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Creationism Rears Its Ugly Head—Again and Again and Again

Here we go again. The latest news on the fighting-Creationism front is that states like Georgia have found ways to channel public funds to private schools. Some of the money goes–Surprise! Surprise!—to fund athletic scholarships. (And in places like Georgia, “athletics” means football.) Almost all of the money goes to institutions that teach Creationism—young earth, miraculous creation of organisms, two and only two humans coming last, and of course a universal flood.

A Beka Book— “excellence in education from a Christian perspective”—is a major textbook supplier.

An A Beka high school science text concluded that “much variety within the human race has developed from the eight people who left the Ark.” Another text, used in sixth grade, makes repeated references to Noah and the flood, which it calls the reason for both the world’s petroleum reserves and the development of fossils.

History and economics texts are also infused with fundamentalist theology and an unabashedly conservative viewpoint. The Great Depression, one says, was exaggerated to move the country toward socialism, and it described The Grapes of Wrath as propaganda.

I don’t mean to sound like Cassandra but I am telling you, folks, Armageddon is coming and it is not the Christian one. If a challenge to this sort of thing gets up to the present Supreme Court, I can almost guarantee it will rule favorably for the fundamentalists. With its ruling on money and elections, it has destroyed the political system. It looks very much like it is going to do a number on health care. And science is down the road. I predict that in my lifetime we shall see the National Science Foundation having to dole out cash for Flood Geology.

Why has it happened? Well, of course, there are all sorts of immediate reasons about our dysfunctional political system combined with a real fear in the ranks that America has lost its way and dominance and is heading downhill. These are the most fertile of times for simplistic solutions, pseudo science thriving, and above all moral fervor that picks out scapegoats. It happened in the 1930s and it happens again today.

You think I exaggerate?

“Build a great big, large fence 50 or a 100 miles long, put all of the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food,” said Charles Worley [pastor of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina]. “Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified until they can’t get out. And you know what, in a few years they’ll die out.”

Further back, we look to the founding of the nation and what happened in the years shortly thereafter. I have mentioned before the truly excellent book, Conceived in Doubt: Religion and Politics in the New American Nation, by my friend and colleague Amanda Porterfield in the department of religion here at Florida State. She tells how the new country was founded by deists—men of the Enlightenment, for whom religion was a very cool-headed affair—but that this philosophy was simply not enough for regular folk engaged in the very hard job of building the country. The preachers stepped in with their stories and moral advice and enthusiasm and very quickly won over the new republic. They offered comfort and security and meaning in a way that the founders could not. And so, uniquely in the West, America became a religious nation—and has stayed that way.

Of course, it is not traditional Christianity that we are saddled with, but some idiosyncratic form of Protestant evangelicalism, from the early 19th century—one that makes a virtue of ignorance and of the ability of the least educated to understand the intricacies of Jewish and Christian thought long ago. What do you need with those pointy-headed intellectuals from Harvard when you have the Good Book open in front of you?

And so it goes on, down to the present and I fear into the future. Dreary dangerous year after year. I have my quarrels with the New Atheists and the stands they take. But let no one misunderstand. When faced with the philistine beliefs and behaviors of American fundamentalism, I am four-square with Dawkins and Dennett and the others. When I read about what is going on in states like Georgia and my own Florida, I fear that Chicken Little may be right. The sky is falling.

Mr. Arnold, the headmaster of the Covenant Christian Academy in Cumming, Ga., confirmed that his school used those texts but said they were part of a larger curriculum.

“You have to keep in mind that the curriculum goes beyond the textbook,” Mr. Arnold said. “Not only do we teach the students that creation is the way the world was created and that God is in control and he made all things, we also teach them what the false theories of the world are, such as the Big Bang theory and Darwinism. We teach those as fallacies.”

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