus and my personal encounter with divine grace. In fact, opening myself up to the scientific consensus gave me a new pair of glasses through which to see the beauty and truth of Christian doctrine.

Before he came out as an “evolutionary creationist,” his church had been split, he explained, between young-earth creationists, evolutionary creationists like himself, and undecided creationists. He thought that meant he could safely reveal—as a staunch Christian and creationist—his new acceptance of evolutionary theory.

AIG foundations

For radicals, evolutionary theory itself isn’t the problem. It’s what they think evolution supports that troubles them…

He was wrong.

When he recommended a book supporting evolutionary creationism on Facebook, his church splintered. There was gossip, anger, hard feelings, and eventually a sizeable faction of young-earthers left the church. Why?

In Rev. Herndon’s opinion, the young-earthers left because they were afraid of what their church would become. They were afraid of what would happen to any church without a firm young-earth pastor. As Herndon explained,

To them, evolution isn’t one issue among many that Christians should deal with. It is THE issue that Christians must NOT “compromise” on. For a pastor to “compromise” on a literal reading of Genesis is, in their minds, not a disagreement. It’s a heresy.

In the end, it was not the science or theology that the young-earth radicals were afraid of. After all, they had long been members of a church that was divided between different types of creationism. But when the pastor came down on the moderate side, the radicals left. They didn’t stay to debate the science of radical creationism or mainstream evolutionary theory. They didn’t try to help Herndon see the theological problems inherent in his new ideas about evolution.

To radical young-earth creationism, mainstream evolutionary theory is mainly a problem for what it implies, not what it says. For generations now, radicals have told one another that mainstream evolutionary theory is a gateway drug, a slippery stepping stone to a devil’s brew of pernicious ideas and trends.

Back in the 1970s, for example, in the Kanawha County (WV) school controversy I’ve written about in my book about educational conservatism, one of the creationist protest leaders explained what he disliked about a new set of textbooks. The Rev. Avis Hill explained to an interviewer that there was not just one thing wrong with the books.

Yes, the books were bad, Hill explained. They were full of “that garbage, that trash, that four-letter words.” They encouraged students to “act out a street riot.” They encouraged the sorts of delinquency Hill deplored,

students drinking and . . . smoking their dope. . . . leaning against the wall with their feet on the wall dirtying and defacing the school with initials and names all over it.

Some of the people who liked the new books, Hill admitted, were Christians, but they were the sorts of Christians who were friendly to “gays and homosexuals . . . and being proabortion.”

When pressed, the Rev. Hill had a quick shorthand that he thought captured all these dire cultural trends. In the end, Hill explained, the problem with the new textbooks was that they were contaminated by “attitudes of evolution and all that.”

Avis Hill was far from the only radical creationist to bundle together a host of cultural issues under the vague but all-encompassing label of “evolution and all that.” National young-earth leaders such as Henry Morris and Ken Ham do the same.

In a recent edition of his book The Long War Against God, for instance, Henry Morris argued that evolutionary thinking was bad science, but more important, it had

Practically eliminated the semblance of Bible-based behavior from American life.

Evolutionary thinking, Morris insisted, could be blamed for increased rates of

premarital sex, adultery, divorce, and homosexuality. . . .Unrestrained pornography. . . . Prostitution, both male and female, is at an all-time high, as is its attendant criminal activity. . . . [and] this rapid change in abortionism from criminality to respectability. . . . [plus] the modern drug crisis (rock music, peer pressure, organized crime, etc.)

Morris is not the only radical creationist leader to make these connections. As Ken Ham is fond of arguing, evolutionary theory is the foundation on which all other social ills are built. Unless creationists take a radical, fundamentalist stance against moderate forms of creationism, Ham insists, their churches will be lost.

Taking a firm line against Rev. Herndon’s evolutionary creationism, then, was likely about cultural issues rather than about actual evolutionary science. The radicals who left were likely asking themselves the questions they had been asked since the 1960s: Do you oppose homosexuality? Do you oppose abortion? Are you against crime? Drugs? Rock music? If the answer is yes, radicals have heard for decades, you can’t remain in a church under moderate creationist leadership.

Of course, none of those questions is really about evolutionary science itself, but together they give radicals a clear line of defense. Remaining in a church under moderate creationist leadership, radicals often believe, means supporting abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and even organized crime. The only option is to get out before the inevitable moral decline.

What are radicals afraid of? Not evolutionary science itself. They are afraid of slipping into a temptingly reasonable cultural position. They are afraid of being too soft on abortion rights, homosexuality, rock music, and drug use. The radicals who left Herndon’s church did not mind praying with non-radical creationists. But when their pastor came down against radical creationism, they felt they had to get out fast. Accepting mainstream evolutionary science, for many radicals, is not really about evolution, but about opening the door to a slew of cultural trends they find abhorrent.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

School’s back in session, so here are a few education-related gems from around the interwebs from the past week:

An old (2017) essay proving an old universe. HT: JM.

So, could God not have created the world 6000 years ago and just made it look like it was very old? Personally, I believe he could have, had he wanted to, but does that idea fit the traditional Christian view of the character of God?. . .

In a world where cause and consequences are arbitrary, no evil can be committed and in a world without knowledge no evil can be understood. A universe that pretends to have been evolving and to have continually grown in size, but instead was made in discrete unrelated steps, would be such a world where cause and consequence are not to be trusted anymore.

The issue of education tipping midterm congressional races, at RCE.

The Left eats its own poets, at IHE.

silent sam podium

Even more silent now…

Why not pull down racist statues? At AG.

History is . . . not kind to statue smashers.

Uh oh: A majority of young religious people prefer to worship with people who share their politics, at CT.

How do state standards look after the Common Core dust has settled? Common-Core-loving Fordham reviews the current state of affairs.

Is there a “college cartel?” NR says yes, and it’s weakening.

Peter Greene: What school privatizers are really after.

Modern venture philanthropy doesn’t have nearly as much to do with profiteering as it does with buying influence and compliance.

The country-club set comes out as “solidly secular,” at FA.

A Real Modern Family

Bad news for the rest of us: When it comes to radical views about science and religion, we can’t assume that those views are somehow isolated on the fringes. Take a look at this flat-earth video and you’ll see what I mean.

 

According to Hemant Mehta, the video comes from a homeschool family of nine in Alberta.

So here’s the kicker: We know flat-earth beliefs are pretty extreme. Even radical young-earth creationist organizations like Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis disavow flat-earthism. But we can’t and shouldn’t therefore assume that flat-earthism is somehow socially isolated to obviously “fringe”-type characters. If we really want to understand our culture-war differences about religion and science, we have to come to terms with the fact that radicals don’t look radical.

To this reporter, for example, the house, fashion, and even lame jokes shown in Jessica Faith’s flat-earth video don’t seem all that different from the houses, fashions, and lame jokes on mainstream TV shows such as Modern Family. And Jessica herself bears at least a passing resemblance to Modern Family’s Claire Dunphy.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH don’t need a reminder, but here it is anyway: There’s nothing un-modern about radical science and radical religion. A “modern family” could just as easily be flat-earth homeschoolers as anything else.

Civil Debate? Catcall? Or Creationist Ruse?

What would YOU call it? Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro says it’s nothing but civil debate. Leftist darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez dismisses it as a mere catcall. SAGLRROILYBYGTH might be reminded of something else: a long-standing creationist plea for attention.catcall ocasio cortez

Here’s what we know: Ben Shapiro offered a cool ten grand to Democratic primary winner Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to debate. If you’ve been on vacation too long, you might need a little backstory. Ocasio-Cortez attracted tons of attention recently with her upset win in a New York Democratic primary election. She has electrified the Sanders left with her energy and victory.

On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez denounced Shapiro’s offer as nothing more than “catcalling.” Shapiro responded that he only wanted “discussion and debate.”

I’m curious to hear what you think: is it legitimate for Shapiro to offer $10,000 for a debate? Or is that merely an extension of rude, aggressive unsolicited male attention?

And finally, how about this: is Shapiro’s debate offer a remix of an old creationist tactic? For years now, radical creationists such as Joseph Mastropaolo have offered $10,000 to any mainstream scientist willing to debate the facts of evolutionary science. In the opinion of one mainstream scientist, such tactics are obviously a “scam designed to lure the unsuspecting” into a shoddy creationist publicity stunt.

Is that what’s going on here? Is Shapiro merely hoping to attract attention? Or does he really want to engage in a civil debate? Or, as Ocasio-Cortez accuses, is this the equivalent of verbal street thuggery?

The Historical Lesson Historians Need to Learn

Who owns your history? Who gets to decide, that is, what is “real” history and what is politically motivated claptrap? For too long, academic historians like me have had it easy. We have glibly assumed our ability to define the boundaries of authentic historical thinking. A smart recent essay made that case once again. But as all of us should, the author needs to study the lessons of a different sort of history. After all, we have been down this road before.

If you’re not familiar with the history wars, a quick look at the bumptious career of David Barton might help. Barton touts himself as a historian, tirelessly exposing the lies of left-wing academic historians. In short, he wants to prove that the United States was founded to be an evangelical nation.

jefferson lies

Calling it “pseudo” history isn’t enough…

A few years back, Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies suffered an ignominious release. After the book’s initial publication, activist academics demonstrated the book’s many falsities and basic errors. The publisher recalled the book. Instead of retreating in embarrassment, Barton supporters doubled down. Most notably, Glenn Beck promised to re-release the book.

What are we to think of this episode? Barton’s book was terrible history, by the standards of mainstream academic history. But it was enormously popular and no amount of expose could deflate its appeal among certain readers.

To SAGLRROILYBYGTH, this might sound hauntingly familiar. Since the 1960s, mainstream scientists—including conservative evangelical scientists—have pulled their hair and gnashed their teeth at the claims made by young-earth creationists. Time and time again, in the face of repeated scientific refutations and debunkings, young-earthers have staked their claim to represent the cause of true “science.”

For an earlier generation, gallopers like Duane Gish steadfastly refused to give up their claim to be the real scientists in the room. These days, Ken Ham does the same thing.

As my friend and co-author Harvey Siegel argued in our book about evolution education, it makes no sense—logically or strategically—to try to prove them wrong. That is, it will always be impossible to prove that Gish and Ham are “pseudo” scientists. There is a better way to talk about the differences between mainstream science and radical young-earth creationism.

It has been difficult enough for mainstream scientists and science pundits to accept this awkward and uncomfortable fact. It seems even more challenging for academic types in other fields. In the field of academic history, for example, mainstream professors have grown accustomed to being unchallenged in their ability to define real historical thinking from the fake kind. When challengers like David Barton raise their head, too many of us are only able to sputter. Too many of us are too confident that Barton’s blather will be rejected as low-quality scholarship.

Consider, for example, a terrific recent essay by mainstream historian Patrick Iber of my beloved alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. In the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Professor Iber wonders if there is any way to preserve his preferred sort of historical thinking in the Age of Trump.

As Iber asks,

Is there anything that can be done to prevent basic historical facts from going the way of climate science, seen essentially as politically motivated rather than the result of serious professional study?

Unfortunately, the short answer is no. Indeed, even asking the question shows how far behind the times we academic historians are. Mainstream scientists and science activists have been struggling with these sorts of challenges for a long time. Creationism and climate-change-denialism have long forced mainstream scientists to examine their claims and their public image. Academic historians have tended to be able to ignore such things.

No longer. As Iber puts it,

there is a market for pseudo-historical grift.

Definitely. And to be as clear as possible, I agree entirely with Professor Iber’s anti-crappy-history position. However, we historians need to learn the tough lessons that mainstream academic scientists learned long ago. Namely, we can’t de-fang bad history simply by calling it “pseudo” history. We can’t assume that our credentials and mainstream institutional affiliations will make America listen to our pleas to reject crappy history.

In short, we can’t rest easy that our definition of good historical thinking will win the day based solely on its persuasive power. It won’t. We don’t have the luxury to conclude, as Professor Iber does, that exposing people to historical thinking will tend to make people agree with our vision. As Iber optimistically insists,

Seeing oneself as a part of history tends to be equalizing: It exposes the radical contingency of your own existence, which usually results in taking the humanity of others as seriously as your own.

I wish that were true. But as the career of David Barton proves, seeing oneself as a part of history can result in very different conclusions. Historical thinking is not a wholly owned subsidiary of left-leaning academic types like Professor Iber or me.

If academic historians aren’t more savvy, we risk getting run over by the vastly more popular sorts of history that are out there.

Why Do the Fundamentalists Love Tracey Ullman Now?

Next to saddle-wearing dinosaurs, nothing gets under arch-creationist Ken Ham’s skin like the idea of anti-Christian persecution. So I guess it’s no surprise that he has eagerly embraced Tracey Ullman’s latest character. I’m not sure I understand what Ullman is doing, comedically speaking, but she has certainly picked up on one of the notions closest to the hearts of fundamentalist Protestants.

In this bit from her BBC sketch show, Ullman portrays an evangelical Christian character, Patricia Hughes. In this sketch, Dr. Hughes has totally nailed a job interview until she lets it slip that she is a Christian. The reaction is swift and sure. Hughes is suddenly seen as a “nutter” and hustled out of the room.

The radical wing of conservative evangelicals loves it. As Ken Ham crowed about the comedy sketch,

surprisingly accurate & also a reminder of what’s coming to the USA as free exercise of Christianity is already being persecuted with increasing intolerance of Christians.

Of course, Ken Ham’s persecution complex is nothing new. For generations, as I describe in my recent book about conservative-evangelical higher education, evangelical intellectuals and academics fretted that they had been unfairly shut out of mainstream academic life.

Bergman the criterion

Is Tracey Ullman joining the creationist team?

In high-profile creationist cases, too, evangelical academics have yelped about their persecution for decades. [Check out our longer ILYBYGTH treatment of the issue here.] In a 1984 book, for example, Jerry Bergman complained about his treatment at Bowling Green State University. As he warned,

As the dominant, ‘official orthodoxy’ in our public schools is evolution, those who oppose it will experience the persecution common to the minority in a dissonant religious environment. . . . Several universities state it was their ‘right’ to protect students from creationists and, in one case, from ‘fundamentalist Christians.’ . . . . This is all plainly illegal, but it is extremely difficult to bring redress against these common, gross injustices.  This is due to the verbal ‘smoke-screen’ thrown up around the issue.  But, a similar case might be if a black were fired on the suspicion that he had ‘talked to students about being black,’ or a woman being fired for having ‘talked to students about women’s issues.’

With this long history of persecution anxiety, it is no surprise that radical creationists like Ken Ham would embrace Ullman’s new persecuted-Christian character. I can’t tell quite what Ullman’s joke is—she doesn’t strike me as a Kirk Cameron type, but these sketches certainly don’t seem to be snarky toward evangelicals. Instead, they portray Ullman’s evangelical character as sympathetic and reasonable, faced with petty bigotry from secular types.

Am I missing something obvious? Is there maybe some British part of Ullman’s comedy that I’m missing? Or is she really taking the side of conservative evangelicals?