by Sean Martin
Sean Martin has recently completed a doctoral degree in Theology from the University of Dayton and is currently preparing his dissertation project, Scott Hahn and the Rise of Catholic Fundamentalism, for publication. Along with a doctorate in theology, Sean has an M.A. in theology from the University of Dayton, and an M.A. in philosophy from Georgia State University. He specializes in Christian fundamentalism, Scott Hahn, John Henry Newman, and early modern philosophy. When not editing his book or attempting to survive global pandemics, he and his wife, Beth, are raising their wonderfully precocious daughter, Gwen, and a wildly destructive puppy, Luna, in Cincinnati.
I grew up in the small town of Richmond Hill about 30 miles into the woods outside of Savannah, GA. In many ways, it was a truly magical place to grow up. The neighbors all knew each other and kept tabs on the safety of each other’s kids. My siblings, friends, and I built tree forts, swam in the wide, slow Ogeechee River that wrapped around our little neighborhood, hunted (successfully, and without our parents’ permission) rattlesnakes in an effort to make our own snake skin boots, and always felt safe and loved. Our little town boasted one blinking yellow traffic light, three Baptist Churches, and two Waffle House restaurants, each of which you could see from the doorway of the other. My father attended a weekly men’s breakfast at the small local restaurant in town; the few times I was allowed to go with him, I would watch in amazement as the waitress would walk around the table of sometimes up to twenty men and ask, “The usual?…the usual?…?” She never made a mistake, down to the number of creams and sugars in the coffees.
Such an idyllic place to grow up, however, also came with a cost. My childhood gave me an extremely small view of the world. I had never met a Muslim. I had never seen synagogue. Most everyone in my world looked like me, thought like me, talked like me, and lived like me. I had no idea I was a Republican, only that the Democrats were bad. In school, I learned about the War of Northern Aggression, that the world was created in seven days, and that prayer’s most natural place was in the classroom.
While this worldview was reinforced by many aspects of the small, southern world in which I lived, there is one event that has always stood out in my mind. My father had learned from some friends of a “world-renowned” scientist who was coming to speak at a church just outside of town. This speaker was celebrated for the way in which he effortlessly dismantled the ridiculousness of atheist, evolutionary thought. As I had decided at the tender age of eleven that I wanted to be a pastor, my father signed the two of us up for the five-day event. I still remember driving down Hwy 144 out into the countryside and after passing miles of pine forests we came upon the small white Church that stood alone on the side of the road. Inside was a crowd of perhaps twenty people, filling the small sanctuary, and Dr. Kent Hovind (a.k.a., “Dr. Dino”).
We began that first morning like you might expect. We opened in prayer thanking God for heroes like our speaker and asking for God’s protection around our community from the evil of the world. Dr. Hovind, a tall, pencil-thin man in a light blue suit began to tell us about the dangers of evolution. I’m not sure I had ever heard that word before that day but by the end of the week I felt that I could have written a book about this most immoral and dangerous of theories. Hovind sat on the narrow wooden stage with an overhead projector and screen and demonstrated time and again how evolution and the Big Bang are complete (pardon the pun) nonstarters. I don’t remember everything that was said throughout the week but in the years that followed, I committed several discussions to memory and employed them in my role as middle- and then high-school evangelist.
On that first day of the event, Hovind recounted a conversation that he had with one of his college science professors. This professor had begun a class with an account of the Big Bang and the age of the universe. As Hovind told it, he raised his hand and asked a simple question, which the professor could not answer.
As we waited to hear the question, Hovind placed on the overhead a cartoon of children playing on a merry-go-round. He then told us that, according to these scientists, billions of years ago, all the matter in existence, for reasons we don’t know, began to be drawn together, like water rushing down a bathtub drain, into a tight point, “smaller than a period on a page.” This infinitely dense, spinning point, for reasons we don’t know, then burst out creating the universe.
He then turned to the cartoon of the children at play and asked the audience if, as children, they had ever had the misfortune of playing too wildly on a merry-go-round. Putting up a second cartoon of the children either holding on to the merry-go-round or flying off, he informed us that, interestingly enough, several planets and moons in our galaxy spin in a different direction than the rest. “If children were playing on a merry-go-round that began to spin clockwise at 100 mph,” he jokingly asked with a grin, “how many of the children would fly off spinning counterclockwise?” Obviously, none.
“So why,” he told us he asked the professor, “do several planets and moons in our solar system spin the wrong way?” The professor, of course, had no response. Hovind helped him out. “Here’s what I believe: Six thousand years ago, God created the heavens and the Earth,” a mantra that he would go on to repeat after refuting every claim.
I was transfixed. It was all so easy and straightforward that the only way anyone could not believe was due to willful, sinful ignorance. That week I learned that:
- given the erosion of Niagara Falls, if the earth were millions and millions of years old, Niagara Falls must once have been as far south as Texas.
- reptiles never stop growing and so, if there was once a time on earth when there was no death or disease, these small reptiles we experience today would have been able to grow into the massive dinosaurs of the past.
- alleged alien abductions were actually instances of demonic possession.
- there were layers of bedrock that showed dinosaur footprints right next to human footprints.
- there are plesiosaurs swimming in the deepest reaches of our oceans and Scottish lochs even today.
- the Earth is slowing by a small amount every year, and that, if the Earth was millions and millions of years old, there must have been a time when it was spinning so quickly that everything on the Earth should have been flung away into the depths of space.
- a scientist once carbon dated an apple his coworker had brought from home for a snack and was informed that the apple was hundreds of thousands of years old . . . and that the scientist soon converted to Christianity because of the experience.
- all of the mysteries of existence were fully explained in the simple, perfect Word of God.
At my request, my father purchased from Hovind’s media table a series of perhaps eight VHS tapes of lectures. Over the years that followed, I watched these tapes incessantly and memorized everything I could. I felt so much pride in all that I had learned as well as the praise that I received from the leadership of the church we attended. I felt so much confidence in the knowledge that I would never experience the crisis of faith that so many had after being caught unprepared by the allure of evolution. In the years that followed my introduction to Dr. Hovind, I told hundreds of questioning friends and nonbelieving strangers about the myth of evolution, always echoing my teacher’s mantra, “Here’s what I believe: about six-thousand years ago, God created the heavens and the Earth.”
My crisis of faith came about ten years after my time with Hovind and his overhead projector in that small, white chapel. The small fundamentalist Christian college I attended somehow had a few professors who actually had reasonable rebuttals to my well-rehearsed declarations of the truth of creation. And then in my junior year of college, I lost a good friend to the carelessness of a drunk driver. He was a good man, like a brother to me, and nothing I had learned could keep the careful world I had built in my mind from shattering. In the moment of a short phone call in the middle of the night – “Doug died last night. I have to go” – the last vestiges of the hollow faith and naivete that I had inherited in that backwoods, country church with Dr. Hovind and his cartoon overheads were finally exposed.
In a moment, everything that I had once held dear had been taken from me. But by the grace of God and the kindness of God’s people, I have found a new and stronger faith than the one I lost. The scars of my fundamentalist past still remain, but I in the intervening decades I have found a new faith.
Here’s what I believe: About 2,000 years ago, Christ, for reasons that I will never fully understand, sacrificed himself for a world I will never fully understand, but that, through the work of a lifetime, I can come to love like he did.
by Susan Trollinger and William Trollinger
In our recent article at The Conversation, “At the evangelical Creation Museum, dinosaurs lived alongside humans and the world is 6,000 years old,” we made the point that there is very little in the way of science at the Creation Museum.
Not surprisingly, the folks running the museum do not agree.
Dr. Jason Lisle, who holds a PhD in astrophysics and now has his own online creation science ministry, wrote this in response (in 2008) to a comment from a visitor who said they were surprised that there wasn’t more science in the museum:
Of course, there is plenty of science that confirms a biblical creation. . . . Much of this science is presented in the Creation Museum. Some of this science in the museum is very apparent (such as the information presented in the planetarium, or the Flood . . . geology room). But much of the science is “behind the scenes,” and you may not have noticed it (Righting America at the Creation Museum, 71).
In another 2008 Answers in Genesis (AiG) publication (The Creation Museum: Behind the Scenes!), visitors who wanted to see more creation science were directed to videos in the Wonders of Creation Room.
In the Science chapter of Righting America at the Creation Museum, we do a rather exhaustive analysis (some may have found it tedious, and we don’t blame them) of all the placards, videos, dioramas, and so forth in these areas identified by AiG as presenting a lot of creation science.
Quite honestly, we were surprised that most of the so-called science on display in the Creation Museum did not even pass AiG’s test for “real science.” AiG makes a big deal about the distinction between observational science (which is real science because it is observable and repeatable in the present) and historical science (which is not real science—evolution is their primary example—because it is about things that happened in the past that can’t be observed in the present). As we document in the book, it turns out that there is precious little (if any) observational science in the Creation Museum that actually “confirms” (AiG’s preferred term) a biblical creation.
In November 2019, AiG unveiled new exhibits at the Creation Museum. Ken Ham (CEO of Answers in Genisis) boasted that they had completely renovated one third of the square footage of exhibits within the museum. We watched with much interest the “Walk through the Exhibits” video on the Creation Museum website. While some of the renovations were basically “upgrades” (Ham’s term) of the old exhibits such that the arguments, other renovations involved replacing old exhibits with new ones. And the aforementioned Wonders of Creation Room has been replaced by the Relevance of Genesis room, in which the Creation Museum designers have staged a converted urban warehouse within which an imagined artist has, among other things, painted images of Noah and other biblical figures on a brick wall.
Given that the Wonders Room is gone, we wondered if the Creation Museum had found another place to offer up creation science. And we believe we have found it in the 4-D theater (it’s 4-D because in addition to the fact that the film is 3-D, the seats also shake such that viewers have a “4-D” experience). In the 4-D theater, viewers watch a shortened (22-minute) version (titled In Six Days) of the full-length (100 minute) film Genesis: Paradise Lost.
The executive producer of Genesis: Paradise Lost, which was shown in a few theaters last year, is Eric Hovind, who is the son of the infamous Kent “Dr. Dino” Hovind, and who is continuing in his father’s footsteps as head of Creation Today ministries. The film lists nine “featured doctors and scientists,” all of whom are familiar names in the tiny world of young Earth creationist experts, and includes AiG’s token female creationist, Georgia Purdom. Also on the list is John Baumgardner, who later in the film is identified as “Geophysicist, Los Alamos National Laboratory” – which seems weirdly misleading, given that he left Los Alamos in 2004 to embark on a full-time career as a creation scientist.
But of all the talking heads, Charles Jackson gets the most airtime. Jackson, who regales viewers with stories about his victories in debates with evolutionists and atheists, proudly asserts that “I have four degrees, [while] most evolutionists I have met have only three. The film lists him as “Professor of Creation Science” at Liberty University.
But it turns out that he is not a working scientist: his highest degree is an Ed.D. from the University of Virginia, he has taught at the grade school level, and while he apparently has taught an online course at Liberty, we can find no reference to him on the Liberty website.
Genesis: Paradise Lost is, in essence, a 100-minute Gish Gallop. Coined by Eugenie Scott, long-time director of the National Center for Science Education, the Gish Gallop (originally meant to refer to creationist Duane Gish’s rhetorical strategy) “is a technique used during debating that focuses on overwhelming an opponent with as many arguments as possible, without regard to accuracy or strength of the arguments.”
Following this standard young Earth creationist strategy, Paradise Lost gallops along at a breakneck pace from one claim to the next. In just one 10 minute and 30 second segment, the film’s talking heads “cover” (an absurd word in this context) all of the following topics:
- The Big Bang
- The Creation of Stars
- Black Holes, and Gravity Waves
- First Law of Thermodynamics
- Second Law of Thermodynamics
- Spontaneous Generation
- Scientific Naturalism
- The Starlight Problem, and Light Years
- The Bible Teaches that God Stretched out the Heavens
- “Red Shifts,” and the Expansion of the Universe
- The Bible Teaches that the Earth is Round
- The Stretching out of Time
- Spiral Galaxies, and the Question of Galaxy Smearing
- Short Period Comets and Long Period Comets
- The Sun and Nuclear Fusion
- The Density and Magnetic Field of Mercury
- The Magnetic Field of Mars
- The Magnetic Field of Uranus
- The Magnetic Field and Heat of Neptune
- The Magnetic Field and Atmospheric Nitrogen of Pluto
- The Retrograde Rotation, Magnetic Field, and Surface Features of Venus
- The Dissipating Rings of Saturn
630 seconds, 22 topics. On average, 28.3 seconds per topic. It is a quintessential Gish Gallop.
Of course, Genesis: Paradise Lost is not presented in the context of a debate. If for some inexplicable reason mainstream scientists watch this film, they can pick apart each of the film’s arguments at their leisure.
But the film’s target audience is not the scientific community. As is the case with the Creation Museum in general, the film is aimed at evangelical laypeople. And these evangelical viewers will come away from the film with no understanding of, say, gravity waves and red shifts and galaxy smearing and the retrograde rotation of Venus, which of course means that they will have absolutely no ability to evaluate the argument that gravity waves and red shifts and galaxy smearing and the retrograde rotation of Venus help prove that the Earth and Universe are but 6,000 years old.
So what is the point of this film?
It’s simple. The goal is to use the barrage of information and incomprehensible arguments to reassure evangelical viewers that there is lots and lots and lots of science that supports young Earth creationism. Evangelicals do not have to understand it. They just have to believe that “real science” confirms their Truth.
Punctuating the film’s Gish Gallop are completely unsubstantiated assertions such as these:
- “we have science, it’s really on our side,”
- “the scientific evidence does not confirm evolution and millions of years, it confirms what Genesis says,”
- “Genesis passes the scientific method; evolution doesn’t,”
- “creationists are finding more and more ammunition in the new scientific data,”
- “we actually have an immense amount . . . of evidence of dinosaurs and man living at the same time,” and
- “it’s the unbelievers that have a problem, not us.”
So if true science is really with the young Earth creationists, why do so many people believe in evolution and an old Earth? The talking heads in Genesis: Paradise Lost answer that it is because the American people have been “brainwashed” and “conned” by secularists and atheists. In language eerily reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy, they spin out a gigantic conspiracy theory:
The secularists, the atheists, they took control of science. They took control of all the science journals, all the university science programs. They have taken over the museums, they have taken over the state schools, they have taken over the universities, the textbooks, the public schools in every country. The secularists really have control of the educational system, and they want their religion of secularism, of atheism, of naturalism forced upon the students. They use political pressure, they use scare tactics, they use the ACLU, they will intimidate school districts and take away their autonomy that’s given to them by the Constitution . . . They hijacked science, and they convinced the whole world that science is only possible within an atheist worldview (emphases ours).
They, they, they.
Fortunately, “they” are going to get their appropriate reward in the end.
The last 10 minutes of the film transitions from the Gish Gallop to standard fundamentalist fare, particularly, the reality of Hell. With great enthusiasm, evangelist Ray Comfort describes the Judgment Day that is coming:
Every time we sin, we store up His wrath. It’s going to be revealed on the Day of Judgment . . . You will have to give an account to God for every idle word you have spoken. Every deed done in darkness will be brought out into the light. And if that happens on Judgment Day, and you’re found guilty, [here Comfort pivots to look directly at the camera] the Bible says you’re heading for Hell.
According to the film, this judgment was prefigured by the Flood: God slaughtered once, and He – with all that stored up wrath – will do it again.
The talking heads make much of the fact that Noah’s Ark served as an ark of salvation – people just had to choose to get on board. Given AiG’s claim that there may have been as many as twenty billion people on Earth at the time of the Flood, it is absolutely baffling that the film points to one boat as a sign of hope.
Or perhaps not baffling at all. In the end, Genesis: Paradise Lost, the Creation Museum, and AiG are all about the horrific slaughter and everlasting torture of their perceived enemies. There is a reason that the final chapter of Righting America at the Creation Museum is entitled “Judgment”:
The museum’s controlling and repetitive narrative of disobedience and punishment, especially with its judgment for America, for the West, for all humanity is forthcoming, and with it the rescue of a faithful remnant and eternal damnation for the rest of humanity . . . They [will] be cast into a hell where they will endure eternal, conscious torment (emphases added).
They. And we know who they are.
(Most of) us.
by William Trollinger and Susan Trollinger
We were delighted to write the following article, which was published today at The Conversation! We have shared the article below in its entirety, thanks to The Conversation’s generous republishing policy. Enjoy!
At the evangelical Creation Museum, dinosaurs lived alongside humans and the world is 6,000 years old
Summer travel in the United States has slowed but not stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
More than this, the Creation Museum offers a window into the ideas and workings of the American religious right.
Adam, Eve and the dinosaurs
Evangelical Christians make up approximately 25% of the U.S. population. A majority of them think the Bible should be read literally and that evolution is false.
The Creation Museum, about which we wrote a book in 2016, promotes a very specific version of this belief, which holds that God made the universe in six 24-hour days about 6,000 years ago.
The first four chapters of the book of Genesis tell the story of Adam and Eve, who were created on the sixth day and given two jobs: to obey God and populate the Earth. When they disobeyed God and ate fruit from the tree of knowledge, they were banished from the Garden of Eden and became mortal.
Adam and Eve did better on their second assignment, though. Eve gave birth to two sons, Cain and Abel, and, according to the Creation Museum, to a daughter who later became Cain’s wife.
According to Genesis, humans eventually became wicked and violent. In response, God sent a global flood that drowned everyone on the planet; the Creation Museum says the dead numbered in the billions.
Only righteous Noah and his family were saved. They, along with some animals – including, according to the Creation Museum, dinosaurs – were safely housed in the ark that God commanded Noah to build.
Since opening in 2007, the Creation Museum has told this story – with an abundance of dinosaur displays and life-size dioramas of the idyllic Garden of Eden – to more than 4 million visitors.
Creationism is a central tenet of Protestant fundamentalism, an American evangelical movement that has its roots in the late 19th century just as Darwinian evolution was undermining the story of Genesis.
Around that same time, scholars were also asking substantive questions about who actually wrote the 66 books of the Bible, noting some of its apparent inconsistencies and errors and observing that some of its stories – including that of the giant flood – seemed borrowed from other cultures.
Some conservative evangelical theologians, appalled by the undermining of biblical authority, responded by creating the notion of biblical inerrancy. In this view, the Bible is without error, clearly written and factually accurate – including when it comes to history and science.
The fundamentalist movement emerged in 1919, holding to biblical inerrancy and creationism. They did, however, accept geologists’ assertions that Earth was millions or billions of years old, based on its many layers of rock.
As such, fundamentalists understood God’s six “days” of creation to refer not to 24-hour days, but to eras of indeterminate length.
This posed a problem for biblical inerrancy. If the Bible is best understood literally, how can a “day” be an era?
In 1961 Bible scholar John Whitcomb Jr. and engineer Henry Morris came to the rescue with their book, “The Genesis Flood.” Borrowing heavily from the Seventh-day Adventist George McCready Price – who had spent decades defending his own faith’s belief that God created Earth in six days – Morris and Whitcomb argued that it was Noah’s flood that created Earth’s layers.
In this theory, the planet’s geological strata only give the impression that the Earth is ancient, when in fact these layers were created 6,000 years ago by a global flood that lasted a year.
Young Earth creationism spread through American fundamentalism with astonishing speed in the late 20th century. Among the many Christian organizations established to advance these ideas is Answers in Genesis, or AiG. Founded in 1994 in Petersburg, Kentucky, AiG is a young Earth creationist juggernaut, producing a flood of creationist books, videos, magazines, school curricula and other print and digital materials each year.
As we document in our book, AiG is also heavily invested in the white evangelical right-wing politics that in 2016 helped secure the presidency for Donald Trump.
Though the Trump administration derides science and scientists, AiG chief executive Ken Ham claims to be a fan.
In a 2014 debate with Bill Nye, popularly known as “the science guy,” that has been viewed nearly 8 million times on YouTube, Ham said the word “science” 105 times – twice as often as Nye. “I love science!” Ham insisted.
But contemporary mainstream science is defined by its use of the scientific method, in which scientists formulate a hypothesis, conduct experiments to test that hypothesis and then confirm or deny it.
By contrast, creationists begin with a conclusion – that the universe is 6,000 years old – then seek evidence to confirm it. Contravening facts, such as carbon dating that shows the Earth to be 4.5 billion years old, are rejected.
This exhibit explains in great and seemingly accurate scientific detail that the Allosaurus’s skull is 34 inches long, 22 inches high and has 53 teeth that are about 4.5 inches long, if you include the roots.
Then it states that this Allosaurus perished in Noah’s flood. Those scouring the placards for empirical evidence that dinosaurs scrambled up a hilltop to escape the rising waters will come up short.
Mainstream geologists and biologists will probably find the Creation Museum more frustrating than educational. But for those hoping to better understand the divides of modern American society, the museum is illuminating. It shines a light on the worldview held by a segment of the U.S. population with significant economic resources and political connections at the highest rungs of power.
by William Trollinger
I grew up in an evangelical home in Denver – with a very pietistic mother – and attended an evangelical church and then an evangelical college (Bethel, in St. Paul, MN). And in home, church, and college there was one very consistent message: I needed to read the Bible and know the Bible and understand the Bible as the final authority. There were personal devotions centered around the Bible, Bible study groups, Bible classes in church and then in college.
Bible Bible Bible.
So is it just me, or is it the case that contemporary white evangelicals simply do not, in the end, care about the Bible as the Bible? Is it simply an object – even if held upside down (as we see here with Donald Trump) – that they can use to bash their enemies?
When Sue and I started our research on the Creation Museum we assumed that there would be lots of Bible on display at the museum. After all, the whole premise of the museum, the whole premise of young Earth creationism, is based on a literal reading of Genesis 1-11. More than this, Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) repeatedly assert that the inerrant Bible is without error, factually accurate in all that it teaches (including what it says about history and science), and the final authority for Christians.
So it makes sense that we thought there would be lots of Bible at the museum. But we were wrong.
Oh, there are lots and lots of placards with tiny bits of biblical text, sometimes just a few words from a particular verse. Snippets.
But it’s worse than this, as there is
the inconsistent use of translations and the creative editing [of biblical text]; the lack of ellipses indicating where text has been removed from a passage; the failure to provide relevant context for the passages that are displayed. All of this seems oddly loose, given the Creation Museum’s stated commitment to biblical inerrancy and the very words of the Bible as “God-breathed” (Righting America 136-137).
At first blush this seems perplexing. And then it becomes blindingly obvious. For all their talk about the Bible as the final authority, the Creation Museum is not interested in the Bible qua Bible. Instead, the Creation Museum is interested in promoting a right-wing patriarchal young Earth creationism as the Truth. And if that means ignoring biblical text and cutting/manipulating biblical text and failing to contextualize biblical text, so be it. It is all in behalf of the Truth.
Ten years after its opening the Creation Museum got around to devoting a three-room exhibit to Jesus, or, to be accurate, a vengeful, superhero version of Jesus.
A new exhibit, but the same old Creation Museum approach to the Bible. I discussed various examples of this in an earlier post, but here I want to focus on what is perhaps the most egregious example of biblical manipulation in the entire museum.
On the “Teachings of Jesus” placard there is a section entitled “Rebukes,” which could easily be entitled “A Very Angry Jesus Condemns Again, and Again, and Again.” And here is one of those condemnations:
Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
Now, it is clear that the museum is hoping or expecting that the visitor reading this placard will supply the missing premise—that is, who the “cursed” are who deserve “everlasting fire.”
This is one of Aristotle’s crucial insights that we find in his treatise on rhetoric. And that is, the enthymeme, a rhetorical strategy that leaves out either a premise or a conclusion to an argument that, in doing so, involves the audience (because they supply the premise or conclusion) and makes them think that they (rather than the rhetorician) are constructing the argument.
Of course, given that many (most?) visitors to the Creation Museum are steeped in the culture war rhetoric of AiG and the Christian Right, it is obvious who they supply as the cursed: those who are LGBTQ, those who are pro-choice, those who seek the separation of church and state, those who hold evolution to be true, those who do not hold to biblical inerrancy and other fundamentalist doctrines.
In the world of AiG and the Christian Right, it’s obvious that these are the people whom Jesus is condemning to hell. In fact, it is easy to imagine that the folks running the Creation Museum expect that their visitors will assume something like this follows Jesus’ statement of condemnation:
“Because you are gay and lesbian, because you have had an abortion, because you are not obedient to your husband, because you do not want the Bible to be taught in your schools, because you do not believe the universe was created in 6 24-hour days, because you do not believe the Bible is factually accurate in all that it teaches: you shall go away into eternal punishment.”
Just a side note here. If Jesus had indeed said anything like this, AiG would unquestionably feature these verses everywhere – on T-shirts and coffee mugs, in ads on Tucker Carlson and Fox News, perhaps even on the exterior of the Creation Museum. That is to say, if Jesus had said something like this, these verses certainly would have been included on this placard.
But it turns out that Jesus did not say anything like this. Here are the five verses that follow Jesus’ statement of condemnation, the five verses that the Creation Museum chose to elide:
“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:42-46)
Not one word about doctrine, or sexuality. Not one word that can fit into a culture-war narrative. Instead, these words from Jesus are all about caring for “the least of these.” And judgment comes for those who don’t care for them.
I was an earnest evangelical adolescent. I read the Bible as I was told. And it was in reading the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25 – among other passages in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament – that the nature of my faith changed. Dramatically.
That sort of transformation is precisely what the folks at AiG do not want. They are determined to do what they can to “lock down” a culture-war Christianity. And if this means cutting out or eliding or failing to contextualize passages from the Bible, that’s ok. It is a war.
So much for standing on biblical authority.
by Susan Trollinger
One of the great things about academic research is that you never know in advance what you are going to encounter. You enter an archive. You open a book. You start watching a movie. You begin to interview subjects. You dig into survey results. You embark on a scientific experiment. And you do not know in advance what you are going to find. That is what makes research a blast and, when we are at our best, it is what keeps us humble.
So, when Bill and I crossed the threshold of the Creation Museum for the first time in January 2008, we had no idea what we would encounter. But given Answers in Genesis’s explicit claim to be an apologetics ministry, one of the last things we thought we would encounter is a paucity of Jesus. Seriously? The Messiah? The one for whom the whole religion is named was barely there? As we point out in Righting America at the Creation Museum:
[I]t is striking how little “Jesus” is to be found at the Creation Museum. While there are a great many placards throughout the museum with quotes from the Bible, few of these placards contain a quote from Jesus. Visual representations of Jesus in the museum appear to be limited to a white statue that is usually confined to a corner outside the Last Adam Theater (except, it seems, during the Christmas season when it appears in the Main Hall) and images of Jesus as he is being crucified that appear in The Last Adam film (Righting America 48).
In spring of 2017, Answers in Genesis unveiled a new three-room exhibit dedicated to Jesus. Thus, they addressed the striking lack of Jesus. But who is the Jesus that appears in those three rooms?
Early in the exhibit, placards identify groups that have Jesus wrong: Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims—folks who think he was a created being or “simply a prophet.” Or worse—secularists who think Jesus was “gentle and never judgmental.”
By contrast, the Jesus of the Creation Museum is powerful and authoritative. He “raised at least three people from the dead.” He “performed countless miracles during His ministry, just as the prophets foretold. He repeatedly demonstrated His power and authority over sicknesses, disabilities, nature, the supernatural realms, and death itself.”
Moreover, he provided proof of his divinity that rises even to modern empirical standards: “After He rose from the dead, Jesus proved that He was alive again as He appeared to various people over the next 40 days. He walked and talked with them, and He ate and drank with them.”
And what is important about Jesus’ resurrection is that it proves his claims to divinity and God’s approval: “This amazing miracle demonstrates that God fully endorsed the work and claims of Jesus. This is particularly significant in regard to Christ’s claims of divinity. . . . Therefore, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ proves both His divinity and that He had God’s absolute approval.”
God’s approval, absolute approval, divinity, power, claims made and proven, authority, miracles, history anticipated and revealed. The Jesus at the Creation Museum is the A-Team if there ever was one.
Representations are always selective. And to purchase this one, there is much about Jesus that must be bracketed.
- There certainly can’t be sustained attention to the Sermon on the Mount, in which among other things, Jesus calls his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to love even our enemies, and in which Jesus teaches us to pray for the forgiveness of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (Matthew 5-7).
- Likewise, Jesus’ knowing and willing submission to the Roman authorities following Judas’s betrayal doesn’t fit the superhero Jesus of the Creation Museum (Mark 14: 43-50).
- And the Jesus who generously extends grace again and again to “untouchables” like the Samaritan woman at the well (someone most Jews of Jesus’ day wouldn’t even talk to) who Jesus knew already had five husbands and was living with a sixth man she wasn’t even married to also doesn’t make an appearance at the Creation Museum (John 4: 7-26).
- Then there’s the Jesus who, thanks to God’s great love for us, died for us even when we were sinners (Romans 5: 8). I think even Ken Ham would have to agree that that is not exactly a culture war move. Maybe that’s why such a Jesus doesn’t make an appearance at the Creation Museum.
While “Jesus” is on display at the Creation Museum now in a much more visible way than He was before, we have to ask—which Jesus? Who is this powerful, authoritative, God-approved, superhero Jesus? And what point is being made with this Jesus? And is that point the kind of point to which Jesus would give his assent? What about Jesus is ignored? And what sort of Christian is formed by this Jesus?
I don’t know about you, but I want the Jesus by the well. I want the Jesus who can’t stop sharing his grace with those who all the “respectable” people of his time couldn’t countenance. I have no need for the superhero, muscular Jesus.
If that means I’m secular (which I’m not), so be it.
by William Trollinger
The Cedarville mess just gets worse. And the folks in charge apparently do nothing. But, remarkably, there are folks on the outside who are trying to help victims of the scandal.
Before we get to that, here is an extraordinarily abbreviated summary of the ongoing scandal.
In 2017, Paige Patterson-protégé Thomas White – who apparently participated in Patterson’s effort to cover up a rape at Southeastern Seminary in 2003 – hired Anthony Moore with the full knowledge that Moore had just been fired from his position at a Fort Worth TX megachurch for repeatedly filming the male youth pastor taking showers. White knew, Jason Lee (Cedarville’s Dean of Theology) knew, and the pastor of a local church (whom White asked to serve as Moore’s mentor) knew . . . and it appears very likely that a number of other Cedarville administrators and trustees also knew. But White and his collaborators failed to inform faculty, staff, and students about Moore’s (very recent) past.
Moore moved up the ladder at Cedarville, to the point of being appointed as special advisor to the president. Then, this April the story broke. Moore was fired, and the local pastor resigned. More than this, stories began coming out about how – under White’s leadership – the tenure process was undermined, Title IX mandates were ignored or circumvented, and (in Cedarville’s culture of toxic masculinity) female students who had been raped and sexually harassed were denied care and justice.
At a normal university, the Board of Trustees would have immediately relieved White and his collaborators of their jobs. But Cedarville is not a normal university. It is a fundamentalist institution that operates according to its own peculiar and perverse logic. And the school’s trustees – most of them at least – seem remarkably unconcerned with all of the above.
As one Cedarville person has observed, “White and other administrators have always gaslighted us employees, but the trustees have taken that to a whole new level!”
So it is status quo at Cedarville, and White and company remain on the job.
Just to be clear: the local pastor has resigned for doing what the Cedarville president asked him to do, but that president – and his collaborators – remain safely ensconced in their posts.
Of course, one could imagine that an honorable person would have voluntarily resigned their position. But it is way too late for Thomas White to do the honorable thing. Is it simply that he can’t give up the 9000 square foot house (!) that the Board of Trustees is building for him and his family?
It is important to note that, in contrast with White and his collaborators, two trustees did act honorably. In response to their colleagues’ decision to retain White, they resigned from the Board.
More than this, a person with long-standing and very deep ties to Cedarville has very recently issued a public letter, in which he observes that
Even our declining culture takes such abusive leadership and the mishandling of sexual offenses more seriously than the Trustees of Cedarville University. I never would have thought we would see such a day in my lifetime. Wonderful. We are now left with an institution whose standards are lower than the culture around it . . .
As an alumnus, as the son of the first campus pastor and Vice President for Christian Ministries (’70-’95), and as the pastor of the church that gave birth to Cedarville Baptist School in 1953, regrettably, I can no longer endorse the school. If it were possible, I would ask for the return of the motto that our church gave to the school, “For the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ.”
The president frequently concludes his letters, videos, and social media statements with the line, “God is faithful. You can trust Him.” That is so true. And in that we all can rest. Unfortunately, the same can no longer be said about the governing body and the executive officer of Cedarville University.
On Cedarville’s campus, and as seen in the photo accompanying the post, someone (apparently a student) painted “Dr. White Hypocrite” on a rock outside the Stevens Student Center. Not surprisingly, by morning it had been painted over (presumably by campus security).
But there are signs that there will be unrest among students and faculty when school starts again. And as noted before, formal complaints have been filed with the Higher Learning Commission, responsible for accrediting Cedarville.
Who knows where this story will end. In the meantime, there are students and faculty – particularly, but not only, women students, faculty, and staff members – who are forced to deal with ongoing abuse at a university that does nothing to protect them, and that actually discourages them from seeking help outside the Cedarville bubble.
In response to this appalling situation, and in dramatic contrast with the Board of Trustees, a source (who remains anonymous because of her connections with folks at the university) has very generously provided a list of resources for those who have been harassed and/or abused, and whose emotional and mental challenges have been dismissed by authorities at the university:
As a graduate of Cedarville, and as a Licensed Professional Counselor, I want to reach out to current or past students, faculty or staff in the Cedarville area who may be looking for counseling from a Christian perspective that is also guided by the rules, ethics, and standards of the State of Ohio. Counseling that offers acceptance, confidentiality, grace, and will affirm your perspective on medication to treat any mental health issues.
One major hurdle in therapy that I come across is spiritual guilt over mental health issues – as though anxiety, depression, bipolar, etc. are somehow marks of a “less-than” Christian and present a barrier in our relationship with God. We are ALL broken due to sin, and struggling with these issues is part of living in a fallen world. In fact, I believe scripture shows us that God CHOOSES to use people who don’t have it all together, and is in fact very present for the broken-hearted. God wants us to come and lay out our mess so He can do the cleaning….not for us to tidy up before we come to Him.
- Citi Lookout, CitiLookout.org,
- Counseling Center & Trauma Recovery Center
- Telecounseling & In-person Appointments
- Springfield, Ohio
- Individual Counseling, Trauma Recovery, Journey to Freedom
- Phone Number: 937-322-6532
- Sliding Scale (based on need)
- CrossWalk Counseling – Cindy Anderson (Contact Person)
- Xenia Nazarene Church | CrossWalk Counseling
- Xenia, Ohio
- Limited In-Person Appointments
- Individual and Marriage Counseling
- (937) 344-1030
- Low Flat Rate
- Greenhouse Counseling, LLC – Ginger Smith
- Ginger Smith, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Beavercreek, OH, 45432 | Psychology Today
Telecounseling & In-person Appointments
- Beavercreek, Ohio
- Individual Counseling
- (937) 681-6235
- Reduced Rates for Students
- Ginger Smith, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, Beavercreek, OH, 45432 | Psychology Today
- New Creation Counseling Center
- Telecounseling & In-person Appointments
- Locations in Centerville, Tipp City, and Dayton, Ohio
- Psychiatry Services, Individual Counseling
- Intake Number: 937-506-0674
- Accepts Insurance & Sliding Fee Scale (based on need)
One would think that such information for abused and troubled members of the university community would come from the school itself.
But that’s not Cedarville.
by William Trollinger
In her magisterial work, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America, Frances FitzGerald brilliantly explains a dynamic at the very heart of the contemporary Christian Right. Interestingly, she does this by contrasting Puritan theologian and revivalist Jonathan Edwards with the founder of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell, Sr.
As FitzGerald observes, when Edwards lamented that “the people have fallen into evil ways that jeopardize their covenant with God and risk His judgment upon them,” he was “speaking to the people in front of [him] about their individual sins.” They were the ones who needed to “repent and return to God.”
At first glance Falwell – with his repeated emphasis on the need for America to repent for its sins – sounded like Edwards. But FitzGerald points out that Falwell was preaching a radically different message, a radically different “jeremiad.” And the difference is that, in Falwell’s formulation,
The sin lay not in the souls of his congregation, but in outside forces. The enemy was . . . the Other. In this case it was “the immoral minority,” composed variously of feminists, humanists, homosexuals, liberals, pornographers, Supreme Court justices, and government bureaucrats. This minority was conducting “a vicious assault on the family,” and the only sin of the majority was in allowing it to continue. Christians, said Falwell, have been silent too long (Evangelicals, 307-308).
FitzGerald has it right. And Falwell was perhaps the primary architect of the contemporary Christian Right message. It is the rhetoric of culture war. The Forces of Light v. the Forces of Darkness. Sin is that what the “Other” does.
Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) epitomize this cosmic binary. Ham, AiG, and their fellow young Earth creationist fundamentalists are the forces of Righteousness. Sin is what the Other — liberals, feminists, secularists, homosexuals, and evolutionists – does.
Take, for example, what Ham and AiG have had to say about racism. Who is to blame for “the so-called ‘racism crisis’” (Ham’s phrase) in the contemporary world? As we discuss in Righting America at the Creation Museum, and as Ham continues to promote on the AiG website, most of the blame lies with Charles Darwin and the evolutionists, of course. This is a very old creationist trope, highlighted by their determination to draw a straight line from Darwin to Hitler.
This is a fallacious and absurdly simplistic argument. I will spare you the details (but you can check it out in Righting America, 182-184). My point here is that, for Ham and AiG, most racism is over there. With the Other. With the Enemy.
This is a fantasy, of course. Millions of white Americans used a literalist reading of the Bible to argue for the just enslavement of African Americans. Millions of white Americans used a literalist reading of the Bible to argue for the establishment of the Jim Crow system of white supremacy (which, of course, involved the lynching of blacks). Millions of white Americans used a literalist reading of the Bible to argue for segregation.
And when, in the 1950s and 1960s, African Americans resisted their oppression, well, those same Bible-believing Christians desperately worked to keep them in their place:
In her [wonderful] book, Mississippi Praying: Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, historian Carolyn Renee Dupont puts it bluntly: Mississippi’s white “evangelicals fought mightily against black equality, proclaiming that God himself ordained segregation, blessing the forces of resistance, silencing the advocates of racial equality within their own faith traditions, and protecting segregation in their churches.” While many white mainline Protestants and white Jews joined the movement for civil rights, a host of white evangelical and fundamentalist ministers and leaders vehemently attacked them for having “dangerously perverted both the Bible and the divine plan.” So in 1958 BBF [Baptist Bible Fellowship] minister Jerry Falwell thundered from his Lynchburg, Virginia pulpit: “The Hamites . . . were cursed to be servants of the Jews and Gentiles . . . If we persist in tearing down God’s barriers” between the races “God must punish us for it.” When it became clear that the United States government meant to enforce integration of the public schools, white fundamentalists, including Falwell, started segregation academies throughout the South to ensure that their children would not attend school with black children (Righting America, 187).
White supremacist ideas indeed have deep historical roots in U.S. Christianity But Ham and AiG in particular, and white evangelicals in general, will not talk about this obvious historical fact. (Just ask black evangelicals.)
Instead, sin is what liberals, feminists, secularists, homosexuals, evolutionists do.
When it comes to Ham, Darwinism, and race, this verse comes to mind: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7: 5).
Jesus apparently failed to appreciate the fact that to own one’s sin violates the essential logic of the culture war. Sin is the property of the Other.
by Susan Trollinger
Traveling east on I-70 the other day, Bill and I passed a semi with a sticker on the back of its trailer. It was a simple graphic on which appeared a four-lane road (drawn in black), like an interstate. And then that road separated into two pairs of lanes going in different directions. Two lanes veered off to the left, and at their end was a cross. The other two lanes veered off to the right, and at their end was “SIN.”
Whoever placed that sticker on the back of that truck undoubtedly had what they took to be a simple and crucial message: you need to make a choice; are you going to live a life of sin or a life with Christ. Got it.
But there’s a problem. When we attend to the history of Christianity, this simple dualism just doesn’t work. Perhaps we could go farther back than this, but a reasonable place to start is the fourth century and Roman Emperor Constantine’s deployment of Christianity to win a military battle. Given Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that the Christian’s call is to turn the other cheek, putting a Cross on the breast of every Roman soldier seems problematic, to say the least.
Jumping ahead, we have the Crusades from the 11th century to the 13th (and beyond), inaugurated by Pope Urban II which resulted in the torture and slaughter of millions of Jews, Muslims, and others who got in the way of advancing Crusaders.
Of course, modernity has plenty of examples, as much of the world was violently colonized by Western countries in the name of Christianizing “the natives.”
And then there is industrial slavery. A so-called common sense and literal reading of the Bible made clear to many Southerners (and some Northerners too) that slavery was very much in keeping with God’s order. Abolitionists tended to be Christians in the 19th century—Quakers, mostly. But they could not offer proof texts from the Bible to support their arguments.
But white Christian plantation owners in the South certainly could. Jesus never spoke out against slavery. And Paul seemed to say that slaves should obey their masters. In the course of the Civil War, Southerners (and some Northerners too) argued vehemently that slavery was righteous. After the war and very soon after Reconstruction in the South came apart at the seams (in part because Northern whites were happy to defund Union troops keeping order in the South), so-called Christian arguments were mobilized to legitimate racial segregation and Jim Crow (Righting America at the Creation Museum, 185-188).
Throughout the 20th century and continuing today Christian organizations, like Answers in Genesis, make an all-too-simple equivalence between Darwin and racism. Darwin plus evolution equals racism while Christians know that we are all God’s children. If only.
Christians of all stripes must face the ways in which certain readings of the Bible have been used to oppress the very people that Jesus called Christians to love—the poor, the prisoner, the sick, the forgotten, the immigrant, the ostracized.
The problem with the sticker is that it reinforces the extremely problematic idea that Christians are without sin. But such an idea is obviously false. And today, this point is being made loud and clear in the streets of our cities and abroad. Especially we white Christians must listen. We must listen to their voices, and we must attend to our own racist past and present. We must own our sin. And offer reparations.
by William Trollinger
There are now even more painful reports on the toxic culture that is Cedarville University. (And for those of you who are just now coming to this story, see: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).
But before we get to the latest revelations, there’s word from the Cedarville Board of Trustees that President Thomas White has been reinstated from administrative leave, which the Board had imposed because White:
- knowingly hired an individual who had just been removed from his ministerial position at a Texas megachurch for, on multiple occasions, videotaping the church’s youth pastor in the shower
- kept this information from Cedarville faculty, staff, and students, all the while moving this individual into an ever-expanding list of positions, including Biblical and Theological Studies professor, presidential advisor, and assistant basketball coach.
Now, it is important to note that, at a normal university, this behavior would have ensured White’s firing. But this is Cedarville, an institution that operates according to a very particular fundamentalist logic. And after a seven week (seven weeks?) internal investigation, the Board concluded that White deserves to be reinstated as president. Here is the Board’s official statement, which can be summarized as follows:
- White hired Moore with the best of intentions.
- White has apologized for his mistake, which he made because he thought Moore only videotaped the youth pastor two times (instead of the actual five times).
- Moore apparently did not abuse anyone at Cedarville.
- White has been a great president, and he will now take courses on victim prevention and advocacy to help ensure he won’t make this same well-intentioned mistake again.
There are so many questions to be asked here, but I will limit myself to these:
- Two videotapings not a problem, five videotapings alarming? And what about the fact that the church that fired Moore has been clear that White was fully briefed at the time of Moore’s hiring?
- White’s good intentions are enough for the Board to ignore the fact that he made no attempt to inform faculty, staff, and students of whom exactly he was hiring? Does the Board have no concern about potential lawsuits?
- Given that White was clear that he communicated with some top administrators and some Board members about Moore, why aren’t they mentioned here? Is it possible that Board members are giving White a pass because they are trying to protect themselves?
- Given that (rumor has it) formal complaints against Cedarville have been filed with the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and given that the HLC will be visiting Cedarville this autumn for an assurance visit, is it a good bet that the HLC will be satisfied by the Board’s decision and rationale?
It is significant that not all Board members agreed with the decision to reinstate White. Two of them – the president of Southeastern Seminary and an evangelical pastor/author – have resigned in protest. And the Gospel Coalition – a collection of conservative evangelical churches – has also registered its unhappiness with the Board’s decision, calling White’s reinstatement “deeply and extremely troubling,” in part because “the process of reinstatement fails to provide adequate accountability.”
To be fair, we perhaps should be heartened by the fact that White will be taking classes – taught by whom? – on victim prevention and advocacy.
Will these classes alert White to the fact that his university has a terrible record when it comes to protecting and advocating for women students and faculty, to the point of shaming those who talk about sexual abuse? Will these classes lead White to order his academic Vice President and other administrators that they must begin enforcing Title IX requirements, or will the university continue its inexplicable practice of ignoring these mandates? Will these classes prompt White to reform Cedarville’s Counseling Center so that it is actually a place that cares for and protects students who have been raped and sexually harassed?
In his book, Fundamentalist U, Adam Laats makes the very wise point that fundamentalist schools like Cedarville sell themselves as “safe schools.” All I can say is that, even if I accepted Cedarville’s hardline fundamentalist theology, I could not imagine allowing any of my three daughters to go to Cedarville, a place that is anything but safe for young women.
Of course, this might all change. Thomas White might be transformed by the victim prevention and advocacy classes he is supposed to take.
But White is a Paige Patterson protege. It doesn’t seem like transformation is in the cards. The best bet is that, if White remains as president, it is more of the same at Cedarville.
That said, the remaining members of the Board of Trustees and Thomas White are not the only voices in this struggle. Contingency rules. We shall see.
In recent weeks we have written extensively about the scandal surrounding Cedarville University President Thomas White and his hiring and removal of known sexual predator Anthony Moore.
As more details of the scandal have come to light, concerned faculty at Cedarville have compiled a resource guide for current and incoming Cedarville students. Today we are pleased to share this resource guide, which we will maintain on a dedicated page of our site. From the guide’s introduction, written by faculty:
Most faculty and staff want you to have a positive, healthy and safe experience while at school and are ready to help you in a professional, caring way should a need arise. However, your experience may vary depending on whom you ask for help. We wish we didn’t feel the need to bring your attention to this, because we wish this wasn’t a part of the CU culture.
In recent months, published reports demonstrate some administrators, faculty and staff have not helped students in critical times of need. Furthermore, some intentional actions have made matters worse for students who sought help, and other actions have put the whole campus at risk. The pages below are an orientation to CU’s increasingly dangerous culture and share nearly 40 published reports, starting in April 2020 with the revelation that in 2017, President White, along with the Board of Trustees, hired and protected the confessed sexual predator Anthony Moore to work for White and, in a role in the School of Biblical and Theological Studies, teach students and lead field trips.
Top-level administrators under President White’s leadership have shown a pattern of decision making that indicates, at best, bad judgment and, at worst, a disregard for placing more and more people at risk. Qualified, caring faculty have had their employment terminated while others have been targeted and discouraged to the point of choosing to leave. Less-qualified, less-credentialed personnel have been placed in key decision making positions that affect the well-being of students.
The guide is downloadable as a PDF, and doing so will allow readers to use the active links in the guide.
We hope that Cedarville students as well as our regular readers find this guide helpful in understanding the impact of this scandal on campus climate.