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The Ever-Deepening Scandal of the Evangelical Mind | Righting America

by William Trollinger

In 1994 historian Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, which he famously begins with the devastating assertion that “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” (3). While Noll gives many examples to make his case, he clinches his argument with a discussion of young Earth creationism, which he described as “the firmest indication that the damaging intellectual habits of fundamentalism maintain a powerful grip in the evangelical world” (208).

Twenty-three years after Noll wrote these words, we have a young Earth creationist theme park in Kentucky that claims a global Flood drowned upwards of twenty billion human beings four millennia ago, in the process creating the geological formations we see today. If one uses Ark Encounter as the measure, “not much of an evangelical mind” would seem to be an overly generous assessment of intellectual life in conservative Protestantism.

Someone might object, however, that it is too easy – akin to shooting fish in a barrel — to use “creation science” as an example of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Moreover, when it comes to young Earth creationists, what they really care about most is making the case for the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, errorless, authoritative, and factually accurate in all that it discusses.    

In this regard, this past February Ark Encounter held a ribbon-cutting ceremony (complete with live-stream video for those who could not be in attendance) for its new exhibit, “Why the Bible is True,” which it touts as providing “five evidences . . . that, when taken together, demonstrate the truthfulness of the Bible.” These “evidences” proving the Bible is true (i.e., “true” meaning “inerrant” in fundamentalist parlance) are contained in five placards at the entrance to the exhibit:

  • “The Bible is God’s Word” – The Bible says it is “God-breathed,” and as God “cannot lie” and God “cannot make mistakes,” then the Bible is inerrant, a teaching that “applies to the original manuscripts.”
  • “The Bible is Unique and Unified” – Despite the fact that there are 66 books, the Bible “remains unified,” “maintains perfect unity,” and “exhibits amazing consistency.”
  • “The Bible Has Been Faithfully Passed Down” – The “scribes who copied Scripture took great care in their work,” as evinced by the “extraordinary consistency between . . . the Dead Sea Scrolls” and “the Leningrad Codex, [which] dates to the early eleventh century.”
  • “The Bible Contains Fulfilled Prophecy” – As evidenced by the biblical predictions regarding the Messiah, “only the Bible contains accurate, predictive prophecy, because only the God of the Bible knows the future and has the power to bring it to pass.”
  • “The Bible Holds the Key to Eternal Life” – “The Bible’s ultimate message answers our greatest need and meets our deepest yearning.”

In what sense do these placards “demonstrate the truthfulness of the Bible”? How does the circular argument that 2 Timothy 3:15 (a favorite fundamentalist verse) says the Bible is “God-breathed” prove that the Bible is true, much less inerrant? What does it mean to claim that the Bible “maintains perfect unity” and “exhibits amazing consistency,” and where is the evidence to make such claims? Since we do not have the original manuscripts (how many Ark visitors know this point?), how do we know for certain that the Bible has been faithfully transmitted over the millennia?

The point here is not whether or not these various claims – they are not evidences – are true. The point is that at Ark Encounter the “argument” on behalf of biblical inerrancy consists of five placards filled with unsubstantiated assertions and circular arguments. Thin intellectual gruel, indeed. Remarkably enough, these five placards are the most substantive section of “Why the Bible is True.” The vast majority of the exhibit is designed in the form of a graphic novel in which three college students grapple with secularism, binge drinking, and casual sex before coming to the conclusion that the Bible really is true in everything it says, including when it comes to history and science.

A fundamentalist fantasy tale in the form of a giant cartoon: here then is the argument for biblical inerrancy at Ark Encounter. The scandal deepens. The mind vanishes.