Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
The Irrelevance of Evidence | Righting America

by Rodney Kennedy

We are pleased to welcome Baptist minister Dr. Rod Kennedy back to the blog, this time to connect the economic, religious, and political dots.

The connections are striking. The economic ideology of a free and unrestrained market, the religious populism of creationism, and the political populism of Mr. Trump. Each of these ideologies emphasizes blind faith that has little or no room for evidence.

Start with capitalism. The free market’s true believers have dug up the body buried in the Great Depression and propped it up against a Wall Street office building and claimed that it is alive and well. As Robert McElvaine puts it in The Great Depression (1984), “The Market-God worshipping forensic economists and historians exhumed the corpse of the twenties economy and pronounced it to have been in good health at the time of its demise; the result was to clear the way for the decriminalized deregulation, tax-slashing for the highest income groups, a rapidly growing concentration of income among the very richest people, and staunch opposition to unions.”

Then there’s creationism. Biologists tell us that evolution has never been on more solid ground than it is today (Kenneth R. Miller, Only a Theory, 2008). Notwithstanding the evidence, creationists persist in demonizing evolution and those who teach and support it. They claim that evolution is “just a theory” in a clever twisted change in the meaning of “theory” in science. In science, a “theory” defines the currently accepted “truth” and “facts” of science with the disclaimer that science is never arrogant and always subject to its truths and facts being replaced. But creationists try to define “theory” as assumption, opinion, and ideology.

The owner-operator of the Creation Museum, Ken Ham, regales his audience with the strange claim, “I don’t interpret scripture; I just read it.” This plays well in the parallel universe of conservative evangelicals. “Trust the clear message of God” is juxtaposed with “the interpretation of man.” That this is an impossible claim matters not at all to the audience. Tell them that the Hebrew text translated into English is itself an interpretation and eyes glaze over, boredom sets in, and the suspicion that you are a secret agent of Satan rolls over the crowd like fog.

The faith that market-worshippers and creationists have in this particular brand of populism is also reflected in Trump supporters. This faith is so unquestioning that any piece of evidence that contradicts their beliefs is simply discounted. The media is attacked for dispensing “fake news.” Recently, Ms. Kellyanne Conway coined the term “alternative facts” – an incredible oxymoron – to cover outright “pants on fire” lies by President Trump’s press secretary.

The frustration that this engenders in people accustomed to facts, evidence, and critical thinking is that our methods are now discounted. In the world of the media, there is almost no challenger to the populism of conservative evangelicals and their message. Couched in an alleged literalism, we have a set of hypotheses revolving principally around creationism, the Rapture, and a revisionist reading of American history, all of which are dangerous to the health of this planet and to the survival of the human race.

There’s something strangely amiss in a world where truth no longer matters; this is especially disruptive when one of the primary dispensers of this dangerous ideology is a version of Christian faith.

Thus I maintain my initial argument: There are three related movements (first cousins at least) – creationism, political populism, and economic free market ideology – that now dominate the American political/religious/economic landscape. In the words of our new president, he will be able to do as he pleases because people just don’t care. I remain hopeful that he will be as wrong about this as creationists are about the age of the earth.