Righting America

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Yikes! Creationist “Scholar” Attacks RightingAmerica | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Image of Ken Ham & A. Charles Ware’s 2007 book Darwin’s Plantation.

Dear Jerry (if I may):

Oh my. It appears that my discussion of your article on Darwin and the Vietnam War has struck a nerve. So it is that you have mustered your creationist weaponry in a full-scale assault on me and my critique. I am sorry to say, however, that there are 1 or 2 (ok, more like 9+ ) serious weaknesses/inaccuracies/falsehoods in your article that I must call to your attention:

  • “One of the most recent critics of those who rightly put much of the blame on Darwin and Galton [for Nazism] is William Trollinger, a Catholic college professor at the University of Dayton. Trollinger instead puts much of the blame on Martin Luther, Bible believing Christians, and Creationists.”
    • Jerry, it is ludicrous to assert that I blame Creationists for the Holocaust – you will need to provide chapter and verse for this absurd suggestion. 
    • But here is what I said in my critique of your article, material which you have conveniently left out in your attack on me: “Many scholars have convincingly argued that the Darwin-to-Hitler conceit is absurdly simplistic, and of course leaves Christianity and Christians off the hook: ‘The Anti-Defamation League has vigorously critiqued the Darwin-to-Hitler trope, pointing out that such an argument . . . neatly erases the multiple factors that led to the Holocaust, including a Christian anti-Semitism that long preceded Charles Darwin. Focus on Darwin-to-Hitler, and the slaughter of German Jews by eleventh-century crusaders, the Spanish Inquisition and its persecution of Jewish converts, and the history of Church teachings versus the Jews conveniently disappear. By focusing on the role of evolution in leading to the horrors of Nazi Germany, one does not have to consider the historical import of Martin Luther’s venomous words in ‘On the Jews and Their Lies’: ‘Set fire to their synagogues or schools . . . Their houses should [also] be razed and destroyed . . . They are a heavy burden, a plague, a pestilence, a sheer misfortune for our country’ (Righting America, 183-184).” 
    • Jerry, I am afraid that your monocausal explanation of Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust just does not hold up. 
  • “He states that he grew up in a fundamentalist church as a creationist, but his college education and reading anti-creationist publications turned him against this worldview.”
    • Jerry, again, where do I say that my college education and my reading of anti-creationist literature turned me against fundamentalism and creationism? I know this is a standard trope in fundamentalist polemics, but you fail to provide evidence. 
    • As regards fundamentalism, it was my church’s support of the Vietnam War and opposition to civil rights that prodded me to begin my move out of fundamentalism/evangelism (a journey that began when I was 12 years old). 
    • As regards creationism, and as I explain in Righting America, I was never a young Earth creationist, thanks in good part to my father, who was a geologist. As an old Earth creationist, Dad was horrified when flood geology and the idea of a young Earth began to infiltrate evangelical churches in Denver (where I grew up). I confess that, for his sake, I am glad that he had passed when the Creation Museum opened in 2007.
  • Trollinger “had a short stint as an assistant professor of history at the College of the Ozarks and, next, as an associate professor of history at Messiah College, both Christian colleges. Why he left the first two college positions is unknown. He ended up at the University of Dayton in the fall of 1996 teaching undergraduate courses for the Department of History and M.A./Ph.D. courses for the Religious Studies Department.” 
    • Jerry, here you are borrowing a classic Tucker Carlson tactic, insinuating (but not asserting) that there may be something scandalous about my departures from these two “Christian colleges.” Perhaps if you had more familiarity with higher education you would recognize my path as a rather standard professional trajectory.
    • But it’s interesting that while you refer to Ozarks and Messiah as Christian colleges – thus suggesting that I had to leave because I lost my faith (which I didn’t) – you don’t refer to the University of Dayton (UD) as a Christian college. Is that because UD is a Catholic university? Is that because you agree with the Answer in Genesis (AiG) assertion that the Catholic Church “is a false church that enslaves hundreds of millions of people in a false gospel” (World Religions and Cults, vol. 1, 110)?
  • “Here is an example of [Trollinger’s] ad hominem tactic: ‘Ken Ham has produced (along with many other writings making the same point) Darwin’s Plantation, a book whose title could easily lead the historically unaware reader to believe that Darwinism was responsible for American slavery .. . even though Origin of Species appeared in 1859, just four years before the Emancipation Proclamation.’ This book nowhere makes this claim, nor does Ken Ham even infer it.” 
    • Jerry, I confess that you are relentless at excising material that works against your argument. So, for example, here’s the sentence from my article that comes after “Emancipation Proclamation”: “And it is not just the title: the cover of Ham’s book has a photo of African American slaves working the fields.”
    • It does not take a Ph.D. in visual rhetoric – it does not even take a course in visual rhetoric – to understand that, with this cover, Ham is strongly suggesting the connection between Darwinism and slavery in the United States. (See photo).
    • And as I also note in the article (and Jerry, again, good job of removing material that works against your argument): “Of course, to suggest that Darwinism is responsible for slavery in the United States is a very convenient way to elide the fact that ‘in antebellum America millions of white Christians . . . stood on their literal reading of the Word of God to issue forth a raft of proslavery polemics and to deliver an almost-infinite number of proslavery sermons” (Righting America, 186).  
  • “The insinuation that Darwin (in England) contributed to the end slavery [sic] (in America) makes no sense.”
    • What makes no sense, Jerry, is that I never made such a ridiculous insinuation. Again, where’s your evidence?
  • Trollinger’s article involves “a wholesale condemnation of the Christian church and modern Christians.”
    • Once again, Jerry, I have to ask: Where’s your evidence of a wholesale condemnation of the church and Christians? Or am I right to understand that, for you, Christian=Protestant fundamentalism? (See next response.)
  • “In examining Trollinger’s response I was looking for evidence of mistakes of factual content in my article. However, it can be seen that Trollinger’s response was purely irresponsible namecalling from a militant anti-Christian who opposes Christian schools and the core Christian beliefs. Was Trollinger pro-Vietcong, omitting the atrocities committed by them?”
    • On what basis, Jerry, are you arguing that I am a “militant anti-Christian who opposes Christian schools and the core Christian beliefs”? I am a practicing Catholic who teaches at a Catholic university, and who every Sunday recites the Nicene Creed. Talk about “core Christian beliefs”! Of course, the creed does not make reference to an inerrant Bible or to young Earth creationism, which may be your problem. 
    • But, Jerry, is your point that, as I suggested above, Catholics are not Christians (and the only Christians are Protestant fundamentalists, like you)?
    • Pro-Vietcong? Where are you getting this, Jerry? Is this because I point out that you give short shrift to American atrocities in the Vietnam War? Is that what makes me pro-Vietcong?
  • “Lastly, Trollinger claimed, ‘It is not in the least surprising that Bergman’s list of references contains virtually nothing from the best and most substantive work on the Vietnam War.This was another tactic intended to discredit the article: a blank assertion without documentation. He neglected to give the title of this ‘most substantive work on the Vietnam War.’ It could well be that I did consult it. This was possibly a big lie tactic.”
    • Jerry, once again your reading comprehension leaves much to be desired. I am not referring to one book on the history of the Vietnam War; I am referring to the large body of exemplary historical work on the topic. There is absolutely no evidence here that you consulted any of this. And if you did make use of one of these historical studies, that should have appeared in your references. That’s what scholars do.
    • And I love your use of the phrase “big lie tactic.” (Sarcasm.)
  • Trollinger closed with a distraction: a blatant case of the either-or fallacy combined with a glittering generality: ‘the past and present of human history can be reduced to a binary. On one side it is a literal Genesis 1-11, young Earth, capitalism, and heaven. On the other side it is reason, old Earth, Darwinian evolution, socialism, and hell. It’s all so simple.’ In other words, agree with him or you are unreasonable.”
    • So Jerry, this is either a hilarious example of not understanding what you are reading, or it is a case of malicious excision. I say this because you left out the five words preceding this quote: “For the folks at AiG.” That is to say, this quote is NOT referring to me, as I absolutely reject this ahistorical binary. I am referring to you, Ham, and the legion of culture war fundamentalists.

Jerry, four years ago your creationist buddy, Ken Ham, launched a full-scale attack on me and rightingamerica.  Of course, I responded, and it turns out that my final paragraph in response to Ham works well as my final paragraph here. 

  • Jerry, if “Creationists Slandered About the Darwin-Nazi Connection” were a paper written by a University of Dayton student in one of my first-year classes, I would have written this at the bottom of the paper: Failure to provide substantive evidence to back your claims, and a dismaying tendency to resort to ad hominem attacks. This is not acceptable for a university-level paper. Revise and resubmit.
  • And this is for you, Jerry: You have until the end of fall semester to make these revisions. I think you will need the time.