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 When a student group at the University of Central Oklahoma rescinded a speaking invitation for radical-creationist impresario Ken Ham, it wasn’t the biology or geology departments that had protested.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.

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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.

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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?

aig dino question book

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.

Trump make america great again

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.

reclaim your school

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.

Arking the Right Questions

John Oliver thought it was just quirky. There’s a more obvious explanation.

john oliver ark manure

For the full scoop on poop, go to 6:20.

As I discovered on my recent trip to the creationist Ark Encounter, the displays spend a LOT of time explaining where all the poop went. They also explain in great detail how Noah crammed huge dinosaurs on a boat.

There’s more going on here than simple scatophilia. Other radical creationists, too, like to focus on some sorts of questions for sensible reasons. If we spend all our time talking about HOW Noah handled all the dinosaur manure, for example, we’ve already conceded the most important point, which is that Noah really existed with his real ark surviving a real world-wide flood. With dinosaurs on board.

PACE 1096 diplodocus

How do SCIENTISTS think Noah squeezed dinosaurs onto his ark? From PACE 1096 (1986 edition)

The folks at Answers In Genesis aren’t the only ones to ask HOW questions instead of WTF questions. The fundamentalist curriculum specialists at Accelerated Christian Education, too, like to help young creationists focus on the details of their creationist vision. In PACE 1096, for example, creationists will read that Noah could easily have solved the problem of fitting huge dinosaurs on his ark if he simply used juvenile dinosaurs.

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From the Ark Encounter: It’s easy if you just use the small dinosaurs…

That’s the general argument at Ark Encounter, as well. Visitors will see charts and graphs of various species, explaining clearly how enormous dinosaurs could have been squeezed onto the ark. The dinosaurs themselves were comfortably situated in roomy cages on the deck.

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Plenty of room for all kinds of dinosaurs on board…

What about all the poop? The Ark Encounter offers an extensive explanation. In their vision, Noah and his crew fitted their boat with an elaborate system of pipes and pulleys. Excrement could easily be flushed into the floodwaters. Fresh water was collected on the roof, thanks to the endless rain.

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From the Ark Encounter: Focus on the HOW…

By focusing on these sorts of detailed, science-y sounding explanations, young-earth creationists can reassure themselves and their children that the ark really could have worked. I have to imagine that such conversations serve a vital function: By talking at length and in detail about HOW these things happened, creationists can rest assured that they DID happen.

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A #2 solution…

How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

For family reasons, I spent Christmas this year in scenic Florence, Kentucky. florence yallOnce the presents were opened and the piñatas destroyed, I snuck off to see the newish jaw-dropper from Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis: The Ark Encounter.

It really was a remarkable sight—an enormous ark rising out of the Kentucky fields. For the next few days, I’ll be sharing my reflections about the trip.

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Wowzers.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH know, I’m no creationist, but I’m not interested in poking fun at the young-earthers. I don’t even want to get into a shouting match about why this kind of science doesn’t make sense to me. Rather, as I finish up my new book about American creationism, I wanted to use my visit to understand radical creationism better. And it worked, sorta. My trip has my head whirling with questions like the following:

  • How does the Ark museum help explain why so many white evangelicals love Trump?
  • If the idea of dinosaurs hanging around with people is so radically different from mainstream science, why does AIG harp on it so much?
  • Why the fascination with poop?
  • Do other museums these days put huge blown-up comic books on the walls?
  • Who are the young-earth creationists competing with?
  • Why are the AIG folks so obsessed with college?

Right off the bat, though, I can’t help but remark on the most obvious lesson I learned from my field trip: In many ways, the Ark Encounter is at least as much about making money as about saving souls. Like all museums everywhere, we had to overpay for parking—ten bucks in a mostly-empty lot. And like all museums everywhere, for some reason we could have coughed up fifty-one cents for a squashed-penny Ark Encounter memento.

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Squeezing every penny out of visitors…

Creation Cold War

Maybe we’ll get a creationist James Bond out of it. After all, the US/USSR Cold War was horrible in a lot of ways, but it created fertile ground for great spy stories. Now, it seems radical creationists are worried about their own inter-creationism cold war. Beyond Kentucky and Austin, Texas, the spiritual battlefields have spread to Latin America and beyond.

This represents a different sort of global creationism. SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware that creationism has always been a global phenomenon, despite the mistaken proclamations of Bill Nye and others. News from Korea and Turkey, to cite just two examples, is unmistakable on that point.

Today we see evidence that creationism is also globalized in a different kind of way. Like the USA and USSR in the twentieth century, it looks like some creationist ministries are conducting a global cold war for the hearts and minds of evangelical believers.

At leading young-earth ministry Answers In Genesis this morning, Ken Ham celebrates a new Mexican outpost. According to Ham, AIG has been conducting considerable outreach in Latin America already. As he explains, AIG has been

sending speakers to over 30 conferences each year in Central America and South America. We’re also teaching in four seminaries and eight secular universities each year.

I’d love to know more about the teaching in those secular universities! But that is question for a different day. Today, we’re curious about Ham’s cold-war warning. As he writes,

Sadly, two apologetics ministries that teach a compromised view of Genesis chapters 1–11 now have representatives teaching throughout Latin America. They will lead many churches and their leaders astray by encouraging the church to compromise the clear teaching of God’s Word in Genesis.

It certainly seems as if AIG is girding its loins for a proxy fight in Mexico and other Latin-American countries. But who are the other two creationist groups he’s talking about? I looked at a few of the usual suspects and came up with only one likely possibility.

It seems the evolutionary creationists at BioLogos have also been conducting Latin American outreach. Among the different sorts of creationists, none rile up Ken Ham more than BioLogos, so I’m guessing that’s one of Ham’s two creationist competitors.

Who is the second? I looked first at Hugh Ross’s Reasons to Believe. They are usually the second creationist foe of the AIG crowd. I couldn’t find any reference to Latin American outreach by RTB, though. I did find a reference to an RTB “partner,” which may be on Ham’s list. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries claims to preach the conservative-evangelical Word in Latin America. A quick look at their website wasn’t satisfying, though. It was hard to tell the degree to which RZIM focuses on creationism in its outreach. Could RZIM be the second of Ham’s creationist competitors? Or is he worrying about a different group?

Whoever the creationist competition is, if history is any guide, AIG may have spectacular successes in its efforts. Other conservative evangelical outreach programs have made astounding inroads into formerly Catholic-dominated areas. Perhaps AIG will follow that pattern.

From the Archives: Take the Creation Museum Challenge

The Challenge: Can you tell creationism apart from mainstream science just by looking?

[Editor’s note: As SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing, I’m almost finished with my book manuscript about American creationism. In this book, I’m trying to help my fellow non-creationists understand the complexities of real creationism. For example, in my final chapter I’m arguing that creationists–whether they are radical young-earthers or mild-mannered BioLogians–can’t fairly be accused of being anti-science. Yet smart, well-informed outsiders keep insisting that they are.

[As I polish up this final chapter, I stumbled across the following ILYBYGTH post from a few years back. I thought I’d run it again to see if anything has changed. So here’s the question once again: Whether you’re a creationist, anti-creationist, or other, can you tell radical creationism apart from mainstream science just by looking?

[Please…take the challenge and let us know how you fared!]

Take the Creation Museum Challenge

We can gnash our teeth.  We can pull our hair.  But no matter what we do, the Creation Museum of Answers In Genesis has pulled it off.  With its new $1.5 million dinosaur exhibit, the flagship museum of young-earth creationism has successfully mimicked the outward appearance of mainstream scientific museums.

Big Valley Creation Science Museum

It used to be easy.  Creationist museums used to be only sad little affairs.  They used to look like this one from Alberta, Canada.  The Big Valley Creation Science Museum, pictured here, may do a great job in spreading the creationism gospel.  But no idle tourist would be likely to confuse it with mainstream museums such as the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History or Boston’s Museum of Science.

It used to be easy for outsiders like me to mock the lame pretensions of the many creation museums that dotted our great land.  And Canada.  As one angry visitor noted, even the bigger creation museums used to have strange, sad displays like this one from San Diego’s Creation and Earth History Museum.

Not a Lot of Big Bang for your Buck

But here’s the new challenge: Can you tell which of the three pictures below comes from Kentucky’s Creation Museum display and which come from the Smithsonian and Boston’s Museum of Science?  As arch-creationist Ken Ham explained gleefully recently, his new display of a million-dollar Allosaurus fossil puts Ham’s Creation Museum in the same league as those mainstream museums.  As Ham put it,

For decades I’ve walked through many leading secular museums, like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and have seen their impressive dinosaur skeletons. But they were used for evolution. Now we have one of that class, and it will help us defend the book of Genesis and expose the scientific problems with evolution.

So take the Creation-Museum challenge.  Just by looking, can you tell which of these images comes from a young-earth creationist museum and which come from mainstream ones?  (Don’t cheat.  But once you’ve given it a try, you can click on each image to see its provenance.)

Field museum exhibit

Is this “real” science?

Or Is It This One?

Or Is It This One?

dinosaur hall smithsonian natural history museum t rex 550

Millions of year? …or millions of dollars?

 

This successful mimicry is important.  In creationism’s twentieth-century struggle to establish alternative educational institutions to rival those of mainstream science, young-earth creationists often wrestled with significant disadvantages.  Not least of these were questions of funding, as historian Ron Numbers described in his must-read book The Creationists and I detailed in my 1920s book.  In the case of this priceless fossil, rich creationists Michael and Stephen Peroutka donated it to help the Creation Museum with its work.

It would be nice to think that America’s public would make its decisions about the age of the earth and the origins of humanity by weighing evidence and considering counter-claims.  To people like me, the Creation Museum’s claim that this well-preserved fossil serves as proof of a worldwide flood 4,300 years ago seems absurd.

But I don’t think we need to be very cynical to guess that appearance matters.  As Dan Kahan argues, what people believe about creation and evolution usually has more to do with their cultural identity than it does with scientific evidence.  If Answers In Genesis can make their museum LOOK like the Smithsonian, many visitors will assume it is just as good.  And if Answers In Genesis can crank out peer-reviewed science publications that attest to the scientific veracity of their claims, many readers will assume their science is just as good.

So take the Creation Museum challenge.  If you can’t tell the difference, how can you expect anyone else to?

How Roy Moore Put Jesus on a Dinosaur

It’s ugly. And weird. The accusations against Roy Moore in the Washington Post are hard to read without shuddering. It got even uglier and weirder when some evangelical leaders actually supported Moore’s alleged actions. Yet those familiar with the history of American fundamentalist institutions see a familiar pattern in this depressing story. And maybe I’m too deep in my new book about American creationism to think clearly, but it seems to me these sorts of attitudes help explain radical young-earth creationism.

If you haven’t seen the story, it’s grim. The Washington Post shared allegations by women that Roy Moore had groped and kissed them back in the 1970s, when they were young teenagers and he was a thirty-something lawyer. To complicate things, Judge Moore has always been a controversial figure, insisting on keeping a 10-commandments monument in his courtroom even when ordered to remove it. Moreover, Moore just won a contentious GOP primary election in the US Senate race. He’s facing a tough battle with his Democratic opponent.

That history helps explain the continuing support for Moore among conservatives. Almost 40 percent of Alabama evangelicals say they are MORE likely to support Moore after these accusations. Only 28 percent say they’re less likely to do so.

We might be understandably tempted to see the whole thing as just another episode in today’s bare-knuckled political free-for-all. Judge Moore defended himself in those terms, after all. He claimed the whole story was just a cynical smear campaign against him. Real conservatives, he tweeted, needed to see through the fake news. In his words,

The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal — even inflict physical harm — if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me. I believe you and I have a duty to stand up and fight back against the forces of evil waging an all-out war on our conservative values!

From Liberty University, President Jerry Falwell Jr. took Moore at his word. The accuser, Falwell intoned, was not as “credible” as Moore. The same thing happened to President Trump, Falwell noted, yet Trump heroically triumphed.

The story, according to Moore and Falwell, is one of brave conservatives fighting false accusations. In today’s climate, it makes some sense to me that people on both sides would rally around someone who they thought was falsely accused by the “forces of evil.”

But nitty-gritty politics don’t really explain the way some evangelical leaders seem to actually condone Moore’s alleged actions. They don’t just deny the allegations. They deny that there’s anything wrong with them. Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler noted that Joseph and Mary had a similar age difference when they married.

Jesus on a dinosaur

If mainstream science says it couldn’t have happened, it must be true.

“Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter,” Ziegler told the Washington Examiner. “They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.”

Other evangelical leaders rushed to disagree. At Christianity Today, for instance, Ed Stetzer emphasized that evangelicals are not okay with Moore’s alleged actions. As Stetzer put it,

Christians don’t believe the message that is coming from some of Moore’s supporters. Actually, most of us find it really creepy.

Those of us who live outside of the charmed circle of American evangelicalism might have a difficult time understanding why Stetzer even needs to make such a statement. Of course it’s creepy!

As I finish up my book manuscript about American creationism, I can’t help but see enormous parallels between Ziegler-style rationalizations and radical young-earth creationism. As I detail in the book, by the late 1950s America’s conservative evangelicals faced a difficult situation. Unlike their fundamentalist parents in the Scopes generation, by 1960 evangelicals had to cope with the fact that mainstream scientists had generally agreed on the outlines of modern evolutionary theory. They had a few options: Reject creationism altogether along with their evangelical beliefs; accept the scientific strength of mainstream evolutionary thinking but claim that it didn’t change their evangelical religion; or reject mainstream science utterly.

Following the lead of theologian John Whitcomb Jr. and engineering professor Henry Morris, thousands of earnest evangelicals chose the third option. They believed Whitcomb and Morris that mainstream scientists had followed Satan’s red herring and abandoned true science. As Whitcomb and Morris put it in their 1964 preface,

extrapolation of present processes into the prehistoric past or into the eschatological future is not really science.

In order to have true biblical faith, Whitcomb and Morris argued, Christians needed to reject radically the claims of mainstream science. There was a better science out there, a biblical science, that insisted on a young-earth and a literal interpretation of the “days” in the Bible’s six-day creation story.

genesis flood 1961 ed

Why would (false) scientists lie?

Before the 1960s, not many evangelical Christians believed those things. After that, however, young-earth creationism became a mainstream belief among conservative evangelicals.

What does any of this have to do with Alabama’s Senate race? Then and now, conservative evangelicals have nurtured a unique sense of persecution, of their role as a beleaguered minority, unfairly ejected from their rightful role as America’s conscience and moral guardians, usurped and despised. A mainstream society that can treat good Christians that way, the thinking goes, must be following a false trail. When challenged or threatened, then, it is not very difficult for some evangelicals to reject huge swathes of mainstream thinking. Such mainstream thought, after all, had been led astray by the “forces of evil.”

In Moore’s case, we see how quickly some supporters wrapped Moore’s alleged actions in a sheaf of pages from Scripture. And in the case of rejecting mainstream science, it was relatively easy for thousands of evangelicals to believe outrageously radical scientific ideas.

When you assume that mainstream thinking is from the devil, it becomes very easy to accept ideas that the rest of us find bizarre. It becomes easy to think that sexual predation has Gospel roots, or that Jesus could have cavorted happily with Brontosaurus.

HT: MM

Creating Jobs

Is it worth it? Ken Ham says heavens yes. John Oliver says hell no. This week on Last Week Tonight (5:42-8:12) Oliver rips into tax incentive schemes in general, and the Kentucky uber-creationist Ark Encounter project in particular.

 

Oliver’s accusations aren’t new. Critics such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have long criticized Kentucky’s willingness to forego sales tax revenue as part of an incentive program for the huge Ark project.

After all, as AU points out, Kentucky’s goal is the creation of “jobs, jobs, jobs.” To work at Ark Encounter, though, potential employees must be conservative evangelical Christians. And not just any sort of evangelical. They have to embrace Answers In Genesis’s specific vision of true creationism. They are encouraged to love non-fundamentalist Christians, but they must agree that all non-fundamentalists are going to hell forever. Ark employees can’t be gay. And if they’re single, they must agree to a chastity clause in their contracts. AU thinks such beliefs should never be supported with tax incentives.

John Oliver, as always, is more interested in zingers. As he points out, Ark Encounter includes some stuff that is just pure wackiness, such as a section devoted to the question of manure. Where did all the poop go?

Moreover, Oliver skewers the notion of signing a chastity pledge when the entire purpose of the Ark was to encourage sex, sex, sex, among the animals. As Oliver puts it, they didn’t get on the Ark two-by-two so that every animal would have a “swim buddy.” I’m too embarrassed to repeat Oliver’s most hilarious name for the Ark (it rhymes with “duck boat”), but if you watch to the end of his clip you’ll see how he ties together the Ark Encounter, the Entourage movie, zebras drowning in feces, and masturbation.

It’s hilarious, but it raises important questions. Should religious groups enjoy tax privileges? Ken Ham’s answer is that saying no would be pure discrimination. He points out that his group is not receiving any money from the state, but is rather simply not paying some taxes that would never have been paid in the first place if he didn’t bring hordes of creationist tourists to the area.

Oliver says no. He thinks ALL tax-incentive programs need to be held to higher standards.

Americans United says no, too, but for different reasons. They argue that tax money and tax incentives should not be allowed to fuel divisive, sectarian religious programs.

What do you think? Should creationists be allowed to profit from tax programs that other groups use? Or should tax incentives be restricted to less-controversial organizations?