Righting America

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

Is Science News Trustworthy?

by Sarah Olson

“IMG_1086” by East Georgia State College is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Sarah Olson is an undergraduate student majoring in microbiology at Oregon State University, and a member of the National Association of Science Writers. She works at a bookstore curating their science and math sections and reviews popular science books on her blog readmorescience.com. In addition to pursuing a career in science writing, Sarah frequently writes about the intersection of religion, feminism, and science. She currently lives in Corvallis, Oregon with her fiance. You can connect with her at saraholson.net and on Twitter and Instagram at @ReadMoreScience.

In an age of fake news and online misinformation, can we trust trust science media? Writing for Answers in Genesis (AiG), Henry F. Sanders III attempts to establish why readers cannot trust science journalists. But Sanders’ misguided argument succeeds only in showing how necessary it is that well-trained journalists report science, and why readers should be wary of popular media’s reporting on scientific research. Citing a Pew Research poll from earlier this year that indicates the American public has stable confidence in scientists, Sanders spins this in a bad light by suggesting that “Americans are not actually trusting scientists: they are ultimately trusting what the media tells them scientists are saying— in spite of having a general distrust for the media.” 

It’s a science journalist’s job to make technical subjects into more digestible news articles for the general public. Proper science writing and reporting is a skill that takes years of training, which is obviously why untrained members of the media incorrectly report scientific findings – and why graduate degrees for science journalism and communication exist. Today, even some scientists are participating in science communication and writing news-style articles for the public. Graduate programs for science journalists often require an undergraduate degree in a science, and more prestigious programs such as the University of California at Santa Cruz’s Master’s program require research experience as well. Science journalists have an organization, the National Association of Science Writers, which strives to help its members attain journalistic excellence. The field itself is self-correcting, with journalists ready to call out each other’s mistakes at a moment’s notice.

But members of the popular media who sometimes write about science news are not specially trained. Those unfamiliar with scientific processes and concepts are more likely to make mistakes, exaggerate findings and conclusions, or simply misinterpret data. Worse, there are certainly fake news sites that set out to spread misinformation and rile up the general public, to rally them against scientists and experts or simply cause mass confusion or hysteria. 

Interestingly enough, the story Sanders uses for evidence is from The Daily Mail, a tabloid. If that’s where Sanders gets his science news, it’s no wonder he’s confused and alarmed. Perhaps he needs to play the Fake News Game and equip himself with the skills necessary to detect online fact from fiction. Jerry A. Coyne notes the difference between popular media and trained science journalists, as his blog post suggests: “New paper on flightless birds is grossly misreported and distorted by the popular media.”

Sanders also cites a clickbait article distributed by Fox News, and another article Fox News misreported about Ice Age insects. Instead of recognizing that Fox News and tabloids are not trustworthy news sources, Sanders instead blames science journalists and science media. He also mentions mistakes made by Science Daily, but neglects to mention Science Daily is a press release aggregator and only lightly edited. When I was an intern for a university newsroom, some of my own science press releases were picked up by the aggregator.

Despite that Sanders has written many articles for AiG on scientific topics, he seems to have very little understanding of what a science journalist actually does. He suggests misinformation happens because science journalists simply may not have access to original papers published in scientific journals (right, try pitching an article you haven’t read to a credible science news outlet) or they may not understand that press releases may be biased (press releases are put out by universities in order to get their research featured in the media, so yes, they’re obviously advocating for themselves). But science journalists are taught to have discerning eyes, to interview their sources, and to check the facts. Their writing must make it through the initial pitch, the editing process, and publication. Despite the best intentions of editors, mistakes still happen, and sometimes papers are retracted. It’s up to journalists to investigate the facts during their reporting.

Science journalists want their headlines to be catchy, but they aren’t “paid per click” as Sanders implies. In fact, I can’t think of an outlet which pays journalists that way. Some websites may rely on clicks to earn money through advertisements, which incentivizes them to write clickbait headlines. In my opinion, New Scientist can be guilty of writing clickbait headlines – but because they have a paywall, the more enticing their headlines sound, the more likely a reader is to buy a subscription. 

Still, Sanders’ points don’t hold up to scrutiny. For his bold claim that “much of what is published in the scientific media is just as skewed and misrepresented as what is presented in the rest of the media,” Sanders fails to provide adequate or convincing evidence to support this. Had he suggested the popular mass media frequently misrepresents science, and that journalists untrained in reporting science news are more prone to errors, he would have been correct.

Ironically, Sanders also notes that AiG’s own news outlet, Answers News, is guilty of covering misinformation and clickbait; that is, even as AiG criticizes and blames science journalists for fake news, the organization publishes and perpetuates it. Sanders tries to spin Answers News as blameless, suggesting that the popular science articles they covered were misrepresentations and AiG is the victim. Readers are left with the impression Answers News isn’t fact-checking or researching for themselves, and is instead relying on other outlets to do the work for them. 

But the most outrageous claim Sanders makes is that, since only 8% of journalists attend religious services, this corrupts their journalistic integrity. He writes, “because of this [nonreligious] worldview, many journalists are more than willing to manipulate the facts to fit with their bias.” Yes, Sanders is accusing non-religious journalists of manipulating the facts to fit their worldview. According to his logic, because Answers News makes their biases known, they are the more trustworthy journalists. 

If anything, Sanders’ piece ultimately casts great doubt on his own credibility as a writer of science articles. Then again, you need not read any further than this piece to know that Sanders isn’t writing anything that is scientifically sound. Despite my research, I’m unable to find information about Sanders or his credentials and experience. Perhaps he simply hasn’t any?

Let’s return to our original question: in an age of online misinformation, should we stop trusting science news? I think it would be a mistake to condemn science journalists. There are many straightforward strategies that exist to combat online misinformation and fake news. Even the most gullible reader can take a moment to research a source and verify whether the information is true or not. On Twitter, I encourage my followers to research an incredible news claim before resharing (#ResearchThenReshare). Combating misinformation involves recognizing tactics the fake news gurus employ to trick readers, such as playing to emotions and biases or pretending to be a legitimate news source. 

I’ve been a member of the National Association of Science Writers for several years now. Last year I was one of their undergraduate science journalism fellows, a program in which promising young science journalists get to try their hand at reporting with the guidance of an accomplished mentor. What I learned during that fellowship, and during my subsequent internship in a science newsroom, is that science communicators and journalists are working hard to gain the public’s trust. We are in the fight against fake news too. Sanders, however, doesn’t seem to know which side he’s on.

Ken Ham Attacks rightingamerica

by William Trollinger

Ark Encounter, photo (c) 2018 by Susan Trollinger

“University of Dayton professor attacks Ark and Ken Ham in unscholarly article” 

That professor is me. If you would like to read what he wrote, click above. If you would like to read what I wrote, here’s a link to “Ken Ham Misleads Again.”  And here are a few comments in response to Ham’s vitriolic and misleading post:

1. Ham asserts that I “repeated the misinformation and outright untruths about the Ark’s funding that permeates other atheist blogs,” and then he continues in the next sentence by lumping me in with “secular reporters and bloggers.” All of this would be very surprising to our friends and family and students, given that Sue and I are devout Catholics – a point we made very clear when we spoke at the American Atheists Convention. Of course, it is quite possible that the fact that we are Catholic does not reassure Ham that we are actually Christian, given the anti-Catholicism found in Answers in Genesis (AiG) publications, including volume 1 of World Religions and Cults: Counterfeits of Christianity.

2. As regards the funding of Ark Encounter, I noted that “in 2013 Williamstown issued $62m worth of junk bonds” in order to help “get the Ark project underway.” Ham is very upset that I used the term “junk bonds,” which is odd, given that it is a commonly used descriptor that refers to bonds that can be valuable investments for informed investors, but their potential high returns come with the potential for high risk.”  But I have no problem referring to the Ark Encounter bonds as high-risk municipal bonds, which is how they were defined – as we reported here in March 2017 – by Gurtin Municipal Bond Management in their August 2016 newsletter. Interestingly, and as befits their readership, Gurtin’s article  — “Williamstown, KY’s Ark Encounter May End Up Sinking Investors” – focuses not on Williamstown and its taxpayers (which has been my focus), but on the dangers the Williamstown bonds pose to those who bought them. As noted by the folks at Gurtin:

On July 7, 2016 the doors of Ark Encounter opened to the public in Williamstown, Kentucky with the help of municipal investors who contributed $62 million in bond proceeds toward the amusement park in hopes that future revenues generated from admissions would be sufficient to pay them back. The potentially optimistic projections may end up sinking investors, as we have seen in the past, with other similar endeavors whose “if you build it, they will come” mentality never materialized when people did not show up.

3. A major reason the Gurtin newsletter highlighted the risks to Ark Encounter investors is that their researchers had serious doubts about the feasibility report put together by the Ark group to convince Williamstown and investors to sign on. As the newsletter stated, this feasibility report asserted that in its first year of operation the Ark was expected to attract 1.2 million to 2.0 million visitors; what the newsletter does not mention is that the feasibility report projected even significantly higher attendance figures into the future, with an average annual attendance increase of 7% for the first decade (a claim about which I suspect the Gurtin researchers were even more skeptical). So how is Ark Encounter doing with attendance? I have been following this since the park opened in the summer of 2016, and I can say that Ham and Ark Encounter are loathe to provide hard and verifiable attendance figures. But the town of Williamstown, which collects a “safety tax” from each visitor, can provide firm numbers.  And according to Williamstown, paid Ark attendance in year two (2017-18) was 862,471. Interestingly, Ham has claimed that attendance in the second year was one million,  which he asserted marked a 20% jump from year one. If Ham’s claim of a 20% increase is true, and if we make use of the firm attendance numbers provided by Williamstown, then approximately 720,000 showed up at the Ark in its first year. If we make use of Ham’s unverified 1 million visitors (and are these paid visitors?) in year two, then approximately 830,000 showed up at the Ark in 2016-2017. Either way, this is 370,000-480,000 short of the 1.2 million Ham and company sold to Williamstown and investors as the lowest possible attendance number in the first year.

4. Contrary to Ham’s claim, I did not say nor did I “imply that the city [of Williamstown] has some obligation to repay the bonds.” Moreover, I understand how Tax Increment Financing (TIF) works, an understanding enhanced by conversations with an attorney who is familiar with the Williamstown issue. That  means that I also understand how they can fail. And they can fail if the proposed project does not succeed in the fashion that was promised, if the project does not generate the revenue (tax and otherwise) that was projected, if the project simply folds. Now it is clear, based on the numbers from Williamstown cited above, that Ark Encounter is not meeting even the lowest attendance projections it offered in its feasibility report (a point that Ham has never acknowledged publicly).  I have no idea what this means for the future of Ark Encounter. Perhaps it does not need to meet these projections. Perhaps those attendance numbers were inflated in an effort to further encourage investors to put their money down. Perhaps the Ark never needs to reach an annual attendance of 1.2 million visitors for the project to survive. But there is a reason that Gurtin Municipal Bond Management used Ark Encounter as an example of a very risky municipal bond that could end up sinking investors. In this regard I will simply repeat what I said in July 2018:

Will Ark Encounter be around in, say, ten years? Five years? I have no idea. But if I were a bondholder or a Williamstown official, I would find it very worrisome that the reported attendance numbers are ever-changing, and apparently never as promised.

5. While Williamstown is not on the hook for the bonds (I did not claim that they were), it underwrote the bonds, in the process agreeing that a good chunk of what would have been property taxes paid by the Ark to Williamstown will be used to pay off Ark bondholders. It is indeed a sweet deal for Ark Encounter, and of course the folks in Williamstown signed on because they were persuaded that the Ark would bring an economic boon to Williamstown. Of course. This is the promise of TIFs. And Ham’s response, repeated in his post, is that other towns (north of Williamstown) have benefited from the Ark. But as regards Williamstown, Ham blithely asserts that 

the actual town is a half a mile off the interstate (and on the other side of the interstate) and is not visible to our guests, so the town understandably sees very few Ark visitors. And the town has not been successful so far in getting major hotels or restaurant chains to come there.

As I noted in the last post, in selling Williamstown on underwriting the $62m worth of bonds, Ham and company apparently failed to share their wisdom (articulated now by Ham, but not back in 2013) that Williamstown was located too far from the interstate to see many Ark visitors.

6. In the conclusion to his post Ham says the following:

We do hope Prof. Trollinger is providing real academic rigor to the students in his university classes as opposed to what we have exposed here: unfounded rhetoric and poor research, as he continues to disseminate false information about the Ark Encounter.

I stand by my research and my post (and Ham need not worry about my students). If Ham’s post were a paper written by a University of Dayton student in one of my first-year classes, I would have written this at the bottom of the paper:

Failure to provide substantive evidence to back your claims, and a dismaying tendency to resort to ad hominem attacks. This is not acceptable for a university-level paper. Revise and resubmit.

Horror in Dayton

by William Trollinger

Bodies removed from the scene of the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio on August 4, 2019. Photo credit: John Minchillo of AP.

Thanks to all of you who have reached out in response to this weekend’s mass shooting here in Dayton. There are no words for the sadness Sue and I feel for the victims and their families and their friends, and for our city. The photos of bodies on the street in our beloved Oregon District – just three miles from our house, and home to a wonderful collection of restaurants and bars and shops – brings us to tears. And all of this is made worse by the fact that this slaughter took place just a few hours after an even deadlier attack in El Paso. 

El Paso and Dayton are the sites of the 250th and 251st mass shootings in the United States this year. Considering that August 04 is the 216thday in 2019, and given that there were two additional shootings on Sunday, we are averaging 1.17 mass shootings every single day. America the Violent is an understatement.

The slaughter here in Dayton comes but ten weeks after fifteen tornados – four of which carried winds of 150-200 mph – ripped through our city and its environs. In the wake of the mass shooting  Dayton’s mayor Nan Whaley (a University of Dayton graduate) observed that

We have suffered two tragedies in Dayton this year, but one was avoidable. This same tragedy has been inflicted on our nation 250 times this year alone. When is enough, enough?

In response, on Sunday Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown called on the Senate to take up and pass the background check bill and the ban on assault weapons that Mitch McConnell has refused to bring to a vote. 

By contrast, Ohio Senator Rob Portman called for more attention to be paid to mental health counseling, and Mike Turner – a Republican who represents Dayton in the House, and whose own daughter was in the Oregon District at the time of the shooting –  called for a “National Conversation” about mass shootings.

It’s good to know that we can do more than simply say that “our thoughts and prayers are with you.” We can now offer a willingness to chat.

Talk about being in thrall to the gun lobby.

Ken Ham Misleads Again

by William Trollinger

Ark Encounter, photo (c) 2018 by Susan Trollinger

“Disingenuous” is the kindest word I can come up with to describe Ken Ham’s latest blog post. 

Responding to an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, which (among other things) highlights the failure of Ark Encounter to benefit the nearby town of Williamstown, Ham writes:

It’s interesting that many secularists and others like this reporter continue to attack the Ark for not greatly impacting Williamstown. Now, even though the address of the Ark Encounter is Williamstown, the actual city of Williamstown is a half a mile off the interstate. Because it’s not very visible, Williamstown sees very few Ark visitors, plus there are no major hotels or restaurant chains there. 

Wow. Talk about eliding the truth. From reading this post, one would not know that (as we have noted again and again) in 2013 Williamstown issued $62m worth of junk bonds and loaned the proceeds to Ark Encounter to get the Ark project underway. This very sweet deal (for the Ark, if not for Williamstown) was made much sweeter by the fact that, over the next thirty years, 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes will instead be used to help pay off the loan.

So how did the folks at Ark Encounter sell Williamstown on what has turned out to be a very bad deal for the town? Why, of course – Ham and his compatriots suggested that great economic benefits would accrue to Williamstown, with hordes of tourists coming into town, and with hotels and restaurants popping up to service this horde of tourists! 

But that was then.

Now – with the deal done, with the Ark built, with millions of dollars of property taxes lost to the town for decades into the future – Ham is telling Williamstown that the town itself is to blame for its economic misery, as it is too far from the interstate to get Ark visitors, and as it has failed to find someone to build the requisite hotels and restaurants. Interestingly, Ham and company did not share this wisdom with Williamstown in 2013, when they were pushing the town to sign on to the “$62m of bonds and property tax forgiveness” package. 

Of course, there is no chance that Ken Ham will acknowledge that he sold little Williamstown a bill of goods. It is much better to blame the victim. Especially since there is nothing the victim can do. The fix is in.

The Fundamentalist Quest for a Gentler God: Rewriting the Story of the Flood

by William Trollinger

Photograph taken by Susan Trollinger. Righting America, p. 55. For more images and information about the museum, go to creationmuseum.org

In her blog post, “Death Outside the Ark . . . Made Vivid,” Sue Trollinger discusses the troubling contradictions found in the Voyage of the Ark room at the Creation Museum. On the one hand, the room – constructed as if museum visitors are actually on the Ark – is a beautiful and warm place, with “baskets filled with food for the journey,” and with dioramas depicting scenes of Noah and his family happily dining together amidst exquisite tapestries. But nearby there is another diorama, in which people and animals are frantically climbing rocks to escape the rising flood waters, and in which the humans are desperately trying to hail the Ark as it blissfully floats by. More than this, there is a video which depicts the Earth as it is being swallowed up by the Flood. Most disturbing, there is a scene in which a daughter and mother in vaguely Middle Eastern attire are in their house, happily playing a game. But through the window the museumgoer sees a wall of water rapidly advancing on the blissfully unaware pair. Within a matter of seconds, they will be desperately trying to keep their heads above the raging waters. Within a matter of minutes, they will be dead.

Sue sums up her analysis of the Voyage of the Ark room quite succinctly and understatedly:  “What a curious and callous juxtaposition.” But one reader of her post is quite dismayed by Sue’s interpretation. Written just a few days ago, here is his response in full:

People were warned, repeatedly. God begged mankind to repent. He still does. WithHis whole heart God pleads with us to turn to Him, to find Him while there is time. He was rejected then and most people reject Him today. We have many examples in which mankind refuses to heed His invitations to find Life in Him in addition to this One. Destruction of civilizations is a common theme throughout history and we are headed in the same direction right now. Less than one hundred years ago the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, killing tens of thousands of civilians, maiming millions. Nazis obliterated millions of Jewish people. Stalin killed 12 million Soviet citizens or more. The greatest annihilation is yet to come and is just around the corner. God makes clear how our world will be consumed with fire and destruction beyond anything we have ever seen or known. Regardless, many of us still ignore God. We won’t be able to ignore Him forever. Each of us will be held accountable for our lives, whether we have loved Him and our neighbors as He has loved us. 

Much of this fits very neatly with the interpretation one finds at the Creation Museum. This is particularly true when it comes to linking Noah’s Flood to the End Times of dispensational premillennialism, i.e., the global slaughter of the Flood prefigures the global slaughter to come (Righting America, 48-50, 168-170). Admittedly, connecting the Flood to Hiroshima/Nagasaki, the Holocaust, and Stalin’s Terror is a new twist, and a particularly perplexing (appalling?) one at that. Is the point that the Japanese, Jews, and Russians failed to repent and turn to God, and thus had to be destroyed? And were Truman, Hitler, and Stalin doing God’s work?

But it is the first two sentences I want to focus on: “People were warned, repeatedly. God begged mankind to repent.” This interpretation of the Flood is very much in keeping with the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter. The kindest response I can make is that this is an extrabiblical reading. There is not one word in Genesis chapters 6-8 – the chapters that describe the Flood – that suggest that God warned people repeatedly, and that God begged mankind to repent. Here is Genesis 6:5-7 (NRSV):

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And theLORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

So that’s God. As far as Noah is concerned, there is also not one word in Genesis to suggest that Noah preached the impending divine judgment, nor any evidence that Noah sought to persuade others to join his family on the Ark, a point that discomfited some rabbinic interpreters (Righting America, 270fn18). While our correspondent does not go this route, there is much effort at the Creation Museum (and in young Earth creationism more generally) to fill in this gap with one verse from the New Testament:

And [God] spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly (2 Peter 2:5, KJV).

A “preacher of righteousness” is a pretty flimsy biblical reed upon which to rest the argument that God/Noah warned the inhabitants of the Earth and begged them to repent. As we note in Righting America (124-125), there is nothing here to suggest that Noah pleaded with people to join him on the Ark or that people across the globe – a population which, according to Ark Encounter, may have numbered upwards of twenty billion – knew about the Ark. Of course, there is also no suggestion in the Bible that the Ark could have accommodated an additional billion, million, thousand, hundred or even ten individuals! And none of this addresses the fact that the global Flood of Genesis drowned infants and toddlers and children and animals. In what sense were they liable for a failure to repent?

I understand very well the desire to soften the story of Noah’s Flood. I understand very well the desire to make the case that the wicked were given a chance to repent, they refused, and thus they were responsible for their drowning (just like the billions who end up in the fundamentalist Hell will be responsible for their eternal burning). I understand very well that our correspondent and the folks at Answers in Genesis and evangelicals and fundamentalists in general do not want to be understood as calling us to worship a genocidal God.

But it is very telling that, to get the Flood story they want, they have to move a fair bit away from the biblical text. Biblical inerrancy is the fundamental, except when it isn’t.

Fundamentalists, Catholics, and Two Very Different Uses of Evolutionary Theory

by Pete Cajka

Pete Cajka is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department at Notre Dame and a faculty affiliate with the Cushwa Center for the Study of American CatholicismHe is an intellectual and cultural historian of the twentieth century United States with interests in Catholicism. His book manuscript, “Follow Your Conscience: The American Catholic Church, War, Sex, and the Spirit of the Sixties,” is under review at an academic press. In this post Cajka brings Righting America at the Creation Museum into conversation with historian Catherine Osborne’s book American Catholics and the Church of Tomorrow: Building Churches for the Future, 1925-1975.

Introduction

Pope Pius X, like American fundamentalists, responded negatively to Darwin’s Origin of Species. Not only did evolutionary theory suggest humans were more material than spiritual, Darwin’s argument, if applied to social life, made the adaptation of Christianity to modern conditions appear inevitable. A synthesis of Church and world characterized the modernism condemned by Pius in his 1907 encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis, with evolution playing a key part. “At the heart of what the modernists teach,” he wrote, “is their doctrine of evolution.” Ken Ham comes from a different time and place, but he too desires that church, tradition and Christianity be quarantined from evolutionary theory’s perceived dangers. 

In her energetic book, American Catholics and the Church of Tomorrow, Catherine Osbourne concedes that Pope Pius was right about one thing: even if he “significantly overstated the degree of organization and coherence among emerging modernist tendencies,” he correctly identified evolution as a centerpiece of the modernist agenda (5). She explores how evolutionary thought burrowed into western culture, and Catholic life, despite Pius’s best efforts to stop it. 

The Pope’s condemnation of modernism did succeed in removing evolution from seminary and university curriculum. Catholic intellectual life, so some have argued, went into a deep freeze after Pius’s condemnation of modernism that only thawed in the years after Vatican II. Mid-twentieth century American Catholics, as historian William Halsey argued in his 1981 book, The Survival of American Innocence, chose to remain in ordered aloofness, as the moderns in their midst embraced creativity and relativity in science, legal theory, sociology, and psychoanalysis.

Osborne shows that confining our analysis of evolutionary thought to traditional academic spaces like seminaries and universities vastly impairs our understanding of modern Catholicism.  In All Good Books are Catholic Books Una Cadegan traced the diffusion of literary modernism in American Catholicism via good books and periodicals – enterprises often beyond the clergy’s view. Osborne shows how a generation of liturgists and architects built the concepts of adaptation and evolution into the physical structures of American Catholic churches. These architects and liturgists, who fed off the vibe from the Liturgical Arts Society and its journal Liturgical Arts, apprehended the world via what Osborne calls “the biological paradigm.” They believed that buildings “developed naturally in accordance with their environments” (8). Buildings were living, natural, vital, and organic. Church structures must always be made with local materials that embed them in the local environment, and church spaces must always be imagined as complex organisms that evolve over time. 

Setting these two books – American Catholics and the Church of Tomorrow and Righting America at the Creation Museum – into conversation shows just how important it became in the twentieth century to lasso evolution to a preferred set of ends. Fundamentalists with the Creation Museum concentrate on the ills of evolution in order to galvanize Christians to participate in a Culture War. Catholic architects and liturgists design buildings that render evolution into a progression towards a unified humanity.  We much prefer a positive spin on evolution (harmony) to a negative interpretation of evolution that perpetuates a culture war against “godless secularists.” But we must also recognize that the liturgists and architects drew upon space, power, and ideology to establish their hopeful interpretation of evolution as a preferred approach. 

Models of Power

There are vast differences between a museum and a church. A church constructed with evolutionary architecture does not resemble the multi-staged linear path of the Creation Museum. It is glaringly obvious to point out that the churches Osborne analyzes do not come outfitted with displays of evidence looking to back up a scientific argument. St. Patrick’s Church in Oklahoma City (see photos) is an open space contained in a rectangular shell; it does not come with placards, tables, charts, or videos of scientists giving brief lectures. Likewise, the Creation Museum is not designed to facilitate a religious ritual, the Catholic mass, nor does it have the sacred task of storing and protecting consecrated hosts. While there are thousands of Catholic Churches across the United States, there is only one Creation Museum. 

Exterior of St. Patrick’s Church in Oklahoma City, OK. Photo courtesy of Pete Cajka (2019)

But both the churches and the museum try to communicate a narrative to those who walk through their doors. As the Trollingers show, the Creation Museum is a museum in the Enlightenment tradition: it situates visitors as subjects in a grand narrative, rife with classifications under the laws that organize the universe. In a museum, the Trollingers write, a visitor observes “their own behavior as an object of knowledge and … assess[es] it according to its compliance with the laws of nature” (24). The Creation Museum implores its visitors to position themselves against evolution: they have to make the “right choice” to reject evolution and the subsequent corruption of society that comes from the evolutionary worldview. 

Modernist churches also want to position subjects in a grand narrative. Its subjects are part of a humanity that is evolving – and has to be purposefully evolved – into a unified form. The open spaces, the parabolas, the arches, and the light flooding the sanctuary all seek to position the subject in an evolutionary narrative. For Osborne’s modernists, evolution is a fact, a reality that humanity exists within – it needs be accepted, even celebrated, as the framework of the real world.

Both the Catholic modernists and the Answers In Genesis (AiG) crew deploy models – miniature or life size – to constrain imaginations and amplify their interpretations of reality. In a brilliant chapter, Osborne shows how architects brought miniature models to planning meetings with archbishops and other ecclesiastical officials. In 1947, the Catholic architect Joseph Murphy, the artist Emil Frei Jr. and Passionist Priest Betrand Abell brought a model and sketches to a meeting with Archbishop of St. Louis, Joseph Ritter. It was a smashing success. Osborne recounts how the “meeting lasted more than an hour as Ritter investigated the model, made comments, asked questions” and concluded that the evolutionary designs captured the Church’s twentieth century ethos (50). Modernists made arguments about reality with these models. They were designed to hook potential boosters into a particular plan. 

The displays at the Creation Museum serve a similar purpose. The Trollingers note how certain passages of the bible are omitted from the placards in order to communicate a specific message to the visitors. This is also true of the displays of scenes from the bible found the museum: life size models of Adam and Eve, or biblical characters lounging with dinosaurs, ask the observers to consider a single take on the past. Signs and models are preferred means to shape an interpretation of evolution, whether positive or negative.

Is the use of physical models particular to debates on evolution? Certainly not: built culture is used to communicate a range of arguments on all sorts of political and social concerns. But reading Righting America alongside The Church of the Future suggests that Christians prefer to communicate arguments about evolution in physical, material forms. These are strategies designed to reach a very wide audience, driving home the high stakes of commanding how people think about evolution. Thousands of people saunter through the museum and thousands will gaze upon a physical church in Oklahoma City and St. Louis, even if they are driving past. 

The Creation Museum and the modernist churches both harness the power of cutting-edge technologies. The Creation Museum tour includes films, interactive exhibits, short videos, speakers, and voice-overs. The museum depends upon highly-trained craftsmen to create their renditions of Adam and Eve. A long train of construction vehicles – cranes, cement trucks, scaffolds – were required to build AiG’s Ark Encounter, just down the road from the museum. Catholic modernists and liturgists drew upon technology to help adapt buildings to their local, modern environments. To communicate the argument that humanity was evolving towards a unified state, Catholic architects called increasingly upon concrete, glass, steel, and other modern materials. As Osborne notes, Catholic liturgists and architects did this with a purpose: they deployed technology to recast the role of the church in the world – to entwine the church with the world’s evolutionary process. 

Interior of St. Patrick’s Church in Oklahoma City, OK. Photo courtesy of Pete Cajka (2019)

Ken Ham, Harvey Cox, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 

Righting America and The Church of Tomorrow demonstrate how debates about evolution were – while important in and of themselves – a proxy for a contest over the boundaries of sacred and secular more broadly. Ken Ham favors a strict separation of these two realms. The operation of human reason and God’s Word must remain distinct. For him, evolutionary thought raises the specter of humanity tarnishing the sacred: to recognize the reality of evolution means denying God’s creative powers and the Bible’s inerrancy.  The most influential intellectuals in Osborne’s study, Harvey Cox and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, both argued that the task of twentieth century Christians was to meld the two kingdoms together. At stake in the debate over evolution, then, even dating back to Pope Pius X, is the mission of the Christian Church itself: to separate from modern society, or to connect the secular and sacred. Cox and de Chardin did not divide the world into the categories of the divine or saved. These thinkers, and the Catholic architects and liturgists they inspired, believed the world was moving into a more holistic reality. It was the task of Christians to push this process along. 

The divergent responses to evolution influence the question of salvation. For Ham, salvation is granted to a militarized remnant who reject evolution; this means choosing God over man, and saving oneself in the inevitable destruction that is to come. For de Chardin, salvation can be worldly: as individuals blended a single consciousness into an emerging world soul, humanity moves along towards an Omega Point. Gradually, the profane is drawn into the sacred. Salvation is total, both individual and social. Osborne also deftly explores how at the center of this evolutionary process is a tension between will and grace – of one moving himself or herself into unity while also being ineluctably drawn in. Could de Chardin find space in his theory of evolution even for those who reject evolution like Ken Ham? Whereas Ham welcomes an ecological disaster – or accepts a global flood or plague as inevitable – de Chardin sees evolution as a potential solution to broader ecological and political crises. For Ham, God separates and destroys; for de Chardin, God blends and saves. Both arguments, it’s important to recognize, are responses to the provocation of evolutionary theory. 

The Creation Museum is a space that seeks to separate Christianity from culture in order to wage a Culture War against secular liberalism. Osborne shows how Catholic modernists were profoundly inspired by Harvey Cox to break down distinctions between sacred and secular. The church served as a physical space where these barriers melted away. Christians were called to act in the world – to transgress boundaries – in order to change the world. Christians, in fact, were called to tear down the barricades that cordoned off sacred and secular. Cox, like de Chardin, saw the world evolving and progressing towards a more unified state. Deeply formed by Cox’s Secular City, Catholics began to build spaces that immersed people in the city and inspired individuals to participate fully in secular culture. Catholic churches became community centers, ecumenical gathering spaces, and even sites of secular protest. The church should be a place of openness for those in need. Whereas Ham perceives worldly attitudes, underscored by evolution, as a threat to God’s Word, Catholic modernists were inspired by evolution to fill the world with grace. Physical spaces, the Creation Museum or the hundreds of churches built by an evolutionary model, reified these theologies. 

Conclusion

Debates about evolution are about the future. Positions on evolution are positions on what is to come. Read together, Righting America and The Church of Tomorrow show how Christians focused on the question of evolution as a means to shape the future to a desired set of ends. For Ken Ham and the Creation Museum, the future is bleak: evolution undermines God’s Word and the inerrancy of the Bible, and God promises retribution on a mass scale as a result. “While a future is not specifically foretold at the museum,” the Trollingers note, “the museum’s controlling and repetitive narrative of disobedience and punishment, especially its emphasis on the global flood and Noah’s Ark, makes it clear that judgment for America, for the West, for all of humanity, is forthcoming, and with it the rescue of a faithful remnant and eternal damnation for the rest of humanity” (224). Even as each believer faces a choice, destruction for the totality of humanity seems inevitable, with salvation promised only to the faithful. 

Catholic modernists and liturgists held out hope that evolution promised a more unified humanity.  Humanity was evolving – and needed to be spurred along – into a holism. Physical spaces tuned believers into this reality and asked them to participate in the process. Evolutionary theory, if used to explain how the future could unfold, promised a more unified and peaceful planet. These books impress upon readers how evolutionary theory sent shockwaves through modern Christianity, sending believers into different camps. Fundamentalists at the Creation Museum and Catholic modernists who build churches are united in their mobilizations of evolutionary theory, but not the desired ends. 

Ken Ham Proves the Point: For Evangelicals, Every Child is a Gift, Except When They Aren’t

by William Trollinger

2-year-old Yanela Sanchez and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, taken into custody June 12, 2018. Photo credit: John Moore (via Getty Images)

In the previous post, “Every Child is a Gift . . . Except When They Aren’t,”  Emily Hunter McGowin makes a very strong case for the argument that evangelicals treasure some children, and not others. I decided to apply her argument to Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis. Looking at one year’s worth of blog posts, what does Ham have to say about children, and is it true for him that every child is a gift, except when they aren’t?

In keeping with Emily’s argument about evangelicals in general, Ham definitely has had a lot to say about abortion, and he has also talked about adoption, euthanasia, procreation, and the sex trafficking/sexualizing of children.

Abortion

  • “The ‘Fetal Heartbeat’ Isn’t the Issue” (June 05, 2019)
  • “So, Who’s Really Anti-Science?” (May 16, 2019) 
  • “When Should We Use the Bible?” (April 18, 2019)
  • “NY Takes the Culture of Death One Step Further” (January 28, 2019)
  • “Media Reports ‘Around 1,000’ People Attend DC March for Life” (January 24, 2019)
  • “A Tragic Anniversary: Remembering Roe v. Wade” (January 22, 2019)
  • “‘I Had an Abortion and I’m Not Apologizing'” (January 17, 2019)
  • “Top Performing Movie on Abortion Dropped from Theaters” (November 02, 2018)
  • “Argentina’s Senate Rejects Elective Abortion Bill” (August 10, 2018)
  • “Does Abortion ‘Avoid Birth Defects’ and ‘Human Suffering’? (July 05, 2018)
  • “Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Pro-Life Centers” (July 02, 2018)

  • Adoption

  • “DO Embryo Adoptions ‘Give Too Much Personhood to the Embryo’?” (February 25, 2019)

  • Euthanasia

  • “Euthanasia . . . for Children?” (August 16, 2018)

  • Procreation

  • “The Rise of Parenthood-Indecision Therapists” (April 01, 2019)

  • Sex Trafficking/Sexualizing of Children

  • “Teen Vogue Tells Girls: ‘Sex Work is Real Work'” (June 25, 2019) (a piece on sex trafficking that – oddly enough – makes no mention of Jeffrey Epstein)
  • “The Sexual Revolution’s Next Battle: ‘Love Has No Age'” (June 17, 2019)
  • “Next in the Sexual Revolution: Children” (March 28, 2019)

  • Now, it must be said that on his blog Ham spends more time attacking any and all threats to the male-female binary than anything else. Some of these posts explicitly or implicitly focus on how these threats are threats to children and youth:

  • “Preferred Pronoun Stickers, All Gender Restrooms, and More” (May 30, 2019)
  • “Are Sex and Gender Identity the Same Thing?” (May 20, 2019)
  • “Sad Consequences of the Gender Revolution” (March 04, 2019) (dangers of bathrooms that allow for men who identify as women to assault girls)
  • “Gay Barbie? Couple Pushes for ‘Diversity’ in Doll Sets” (January 07, 2019)
  • “Christian University Changes Back Position on Same-Sex Relationships Between Students” (October 01, 2018)
  • “New York Public Library to Host ‘Drag Queen Story Hour'” (July 24, 2018)

    In her post, Emily McGowin also points out that, for all their concern about children, most evangelicals are silent about the number of children (particularly, African-American children) who are killed in gun violence (often within the home).  Most evangelicals are also silent about the rapidly expanding scandal of sexual abuse and harassment of children and youth in evangelical and fundamentalist churches. Most evangelicals have been silent about the horrific treatment of children at the southern border, including the separation of families and the keeping of toddlers and children in appalling conditions in cages.

    Ken Ham fits this description perfectly. On his blog over the past year there has not been a word from him on these topics. For Ham and his fellow evangelicals, it would seem that devotion to the Second Amendment, pastoral authority, and the current President of the United States trumps care for children (particularly children of color).

    But here’s the thing. White evangelicalism is shrinking rapidly and aging rapidly. Young evangelicals are heading for the doors. They get the silence, the hypocrisy, the absence of Jesus.
    In his blog post, “Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Leaving,” John Pavlovitz – who once served as a pastor in an evangelical church – says that “this attrition is likely irreversible.” Of course, nothing is inevitable. But if evangelicalism and its leaders continue to choose right-wing politics over the Gospels, it seems clear that the decline will continue apace.

  • Every Child is a Gift…Except When They Aren’t

    by Emily Hunter McGowin

    Today’s post is from Emily Hunter McGowin, who  is Associate Lecturer of Theology at Wheaton College. She is the author of Quivering Families: The Quiverfull Movement and Evangelical Theology of the Family. She holds a PhD in theology from the University of Dayton and MDiv from Truett Seminary. Her research is at the intersection of religion, theology, and ethnography. She also serves as a deacon in the Anglican diocese of Churches for the Sake of Others (C4SO). You can learn more about Emily at her website.

    2-year-old Yanela Sanchez and her mother, Sandra Sanchez, taken into custody June 12, 2018. Photo credit: John Moore (via Getty Images)

    Every child is a gift. Every child is a blessing. These are bedrock convictions of conservative evangelicalism. Right? 

    The idea that every child is a gift rests on three theological assumptions. First, the belief that God has a direct hand in the creation of every child, which is rooted in scripture. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” the Lord says to Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5). “For you created my inmost being,” the psalmist says, “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). Second, the God who creates each child also loves each child personally and unconditionally. This, too, is rooted in scripture, particularly the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. If these two assumptions are true, then the third also follows: The gift nature of children is unqualified. The circumstances of a child’s conception, birth, and life do not change the reality that the child is a blessing created uniquely and intentionally by God. 

    Arguably, the most passionate evangelical practitioners of the child-as-divine-gift principle are found in the Quiverfull movement. In my book, Quivering Families, I wrote about the development of Quiverfull, as well as its cultural features, discourse, and practices. Put simply, Quiverfull families are characterized by a life of Christian patriarchy, homeschooling, and what I called pronatalism. The mothers and fathers of the Quiverfull movement embody their commitment to the blessing of children by refusing to prevent or even seeking to manage their conception. Every pregnancy is viewed as a direct work of God’s creative hand. As a result, these families often have six or more children and devote their lives to “bring[ing] them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). 

    Another way this child-as-divine-gift conviction shows up in evangelical culture is in the realm of adoption, both local and international. Perhaps the most visible and vocal proponent of the cause among American evangelicals is Southern Baptist leader, Russell Moore, who advocates not only for the practice of adoption among Christian families but also the cultivation of an “adoption culture” in local churches. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this,” the letter to James says, “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Evangelicals like Moore take this admonition to heart and seek to provide Christian homes to needy children worldwide. 

    (Of course, both the Quiverfull movement and the evangelical adoption movement have faced serious criticism both inside and outside evangelicalism. Space prevents me from reviewing these critiques here, but the interested reader is invited to do their own research.)

    In addition to birthing and adopting children, though, evangelicals are also known for creating and supporting organizations that prioritize the needs of children. Take, for example, Compassion International, which, among other things, allows households to sponsor children on a monthly basis and provide for their physical, educational, and spiritual needs. A similar child sponsorship program is run through World Vision, along with other ways to give to children in impoverished and war-torn locales across the globe. Also, countless American churches participate in the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child program, which involves packing boxes of small gifts to be sent to tens of thousands of children for Christmas every year. This is not to mention the Vacation Bible Schools, Awana programs, and other such child-focused events sponsored and staffed by evangelical churches annually. Each of these organizations and programs is grounded in the conviction that children are gifts from God and deeply loved by God. 

    All of the above is in addition to the white evangelical participation in and support for, the pro-life/anti-abortion movement. Even where evangelicals are not marching or working in organized ways, evangelical Christians have been faithful supporters of professedly pro-life political candidates since Jerry Falwell and the Religious Right helped mobilize evangelical voters to elect President Ronald Reagan in 1980. Today, abortion remains a key issue for conservative evangelical voters, cited over and over again as the reason for white evangelicals’ continued support of President Trump

    Every child is a gift. Every child is a blessing. Right? 

    Yet, these convictions are painfully and strikingly at odds with the behavior of large swaths of evangelicalism in recent years. I’ll detail just a few. 

    First, we have seen story after story emerging from evangelical churches in recent months about the repeated failure of church leaders to protect children from sexual abusers. It’s happened among Southern Baptists, independent Baptists, Reformed denominations, and non-denominational Bible churches. Reports from newspapers all over the country have revealed that over and over again leaders in countless evangelical churches have chosen to prioritize the reputation of their leaders and prestige of their institutions over the protection of children in their pews. 

    While the sexual abuse crisis was brewing in evangelical churches, the past couple of decades have also seen an alarming rise in gun deaths among children in the U.S. as a whole. While most of the media attention is given to school shootings, the vast majority of gun deaths among children do not happen in those settings. Though the rate of firearm-related homicides has declined since the 1980s, gun violence is now the second most common cause of death among American children. The majority of children—an incredible 85 percent—under the age of 13 who were shot to death from 2003 to 2013 were killed in a home. In addition, nearly two in three of gun deaths of all ages are the result of suicide. It is also important to note, as The Atlantic does, that African Americans make up about two-thirds of gun-homicide victims among those ages 15-29, which means they are 18 times more likely to be murdered by guns than their white peers

    In the face of this alarming threat to the well-being of American children, white evangelicals have done almost nothing. (One notable exception is evangelical pastor and activist Shane Claiborne). Most don’t even consider the matter a serious priority. It is this issue where the commitment to maintaining access to guns (born of constitutional conservatism regarding the Second Amendment) conflicts with the conservative commitment to protecting children. And the Second Amendment always wins (at least so far). The pursuit of any legal changes to regulate, or in any other way limit, the proliferation of guns is a political non-starter among white evangelical voters. Thus, deeply held convictions about the blessing of children have not led to any widespread effort to take tangible steps to curb child deaths by gun violence in the U.S.  

    Finally, I must mention the thousands of immigrant and refugee children separated from their families and being detained indefinitely by the U.S. government. Although recent reports have rightly focused on deplorable and inhumane conditions at facilities along the southern border, the separation of children from their parents and their indefinite detention on U.S. soil has been a regular practice since the Trump administration’s implementation of a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border-crossers in April 2018. Even though President Trump walked back the more extreme child separation policy through an executive order in June 2018, by that point more than 2,700 families had been separated at the border. And, even though the policy has officially ended, the practice continues to this day.

    Some evangelical leaders and organizations have criticized the immigration policies of the Trump administration, particularly on the matter of family separation. The Evangelical Immigration Table, headed by leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals, World Vision, and World Relief, is attempting to catalyze a cultural shift on immigration among American evangelicals. But, it is notable that the unjust immigration policies and cruel treatment of immigrant children has done nothing to reduce white evangelical support for President Trump. It seems that their prioritization of “law and order,” an ideal going back to the Jim Crow era, is more important than their commitment to the welfare of children. In the words of Janelle Wong, author of the book Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change, “Evangelicals are in a difficult position because of their emphasis on supporting the traditional family. But here, if you strongly support the president’s overall strategy on immigration and see immigrants as dangerous lawbreakers — some even blame the parents for putting their children in this position — it’s easier to justify.”

    Why am I linking the evangelical response (or lack thereof) to the sexual abuse crisis, gun violence, and treatment of immigrant children? Because I think they betray a damning pattern. 

    When I was working on my book about the Quiverfull movement, I noticed that leading Quiverfull figures often failed to apply their children-as-divine-gift conviction to all children. Even though they said all children are gifts of God, they didn’t really mean all children are gifts of God. Our children—that is, the children of white evangelical Protestants in the U.S.—are gifts of God; the children of ethnic and religious “others” are not.  

    For instance, in her book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality, Mary Pride says, “Scripture draws a fundamental distinction between the children of the righteous (of whom there are never enough) and the children of the wicked (of whom there are always too many). The children of the righteous are blessings… On the other hand, curses are on the children of the wicked…” In Pride’s work, as well as the writings of other Quiverfull proponents, the children of Muslims were regularly singled out for special mention. In order to motivate Christian couples to embrace reproduction, authors raised alarm that Muslim children might come to outnumber Christian children within just a few decades. Fear of “other” children was always part of the discourse. 

    Most white evangelicals would never use such explicitly xenophobic language. But, I think this differentiation between “us” and “them” transcends the Quiverfull movement. All of the above scenarios (and there are more I could mention) reveal that there are ideological and political limits to the theological conviction that every child is a gift. It seems to me that evangelical Christians feel bound to love and protect children only insofar as they are like “us” and are not perceived as a threat to “our” way of life. That is to say, most white evangelicals are eager to love, serve, and protect children, but only on their own terms. 

    Think about it. If the child victims of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches were faces in a Compassion International campaign, they’d be happily supported and prioritized. If the child victims of gun violence were located in the Democratic Republic of Congo rather than Chicago, they’d be happily donated to, sponsored, or even adopted. If the children presently living in overcrowded cages in McAllen, TX were the recipients of a Casas por Christo home-building effort they’d be happily held, played with, and provided for. But, the key is, such children could be loved and served on our own terms, in our own time.

    When children do not seem to be like “us,” when children are causing “us” discomfort, when children are imposing themselves upon “us,” when children are challenging our ideologies—most evangelicals have had enough. The children of “others”—political, religious, or ethnic—are not worthy of sacrifice and activism. Children who would force a change in our ideologies and practices are not worthy of our support.

    Fundamentalists Create Fake War between Science and Religion

    by Rodney Kennedy

    Rodney Kennedy has his M.Div. from New Orleans Theological Seminary and his Ph.D. in Rhetoric from Louisiana State University. The pastor of 7 Southern Baptist churches over the course of 20 years, he pastored the First Baptist Church of Dayton (OH) – which is an American Baptist Church – for 13 years. He is currently professor of homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is also putting the finishing touches on his sixth book: The Immaculate Mistake: How Southern Baptists and Other Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump

    David Ray Griffin argues that science and Christian faith embody a great truth, but “both of these truths have been distorted.” These distortions have made it seem as if science and religion have been at war. 

    I contend that there is no war. When there is truth and distortion on both sides of a debate, the tendency to resort to fake dualism is great.

    Both sides of this debate have members claiming to have the whole truth. There are scientists who line up to insist that Christianity is riddled with nothing but myth, illusion, and error. Stephen Jay Gould insisted that there didn’t need to be conflict between science and religion if only religious folk would accept the proper division of labor, i.e., science provides us with truth, while religion’s task is to provide moral motivation. But one has only to read Francis S. Collins and Kenneth R. Miller, for starters, to know that many scientists do not agree with Gould.

    On the other side of the imaginary war are preachers and philosophers insisting that science is completely false, and that the conflict between science and religion will be resolved only by the scientific community bowing the knee to faith and returning to a supernaturalistic framework. Sophisticated thinkers like attorney Philip Johnson and philosopher of religion Alvin Plantinga continue to insist on the necessary repentance of science. Less sophisticated thinkers – best epitomized by Ken Ham – burnish their faith credentials by appearing ferocious and courageous against mainstream science. But as Charles Taylor makes clear in A Secular Age, this naïve point of view has been undone and will not be making a comeback, since the default setting in Western culture is no longer belief in God. 

    It is important to keep in mind that the notion that science originated in the 19th century ignores a long tradition of scientific naturalism that began in 600 BCE. David Lindberg’s definitive work, The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450, traces the scientific mentality from its birthplace in Greece. Known at first as natural philosophy, modern science emerged from the support of the Church. Lindberg traces the appreciation and employment of the Greek heritage in the church, and he demonstrates how the church became the incubator of modern science with her preservation and transmission of Hellenistic schools and the preservation of manuscripts and learning in the monasteries. Regarding the latter, David Ray Griffin points out that “this task of preservation and transmission was an essential task, without which the emergence of modern natural science. . .. would have been impossible.” 

    The alleged war between science and faith is fake. It is the concoction of a witch’s brew of dedicated fundamentalists on both sides throwing huge rocks at one another in the vain hope that one glass house will disintegrate before the other. 

    Orville Wright. Image in Public Domain.

    Rather than continue to pretend there is a war, perhaps we could work toward a reconciliation and coalesce around shared beliefs, in the process helping to make it possible for people to participate fully in both communities. While I hesitate to use anecdotal material in an argument, in this case I think it is justified. When I served in Dayton, Ohio, I observed that the two worlds of faith and science could be situated in a geographical analogy. Dayton, Ohio, the birthplace of aviation with the Wright Brothers (apologies to North Carolina), represents the coming wave of scientific technology. Three hundred eighty miles due South lies Dayton, Tennessee, the site of the famous Scopes Trial, with the prosecution led by the Bible-quoting Christian William Jennings Bryan. While the fundamentalists won the trial, in the court of public opinion Mr. Bryan was humiliated and roundly defeated by Clarence Darrow. 

    William Jennings Bryan. Wikimedia Commons.

    But I preached that Christians can and should participate in both communities of science and faith – doing physics and math at a Wright Patterson Air Force base lab, and saying prayers and singing songs of praise to God in the First Baptist Church of Dayton. That is to say, we don’t have to hold one worldview on Sunday and a different one during the week. There is room under the giant umbrella of truth for quarks and Quakers, black holes and heaven, science and faith. As Kenneth R. Miller says in Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul: “Theology does not and cannot pretend to be scientific, but it can require of itself that it be consistent with science and conversant with it.” 

    My hope lies in the conviction that the universe, in a certain sense, had us in mind from the very beginning. In the moving words of physicist Freeman Dyson, ours is a “universe that knew we were coming.”

    In Defense of Atheism

    by Sarah Olson

    Sarah Olson is an undergraduate student majoring in microbiology at Oregon State University, and a member of the National Association of Science Writers. She works at a bookstore curating their science and math sections and reviews popular science books on her blog readmorescience.com. In addition to pursuing a career in science writing, Sarah frequently writes about the intersection of religion, feminism, and science. She currently lives in Corvallis, Oregon with her fiance. You can connect with her at saraholson.net and on Twitter and Instagram at @ReadMoreScience.

    “Dragon” via Pixabay, licensed under CC0

    Dr. Schmidt, thank you for your thoughtful response, and for participating in this discussion. I would like to close by noting that I don’t believe in science as a faith, nor do I think atheists have turned it into something metaphysical, a substitute for their lack of religion. It’s interesting to me that Christians use the argument of scientism to compare science to religion or spirituality as a means to invalidate it. Doesn’t this simply cast doubt on religion itself instead? As an atheist, I choose not to believe in a God or the legitimacy of the Bible until I have valid, reasonable evidence indicating they are true. I guarantee that atheist scientists, presented with adequate evidence for God, would be among the first to accept the idea. But would Christians be willing to deny the faith they cling to so adamantly if they were presented with scientific evidence that a different divine being, a being other than the God of Abraham, existed – say, a goddess, or Gaia? I would love to believe in something, given the evidence to justify it. But I’d hazard to say that many, if not most Christians would scoff at evidence contradictory to their beliefs.

    Finally, I don’t accept the notion that science is incapable of explaining why anything exists. Science and technology in their present form may be advanced, but they are still young, and the possibilities of future discoveries are still tantalizing, especially for those of us in biology. Scientists are just as fascinated with the why’s as well as the how’s, they just don’t deign to assert the “why” without adequate support for their claims. Science may be a descriptive tool, but I believe this makes it an explanatory one as well. And Christianity, unfortunately, offers far less in terms of describing and explaining. If I come across as materialistic by saying this, it is only because I am grounded in our wondrous physical reality. I am too preoccupied with it to lose my head over the possibility of invisible dragons in the garage.

    Righting America Blog Categories

    Subscribe via Email

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