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Ken Ham and the Fog that Enshrouds Ark Encounter

by William Trollinger

An image of Ark Encounter surrounded by fog. Image via arkencounter.com.

Sometimes Ken Ham’s fog machine is a bit too much. Too much obfuscation.

A few days ago Ham put out an article in which he proclaimed that “the internationally popular attractions of Answers in Genesis [AIG}, the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, are about to welcome their 10 millionth guest.” According to Ham, the immediate future is very bright: not only is the AIG “marketing campaign” (which centers around “animated giraffes” in TV ads) moving “into higher gear,” but “we saw very high attendance in March,” all of which suggests that, for Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, “this summer should be our best season ever.” According to Ham, all of this will further contribute to the dramatic economic impact Ark Enounter has had on the economy of northern Kentucky, including “the construction of several new hotels to meet guest demand” in towns north of the Ark (particularly, Dry Ridge and Florence.)

Of course, Ham reports, there have been significant challenges, such as “countering myths” perpetrated by critics. One of these is “the rumor that state money was used to build and open the Ark Encounter. Also, it has had to deal with the myth that the city of Williamstown is at risk on $62 million in Ark Bonds. In reality, individual AiG supporters were the funders of the bond offering. All bond payments have been paid on schedule and the bonds will be fully paid off this month.”

A few points about Ham’s befogging article: 

  • While these attendance numbers are significant – which is why we should attend to these tourist sites and what they tell us about American fundamentalism in particular and American culture in general – they are less impressive than they seem, especially when it comes to Ark Encounter. And that’s because in the 2013 feasibility report Answers in Genesis presented to the little town of Williamstown to secure financial support for the building of the Ark, they projected 1.2 million as the bare minimum attendance for the first year of operation, with an average annual attendance of 7% for the next decade. Not only has the Ark has fallen far short of such projections, it has never reached the bare minimum 1.2 million attendance mark in any one year.   
  • Ham’s reference to high attendance numbers in March 2022 – in a March 26 tweet he referred to them as “record numbers” – is simply not true, at least as regards Ark Encounter. Thanks to the precise numbers provided by the City of Williamstown, and shared with us by Dan Phelps, last month’s attendance of 59,428 fell short of the 70,466 attendees in March 2019 and the 62,251 visitors in March 2018. What record has been broken?
Screenshot of Ken Ham’s March 2022 tweet reporting “record numbers” at the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter.
  • While Ham hates any suggestion that government contributed to the building and opening of Ark Encounter, the fog machine can not obscure the reality that 
    • a Kentucky state sales tax rebate program provides the Ark with $1.8m annually.
    • a county industrial authority provided the Ark $175,000 to assist in the purchase of land.
    • local officials “sold” Ark Encounter 100 acres for $1.
  • Most important in this regard, and as we have repeatedly pointed out, the town of Williamstown floated $62m in junk bonds to enable the building of the Ark. In contrast with Ham’s false and obfuscating assertion, which he makes again and again, we have never said that Williamstown was at risk in the bond offering. Instead, what we have said is that 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes instead goes to paying off the bonds that made the Ark possible. Quite obviously, this is a government subsidy.
  • Of course, Williamstown gave Ark Encounter this very sweet deal in the hopes that this mammoth tourist site would have a great economic impact on the little and economically precarious town. But as anyone who drives through Williamstown can see, and as was made very clear in the wonderful documentary, We Believe in Dinosaurs, the Ark has not produced the hoped-for economic benefits. How does Ham explain this failure? While Williamstown is indeed very close to the Ark, the problem is that it is on the other side of the interstate . . . a point Ham and company failed to mention to the good folks of Williamstown when they sold them on the bond deal.
  • And here’s a question. If the bonds will be fully paid off this month, does that mean that, after nine years of this very generous local government subsidy, Ark Encounter will finally begin to pay its fair share of property taxes? 

Think of this post as a stiff breeze, blowing the fog away so that we can see Ark Encounter more clearly. But please don’t think I am naïve. I know that clearing the fog away is merely temporary. 

Even now, I can see it starting to roll in.

Six Years Later, A Creationist Theme Park Is Not Paying Off For Kentucky

by Rob Boston, Senior Adviser for Americans United and Editor, Church & State

Exterior of Ark Encounter. Image by Susan L. Trollinger (March 15, 2022).

Editor’s Note: Today we share an article that appeared earlier this week at Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Our thanks to Rob Boston and the editors of Americans United for their permission to re-post Rob’s article here at Righting America.

As we’ve noted many times on this blog, Australian creationist Ken Ham built “Ark Encounter,” a theme park in Grant County, Ky., based on a replica of what Ham believes Noah’s Ark looked like, with a plethora of taxpayer support.

Ham gets mad when Americans United points this out, but it’s true. Bloggers Hemant Mehta and William Trollinger have, on several occasions, listed the various forms of public support Ham’s religious project received.

Americans United never opposed Ham’s building of Ark Encounter, but we did stand against taxpayers being compelled to support what is clearly an evangelistic enterprise. We believe Ham and his Answers in Genesis (AiG) ministry should have relied on voluntary contributions from his co-religionists.

Ham justified the raid on the public purse by asserting that Ark Encounter would be a great boon to the nearby town of Williamstown, whose leaders agreed to float $62 million in junk bonds to get the project going. Town officials clearly believed the attraction would benefit the area economically.

Has it? Trollinger wrote last week that while Ark Encounter is far from sinking, it hasn’t attracted the large number of visitors Ham projected in 2013.

“It has never reached even the minimum number of visitors for its first year of operation,” Trollinger wrote. “And with every passing year the tourist site falls farther short of what AiG promised.”

Trollinger and his wife Susan have visited the ark several times, most recently last month. He writes, “After our March visit to the Ark we drove through Williamstown. Six years after the tourist site was constructed, and as documented by the wonderful film, We Believe in Dinosaurs, Ark Encounter has had little noticeable economic impact on the small town that provided the tourist site with such gifts.”

What about all those jobs Ham promised? Apparently, local residents either don’t want them or don’t qualify for them. (Ark Encounter employees must sign a statement of faith saying they agree with AiG’s fundamentalist religious views.)  Dan Phelps, president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, keeps a close eye and Ham’s doings and pointed out recently that Ham has proposed hiring students from nearby Christian colleges and is raising money to build housing for them on site.

To sum up: Taxpayers in Kentucky were forced to prop up an attraction that promotes fundamentalist Christianity and pseudoscience. The promised economic benefits have not materialized.

We hate to say we told you so, but….

Ark Encounter: Not Sinking, but Not Close to Living Up to Projections

Ark Encounter: Not Sinking, but Not Close to Living Up to Projections

by William Trollinger

Exterior of Ark Encounter. Image by Susan L. Trollinger (March 15, 2022).

A few weeks ago – during our spring break at the University of Dayton – we visited Ark Encounter. It was our ninth or tenth visit since the Ark opened in July, 2016. In most ways the demographics of the visitors remain the same. Overwhelmingly (but not completely) the guests were white. There were families with young children in tow, with some obvious homeschool “science” education taking place. There were youth from at least two fundamentalist schools or churches; given the number of T-shirts and caps that referred to farming, it was clear that they hailed from the rural South or Midwest. And as is almost always the case, there was a contingent of Amish tourists.

For a Tuesday morning in mid-March, there was a sizable crowd buying tickets and lining up to board one of the shuttles taking folks from the parking lot to the gigantic non-seaworthy boat. 

And yet, the attendance numbers at Ark Encounter continue to fall short of the projections put forth by Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG). 

As we have noted many times here, in 2013 the nearby town of Williamstown issued $62m of junk bonds to get the Ark project off the ground, so to speak. This deal was made even sweeter by the provision that 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes would instead go to paying off the loan.To secure such a sweet deal, Ham and his colleagues came up with a feasibility study claiming that the Ark would attract 1.2-2.0 million visitors in its first year of existence, with annual attendance increases of 7% per year over the next decade. 

How does actual Ark Encounter attendance measure up?

Every month the doggedly persistent Dan Phelps (founder and president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society) asks Williamstown officials for the “safety assessment form,” i.e. the total amount raised that month from the 50 cent “safety fee” that is added to each Ark ticket. With this information we can get a very good idea of Ark attendance (see the specific month-by-month numbers below).

Since its opening in July 2016 through February 2022 it appears that Ark Encounter has attracted in the neighborhood of 4.2m paid visitors. Of course, and as Phelps always notes when he reports the monthly numbers, Ham argues that attendance is much higher than these numbers would indicate, given that children under 10 get in free, and given that there are folks who have purchased lifetime passes, and thus aren’t included in the official attendance numbers.

Putting aside the obvious problems with such a claim, let’s stipulate that somewhere between 4 and 5 million tourists have visited the Ark since 2016. And those are significant numbers. The Ark is not sinking.

That said, Ark Encounter has never come close to reaching the numbers projected in the feasibility report given to Williamstown in 2013. It has never reached even the minimum number of visitors for its first year of operation. And with every passing year the tourist site falls farther short of what AiG promised.

After our March visit to the Ark we drove through Williamstown. Six years after the tourist site was constructed, and as documented by the wonderful film, We Believe in Dinosaurs, Ark Encounter has had little noticeable economic impact on the small town that provided the tourist site with such gifts. 

But that fits the story of the Flood. You have to be inside the Ark (Encounter) to be saved.

Thanks to Dan Phelps for these numbers.

ARK SAFETY FEE NUMBERS VIA KENTUCKY OPEN RECORDS ACT REQUESTS FROM WILLIAMSTOWN, KY

First year: 800,000 (as reported by Ken Ham)

2017:

  • July: 142,626 (Safety Fee amount: $71,313.00)
  • August: 106,161 ($53,080.50)
  • September: 83,330 ($41,665.00)
  • October: 93,659 ($46,829.50)
  • November: 51,914 ($25,957.00)
  • December: 36,472 ($18,236.00)

2018:

  • January: 13,250 ($6,625.00)
  • February: 17,961 ($8,980.50)
  • March: 62,251 ($31,125.50)
  • April: 67,613 ($33,806.50)
  • May: 73,353 ($36,676.50)
  • June: 113,901 ($56,950.50)
  • July: 135,922 ($67,961.00) 
  • August: 98,106 ($49,053.00)
  • September: 69,207 ($34,603.50) 
  • October: 89,434 ($44,717.00) 
  • November: 40,193 ($20,096.50)
  • December: 46,400 ($24,200.00)

2019:

  • January: 14,885 ($7,442.50)
  • February: 16,328 ($8,164.00)
  • March 2019: 70,466 ($35,233.00)
  • April 2019: 79,908 ($39,554.00)
  • May 2019: 90,803 ($45,401.50)
  • June 2019: 124,230 ($62,115.00)
  • July 2019: 160,124 ($80,062.00)
  • August 2019: 104,350 ($52,175)
  • September 2019: 73,541 ($36,770.50)
  • October 2019: 86,998 ($43,494.00)
  • November 2019: 37,686 ($18,881)
  • December 2019: 37,880 ($18,940)

2020:

  • January 2020: 15,790 ($7,895.00)
  • February 2020: 17,290 ($8,645.00)
  • March 2020: 15,145($7572.50)
  • April 2020: 0 ($0)
  • May 2020: 2,047 ($1,023.50)
  • June 2020: 40,434 ($20,217.00)
  • July 2020: 57,632 ($28,816.00)
  • August 2020: 46,562 ($23,281.00)
  • September 2020: 44,571 ($22,285.50)
  • October 2020: 49,835 ($24,917.50)
  • November 2020: 24,105 ($12,052.50)
  • December 2020: 34,273 ($17,136.50)

2021

  • January 2021: 11,354 ($5,677)
  • February 2021: 11,577 ($5,788.50)
  • March 2021: 57, 801 ($28,900.50)
  • April 2021: 64,479 ($32,239.50)
  • May 2021: 76,089 ($38,044.50)
  • June 2021: 109,694 ($54,847)
  • July 2021: 134,945 ($67,472.50)
  • August 2021: 83,826 ($41,913.00)
  • September 2021: 64,301 ($32,150.50)
  • October 2021: 73,328 ($36,664.00)
  • November 2021: 44,291 ($22,145.50)
  • December 2021: 40,671 ($20,335.50)

2022

  • January 2022: 11,030 ($5,515.00)
  • February 2022: 10,826 ($5,413.00)

Total: 4208298

Denying Truth, Rejecting Reality, Endangering Humanity: All of Us Will Pay for the Evangelical Denial of Mainstream Science

Denying Truth, Rejecting Reality, Endangering Humanity: All of Us Will Pay for the Evangelical Denial of Mainstream Science

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, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. And his sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – has just been published by Wipf and Stock (Cascades). 

Polar bears jump across ice floes. Image via Papua New Guinea Post-Courier

Science has a dodgier relationship with rhetoric in the alternative world of evangelicalism than ever before. Suspicion, not trust, dominates the evangelical approach to mainstream science. 

Evangelicals are more likely to say of a scientific reality, “It’s just a theory.” In fact, the suspect rhetorical claim, “It’s just a theory, and we are going to win,” stands as the essential argument of evangelicals, an argument supplanted by distortions and misinformation. 

There’s no surprise here, because the evangelical response to mainstream science has been rocky for the past 150 years. Evolution first garnered the sustained opposition of evangelicals in the late 19th century. Not much has changed since the evangelicals made the decision to reject evolution. 

Evangelicals have a penchant for choosing the wrong enemies and then going to war with inadequate weapons. In this case, evangelicals, having failed to produce any actual scientific theory of substance to rival evolution, turned to spurious rhetorical attacks in what can only be seen as an anti-science snit fit. Evangelicals are simply screaming, “I don’t like mainstream science. I don’t like it at all.” 

Ever since Stephen Toulmin and Thomas Kuhn squared off in the intellectual bout as to whether science is “evolutionary” or “revolutionary,” the rhetorical nature of science has blossomed into a full-fledged discipline within Communication Departments. While the developments of rhetoric and science in the academy have expanded dramatically, evangelicals continue to make the same tired old rhetorical arguments against mainstream science. 

But while their arguments are tired (and tiresome), evangelicals are doggedly determined to undo mainstream science. Evangelical preachers constitute a resistance movement operating within churches and media to undo the nation’s confidence in mainstream science. Preachers resist with sermons from pulpits across the country, with protests at local school boards and state boards of education about science textbooks, with petition drives, and with media pronouncements. 

And their persistence has paid off. The evangelical movement against mainstream science has led to many Americans rejecting evolution, protesting vaccinations and masks, and denying climate change. On the surface rejecting evolution doesn’t seem to hold the same dangers as rejecting the science of dealing with infectious disease or climate change, but all three of these stances throb with unprecedented dangers to human life. This movement against mainstream science dramatically increases precarity for the human species. 

Decades of climate and geological research have coalesced in consensus about the precarity that threatens not just publics, but humanity as a species: the Anthropocene. “In the Anthropocene,” note G. Mitchell Reyes and Kundai Chirindo, “the precarity that had been the nearly exclusive preserve of people occupying the bottommost rungs of human society is becoming generalized to most if not all humans—though not in equal measure.” The challenge of the Anthropocene is that it signifies precarity at the biological or species scale. It indexes the fact that we (and our various publics) “have now ourselves become a geological agent disturbing [the] parametric conditions needed for our own existence.” In other words, the Anthropocene renders all publics precarious. 

The sense of precarity—feeling at once exposed to, vulnerable to, dependent upon, and impinged upon by others–is itself a function of an interdependence Judith Butler recognizes as a condition of living. “One’s life,” Butler observes, “is always in some sense, in the hands of the other.” This cultural or socialized precarity, in other words, is an inescapable fact of being human and of the publics humans constitute. 

The scariness for me is the sense that our lives are too much in the hands of the propagators of an anti-mainstream science propaganda that is promoted by non-scientists at the helm of multi-million-dollar media enterprises that spout out anti-mainstream science messages on a daily basis. 

The most obvious example here is Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis

The evangelical opposition to the science of climate change has produced a battalion of foot soldiers shouting, “How dare you interfere with my ‘right’ to drill for oil in environmentally sensitive areas, to burn more coal, to oppose the development of alternative energy soures, to my business’s ‘right’ to pollute?”  Evangelicals end up siding with the “bottom line” of out-of-date energy businesses (coal and fracking companies). 

Evangelicals are promoting reckless fantasies. As the earth chokes to death on our own self-induced toxic fumes, evangelicals are in big church buildings, waving their arms, and singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Not for evangelicals is a sense of our interdependence with all peoples and all species. 

Evangelicals can’t stand to be told that they don’t have the right to dangerous opinions that threaten the existence of the planet, or that they don’t have as much epistemic right as anyone else on any topic. They seem intent on insisting that they have the right to an opinion on climate change as if it were a discussion about whether to wear a red sweater or a black sweater to church. “Who are you to tell me that I have to agree with some scientists or even the entire phalanx of the scientific community?” 

The rhetorical argument of the evangelicals reduces to two basic commitments: a love of big business and profits (Jesus called it the maniacal pursuit of Mammon); and, the freedom to have life-threatening opinions (to hell with the facts). The people who swear that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” now end up believing what they want to believe.  

Evangelicals have in the past had a basic commitment to the requirement that humanity should rein in some of our appetites (sex, drink, drugs come to mind). But now they are dogmatically insisting on the right of an unabated gorging of all our appetites in relation to the environment. 

Perhaps it is time for evangelicals to have a new reading of their favorite verse of Scripture that feeds their massive homophobia: “Even since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature have been understood …. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to God but they became futile in their thinking.” God has given them up to exchanging the truth of science for a lie and a fake freedom. God has given them up to exchanging the natural inclination of being good stewards for the unfettered passions of destroying the earth for the sake of human greed. They have become insolent, haughty, foolish, heartless, ruthless people. Knowing the truth, they deny it, and they applaud others who join them in climate denial. 

Evangelical arguments end up as the junk food of rhetoric. Denying truth. Rejecting reality. Endangering humanity as a species. Refusing to be good stewards of the planet. This is the evangelical message, and this is a rhetorical perversion. 

But the rhetorical arguments/tropes/assertions of evangelicals against the house of mainstream science is but the sound and the fury of a hurricane-force storm. “The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock (truth)” (Matthew 7:25).

Their nonsense will be proven wrong. But in the end we, all of us on this planet, will pay.

Educational Malpractice: A Review of an Abeka Creationist 8th Grade Science Textbook

by Dan Phelps

Daniel Phelps is a retired environmental geologist for the commonwealth of Kentucky. He has also taught part-time in Kentucky’s Community College system. His work to expose the pseudoscience behind Ham’s Ark Encounter was featured in the award-winning 2019 documentary, “We Believe in Dinosaurs.” In 2021 the Paleontological Society – the world’s leading scientific organization devoted to studying invertebrate and vertebrate paleontology, micropaleontology, and paleobotany – awarded Phelps the prestigious Strimple Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in paleontology by someone who does not make a full-time living from paleontology. Phelps is founder and president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society.

Cover of Parker, Shimmin, & Steele’s Science: Earth and Space 8th grade textbook, published by Abeka.

Science: Earth and Space is an Abeka Book 8th grade textbook (https://www.abeka.com/) written by Greg Parker, Delores Shimmin, and Dewitt Steele.  Abeka Books is associated with Pensacola (Florida) Christian College, and is very popular with fundamentalist schools and homeschoolers. Abeka’s science textbooks promote Young Earth Creationism (YEC), and are rather strident on the topic.

I was shocked by the number of private schools in my area that use at least some of Abeka’s products. You can find which schools in your area that use Abeka products here. (Note from blog editor: Using this link, I discovered that there are nine schools in a twenty mile radius from our house that use Abeka books.)

One problem with teaching science at any level is finding suitable textbooks. Students can be unprepared for a number of reasons, but adequate textbooks can help immensely. No textbook is perfect; most contain errors and misconceptions about their subjects. Often, these errors can be pointed out to students and can even be an opportunity for getting students to think critically. At a minimum, however, one usually trusts the authors of textbooks to have the integrity to at least attempt to accurately describe the subject at hand. 

Alas, this is not always true. 

I recently found a copy of Science: Earth and Space at a local Goodwill Store for the whopping sum of 99 cents. I paid a bit too much, but was spurred to write this review because of the egregious, and often appalling, content of this textbook. This review can only represent “the tip of the iceberg,” since there are so many bizarre, wrong, and misleading pieces of information in the text. 

Science: Earth and Space purports to be a science textbook covering geology, oceanography, atmospheric science, astronomy, and environmental science. Problems begin early in the book, with a discussion of how science is done. 

On page 3 is an inset box summarizing “Scientific Habits.” Most of the “Habits” do not seem unreasonable. After telling students to be intellectually honest, skeptical, and open to new ideas, the authors state, seemingly oblivious to any contradictions or irony, that: “As Christians, we must also remember that the Bible is God’s perfect Word. We can always trust what the Bible says about science and must reject any scientific ideas that contradict the Bible.”

A list of “Scientific Habits” provided to students in Science: Earth and Space.

I had to reread the text of this block insert several times to convince myself that it wasn’t a joke or parody of YEC thinking. Why didn’t the authors or editor notice such an odd contradiction?

Chapter 2 discusses the “Foundations of Geology.” We soon learn that “Unfortunately, some areas of geology, especially the study of fossils, have become dominated by evolutionary philosophy.” And that “…the great Flood in Genesis 7 and 8 is undoubtedly responsible for most of the earth’s present features and fossils, although evolutionists reject the Flood as a myth.” (emphases in the original).

And there’s more:

  • The text promotes an unusual creationist version of plate tectonics, called “catastrophic plate tectonics.” In this version the earth was created with the Rodinia Supercontinent, which in turn is broken apart during Noah’s Flood, and is reassembled into the Pangea Supercontinent underwater. It is claimed that “…we know from the scriptures that if the continents were once together, the separation had to occur much more quickly than evolutionists believe.” 
  • Students are also told that “The Bible seems to indicate that at the end of the Flood, God caused the sea floor to sink and the continents to rise, allowing floodwaters to recede from the land and collect in what are now the deep ocean basins (where the waters remain to this day).” 
  • In an “A Closer Look” inset on page 102, the formation Providence Canyon, Georgia and Burlingame Canyon, Washington, both of which formed recently in unconsolidated to poorly consolidated sediments, is compared to the formation of Grand Canyon, Arizona in an attempt to show the Grand Canyon formed in either Noah’s Flood or a post-Flood Ice Age “within the last 6000-8000 years.” 
  • Another “A Closer Look” inset on page 106 attempts to show that caves and dripstone formations were made shortly after the Flood.
  • Ice Cores are discussed in yet another “A Closer Look” inset. Apparently, “evolutionists claim that ice cores from Greenland have over 110,000 layers. With each layer representing a year.” 

Regarding the latter, the textbook greatly expands what the definition of an “evolutionist” is by linking the word with scientific concepts that have nothing to do with evolution. Moreover, the text ignores that Greenland ice cores actually cover much more than 400,000 years (and Antarctic cores that document longer time scales are unmentioned). This denial of ice core data is a convenient way of denying evidence used in climatology and climate change studies. 

Moreover, the book once again makes the bizarre claim that there was only one ice age and that it lasted a couple of hundred years after Noah’s Flood.

The ensuing pages of the physical geology section of the text contain similar descriptions of geological phenomena mixed in with an occasional odd theological claim. Surprisingly, at least in the physical geology section of the book, descriptions of mineralogy, and of how igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks form, are not marred by odd creationist claims found elsewhere (such as rapid formation of granites or ad hoc-based explanations of limestones and evaporites forming during Noah’s Flood).

At a minimum, however, such a mix of disjointed claims about physical and historical geology can only confuse and discourage students who are interested in science and bore those who are not.

Much of the above may sound bizarre, and may in itself represent educational malpractice, but it does not compare to what is found in Chapter 5: “Interpreting the Fossil Record.” This incredible chapter is devoted to attacking historical geology, paleontology, physics, biology, and paleoanthropology. It also attacks Christians who accept theistic evolution as accepting ideas that are not “compatible with either the biblical record or established principles of science” (emphases in the original).

What makes this chapter so difficult to review is that almost everything in the chapter is wrong or bizarre. Just take, for example, the very first photo in the chapter, which shows Adam riding on the back of a lion in the Garden of Eden.

The first “A Closer Look” inset in this chapter is a short essay and list of famous scientists (a list that includes a number of mathematicians as well as people who could more accurately be described as engineers or technologists) provided by the late Dr. Henry M. Morris – co-author of The Genesis Flood and himself an engineer – entitled “Bible-Believing Scientists of the Past.” Apparently, Morris is arguing that because in the past a number of scientists (some living centuries before evolution was widely accepted) accepted creationism, then modern scientists should also.

Besides Morris’ bad logic, many of the scientists that I’m familiar with on the list were not young Earth creationists (for example Georges Cuvier, Louis Agassiz, and Lord Kelvin). I am guessing that the list probably includes others who were also not actually young Earth creationists.

There is also an odd attempt to equalize science with religion. We are told that since scientists didn’t observe the origin of the universe, then science “cannot make authoritative statements about the origin of the earth” (emphases in the original). According to the text, since creationism wasn’t observed by scientists, it also qualifies as a faith, but since God was there, then creationism “wins.” A classic (and nonsensical) YEC argument.

We also learn that a year-long Noah’s Flood (c. 2300 BC) is responsible for most geology. The creationist version of the geologic time scale is provided. In their version, the Precambrian is pre-Flood, and the Cenozoic is post-Flood. To limit the number of animals on the Ark, it is claimed that only “kinds” were taken onto the boat, leaving more than enough room for Noah’s family and provisions.

Not surprisingly, the usual creationist falsehood that the geologic time scale is based on circular reasoning is here, as well as strange attacks on radiometric dating.

I was most fascinated by the false claims that geologic strata are found out of order in various parts of the world (p. 134). These locations include the Lewis Overthrust near Glacier National Park, Montana, parts of the Swiss Alps, and the Heart Mountain mega-slide in Wyoming. 

But it has been demonstrated that these examples have very clear structural geology explanations (thrust faults and overturned strata). The order of strata in these locations is not controversial or any way supportive of creationist claims. These claims were obviously incorrect when first promoted by the creationist George McCready Price in the early 1900s. I am surprised that this text is still promoting this hoary chestnut of a creationist argument. Even Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research have not promoted this claim for many years. For this old creationist argument, see here and here.

Other well-known and discredited creationist claims in this chapter involve:

The chapter ends with numerous attacks on paleoanthropology (every fossil hominin ends up being an ape or fully human). The text even claims that “Some evolutionists [unnamed] have even admitted that the “evidence” can be interpreted to show that apes evolved from humans!” 

Like pulling a rabbit out of their hat, the chapter ends by claiming humans are a divine creation. However, the authors admit that “…we believe in special creation not because of the fossil evidence, but because God’s Word says that God created the universe.” The authors/editor must have missed their own (accurate) statement on p.133 that circular reasoning is a “logic error.”

Chapters 6 (Geography of the Seas), 7 (The Atmosphere), 8 (Water Vapor and Air Masses), and 9 (Storms and Forecasting) are a bit simplistic, but other than occasional odd statements, these chapters are not nearly as egregiously bad as the afore-discussed Chapter 5 (Interpreting the Fossil Record).

Same with Chapter 10 (Consider the Heavens) and 11 (Man and the Universe), which discuss the early history of astronomy, the solar system, constellations, astronomical instruments, time/calendars, and space flight. Again, other than a few odd statements, these chapters are not too at odds from reality.  And there is a welcome attack on astrology, although much of this argument focuses on religious reasons, rather than on astrology’s bad logic and lack of actual evidence.

I was especially surprised and pleased that the text accurately describes the concept of light years and states that the Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light years away. Creationist astronomy often attempts to use ad hoc explanations to discount large astronomical distances that are inconsistent with a 6,000 year old universe. To its credit, none of the creationist claims about distant astronomical objects are repeated here.

All this said, in an insert on the origins of the solar system, there are attacks on the nebular hypothesis which claim that nefarious “evolutionary” astronomers accept the nebular hypothesis because “it avoids the need for a creator.”

The final chapter on Environmental Science (Chapter 12) is another problematic part of the text. After a religious discussion that labels much of environmentalism as “unbiblical,” specific environmental problems are discussed or dismissed. Some aspects of environmental science such as landfills, air pollution, and water pollution are very briefly, but at least accurately described. Acid rain, ozone depletion, and global warming are all oddly discussed and invariably downplayed, dismissed as mistaken, or portrayed as alarmist. 

Obviously, Science: Earth and Space is inappropriate for any K-12 academic setting, although it is being used in many Christian academies and by homeschool families. Students taught from this text are learning huge amounts of falsehoods about the sciences discussed. Even more disturbing is the general attitude towards science and the false ideas about what science is and how it works. 

The one group of educators I would recommend becoming familiar with this book are undergraduate college instructors. These educators should know the awful quality of science education their students could have grown up with.

I would never advocate banning this book from a library. However, any teacher or homeschool parent using this textbook to teach science is committing educational malpractice.

(And is it a surprise that an Abeka school sought to force a black honors student cut his locs for graduation?)

Two Peas in a Pod: QAnon Conspiratorialism and Young Earth Creationism

Two Peas in a Pod: QAnon Conspiratorialism and Young Earth Creationism

by William Trollinger

Doug Jensen gestures to U.S. Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. Jensen, 41, of Des Moines, Iowa, was jailed Jan. 9 on federal charges, including trespassing and disorderly conduct counts, for his alleged role in the Capitol riot. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta).

A significant percentage of the American public – and even a more significant percentage of white evangelicals – has dropped down the most bizarre of rabbit holes. 

According to a report put out by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a survey done in 2021 revealed that 16% of Americans are QAnon believers. That is to say, 16% of Americans believe that  

  • “The government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation.”
  • “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”
  • “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

As the New York Times (NYT) reported, PRRI founder and chief executive Robert P. Jones 

never expected to be dealing with serious survey questions about whether powerful American institutions were controlled by devil-worshiping, sex-trafficking pedophiles. To have so many Americans agree with such a question, he said, was “stunning.”

(According to the same NYT article, this means that 41 million Americans are QAnon believers . . . which is a frightening number. But it turns out that in 2021 the U.S. population was 332 million, and 16% of that is actually right around 53 million. Even more frightening.)

And here are some more numbers from the PRRI report:

  • 25% of Republicans are QAnon believers, as opposed to 9% of Democrats.
  • 47% of Republicans who most trust One America News Network or Newsmax are QAnon believers, as well as 26% of Republicans who most trust Fox News.
  • 69% of QAnon adherents believe that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, 67% understand Trump to be a true patriot, and 59% blame liberal or left-wing groups for the January 06, 2021 Insurrection.
  • 72% of QAnon believers think that “the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life,” and 68% think that “God has granted America a special role in human history.”

And all of this leads to the fact that – as PRRI polling reveals – 23% of white evangelical Protestants are QAnon believers (other polls have the numbers higher) and 20% of QAnon believers identify themselves as white evangelicals. 

Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) sit quite comfortably within the QAnon-loving camp. Not only have they established that to hold a “secular worldview” is to be a pedophile, but they opened Ark Encounter to right-wing conspiratorialist Trey Smith for the filming of The Coming Storm: A Donald J. Trump Documentary. The title of this nearly unwatchable video – the production values are non-existent, and the unwatchability is exacerbated by Smith’s determination to stick his face as close to the camera as possible – gives away the QAnon connection. So does Smith’s assertion that the Antichrist is present in contemporary culture, as evinced by Hollywood culture and the omnipresent ”witchy people” in the background. So does the fact that Smith – speaking just before the 2020 election – echoes QAnon predictions that God commanded that Trump would have two terms as president.

It is not surprising that young Earth creationists would find the QAnon conspiracy persuasive. The folks at AiG are the same folks who find the notion of climate change to be a hoax, as is the idea of the COVID pandemic (and thus, vaccination mandates are oppressive).   

It is not much of a leap for young Earth creationists to adopt QAnon nonsense. According to Paul Braterman – Professor Emeritus in Chemistry from the University of Glasgow – both QAnon and young Earth creationism are examples of conspiracy theories. As Braterman says about the latter, 

It meets all the criteria, offering a complete parallel universe with its own organisations and rules of evidence, and claims that the scientific establishment promoting evolution is an arrogant and morally corrupt elite . . . Like other conspiracy theorists, creationists immune themselves from fact-based criticism.

AiG’s Bodie Hodge responded to Braterman’s argument in an AiG article, “Fact Checked: No Conspiracy Here (But a Lot of Fallacies There)”, in the process inventing some, well, nonstandard fallacies (e.g., “emotive language fallacy,” “insufficient evidence fallacy”). What is particularly interesting in Hodge’s lengthy and often tedious narrative is that he fails to make the obvious defense that young Earth creationism is nothing like the QAnon conspiracy. In fact, he has not one negative word to say about QAnon . . . just like his boss and father-in-law, Ken Ham. Pretty telling.

As PRRI’s Robert P. Jones observed about the QAnon conspiracy

There’s a real temptation to dismiss this as farcical and kind of outlandish . . . but this [is] actually a serious movement that’s making inroads into not only mainstream religious groups and putting down roots in more mainstream institutions.

Susan Trollinger and I said something quite similar about young Earth creationism in the introduction to Righting America at the Creation Museum:

All of us have a stake in understanding what is happening at the museum and its role in preparing and arming crusaders for the ongoing culture war that polarizes and poisons U.S. religion and politics. Put simply, as bizarre as the museum may seem to many Americans, what happens inside its doors matters to all of us.

QAnon and young Earth creationism. We have to pay attention.

Jesus, Putin, and Trump: Guess Who’s the Odd Man Out in this Evangelical Trinity

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, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. And his sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – has just been published by Wipf and Stock (Cascades). 

US President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. (Photo by Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Evangelicals claim they have a commitment to imitating Jesus, but they remain enthralled with Donald Trump, the Donald Trump who loves and seeks to emulate Vladimir Putin – a former KGB agent, dictator, human rights violator, and long-time enemy of the USA. What an odd trinity: Jesus, Putin, and Trump. 

Putin has been an appealing figure for many on the American Right – Tucker Carlson is just one example – thanks to the “masculinity he radiated in such sharp contrast to his U.S. counterpart” (Tim Alberta, American Carnage: On the Front Line of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump). As far back as September 2013 commentators were noting the cult following Putin was amassing on the American right with his macho exploits: tranquilizing a tiger, hunting a gray whale with a crossbow, riding war horses, catching gigantic fish. He was always shirtless and never afraid, “Rooseveltian testosterone oozing out of every pore.” Even though Putin has admitted that the macho exploits were mostly staged events, his macho image has been sealed in the media. 

And in the evangelical mind. Nothing impresses evangelicals like the image of the “strong man.” 

Of course, evangelicals routinely ignore that the “strong man” theology/ideology never fares well in the Bible. Perhaps the strongest of the strong men in the Hebrew Scripture was Samson. He was seduced and deceived by a woman, captured by the Philistines, and had his eyes put out. When his hair grew back out (the secret to his strength), the Philistines failed to notice. During a celebration in the Temple of Dagon, the Philistines brought Samson out for the people to see and mock. Samson asked of his captors: “Let me feel the pillars on which the house rests, so that I may lean against them.” In one act of revenge Samson pulled down the temple and died along with three thousand Philistines. The strong man ended his life in an act of suicide, terrorism, and mass murder. 

But never mind. Evangelicals love the “strong man.”

As the world stands on the precipice of another war that could envelop all nations, Trump has said that Putin’s move into Ukraine is “genius” and “savvy.” Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner, remarking on the unusual support of Putin by Trump and his allies: “There is something else this time around, something new that I have never seen before on the scale we are witnessing. There are many in this nation, cheered on by powerful media voices, who seem more aligned with a dangerous foe to America and a peaceful world order than they are with our own leadership.” Having already damaged democracy by attacking our anchor institutions – press, court, Congress, and military leadership – Trump now sides shamelessly with Putin, and his acolytes in Congress and his adoring evangelical fans are mouthing Putin love. Democracy now inhabits the arena of precarity. 

But evangelical love of Putin is not simply a matter of idolizing the “strong man.” It is also about the evangelical obsession with the “end times.”

The doomsday preachers have always salivated at the apocalyptic scenarios that include Russia – the “bear from the North” (Daniel 7). They locate Russia in the esoteric prophecies of Ezekiel as Gog and Magog. The preachers breathlessly quote Ezekiel 38 and Daniel 7. According to self-proclaimed prophet Craig C. White

The new Russian Union is here! Kazakhstan and Belarus have joined Russia in a new Eurasian economic Union. Ukraine was supposed to join but backed out at the last moment. I think this is a big step. Daniel Chapter 7 tells us about the Russian bear during the end times. Three ribs may be nations along its western border in the teeth of Russia. Two of those nations may be represented here. This is a new Russian Union! Christians should be alerted that Daniel 7 is moving forward. This is an economic Union. I expect that three nations will one day soon say to Russia, you must create a Political Union including other nations! [Ukraine?] Devour much flesh! 

Russia figures prominently in the final war that occurs in what essentially is the genocide of the earth’s remaining population. Putin now embodies this apocalyptic scenario in frightening reality. But contra the rapture preachers, there will be no “superman” Jesus flying in from outer space to rescue God’s special evangelical children. 

Putin now has the power to put all humanity in the crosshairs of his delusional lust for power with all of Russia’s nuclear capacity at his fingertips. This is a different kind of precarity that threatens humanity as a species: the Anthropocene. “In the Anthropocene,” note G. Mitchell Reyes and Kundai Chirindo, “the precarity that had been the nearly exclusive preserve of people occupying the bottommost rungs of human society is becoming generalized to most if not all humans.” We are all an endangered species, and yet evangelicals are playing with rapture charts and giving support to Russia’s madman. 

In Precarious Rhetorics, Wendy Hesford, Adela Licona, and Christa Teston suggest that one cause of the growing sense of precarity felt around the world is the growth of right-wing nationalist populism. The rise of “hard-right populism,” they note, “is cultivated through the sowing of fear and suspicion.” “One’s life,” Judith Butler observes, “is always in some sense, in the hands of the other.” This cultural or socialized precarity, in other words, is an inescapable fact of the publics that humans constitute. And now, all our lives seem to be in the hands of a sixty-nine-year-old Russian dreaming of world dominion. Precarity to the max!

Putin moves to put into effect his long-sought goals of restoring Russia to the position of world power. Betul Eksi and Elizabeth A. Wood argue that his right-wing populism is a gendered performance, a Janus-faced masculinity. His political masculinity allows him to position himself as an outsider yet insider, bad boy yet good father to Mother Russia. His performed political masculinity supports conservative social and political gender norms as well as nationalistic ones. His machismo combines a bullying masculine set of performances with a paternalistic dominance that claims to protect his own people. He is the good father saving Russia by rejecting others whose masculinity he impugns. Putin falls into the category of a “populist authoritarianism.”

While Putin dreams of restoring the old borders of the Soviet era, he embodies a tradition of paranoia, a mistrust of institutions, an inferiority complex that sees himself as both the savior of the nation and a victim of great conspiracies, and a deep sense of resentment and desire for revenge against enemies. 

Putin expresses resentment over Russia’s losses. He uses aggressive, even angry language to show his authenticity. He exhibits tough talk to signal the tough stance of an aggrieved, underdog nation toward outside powers. Putin is all about being strong, about winning no matter the cost to the world. There’s no moral imperative. 

As Eksi and Wood have pointed out, “No politician has ever been so fantastically vulgar [as Vladimir Putin]. Ordinary people love it because it’s the way they speak themselves.” Putin has said that his defense of the Motherland is “a man’s affair,” and he did not need to engage in public debates on which was better, “Tampax or Snickers.” Proclaiming that “we showed weakness and the weak get beaten,” Putin positioned himself as the strong man who would not show weakness. In response to those foreign powers who want “to tear off a fatty piece” of the nation, Putin insisted that “We won’t allow anybody to interfere in our internal affairs because we have our own will, which has helped us to be victorious at all times.” And Putin has threatened any nation that interferes in his invasion of Ukraine with “consequences you have never experienced in your history.” 

Putin had more than twenty years to prepare his most recent speech. After promising to start with just “a few words about the history of this issue,” he gave a lengthy revisionist account in which he claimed that Ukraine was merely a region of the old Russian empire. In a belligerent tone (“the strong man”) he offered an argument on why Ukraine had no right to exist. Putin called Ukraine “historically Russian land” that was stolen from the Russian empire and has since fallen into the hands of neo-Nazis and corrupt “puppets” controlled by the West. He offered the bizarre claim that he was “denazifying Ukraine” by invading it. 

Destruction after Russian bombing in Ukraine. Image via The Pigeon Express

Here, his words sound more like QAnon conspiracy talk than world leader rhetoric. According to Timothy Snyder, Yale history professor, there is a great irony that Putin appears to be behaving just as the Nazis did, invading neighbors on the pretext that their borders are irrelevant: “It’s very strange when you’re surrounded by the reality of Ukrainian history, to hear a distant tyrant declare that the thing doesn’t exist — obviously he’s wrong.” As Snyder observes, “This kind of language, that another nation doesn’t exist, is something we need to pay attention to because it usually precedes atrocious actions.”

Putin is the personification of the kind of leader that Americans need to reject. We should not allow ourselves to be deceived by the lies of Putin. In the last two weeks Putin vehemently insisted that he was not invading Ukraine. That lie is now publicly known, and Ukraine’s people hang in the balance. 

Putin is forced to perform like a long-running American crime drama: more and more violence must be inserted into the plot, or the audience will turn away. Quoting Eksi and Wood, “Janus-faced masculinity must be performed in larger and more outrageous ways to prove itself.” Putin’s model of rule must seek enemies, internal and external, and he must dominate them all. “When those external enemies are also in the grip of a masculinist set of ideologies used to justify their very existence, the danger of conflict and war increases exponentially.” 

Despite all of this, it is striking how many evangelicals seem at home in the apocalyptic scenario now laid out by Putin. They have affixed their future on the “strong man” trope, the toxic male, the bully. In the trinity of Jesus, Trump, and Putin, Jesus is odd man out. 

This is dangerous on so many levels.


The Disturbing Fantasies at the Heart of Evangelical Climate Denial

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, and interim pastor of Emmanuel Friedens Federated Church, Schenectady, NY. And his sixth book – The Immaculate Mistake: How Evangelicals Gave Birth to Donald Trump – has just been published by Wipf and Stock (Cascades). 

Earth Melting into Water. Image by Bruce Rolff, Shutterstock

From the early campaigns to overturn the science of evolution, to the contemporary insistence on a literal six-day creation, fundamentalists have desperately attempted to “control the handles of nature.” But what I detect among contemporary fundamentalists is a growing dissatisfaction with their profound inability, in fact, to control nature. In response, fundamentalists have made the turn from attempting to control nature with what they consider the absolute Truth, to attempting to control nature with an onslaught of conspiracy and denial theories.    

Very helpful in understanding this bizarre shift is Rupert Read’s penetrating article, “What Is New in Our time, The Truth in ‘Post-Truth'” “What Is New in our Time, The Truth in ‘Post-Truth.’” As Read puts it so clearly: 

The most crucial of all attractions of climate-denial is that it involves the denier in a kind of fantasied power over reality itself: namely, over the nature of our planetary system, and thus of life itself. Climate-denial pretends to give the denier a power greater than that of nature, including in nature’s “rebellion” against humanity, what James Lovelock calls Gaia’s incipient and coming “fever” (i.e. global over-heat). Climate-denial seems to give the denier freedom from truth itself, in the case of the most consequential truth at present bearing down upon humanity …. They reject the reality of human-triggered climate-change, in the end, because they are unwilling to be “bound” by anything, not even truth itself. 

Note that Read puts his finger on the attempt “to give the denier a power greater than that of nature.” In short, evangelicals have unconsciously abandoned the “absolute truth” for the ultimate freedom of not being bound by anything. And they have no one to blame but themselves. With the advent of evangelical televangelism and the prosperity gospel, along with the rise of the megachurch, evangelicals have spent the last fifty years embracing an attitude of individualism or consumerism concerning truth itself. I think that our current fights over climate-change and COVID can be traced back to the evangelical commitment to an individual and consumer ethos. The truth has been replaced by “feeling good and feeling free.” 

There’s a cultural avatar that visualizes this evangelical zeal: Pepe the Frog. Pepe is a human-bodied frog character created by the cartoonist Matt Furie in 2005. Pepe is a sort of sad-clown figure who finds himself in embarrassing situations, like being caught urinating with his trousers around his ankles. Unflappable when confronted, he waves off all embarrassment with a stoner smile and his breezy catchphrase, “Feels good, man.” The evangelical emotion machine churns out “feeling good, acting free.” No group, religious or political puts more stock in the demand for individual freedom than evangelical preachers. Some of these preachers have gone to jail by refusing to stop holding live worship services during the pandemic. Others have bellowed, “How dare you interfere with my right to worship God as I please/ how dare you interfere with my right to warn people of the lies of climate-change/how dare you interfere with our corporations rights to profits and pollution? 

These pronouncements of freedom coupled with laments about persecution by the government are being expressed most vehemently by evangelical leaders. Robert Jeffress, Dallas megachurch pastor, has warned his congregation of increased persecution during Biden’s term. Citing the gospel of Matthew’s apocalyptic passages Jeffress warns “savage times will come as people cast off all moral restraint and society begins to disintegrate. Doesn’t that describe the time we’re living in right now when people have cast off the restraints that God has put into place?” He then adds, “You see that all around you – whether it’s regarding gender fluidity, same-sex marriage, unrestricted abortion. All of these things are the result of a society that has thrown off God’s restraints,” he added. He lamented “unspeakable things” being “celebrated” by a secular society and he claims, “If you’ve got the culture celebrating while the Church is condemning, you know what that produces? It produces friction,” he explained. “There is going to be pressure whenever the Church condemns what society is celebrating. And I believe that’s what we’re going to see happen very, very quickly over these next four years.” Jeffress represents a segment of the evangelical community who are boringly hyper-individualistic, attached to a fixed set of beliefs impervious to rational discussion. Truth is thus sacrificed on the altar of freedom. 

Above all, evangelicals are still determined to exercise control over nature; to borrow from Read, they “can’t stand to be told that they don’t have as much epistemic right as anyone else on any topic that they like to think they understand or have some ‘rights’ in relation to: ‘Who are you to tell me that I have to defer to some scientist?’” This reaches the heart of the issue, and explains the tragic spectacle of evangelicals becoming COVID conspiratorialists and climate change deniers. There’s a straight line from fundamentalist denial of evolution to evangelical denial of climate change. 

Truth has clashed with individual liberty and it is crowding out the value of truth. As Read says, “They end up believing simply what they WANT to believe.” Just as they don’t want to accept the solid science that lies behind evolution, they don’t want to accept the truths of ecology, environmental well-being, climate science, and pandemic science. As a result, they deny them. Hidden in this denial is the old evangelical desire to be in charge, to control even nature herself. 

Many evangelicals have embraced climate denial as surely as they have swallowed Trump’s “big lie” about the election. It seems to give them freedom from truth even though climate change has the devastating potential of being an even greater apocalypse than the one evangelicals dream of in their weird interpretations of Revelation. Having to go along with the truth of experts they have long despised feels like too much for them to endure. 

With all the evangelical preaching about the end of the world, it is at least somewhat ironic that they are now willing pawns in the coming destruction of our planet, not by God or armies of angels, or nuclear destruction, but by rising tides and severe weather outbreaks and the overheating of the planet that threatens to turn it to a secular version of hell. How evangelicals find this attractive is worthy of future investigation, worthy of a Religious Studies Ph.D. dissertation. That study should start with Read’s original hypothesis and final conclusion: “Climate denial involves the denier in a kind of fantasized power over reality itself in the form of the ultimate reality: the nature of our planetary system, and thus of life itself.” 

My personal contribution to this unfolding tragedy is to add my voice in opposition to those who now hold a rank contempt for truth. Instead, I insist that truth doesn’t reside in the narrow enclave of small-minded evangelicals, but in the wide, gloriously equipped universe that now requires our help to be restored to her previous splendor when God, gazing at creation, couldn’t stop saying, “It is good. It is good. It is very good.”

A Flood of Angry (and Grateful) Responses to American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism

by Sean Swain Martin

Sean Swain Martin is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Theology at Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI. His American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism (October 2021) published by Pickwick Publications explores the centrality of epistemological certainty in the work of Scott Hahn, attributing to Hahn a specific Protestant fundamentalist approach in his very popular Catholic theological contributions. Sean specializes in American Catholicism, Christian Fundamentalism, John Henry Newman, and early modern philosophy. He holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in theology from the University of Dayton as well as an M.A. in philosophy from Georgia State University. When not teaching or endlessly grading, Sean and his wife, Beth, are raising two insanely adorable children, Gwen and Milo, and a wildly destructive dog, Luna, in Onalaska, WI.

Book cover of American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism by Sean Martin. Image via Pickwick Publications.

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a two-part series Sean shared about his book, American Pope. You can read part one here.

In the course of trying to make it through yet another season of this seemingly endless pandemic, I binged watched the first season of the new, hit show Ted Lasso. Ted Lasso is the ridiculous story of an American football coach who embarks on a new career coaching an English football team, despite knowing almost literally nothing about the sport of soccer. Lasso, along with his constant coaching companion, Coach Beard, are met in their new roles with ridicule and derision from the rightly outraged Richmond Football Club fans who see Lasso’s hiring as a commitment by the team owner to self-sabotage. While clever in a variety of ways, what is truly compelling about the show is Ted Lasso’s perennial optimism. In the face of a stadium of angry fans chanting their displeasure with him personally, Lasso cheerfully wades through a dismal ninety minutes of football without ever succumbing to the taunts and jeers of the fans. As the season continues, Lasso is challenged, betrayed, heartbroken, and rejected. Yet, through it all, Ted carries with him the constant conviction that he is doing what he truly believes is best. 

While compelling, however, this is not what makes Ted Lasso so attractive to me. Ted also carries with him throughout all his adventures (and misadventures) his brokenness, a recognition of his shortcomings, and a commitment to allow himself to be bettered by those around him, friend and foe alike.

In October 2021, I published my first book, American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism with Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf & Stock. While the more academic reviews of the book are still forthcoming, notification of its publication took off on the more Catholic corners of Twitter and I was soon inundated with a host of opinions on the work. Before American Pope even became available for purchase, my tweet announcing the book had been viewed over 120,000 times and interacted with (retweeted, liked, or commented on) more than 35,000 times. 

Given Hahn’s popularity, I expected strong reactions to my announcement but as I had never experienced anything like this before, I had no idea what this kind of response might look like. Among the many comments, however, was one that I found quite unsettling. Surprisingly, it was not the private message that I received informing me that the writer was praying for my death so that I may soon experience the judgment of God. It was also not the comment that suggested that I was possessed, nor the one that raised the possibility that I was funded by certain liberal powers to take down faithful Catholics, nor even the host of retweets that assumed that I hated both God and the Catholic Church.

Instead, it was the comment to a supportive retweet, “I hope this author knows what he’s in for. This is going to get bad for him.”

In the weeks that followed and the book began to reach readers, my institution, Viterbo University, received complaints concerning my employment there. Discussions of the book began appearing on Catholic radio stations, blogs, and social media. My book was ridiculed as embarrassing and I dismissed as a jealous, liberal academic who should have never made it through a doctoral program. 

Along with all of this, however, I also began receiving emails and private messages from people I had never met thanking me for writing the book. 

Such a bizarre experience. On the one hand, my book is riddled with errors, falsehoods, and the most uncharitable of critiques on one of Catholicism’s most faithful scholars. On the other hand, it successfully demonstrates a thoroughgoing fundamentalism in the theology of one of the American Catholic Church’s most prolific writers. I am a failure who should be ashamed of my work, or I have written a good discussion on a topic that needed to be brought to the fore. 

So, which is it?

A constant theme in the negative reactions to the book’s publication (not necessarily to the content of the book) is that I must have written the book because I am either jealous of Scott Hahn’s success or because of a hatred for the Church. I am sure that what I say here will not satisfy American Pope’s critics, however, I feel the need to address the question.

There are many reasons that I did not have in mind in publishing my book. First and foremost, I did not write American Pope out of a hatred of Catholicism. It is quite the opposite, in fact. The Catholic Church is my home. It is where I am allowed in my fallenness to be brought together with my family and community to become united with Christ’s goodness in the perfection of the sacraments. It is within the Body of Christ that I have tried, and will continue to try, to offer the little that I can for the good of God’s Church. 

The second charge often leveled against me is that I wrote American Pope out of a jealousy for Scott Hahn’s success. All I can offer in response is that I have been fortunate enough to have been given a the most wonderful of spouses, two beautiful children, family and friends, the privilege to teach theology at a good and courageous Catholic University. In short, I have more than I ever even knew to dream was possible. This is all that I could want.

Third, I actually did not write American Pope because I believed that Hahn was wrong in his theological positions. To be clear, I do believe that Hahn is wrong about certain of his beliefs, but the entire community of Catholic theologians is predicated on the notion that we find our theological beliefs in conflict. And those of us who work in the academy work within the context of that conflict in the hopes that in so doing we can together come closer to the truth. American Pope, then, is not about which of Hahn’s beliefs I happen to regard as incorrect.

Rather, I wrote American Pope because when I engage Hahn’s theological contributions I find a conviction in his own thought that allows for no other. In Hahn’s Catholic world, there is but one approach, one set of truths, one way to read the scriptures, and one way to live in the world – Hahn’s. The reason that I decided to write the book is because what I found in the works of Scott Hahn was the same fundamentalist certainty of my past. The church of my childhood was one that divided the world between those who thought like them on the one hand and evil on the other. In that world, there was no place for the radical grace, hospitality, and humility that I saw in the person of Jesus Christ and the Church he established. I wrote American Pope because I saw in Hahn’s claims of exegetical simplicity, epistemological certainty, and moral clarity the same fundamentalist hubris that poisoned my past.

My faith is not certain. I am insufficient. But I am better, made whole, perennially optimistic from within my brokenness because of the goodness of the people I love. And, miraculously, ridiculously, in the story of Catholicism throughout human history I find a place for me. I wrote American Pope because I am a sinner who walks with a community of sinners always in the work of being saved by a grace we neither deserve nor will ever fully understand. I wrote it because the working out of Catholic faith in fear and trembling will always be our present and never a forgotten part of our distant past.

Why I Wrote American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism

by Sean Swain Martin

Sean Swain Martin is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Theology at Viterbo University in La Crosse, WI. His American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism (October 2021) published by Pickwick Publications explores the centrality of epistemological certainty in the work of Scott Hahn, attributing to Hahn a specific Protestant fundamentalist approach in his very popular Catholic theological contributions. Sean specializes in American Catholicism, Christian Fundamentalism, John Henry Newman, and early modern philosophy. He holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in theology from the University of Dayton as well as an M.A. in philosophy from Georgia State University. When not teaching or endlessly grading, Sean and his wife, Beth, are raising two insanely adorable children, Gwen and Milo, and a wildly destructive dog, Luna, in Onalaska, WI.

Book cover of American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism by Sean Martin. Image via Pickwick Publications.

In many ways, I was wrestling with this subject of American Pope: Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism well before I had ever heard of Scott Hahn. I was raised in southern Georgia in a conservative, evangelical household. We were members of the local Catholic Church, St. Anne’s, until when I was around eight years old and my parents came to believe that the Catholic reading of the Bible was insufficient. They had started attending a neighborhood Bible study led by a Southern Baptist family and became convinced that for the good of their family, they needed to find a church that took the Scriptures more seriously than it seemed our priest did. Within a few short years, we had found a small, nondenominational church to call our spiritual home for the remainder of my childhood.

It was not until I reached college that I experienced my crisis of faith. My home church had taught me that the Bible was the perfect Word of God and that in reading it faithfully, the world was completely laid bare. That is, in reading the Scriptures, again, faithfully, I would see clearly right from wrong, friend from enemy, and good from evil. In leaving my hometown and attending school in Atlanta, my world became exponentially larger very, very quickly. The assurance that the Bible had given me that I was, in a sense, finished with the work of understanding the world and had firmly moved into the mode of saving it, entirely vanished.

Such a development was not just a hiccup in my plan to “seek and save” the world of the lost, it was devastating. In losing my confidence in the absolute perfection of the Scriptures, I saw myself as losing my faith. I stopped attending church services with any sort or regularity. I turned to the Scriptures less and less. I distanced myself from other Christians who still demonstrated vibrant lives of faith. Moreover, I was plagued with the fear that I had damned myself, stepped outside of the perfect love of God, and exposed myself to that side of God that looked a lot like vengeful hatred, but I had always been taught could not be. 

In desperation, I turned to a professor who had become something of a trusted mentor. “I don’t understand.” “I don’t know how to fix this.” “I don’t know what to do.” And then, finally, “What would you do?” The answer that this kind and patient mentor offered me will stay with me throughout my life.

My professor told me that he understood what I was going through, that there was value in my current suffering, and that the faith out of which I had forced myself may not have been the faith that I thought it was. And then he told me that he would become Catholic. 

In my religious world, there was no group more confused and tragic than Catholics. Their stained-glass churches, Latin hymns, and bejeweled chalices might have a certain aesthetic appeal, but it certainly was not Christian. My affection for this professor was great enough, however, that I began occasionally to visit a local parish. Over the next several months, I began to discover a faith that, to my mind, looked more like the God I still believed in. My questions, doubts, confusion, and even anger were welcomed.

Thus, during my senior year of college, I asked to begin, along with my older brother and sister-in-law who had been directed to Catholicism by the same professor (even if for different reasons), the process of returning to the Catholic faith. And at the Easter Vigil in 2005, I was confirmed in the faith. To my delight, in the old, beautiful parish I had joined, I became confident in my faith, again. Not only did I become more confident in my faith, but I enjoyed my life of faith, particularly going to Mass. Here, finally, I had found a faith in which both my belief and unbelief could rest.

In the years that followed, however, I noticed that there were parts of my newly found Catholicism that began to remind me of the faith of my past. There were those (and sometimes myself) who claimed to have a corner on authentic Catholicism. There were those (and again, sometimes myself) who at times imagined their Catholic faith rendered the world utterly knowable, understandable, and straightforward. While I found in the saints numerous moving depictions of long dark nights of the soul, I continued to long for simplicity in the face of so much confusion and certainty in the face of doubt. The more certain and simple the Catholic faith was depicted, however, the less it resembled the complicated and often fractured faith of the ages that I had joined.

Meanwhile, my parents, who had struggled at the time with my conversion, had been given a copy of a book by a Catholic theologian “who actually explained Catholicism in a way that made sense.” His name was Scott Hahn. This book, Rome Sweet Home, was the recounting of Hahn’s own journey to Catholicism, and, as such, my parents found it helpful in understanding their children’s decision to convert, and eventually led to their own return to Catholicism. While I had never read the book, drowning as I was with the demands of philosophy and then theology graduate work, Scott Hahn became a name that I heard more than almost any other in my different parish communities over the years as someone uniquely gifted at explaining the faith in an accessible and compelling way.

I wrote a philosophy graduate thesis in which I employed Gottlob Frege’s philosophy of language as a response to contemporary defenses of G. E. Moore’s Open Question Argument. It was and is by no means perfect, but I was happy with it and, most importantly, I successfully defended it. Several years later, I successfully defended a theology graduate thesis that argued that Bl. John Henry Newman relied on David Hume’s theory of knowledge to construct his account of the illative sense. There is a lot I would change about it if I could, but I am still proud of the effort and convinced by the argument. 

But when friends and family asked me about them as I was writing them, however, they did their best to act interested, but the conversation would quickly turn to other matters. And when my wife, Beth, and I began dating in 2014, she asked if she could read what I had written; while she made a couple of valiant efforts, she never made it all the way through either. She was interested in my ideas and why I felt like they were important, but it was difficult for her to follow all the academic nuances of my theses, given that she did not have the background that I did. I saw value in the work that I had done, but my ideas were not connecting with the people in my life I cared about most. In talking with my friends and family, the conversation would often turn to American life and faith. 

Despite how much I had come to love the many different theologians whose works now line my bookshelves, they were not the voices that my friends and family were hearing in the Catholic world outside the academy. That voice was Scott Hahn’s. My parents had his books, and before I met my wife, she and her parents both had his books. Hahn’s books were passed out for free at church during Christmas and Easter. He held large youth, adult, and priest conventions, sometimes multiple times a year. Hahn offered marriage retreats and adult education seminars. And despite the fact that Scott Hahn was the loudest voice in shaping the minds of the faithful, as a doctoral student in Catholic theology, I had no idea what he taught. I had never read a single one of his books. I could not tell you how he envisioned Catholic life and faithfulness. Moreover, when I turned to the theological world, I found that no one else had engaged with Hahn either.

And so the central concern for me in writing American Pope was that, as arguably the most influential voice in American Catholicism, we should understand the vision that Scott Hahn offers in his works read by millions of Catholics throughout the world. Hahn is shaping the American Catholic Church in a uniquely powerful manner and yet, until now, I have been unable to find a single systematic engagement with his thought and work. Thus, American Pope was an attempt to provide just such an engagement, as well as to bring my own philosophical and theological contributions into the wider world of my loved one’s lives of Catholic faithfulness. What I actually argue in the book is that the Catholic vision that Hahn claims to be providing his audience is, in fact, quite different than the one he actually presents. What he coins as Catholic faithfulness is instead a straight-forward and damning Catholic fundamentalism. As this vision is delivered to millions of the faithful who look to Hahn as a trustworthy guide to an authentic life of Catholic faith, it is crucial that we understand, not just the content of his work, but also the perspective with which he approaches theological truth. And while I believe that American Pope succeeds in its critique of Hahn, what I am more interested in is in the book acting as a reminder to those of us in the academy that our Catholic friends and loved ones desire accessible theological insight. Moreover, at present, this largely resides in the work of Scott Hahn and his compatriots, whose audience is massive and whose commitments are not often the best representative of the Catholic tradition.

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