Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Anti-Vaxxers and Answers in Genesis | Righting America

by William Trollinger (with Susan Trollinger)

“They are concerned about a virus that doesn’t kill very many people at all.” – Georgia Purdom, Answers in Genesis (AiG)

“They are trying to manipulate me into getting a vaccine that I don’t believe in and don’t see any need for.” – Heidi St. John, The Busy Mom

Photo of Kentucky State Representative Savannah Maddox in a red trial blazer standing outside next to Ken Ham in a suit and sunglasses.
Kentucky State Representative Savannah Maddox with Ken Ham at the Ark Encounter Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. Image via Twitter.

AiG’s token female, Georgia Purdom, recently joined Heidi St. John (a big AiG fan) on the latter’s fundamentalist podcast to discuss the “Christian Statement on Science for Pandemic Times,” a statement put out by the evangelical science organization, BioLogos (whose founder, Francis Collins, received in May the Templeton Prize for Science “for his commitment to challenging the idea that science and religion are at odds”). In their statement BioLogos – which in good evangelical fashion uses biblical passages to reinforce their argument —  argues that Christians, as Christians, should respond to COVID by wearing a mask, getting vaccinated when a safe vaccine is developed, and working for social justice.

In contrast to the reasoned and empathetic document put out by BioLogos, the level of vitriol from Purdom and St. John is really quite astonishing. They bombard listeners with a series of ad hominem attacks (which, of course, is the Christian Right’s favorite tactic, notwithstanding that it is a logical fallacy). To give a few examples: 

  • The folks at BioLogos are emotionally and spiritually manipulative.
  • The folks at BioLogos are hypocrites of this highest order.
  • The folks at BioLogos are deceptive, very sly, and “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

St. John refers to the BioLogos statement as “Christian drivel” and “sloppy agape” (she apparently is quite fond of the latter rhyme, as she uses it repeatedly). She asserts that, in using biblical passages to reinforce the argument that Christians should wear masks and get vaccines, BioLogos is engaging in a gross misuse, a “twisting,” of Scriptures. In fact, their use of the Bible is “heretical.” And people fall for it because they don’t know their Bible, which has absolutely nothing to say about wearing masks or getting vaccines.

(This is an argument? Really? “Love your neighbor” is confined to specific practices mentioned in the Bible? And how is that the biblical authors could have possibly come up with masks and vaccines?) 

According to St. John, people fall for this “drivel” – i.e., getting a vaccine to protect yourself and others is in keeping with Jesus’ admonition to love one another — because they are being swayed by the propaganda put out by Fauci and the National Institutes of Health (propaganda that is apparently driven by the desire to make big bucks on vaccines). BioLogos is part of this propaganda machine, engaging in emotional and spiritual manipulation in an effort “to manipulate me [and others] into getting a vaccine that I don’t believe in and don’t see any need for.”

One of the subtexts of this podcast is that the BioLogos statement is prima facie evidence that Christianity in America is in serious decline. For both St. John and Purdom, it is appalling that so many professors from Christian colleges and seminaries signed this statement. While St. John suggests that they did not know what they were signing, Purdom argues that these are evolutionist academics who reject biblical inerrancy and authority, and who knew exactly what they were signing.

Purdom goes on to attack BioLogos for telling people that “Christians should listen to scientists and doctors . . . That’s a logical fallacy, that’s an appeal to authority.”

Three comments here:

  1. Really? The message is that Christians should not listen to scientists and doctors? 
  2. Purdom does not seem to understand logical fallacies. (Perhaps if she did, she would not so readily launch into ad hominem attacks). The argument from authority is quite common and quite reasonable. For as long as human beings have been deliberating about things, they have constructed arguments that say something like this: I believe this is so or this is good or this is what we should to; but don’t just take my word for it; consider the wisdom of so-and-so who has expertise in the matter (whether through experience or educational training). In other words, the person making the argument is borrowing the credibility or authority of the source to support their argument. As one would learn in any college-level course on argumentation, this is not a logical fallacy.
  3. But there is something particularly hilarious here. Just a few minutes before she makes this statement, Purdom attacks evangelical academics for rejecting biblical authority! This is an appeal to authority, and, in fact, the vast majority of arguments put forth by AiG involve appeals to authority. (In fact, appeals to authority are all they have.) Now, what Purdom and Ham and others would say is that they have the right authority and non-fundamentalists have the wrong authority . . . ok, but they are still appealing to authority, which Purdom claims is a logical fallacy.

Purdom also attacks BioLogos for engaging in a stealth campaign, using the pandemic to get their evolutionary ideas into Christian churches and Christian schools and Christian homeschooling organizations. They “are very, very sly,” they “are sheep in wolves’ clothing.”

More than this, the folks at BioLogos are hypocrites: “they are concerned about a virus that doesn’t kill very many people at all,” but they say nothing about abortion.

A comment and a question:

  1. I have suspected that AiG is rife with folks who see the notion of a COVID pandemic as a hoax, and Purdom’s comment that it “doesn’t kill many people at all” tells me that I am right. 
  2. And here’s my question. AiG has constructed a tourist attraction that commemorates (celebrates?) the drowning of up to 20 billion human beings in Noah’s Flood. And it is estimated that at any point in time 2% of the female population on Earth is pregnant. So if there were 10 billion women on the planet at the time of Noah’s Flood, then 200,000,000 women were pregnant. 200,000,000 unborn killed in just a few days. So divine genocidal abortion is ok? That is to say, how does the biblical story they tell fit with their professed concern for the killing of unborn innocents?

In Kentucky, two state representatives have proposed a bill that would make it illegal for any state agency or entity to require immunizations. One of these representatives, Savannah Maddox, is from Grant County, where Ark Encounter is located. And she is quite the Ken Ham supporter, as seen in one of these photos. (Note that in the photo below, Maddox is with a racist supporter flashing the “white power” gesture).

Photo of Kentucky State Representative Savannah Maddox in red blazer standing outside next to a woman dressed in army camo and holding a rifle making white supremacist gestures.
Kentucky State Representative Savannah Maddox poses with a woman using white supremacist gesture during a May, 2020 rally against COVID-19 restrictions in her state. Image courtesy of Courier-Journal.

No surprise. Anti-vaccination, anti-mask regulations, climate change denial – so it is at Answers in Genesis.

And all this fits with the frightening reality that many evangelicals are caught up in the QAnon conspiracy.

And here is a link to the Purdom/St. John podcast.