Dragging Creationism into the Twenty-First Century

At first, it might seem confusing. Why is radical-creationist pundit Ken Ham so upset about men in heels? It might seem like “Sparkle Leigh” has nothing to do with evolution or creationism or any of that. If we want to understand young-earth creationism, however, we need to understand that these sorts of culture-war standoffs are absolutely central to radical creationism itself.Ken Ham drag school

Here’s the latest: Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis has been warning about the looming threat of men in drag reading books to schoolkids. As Ham warned last year,

If you think our Western culture can’t get any more perverse than it already is, think again! In a new trend, public libraries in America are hosting “Drag Queen Story Hours,” where drag queens (generally, men who wear feminine clothing or makeup to entertain people) come and read books, sing songs, and do crafts with children in the library.

What does that have to do with the idea of a young earth, a literal world-wide flood, and the rejection of modern evolutionary science? Well, nothing, from one perspective. Accepting the power of evolutionary theory does not somehow force people to endorse drag culture. Accepting a non-literal reading of the Book of Genesis doesn’t either.

On the other hand, if we hope to understand radical creationism, we have to understand the fact that things like drag culture, changing gender norms, and even pedophilia are absolutely central. Radical young-earth creationism has always been about building walls to fend off looming cultural changes, not building labs to produce new scientific ideas.

As I’m arguing in my new book (exciting news on that front coming soon), radical creationism is not really a protest against the science of evolutionary theory as such. Rather, radical creationism is all about holding the line against changing cultural norms. Back in the 1950s, when conservative-evangelical Bernard Ramm promised his evangelical friends that science should not scare them, fundamentalists disagreed.

The radical-creationist movement was born out of a deep-seated feeling that traditional American culture was threatened. Evolutionary theory became the canary in the devil’s coalmine, but the real threats came from elsewhere. Changing sexual norms, changing gender relations, and changing attitudes about everything from proper dress to proper politics fueled the movement.

evil tree new

Why attack evolutionary theory? Let me count the ways…

At its heart, however, radical creationism has never actually been about evolution itself. Rather, as cartoons and pamphlets have shouted for decades now, evolution is only the convenient place to draw the line, the convenient place to defend against everything from feminism to abortion to communism.

So why is Ken Ham so upset about men with sparkles and heels? It’s not really about evolutionary theory, but it is absolutely central to radical creationism.


What Is Pat Robertson Up To?

You heard it here last: Pat Robertson has come out against Alabama’s new anti-abortion law. It is not an isolated incident. As SAGLRROIYBYGTH recall, Robertson has also recently criticized radical creationism. We have to ask: What is Robertson doing?

Here’s what Robertson said:

I think Alabama has gone too far. They passed a law that would give a 99-year prison sentence to people who commit abortion. There’s no exception for rape or incest. It’s an extreme law. They wanna challenge Roe versus Wade, but my humble view is this is not the case we wanna bring to the Supreme Court because I think this one’ll lose.

On its face, this could be a simple strategy statement. Fight abortion rights? Sure—but do it in a way that will win. Given Robertson’s other recent culture-war positioning, however, I can’t help but wonder if there is something else going on.

Consider Robertson’s recent statements about young-earth creationism. Not only has he mocked young-earth beliefs as “nonsense” and “embarrassing,” but he has promised to add a class at his Regent University to help conservative Christians combat young-earth ideas.Ham v robertson

Is Robertson trying to situate himself as a reasonable Christian conservative, different from the hard-right folks? Is he willing to bet his culture-war credentials against radicals such as Answers In Genesis’s Ken Ham and Alabama’s Terri Collins? And, if so…do you think it will work? Can Pat Robertson create political space for a not-quite-so-radical Christian Right?

The Creationist Debate We Really Need

Finally! I hope Pat Robertson takes him up on it. Far more than the meaningless 2014 debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, a face-to-face discussion between different types of Christian creationists would pack a lot of punch.

Ham v robertsonHere’s what we know: As he has done in the past, aged Christian culture warrior Pat Robertson has publicly mocked young-earth creationism. On his apparently-still-a-thing TV show 700 Club, Robertson offered the following tidbit,

You know, this universe that we live in is about 14 billion years old and there’s no question about it. . . . And we have tremendous geological records and all the rest of it. And that 6,000-year stuff just doesn’t compute. But we, as Christians, we need to know the truth.

Robertson has also put his college where his creationism is. He has added a course in anti-young-earth-creationism for students at his Regent University. Is he still a creationist? Absolutely! Is he still conservative? Definitely! And does he oppose the idea that “real” Christians need to shut themselves off from modern science? Yes he does.

And that’s why Robertson’s version of creationism is such a deadly threat to radical young-earthers like Ken Ham. And Ham knows it.

So this morning Ken Ham challenged Pat Robertson to an intra-creationist debate. To this non-creationist observer, it seems like a much more important kind of debate than the one between Ham and Nye.

As SAGLRROILYBYGTH will recall, back in 2014 both Ken Ham and Bill Nye could afford to be affable and courteous. Neither of them had much chance of convincing people on the other side of the issue. That is, Ham’s young-earth creationists weren’t likely to be suddenly converted to a secular scientific mindset. And Nye’s “Science Guy” fans were not about to become radical young-earth creationists.



A Ham/Robertson debate would be much different. As I’m arguing in my new book about creationism (stay tuned for exciting news on that front soon), the real trench lines in America’s long culture war about creationism are not between secular Science Guys and radical young-earth creationists. Rather, the most bitter fights are between different types of Christian creationists, fighting to establish their specific vision of creationism as The Real Christian position.

That’s why Ken Ham is so terrified of Pat Robertson. Any credible conservative evangelical has the chance to steal Ham’s creationist followers. In the past, you may recall, Ham flatly refused to even meet with the conservative evangelical creationists at BioLogos.

Why? Because unlike Bill Nye, competing Christian creationists speak the same language as Ken Ham. They value the same Biblical precepts. They cherish the same theological commitments. If conservative Christians hear from competing creationists, they might realize that the young-earth emperor doesn’t really wear any clothes.

The Creationist Harvard Is…

Quick: If you are a die-hard young-earth creationist, where would you want your kid to go to college? Bob Jones? Cedarville? They are both on Ken Ham’s list of “safe” schools. In fact, though, radical creationists are in a more complicated dilemma when it comes to elite higher education.CREATION COLLEGE MAP

Here’s what we know: In spite of their long-simmering resentment over the state of mainstream and liberal higher education—as I documented in Fundamentalist U—radical creationists are still trapped in a bitter one-way love affair with elite colleges. In the past, young-earth creationists pointed with pride to the credentials of people such as Kurt Wise.

Dr. Wise earned his PhD in the Harvard lab of the late Stephen Jay Gould. Yet Wise famously clung to his young-earths beliefs. As he wrote a few decades ago,

I am a young age creationist, because that is my understanding of the Scripture. . . . if all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.

For years, Wise’s devotion to young-earth beliefs, coupled with his Harvard credentials, earned him the love and respect of the radical creationist community. And now radical creationists have another Crimson hero to celebrate. Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson recently explained his academic journey in the pages of WORLD Magazine. Dr. Jeanson also earned his PhD at Harvard without giving up his young-earth beliefs. As WORLD explained,

Jeanson entered Harvard with a burning desire to find a cure for cancer. He emerged with a determination to push back against evolution and help people struggling with science-religion tension find their way back to Biblical truth.

So what? This celebration of a real live creationist who studied in the world’s greatest university is still a source of enormous pride among radical creationists. As Ken Ham bragged on his blog, Dr. Jeanson’s career proves that their science is really science. As Ham put it,

Creation science is such an exciting field. Many people have this idea that creationists don’t do research, but that’s not true. Many creation scientists are actively involved in exciting discoveries regarding the world around us.

Ham’s celebration of creationist achievement highlights the century-old creationist dilemma. On the one hand, they need to explain to themselves why mainstream science no longer values their vision of proper science. Usually, that means dismissing bitterly those mainstream institutions as “deluded” or “biased.” On the other hand, though, radical creationists yearn endlessly for recognition from those same mainstream institutions.


Who wants to go to Harvard? We all do…

Harvard has long symbolized the very best and worst of these trends in higher education. Henry Morris, the godfather of radical American creationism, called out Harvard by name in his book The Long War Against God. Harvard went wrong, Morris warned, back in 1869 when Charles Eliot took the helm. In Morris’s telling, Eliot appointed John Fiske, like Eliot a Unitarian, to “introduce and popularize evolutionism in the Harvard curriculum” (pp. 46-47).

Yet as the recent celebration of Dr. Jeanson makes clear, radical creationists still relish the thought of a Harvard diploma. In their view, Harvard may be a terrible and terrifying spiritual institution, but creationists still love it deep down in their hearts.

The Accidental Creationist Conspiracy

We didn’t mean to. But those of us who fight for more and better evolution education have occasionally unwittingly teamed up with radical creationists to promulgate a false myth about the nature of American creationism. We should stop.

Pew Creation eighty one

I’ll take those odds…

Here’s what we know: Most Americans know—or admit—that humans evolved. You may have heard the old Gallup poll results, the ones that keep finding almost half of Americans think God created humans in pretty much their present form at some time within the past ten thousand years.

More careful survey questions—it’s all about the questions—reveal much different numbers. The folks at Pew Research have found that about four in every five Americans accept human evolution. The numbers of die-hard evolution deniers is much smaller than you might have thought.

Why is that? Why do so many of us think that there are many more radical creationists out there than there really are?

For one thing, it might be because of the publicity. Whenever a high-profile radical creationist gets anywhere, it attracts a lot of attention. Consider the ill-starred campaign of Mary Lou Bruner in Texas. She didn’t win her race for state school board, but when she told her facebook friends that there had to have been dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark, and that Obama had put himself through law school as a prostitute, it attracted international attention to her campaign.

But there’s another reason, too. Radical creationists like Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis have an obvious interest in inflating the numbers of followers they have. When it comes to the attendance figures at AIG’s Ark Encounter in Kentucky, for example, Ham seems fond of exaggerating the number of people who trickle through his gopher-wood gates.

There’s a less obvious angle, too. Not only do Ham and other radical creationists exaggerate their own influence, so do Ham’s fiercest opponents. For instance, Americans United campaigns vigorously for secular public schools. They fight against any whiff of religiously inspired creationist curriculum. In doing so, however, they unintentionally promote the myth of vast creationist armies massing outside the schoolhouse door.

Now, to be clear, I personally support their work, and that of other anti-creationist groups such as the National Center for Science Education. Nevertheless, when AU rightly condemns the creationist activities of lawmakers such as Indiana’s Dennis Kruse, AU tends to imply that Kruse is not part of a desperate, go-nowhere radical creationist rump, but rather part and parcel of what they call elsewhere a

a coordinated national effort to codify a far-right, evangelical Christian America. [Emphasis in original.]

A casual reader might be forgiving for thinking that a “coordinated national effort” is scarier than what we might more appropriately describe in other terms. Instead of inflating the influence of radical creationism, what if we called it by more appropriate labels? How about “desperate?” How about “disappearing?” How about “shrinking and increasingly isolated?”

As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, the vast majority of Americans don’t really disagree about evolution. Not in ways that really matter. Instead, most of us are friendly to the mainstream science of evolution. We’re also friendly to religious ideas about divine involvement in the origins of life. Few of us agree with the radical positions on either side of the creationism culture war.

shipley war on modern science

“Vast armies?” or sad little cliques?

Instead of harping on the threat of radical creationism, it will be better strategy to emphasize the out-of-step nature of radical creationism. Instead of warning incorrectly—as NCSE godfather Maynard Shipley did in the 1920s—that “the armies of ignorance are being organized, literally by the millions, for a combined political assault on modern science,” we should be celebrating and publicizing the fact that only a small and shrinking band of out-of-touch radicals still deny the essentials of mainstream science.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

More strikes and the looming s-word this week. Here are some of the news stories you might have missed from the past seven days:

Denver: Teachers out on strike today, at CBS4.

Trump’s 2020 Gamble: Does anyone still tremble at the threat of ‘socialism?’

From Righting America: If there was a real global flood, why did God need to kill all the babies? All the animals?

(How) can evangelical colleges survive? With online classes? Or by getting back to what they’ve always done best? At CHE.

Christian Persecution Update: Campus Christian group scores legal win in Iowa LGBTQ case, at IHE.

Think Creationists Are Dumb?

To be fair, SOME creationists might just be ignorant. As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, though, there is more than enough ignorance to go around when it comes to evolution and creationism.

Jesus on a dinosaur.jpg 1

Why do creationists put Jesus on a dinosaur? Short answer: They don’t.

I recently made a short version of this case at UConn’s Humility and Conviction in Public Life blog. If we want to make any real progress in our continuing battle over creationism, we can at least start by acknowledging a few of these obvious truths.

Agree? Disagree? Click on over to H&CiPL to check it out.

Karen Pence Falls into the Scopes Trap

SAGLRROILYBYGTH have likely been following the story: Second Lady Karen Pence has taken some heat for going back to work at Immanuel Christian School, an evangelical school with explicitly anti-LGBTQ beliefs. As they rush to defend her, I’m arguing this morning, Pence’s conservative allies are actually stumbling into an old culture-war trap.

shapiro pence


Understandably, some of her conservative defenders are taking the path of least resistance. Opposing any sort of non-hetero, non-married sexual activity, they say, has ALWAYS been a standard Christian belief. As Ben Shapiro put it most bitingly, Pence’s critics seem to have “never heard of religious people before.”

Thanks to the Made By History series editors, this morning I’m arguing in The Washington Post that Pence’s defenders are making an old mistake in their hasty counter-attacks. I won’t give away the details–you’ll have to click over to read the whole thing–but I will say I work in some of the biggest names in twentieth-century creationist history: Henry Morris, Bernard Ramm, and William Jennings Bryan.


I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Hello 2019! We’re starting strong with a full week of culture-war contention. Here are some of the stories that caught our eye this week:

How evangelicals can embrace evolution, at CT.

Jim Carrey I Dont Care GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

You probably heard Jerry Falwell Jr.’s odd Trumpist speech. What does it mean? One analysis at WaPo:

Like many heretics, Falwell and his fellow evangelical Trump apologists are on their way to founding a new religion, one in direct conflict with the old.

It’s not easy to be an anti-racist evangelical these days. A portrait of non-white activists in The New Yorker.

What are educational conservatives saying these days? A new speaker series hopes to restore the conservative glory days of the 1990s.

Do young-earth creationists have any answer to geocentric critics? RA says…still no.

Inclusive campuses for everyone—even Nazis. At IHE.

fuck nazis

Do Nazis deserve manners?

Stalker or romantic? At KCStar.

Will the USA extradite Fethullah Gulen? At RNS.

Update: anti-porn students find allies, at IHE.

Bad news for Trumpists: China’s Great Wall didn’t keep out invaders, at NG.

Michael Petrilli: School discipline needs to make sense, not just culture-war nonsense. At Flypaper.

The Year in ILYBYGTH

I wasn’t going to do it. I was going to try awkwardly to maintain my dignity and refrain from any sort of year-end top-ten list. But then a couple of enforcers from the WordPress goon squad showed up and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

So here it is: The eleven most popular posts of 2018:

  1. What is Life Like at Evangelical Colleges? Reflections from alumni of “Fundamentalist U.” What was it like to attend different schools in different decades? How did evangelical higher ed shape these students’ lives?
  2. Billy Graham and Bob Jones From the archives, a look at the tempestuous and angry relationship between teacher and former student.

    Billy Graham

    RIP Billy Graham, here preaching to the multitudes in London, 1954.

  3. Crisis at Moody Bible Institute From way back in January 2018, a look at the ways the history of fundamentalist higher ed in the early 1900s set the pattern for the recent leadership shake-up at Chicago’s storied Bible school.
  4. The Dilemma of the Fundamentalist Intellectual An ugly story of resume inflation is par for the course in the world of fundamentalist academic life. Why?
  5. The Myth of Evangelical Political History Just Won’t Die: It doesn’t seem to matter that historians have punctured this story completely. Journalists still love it, probably because a lot of evangelicals love it.
  6. Christians Don’t Know Christianity: Are Christians supposed to actually believe Christian doctrine? Or only hold it as a personal preference? religion as personal belief
  7. Where Were You Radicalized? A simple question on Tweeter gets people thinking, but there’s one place no one seemed to be talking about.
  8. Evangelical Colleges Aren’t Teaching Christianity A professor complains that her students don’t know Christian orthodoxy. I lay out the historical case that this is nothing new in evangelical higher education.
  9. Bad News for Creationists Science just makes young-earth creationism harder and harder to believe. What will YECs do? I have a guess…



  10. How Did Christian Colleges Become Racist? I made the case for an under-suspected culprit behind the racism of white evangelicals: mainstream higher education.
  11. Is Creationism Hate Speech? Can–SHOULD–mainstream universities ban radical young-earth creationism because it is hateful to non-heterosexuals?