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The Ark and The Darkness: A Review

by Amanda Harpold

Poster for The Art and the Darkness. Image via moviegoer.com.

Amanda Harpold is a Ph.D. student at the University of Dayton. Her research interests have included patristic studies, as well as the practical theology of funeral homilies on evangelicals’ understanding of Heaven and Jesus’ second coming. She is currently researching the historiographical impact of “Red Letter Bibles” on the American Protestant Church. She continues to identify as an Evangelical Protestant despite feeling the theological tension associated with the title. For those who are interested, she is not a Young Earth Creationist.

The Ark and the Darkness, a documentary which serves as an apologetic for a global flood, held a special, two-day theater showing in Dayton on March 20 and 21 (an additional showing has been added for April 1st). It was produced and directed by Ralph Strean, who also directed Genesis: Paradise Lost, a 2017 documentary shot in a similar vein to prove the Bible’s account of creation (or, better stated, a specific interpretation of the Bible’s account of creation). 

The Ark and the Darkness presents the “greatest evidence” God has left for a global flood from a group of  Ph.D.-level specialists in multiple research fields – geophysics, microbiology, genetics, paleontology, theology, mechanical engineering, and geology. These men and one woman are associated with Liberty University (Drs. John Baumgardner, Randall Price, and Mark Horstemeyer), Answers in Genesis (Drs. Terry Mortensen, Tim Chaffey, Gabriela Haynes, and Andrew Snelling), and a few independent specialists from creationist organizations (Drs. Charles Jackson, John Sanford, and Andrew Fabich). 

Their explicit goal is to link belief in a global flood with belief in the Bible and, therefore, belief in the eschatological perspective of Jesus’ imminent return. 

The film opens with the narrator, Jerren Lewis, asking the question, “Why don’t people believe?” As I sat in a sold-out theater in Dayton (with the next day sold out as well), it struck me that the producers of this documentary do not think people need the Holy Spirit to believe in God’s revealed Truth as found in Scripture. Rather, they need access to “true science.” Their univocal claims promulgated to a lay crowd with many only completing a high school training created a compelling apologetic. A person in said crowd could easily (and most likely will) walk away thinking it would be unintelligent to believe in anything else! Who needs faith in light of such obvious evidence?

The movie traverses through Genesis 1-11, with arguments by creation specialists supported by well-crafted scenes of pre- and post-flood earth. The film becomes a mix of a Discovery Channel documentary and Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. As your eyes take in a fallen world where man now must fear and be feared by animals (an interesting scene occurs with men collaring a smaller dinosaur while also hunting larger dinosaurs with spears), your ears hear how the “real” science of a global flood has been covered up. God has left discoverable and observable evidence, such as genetic entropy, post-flood lifespans’ decay curve, catastrophic plate tectonics creating multiple tsunamis, or collagen in dinosaur fossils. That the science of Antonio Snider-Pellegrini, Mary Schweitzer, and Mark Armitage has been squelched and silenced proves that the evil scientists of secular humanism do not want the “true” science of the flood to come out. 

If that is not explicit enough, the film includes a graphic with the “Holy Bible – King James Version” on one side, and “secular humanism” on the other. For the producers of this film, the choice is one or the other. They drive this dichotomy home with multiple sequences of the ark’s doors closing, with the viewer’s position being safe inside. 

The eschatological bent of the film is rooted in the verse, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:37, NIV). For the specialists and the production team creating the sprawling land shots, “as in the days of Noah” has to do with the sin and corruption occurring in the world; this perspective pans to a crowd already brought into a premillennial dispensation of the coming tribulation. 

As the movie ends with a triumphal shot of the cross being raised high into the air, the screen goes black and John 3:16 comes up. Their proof of a global flood thus becomes the foundation for believing the rest of the Bible, specifically Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and, most importantly, His return. 

I cannot speak to the science they presented or the potential flaws or even falsehoods held within those views. But as an evangelical Christian, I can speak to their use of the Scriptures. Their apologetic technique is to build confidence that the Bible is more scientific than that of the “worldly” scientists. Their specialists repeat again and again that God, in His infinite wisdom, left the greatest evidence of a global flood so that we can be confident in His other promises, namely Jesus’ return. 

And yet, the Bible has already spoken to the observable evidence left on the earth of Jesus’ life: our unity. “ I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23, NIV). 

Tourists on the Road to Salvation

Cover for Steve Burgess’ forthcoming book Reservations: The Pleasures and Perils of Travel.

Below is an excerpt from Steve Burgess’ forthcoming book, Reservations: The Pleasures and Perils of Travel, which will be published by Douglas and McIntyre, and which is scheduled for release on April 27. As regards the quotes regarding the Creation Museum, they come from a November 2022 interview Sue did with Burgess. And here’s a link to the original article, which was published by The Tyee, a magazine out of British Columbia.

People are lined up outside. In front of them is a massive wooden boat resting on metal pillars.
Now boarding: visitors approach a purported replica of Noah’s ark at Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky. Photo via Wikimedia.

[Editor’s note: This is excerpted from ‘Reservations: The Pleasures and Perils of Travel’ by Steve Burgess, contributing editor of The Tyee. Slated for April 27 release by Douglas & McIntyre, the book mixes memoir with deep dives into ethical aspects of modern travel to deliver what Andrew Coyne calls ‘a sparkling, provocative inquiry.’ You can pre-order.]

Back in the 1970s, the highway served the function now provided by the internet — a place for teenagers to meet strangers. One summer my friend Bob and I hitchhiked from Brandon out to Vancouver and then down the coast to San Francisco. Coming back up the California coast, we got a ride in a Volkswagen Beetle with two young women named Ann and Dorothy. They were born-again Christians on their way to visit a commune near Eureka, California, called Lighthouse Ranch. 

They took pains not to proselytize to us. In fact, the great revelation they introduced us to, sheltered prairie lads that we were, was the joy of bagels and cream cheese. They promised to take us farther north after their visit if we would join them in a visit to the commune. We agreed.

Lighthouse Ranch was quite a place. Perched on a bluff overlooking a wide stretch of Pacific beach, it was largely populated by people who were then known as Jesus freaks, a mix of one-time hippies, seekers and reformed speed addicts, repositioning and reprogramming themselves as devout believers. Many seemed eager for that moment when the corrupt world would slide away and leave them triumphant, rewarded for backing the right horse.

They were not a particularly fun group. There was a game of Frisbee where my comment about a gust of wind drew the response, “That’s just the Lord throwing your pride back down at you.” 

One camper waylaid Bob and me as we attempted to sneak down the bluff to the beach. 

“What good is that gathering,” the camper asked, pointing down at a family barbecue, “when they have lust in their hearts?”

One young man was on the lam from the law and argued with his fellow campers. “God wants you to turn yourself in,” someone insisted.

“God wants me to go to Mexico,” he replied.

When at last the four of us headed north into Oregon, our benefactors were sorely disappointed. Pure of heart and sincere of belief, Ann and Dorothy had hoped to find like-minded souls to celebrate a new life in Christ. Instead they had found Jesus variously running the Anti-Barbecue League, smuggling fugitives to Tijuana and reveling in that old-time told-you-so religion that would be revealed in the fullness of time when the righteous were high-fiving above a roiling stew of human agony.

Lighthouse Ranch was not exactly a tourist destination. But it exerted a pull for Ann and Dorothy, who sought Christian soulmates. 

Decades later a similar pull is drawing crowds to Petersburg, Kentucky. An unincorporated community with an official population of about 620, it sits by Interstate 275, the ring road that allows motorists to bypass Cincinnati, Ohio. The little town is home to the Creation Museum. An hour away in Williamstown is its companion attraction, the Ark Encounter.

The Creation Museum is a $27-million, 75,000-square-foot facility that purports to offer evidence supporting YEC (young-Earth creationism). The museum grounds are about 75 kilometres northwest of Williamstown and the Ark Encounter, a reconstruction (let’s not quibble) of Noah’s ark from the Book of Genesis.

If nothing else, Selling the Amish author Susan Trollinger says, the big boat is an impressive sight. “The Ark is stunning, physically, just walking up to the thing,” she says. “And the biggest argument the Ark makes is just by its size, that it makes sense to say that this story actually happened, that you could actually get that many animals on this thing and float around for a year.”

Trollinger and her husband, William Vance Trollinger Jr., wrote the book Righting America at the Creation Museum. Operated by a company called Answers in Genesis, the museum posits an intriguing theory known as “flood geology,” drawing heavily on The Genesis Flood by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb. “The book argues that Noah’s flood created all the geological formations that we see that make the world look old,” Trollinger says, “and did it all in a year. The Grand Canyon, produced in a year, don’t worry about it.”

“If you’re going to read Genesis literally,” she says, “go through the genealogies. You’ve got Adam and Eve, historical figures, who have descendants, and you add up all those years, and the universe can’t be more than 10,000 years old. So you have to explain that. And flood geology was this scientific intervention that explained it.” 

Count Trollinger and her husband among the unconvinced. “We walked through the Creation Museum for the first time,” she says, “and we passed through the flood geology room. There’s very little science. We analyzed every placard and video. Only two per cent of the placards would count as science, even by their own definitions.”

Not that there are no worthwhile exhibits. “They have an incredible skeleton of a dinosaur, really impressive,” Trollinger says. “So OK, how does this dinosaur skeleton prove a young Earth, or flood geology? They argue that because this dinosaur was found on the side of a hill, obviously the dinosaur was running up the hill to escape the rising flood waters. But then the poor dinosaur drowned and that’s why the skeleton was found on the side of a hill.”

A somewhat creepy-feeling exhibit of a young girl near a velociraptor. They are surrounded by plastic ferns and other foliage.
At the Creation Museum in Kentucky, exhibits satisfy biblical timelines, if not science, by portraying an era when dinosaurs supposedly mixed with humans. The theme park has drawn over 10 million visitors. Photo by David Berkowitz, Creative Commons licensed.

The Creation Museum opened in 2007 and exceeded its annual attendance projections in only five months. It has since expanded twice, added the Williamstown ark attraction and welcomed over 10 million visitors.

Why has the Creation Museum been a hit? You might call it validation tourism.

“Evangelicals and fundamentalists have felt very much on the margins of U.S. society since the Scopes trial,” says Trollinger, referring to the 1925 prosecution of a Tennessee high school teacher who taught the theory of evolution. “They won the case but they lost in public opinion. They were constructed, by journalists especially, as backwater idiots. They don’t know anything, they don’t do science, they’re stupid. And what the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter offer evangelicals and fundamentalists is this ‘science,’ flood geology, that justifies an ultra-literal reading of Genesis. And it says, ‘Look at you! You’re legit! You’ve got yourself a big-ass Ark and a Creation Museum with animatronic dinosaurs. So cutting edge!’”

In 2014 the Creation Museum invited TV personality Bill Nye, a.k.a. Bill Nye the Science Guy, to debate Answers in Genesis CEO Ken Ham on the topic of young-Earth creationism. It was popular — tickets sold out almost instantly, it was livestreamed, and later broadcast on C‑SPAN. 

“When Ken Ham did his debate with Bill Nye,” Trollinger says, “he mentioned science multiple times more often than Nye did.” Still, Ham declared in his opening statement that science “has been taken over by secularists.” The debate, moderated by CNN’s Tom Foreman, probably changed few minds. But it did have an effect. Ham credited publicity from the debate for generating some of the funds to help build the $73-million Ark Encounter, which opened in 2016. 

The event also provided a preview of another debate that would soon take centre stage in American politics, courtesy of Donald Trump: whether or not engaging in public arguments over unsupported claims simply helps to boost the credibility and dissemination of those baseless claims.

Many a joke has been made about what sort of reading material would be contained in a Donald Trump presidential library — perhaps stolen documents, Big Mac wrappers and shelves of clearance-priced copies of Trump: The Art of the Deal. But whatever else it may mean, the success of the Creation Museum suggests that a Trump library would probably be a big draw. In a politically and culturally polarized country, there is considerable appeal in an attraction that simply lets you gather with fellow believers.

Then again, as has become a mantra, “everything Trump touches dies.” Religious-themed sites can self-destruct. In 1978 evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, televangelists and founders of the PTL (Praise the Lord) Club, opened Heritage USA in Fort Mill, South Carolina. It covered 2,300 acres and eventually drew an average of six million visitors per year, surpassed only by Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim, making it America’s No. 1 non-rodent-related theme park. Alas, a veritable rat’s nest of charges would surface in 1987 as former employee Jessica Hahn alleged she had been drugged and raped by Bakker and another preacher. 

Heritage USA then transitioned from Bible verses to Chapter 11. In a final display of divine displeasure, Hurricane Hugo slammed into the theme park in 1989. It closed shortly after, a victim in part of the particular PR vulnerability that comes with religious marketing.

The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism: A Review

By Andrew J. McNeely

Andrew McNeely is a Ph.D. student in Theology at the University of Dayton. McNeely’s research interests include 19th and 20th century fundamentalism and evangelicalism at the intersections of theology, education, history, politics, and American culture. His dissertation research focuses on the 20th century Christian Day School movement and its contributions to contemporary American evangelicalism and the formation of the Christian Right.

Book cover of Tim Alberta’s The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory. Image via Amazon.

In his recent book, The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, Tim Alberta apprises his readers of the characteristic evangelical he discovered on his journey into the bloated underbelly of American evangelicalism:

“Whether it was a big urban church or a small rural church, a mainstream event with respected headliners or a sideshow circus featuring professional grifters, I kept running into people like Jim Wright” (p. 174). 

Who is Jim Wright? He is just one among a multitude of evangelical-turned-Trump-fanatics that have betrayed the truth of the Gospel for the perpetuation of myth telling in the age of conspiracy and political extremism. Chronicling the evangelical ecosystem that has nurtured folks like Jim Wright into believing that Covid-19 vaccines carry “baby parts,” Alberta illustrates what evangelicalism actually looks like on the other side of total depravity. The once great Billy Graham crusades to save souls have now been replaced by crusades to slay imaginary beasts lurking in the deep state. Zealous alter calls for the beleaguered and downtrodden no longer hold sway over radical calls to “drain the swamp” of an evil cabal of politicians. What Alberta renders is a monstrous-like evangelicalism akin to Nietzsche’s famous dictum: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” 

In Alberta’s telling, evangelicalism has not only fallen into Nietzsche’s abyss, but it’s emerged a monster.

The son of an evangelical pastor, an established journalist, and the author of a critical book about Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the Oval Office, Alberta knows firsthand what it’s like to encounter the monster. After the unexpected passing of his father, Alberta was met with cold stares and angry confrontations at the viewing held in his hometown church of Brighton, Michigan (the very church his father pastored for twenty-six years) – “All while [his] Dad was in a box a hundred feet away” (p. 7). The reason? Rush Limbaugh had recently lampooned Alberta on his talk show for the critical remarks made in his first book regarding Trump. 

Jarring as it was bizarre, the experience precipitated Alberta’s descent into the wild inferno of the politico-evangelical machine that has, in recent years, become an incubation station for the cult of Trump. Sojourning nationwide events at churches, conferences, and rallies, including the fundamentalist empire of Liberty University, Alberta documents the slapdash quackery and slipshod antics of bad faith actors exploiting the eccentric dynamics of contemporary evangelicalism. Starting his account with an investigation of his father’s church–having recently transitioned to a new senior pastor–Alberta maps what might be considered a blueprint model of underlying fault lines that countless churches experienced in the rupture of pandemic church attendance fallout. 

Distress during the pandemic seldom occasioned concern over a contagion that took the lives of manifold people, ushering in, instead, a new wave of paranoia over government power. In an effort to mitigate Covid-19 spread, limitations exercised by state authorities over in-person church services harkened back to a Cold War evangelical pastime: fighting government elites who are out to get you. The tools in this fight, conspiracy and panic, are familiar. “Some in [the] congregation swore that the virus was a hoax cooked up by globalist elites who wanted to control the population,” Alberta tells us, while others demanded that the church staff speak out against Black Lives Matter and the fake election results of Joe Biden. After one staff member was fired for QAnon proselytizing, many longstanding members were fed up, leading a mass exodus out of the church.

But Alberta doesn’t allow his readers to brush this single occurrence off as an oddity unique to Paula White’s holy roller Christianity or to Rushdoony buffoonery: “This belief wasn’t limited to Pentecostals and their so-called charismatic spiritual practices, or to fringe fundamentalists, or to Dominionists, the nascent hardliners who seek to merge church and state under biblical law.” To the contrary, “this was accepted dogma for conservative Christians of every tribe and affiliation” (p. 20).

It’s here that Alberta stakes the major claim of his book that “what these groups shared was a prophetic certainty, promulgated by the evangelical movement for decades, that godless Democrats would one day launch a frontal assault on Christianity in America” (p. 20). However, an uneasy tension sits at the center of Alberta’s analysis. It remains unclear whether or not what Alberta depicts throughout his account represents an evangelicalism that chiefly shares a continuity with the past or a discontinuity activated by the recent turn toward Trumpian allegiance. On the one hand, as just quoted above, Alberta recognizes the current trends as having historical precedence, but, on the other hand, he refers to new impulses within the movement: “Something was happening on the religious right, something more menacing and extreme than anything that preceded it. This was no longer about winning elections and preserving culture. This was about destroying enemies and dominating the country by any means necessary” (p. 258). Alberta never fully untangles this knot, but those who have studied the history of 20th century fundamentalism know that there is ample continuity, for example, between the theology and politics of early fundamentalists such as William Bell Riley and contemporary evangelical preachers such as Greg Locke. 

This aside, Alberta does make clear that what is currently being witnessed isn’t fringe, nor is it a one-off. Rather, it’s the outworking of an evangelical framework that evinces a Manichean vision of a contested cosmos between good and evil, primarily manifested in the cultural and political spheres. What’s so fascinating in Alberta’s telling of these current dynamics is how his subjects transpose spiritual struggle against the “cosmic powers of this present darkness” into the fantasizing of subversion and violence against “flesh and blood.” Again, Jim Wright: “The Bible says we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the powers of the air. But those powers of the air are becoming more physical, more flesh and blood…We’re seeing it every day” (p. 173). Not only does this counter Paul’s teaching, but it would likely make Frank Peretti blush. 

Nowhere was the evangelical grassroots mania more palpable than the ReAwaken America Tour in Branson, Missouri. Alberta uncovers a plethora of zany “hucksters and spin doctors and straight-up sociopaths,” each, in turn, “preying on the anxious masses of Missouri.” Shopping booths were organized in rows under a wide tent, selling knick-knacks, books, paintings, apparel, and other oddities sold by countless swindlers. “Here, people panicked about Big Pharma’s trickery were toting around boxes of unregulated vitamins” (p. 265). This was “the hottest ticket in the underworld of right-wing evangelicalism” (p. 263). Opening speakers espoused conspiracies that landed somewhere between New Age mysticism and Hal Lindsey’s apocalypticism. The two architects of the Tour, Michael Flynn and Clay Clark, warned “that globalists had weaponized the Covid-19 pandemic to push lockdowns that would give them control of the world population.” Flynn and Clark further whipped up panic by indicating that the “World Economic Forum” sought to conduct a “Great Reset,” which purportedly “would result in a secular, tyrannical one-world government.” Seeing through the enemy’s schemes, the two informed the audience that their mission was to resurrect a “Christian supremacy” in addition to an “American sovereignty” in their restoring of a Christian America (p. 264). 

Alberta balances his account of the populist persuasion and grassroots politicking by also investigating evangelical related institutions and institutional figureheads who refuse to bow out. Equally spoiling for a fight, social media influencers like Charlie Kirk, political activists like Ralph Reed, conservative authors like Eric Metaxas, and pseudo-historians like David Barton, repeatedly exploit the fears and anxieties of an evangelical movement that has, for decades, operated under the assumption that their traditional conservative values are being seized and taken captive. Liberty University, under the leadership of Jerry Falwell Jr., teamed up with Kirk in establishing the “Falkirk Center”–a right-wing think tank–to counter leftist subterfuge. Throughout his presidency, Falwell dissolved the philosophy department, censored student newspapers critical of Trump’s politics, and “turned the school into a satellite location for the Conservative Political Action Conference, disseminating ad hominem insults and deranged conspiracy theories throughout campus” (p. 80). Liberty quickly became a bastion of Trumpian craze.

And in case Alberta’s readers consider Falwell’s charlatanry low hanging fruit, then consider Robert Jeffress, lead Pastor of First Baptist Dallas, once a church home to Billy Graham, and a current influential force in the Southern Baptist Convention. Jeffress’ starstruck admiration for Trump is well documented, but what Alberta exposes is a pastor who has betrayed the Gospel for the golden calf of political power and powerful connections. “Jeffress never allowed one beam of daylight between himself and the forty-fifth president”: 

“It paid off…Attendance at First Baptist Dallas boomed during Trump’s four years. Money poured into the church. Jeffress’ salary jumped. Fox News gave him more and more airtime. His phone book bulged with A-list Republicans. He became a regular at the White House. Yet all the while, Jeffress was laying his spiritual authority on the line, his service to Jesus Christ largely indistinguishable from his servitude to Donald Trump” (p. 108). 

Dissenters of extremist evangelicalism also feature prominently in Alberta’s account. Russell Moore, while president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, traded in his SBC credentials after years of witnessing all kinds of cover-ups from the denomination’s leadership. Moore’s personal story and resignation attests to how deep Alberta’s account of extremist evangelicalism has insinuated itself in the interstices of the SBC. Attorney and sexual abuse survivor, Rachel Denhollander, has proven effective in exposing sexual abuse cover-ups in the SBC and challenging the denomination to implement preventative structures and stronger protocols for sex abuse, despite pushback from extremist evangelicals both in the denomination and beyond. If there is a bright spot in Alberta’s account, it’s the courage and strength of dissenter evangelicals like Moore and Denhollander. 

Inclusion of dissenting voices strengthens Alberta’s overall account, signaling a pocket of resistance from within extremist evangelicalism. Yet, on one level, it can also be misleading insofar as it depicts a dichotomy at play in evangelicalism between radical right-wingers and non-right wingers. But this is far from the case. The dissenters acknowledged in Alberta’s account are nevertheless firmly set within a broader, albeit tamer, political and theological conservative evangelicalism. What’s actually on display in Alberta’s telling is radical evangelical right-wingers versus evangelical right-wingers. Moderate and Progressive evangelicals, increasingly becoming marginal in today’s political and religious climate, remain absent from Alberta’s account. What hope do these voices, in addition to Moore’s and Denhollander’s, offer for the future of evangelicalism?

Yet, one can’t help but feel a deep ambivalence toward the question of whether there is any hope for the movement’s future. In one conversation Alberta shared with Yale theologian, Miroslav Volf, the latter worried that evangelicalism had been so “captured by nationalist ideals” that Christian Nationalism was now “the predominant form of evangelical Christianity.” Even more concerning, when pressed on what ought to be done, Volf exclaimed that he “‘frankly had no idea’ what to do about it” (p. 240). 

This is now the urgent theological task of those who claim the dissenting evangelical moniker. But can these dissenters embody what has been otherwise unintuitive for the movement as a whole while flourishing as evangelicals? Can they decenter their voices, make progress toward racial and gender equality, accompany wayward seekers, reject biblicism, repudiate partisan politics, and eschew economic systems that continually crush the underserved? The negation of these commitments have made the conditions possible for the cross-fertilization between a broader cultural conservatism and the making of extremist American evangelicalism. 

To move in a positive trajectory by integrating these into an ecclesial way of life would go a long way in undermining all that is wrong with the evangelical monster. Time will tell–but I won’t hold my breath.

Moses or Noah?

by Susan Trollinger

A mannequin figure of Noah on display at Ark Encounter. Image via YouTube.

Reading Exodus 32:9-10 always gives me pause. 

According to this text, God would nurture a wrath so great that He would say the following: “I see how stiff-necked this people is. Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.”

Am I supposed to worship that God? 

Where is the grace? Where is the mercy? Where is the love?

But then the story takes a turn. Moses makes three powerful arguments that challenge God’s logic and plan. 

So, let me see if I have this right, Moses says. You brought your people out of the land of Egypt and slavery only so that you would now slaughter them? Does that make sense, God?

Then, second: So, what do you think the Egyptians are going to say about you if you do this horrible thing, God? You’re a hypocrite, perhaps? These are supposed to be your chosen people. And you’re ticked off because they aren’t perfect. They’re human, so of course they aren’t perfect. Now, you want to exterminate them? What do you think your reputation is going to be in Egypt? 

And then the third one: Remember your promises, God. To Abraham—that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Extermination doesn’t seem like a plan to make good on that promise. Are you going to keep your promises? Or just enjoy your wrath?

And God listens to Moses and changes His mind. 

Now, that’s a God I can worship. Moreover, Moses is a biblical figure I can admire! To be sure, it would be a very scary thing to make not one, not two, but three arguments that directly challenge God’s thinking. Moses didn’t know how that was going to go. But he did it anyway. He was truly brave! 

This story in Exodus brings to mind the story of Noah in Genesis. God tells Noah that he’s got to build an Ark. He’s got to get his family on it. They are, according to God, the only righteous people on the planet. And then Noah has to get two of every kind of land creature on it. And then God instructs Noah that He is going to bring a great flood that is going to drown every person and every land creature that is not on the Ark because they were just so unforgivably sinful. God just couldn’t take their sin anymore. 


Does God’s wrath in this story make any sense? He was so ticked off at, what, elephants, rabbits, and giraffes, not to mention toddlers, babies, and the unborn, that he felt obliged to drown them?

What I love about the story in Exodus is that Moses doesn’t let God off the hook. He basically says to God: You want to exterminate your own people because you’re having a bad day? Really? That’s the kind of God you are? 

And God relents. He, thankfully, listens to Moses.

But what about Noah? According to the account in Genesis, Noah just goes with God’s genocidal plan. He builds the Ark. Gets his family on board. Gets two of every kind on board. Never mind the rest of humanity or the rest of land animals. No need to worry about them. They’re apparently not righteous. So, if this is the deal, why do fish get a pass? So, tortoises deserve to die but Walleye don’t? 

To repeat. I can worship the God that Moses engages. That’s a God who listens to reason and later sends his only son to save all us sinners who don’t deserve grace but, to quote singer and songwriter Mary Gauthier, “need it anyhow.” 

To return to where I began this reflection—I love the story of Moses making his case to God in Exodus because it tells us of a brave man who challenged God’s very bad idea, and it tells of a God that can change His mind when he should. That’s a God we can engage. A God who listens. And while God might get pretty frustrated with us now and again, and for good reason, He’s still the God who became man and dined with prostitutes and tax collectors. 

What this story from Exodus teaches me is that we can mobilize our own moral reasoning as we engage God. We can find our way with God to mercy, grace, and love.

Tom Cotton, or The Ghost of Joe McCarthy Returns to the U. S. Senate

by Rodney Kennedy 

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas. He is currently interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. His seventh book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, has recently been published. And book #8, Dancing with Metaphors in the Pulpit, will appear in April. 

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew at a Senate hearing Wednesday.Image by AP/Getty Images

Senator Tom Cotton, Arkansas, while wandering the halls of the Senate, has been possessed by one of the Senate’s most notorious ghosts, Senator Joe McCarthy. See, for example, Cotton’s questioning of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew regarding Chew’s citizenship and alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party during a heated hearing on January 31. 

Cotton directed his questions towards Chew, asking, “Have you ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party?” Chew, a Singaporean citizen, responded, “Senator, I’m Singaporean.”

Did the good Senator not know that Singapore is a unitary parliamentary representative democracy? 

Cotton then inquired further, “Have you ever been associated or affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party?” Chew reiterated his citizenship, stating, “No, Senator. Again, I’m Singaporean!”

Cotton questioned Chew about his perspective on the events, asking, “You said earlier, in response to a question, that what happened at Tiananmen Square in June of 1989 was a ‘massive protest.’ Did anything else happen at Tiananmen Square?” Chew acknowledged, “Yes, I think it’s well documented. There was a massacre.”

Senator Cotton defended his comments in a Fox News interview, stating, “It’s entirely reasonable to pursue a line of questioning about whether he himself, like his company, is subject to the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.”

The media mostly contained their criticism of Senator Cotton to charges of racism. This was a natural conclusion given Cotton’s less than admirable stances on race in the past. 

On November 18, 2020, Cotton made a speech on the floor of the Senate, “Our Pilgrim Fathers.” While he embraced the mythology of the Puritans with unabashed love and loyalty, his real problem was with the New York Times’ 1619 Project. He took grave offense at the idea that somehow the arrival of slaves in 1619 was more determinative for America’s future than the arrival of the white pilgrims on the Mayflower. Cotton says, “Some—too many—may have lost the civilizational self-confidence needed to celebrate the Pilgrims.” 

Historian William Trollinger put Cotton’s racist perspective in a more honest framework in his article, “Tom Cotton’s Thanksgiving, or, My Second-Grade Textbook Told the Truth and I Don’t Want Actual History to Get in the Way of My Feeling Good About Myself as a White Male.” Trollinger’s conclusion puts the nail in Cotton’s really bad speech: 

He wants an American history whitewashed of the horrors of slavery, be it slavery of Africans or Native Americans. He wants an American history whitewashed of Protestant religious intolerance, whitewashed of the annihilation of the native inhabitants. Sen. Cotton wants a grade-school history that inspires a “civilizational self-confidence” among white students. That is to say, Sen. Cotton wants to cancel history.

This is the same Senator Cotton who said in an interview with the Arkansas Gazette

We have to study the history of slavery and its role and impact on the development of our country because otherwise we can’t understand our country. As the Founding Fathers said, it was the necessary evil upon which the union was built, but the union was built in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction. 

Cotton trotted out the now requisite conservative response to all charges of racism: He called the criticism of his remarks, “fake news.” 

No doubt, the Senator is “100% perma-press pure cotton white.” Cotton and his tribe of race-deniers have perfected a defense of denying the existence of systemic racism. Like fake historians insisting that America was born a Christian nation and is a Christian nation, Cotton and company argue slavery was not that bad and that racism no longer exists. 

But there’s more here than Cotton’s obvious racism. 

Senator Joseph McCarthy 

In reports on Cotton’s questioning of the TikTok CEO no one seemed to notice Cotton’s voice giving presence to Senator McCarthy. “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

Senator Joe McCarthy, dangerous demagogue and witch hunter, accomplished almost nothing in his attempts to root our communists from the American people, but his shadow continues to haunt political discourse. McCarthy’s ghost has the power to inhabit the minds of other senators. This is akin to the ancient idea that demons could take control of human beings and control them and speak for them. 

All attempts to exorcise McCarthy from our political discourse have failed miserably. Almost 50 years after his disappearance, McCarthy still disturbs the political waters. The man who saw a Communist in every niche and corner of our nation still haunts us.

At the 1950 Republican convention in Chicago, McCarthy held forth with his paranoid rhetoric of purification: 

I say, one Communist in a defense plant is one Communist too many. One Communist on the faculty of one university is one Communist too many. One Communist among American advisors at Yalta was one Communist too many. And even if there were only one Communist in the State Department, that would be one Communist too many.

Until he lost his crown to Donald Trump, McCarthy was considered the worst demagogue in American history. He was the “great smear campaigner.” James Darsey, in his article, “Joe McCarthy’s Fantastic Moment,” says, “The residual fear of that unidentified power still haunts the cloakrooms of American politics. There is something both elusive and perdurable about this incubus.” 

McCarthy talked of “hidden and undisclosed forces,” “dark forces,” “chicanery,” the “mysterious” disappearance of incriminating documents; secret contracts, and secret trials, and secret parleys; “treachery,” and “lies.” Metaphorically, McCarthy introduced octopi, snakes, and spiders into his dream. The hoax being perpetrated was “monstrous”; the Communist party – a relatively small group of deadly conspirators – had now extended its tentacles to that most respected of American bodies – the United States Senate; a “world-wide web” of conspiracy has been spun from Moscow; “the Truman Democratic Administration was crawling with Communists.”

McCarthy, an investigator with no evidence, still managed to disrupt lives from Washington to Hollywood. The symbol of McCarthy was a stuffed briefcase that he claimed contained all the evidence. Maybe this is where Trump and his minions discovered the strategy of constantly alluding to mountains of evidence that they were always going to produce to prove the 2020 election was stolen. As with Trump, McCarthy had nothing. Unlike young David, who had three smooth round stones in his bag, McCarthy’s briefcase was empty. He would slay no Goliath or unearth no Communists. 

Darsey concludes his article: 

Does this leave us with anything to say about the McCarthy ethos, fragmented and disjointed as it is? Certainly we can say that McCarthy was no prophet:  He was guided by no self-evident truths, no sacred canon, he did not offer judgment in time of crisis; all his cries of “smear” notwithstanding, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that McCarthy did not suffer the burden of his commitments (at least not until after censure) but reaped the personal  rewards of his message—notoriety, money, and political power.  

The metaphor of ghost may be the best way to understand the continued ability of McCarthy to haunt the U. S. Senate and some of its members. McCarthy created a coalition that would rise again, and a rhetorical style that would be revisited by populist conservatives. 

Like Cotton. Where McCarthy saw Communists everywhere, Cotton sees liberal elites and enemies galore in his paranoid illusions. As with McCarthy, Cotton’s world is nightmarish, filled with conspiracies designed to destroy Western civilization. And as with McCarthy, Cotton does not need or even care about evidence.

The junior senator from Arkansas needs an exorcism, but who among us can “cast out” the ghost of Joe McCarthy? Even if such a healer came forth, he would face a culture already intoxicated with the spirit of paranoia, a fear of the pure and righteous being contaminated by “filth.” Ours is an age where truth has been run over by a hit and run driver, and lies in the ditch replaced by “alternative facts,” post-truth, lies, exaggerations, and conspiracy theories. 

Democracy and American Christianity have had its fill of demagogues. Senator Cotton needs to find a good exorcist or go home to Arkansas to raise hogs.

“Fly Old Bird: Escape to the Ark”: Two Reviews

by Caitlin Cipolla-McCulloch and Laura Tringali

Poster for the movie, Fly Old Bird: Escape to the Ark. Image via thefilmcatalogue.com.

Below are two reviews of Fly Old Bird: Escape to the Ark, a film which, as one of our reviewers points out, is “essentially a long-form advertisement for Ark Encounter.” To put it succinctly, Caitlin and Laura watched this film so you don’t have to.

Caitlin Cipolla-McCulloch is a doctoral candidate at the University of Dayton. Her research interests include Mariology, Latin American studies, and ways of building theological bridges across divides. She is keen to learn from others about how we can find common ground and speak to each other amid challenging situations. Laura is a trusted friend and colleague whose research interests diverge from her own, but who in her Catholicity shares a common bond with Caitlin. 

Fly Old Bird shows up on the cinema scene at the same time as blockbusters such as Queen Bees. Though both Fly Old Bird and Queen Bees are films about challenges that come with moving into nursing homes, Fly Old Bird has a predictable and pedantic style which at times makes it difficult to watch.

The film is about two men who live in a trailer park in Michigan. Jon Koski, a pre-dementia 69-year-old man, is befriended by Miller Gibbs, a Christian. Jon, upset about his children’s desire to move him to a nursing home, decides he will travel to Ark Encounter. Gibbs, a man who has read the Bible through fourteen different times, and who has a deep desire to visit the Ark, decides to join Jon for the journey. 

After a visit to Jon’s wife, buried in a local cemetery, Jon and Gibbs begin their flight to the Ark. What is fascinating as this film opens is that, while Gibbs exhibits signs of being a Christian who is very concerned with doing the right thing in fidelity to the Bible, he goes along with most of Jon’s antics without much conflict or confrontation, even at times enabling the journey. Gibbs does, however, point out to Jon how his kids seem to be correct about his dementia. While on the journey, Gibbs shares his evangelical Christian beliefs with Jon. They even make a stop at Gibbs’ church, where they receive brochures for the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum from the pastor. At this point, we deeply understand that this film is an evangelical tool designed to support and promote the Ark Encounter project.

It becomes clear that the film has been put together to share the message about the importance of making what Catholics might call a pilgrimage to the Ark and the Creation Museum. My concerns about this are multifaceted. Fly Old Bird attempts to capture the complexity of the challenges of aging, including Jon’s desire to push against the move to nursing care, while also seeking to portray the complications that occur in a family trying to support aging family members. Despite the fact that Jon’s children care for him, and want him to be taken care of a nursing facility due to his dementia, the message of this film supports Jon’s desire to go against his children’s wishes by traveling to the Ark.  This would seem to distort the film’s evangelical message. 

This movie, whose soundtrack engages the genre of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), has several plot developments. While on their journey, Gibbs has a heart attack, and Jon pulls onto the grass of a church, where Gibbs dies. At this point in the film, there is a bit of a confusing jump to Jon’s life in the nursing home, with a cut to Jon praying in the chapel, with Genesis 7, about Noah’s Ark. It seems Jon is seeking his “Answers in Genesis.” During this scene, his son enters the chapel space and provides Jon the opportunity to “escape” from the memory care unit. Jon sneaks out and steals a car from the nursing home’s parking lot to attend the wake of his friend Gibbs at the funeral home. Jon then steals Gibbs’ ashes from the funeral home and begins the journey south to the Ark.

Again, I find the emphasis on the Christian message confusing, due to the amount of theft required to make this pilgrimage to the Ark. This film’s message seems to be the Ark or else. Perhaps they should have painted “Ark or Bust” on the windows of the various stolen or borrowed vehicles, in case viewers needed more clues about the film’s main message. 

Laura Tringali is a PhD student at the University of Dayton. Her research interests include reception history, feminist theology, and the intersection of religion, gender, and culture in U.S. history. Caitlin is a trusted friend and colleague whose style and research interests differ from Laura’s, but who in her Catholicity shares a common bond with Caitlin.

Fly Old Bird: Escape to the Ark is the story of 69-year-old Jon Koski (Alan Maki) who is on the run for his freedom. The film was written by Alan Maki and directed by his son Shaun Maki. Shaun Maki also owns the production company Sun and Paw, LLC that developed the film. Fly Old Bird is the third Christian film that Alan Maki has written, produced, and starred in. According to Rosemary K. Otzman of the Belleville-Area Independent, the Michigan newspaper local to the town where Alan Maki graduated from high school, Fly Old Bird won Best Script in West Virginia’s CARE Awards Film Festival.

Koski has been showing signs of dementia, and his children, his daughter Katherine (Alison Flaig) in particular, want him to move into a nursing home with a memory care unit. None of the interactions or circumstances in this film arise organically or sound authentic. Inorganic and inauthentic is the only way to describe the way that Koski and his neighbor Miller Gibbs (Dennis McComas) meet for the first time while Koski is in crisis over the conflict with his children. The strange relationship between Koski and Gibbs drives the rest of the plot.

As Koski and Gibbs get to know each other, Koski learns that Gibbs is a Christian by seeing a Bible on a table inside Gibbs’s home. Much of the Christian message of the film is explicit in the dialogue. For example, Koski picks up the Bible and asks, “What are you, a bible-thumper, too?” Gibbs retorts, “Does that offend you?” To which Koski replies, “As long as you don’t hit me over the head with it” (00:16:23). Under zero layers of subtlety, the audience is meant to see that Christians are persecuted by the judgments and misunderstandings of their faith. In this conversation, Gibbs reveals that he hopes to go to the Ark Encounter one day. The Ark Encounter is presented as a pilgrimage site of sorts for Gibbs. For Koski, the audience is given no reason for his latching onto the destination except that it fits his need to escape to “anywhere-but-here.”

Koski gets the idea that he and Gibbs should take a road trip to the Ark Encounter from where, he later reveals, he intends to hop a train to escape his kids’ plan to move him into a nursing home for good. Gibbs brings his Bible on the trip “to find direction,” he explains (00:30:12). The idea that the Bible will provide direction for their trip never comes back. However, Gibbs continues to state his Christian beliefs as matter-of-fact in this same manner. For example, Koski and Gibbs stop at the cemetery on their way out of town for Koski to say goodbye to his wife. Gibbs says, “It’s just her body, not her soul.” Koski asks, “Is that religious talk?” Gibbs replies, “It’s just a fact. … The Bible tells me so,” as he points upward (00:36:18).

The duo continue making stops along their trip. The next stop is to swap license plates with another car so that the police will not be able to find them when Koski’s kids inevitably report him missing. For the record, this is a crime. Though Gibbs comments on his discomfort with the crime, he is ultimately content to be complicit. The commandment is “thou shall not steal,” not “thou shall not be an accessory to theft” so, I guess, he is in the clear.

Over lunch at a subsequent stop, we find out that Gibbs has heart problems so serious he feels he is living on borrowed time. Koski asks if the medication Gibbs is taking saved his life. Gibbs replies, “No Jesus did, but that pill helps” (01:31:55). This foreshadowing pays off less than ten minutes later when Gibbs has a heart attack and dies.

At this point, there is a time jump. Koski is living in a nursing home, and we find out that Gibbs’s funeral service will take place later that day. To emphasize Koski’s feeling of being trapped, he is not permitted to leave the facility to attend the service. With the help of his son, who visits him and gives him the door code to exit the building, Koski flees from the nursing home. As we have already seen, Koski is not afraid to steal. He not only steals a car from the nursing home parking lot, he also goes to the funeral home and steals Gibbs’s urn and hat. Koski is off, once again, to take Gibbs to the Ark Encounter and then hop a train to his freedom. 

At a rest stop, Koski is aware, as he was on his first trip, that the police may pursue him. He approaches a young man named Kyle, perhaps just eighteen years old, and asks him for a ride to the Ark Encounter. We find out that Kyle grew up in a church, so he is familiar with the Ark Encounter and is amenable to the idea that this strange encounter might be a “God thing,” to use his words. Kyle takes Koski to the Ark Encounter and pays for his ticket.

Nothing profound seems to happen for Koski at the Ark Encounter besides the satisfaction that he succeeded, in a way, in completing his trip with Gibbs. He sits inside the exhibit and opens Gibbs’s notebook to read a list of things Gibbs wanted to do. He crosses off “find a new best friend” and “visit the Ark Encounter.” “Go to heaven” is also on his list. For both Gibbs and Koski, the Ark Encounter is the gateway to freedom. We are meant to have a sense of peace that Gibbs is now in heaven after making it to the Ark Encounter. Likewise, Koski achieves his freedom by hopping a train after leaving the Ark.

Making it to the Ark Encounter is the climax. Nothing in particular happens there, nor is there any significant point of character development for Koski. Fly Old Bird is essentially a long-form advertisement for the Ark Encounter. For a Christian film that has clear dialogue and plot points directed toward evangelizing Koski, it is surprising that he never has an explicit conversion experience. He makes it to the Ark Encounter with Gibbs’s urn, and then the old bird flies, hopping a train like he intended from the outset of the initial road trip. The audience is left without closure as we watch a criminal, who is perhaps a good friend by some distorted standard I am sure we could imagine, ride off on the back of a train, in the process evading both law enforcement and any continued relationship with his children.

What’s Faith Got to Do With It?: Young Earth Creationism and the Promise of Certainty

by Susan and William Trollinger

As part of the 2023-2024 Science and Faith Series here at the University of Dayton, we are giving this presentation on Wednesday, February 28, 4.00-5.00 pm in Sears Recital Hall, Jesse Phillips Humanities Center

The event is free, and all are invited. If you are coming from off campus, please use Lot C off of Evanston; stop by the parking booth, get a visitor’s tag, and ask for directions to Humanities.

And here is a brief summary of our talk:

Contrary to what one might imagine, the proponents of Biblical creationism do not appeal to religious faith. Instead, they proclaim Genesis 1 as a historically and scientifically true description of Creation by the only “eyewitness” (God), a description that is clearly substantiated by genuine, empirical science (as opposed to the false, biased science of evolutionists). That is to say, young Earth creationists possess the certainty of Truth.

If you are in the area, we would love to see you next Wednesday!

Living on the Margins: An Introduction to Evolvingcertainties.com

by Terry Defoe

Pastor Terry Defoe is an emeritus member of the clergy who served congregations in Western Canada from 1982 to 2016, and who ministered to students on the campuses of the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University. He is the author of  Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and Science, a book which, among other things, chronicles his transition from Young Earth Creationism to evolutionary creation. Evolving Certainties is endorsed by scientists in biology, geology and physics, with a foreword written by Darrel Falk, former president of BioLogos, an organization that has as its goal the facilitating of respectful discussion of science / faith issues. Defoe has been educated at: Simon Fraser University (BA Soc); Lutheran Theological Seminary, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (M.Div.); and, Open Learning University, Burnaby, British Columbia (BA Psyc).

Book Cover for Evolving Certainties: Resolving Conflict at the Intersection of Faith and Science (2018).

In the early years of my ministry, I met regularly with a group of students at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. While I was on campus, I would occasionally drop by the university bookstore. On one of those visits an item on a “New Books” display caught my eye.  It was a book by Stephen Jay Gould titled Wonderful Life. The book was an in-depth discussion of the Burgess Shale, an amazing assemblage of Cambrian fossils from approximately 500 million years ago. This was the first time I had been exposed to a technical treatise on evolutionary theory. The book was technical but eminently readable. 

When I read a book, I generally do two things. I underline, often in more than one color.  And when my reading sparks a thought, I write it in the margin so that I can refer back to it later. Those notes then provide an outline to the development of my thinking over time. My goal for www.evolvingcertainties.com is that it become a sort of clearing house – a one-stop shop if you will, for information on the science / faith debate. Many evangelicals are young earth creationists by default. In other words, that’s what their denomination teaches, that’s what their friends believe, and perhaps their family, and of course their pastor. But they’ve never really checked it out, and they’re not convinced this is something that they wholeheartedly endorse. 

Many evangelicals are satisfied with young earth creationism. Many more, however, are suffering from a serious case of cognitive dissonance, not sure as to what the key issues are and how these issues are dealt with by people of faith who have been able to reconcile their faith with evolutionary science. At this stage, the basic questions asked – and answered – are these:

1 Does science come shrink-wrapped in atheism?

2 Does the theory of evolution leave God out of creation?

3 How can random processes produce complex organisms?

4 Are science and faith irreconcilable?

5 Does the Bible predict scientific discoveries?

6 Does the Book of God’s Word contradict the Book of God’s works?

7 Is a literal interpretation the best way to go?

8 Does evolution corrode a Bible believer’s faith?

9 Is all truth God’s truth?

10 Can a Christian in good conscience adopt evolutionary theory?

11 What will change should I accept evolutionary theory?

These are the kinds of questions evangelicals ask – the kinds of questions I wrote in the margins of books like Wonderful Life. Without accurate answers to questions like these, few people would toss out their old paradigm for a new one. You might want to ask these questions of the creationists you may know. But before you ask them, you might want to lay down a few groundrules, reassuring the other individual that you value your relationship with them and will do your best to maintain it. You might ask how they came to adopt their present views and how strongly the hold them. You might want to hold a seminar in your church or social group – put these questions up on the screen – and invite discussion. If www.evolvingcertainties.com is helpful in this regard, feel free to use it. If you have any comments or questions, let me know. 

Why science communication needs more storytelling

by Emma Frances Bloomfield

Today’s post comes from our colleague Emma Frances Bloomfield, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who studies the intersection of science, religion, and politics from a rhetorical perspective. She received her PhD from USC Annenberg and wrote her dissertation on the similarities between science denial in the human origins and climate change controversies. She has written and presented on topics of the environment, digital rhetoric, narratives, political communication, and health. Her first book, Communication Strategies for Engaging Climate Skeptics: Religion and the Environment, is available through Routledge’s series on Advances in Climate Change Research. Her second book, Science v. Story: Narrative Strategies for Science Communicatorshas just been published by the University of California Press.

Book Cover for Emma Frances Bloomfield’s Science v Story: Narrative Strategies for Science Communicators (University of California Press, 2024)

In 2020, the Institute for Creation Research opened the Discovery Center for Science and Earth History in Dallas, Texas. Driving past the glossy glass exterior with a massive metal DNA structure, one may not initially realize that the museum is devoted to the “science” of creationism. The museum’s tagline, “Discover the incredible harmony that exists between science and the Bible as you encounter lifelike holograms, animatronic creatures, interactive displays, user-friendly touchscreens, and a multimedia Ice Age theater” promises cutting edge technology that challenges evolutionary science by proposing creationism as an alternative. While the Discovery Center may be the newest, it is by far the only creation museum. Answers in Genesis has its own Creation Museum and a museum-like tourist attraction called the Ark Encounter, both in Kentucky. The website “Visit Creation” lists nearly 40 creation museums across the world, with most in the United States, that create family-friendly experiences to perpetuate skepticism of evolutionary science.

It would be a mistake to downplay the importance of these museums and public attractions because they indicate a deep-seated and persistent skepticism of evolution that drives homeschooling and resistance to evolutionary teaching in public schools. Circulating information about human origins offers multiple stories about how humans came to be. The scientific story of human origins tells one of natural selection and aggregate change over millions of years that transformed single-celled organisms into you and me. The creationist story of human origins emphasizes the role of divinity, specifically from the Christian faith, in creating the diversity of life today. These competing stories perpetuate the lasting controversy over human origins, which affects public understanding of science not only related to evolution but also other scientific topics such as climate change and vaccination.

I analyze scientific controversies and their rival stories such as evolution in my book, Science v Story. Through the case studies of climate change, evolution, vaccination, and COVID-19, I break down the binary of my book’s title to see how stories and science constitute and influence one another. It is often the stories that ring true to our understanding of reality that come out on top, and it would be a mistake to assume that the scientifically accurate ones will always be most accepted. In an age of misinformation and interlocking ecological and social crises, the narrative deck is often stacked against the slow, methodical work of science.

Many controversies regarding scientific information stem from communication failures between technical experts and members of the public. In the topic of climate change, for example, climate scientists must navigate telling stories of urgency but also hope while skeptics emphasize more immediate public concerns such as economics and political loyalties. Stories rooted in conspiracy and distrust of medical elites drive skepticism of vaccination and COVID-19. The stories that science tells compete against these alternative stories for public adherence and political influence. I refer to these stories as “disingenuous rival stories,” because they detract from accurate, scientific knowledge in a way that stalls progress and action in a scientific controversy. As rhetorician Stephen O’Leary argued, stories that “give solace to some . . . will remain forever unsatisfying to others.” How, then, can we make science’s stories more appealing, resonant, and satisfying to broader audiences in the face of disingenuous rival stories?

Science v Story offers a mapping tool, called narrative webs, to help visualize the stories we tell and diagnose how we can improve them. Instead of placing communication in discrete categories of “science” or “story” or charting them on linear scales of more- or less-story like, I created a web design that maps stories onto six narrative features: character, action, sequence, scope, storyteller, and content. The web also contains three rings – the micro-ring, the meso-ring, and the macro-ring – that refer to the relative specificity of the narrative feature from the precise to the abstract.

Science’s stories tend to have macro-ring features, such as a characterless story about the Big Bang that marks the beginning of our universe as we know it over a massive temporal scope of billions of years in the past. Rival stories, however, tend to map their features on the micro-ring, which tends to feature concrete characters, trusted storytellers, comprehensible scopes, and relevant content. Through an analysis of the controversies of climate change, evolution, vaccination, and COVID-19, I explore how we can learn from rival stories to make science’s stories more personal and engaging without sacrificing scientific accuracy.

In addition to disingenuous rival stories, there are also productive ones that challenge scientific ones in ways that open them up to be more diverse, inclusive, and equitable. For example, a productive rival story to climate change is the inclusion of Indigenous climate science in global climate reports. Productive rival stories in medicine detail disproportionate distributions of the COVID-19 vaccine and histories of medical malpractice that have affected marginalized communities. Attending to these productive rival stories makes space for improving the practice of science by diversifying the stories science tells and its storytellers. It has perhaps never been more important to muster the tools of communication and storytelling to combat scientific skepticism, apathy, and misinformation. Together, I hope we can transform the conflict of science v story into the harmony of science and story.

Between the Progressives and the Fundamentalist Young Earth Creationists: How to Understand the Story of Noah and the Flood

by Rodney Kennedy 

Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. He pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years, after which he served as interim pastor of ABC USA churches in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Kansas. He is currently interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. His seventh book, Good and Evil in the Garden of Democracy, has recently been published. And book #8, Dancing with Metaphors in the Pulpit, will appear in April. 

Leon Francois Comerre’s Le Deluge. In public domain.

The story of Noah and the ark makes for great sermons, movies, even stand-up comedy performances. Everyone loves a good story. From Bill Cosby, when he was actually funny, Noah asks God, “What are we going to do with all these rabbits,” to the most recent peer-reviewed scientific article in geology, interest in the flood remains of lasting interest. 

Noah’s story is a rhetorical construction of an inspired, imaginative Hebrew storyteller recounting the saga, legend, myth, and tales of a time before history known as primeval time. The creator of Noah’s story is separated by centuries from the events the raconteur recounts. 

Progressive Christians tend to talk about the flood in scholarly and scientific language that fails to achieve the primary objective: Persuasion. I also read several creationist defenses of the flood in the last month. These papers were filled with what was alleged to be scientific information. 

Both sides seem intent on filling the great void with science of one kind or another. Write an article on creation and the flood and the ensuing flood of words will overwhelm even the most diligent researcher. Everyone has opinions about the flood. Why is it such a powerful magnet for such fierce debate? What makes one story more attractive than other stories?

External debates about history, science, biblical interpretation, and literalism cloud the meaning of the flood story. No one gets around to reading the story as biblical material intended to inspire faithful living. 

A “Stand Up for Science” mug appeared on Facebook. The following claims appear on the side of the mug: 

  • Earth is not flat. 
  • Vaccines work. 
  • We’ve been to the moon. 
  • Chemtrails aren’t a thing. 
  • Climate change is real. 

Using that same approach, I will approach the story of Noah and the flood as a rhetorical act of persuasion designed to extol the mercy of God and the precarity of human existence 

As biblical scholar Robert R. Cargill has observed, 

It is time for Christians to admit that some of the stories in Israel’s primordial history are not historical. Christians and Jews must concede that the Bible can still be “inspired” without being historically or scientifically “inerrant.” Simply because a factual error exists in the text of the Bible does not mean that an ethical truth or principal cannot still be conveyed. It is time for Christians to concede that “inspiration” does not equal “inerrancy,” and that “biblical” does not equal “historical” or even “factual.” Some claims like the flood and the six-day creation are neither historical nor factual; they were written to communicate in a pre-scientific literary form that God is responsible for the earth. 

Here’s a good rhetorical move to make: Do not accept the framework or language or definitions of fundamentalist/evangelical Christians. There is nothing in faith that requires your signature on a list of doctrines rooted in the human notion of inerrancy or literalism. 

Preachers who preach the flood literally and preachers who preach that the flood was not literal are wasting pulpit time by not taking seriously the biblical text. I am acutely aware of the difficulties in my claims. I will not be scientific enough for my liberal allies; I will not seem biblical enough for my evangelical enemies. 

Primeval Time 

Noah’s flood, as the real estate agents say, comes down to three things: Local, local, local. It was a local flood that seemed like a universal experience. Old Testament scholar Claus Westermann says, “The flood narrative is widespread throughout the world. The flood narrative like the creation narrative is part of the common property of humanity. It is humankind’s basic expression of its being-in-the-world, of the threat to human existence and at the same time of its permanence.” 

All flood stories are stories of primeval time. The definition of primeval: the earliest ages. The person writing about primeval time is a historical person millions of years removed from the ongoing origins of creation, but writing about stories that are a mixture of symbols, metaphors, analogies, myths, fables, and archetypal narratives. 

The motifs in primeval stories are few, but the little that is narrated about the primeval event is the same the world over. As Westermann notes, 

The experience common to all humankind is more impressive than the experience of isolated groups. This is the explanation of the astounding similarity of the individual motifs of the flood stories throughout the world. We are dealing here with a particular sort of tradition. It is not the result of an individual event, but of a series of identical or similar events which have been fashioned into a type. The flood is the archetype of human catastrophe, and as such has been formed into narrative. What the flood narrative aims at expressing is derivation as a result of the preservation of the one amidst the demise of all others. It is precisely this that is the goal of the flood narrative. 

In summary, all cultures have flood stories. They have been shared across centuries of development and have become a single archetypal metaphor depicting universal human experiences. 

Everybody’s got a flood story. If there were an international gathering of representatives from all peoples, cultures, and nations, conversations around the bars and coffee shops would include, “You think you have a flood story; I have the flood story of the ages.” 

Westermann helpfully summarizes: 

We are dealing with a narrative of primeval time that is in the context of the story of the creation of humans. Side-by-side with the creation of humanity there is now the possibility of its destruction; this leads to the preservation of humankind by saving the one. The creation of humans and their preservation involve a catastrophe; but the saving action does not take place in the realm of the history of humanity. It is an event that precedes history. 

As Wilhelm Wundt has put it, “Flood narrative and creation narrative . . . complement each other.” Creation and flood exist outside of time as a single event. The literalist obsession with the destruction of humanity suggests a blood-thirsty desire for punishment. But the text refuses to submit to this horror motif because, to quote Westermann, “the extinction of humanity cannot really be the subject of narrative because with it all tradition would be at an end.”

Abraham and Moses Argue with God against Destruction 

As Rowan Williams reminds us in Tokens of Trust

Genesis may not tell us how the world began in the way a modern cosmologist would; but it tells us what God wants us to know, that we are made by his love and freedom alone. What the Bible puts before us is not a record of a God who is always triumphantly getting his way, but a God who gets his way by patiently struggling to make himself clear to human beings, to make his love real to them, especially when they seem not to want to know, or to want to avoid him and retreat into their own fantasies about him.

After the flood, God will again be tempted to destroy humankind. Abraham and Moses intervene in these two instances. Why doesn’t Noah plead with God not to destroy the earth? Even in God’s anger the story still presents a way of salvation. God is merciful. But Noah says nothing. He leaves the people to their destruction. Not once does Noah ask God if the sentence would be commuted if 50 righteous people were found. An accurate movie about Noah would have to be a silent movie. 

Why is he the passive builder of an ark designed to save only him and his family? Perhaps in the primeval history, man has not yet developed theologically enough to express the arguments against destruction. In any event, the rhetorical acts of Abraham and Moses are helpful in showing us what the biblical writers are doing – the drama they are constructing. 

There is another awful silence in the story. The coming of the flood is told with no comment or dialogue. There are no humans in sight to be destroyed. There is no reaction from those who threatened with extinction. There’s no lament, cry, death agony. There’s no questioning of God. There’s only absolute silence. Only an extreme Calvinist could be pleased with this announcement:

And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, human beings and animals and creeping things and birds of the air; they were blotted out from the earth. (Genesis 7:21-23)

As Westermann points out, “Humankind as God’s creation cannot take for granted its own existence in the world; its existence is problematic and remains such in the presence of its creator.” More stridently, he says, “The creation decision can be revoked.” 

The Bible sometimes does this by a very bold method – by telling a certain kind of story from the human point of view, as if God has human characteristics rooted in revenge, anger, and destruction. Since Noah remains silent, we turn to Abraham and Moses – two persons of faith who had good reason to know something about what God is really like. When they are faced with a crisis and things are going badly, and when it looks like the end of the line for humanity, Abraham and Moses argue with God until they persuade God to be merciful. 

The mistake that a religious populist like Ken Ham makes is depicting God as if God acts as we act, as if God is the genocidal killer of the human race. Ham is more nonchalant in his belief that God destroyed up to 20 billion human beings in the flood than a neo-Nazi is of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust or an American patriot of the almost 200,000 Japanese killed in the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Hitler saw the Jews as the “devil” – the universal enemy. President Truman and the American government saw the nuclear bomb as saving American lives.

What rationale or excuse does God have for the flood? Fortunately, only people like Ham have to worry over that question. 

The writers of these biblical stories knew exactly what they were doing. They didn’t believe in a bad-tempered, capricious, destructive God who needed to be calmed down by sensible human beings. They knew that the most vivid way of expressing what they understood about God was to show Abraham and Moses appealing to the deepest and most true thing about God as they pray to him. The message: Even if there were a universal disaster, God can be trusted to find a way to provide salvation for creation. 


At this point, an opening appears for the homiletical imagination – a possible application of the flood story to a current crisis. In our time, when humanity faces even more precarity than ever, there are millions of Christians who are not only not saying anything, but who are also (like Ken Ham) pretending that global warming is false. They are actively opposing the measures that would save the planet. They are opposed to life. This makes Noah’s silence seem almost righteous, the evangelical preachers negligent. 

Westermann has previously pointed out that one of the primary motifs of the flood story is the threat to human existence that it imposes. Decades of climate and geological research have coalesced in consensus that global warming signifies precarity at the biological or species scale. It indexes the fact that we (and our various publics) “have now ourselves become a geological agent disturbing [the] parametric conditions needed for our own existence.” In other words, all humanity is rendered precarious. Humans are now on the endangered species list even though we continue to build and expand as did the ancient humans at the Tower of Babel. 

It’s absurd that so many evangelical preachers are climate-deniers and literal flood believers. But what if we are also implicated in that we claim to accept the reality of global warming but live in “soft denial.” We refuse to face reality, not changing our lives as global warming reality demands. As usual, nothing is harder for even Christians to practice than repentance – the changing of our minds and practices.


The hobbyists at the Ark Encounter in Kentucky are pulling a religious P. T. Barnum on the evangelical culture. 

Barnum drew huge crowds to see his alleged 161-year-old former slave of George Washington named Joice Heth. When a local journalist attacked the credibility of Barnum’s claim, his business didn’t suffer. The crowds became larger. Barnum claimed that the controversy led to even greater ticket sales. When Joice Heth died in 1836, Barnum arranged another show where Dr. David L. Rogers conducted an autopsy on her body. He concluded that Heth’s “wonderful old age was a wonderful humbug.” She was approximately 80 and not 160. 

Rhetorical scholar Jennifer Mercieca writes, “But Barnum had the last word. He planted a story with The Sun’s competitor, The New York Herald on February 27, 1836, which claimed that the Heth humbug story was itself humbug. In fact, reported The Herald on “good authority,” Heth was “not dead” at all, but alive and well in Connecticut.

Mercieca wonders why Americans are so attracted to hyperbole and humbug. She concludes: “We love to be amused and we love excess, and so we reward showmen with our attention. Some have said that we’re “amusing ourselves to death” and that we live in the “society of the spectacle.” A people who enjoy being “humbugged” are easy victims for certain kinds of religious and political demagogues.

The story about the flood is not historically true. Literal interpretations of the flood story have always been religious humbug in spite of their obvious sincerity. The attempts to prove that the flood actually happened are humbug as well. For example, John Whitcomb and Henry Morris provide the most lasting piece of humbuggery with The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications. Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter – supposedly a replica of Noah’s Ark – adds the final layer of humbuggery. It is as much like Barnum’s Joice Heth as any known humbuggery in history.

This entire episode is at least three layers of humbug deep. 

Progressive Christians are too generous in allowing Ken Ham’s fantasies of the flood to parade through our culture as if they are legitimate parts of Christian history and faith. It’s all humbug. 

The biblical account of the flood was written to praise God for being the “almighty” God of creation and the final arbiter of human existence. That is not humbug; that is eternal truth. 

For evangelicals to persist in the fake war against science – from opposition to evolution to refusals to have vaccinations – adds additional layers of humbug to the ongoing saga. 

We are much better served in helping humanity respond with courage and effort to the precarity of our existence and to demonstrate this in our lives together. 

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