Fundamentalist U & Me: Eugene F. Douglass

Welcome to our second edition of Fundamentalist U & Me, our occasional series of memory and reflection from people who attended evangelical colleges and universities. [Click here to see all the entries.] The history I recounted in Fundamentalist U only told one part of the complicated story of evangelical higher education. Depending on the person, the school, and the decade, going to an evangelical college has been very different for different people.

This time, we are talking with Dr. Eugene F. Douglass, MS, MDiv, PhD. Dr. Douglass has a rich experience in both evangelical and non-evangelical higher education. He currently teaches chemistry at a large public university and has had a long career teaching in a number of different institutions of higher education.

Read on and discover why Dr. Douglass thinks “Christian colleges are infested with hypocritical young people sent there by abusive parents who want the college to convert their reprobate kids.”

Eugene Douglass today

Dr. Douglass today…

ILYBYGTH: When and where did you attend your evangelical institutions?

The King’s College, formerly in Briarcliff Manor, NY, now New York City.  1975-79, BA Chemistry and Math

Theological Seminaries – started at Concordia Seminary in St Louis, summer of 1986, then switched to Covenant Seminary St Louis, August 1986 till December 1987.  Bethel Theological Seminary (BGC) San Diego Campus, 1988-89 MDiv.

ILYBYGTH: How did you decide on that school? What were your other options? Did your family pressure you to go to an evangelical college?

I decided on King’s because I liked Dr. Robert A Cook on family radio which has a station in Philadelphia area, then I met two guys Roy McCandless of admissions, and Wayne Frair of the Biology Department at Jesus 1974 near Grove City PA, summer of 1974.  I was looking at attending Wilkes College, founded by my grandfather Eugene Farley in Wilkes Barre, PA, considered applying to RPI, MIT, Princeton, and Swarthmore College, but decided on TKC because of its biblical standards and as a new Christian out of an intellectual, hypocritically religious family (unitarian and universalist Quaker), I wanted to learn about the Bible and the Christian faith, and have Christian friends, and liked very much their rules of behavioral expectations, as I did not want to be directly/openly exposed to public drunkenness, immoral premarital sexual relations, of which I grew up around growing up in Swarthmore College, where teenagers getting drunk/stoned and sexually acting out was open normal behavior.  I expected and wanted TKC experience to be different, but I was naïve to think that fellow students did NOT live as real Christians in private.  Therefore, the dating environment at TKC was bizarro world, and even severely perverted, as I was (according to most of the fellow students) a crude/vulgar infidel with a Christian label, so I was persecuted by many there, but thankfully for many of the faculty who knew why I was there, I was able to rise about that crap.

kings college realFrankly, I loved working as a cab driver in Philadelphia for summer jobs, and most were appalled at my doing it, I found that to be very funny after the original shock of it.  So, I learned to attack some people back with the fact I liked it, even describing my times where I shared my Christian faith with fellow cabbies.

No, most of my family was offended and annoyed I chose to go to a “no name” Christian college that was so culturally offensive to them.  Frankly I was very surprised when I found out later that most of my classmates attended TKC because their parents MADE them go there.  So, I vowed I would never do that to my own kids (which I got two sons eventually, and enabled them to choose for themselves, based on mainly who provided most financial assistance).  Because in graduate school at North Dakota State University and the University of Connecticut, I had experience with campus ministries like Intervarsity (at NDSU) and then Campus Crusade at UConn.  Those groups were much more what I thought TKC would be like before I attended there but I was stupidly naïve to think that.  Part of me because of all history that makes me think, that any parent forcing their kid to go to a Christian college or university is real child abuse.  And the only students that go to Christian colleges should be allowed to go there, because they WANT to be there, and are happy to obey/follow the Christian rules of behavior, which are good because it helps honorable people to learn self-control and behave properly privately and in public.  But, I believe it was fucking horrible for some parents to force their kids to go to TKC and other Christian colleges.  (Yes, I use that vocabulary on purpose, because the sexual atmosphere at TKC was perverse, which make out sessions in formal lounges etc. the norm, and students thought it was FUN to do it to show off).  Secular universities are much healthier for young people, because even though much more is going on privately, the maturity level is higher with real people (without a christian façade).

ILYBYGTH: Do you think your college experience deepened your faith?

Yes, because of many of the faculty and administration I met at TKC, they were mostly good examples of adult behavior, as most were committed Christians who were there for the right reasons.  I also am very thankful for the solid orthodox Christian doctrine I learned there, inter-denominational (truly evangelical) in focus, so I could decide for myself which system of doctrine I truly believed and could inculcate in my own belief structure and life.  One of my favorite textbooks I used there was Buswell’s Systematic Theology, by J Oliver Buswell, who finished his career at Covenant Seminary in the 60s and 70s, I still love it as a good summary of my Christian faith.  Also, because I grew up in a very broken non-christian family environment their examples of Christian men and women, and their family life gave me much hope that one day I would have a real Christian family of my own.  But, the way I view many of my former classmates is a totally different matter, most had almost contempt for me.  So, it is a mixture of being very grateful to God for part of it, and appalled/sickened because of it.  That dichotomy was a great thing to learn, about the fact of tares among the wheat, even goats among the sheep, some wolves pretending to be sheep in most churches and organizations.   Real Christians are still a minority in evangelical Protestantism.  Even the falling apart of TKC in the 80s was because of the hidden moral corruption of administration and faculty, from faculty coming out as militant lesbians, drunkenness, homosexual behavior on campus covered up, to other nefarious bad administration that gutted its financial foundation, by losing students and alumni that used to support the college.

ILYBYGTH: Do you still feel connected to your alma mater?

The Douglasses in the 1980s

The Douglasses, c. 1984

Yes, and no.  I am very thankful to God for me going there, based on what I said above, but connected with most of my former classmates, hell no.  Thankfully.  Most of them fell away from any Christian faith they had when they attended there or retreated into their church cocoon/cloister, after they graduated, becoming essentially tasteless “salt of the world”.  I found it very interesting, in 1984 I attended my 5 TKC reunion for my class of 1979, with my new wife of 4 months, (who also became a christian out of a very broken pagan home, 6 months before I met her.), most of my former classmates treated her very badly, because she was a very beautiful blond.  Because of the very weird interactions with my female classmates I had at TKC, I thought/hoped that many had grown up and would be happy for me and my new wife, but they hated her.  Very weird.  Even Dr. Cook took me aside and quietly said to me that he was disappointed in me because I could have done better than Carol, picked someone better for me.  Hearing that from him blew away any appreciation I had for that asshole (yes, I used that pejorative deliberately).  So, instead of going to the reunion lunch the next day, I took Carol on a car tour of favorite New York City spots, that I had visited when I was at TKC.  Even places that I used to have fun passing out tracts with Jews for Jesus folks in Manhattan, and witnessing I did in Central Park a small group of us went down to Manhattan some Saturdays.  I got good training with Campus Crusade folks at TKC, form outreach, so in a way the Fact that Campus Crusade ended up buying the name and library/resources of TKC in the 90s was a good thing.  Because now I think they have a much better perspective, in training students to go out in the world to make a difference but not be “of the world”.  So, I feel more oddly connected with the newer version of TKC, than the old.

ILYBYGTH: What was the most powerful religious part of your college experience?

The good Christian doctrine I learned, that I have used and needed to be an effective Christian in a fallen world.

ILYBYGTH: Would you/did you send your kids to an evangelical college?

Based on my TKC experience I advised my sons where they should consider and encouraged them to choose for themselves if they were able.  One son, my eldest Eugene Jr, chose Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA, because of academic reasons, he was top of his class at Concord HS, in Concord New Hampshire, he majored in Chemistry there, and then went on to get his PhD in Chemistry/Biochemistry at Yale University, in New Haven, CT.  Intellectually he made good choices.  But, he chose to drop the surface Christian faith he grew up with in our family as he proceeded through there, but being real and genuine was something I more wanted my sons to be, than hypocritical in believing something because I did.  God will deal with Gene Jr as He did with me in 1972-3 in His own way, God does the real converting/saving, parents do NOT.

Our youngest son Robert chose to go to a different college based on recommendations I got from a family pastor friend (that I met due to my attending Concordia seminary for a brief time), and that I recommended to him, as he could not decide where he wanted to go or why, we/he decided on Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, MN a conservative Lutheran College (connected to old Evangelical Lutheran synod, an offshoot of WELS).  He had his own reasons for going there and is proud to be an alumnus of there for mixed reasons also.

 ILYBYGTH: If so, why, and if not, why not?

I have no regrets for how I advised my sons.

At my older son’s Christian group on campus at WPI he attended now and then for his first couple of years at WPI, was an odd place for developing Christian friendships, because even there the girls there were not really interested in real friendship/companionship first.  Perhaps that is one reason he drifted away, in his head first.  The breakup of my marriage to their mother did not help either one of my sons, they handled the burdens of that in different ways.  As my wife decided to go back to her old life, and old pagan family.  Perhaps she had more of a surface faith too.  I hope for her return.  Odd that God is expecting me to live now as if one of those papers I attached in my previous email was true, I do not mind, because I believe the commitment I made to God for our marriage and to Carol means more even now, when we are estranged and have not seen here for over 13 years.

ILYBYGTH: Do you still support your alma mater, financially or otherwise? If so, how and why, and if not, why not?

No, I have never supported TKC financially, as I did not, and do not believe God wants me to use the funds He provides for me to support that college because of the more and more heterodox moral/biblical standards it began to have in the years I could afford to provide some financially for their needs.  It would have been like throwing money in the trash.  Even now I will not because Cru taking over TKC, for me to support them financially would be for me to put a stamp of approval on what TKC has become in its attempt to be a force in the world.  It has become a warped yuppified name dropping pompous ass caricature of what it should be, even though it has good faculty and students now.  Financially supporting them in any more would be for me a blank approval of everything about them.

I still pray for them and for the mission that it portends to want to share the gospel.  But, like any other worldly institution it has severe flaws that give me pause.

ILYBYGTH: If you’ve had experience in both evangelical and non-evangelical institutions of higher education, what have you found to be the biggest differences?
More in emphasis, as the saying goes, blind men describing the elephant.  Some conservative seminaries get in very right in one to many areas, but wrong in others.  For example, I considered briefly attending Dallas Theological Seminary, because of some of the faculty there, but ruled it out because my beliefs are NOT dispensational.

Looking in from the outside, I have nothing but contempt for so-called Christian seminaries and colleges that have abandoned biblical standards easily summarized in either the Apostles or Nicaean Creed.  They are merely mills for producing more and effective false prophets.

ILYBYGTH: The biggest similarities?

Good evangelical colleges/universities/seminaries like Westminster, Reformed, Knox are still good, because most of it they get right.  But, looking back I am proud and thankful God had me go to seminary, because it helped me to learn to communicate effectively both in written form and verbally, so I could be effective teaching chemistry, and with the educated world.  My own niche.  But, in many ways it was a waste of money and time to go to any of those places because I really did not learn anything I did not already learn or know before by observing, or my own reading.  Particularly, when my favorite systematic theology book I used at TKC was much more foundational than seminary ever was.

ILYBYGTH: If you studied science at your evangelical college, did you feel like it was particularly “Christian?” How so? 

Yes, because foundationally my professors in Chemistry, Physics and Biology helped me to understand and appreciate fundamentally that science investigation is part of studying God’s GENERAL revelation in how He created and DESIGNED the world/universe to function, pure chance with no DESIGNER is absurd.  And faith in the Creator is a spiritual step of faith, not provable empirically.

ILYBYGTH: Did you wonder at the time if it was similar to what you might learn at a non-evangelical college? Have you wondered since?

Yes, but we used standard secular textbooks for Chemistry, Physics and Biology at TKC, the scientists teachers I had were particularly good in their own areas of expertise.  Even my view of creationism was changed profoundly when the Geology professor at TKC debated Duane Gish a prominent young earth proponent, at King’s and wiped the floor with him rhetorically.  That day, my view changed drastically.  Fundamentally, it became God created real people Adam and Eve and put them in the real Garden of Eden, and all humans are descended from them (the others, Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, other hominids were wiped out in the great flood), and fundamentally the exact timing of those events in historically does NOT matter.  What difference does it make if there is an age/gap, or literal 24-hour days before the 6th day?  God’s word in Genesis is an outline all people of any education level can understand if they want to.  It is NOT a full and clear description of events like a video description of an outside observer.  And it is therefore, fundamentally stupid to argue about it, and split churches about it.  God knows the timing and He does NOT provide us with videos for viewing on YouTube.

The reason I knew was when I graduated my education in math and chemistry was doing well in all my GRE exams, general and subject tests.  80%ile and higher.  My success in earning my first master’s degree and later my doctorate are proof of that as well.  God did not use those places to train me to be a scientific idiot, or ignorant in my chosen field.

ILYBYGTH: Was your social life at your evangelical college similar to the college stereotype (partying, “hooking up,” drinking, etc.) we see in mainstream media? If not, how was it different? Do you think your social experience would have been much different if you went to a secular institution?

I have already answered this question in earlier questions.  It was bizarre, and perverted at TKC, and just as much for different reasons in my son Robert’s experience at Bethany Lutheran College, with similar situations he was in.

Christian colleges are infested with hypocritical young people sent there by abusive parents who want the college to convert their reprobate kids, when fundamentally it is God’s job, not a college’s job.  If TKC was full of students who all wanted to be there for all the right reasons it would be a great place for young people, who wanted to be there.  Even in seminaries I attended, most who went there were there because of other’s expectations of them, or the young people or older people wanted the seminary to teach them a good moral code, when they had little to none of their own.  I did not even consider going to seminary until I was convinced my heart morally was prepared to be there, the Bible is clear, the criteria for Christian leadership is morally above reproach, everything else follows that.  You do not go to seminary or a Christian college to fix moral flaws.  They made it hell for those of us who wanted to be there again for the right reasons.  I have seminary stories that would you would even find tragic or funny, depending on your point of view.

ILYBYGTH: In your experience, was the “Christian” part of your college experience a prominent part? In other words, would someone from a secular college notice differences right away if she or he visited your school?

Yes, but for most it is merely a veneer for a cess pool, white wash for a tomb as Jesus would say.

If people want to be or teach there for the right reasons they can be helpful and make an impact, positively.

ILYBYGTH: What do you think the future holds for evangelical higher education? What are the main problems looming for evangelical schools? What advantages do they have over other types of colleges?

I have no idea, that is up to God, all “Christian” still seem to follow the example of Harvard, Princeton and others that used to be orthodox.  Dishonest wolves go in among the sheep and poison much of what is good there, to the point of the school falling apart into irrelevance, or uselessness (tasteless salt as Jesus Christ would say, useless for anything other than to be tread on under one’s feet).  But, the good ones often go in cycles, much like the Southern Baptist Convention was overall successful in driving out the theological liberals from its denomination, colleges and seminaries, other denominations have had similar or less effective purges of the phonies, false prophets among them.  The Seminex controversy in the early 1970s was great for the Missouri Synod Lutherans, but those who remained and new false prophets persist in that denomination driving it either towards liberalism or sacerdotalism.  I saw that transition for myself.

Thanks, Professor Douglass!

Did YOU attend an evangelical college? Are you willing to share your experiences? If so, please get in touch with the ILYBYGTH editorial desk at alaats@binghamton.edu

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Christian Nationalism: The Creationist Connection

It’s often difficult for other Christians to understand. As one thoughtful Catholic intellectual asked me recently, how could it even be possible for any intelligent Christian to confuse their faith with their patriotism? Today we see a new piece of the puzzle, thanks to Sarah Pulliam Bailey. And it’s difficult not to notice the close connections between this sort of Christian nationalism and young-earth creationism.

genesis flood 1961 ed

How does Christian nationalism tie in to young-earth creationism?

Bailey tagged along on a Christian-nationalist tour of Washington DC for a group of middle-schoolers. The tour was specifically designed to explain to children that the United States had a special role in Christian history. This tour was led by one Stephen McDowell, of the Providence Foundation. As Bailey explains,

McDowell, who has been organizing the trips for about 30 years, describes them as a kind of calling. God, he says, has been ignored in the schools, in the government, in the media, and in official tours of our nation’s historic sites. But if tourists can peel back the secular layers of government and media, they will behold a nation birthed by God, he maintains, and thus be compelled to conclude that without Christianity, there would be no United States.

The kids all dressed in red, white, and blue and learned that DC was designed as a Christian capital. They learned to be skeptical of senators like mine, who sound, as one student put it, “like he was from somewhere in the North.” Bailey’s description offers a rare glimpse of fundamentalist pedagogy in action and I encourage you to read the whole article.

This morning, though, we are more interested in the ways this sort of Christian-nationalist education looks and feels a lot like young-earth creationist pedagogy. The “truths” taught by McDowell are far removed from the actual historical record. As with young-earth creationists, it’s difficult not to wonder how anyone can believe something so radically divorced from mainstream academic understandings.

Just as with young-earth creationism, Christian nationalist historians like McDowell tell a tale of hidden truths. As McDowell explains,

I wasn’t taught this in school because God was ignored as he is today in most of our state school public school textbooks.

In other words, the true fact of a Christian America has been obscured by generations of benighted secularists. The goal, McDowell explains, must be to

Awaken the American people and teach them truth . . . See our nation turn back to God and other nations as well.

With enough tours and textbooks and schools and websites, McDowell apparently believes, there is hope that the true nature of America’s Christian history and destiny will be revealed and embraced.

Compare McDowell’s language to that of the founding text of modern American young-earth creationism. In The Genesis Flood (I’m pulling from the 1966 edition), Henry Morris and John Whitcomb Jr. made very similar claims for the truth and power of young-earth creationism. If YEC is true, they wonder, why do so many Americans believe in evolution? As they explain,

Historical geology, with its evolutionary implications, has had profound influence on nearly every aspect of modern life, especially in its fostering of an almost universal rejection of the historicity of Genesis and of Biblical Christianity generally.

The true story of our species and planet, in other words, has been obscured by the pernicious secular rejection of the Truth. What did Morris and Whitcomb hope to do? They were after

restoring His people everywhere to full reliance on the truth of the Biblical doctrine of origins.

Like Morris and Whitcomb, McDowell is telling a story of a powerful truth, hidden by scheming (or possibly simply mistaken) secularists. Of course, this truth might seem outlandish or even ridiculous to those raised on the lies of false history or science. But by revealing those truths, missionary educators think they have the ability to transform both souls and society.

When to Ban Free Speech

Christ spoke to the University of California this week. Chancellor Carol Christ, that is. And according to Politico she gave her support to a new internal study of the terrible speech riots that plagued Berkeley in 2017. The report’s conclusions make sense to me, but not to Milo.free speech berkeley 2

I know SAGLRROILYBYGTH are divided on questions of campus free speech. We all should be; it’s a complicated issue that deserves more than sound-bite attention and one-size-fits-all solutions.

What if young-earth creationists intentionally manipulate our fondness for free-speech rights in order to water down science instruction? What if political radicals cynically take advantage of their speech rights in order to further their careers at the cost of other people’s feelings?

IMHO, a recent report from Berkeley hit the nail on the head. To wit: Speech must be protected, especially on university campuses—double-especially on public university campuses. But intentional provocateurs forfeit their access to some free-speech protections with their cynical manipulation of our fondness for free speech.

At Berkeley, you may recall, planned speeches by right-wing pundits Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter provoked violent, riotous protests. A committee of faculty, students, and staff concluded recently that their campus is still a tolerant place. Most students support free-speech rights on campus even for people with whom they disagree strongly.

trump tweet on berkeley

Provocateurs provoking…

But the committee defended the notion that some speech and some speakers deserved to be banned. Yiannopoulos and Coulter were singled out by name. How could the committee say so? In their words,

Although those speakers had every right to speak and were entitled to protection, they did not need to be on campus to exercise the right of free speech. . . . Indeed, at least some of the 2017 events at Berkeley can now be seen to be part of a coordinated campaign to organize appearances on American campuses likely to incite a violent reaction, in order to advance a facile narrative that universities are not tolerant of conservative speech.

Not surprisingly, Milo took affront. As he retorted, the committee was made up of

Marxist thugs … criticizing people they don’t listen to, books they haven’t read and arguments they don’t understand.

I’m no Marxist thug, but I think the Berkeley committee has the better end of this argument. The tricky part, IMHO, is that the committee’s conclusion rests on the shaky foundation of their interpretation of Milo’s intent. If he intended to talk politics, they imply, he should have been welcomed. But he didn’t. As they put it,

Many Commission members are skeptical of these speakers’ commitment to anything other than the pursuit of wealth and fame through the instigation of anger, fear, and vengefulness in their hard-right constituency.

In most cases, I’d be nervous about relying on the gut feelings of a few committee members. In this case, though, even thoughtful conservatives fret about Milo’s brainless bluster. In the end, free-speech decisions can and must rely on an informed decision about a speaker’s intent. It’s not easy, but it is necessary.

Consider a different but related example. Many creationist-friendly school laws these days rely on claims to free-speech protection. These bills claim to promote critical inquiry and reasoned free discussion. For example, as Missouri’s 2015 bill worded this mission, schools must

create an environment . . . that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution.

Sounds good, right?

You don’t have to be a Marxist thug to conclude, however, that the intention of this bill is to water down evolution education. The intention is to promote a certain creationism-friendly environment in public-school science classes.

The way I see it, speech acts that deliberately hope to manipulate free-speech protections for other purposes create a new category of speech. Do people have a right to speak such ideas? Sure! But universities do not need to fork over huge sums of money to provide a home for those speeches. K-12 schools do not need to accommodate speech that intentionally weakens science education for religious purposes.

What do you think?

The Most Important Part of Radical Creationism

What is the most important thing secular people need to know in order to make sense of young-earth creationism? It’s nothing specifically scientific. It’s not even anything directly theological. The vital key to understanding radical creationism is something different. As a recent commentary reminds us, creationism thrives because it has a powerful intellectual defense mechanism.

let-there-be-truth

From Answers In Genesis: Creationist defense mechanisms.

As I finish up my new book about American creationism, I’m struggling with a lot of difficult questions. Perhaps the hardest of all is the durability of radical ideas about science and nature. For those of us who aren’t creationists, it can be difficult to understand how anyone can be educated, aware, and intelligent while still thinking the earth is only about 6,000 years old.

Why don’t they abandon those ideas as soon as they hear how scientifically impossible they are?

As Nelle Smith pointed out recently, radical creationism has a powerful defense mechanism: Satan. Creationists don’t only believe in dissident science. They also are told—over and over again—that their scientific ideas are under attack. The attack has many sources—Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, local science teachers, etc.—but the true source of the attack is always more nefarious.

As Smith puts it,

growing up in many evangelical churches means to be told, repeatedly, that the devil will always seek a foothold, and once you give him one you’re well on the road to hell, to losing your faith, to destroying your witness. That’s scary stuff. To begin to doubt evangelicalism is not simply a mental exercise. For many like me, it’s to feel a void opening, the earth dropping out from beneath you. It’s to face the prospect of invalidating your entire existence.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, naïve anti-creationists have often failed to understand this key part of radical creationism. Like the affable Bill Nye, anti-creationists have assumed that they can convince and convert creationists simply by explaining the outlines of mainstream evolutionary theory. Anti-creationists have assumed that the evidence will be enough to change people’s minds.

What we non-creationists have failed to understand is that creationists are expecting to hear arguments that seem to make sense. They are ready to see evidence that looks convincing. They know what to do when they are presented with so-called facts that purport to poke holes in their worldview.

The central story of radical young-earth creationism isn’t one of science and religion. Rather, it’s a story of faith and doubt, of steadfastness and wavering, of obedience and sin. When arguments for evolution seem convincing, creationists can dismiss them as yet another alluring trick of Satan to fool the unwary.

To be sure, every once in a while, creationists raised to watch for the devil’s scientific snares change their minds. They embrace evolutionary science and abandon their old creationist mindset. But as Nelle Smith writes, to do so requires a wholesale revolution in their ways of thinking about good and evil, right and wrong. It’s not a simple matter of accepting evidence or mulling competing arguments.

For many creationists, the arguments of mainstream evolutionary scientists aren’t attractively modern. They are as ancient and as seductive as the serpent’s whisper to Eve.

Bad News for Creationists

It’s no skin off my nose, but I can’t help but wonder what creationists will say now. And not just the more radical young-earth creationists, but all the dissenting scientists who insist for religious reasons that our species must have begun with two and only two ancestors in the Garden of Eden. As reported in the New York Times, the science of human origins is getting better and better. What will creationists do?

human history map

The science doesn’t come close to matching the Bible…

Here’s what we know: This weekend the New York Times profiled the work of Harvard’s David Reich. Dr. Reich and his team have plucked DNA from ancient human bones. Using new techniques, the team has been able to create new maps of human and other groups dating back tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. The ultimate goal?

Dr. Reich’s plan is to find ancient DNA from every culture known to archaeology everywhere in the world. Ultimately, he hopes to build a genetic atlas of humanity over the past 50,000 years.

Here’s the problem: for many creationists, even those who are willing to believe in an ancient universe and planet, the idea of a real, historic Adam & Eve is absolutely non-negotiable. As we’ve examined before in these pages, even creationists who accept the science of evolutionary theory in general balk at the notion of abandoning the Garden story. Even institutions such as Wheaton College that openly embrace evolutionary creationism shudder to advertise their faculty’s skepticism about a real historic Adam & Eve.

So what will creationists do now? Here’s my guess: The more radical young-earth crowd will simply dismiss the new discoveries in human origins as simply more fluff n stuff, more flawed conclusions from flawed pseudo scientists based on flawed assumptions. But among creationists who have embraced evolutionary science in its particulars, while insisting on the fundamental truths of divine creation as described by the Bible, each new scientific discovery will present a new challenge.you got some splainin to do

As the scientific evidence gets stronger and stronger for a complex, multi-site origin of the human species, creationists will have some splainin to do.

HT: HD

Just When I Thought I Was Out…

Okay, so long story short: I’m down in sunny Philadelphia, enjoying a talk with Jonathan Zimmerman’s students at Penn about Fundamentalist U. I planned to stay a little extra to sneak in some time in the Lancaster archives at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

No such luck. Springtime snowstorm shuts down the town. I’m stuck in a hotel room with a PBJ and nothing to do. So I figured I’d catch up on some Sopranos and forget about schools, culture wars, and creationism for an hour or two.

And right there in season six, Tony Soprano gets a visit in the hospital from a fundamentalist evangelist. The guy picks up Tony’s book about dinosaurs and goes off on the ways the whole dinosaur story was a big myth propagated by false scientists. The earth, he says, was created six thousand years ago. Dinosaurs and humans lived side by side, just the way Answers In Genesis says they did.

My favorite line? Tony’s sidekick reflects on the young-earth creationist message:

What’s he sayin?…there were dinosaurs back with Adam n Eve? … No way. T-Rex in the Garden of Eden? Adam n Eve would be runnin all the time scared sh*tless. But the Bible says it was paradise.

Now, SAGLRROILYBYGTH know young-earth creationists have a ready answer for this young gangster’s objections. Bonus snowstorm points for anyone who can remember how Ken Ham would clear up this seeming contradiction…

Is Creationism Hate Speech?

It wasn’t about evolution or creationism. When a student group at the University of Central Oklahoma rescinded a speaking invitation for radical-creationist impresario Ken Ham, it wasn’t the biology or geology departments that had protested. Rather, it was women’s groups and LGBTQ+ organizations that objected to Ham. The controversy in Oklahoma points to a central problem for religious conservatives, one that all the bluster about “free speech” only obscures.

20171228_090906

Ken Ham’s organization makes no secret of its anti-homosexuality opinions.

I’m no conservative, but if I were I would not care as much about college speaking invitations as I would about the much-more-important real reason why Ham’s talk was canceled.

Before we get into that, though, let’s clear out a few of the distracting issues. Ham has protested that he had a contract in place and that the university “reneged.” The university says no contract was in place, only an invitation. We can remain agnostic on that question—the central issue here isn’t one of legal contracts, but of moral and social commitments.

Let’s also remember that this case doesn’t involve creationism as a whole, but only one form of creationism. Ham’s organization promotes a specific young-earth version that I’ve been calling “radical” creationism. As I argue in my current book, too often pundits equate radical creationism with creationism as a whole. It’s always important to remember what creationism really is and what it isn’t. As a whole, creationism certainly can’t be equated with Ken Ham’s ideas. For now, though, let’s move on to the central issues in this particular case.

Ham insists that his free speech rights were denied. But were they? Ham still plans to give a speech in the same town, at a nearby church. No one took away Ham’s right to speak, only an invitation to appear at a university-sponsored event. To use an intentionally inflammatory analogy, pornography is not allowed in public-school libraries, but that does not mean pornographers have lost their rights to free speech.

Today, though, such questions of contracts and free speech rights are not what we’re going to focus on. Instead, let’s look at a tougher question. Let’s examine the confusing language at the center of this case. Ham has protested with justification that his banishment violates the university’s stated goal of “inclusivity.”

The local creationist pastor who had invited Ham to Oklahoma quoted angrily from the university’s policies:

UCO claims that it “is committed to an inclusive educational” environment, and in its “Campus Expression Policy,” the university declares that it “is committed to fostering a learning environment where free inquiry and expression are encouraged. The University is a diverse community based on free exchange of ideas.”

If the tax-funded university is committed to diversity and inclusion, the pastor asked, why did it exclude the different ideas of Ken Ham?

For its part, the university and affiliated student groups would likely explain (and for the record I’d agree) that “inclusivity” on a pluralist public campus must always exclude certain notions. Those who do not agree to the fundamental ideas of social equality can’t be included. If someone at an open public meeting refuses to let other people speak or to acknowledge other people’s rights as citizens, that person will be ejected. His or her rights to be included have always been premised on the condition that he/she recognize the same rights for all other members of the community. Whether you agree with it or not (I do), that exclusionary rule has always been central to the idea of “inclusivity.”

In the end, it was not creationist science that moved Ken Ham beyond the pale of civil speech, but rather his ideas about sexuality. As I was reminded recently on my trip to the Ark Encounter, a primary commitment of Ham’s creationist ministry is an insistence on the illegitimacy of homosexuality. In the eyes of Oklahoma protesters, Ham’s stance against same-sex marriage removes Ham from the circle of legitimate civic participants. By hoping to take away other people’s rights to participate equally in society, the argument goes, Ham has torn up the social contract and pushed himself out of the circle of civic rights, including the right to have his speech welcomed at a pluralist public institution.

If I were a radical creationist—and I’m not—I wouldn’t join Ken Ham and his allies in protesting about free speech rights. There is a larger issue that conservative Christians are losing—the right to have their ideas about sexual morality included in the list of legitimate opinions for public forums and institutions.

The free-speech issue, IMHO, is only a symptom of a much more profound loss by religious conservatives. In this case, Ken Ham didn’t have his rights to speak freely taken away. He still plans to speak in the same town. He is free to invite whomever he likes. He is free to say whatever he likes.

The big question, I think, is not whether or not radical creationists are allowed to speak freely. The big question, rather, is whether or not conservative Christian ideas about sexuality are still included in the list of legitimate political opinions. In this case, at least, they are not…not even in Oklahoma.

The Ol’ College Tri-al

Want to scare a fundamentalist? Tell them you’re sending their child to a state university. As I’m arguing in my new book about evangelical higher education, anxiety about college has always been a primary concern of Protestant fundamentalists and other conservative evangelicals. Today’s fundamentalists are no different, as I discovered in my recent visit to the Ark Encounter. In this last (I promise) post about the Ark Encounter, I have one final puzzle about the ways the Kentucky creationists depict the dangers of mainstream higher education.

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Watch out! It’s a trap!

First, the history: When evangelist Bob Jones explained his reason for starting his own college in 1926, he liked to tell the story of one woeful Christian family who had scrimped and saved to send their daughter to a fancy university. As Jones told the tale,

At the end of nine months she came home with her faith shattered. She laughed at God and the old time religion. She broke the hearts of her father and mother. They wept over her. They prayed over her. It availed nothing. At last they chided her. She rushed upstairs, stood in front of a mirror, took a gun and blew out her brains.

Who wouldn’t be scared by that sort of story? Or consider the following example, reprinted throughout the early 1920s by a number of fundamentalist pundits. It was supposedly a letter to the folks at home from a recent college graduate. As he put it,

My soul is a starving skeleton; my heart a petrified rock; my mind is poisoned and fickle as the wind, and my faith is as unstable as water. . . . I wish that I had never seen a college.

For fundamentalists in the 1920s, the dangers of college weren’t only about debt burdens and sexual assault. College itself threatened to rob children of their faith, leave them “poisoned.”

Like now, fundamentalists back then didn’t just rely on hearsay. They devoured social-science reports of the deleterious religious effects of college. Most famous was James Leuba’s study of student religiosity, published in 1916. Leuba found that most college freshmen (85%) called themselves Christians, but only 55% of recent college graduates did so. The upshot, fundamentalists told themselves, was that the college experience must do something to undermine evangelical faith.

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Those darn college professors…

What was true in 1916 seems just as true a century later. Conservative evangelicals—at least the ones who built Kentucky’s Ark Encounter—are convinced that mainstream higher education is a spiritual minefield.

There’s good reason to think they’re right, at least in part. Sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund studied elite academics and found that there did indeed seem to be some elements of anti-evangelical bias among them. Evangelical professors told Ecklund they tended to keep their faith “closeted.” Others reported hearing offhand comments in the faculty lounge deriding “stupid Christianity.”

While elite academics weren’t as uniformly anti-religious as some evangelicals might assume, they did tend to be less religious than the rest of the population. And a small minority told Ecklund that they actively sought to cure students of their religious proclivities. One physicist told her that he viewed religion as a “virus” that he hoped to cure. A social scientist said she started her classes with the following disclaimer:

You don’t have to distance yourself from religion and think about it from an outside perspective, but you do if you want to succeed in this class.  And so if you don’t want to do that, then you need to leave.

If I were an evangelical parent (I’m not), I would hesitate to send my child into an environment where they would be confronted with that sort of hostile, ignorant attitude. And certainly, Ken Ham and the Answers In Genesis crowd are intensely anxious about the goings-on in mainstream higher education. Ham explained his reasoning in a critique of ILYBYGTH a while back, and my trip to the Ark Encounter confirmed it.

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Can college students protect their faith?

Most of the exhibits were fairly predictable, if odd. They depicted the problems with mainstream evolutionary theory and old-earth creationism. They showed the way day-to-day life on the ark could have happened. Not what I’d expect to see in a mainstream science museum, but pretty close to what I expected to find at the Ark Encounter.

On the top floor, though, I was surprised by what I found. Ark Encounter includes a long corridor dedicated to a huge, walk-through comic-book tract. The comic book’s images have been blown up to fill the walls of the corridor, and visitors walk through the story. The plot is familiar—a student wonders about her faith. After some trials, she embraces it.

One of the trials is her smarky college professor. The central characters walk into a lecture hall, where they are told,

The Bible is full of contradictions—written by people with no knowledge of science. The earth isn’t 6,000 years old, and there’s no way the millions of species of animals could fit on Noah’s Ark…

One of the characters is a young-earth creationist and he patiently defends his faith to two friends, but their college experience puts that faith to a severe test.

The exhibit itself was a surprise, but the content wasn’t. The fears and anxieties of fundamentalists in 2018 aren’t too different from those of fundamentalists in 1918. But here’s the thing that’s been bugging me: Why does the Ark Encounter devote so much wall space to this college story, when Ken Ham thinks that the college years are already too late for successful soul-saving?

As Ham wrote in his 2009 book Already Gone, the kids that are leaving fundamentalist faith are making those decisions in their middle-school and high-school years. As Ham puts it,

Many parents will fork out big bucks to send these students to Christian colleges, hoping to protect them in their faith. But the fact is, they’re already gone.

If Ham wants his flock to understand that the college years are too late, why include this huge exhibit on the dangers of college at the Ark Encounter?

Saddle Sore at the Ark Encounter

I just don’t get it. No, no, no, I’m not talking about the seemingly obviously false idea that the entire earth was really deluged in a flood and that eight humans survived on a floating zoo. And no, I’m not talking about the diorama at Ark Encounter depicting humans fighting dinosaurs and giants in a kind of Colosseum of Doom. I’m not talking even talking about young-earth creationist notions that humans and dinosaurs lived together, or that the earth and everything is only a few thousand years old.

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Dinos dinos dinos…

I can’t say I really understand those things, but that’s not what’s been bothering me since my trip to the Ark Encounter. Here’s the riddle that’s on my mind: If Ken Ham is embarrassed by the notion of people joy-riding on dinosaurs, then why does the Ark Encounter make such a big deal about the dinosaur angle? Why don’t they downplay it? I have a hunch, but I’d be happy to be educated on the subject by SAGLRROILYBYGTH.

We know Ken Ham is touchy about mockery related to dinosaurs wearing saddles. A few years back, for example, he reacted furiously to journalist Charles P. Pierce’s jokes about the Creation Museum. For Pierce, the idea of dinosaurs with saddles was the perfect epitome of “Idiot America.” Never one to back away from a fight, Ham huffed,

Those who oppose the Creation Museum, having by and large given up on trying to argue logically and scientifically against the information presented in its exhibits, are resorting more and more to a mocking, scoffing, and a ridiculing approach. . . . The dinosaur with the saddle is obviously just a fun part for kids—it has nothing to do with any of the teaching exhibits, and nothing to do with the first-class dinosaur exhibit and all the teaching signs.

Fair enough. But it doesn’t answer my question. If Mr. Ham knows that so many people find the idea of dinosaurs and humans living together ridiculous and laughable, why does he harp on it so incessantly? The Ark Encounter, for example, prominently features dinosaurs in cages next to other sorts of animals.

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Lots of dinos on board…

Ham’s publications, too, willfully emphasize the notion that people must have put saddles on dinosaurs. A book I picked up in the gift shop features questions about radical creationism from kids. One ten-year-old from Michigan asked, “Did we use dinosaurs for transportation?”

How did Ham respond?

I know the Bible doesn’t specifically address this question, but . . . we can use the reasoning skills God gave us and His Word to come up with an answer. . . . I can think of many animals that have been tamed. . . . why not some of the dinosaurs? Who knows what they were doing? It seems to me we should at least allow the possibility that some could have been tamed to help with transportation, maybe even farming, hauling heavy loads (the strong ones!) and other things.

Not just dinos with saddles, but dinos with plows, carts, and all sorts of other bizarre combinations. Why, oh why, would a radical creationist harp on this notion, when he knows that it will lead to mockery and contumely from the outside world?

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Did people ride dinosaurs? Yes, Virginia…

I have a hunch. First of all, I think many of us never rise above a Flintstones level of understanding the real relationship between dinosaurs and later life forms. For many people—creationist or not—it is not shocking to think of dinosaurs and humans living side by side, attending drive-in movies together.

But there’s more going on than just an appeal to ignorance. I think the Answers In Genesis crowd is convinced that dinosaurs are the key to their creationist kingdom. If they can show people dinos and humans living together, it might shake up people’s assumptions that the earth is far older than 6,000 years or so. If people see dinos wearing saddles and plowing fields, it might prompt them to say, “Hey, weren’t dinosaurs extinct long before people started farming?” The question, AIG might hope, would lead to a healthy shake-up of people’s thinking; it would give AIG missionaries a chance to offer their young-earth answer.

At least, this is the explanation from AIG stalwarts such as Buddy Davis. Davis calls dinosaurs “missionary lizards.” As Davis explains,

As non-Christians hear the biblical explanation of dinosaurs, many have been, and will be, challenged to listen to the rest of what the Bible states. We rejoice that many have been won to the Lord using the true history of these missionary lizards.

For AIG’s radical creationists, then, the notion of humans and dinosaurs living together is not something to be embarrassed about, but something to be trumpeted. If enough people see dinosaurs with saddles, the thinking goes, then they will be compelled to explore AIG’s creationist ideas.

Is it working? Not really. As George Bishop of the University of Cincinnati found, radical creationists aren’t any more consistent than the rest of us. Professor Bishop poked the usual poll numbers and found some strange results. Of people who said that humans had been created recently, over half also believed that dinosaurs had gone extinct over 65 million years ago.

Nevertheless, if my recent trip to the Ark Encounter is any guide, the creationists at AIG have confidence that their focus on dinosaurs will help people see the light.

Making Ararat Great Again

What does Noah have to do with homosexuality? For that matter, what does creationism have to do with Donald Trump? The connections might seem jagged, but those of us who hope to understand the real contours of radical American creationism need to understand the connections between the Rainbow Covenant and Trump’s hat. My recent visit to the Ark Encounter gave me a sharp reminder of the cultural politics of creationism.

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It’s the hat, stupid.

 

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing it, but I can’t help repeating myself: Lots of white evangelicals have always harbored a Trump-ish white nationalist attitude. Not all of them, of course. White evangelicals have also been the most ferocious critics of their coreligionists on this score.

Moreover, the relationship between evangelical religion and chest-thumping American nationalism has always been complicated. White evangelical Americans have tended to think of the USA as both a uniquely Christian country and a dangerously sinful one. As I argued in an academic article a while back, the “establishment-or-outsider paradox” that George Marsden described so long ago has always been a constant source of tension when it comes to evangelical thinking about schools and culture.

For many conservative evangelicals—especially those on the harder-right end of the broad evangelical spectrum—public schools in particular have been the leading symbol of this tension. In the white evangelical imagination, public schools used to be great. They used to lead children in prayer and Bible reading. In the past fifty years, one popular conservative-evangelical story goes, public schools went terribly awry. In practice, evangelical pundits warn one another, America kicked God out of the public schools.

For a large and influential segment of the white evangelical public, this scary story has a silver lining. In spite of the frightening changes in American public education, there is hope. Conservative evangelicals have told one another, for example, that they can “reclaim” their local schools.

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Good news/Bad news…

The notion of reclaiming, of taking back, resonates with radical creationists, too. As I browsed the gift shop at the Ark Encounter, I found a fat stack of postcards. Many of them harped on the theme of “taking back” the symbol of the rainbow. Instead of representing gay pride, the Kentucky creationists hope, the rainbow can once again symbolize conservative evangelical faithfulness.

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Reclaim your rainbow…

It is a central theme for American young-earth creationism, and one that has very little to do with theology or science. The language of many radical creationists is peppered with talk about the good old days, when evangelical Christianity WAS mainstream American religion, when “Merry Christmas” WAS the thing to say to each other in December, when public schools DID reinforce evangelical faith.

Once we grasp this enduring theme among radical creationists, it’s not so difficult to see the appeal of Trump. Any candidate who promises to make America great again will get the white-evangelical vote, or at least the vast majority of it.