Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
Education is the Greatest Threat | Righting America

by William Trollinger

According to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG), the nation is in the midst of a terrible spiritual struggle, as true Bible-believing Christians valiantly fight the forces of secularism and atheism in a desperate attempt to save the soul of America. And in this culture war, who is the most dangerous soldier in Satan’s army?

That’s easy. He or she is standing at the front of the classroom.

At the Creation Museum the film “Men in White” features a young woman named Wendy, a “young woman who wants to believe there is a God who created the universe, who wants to believe her life has meaning, but who does not want to look stupid for rejecting . . . evolutionary science.” According to the film, “the cultural voices that have put Wendy in such despair . . . are located in the educational establishment.” The arch-villain is a high school science teacher, Mr. Snodgrass, who “speaks in a nasal whine . . . dron[es] on and on about the age of the Earth . . . [and proclaims] that ‘there is no God who intervenes in the world!’” (Righting America 150-152)

At Ark Encounter – in the graphic novel-like “Why the Bible is True” exhibit – the setting is a large university, complete with imposing darkly-hued buildings and unsupervised undergraduates who spend their free time in drunken debauchery.   

The placard that sets the stage for the exhibit’s dramatic action portrays a large lecture hall with enough seats to accommodate 700 students or so. The seats are fixed in rows that form a semi-circle around a large center stage and are steeply raked as in a professional sports stadium. The professor stands on the large center stage. The lighting, which is set in the very high ceiling, casts shadows throughout the hall that are so dark as to render many surfaces completely black. Otherwise, the colors in the hall are cool—greys, blues, greens. Importantly, the three main figures in the story – Andre, Gabby, and Ryo – are sitting in the last row of the lecture hall. The viewer is positioned by the placard as sitting or standing just off to their right. From this location, the professor on the stage appears tiny. The professor is so distant and so small that the viewer cannot make out his/her gender (we learn in a later placard that the professor is a woman), and thus appears as a very distant authority figure who is unknowable, unapproachable, and likely uninterested in her students.

Her class is World Religions, and here’s what she has to say about the Bible:

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. The Bible wasn’t even put together until the Council of Nicaea in 325. It’s gone through countless revisions and translations. There’s no way to know what was originally written.

As she is lecturing Ryo and Gabby turn to Andre – a stalwart fundamentalist – and ask how he can really believe the Bible is true. Andre replies by saying they will talk after class. Much of the rest of the exhibit is devoted to Andre (who is positioned as the expert) explaining to his friends that the professor is teaching untruth and that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. For evidence Andre recommends “one of his favorite websites that addresses objections to the Bible,” which just happens to feature the content of  two of the placards at the entrance to the exhibit.

This is a fundamentalist fantasy tale in the form of a giant cartoon. A placard here, a website there, and poof, good-bye so-called Ph.D. experts. As AiG tells the story, it is ridiculously easy for fundamentalists to dispose of the educational elite and their false teachings. (AiG even sells a video that, so it is claimed, teaches viewers to “refute evolution in less than three minutes.”)

Oddly enough, however, the overwhelming message one takes away from “The Bible is True” exhibit is that universities and colleges – down to their ominously-hued buildings – are actually very unsafe places for Christian students. For every Andre, who has been so thoroughly steeped in AiG teachings that he is immune to the university’s “false teachings,” there are apparently hundreds of students who are being brainwashed by professors who are hostile to biblical truth. In this sense the exhibit seems like one big advertisement for AiG’s  “Creation Colleges.”  Safe places like Dayspring Bible College, God’s Bible School and College, and, of course, Cedarville University.

Not sure it is a great selling point for fundamentalism that the only safe place for fundamentalist youth is inside the fundamentalist bubble.