Families, Politics, and Fundamentalism

Sunday was Bill’s fifth of five classes at Westminster Presbyterian Church here in Dayton on the history of Protestant fundamentalism. As was the case the first four weeks, there were approximately thirty people in attendance, and the discussion was very lively, with many great questions. Given that this final class brought the story of fundamentalism up to the present, many of the questions were particularly pointed and poignant.

Here are a few of the questions:

  • What percentage of Christians in the US are evangelicals/fundamentalists?

When Bill answered this question with “approximately 25%” he was thinking of the data captured by the 2015 Pew Religious Survey, which established that approximately 25% of all Americans are evangelical. But if we pull out Jews, Muslims, other faiths, and the nonreligious, the percentage of evangelicals jumps to 35%. If we limit ourselves to Protestants, approximately half are evangelicals.

  • Can you talk about the ways in which the fundamentalist movement has torn apart denominations, churches, and families?

The fundamentalist movement has been a remarkably divisive force in American Protestantism for the past century. As regards denominations, one of the most recent examples is the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, which involved students serving as spies in seminary classrooms, and which resulted in a host of academics and pastors finding themselves without jobs. As regards churches, the examples are legion, and go all the way back to the 1920s.

But what has happened in families may be the most heartbreaking. Sue and I have heard so many stories – even some from people who attended the Westminster classes – of family members being attacked (publicly and privately) and shunned for their failure to hold to this or that fundamentalist tenet. For Bill, the most painful moment came when he gave two talks on fundamentalism at a local church that welcomes members of the LGBTQ community. In the Q and A afterward person after person talked and wept as they told their stories about how their fundamentalist parents and siblings and friends and churches completely rejected them. For Bill, it was a miracle that they are determined to remain Christian.

  • Do evangelicals/fundamentalists like Trump because he speaks in superlatives and certainties, as everything can be reduced to black or white?

I do think this is part of Trump’s appeal. Not only is fundamentalism all about certainty – “We KNOW that Genesis is literal history and that the universe was created in six, twenty-four hour days less than 10,000 years ago” – but it is also about binaries. God’s Word v. Human Reason. Heaven v. Hell. Regarding the latter, and as we observe in Righting America, Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) are quite certain they can know

who the true Christians are, and who they are not . . . who is holding to the True Word of God, and who is not . . . who is saved, and who is damned . . . The outcome is not in doubt. Ken Ham and AiG make clear again and again that they are on the right side of history. (191)

That is some pretty powerful certainty!

  • What if you are a moderate Republican, and you don’t want to go with the liberals in the Democratic Party, but you don’t want to be part of a Republican Party that is now dominated by the Tea Party/Christian Right? What are you to do?

You don’t have good options, because you have lost your party. You can organize and take back the party – your best bet here is to hope that the 2018 elections are a disaster for the Republicans. Or, you can organize with an eye to creating a new political party. Or, you can decide joining with the Democrats is better than your other options.

The Christian Right is the most important constituency in the Republican Party, and they are not going away any time soon.

Thanks, Westminster, for your gracious hospitality and your lively engagement!

Sealing the Creationist Bubble

Sometimes this blog writes itself. Sometimes our friend Adam Laats writes it for us.

A few days ago, Ken Ham announced that Answers in Genesis (AiG) would be joining with another fundamentalist organization to open the Twelve Stones Christian Academy near the Creation Museum, a young Earth creationist school (K-12) that will “help curb the trend of young people walking away from the church by equipping them . . . with apologetics, using logic and critical-thinking skills.” Toward that end, AiG will provide students with passes to visit the museum and the Ark Encounter.

Of course, we were going to write about AiG’s school! Twelve Stones Academy will provide the perfect bridge between a young Earth creationist church and a Creation College like Cedarville or Liberty. No getting out of this hermetically sealed creationist bubble!

But as we prepared to write this post Adam Laats – author of the must-read The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education – published a wonderful blog post on this very topic, entitled: “What’s Missing from this Creationist School?” As Adam makes the case, Twelve Stones will be much more about “protecting” young Earth creationist children than about “outreach” to those who are not yet young Earth creationists.

Amen! We would only add that, as we argue in Righting America, Ham and AiG are not only interested in “protecting” young Earth creationist children from dangerous ideas. They also want to train them to serve as “crusaders for the ongoing culture war that polarizes and poisons U. S. religion and politics” (15).

This, then, is AiG’s outreach. Preparing the next generation of young Earth creationists to make war on the rest of us.

Locked and Loaded at Cedarville

Once again, this blog writes itself. Once again, it is thanks to Cedarville University, where trustees and administrators have been very busy!

Just a few weeks ago the school implemented a “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy,” in which faculty are warned not to assign or show material “that may be considered ‘adult’ in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students,” a prohibition which includes the injudicious use of images displaying “artistic bareness.”

First sex. Now, violence!

Cedarville has just announced that it would be the first college in the state of Ohio to allow the concealed carry of handguns on campus. While leaders at Ohio’s public universities – and our own University of Dayton — have opposed concealed carry on campus, as of August 1 “faculty, staff and trustees at Cedarville University can start carrying a concealed handgun.” As reported by the Dayton Daily News, “Cedarville touts itself as a safe college campus and its leaders believe allowing concealed carry would ‘further strengthen this reputation.”

Safe college. As our friend Adam Laats discussed in two posts on this blog last week, what evangelical/fundamentalist schools like Cedarville sell is the “promise to keep students safe.” Of course, Cedarville’s policy actually denies students the right to concealed carry . . . but it is hard to imagine that this policy won’t change to allow students to tote guns . . .

But wait a minute. As the New York Times noted in a wonderfully titled May 15 editorial, “Campus Life: Locked, Loaded, and Loopy,” college campuses are “among the safest places in the nation,” and there is no evidence to support “the bizarre premise that students will be more secure from the nation’s epidemic of gun violence if there are more guns.” Loopy indeed. And when it comes to Cedarville, which has an exceptionally low crime rate, how in the world will the school’s new concealed carry policy make the campus safer?

Ah, but this policy is not about physical safety. It is about ideological safety. It is about reassuring the Cedarville constituency that the institution stands squarely on the NRA’s radical interpretation of the Second Amendment. It is about reassuring parents that their sons and daughters are attending a Christian Right college. Safe when it comes to biblical inerrancy and a six-day creation. Safe when it comes to “artistic bareness.” Safe when it comes to toting guns.

But what about Jesus? How does Cedarville’s concealed carry policy square with Jesus? Does what Jesus had to say in, say, the Sermon on the Mount matter in the least?

Good questions.

Safety Schools, Part 2

Today’s post is a continuation from our colleague Adam LaatsAssociate Professor of Education and History (by courtesy) at Binghamton University, State University of New York. He is the author most recently of Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). He blogs about school and society at I Love You but You’re Going to Hell.

All conservative-evangelical colleges promise to keep students safe. But there has never been agreement on what student safety means. They have all emphasized different parts of the promise to keep students safe. Not because they are wishy-washy, but because there has never been a once-for-all definition of a single, unbreachable orthodoxy among conservative evangelicals.

There can’t be.

For conservative evangelicals, the very concept of central authority has been suspect. There can be no pope, no Vatican councils. True, some denominations friendly to the traditions of American evangelicalism have a variety of ways to settle disputes: presbyteries, synods, and so on. Most evangelical institutions, however, insist on a more diffuse set of authorities, on non-binding conventions or coalitions of independent churches.

At colleges and universities like Cedarville, authority has always been vested in a dizzying variety of sometimes-competing sources, such as accrediting groups, dictatorial leaders, alumni, trustees, and outside celebrities.

Who decides what it takes to keep students safe? Who lays down the rules about student drinking or dramatic productions? Who can insist that certain theological doctrines are dangerous, while others are merely suspicious?

At most evangelical colleges and universities, such questions have been answered in different ways at different times, with different leaders and groups asserting authority in different ways.

Some schools—Bob Jones University springs to mind—have rested all authority in dynastic leaders. Others—such as Wheaton College or Moody Bible Institute—have long been addicted to an opaque and muddled process by which the swirling currents of evangelical rumor and innuendo are negotiated by a fractious group of trustees, alumni, administrators, and outside celebrity voices.

The story has always been the same: Student safety is paramount, but the details are devilishly difficult to determine. When one group manages to assert its authority to insist on some particular idea as absolutely necessary, anyone who disagrees will be on the outs. And there is plenty of room to disagree.

To keep students safe, do evangelical schools need to insist on young-earth creationism? On dispensationalism? On conservative political activism? On racial segregationism? On “purity culture?” The questions have changed in different decades and at different schools, but the underlying tension has always remained the same.

And it is this perennial tension that is driving events in Cedarville. The details are unique, but they fit into the same pattern that has always forced difficult decisions in evangelical higher education.

P.S. Check out Adam’s recent post on giving creationists access to rocks at the Grand Canyon.

Safety Schools: Part 1

Today’s post comes from our colleague Adam LaatsAssociate Professor of Education and History (by courtesy) at Binghamton University, State University of New York. He is the author most recently of Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). He blogs about school and society at I Love You but You’re Going to Hell.

The purges and purifications at Cedarville University might seem messy and anomalous. In fact, however, they follow a simple and predictable pattern, a pattern as old as evangelical higher education itself.

As reported by Kate Shellnutt in Christianity Today, Cedarville’s administration has insisted on a new tightening of classroom requirements. New purity rules will edge out any books, films, poems, websites, or anything that seems “pornographic, erotic, obscene, or graphic.”

The details are new and unique. To my knowledge, no other evangelical school has insisted on a purity doctrine based explicitly on Philippians 4:8.* The script, though, is anything but surprising. Since their beginning in the 1920s, as I argue in my upcoming book about the history of evangelical and fundamentalist higher education, the network of self-consciously dissident conservative evangelical colleges and universities has been governed by a few simple, inexorable realities.

First, schools such as Cedarville absolutely must maintain their reputation as “safe” spaces for their students. Safe from liberal theology and mainstream science, safe from sex, safe from booze, safe from every possible spiritual danger. Second, it has never been clear what real safety looks like. More important, it has never been clear who has the authority to decide. As a result, evangelical schools—ALL evangelical schools—have been wracked from time to time by purges and purification campaigns.

Different authorities will insist on different ways to guarantee true evangelical safety. The authority in each case may be different—it might include powerful trustees, dictatorial presidents, student protesters, influential celebrity outsiders, or wealthy alumni. In each case, however, whoever manages to finagle control will insist on their own idea of proper student safety. And, in many cases, those who don’t agree are shown the door.

We might put it in this simple equation:

Unclear definition of “safety” + Unclear structure of authority = Periodic purges

Of course, evangelical colleges are not the only ones to obsess over student safety. Indeed, our current mainstream higher-ed bubble is the result, in large part, of intense social anxiety among students and parents. Why would students pay tens of thousands of dollars for a college degree from Princeton, for instance, instead of spending much less for the same degree from a state school? In large part, elite students and schools are driven by their yearning for safety—for entrée into an elite social circle with an elite college credential that can keep students safe from uncertain futures in the economy and society.

The rules of safety on evangelical campuses have included those mainstream anxieties and added their own nervousness about theological and cultural traditionalism. Evangelical and fundamentalist schools have existed, in large part, to provide evangelical students with high-quality higher education without exposing them to the presumed moral and spiritual dangers of secular or liberal schools.

Beyond a vague yearning for safely orthodox schools, however, there has been no agreement on what student safety would look like at conservative evangelical schools. Even the most basic assumptions always fall apart.

For example, we might conclude that no conservative-evangelical college would consider it safe for students to perform in dramatic theater celebrating homosexuality. We’d be wrong. Throughout its existence, the very conservative Bob Jones University has mandated student participation in plays, including relatively risqué works such as those of Oscar Wilde.

We might at least assume that all conservative-evangelical campuses would ban the use of alcohol among students. Wrong again. To the chagrin of many of his fellow conservatives, J. Gresham Machen did not ban drinking at his new orthodox seminary when he opened it in 1929.

At the very least, it might seem fair to think that conservative-evangelical schools would insist on orthodox theology among faculty members. And yes, all schools have insisted that they have only orthodox teachers. However, in practice it has been impossible for interdenominational evangelicals to agree on any particular orthodoxy. For example, when Bryan University (now Bryan College) opened its doors in the 1920s, it had to eliminate the doctrine of premillennialism from its faculty creed. Many leading fundamentalists of the era assumed premillennialism was the very definition of true fundamentalism, as Bill Trollinger’s first book demonstrated, but Bryan’s leaders disagreed. Their namesake, after all, William Jennings Bryan, hadn’t been a premillennialist.

These examples are not mere exceptions; they are the rule. The non-negotiable insistence on student safety has been universal, but the boundaries of true safety have always been impossible to agree upon. Even the most basic rules of faculty belief and student life have been open to dispute and disagreement.

And why this is the case is the subject of the next post.

*“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things.” FWIW, my sinful, secularized, formerly-evangelical alma mater also has this verse as its school motto.

Whatever It Takes to Protect the Children

In the end, it is all about protecting the children.

The mission of Answers in Genesis [AiG] is to provide churches, schools, and families with a host of resources designed to provide youth with “a suit of armor that will ensure complete protection from the enemy, including an extraordinarily thick helmet that will render the mind impervious to dangerous ideas.” So it is that,

thanks to AiG, parents can take their children to the Creation Museum [and now, Ark Encounter] and watch Christian Right DVDs with them at home; they can homeschool their children with AiG curricula or send them to Christian schools that use the same materials; they can take their children to fundamentalist churches where they hear young Earth creationism preached from the pulpit and where they are taught from AiG curricula in Sunday School. (Righting America 208-209)

Encased in the hermetically sealed world of fundamentalist home-church-school, the children are safe. But at some point some of them will leave home and head off to college. How can parents ensure they will be safe, especially given that – according to AiG and Ken Ham – many or most Christian colleges have abandoned their commitment to biblical authority?

Again, AiG is there to help. The organization has developed a list of “Creation Colleges” – 38 colleges, 17 seminaries, and 12 Bible institutes – whose “presidents have affirmed in writing their personal agreement with the Tenets of Creation,” which include the propositions that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and that a global Flood produced the geological strata.

AiG has deemed that all of these schools are safe havens for the children of Bible-believing parents, or more accurately, potentially safe havens, as there is always the possibility of a rogue professor who suggests that the universe is billions of years old or that Genesis is not “literal history.” But among these “Creation Colleges,”

AiG lavishes the most love and attention on Cedarville University . . . so much so that one could legitimately think of Cedarville as Answers in Genesis U. (Righting America 210)

The ties between AiG and Cedarville are very tight:

  • Cedarville has not only hosted a number of young Earth creationism conferences on campus (conferences that feature AiG representatives), but it has also sponsored a variety of events at the museum, including the 2014 Creation 4 Conference.
  • In 2015 the “Cedarville University Mining Company Sluice” exhibit opened at the museum, where “adults and kids of all ages can enjoy an interactive mining experience.”
  • Not only does Cedarville offer a major in young Earth creationist geology, but the leader of that program – Dr. John Whitmore – leads AiG-sponsored raft trips through the Grand Canyon.
  • Ken Ham speaks frequently at Cedarville, and in fact – as we note in Righting America – “clearly enjoy[s] something akin to celebrity status.”
  • The most recent Cedarville Magazine features articles by Ham (“Six-Day Creation: Why It’s Important to Higher Education”) and AiG’s Georgia Purdom (“Mutations: Evolution’s Disappointment”).

In his blog post heralding the publication of these articles, Ham proclaims that while “very few Christian colleges today will take an uncompromising stand on creation and the age of the earth,” Cedarville University “boldly and unashamedly stand[s] on the authority of God’s Word.” That is to say, Ham and AiG provide the imprimatur that Cedarville is, indeed, a safe haven for fundamentalist youth.

But of course, to be “the sort of school that could legitimately claim the label ‘Answers in Genesis U’ requires constant vigilance to ensure that faculty and administration do not stray from the Truth” (Righting America 212). Hence Cedarville must engage in periodic acts of purification. Hence in 2012-2013 dozens of faculty and staff had to be forced out, including virtually the entire Biblical and Theological Studies Department. Hence this spring the university implemented a “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy,” in the process warning faculty that they are responsible “before God and the administration” for their choice of assigned materials.

It takes a lot of work to protect youth from dangerous ideas. Faculty have to be watched. Faculty have to be reminded they are being watched. Faculty have to be fired. Whatever it takes.

Cedarville University: The Purification Continues!

Once again, this blog writes itself.

This spring Cedarville University implemented a “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy,” in which all that “is examined and taught in the classroom or through co-curricular activites” is to be guided by Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.

Those unfamiliar with the world of fundamentalist higher education might wonder how exactly this biblical passage – as inspiring as it is – could serve as a “rubric” for a university curriculum. But for the Cedarville administration, of these 36 words there is only one that really matters.

“Pure.”

To quote from the policy:

What is acceptable in most classrooms may not be at Cedarville. The lines of propriety must be drawn with an eye toward what is pure, not simply [!] what is just.

In fundamentalism the word “pure” always refers to sex, first and foremost. The “Biblically Consistent Curriculum Policy” establishes that faculty will not assign or show “images, movies, songs, plays, or writing that may be considered ‘adult’ in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students.” “’Artistic bareness’ [what does this phrase mean?] may be appropriate in courses studying art,” but even in such cases “the use of such images should be handled judiciously.”  In short, Cedarville has determined that its employees must “err on the side of preventing placement of temptation or unwholesome material in front of students.”

The threat to faculty is not terribly subtle. But in case Cedarville professors do not get the message, the policy ends with this warning of divine and administrative wrath:

In all cases, faculty are wise to run material by their dean or chair prior to presenting it to students if it approaches the category of “unacceptable.” Before God and the administration [emphasis ours], faculty are accountable for their choices, and deans and chairs for their oversight of this material.

According to Christianity Today, some Cedarville professors are very upset about this policy. On the face of it, this seems unsurprising. What serious scholar in the humanities could tolerate such restrictions and threats? But wait a minute. Current Cedarville faculty members are those who either survived or were hired in the wake of Cedarville’s Great Purge of 2012-2013. They are upset?

As we detail in Righting America, “Cedarville’s crackdown on perceived doctrinal deviance” began in 2012 with the firing of theology professor Michael Pahl. Pahl was fired because he was not willing to affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve on biblical grounds, though he was willing to do so on theological grounds. And affirming the latter and not the former proved unacceptable to the administration.

Pahl’s firing was just the beginning. The purge quickly picked up steam:

As of the summer of 2014, there had been an “exodus” of forty-three administrators, faculty members and staff members, some of whom were forced out (having signed nondisclosure statements) while others quit and moved on to less hostile professional and religious climes. Add to this the departure of fifteen trustees . . . as well as the summer 2013 removal of an additional twenty-nine staff members in what was explained as a financially driven “reduction-in-force.” [And] as is almost always the case in fundamentalist crackdowns, the Cedarville purge focused on clearing out the Biblical and Theological Studies Department. (Righting America 213)

In a very real sense the purification of fundamentalist colleges and universities never ends. At Cedarville, a faculty or staff member might have managed to put their head down and avoid being fired in the Great Purge, or they may have been fortunate enough to land a position after the Cedarville administration cleaned house. But now here comes a policy that puts more restrictions on the curriculum and the classroom, plus the threats and reminders that God and the bosses are watching.  

And why the never-ending quest to make Cedarville even more pure? In explaining the “Biblically Consistent Curriculum” the administration is quite explicit:

This policy provides clear boundaries for employees as well as context for students and their parents regarding the type of community they are entering when they enroll at Cedarville.

Right. You have to reassure your fundamentalist constituency that you are safe. And another marker that Cedarville is safe for fundamentalist parents and students is its very tight ties to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis. But more on this in the next post.

Recruiting Culture Warriors

Given that so many people – including many Christians – find fundamentalism and creationism bewildering and bizarre, who is the audience for contemporary fundamentalist leaders and organizations?

When Bill spoke last Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church here in Dayton one person observed that, in her experience, evangelicals were primarily interested in the Bible for their personal devotions and for discussion in Bible study groups, and were much less interested in the particulars of biblical inerrancy or in making strident arguments in behalf of claims that the Bible has no errors and is factually accurate in all that it has to say.

This is an astute observation. Anyone who has grown up in evangelicalism knows this to be the case. In fact, it is very much in keeping with what scholars such as James Bielo have noted about evangelicals and the Bible and Bible study groups.

But it is not enough to simply say that evangelicals approach the Bible as a resource for day-to-day living. Whether or not they can make an argument in behalf of biblical inerrancy, many or most of these warm-hearted evangelicals would affirm that the Bible is without error or contradiction, and the final authority on whatever it teaches. Put another way, for many or most American evangelicals biblical inerrancy is simply a given.

And it is precisely these folks whom Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) understand as their audience. It is not non-evangelical Christians, many of whom – as we have been discovering in speaking at mainline churches – are bewildered by fundamentalism. It is certainly not those who are not Christians; not to put too fine a point on it, it is almost inconceivable that someone from outside Christianity would be converted to fundamentalism by a visit to the Creation Museum.

Instead, Ham and company focus their attention on evangelicals, making what has proven to be a compelling argument that – if one believes that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God – then one must also hold to young Earth creationism, one must also be virulently opposed to gay rights, one must also join the battle to save America from the secular and atheist forces seeking to destroy the biblical foundations of this once-Christian nation. In short, the goal of fundamentalist leaders like Ham is to constitute evangelicals – even warm-hearted evangelicals more interested in piety than propositions and argument – as culture warriors.

This is how we put it in Righting America:

The Creation Museum and AiG are Christian Right sites that relentlessly and aggressively promote a highly ideological and radically politicized young Earth creationism as true Christianity. What is sad – to use one of Ken Ham’s favorite words when he is talking about “compromising” academics and church leaders – is that millions of Americans who are seeking to be good Bible-believing Christians have bought the message that AiG is selling . . . [despite the fact that] ideological and politicized young Earth creationism of the Creation Museum and AiG has little to do with the Jesus of the Gospels. (226-227)

Sad indeed.

Fundamentalism: A Foreign Territory

How do people hold on to ideas that seem to be illogical, and how do they hold on to them with fervor?

Last Sunday Bill talked about biblical inerrancy and the origins of fundamentalism at Westminster Presbyterian Church here in Dayton. It was the first of five talks on fundamentalism that he will be giving on fundamentalism at Westminster (upcoming talks: April 30, May 7, May 14, May 21, all of which are at 11.20 AM – 12.15 PM).

It was a very lively group, and there were excellent questions having to do with the definitions of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, the nature of scholarship on fundamentalism, and so forth.

But much of the questioning had to do with the notion that fundamentalists understand the Bible as having no errors or contradictions, and as being factually accurate in all that it has to say, including when it speaks on history and science:

  • Q: How do fundamentalists reconcile obvious contradictions in the Bible?
  • A: They would say that here are no contradictions, just failures in our understanding.

 

  • Q: How do fundamentalists account for the fact that there are two creation accounts in Genesis?
  • A: They would say that the account in Genesis 1 can be meshed nicely with the account in Genesis 2-3; they are both part of the same seamless creation narrative.

 

  • Q: How do fundamentalists respond to critiques of their arguments that make visible the logical contradictions within their arguments?
  • A: Not only do fundamentalists reject out-of-hand that there are logical contradictions in their claims for inerrancy, they have an answer for every alleged biblical contradiction. You might not think that the answers make sense, but they have answers.

 

  • Q: Do you have to be born into fundamentalism to accept it? I cannot imagine anyone voluntarily adopting these ideas.
  • A: People do indeed convert into fundamentalism. That said, fundamentalist groups such as Answers in Genesis are very much about creating a separate, almost hermetically-sealed culture.

 

  • Q: If fundamentalists live in a separate culture of their own making, with their own facts, how can you have real, meaningful dialogue with them?
  • A: If you mean dialogue about the Bible (or about theology or about politics), I have not had much luck in that regard.

So as we found at First Baptist in Peoria, here we have a group of Christians, many of whom find fundamentalists and creationists bewildering. The message of folks like Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis is clearly not persuading them, and in fact does not even seem to be reaching them.

So who is the audience for contemporary fundamentalist leaders and organizations? More on this in the next post, in which we will discuss one more question from the folks at Westminster.

Why so much weirdness?

It is not enough for young Earth creationists to create an alt-science in which: the universe is 6000 years old (light years refer to distance, not time); a year-long global flood created the Grand Canyon and all of our geological strata; and humans walked the Earth with dinosaurs (perhaps as late as the nineteenth century).

They have also created an alt-history in which: the first man (Adam) was literate, to the point that he could write the first historical document (Genesis 1-4); from the beginning humans were farmers and herders, and only much later began hunting and gathering; many early humans lived for hundreds and hundreds of years, which gave them time to develop sophisticated technology; Noah may very have well made use of cranes and concrete to build his gigantic seaworthy vessel. And there’s much, much more.

Is it really necessary to add to the strange science a strange history?

In a word, yes. If one is going to limit the time that human beings have been on the Earth to 6000 years – which of course is central to young Earth creationism – then there is no time for anything like human development. Civilization and everything that comes with it has to appear almost immediately. That is to say, Adam and Eve had to farm, Adam (don’t know about Eve) had to read and write, and so forth.

And if one is going to have Noah designing and building a gigantic seaworthy vessel then it is clear he had to have access to sophisticated technologies, technologies developed in the centuries after Adam.

Importantly, the young Earth creationist historical method dovetails perfectly with the young Earth creationist scientific method. You start with the conclusion you want to reach (i.e., the young Earth and the global flood), theorize as to how this might have been possible, come up with something you call “evidence” (anything will do), and cobble together an argument. And it does not matter if it makes no sense to anyone outside the young Earth creationist bubble. It does not matter that 99.9% of scientists and 99.9% of historians find this alt-science and alt-history ludicrous. It simply does not matter.

And why doesn’t it matter? Because what matters is that one holds to the notion of Genesis 1-11 as scientifically true and historically accurate, even if that means completely disregarding anything resembling the methods practiced by scientists and historians.

Whatever it takes.

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to the RACM blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.