Where Are Disney’s Creationists?

At first, it seems like a reasonable question. Ham no disney creationists

Radical creationist Ken Ham is the questioner in this case. He’s wondering why Disney can have an LGBTQ character, but not a radical creationist one. As he puts it,

I wonder if Disney will introduce a biblical creationist character who refutes all their paganism, or a bible-believing Christian who witnesses to others?

…and when Ham puts it like that, it’s immediately obvious why Disney won’t include a radical creationist as one of their characters. The mantra of inclusion doesn’t include everyone. People who insist that they are the only ones who have the Truth can’t be part of the multicultural community.

After all, Disney has plenty of creationist characters. How about Snow White? She famously prays n stuff. If she is a Christian, she likely believes that God is involved in the creation of life.

Or how about Friar Tuck? As a man of God, Tuck certainly would have believed in creation.

So it’s not creationism that is the problem for Disney. No, it is Ken Ham’s particular version of creationism, what we call “radical” creationism. As Ham writes, he doesn’t just want creationist Disney, he wants a character “who refutes all their paganism.”

That’s something Disney’s not likely to include. Looks like Ham will have to stick with VeggieTales.

Hitting Radical Creationists Where It Hurts

Fighting about science doesn’t help. Radical creationists have an answer for their radically different views about DNA, population genetics, radiometric dating, etc. Where they don’t have an answer is elsewhere.Burge v ham tweet

As I’m arguing in my new book about American creationism, the thing that distinguishes radical creationists from the rest of us isn’t really science or religion. Instead, it is good old-fashioned culture-war anger. Radical creationists like Ken Ham (what do I mean by “radical creationist?” Check out my explanation here) share a lot of theology with non-radical creationists. Where they differ—or, to be more precise, where they differ most markedly—is in their political and cultural attitudes.

Trying to puncture the scientific vision of radical creationism is not a losing battle—it is pretty easy to do. But it IS a meaningless battle. Radical creationists are very well prepared to have their dissenting science mocked and even overturned. Nothing Bill Nye can say, in other words, can ruffle their creationist feathers.

But the culture-war claims of radical creationists are different. Like radicals’ scientific claims, they can be fairly easily debunked. Unlike radicals’ scientific claims, however, debunking creationists’ culture-war claims threatens to upend the entire project of radical creationism.

Exhibit A: Ryan Burge and the true numbers on Southern Baptists. A significant element of radical creationists’ culture-war appeal rests on an assumption that Christians are not Christian enough any more. Arch-radical Ken Ham often warns his followers that Christians have slipped away from the true faith. In fact, however, as Ryan Burge recently demonstrated, Ham’s claims of conservative declension are wildly overstated.

Exhibit B: Dan Williams and abortion history. Ken Ham often warns that opposition to abortion is a primary element of real Christianity. Historically, however, there have been plenty of conservative evangelicals who had disagreed. As Prof. Williams demonstrated in Defenders of the Unborn, the evangelical fervor against abortion rights is a fairly recent development.

Exhibit C: Karen Pence and “unchanging orthodoxy.” Sometimes, conservatives will claim that they are only defending ancient truths delivered once for all to the saints. But as I’ve argued in places like the Washington Post, many central ideas of radical creationism are not really ancient truths at all.

The common thread: Radical creationism is built on a foundation of shaky claims and assumptions about history and society. Leaders like Ken Ham build their following by warning that America is under constant threat from secularism and sex. Evolutionary theory is only the most obvious efflorescence of the Satanic temptations. If people want to debunk creationists, it is pretty easy to point out that their historical assumptions do not match reality. It has only recently been considered of vital Christian importance to oppose abortion rights, for example. And young-earth creationism—the way it is embraced these days—is a novel idea, not an ancient Christian truth.

To make their cases, radical creationists use far more than just their radical science. Ken Ham, for example, teamed up with a creationist pollster to tally up the dangers lurking to creationist youth. The need for a radical science like the one offered by Answers in Genesis only makes sense as a desperate last-ditch move. It only seems necessary or sensible if mainstream culture has gone to the dogs. To make that case, radical creationists like Ken Ham often rely on spotty statistics and shoddy history. For example, as Ham warned in his 2009 book Already Gone,

we are one generation away from the evaporation of church as we know it. . . . unless we come to better understand what is happening and implement a clear, biblical plan to circumvent it.

Desperate times, Ham warns, call for desperate measures.

But, as Ryan Burge points out, what if the times aren’t really so desperate for conservatives? What if America isn’t really going to hell in a handbasket? Those claims have nothing to do with the science of creationism, but they have everything to do with maintaining Christians’ willingness to accept radical ideas like young-earth creationism.

When historians and social scientists puncture those intellectual supports, it becomes harder and harder for young-earth creationism to convince Christians that radical options are required.

Franklin Graham: Anti-Gay Not OK in UK

The historical parallels are piling up. This week, conservative evangelist Franklin Graham has been booted from all eight venues of an upcoming revival sweep of the UK. I know it’s not simply the same, but I can’t help but notice the parallels to 1925, when young-earth creationists were laughed out of London. Will the results from back then repeat themselves?President Trump Holds Rally In Phoenix, Arizona

Here’s what we know: Due to pressure from LGBTQ groups, Franklin Graham’s contracts have been canceled for his planned preaching tour of the UK. He had planned eight stops, but all of the venues have pulled out. The tour might still go on if organizers from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association can find new venues.

Over the past few years, Graham the younger has attracted a lot of criticism for his anti-LGBTQ statements. He has called gay people “wicked, evil people,” accused them of causing a “moral 9-11,” and praised Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay laws.

As we’ve wondered on this blog recently, will the future of anti-LGBTQ Christianity echo the anti-evolution past?

Back in 1925, after all, as the Scopes trial was generating headlines worldwide, young-earth creationist pundit George McCready Price suffered the worst humiliation of his long career. In a London debate on the question “Is Evolution True,” Price found himself heckled mercilessly. He tried to present his case about the scientific obliviousness of evolution. As Price put it,

We are making scientific history very fast these days; and the specialist in some corner of science who keeps on humming a little tune to himself, quietly ignoring all this modern evidence against Evolution, is simply living in a fools’ paradise.  He will soon be so far behind that he will wake up some fine morning and find that he needs an introduction to the modern scientific world.

The audience would have none of it.  They booed him; he was unable to finish the debate. He retreated from the stage and never again debated evolution in public. As he fled, he offered this final plea to the London crowd:

I only ask you, Ladies and Gentlemen, to read both sides of the case.  Do not confine your reading wholly to one side.  How can you know anything about a certain subject if you read only one side of the case?  There is plenty of evidence on the other side, and this evidence is gradually coming out.

The parallels go beyond the UK backdrop. Back in 1925, George McCready Price was still trying to defend his vision of science as the better one. As have his followers ever since, Price never attacked science. Instead, he insisted that his radical young-earth creationism was a better form of science. By 1925, however, at least in this London venue, people weren’t having it.

Similarly, Franklin Graham still refuses to admit that his views on sexuality are anti-LGBTQ. As he explained recently,

Some people have said I am going to bring hateful speech to the UK, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In the past, Graham has insisted that his opposition to same-sex marriage was not anti-LGBTQ. As he told one reporter,

I’m not homophobic, I’m not against gay or lesbian people. They are free to live however they want to live, but I believe God makes it very clear that marriage is between a man and a woman.

So not only is Graham following the 1920s anti-evolution path by getting booted from UK venues, but also by finding himself suddenly outside the circle of polite society. Like George McCready Price a century ago, Graham has found that definitions are changing fast. Not very long ago, it was considered acceptable to oppose same-sex marriage, even by leading Democrats. Now, his position has classified Graham as a “hate preacher,” no longer fit for public support.

What happened back then? George McCready Price never again debated, but he did not give up. He devoted himself to founding organizations devoted to spreading young-earth creationism. One of them, the Deluge Geology Society, eventually succeeded beyond Price’s wildest dreams. Its members included a young engineer, Henry Morris, who in 1961 would publish a book that would bring radical young-earth creationism to vast new American audiences.

After an awkward period of struggle, in which conservatives tried to maintain mainstream respectability for their ideas, radical anti-evolution creationists instead created their own network of radical institutions outside the mainstream. Will we see that happen again this century? Will a UK rejection lead once again to a USA transformation?

Creationism’s Middle Ground—Is It Enough?

The radical creationists at Answers in Genesis have offered an explanation of their vision for proper evolution education. Short version: They want all kids to learn about mainstream evolutionary theory, in a way. Is there enough here for a long-lasting compromise?

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing about it, but I’m up to my eyeballs with my new book about creationism. I sent the manuscript to the Oxford folks and we’ll have a book ready for shelves soon. I’m arguing in the book that the real problem in America’s long-running culture war about evolutionary theory isn’t really evolutionary theory itself. (It’s about something, but for the full argument you’ll have to wait for the book version.)

This morning, the radical creationists at AIG offer a lengthy exposition of their view of proper evolution education (starting at 18:04 in the video above). (Why use the term “radical creationist?” My explanation here.) It gives us a chance to ask: Is there enough middle ground here for all of us? Or do radical creationists want too much?

First, a little background: Ken Ham and some colleagues from Answers In Genesis are reacting to evolution-education outreach from the Genetic Literacy Project, starting at about 18:04 in the youtube clip above. The outreach was apparently targeted to college instructors, hoping to help them help students overcome their religious resistance to evolutionary ideas.GLP AIG

There are a lot of things in this AIG commentary that we can all agree on. Let’s review a few of the big ones:

First of all, we can all agree that evolution educators shouldn’t be trying to convert their students toward or away from any religion. As one of the AIG commentators describes (19:19), the article is essentially asking,

How do you become an evangelist for evolution? To convert these backwater, very confused creationists into the “truth” that they would follow Science?

I don’t think the Genetic Literacy Project folks would explain their goals that way, but we don’t have to agree on that. We can agree that science educators have no desire to promote any specific religion.

Second, students should be learning more than just terms and facts about evolution. They should be learning a deep understanding of the underlying ideas. As the AIG commentator put it,

We need to promote true science and teach [students] how to think scientifically . . . not just dump facts at them.

Third, radical creationists should stop using bogus arguments against evolution. These radical creationists agree that those bogus arguments only muddy the waters. As another chimed in,

We wanna make sure we’re not setting up straw men or being fallacious with an evolutionary worldview so when we refute it we refute what they actually believe.

coloring book beginners bible basicsAlso, we can all agree not to poke fun at radical creationists for no good reason. The first image on the GLP evolution-education presentation was of a macho Jesus riding on a scary dinosaur. If you’re interested in American creationism, you’ve probably seen the image. It looks like it comes from a sad creationist coloring book, but in fact it was created by artist Derek Chatwood in 2014 to poke fun at radical creationism. It is not an artifact of American creationism, but rather a clever and cruel insult. The radical creationists objected to the (18:30),

stupid cartoon on the front. I don’t understand why this idea of Jesus riding a dinosaur…they keep using this…. I hate seeing this picture. It’s just a caricature of what creationists believe.

We can all agree on that. We can agree on all these things, and they are big things:

1.) There’s no need to insist on cartoonish misrepresentations of creationist ideas.

2.) Creationists should not make bogus straw-man arguments about evolutionary theory.

3.) Kids should learn more than facts about evolution; they should learn to “think scientifically.”

4.) And evolution education should not try to preach any religious idea to students.

Are we all in agreement about everything? Certainly not. The radicals at AIG insist that evolutionary thinking is itself a religion. It’s not. The radicals want children to learn, in the end, why evolutionary science is inadequate for explaining major changes in species. It’s not. They want to teach children that they must choose between mainstream science and their religion. They don’t.

Those are huge areas of disagreement and we can’t simply ignore them. When it comes to our public schools, however, we have enough agreement to move forward. We can all agree that science class should not mock religion of any kind. We can agree not to focus on fake arguments about the other side, and that students need to learn a deep understanding of the ideas that led to mainstream evolutionary theory.

Can we agree on the rest? No. To create a productive science class, though, we don’t need to.

What Do Radical Creationists Really Care About?

Sure, creationists care about creationism. But as SAGLRROILYBYGTH know well, radical creationists these days tend to talk a lot more about other culture-war issues. (What counts as “radical” creationism? Check out the classification system I’m using in the new book.)

what do radical creationists care about

Ken Ham’s tweets categorized: October 4, 2019–November 4, 2019.

This morning, I got curious about the relative emphases different issues got by radical creationists, so I did an unscientific little test. I perused the tweets of young-earth creationist leader Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis for the past month. I noted the top issue in each of Ham’s threads.

In some cases, issues could have been counted in different ways, but I limited each thread to what I thought was presented as the most important issue. For example, in recent tweets about the AIG Pastors’ Conference, Ham tweeted about both the topic of the conference–racism–and the proceedings of the conference. I placed each tweet in only one category, based on my reading of what Ham was presenting as the most important issue.

The results are not very surprising to people who follow the goings-on at Answers In Genesis. Sure, AIG cares about promoting its flashy Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. But by far the most important issue–at least in terms of tweet volume–is the threat posed by LGBTQ rights. Just over a quarter of Ham’s tweets warn followers of the dangers of Drag Queen Story Hour, same-sex marriage, and transgender equality.

So what? It’s not news, really, that Ken Ham should primarily be understood as a fundamentalist minister who draws a culture-war line based on young-earth creationism, rather than as a science activist who happens to have conservative religious beliefs. This tweet-chart only demonstrates the way Ham’s focus these days is anti-LGBTQ first, creationism second.

Don’t Tell Me It’s All About Abortion and Racism

I know, I know: you’re as sick of reading about white evangelical support for President Trump as I am. We keep seeing over and over again that white evangelicals are among Trump’s strongest supporters. But I can’t help it—this morning I came across another bit of evidence that evangelical Trumpism goes deeper than mere strategic considerations. This seems like more proof that some conservative evangelicals feel a much deeper connection to Trumpism than we might think.

Ham fake news tweet

Scientific evidence? …Fake News!

Smart people will give you good explanations for evangelical Trumpism. Some say white evangelicals support Trump because they are all racist. Others will explain that white evangelicals—even younger ones who are okay about LGBTQ rights—support Trump as a strategic move to fight abortion rights.

Those explanations are helpful, as far as they go. But this morning I stumbled across more evidence that confirms my ILYBYGTH hunch: White evangelicals–some of them, at least–don’t just stick with Trump for strategic reasons. They don’t cling to Trump because they like Trump’s racism.

For a lot of the most conservative white evangelicals, Trump isn’t just the least-worst option, he is a rare leader who really gets them.

Exhibit A: This morning, radical creationist leader Ken Ham tweeted out his disgust with mainstream science. As the fundamentalist faction of evangelicalism has done for a hundred years now, Ham protested against the basic assumptions of mainstream thinking. This morning, Ham objected to new findings that might explain the story of Noah’s Ark and the flood.

When scientists wonder if a new discovery of shipwrecks could help explain widespread myths about global flooding, Ham counters that such thinking is clearly ignorant. The real story of Noah Ark and the flood, Ham explains, is in the Book of Genesis.

There’s nothing new about that part of Ham’s argument. Ham’s Trumpish conclusion, however, is telling. As Ham explains,

the author of this article says there was a Flood in Noah’s day as the Bible records, but then the author either didn’t read or totally rejects the details of the account that make it clear Noah’s Flood was global–covering the entire globe. This article is more fake news. [Emphasis added.]

There you have it, folks! “Fake news.” For the most conservative members of the white evangelical network, Trump’s approach to reality matches their own. For decades, fundamentalists have warned that mainstream ideas about sexuality and science were balderdash. Radical creationists like Ken Ham and his mentors have scrambled to prove that the “evidence” of mainstream science can be dismissed.

When Trump stumbled into power, fundamentalists liked more than just Trump’s anti-abortion stance. They liked more than just his support for white racism. In addition to all that, Trump’s vision of reality resonates deeply with white fundamentalists. For them just as much as Trump, the ability to dismiss evidence as “fake news” is deeply satisfying.

I’ll Give You $1,000,000 if This Creationist Plan Works

Here comes Halloween, and in the USA that means giving out candy to neighborhood kids who come to your door dressed as Elsa. The radical creationists at Answers in Genesis have offered their fundamentalist friends a way to spread the gospel among trick-or-treaters. Can we put aside our differences about creationism and evolution for a second just to consider this simple question: Would any child REALLY prefer a creationist tract to a candy bar?

First, a little background: Like a lot of super-conservative Christians, the folks at Answers in Genesis are nervous about Halloween. They warn that this holiday can turn children’s heads and embroil them in the very real dangers of witchcraft and Satanism.

AIG money treats

Want some candy? How about these tracts instead?

What can Christian parents do? AIG suggests giving out tracts featuring dinosaurs and fake million-dollar bills. As AIG leader Ken Ham enthuses,

Kids love these, and it’s a fun way to share the gospel—something worth far more than a million dollars!—with children and their families.

Ken Ham and I disagree on a lot of things, but this just might be the simplest, starkest disagreement we’ve had.

“Kids love these”? Really? I can’t imagine many kids being excited to receive a fake million dollar bill instead of a Kit Kat or Twix. If I were a creation-evangelist, the last thing I would do is replace candy with fake money and creationist propaganda. I can’t imagine a better way to turn kids AWAY from the radical-creationist message.

Why Would a Christian Tell Kids to Cheat?

Usually whenever arch-creationist Ken Ham says something shocking, it is because of the zombie science or harsh anti-LGBTQ animus involved. This time, however, I was shocked to see that Ham seemed to be teaching creationist children to cheat in school.

ken ham gay wedding

Mean-spirited? Sure. But Ham’s recent advice goes even further…

To see why he would do such a thing and to read my take on why Ham’s advice is actually GOOD news for the rest of us, click over to Righting America for my two cents.

The Ink Is Dry!

For all you secular people out there: Have you ever wondered why so many religious people seem determined to make themselves look as stupid as they possibly can? And for the Christians: Tired of people assuming that you hate science? If so, my new book is just for you. I’m happy to announce that I’ve signed a contract for my new book about American creationism and evolution. Jesus and the Dinosaurs: Bridging the Impasse on Teaching Evolution will be published soonish with Oxford University Press.

Jesus on a dinosaur.jpg 1

Why???

Why another book about creationism? A bunch of years ago, my sister-in-law asked me why so many Americans believed in outlandish things, such as a 6,004-year-old planet, and a real, literal, even-though-it-is-absolutely-impossible worldwide flood. As she put it back then, “Why do they keep putting Jesus on a dinosaur?”

This book is my way-too-long answer to her question. I argue that secular people like me and my sister-in-law tend to misunderstand creationism. We tend to think that most creationists hold fairly radical views about religion and science. We tend to think that tons of our fellow Americans–up to 40% if we believe the new Gallup numbers–think that God created our species recently in Iraq.

In my new book, I’m arguing that we Americans have always had the wrong arguments about evolution and creationism. In fact, when it comes right down to it, the crux of our arguments have not really been about evolutionary science at all. Rather, the idea of evolution has been smushed into a contorted shape; “Evolution” has become an ill-fitting stand-in for all kinds of modern and post-modern cultural norms.

gallup creationism 2019

…can this really be true? Can this many Americans really believe in a radical creationist idea?

When radical creationists like Ken Ham and Henry Morris fume and fret about evolution, they are fighting about something much bigger. Yes, they dislike evolutionary ideas. Those ideas, however, are only the canary in the devil’s coalmine. The real dangers–from their perspective–come from a spiritual attitude that spurns God’s authority, that questions gender roles and sexuality, that allows abortion rights and encourages religious skepticism.

aig dangerous public school bus

Answers In Genesis, “One Generation Away,” 2015

As Ken Ham’s organization loves to point out, thinking in evolutionary terms is not necessarily dangerous in itself, but it is very dangerous in its spiritual implications, especially for innocent young minds. Once people believe in a long evolutionary history, Ham warns, they will be open to changing their ideas about sexuality and morality. The public-school bus, Answers In Genesis warns, takes kids down the road to environmentalism, abortion rights, and LBGTQ rights.

So when the radical fringe of young-earth creationism warns about the dangers of evolutionary thinking, they’re not actually angry about evolution itself. Indeed, as I found in the research for my book about evangelical higher education, conservative-evangelical colleges –even including the uber-conservative ones that Ken Ham calls “Creation Colleges” –teach evolutionary theory to their students. They just do it in their own way.

More than that, once we really understand American creationism, we understand that radical young-earth creationists are not typical creationists. When it comes right down to it, most Americans are creationists of one sort or another. Most religious people embrace some vague idea that God (or gods) had a role in creating life. But for most people, that doesn’t mean that we don’t want our children to learn the best modern science. Most Americans are creationists, in other words, and most creationists want their children to learn evolutionary theory.

So why do we keep fighting about evolution? In the new book, I’m making the case that “Evolution” stopped being about evolutionary science a long time ago. When we fight about “Evolution,” we’re not fighting about evolutionary science. We’re fighting about LGBTQ rights, and abortion, and the proper role of evangelical Christianity in our government.

Will my lil book stop all these fights? Course not. But it can’t hurt to clarify the real terms of our culture-war disagreements and stop shouting uselessly across our culture-war trenches.

You’d Think Radical Creationists Would Want to Keep This Quiet

At first glance, one might think that radical young-earth creationists like Ken Ham would want to cover it up. But he doesn’t. Ham loudly crows about the fact that learning science can turn his flock away from his creationist vision of proper Christianity. Once we understand the world of radical American creationism a little better, though, Ham’s strategy makes a lot more sense.

marty sampson ken ham

Why wouldn’t Ken Ham keep this sort of thing quiet?

First, a few background facts. Recently, Marty Sampson of evangelical mega-group Hillsong announced that he was “genuinely losing” his religion.  Sampson later insisted he hadn’t abandoned Christianity, but that his faith was on “shaky ground.” Why? Because, Sampson wrote, among other things, science keeps debunking the basic beliefs of conservative evangelical Christianity.

Now, if we didn’t understand the landscape of American creationism, we might think that radical young-earth creationists like Ken Ham would be embarrassed by such announcements. We might think they wouldn’t want people to know that mainstream science has the power to deflate true religious beliefs.

In fact, though, the opposite is true. Leaders like Ken Ham tweet Sampson’s apostasy from the rooftops. As Ham wrote,

This sad situation about this person is a reminder the church & parents need to teach apologetics to counter today’s attacks on God’s Word.

What’s going on? Why would arch-creationists like Ken Ham advertise the power of mainstream science to puncture conservative evangelical faith? The answer goes back to the 1950s, when modern radical young-earth creationism was born. The real enemy of radical creationism is not modern science, but rather modern evangelical belief that accepts evolutionary theory without abandoning evangelical faith.

Since its inception in the 1950s, radical young-earth creationists have always insisted that only their draw-the-line science can protect Christians from atheism and damnation. The first generation of radical creationists was responding to other evangelical writers such as Bernard Ramm, who made a convincing case that evangelical Christians need not fear modern science. The two could go together.

In response, Ken Ham’s mentor, Henry Morris, teamed up with theologian John Whitcomb Jr. to write The Genesis Flood. In that book, Whitcomb and Morris argued that there was no Ramm-ian middle ground. In spite of what conservative Christians might have heard, Whitcomb and Morris insisted, there were

really only two basic philosophies or religions among mankind.

One was true evangelical Christianity. The other was based in evolutionary thinking, and it showed up in

ancient idolatries or primitive animism or modern existentialism or atheistic communism!

Because there were only two options, W&M argued, Christians faced a stark choice. They could believe in real Christianity, including a steadfast belief in a young earth and the recent miraculous creation of humanity, or they could choose evolutionary thinking, a philosophy that

must have its source in the pride and selfishness of man and ultimately in the pride and deception of the great adversary, Satan himself.

For Ken Ham and his mentor Henry Morris, the essential reason for adhering to young-earth doctrine was because the only other option was atheism. Marty Sampson’s public agonies over faith and science only bolster that faith. For Sampson, doubt and skepticism seem to lead directly to rejection and atheism. There is no suggestion of a middle ground, of a world in which one can be 100% Christian yet accept modern science. For Ken Ham and other radical creationists, that is music to their ears.