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Who is the God at the Center of Young Earth Creationism?

by Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger

Last Sunday, Sue gave our second of four presentations at Westminster Presbyterian Church, in Dayton, Ohio. Her session focused on creation science and, in particular, the arguments made by young Earth creationists that mobilize the discourse of science to “confirm” a particular literal reading of the early chapters in Genesis. Sue talked about the importance of The Genesis Flood (1961) for moving creationist arguments into science—the dominant discourse of truth within modernity. And she took the class on a brief tour of the Creation Museum and the creation science arguments made there.

Along the way, one member of the class expressed confusion and some dismay at what it would mean to take seriously the idea that God sent a global flood in judgment of all land-based living creatures who did not get on the Ark.

Noah’s Flood – or, better stated, God’s Flood – is indispensable to young Earth creationism. According to young Earth creationists, the Flood was a global event that took place approximately 4500 years ago and produced the fossil record and geological strata that we see today. That is to say, the Flood gives the young Earth its “appearance” of age.

Of course, built into the idea of a global Flood is global slaughter, as all humans and animals who were not on the Ark drowned. Answers in Genesis (AiG) does not shy away from highlighting what seems to many outsiders as the genocidal, zooicidal God of young Earth creationism. In fact, at Ark Encounter they ratchet it up by claiming that upwards of 20 billion human beings (2 ½ times the current world population) died in the Flood, not to mention the billions and billions of animals who died.

But why did God find it necessary to engage in such slaughter? From an Ark Encounter plaque entitled “Man Abuses God-Given Abilities,” visitors learn that

Man eventually spread across the earth, but rather than serving their Creator they became exceedingly wicked. In a little over 1,650 years [since the Garden of Eden], they had grown so vile that God judged the world with the global flood.

Later at Ark Encounter there is a series of four plaques that justify God’s actions in the global Flood. For one thing, God “is perfectly just” and thus “must judge sin” accordingly. Moreover, as God “is the one who gave life, He has the right to take life.” Anyway, “death is a merciful punishment,” as who wants “to live forever in a fallen world?”

As morally bizarre as all this is, Ark Encounter does not address why God had to drown infants and toddlers. Were they too so vile that they had to be killed? Was death merciful for them as well?

But then there are the animals. At the Creation Museum, there is a plaque entitled “The Flood Drowns the Earth” that answers the question asked at Westminster Presbyterian last Sunday:

Animal violence was everywhere, so animals everywhere had to be destroyed.

What? What does this mean?

Putting that question aside—really? “Justice” is so important for the young Earth creationist God that He’s good with causing millions (billions, perhaps, on AiG’s count) of innocent creatures, human babies and toddlers included, to suffer at His own hands?

This is the God we are to worship?

Funding Ark Encounter: The Rest of the Story

by William Trollinger

This photo features an up-close view the supposedly accurate replica of Noah's Ark at Ark Encounter in Kentucky. The front end of the Ark is shown with guests wandering around the sides of it.
Ark Encounter, photo (c) 2018 by Susan Trollinger

Even while he blasts the journalists for their secular bias and their unwillingness to tell the truth about Christian ministries, Ken Ham refuses to tell the full story about how his gigantic Ark has been funded.

Ham begins his January 29 post, “The Rest of the (Media) Story,” with a Trump-like “fake news” attack on the press:

In recent times, Americans have been increasingly waking up to the extreme bias of much of the secular media, with an understanding that you just can’t necessarily trust what the media broadcasts or publishes. Of course, we at Answers in Genesis [AiG] aren’t surprised by this at all, as our ministry, especially our Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, has been misquoted and misrepresented and has seen facts distorted and information deliberately left out by many media outlets for many years [emphases Ham’s].

In keeping with this “persecuted Christians” trope, a good part of the post is devoted to the ways in which the press does not accurately describe the ways in which organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) “have misrepresented the First Amendment and threatened schools about taking field trips to the Ark (or the Creation Museum).” According to Ham:

We need to be constantly reminded that groups like the FFRF, ACLU, American Atheists, etc. have an agenda to discriminate against Christianity. And so do many reporters who write articles, magazines, and websites.

In this regard, Ham goes on at great length to defend Ark Encounter against FFRF criticisms that the Ark is receiving a “tax incentive rebate” (according to Ham, not a “tax break”) from the state of Kentucky. According to Ham, the only reason they are “outraged” is “because they want to discriminate against the Ark as it has a distinctively Christian message.” And their atheistic outrage blinds them to the fact that “the Ark has been an incredible revenue generator.”

Leaving aside the alleged persecution of Christians, it is interesting to look at what else Ham has to say about the funding of Ark Encounter:

No state funds were used in the building of the Ark contrary to many media reports . . . AiG spent over $100 million for the first stage of the Ark Encounter, of which $65 million came from bonds funded by our supporters – and those bonds plus interest will be paid off over 15 years.

It is 2019, and Ham continues to fudge the truth when it comes to the funding of Ark Encounter. As we have repeatedly pointed out,

In 2013 the little town of Williamstown, Kentucky issued $62m of junk bonds and loaned Ark Encounter the proceeds to get its project going. It is a sweet deal for the Ark, made much sweeter by the fact that, over the next thirty years, 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes will go to paying off the loan.

It is not clear what Ham means when he says now that the bonds will be paid off over 15 years (15 years from 2013? 15 years from 2019?). What is clear is that Ark Encounter is taking a huge chunk of what would have gone toward property taxes for Williamstown and instead is using this money to pay off its loan.

That is to say, Ark Encounter is being subsidized in a major way by the town of Williamstown. Who is omitting and distorting facts? Will Ken Ham ever come clean?

The Conundrum of Smart Creationists

by Susan and William Trollinger

Last Sunday, Bill taught the first of four classes that we are offering on Creationism and Science at Westminster Presbyterian Church here in downtown Dayton. (The next three classes will be February 03, 10, and 17, 11.20 AM-12.15 PM). While there did not seem to be anyone in attendance who believes that the universe was created in six twenty-four-hour days less than 10,000 years ago, a number of people volunteered that they have friends and family members who are young Earth creationists. One participant nicely captured the attendees’ sentiments:

I have a smart, well-educated friend who is informed on all sorts of matters. But he is also a creationist, which makes no sense whatsoever. How can he accept these ideas?

It is a great question. And it is not easy to explain why intelligent folks believe that light years refer to distance but not time, that dinosaurs walked the Earth with humans, and that a global Flood created the Grand Canyon and all other geological formations that give the Earth the “appearance” of being old.

But there are at least two factors that are in play. The first is that in the past 150 years science has

become a discourse most people could not understand. Its focus [is] too specialized, its vocabulary too esoteric, its objects of study either too big or too small to comprehend (Righting America 25-26).

That is to say, scientific knowledge has become the realm of highly-trained “experts,” many of whom are not terribly willing and/or able to find ways to communicate their findings in ways that the general public can understand. This has dire consequences, as we see in the contemporary “controversy” over the reality, causes, and consequences of climate change. Of course, the failure to grasp climate science is not simply the responsibility of scientists – the well-funded disinformation campaign on the part of the fossil fuel industry is another factor – but there is no question that we would benefit greatly if more scientists from an array of disciplines would make it their business to educate the public.  

We should note that it is not only academics in the natural sciences who are not adequately meeting their public responsibilities. For example, it also applies to historians, who need to take a little time from the writing of specialized scholarly monographs to address the fact that only 8% of America’s high school seniors believe that slavery was a central cause of the Civil War, or that 31% of all Americans (including 44% of millennials) “do not believe that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust and think the real death toll is at least 2 million lower.”

A second factor in explaining why so many people hold to young Earth creationism is that for the past half century leaders within the evangelical and fundamentalist movements have been largely successful in making the case that the only truly faithful reading of the Bible is a literal one of a particular sort (as opposed to other literal readings). According to this particular literal reading, “day” in Genesis 1:1-2:3 has to mean a 24-hour day. To say anything else is, according to their argument, to fail to take the Bible seriously as the chief authority in one’s life. Thus, the 24-hour creation day (and a young Earth and all the rest that goes along with that) has become a crucial measure for many of these Christians of the integrity of their own faith.

When you put that conviction about the measure of one’s faith together with the difficulty many people have in understanding scientific discourse, it is perhaps not all that surprising that folks who really want to be good Christians choose the measure of their faith over science.

That said, so-called literal readings of the Bible change over time. Just as people have been talked into the idea that the only truly faithful way to be a Christian is to read the Bible in a young Earth creationist fashion, so they can be talked out of this. But this too will take work, and biblical scholars – particularly biblical scholars from evangelical institutions — will have to speak directly to this public.

Teaching the Bible in Public Schools: A Bad Idea . . . for Conservatives

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 now the interim senior pastor at the Upper Merion Baptist Church in King of Prussia, PA (which is also an American Baptist church) while also teaching homiletics at Palmer Theological Seminary. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his sixth book: The Immaculate Mistake: How Southern Baptists and Other Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump. 

This image shows a classroom in which empty blue chairs surround a long wooden table. A map hangs in the background.
“Classroom” by Academia IF is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A new wave of legislation for teaching the Bible in public schools has hit the nation. A bill pushed by Indiana State Senator Dennis Kruse combines the national motto with the teaching of the Bible. Oblivious to the idolatry of combining Americanism with the Bible, Kruse says, “I think it’s good to remind people of our national motto and that God is who we really place our trust in. This is how we came about as a country.”

Christian Right groups are wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth about how we have lost our national values and they need to be restored, before it is too late. One of the leaders of this movement is David Barton, the fake historian from Texas and director of the Wallbuilders. The name refers to Barton’s attempt to break down the “wall of separation” between church and state. It’s an odd name to give an organization that is attempting to destroy a wall rather than build one, but Barton has been confused from the beginning. If Barton’s name doesn’t ring a bell, he wrote a book called The Jefferson Lies. When actual historians – including evangelical historians – reviewed the book and pointed out that Barton invented evidence from whole cloth to substantiate his argument that historians have told us lies about Jefferson, the publisher took the unprecedented step of removing the book from publication. But Barton has simply self-published his book, all the while continuing his campaign of lies and distortions to adoring audiences across America.

Of course, I think teaching the Bible in the public schools violates the separation of church and state. I am also convinced that conservatives like Kruse don’t want to just teach the Bible in public schools; instead, they want to teach a particular kind of fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. And while this sort of argument does not convince conservative evangelicals, it is an argument that has served us well in defeating most attempts to infiltrate public schools with a particular Christian interpretation of the Bible.

All this said, I have had an unsettling idea. Maybe we should give conservative evangelicals what they want. Maybe we should allow the teaching of the Bible as literature as an elective in our public schools.

Why do I say this? Conservative evangelicals might not be as “gung ho” for Bible teaching in public schools once the lessons start and the PowerPoint lights up on the big screen. How will these Christians feel about a teacher who tells students that Genesis 1-11 is not actual history but a collection of pre-historical myths, fables, and tales? How will they feel about an instructor who teaches that Jonah is a piece of brilliant Jewish comedy designed to offset the feeling of God’s people that they are superior in every way to other nations? What will they do when Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation are depicted not as literal predictions of the end of the earth?

In the end, wouldn’t conservative evangelicals be better served by continuing to offer their own unique and modern interpretations of the Bible in their own churches? In that setting, there’s no dissent. There’s no disagreement. There’s only the mind-numbing acceptance of fundamentalist literalism.

But allowing the Bible into public schools, where authoritarian pastors can’t control content, context, or the hiring of teachers who might open young minds to new and better ways to read the Bible is very risky. It would turn into a nightmare for conservative evangelicals when school boards hired teachers like me who see the Bible as non-literal truth, as a complex literature filled with symbolic language and multiple meanings and varying interpretations.

But there’s more. There’s abundant evidence that the Bible has a “mind of its own” and ways of infiltrating the minds of others far beyond the control of those who would attempt to coerce the Bible into very particular human forms. That is to say, the Bible has its own power.

On a Sabbath in the village of Nazareth, a young rabbi rose to read the Scripture. The familiar words of Isaiah pleased the congregation. “This is the son of Joseph. Doesn’t he read well?” “I always knew this boy was going places.” “We are proud of him. He’s one of us.”

Then the young rabbi decided to do a little teaching of the Scripture. In the face of a deeply prejudiced congregation who assumed they possessed a righteousness than other nations lacked, the young rabbi explained that God has in previous times came not to them but to foreigners like a widow at Zarephath in Sidon and a leper like Naaman the Syrian. We are told that the congregation was filled with rage and tried to kill the young rabbi.

By all that conservatives hold high and holy, they should rethink this Bible teaching business that will go on outside their churches and out of their control. It’s a bad idea for them.

But if they get their way, if they get the Bible into the public schools, I’m getting my resume together. I can’t wait to teach the Bible in a new setting.

Ken Ham, White Evangelicals, and Fighting Racism

by William Trollinger

At Answers in Genesis (AiG) Ken Ham has put up a post entitled “Martin Luther King Jr. Day: The Gospel is the Answer to Racism.” In this post Ham asserts that

Christians should be at the forefront of continuing to fight racism because we have the answer to racism. And that answer is found in the true history of the world and the saving gospel, as related in God’s Word, beginning in Genesis! You see, the Bible’s history is vital when we’re discussing the issue of “race.” The Bible teaches that all humans are descended from the first couple, Adam and Eve. . . When we start with the Bible’s history, we can clearly see that we’re all one family and that we’re all sinners in need of a Savior. The gospel is the answer to racism! [Emphases Ham’s]

Given the racism at the heart of much of white evangelicalism, these words from an evangelical leader are heartening.

And yet.

It turns out that AiG’s effort at “fighting racism” is quite abstract, disconnected from America’s past and present. For example, at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter there is no reference to the millions of biblical literalists who used the Bible to argue in behalf of slavery, and then in behalf of segregation. Regarding the present, Ken Ham may argue that “the gospel is the answer to racism,” but he has been silent about the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the controversy over the Confederate flag and monuments, the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, the police shootings of African Americans, and the persistence of institutional racism in the United States. And while Ham and AiG produced an hour-long video devoted to blasting Barack Obama for advancing the  “gay marriage/homosexual agenda,” he has been silent about Donald Trump’s egregiously racist comments and policies.  

Taking Ham’s statements about “fighting racism” at face value, why is he so quiet?

The most obvious explanation is that he does not want to alienate the Trump-supporting white evangelicals who visit the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter and who purchase AiG materials. But more than this, Ham’s and AiG’s emphasis that there is no “race” – that we are “all shades of brown” – is very much in keeping with the Christian Right’s efforts not to see racism in America’s past and present:

The [Creation Museum’s] almost complete silence on the history of racism in the United States, notwithstanding Ken Ham’s claim that “we have a large section of our museum that is devoted to combating racism,” is part and parcel of the Right’s emphasis on a “color-blind” society in which civil rights for racial minorities have already been achieved such that there is no need any more to attend to questions of race and institutional racism. As Daniel Rodgers has noted in Age of Fracture, “in the ‘color-blind’ society project, amnesia [is] a conscious strategy, undertaken in conviction that the present’s dues to the past had already been fully paid” (Righting America 188-189).

It is unfortunate that Ham and his AiG colleagues cannot bring themselves to address the specific realities of America’s racist past and present. And as long as they remain committed to not seeing, their efforts at “fighting racism” will be of very limited effect. Which is too bad.

Looking Back at 2018

by William Trollinger

Faithland map, 2018. Created by Alex Egoshin using data provided by the Association of Religion Data Archives.

2018 was significant for the rightingamerica blog, both in the variety of authors’ voices and topics featured, and the number of visitors/viewers. Below are the year’s twelve most popular posts of 2018, which include two posts from previous years that attracted a good amount of attention in 2018. I should note that the twelfth most popular post of 2018 had more visitors/viewers than the most popular post of 2017.

This past year has made even clearer that we are a community of engaged scholars who seek to understand evangelicalism, young Earth creationism, and Christian Right politics. We hope for even more authors and a wider range of topics in 2019. And we invite you to write a post or posts for this site. If interested, please be in touch!

12: Looking In from the Outside: Evangelical Colleges and Donald Trump by Adam Laats with William Trollinger (January 29, 2018)

  • “Evangelical colleges and universities have always fueled feelings of usurped ‘Christian’ social dominance; they have emphasized beleaguered, defiant white nationalism. In other words, evangelical colleges have always promoted a very Trump-ish vision of white “Christian” nationalism.”

11: Notes from the (Ongoing) Controversy at Taylor University by William Trollinger (April 6, 2018)

  • “The authors of Excalibur [the ‘publication of the Taylor University conservative underground’] claim that . . . they are victims of a hostile cultural and campus climate . . .  Actually, Excalibur’s whining . . . is prima facie evidence that the victimhood trope has captured much of American evangelicalism.”

10: Immigrants, and a Better Way Forward by Herbie Miller (November 8, 2018)

  • “Our immigrant friends have truly been a gift to us from God, surprising and delighting us by bringing new friends to our doors. And in response, my church’s posture toward immigrants is one of trust — in God and in our new friends – and welcome.”

9: The Moody Crisis: Part 1 by Tim Gloege (January 18, 2018)

  • “For most of the twentieth century, [Moody Bible Institute] could claim ownership of a premiere (perhaps the premiere) conservative evangelical brand. Its longstanding tagline touted Moody as the “name you can trust.” Today, it is the name hardly anyone remembers.”

8: Ark Encounter Attendance: After Two Years, The Controversy Continues by William Trollinger (July 12, 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.”

7: It’s Not about Paige Patterson, Continued: Sex and Gender Beyond Evangelicalism by Elesha Coffman (June 12, 2018)

  • “I heartily concur . . .  that ‘this tangled mess of misogynistic axioms … must be rooted out and disposed of—within the SBC and American evangelicalism as a whole.’ I only wish we could stop there. The roots of this problem are deep, the branches are wide, and the fruit is sickening.”

6: The Pain Wrought by Complementarian Theology by Margaret Bendroth (June 13, 2018) 

  • “Regardless of whether Paige Patterson . . . was simply guilty of being an insensitive buffoon, he’s an abuser. Regardless of whether husbands who love their wives as Christ loved the church beat them with a hairbrush or not, they are inflicting damage. Perhaps . . . we’ve reached a moment of acknowledgement, maybe even repentance—and maybe even redemption.”

5: Religious “Nones” and Social Decay in the Heartland by Zach Spidel (February 12, 2018)

  • “There is one sort of a-religiosity that exists amongst many of America’s cultural elite on the coasts. There is another that exists around here amongst those left behind in this new gilded age of ours, and it is emblematic of a deadly social decay.”

4: The Surprising Geography of America’s Religious “Nones” by William Trollinger (February 9, 2018)

  • “Take a look at the fascinating ‘Faithland’ map . . . created by using data from the 2010 Religious Data Archives that documents the percentage of religious adherents in each county in the United States. . . Note the place that is not along the coasts and that is not in the West and that has a high concentration of ‘nones.’ Really?”

3:  Noah’s Flood: The Drowning of Billions by William Trollinger (June 30, 2016)

  • Answers in Genesis “casually (even callously) suggest[s] the possibility that between 749,999,992 and 3,999,999,992 human beings drowned in the Flood . . . Here, then, is the message of Ark Encounter. The righteous drowning of millions/billions of human beings prefigures the righteous burning of billions of human beings. Quite the tourist site.”

2: Joel Osteen, Evangelicals, and Donald Trump by Emily Hunter McGowin (October 16, 2017)

  • “Donald Trump offers a less polished, more nationalistic version of Osteen’s prosperity preaching. So, when Twitter explodes over the perceived hypocritical behavior of Joel Osteen . . . evangelicals are being targeted too. Hatred for Osteen is also about hatred of evangelicals and what they have come to represent, fairly or unfairly, in the American cultural imagination.”

1:  It’s Not about Paige Patterson: Sex and Gender in the SBC and Beyond by Emily Hunter McGowin (June 11, 2018)

  • “The web of sex and gender ideology I’ve described above exists with or without Paige Patterson and with or without the SBC. It is this tangled mess of misogynistic axioms that must be rooted out and disposed of—within the SBC and American evangelicalism as a whole. This culture is harmful to men, to be sure, but it is particularly devastating to women and girls.”

So Many Fascinating Articles This Year (2019!) on Evangelicals and Trump

by William Trollinger

It is absolutely impossible to keep up on all the articles being written by smart journalists and scholars on white evangelicals, the Christian Right, and Donald Trump. Below are seven articles that have appeared since New Year’s Day. They range from Jerry Falwell, Jr’s already infamous interview with the Washington Post to pointed and insightful critiques of evangelical Trumpism to  profiles of dissenting evangelicals. Enjoy!

Christine Emba, “Evangelicals’ infallible new faith: The gospel of Trump” (Washington Post)

  • “This isn’t just benign confusion: This is heresy. And, like many heretics, Falwell and his fellow evangelical Trump apologists are on their way to founding a new religion, one in direct conflict with the old. This new religion doesn’t have much to do with Christ at all. Instead, it centers Trump as savior above any other god.”

Michael Gerson, “Evangelicals have hired their own Goliath” (Washington Post)

  • “Many evangelicals believe they have found a champion in Trump. He is the enemy of their enemies. He is willing to use the hardball tactics of the secular world to defend their sacred interests. In their battle with the Philistines, evangelicals have essentially hired their own Goliath – brutal, pagan, but on their side.”

Emma Green, “Evangelical Mega-donors are Rethinking Money in Politics” (The Atlantic)

  • “In previous years, evangelicals responded to a sense of declining cultural power with anxiety . . . But at least among this subset of next-generation evangelical mega-donors, there doesn’t seem to be much of a desire to fight the culture. Their hope, instead, is that they will be known by their fruits.”

Eliza Griswold, “Conservative Evangelicals Attempt to Disentangle Their Faith From Trumpism” (New Yorker)

  • “Prior believes that homosexual sex is a sin. But she . . . has [also] decried the President’s positions on immigration, race, and women . . . Within conservative circles Prior stands at the vanguard of a new movement of Christians looking to reclaim their faith from the regressive racist and misogynistic politics that have coopted it.”

Joe Heim, “Jerry Falwell Jr. can’t imagine Trump ‘doing anything that’s not good for the country” (Washington Post)

  • Falwell: “Why have Americans been able to do more to help people in need around the world than any other country in history? . . . Free enterprise, freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurism and wealth. A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.”

Greg Sargent, “The walls around Trump are crumbling. Evangelicals may be his last resort”  (Washington Post)

  • “Trump senses just how important the wall has become as a political theater piece in the eyes of his base. . . Among white evangelical Christians, support for the wall has risen nearly 10 points since Trump campaigned on it. In the most recent PRRI poll . . . a staggering 67 percent of them favor Trump’s wall.”

Evan Siegfried, “Trump has made Republicans the party of compassionless conservatism” (NBC News)

  • “Conservative leaders . . . [tell] their followers that they should not show compassion for their fellow man if he isn’t a part of the America he likes. We see this every single day on social media and on talk radio, where these conservative ‘icons’ push their callous indifference to the plight of others. This is not conservatism; it is sadism.”

And as a bonus, here’s an interesting blog post from the Community section of Daily Kos, which brings together a number of recent pieces on disillusioned evangelicals.

K. M. Wehrstein, “The Christian Right could be irrelevant by 2024. EXvangelicals are working to ensure it”

  • “But it appears the numbers of white evangelicals are dwindling enough that they might become irrelevant as a political force as soon as 2024, and direct opposition to their toxic worldview is being led by an increasingly strong and vocal movement of their own disaffected youth: the Exvangelicals.”

Why the Bible is Not Nearly Enough for Creationists

by Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger

In his article, “Geocentrism and Creation,”  Answers in Genesis (AiG) resident astronomer Danny Faulkner laments that “while geocentrists are well intended, their presence among [young Earth] creationists produces an easy object of ridicule by our critics.”

This is a revealing statement. In claiming that geocentrism is ridiculous Faulkner is also implying that young Earth creationism is intellectually credible, i.e, “they” are crazy, but “we” are within the bounds of legitimate science. Interestingly, geocentrists make similar appeals to scientific legitimacy. Gerardus Bouw – author of Geocentricity: Christianity in the Woodshed – told journalist Daniel Radosh that his serious scientific labors really needed to be distinguished from “those other, really crazy geocentrists” (Rapture Ready, 294).

Of course, in his efforts to “mainstream” young Earth creationism Danny Faulkner elides the obvious point that many Christians find young Earth creationism itself (with its claims that the universe is less than 10,000 years old and that humans walked the Earth with dinosaurs) to be bizarre and embarrassing.

But Faulkner’s concern with ridicule raises an interesting question about the role of science in young Earth creationism. Why bother with science at all? Why a Creation Museum? If Christians are to stand on the authority of the inerrant Bible – factually accurate in all that it teaches, including what it teaches about science and history – then isn’t that enough? “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Right?

Not really. It turns out that the Bible is not nearly enough for young Earth creationism.

As we argue in Righting America at the Creation Museum, biblical writers (and basically everyone else in those days) understood the cosmos in the following terms:  

the Earth is flat, circular, and immovable and is surrounded by a sea. Enclosing both the Earth and the sea is a fixed dome or firmament with stars embedded in it. The Sun crosses that dome each day. Above the dome are heavenly waters and a heavenly realm beyond that (104-105).

The fact that biblical writers assumed this ancient cosmology is made apparent by statements made in both the Old and New Testaments. To highlight just a few examples, Genesis talks about God setting the two great lights “in the dome of the sky” (1:16-17). Psalm 19 (verse 6) describes the Sun crossing the sky each day. And the Apostle Paul assumes a three-tiered cosmos in his letter to the Philippians when he says that all will bow to the name of Jesus and then, to underscore the point that all will bow, says that he means those in all three tiers of the cosmos: the heaven, the earth, and under the earth (2:10).

Of course, it makes sense that the Bible reiterates the understanding of the cosmos that people (including the biblical authors) took to be true at the time. And given AiG’s commitment to a literal reading of the Bible, it is especially notable that the images of the universe on display at the Creation Museum reflect not that ancient cosmology but, instead, modern scientific understandings of our solar system and the universe. There are lots of images of the Earth, our solar system, the Milky Way, and so forth at the Creation Museum. None of them conform to the ancient cosmology of the Bible. The Earth appears as a sphere floating in the vast expanse of the universe rather than as a flat circle surrounded by water. Instead of the Sun moving across a dome that is part of a three-tiered structure, the Sun is shown at the center of a solar system with eight large planets (the Earth among them) orbiting it. All this would seem to suggest that when it comes to representing the cosmos at the Creation Museum, mainstream science rather than a literal reading of the Bible has won the day.

In her brilliant study, The Book of Jerry Falwell, Susan Harding makes the observation that in “fundamentalist rhetorical combat” the winner is the one who can “establish his biblical interpretation is ‘more literal’ than another’s” (73). This is true as far as it goes, but “more literal” is not enough in itself, and sometimes the interpretive victory can take decades. Take, for example, young Earth creationism. It has always been “more literal” than old Earth creationism. But old Earth creationism held sway in American evangelicalism until John Whitcomb and Henry Morris’ The Genesis Flood (1961) – which argued that the geological features that give the “appearance” of an old Earth were really the product of Noah’s Flood – swept through American evangelicalism.

It turns out that the cultural capital of science remains very powerful in modernity. This is true even among biblical creationists, who seek – need – the imprimatur of respectable, not ridiculous (at least to some percentage of evangelicals) science. But if and when those creationists who believe – like Gerardus Bouw – that the sun revolves around the earth get a geocentric version of The Genesis Flood, then the “more literal” geocentric take on the Bible will likely supplant young Earth creationism in the hearts and minds of American evangelicals and fundamentalists.

More literal wins, but it needs the cover of something that looks like science. The Bible, in and of itself, is not enough.    

The Wannabe Popes of Creationism Are on Shaky Ground

by William Trollinger

For Answers in Genesis (AiG), the Bible is without error, and factually accurate in all things, including matters of science and history. Moreover, the Bible is perspicuous, easily understood by readers in all times and places. As a result, the best way to read the Bible is in a plain-sense, literal fashion.

Literal is the rule, except when it is not. And who decides when the Bible is not to be read literally? Why, AiG, of course.

Take, for example, this passage from Joshua 10:12-13 (NRSV):

On the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in mid-heaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.

It is obvious that the plain sense reading of this text is that the author of Joshua understood that the sun revolves around a stationery Earth (which, it should be noted, is in keeping with Martin Luther’s cosmological understanding).

But the biblical authorities at AiG decisively reject this commonsensical reading. In their book,  Old Earth Creationism on Trial: The Verdict Is In, Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle reject this “hyper-literal reading of Joshua 10:12-13,” arguing instead that

It is quite obvious that Joshua was simply using observational language . . . similar to trained meteorologists today [who] speak of the sun “rising” and “setting” . . . Clearly, the Bible does not teach geocentrism, and neither do we.

In battles over the Bible’s meaning, fundamentalists almost always offer up verses to support their argument. It is telling that AiG spokesmen Chaffey and Lisle provide absolutely no text to support the notion that the Bible teaches that the earth revolves around the sun.

So it is not surprising, as we document in Righting America (145-147), that geocentrists have a field day lambasting the young Earth creationists at AiG for their failure to stand firmly on the perspicuous and inerrant Bible, and attack them for their eagerness to compromise the Word of God in their efforts to appease secular scientific authorities. That is to say, the geocentrists make precisely the same arguments against young Earth creationists that the folks at AiG make against old Earth creationists.

Here is how Gerardus Bouw, director of The Association for Biblical Astronomy, responded to the attack on geocentricity made by AiG’s Danny Faulkner:

So, if Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is a clear statement that God created, then Ecclesiastes 1:5, “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose,” is just as clear a statement of geocentricity. And with that, we come to the real issue: Is the Scripture to be the final authority on all matters which it touches, or are scholars, to be the ultimate authority? . . . The issue is final authority, is it to be the words of God, or the words of men.

As Susan Trollinger and I discuss in our 2017 essay, “The Bible and Creationism” (Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America), creationism has a history. For the first fifty years or so of the fundamentalist movement (which emerged in 1919), old Earth creationism held sway. For the past half century, young Earth creationism has dominated, making much use of the fact that it takes “day” in Genesis to mean a 24-hour-day. But given that geocentrists can “out-literal” the young Earth creationists – given that the Bible clearly states that the sun revolves around the Earth – then it makes good sense to imagine that sometime in the not-too-distant future a geocentric young Earth creationism will hold sway.

But this raises an interesting question. If geocentrists hold this trump card, why have they not yet dethroned heliocentric young Earth creationism? Stay tuned.

So a Young Earth Creationist, a Geocentrist, and a Flat Earther Walk Into a Bar

by William Trollinger

“Flat Earth | Conspiracy Theory VOL.1”by Daniel Beintner is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Ok, probably not a bar. 

So a young Earth creationist, a geocentrist, and a flat Earther walk into a Chick-Fil-A. And the young Earth creationist says, “If you take the Bible literally, and I do, then you have to believe that ‘day’ means 24-hour day. I am a young Earth creationist. I am the most literal of them all, in contrast with old Earth creationists, who have sold out to the secular scientific establishment.”

The geocentrist responds, “Not so fast. If you take the Bible literally, and I do, then you have to believe that the sun revolves around the Earth. I not only believe in a young Earth, but I also believe the Earth is at the center of the universe. I am the most literal of them all, and it turns that you, young Earth creationist, have sold out to the secular scientific establishment.”

But the flat Earther responds, “I have both of you beat. If you take the Bible literally, and I do, then you have to believe that ‘firmament’ refers to a hard dome over the Earth. I not only believe in a young Earth, I not only believe that the Earth is at the center of the universe, but I also believe in a flat Earth. I am the most literal of them all, and it turns out that both of you, young Earth creationist and geocentrist, have sold out to the secular scientific establishment.”

Something like this happened this past November at the Second Flat Earth International Conference in Denver. As reported by young Earth creationist Danny Faulkner, resident astronomer for Answers in Genesis (AiG), the highlight was a debate between flat Earther Rob Skiba and geocentrist Robert Sungenis over “whether the Bible teaches that the earth is flat.” According to Faulkner, Skiba argued that raqia, which the King James Version translates as “firmament” in Genesis 1: 6-8 is best understood as a “hard dome over the earth.” In response, Sungenis argued that “if the raqia  were a solid dome, then the placement of the sun and moon in the solid dome on Day Four would inhibit the sun and moon from moving, [even though], in anyone’s model, they must move.” 

So went the debate, with Skiba holding tight to the most literal read. Interestingly, the flat Earther also went after the young Earth creationist in the audience:

[Skiba] had a slide that included a photograph of me [Danny Faulkner], along with a quote from my 2004 book, Universe by Design, where I criticized the way that the . . . King James translated raqia as “firmament.” Skiba said that this was eisegesis. He also called Answers in Genesis “Answers not in Genesis.” I was a bit amused by this, because Skiba was rebutting me, when I wasn’t involved in the debate.

Why should the flat Earther limit himself to attacking geocentrists when he can also take down young Earth creationists? And Skiba’s claim that Faulkner engages in “eisegesis” is a deliberately pointed jab, given that young Earth creationists make precisely the same charge against those who hold to an old Earth. As Ken Ham argues in “Eisegesis: A Genesis Virus,”

When someone reads something into Scripture – this would be an example of eisegesis. For instance, nowhere does the Bible ever speak of billions of years. In Genesis 1, the word day (yom) in context, as used for the six Days of Creation . . . means these days are approximately 24-hour periods – ordinary days.

However, probably the majority of church leaders insist these days could represent billions of years – this is “eisegesis,” as the billions of years is a belief from outside of Scripture that is read intoScripture (resulting in the clear words of Scripture being reinterpreted on the basis of these outside ideas). 

The cure for the “eisegesis virus”? According to Ken Ham, it is the “exegesis ‘vaccine,’” that is, interpreting Scripture “on the basis of context and the type of literature” so that one can read “out of Scripture what the writer clearly intended to express.” 

But here’s the problem. Who decides when it is exegesis, and when it is eisegesis? Ham attacks old Earth creationists for employing eisegesis. But geocentrists critique young Earth creationists for themselves using eisegesis, and flat Earthers attack both young Earth creationists and geocentrists as infected with the “eisegesis virus.”

You can stand on the authority of the Bible. You can claim that the Bible is errorless, clear, and best  understood by a common sense reading of the text. But none of that resolves the innumerable and ever-expanding disagreements over what the text means.

But among the creationists arguing in Chick-Fil-A, the flat Earthers have one great rhetorical advantage. They can claim they are the most literal. 

It may not be a trump card, but it is pretty close.

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