Atheist News from Edwin Kagin November 27, 2007
ELLEN JOHNSON ON THE PETER HECK RADIO SHOW ~ WEDNESDAY, NOV. 28, 2007 4:15 ET
WIOU/KOKOMO, IN. ~ ATHEISM, UTAH CROSS
CASE, GOLDEN COMPASS & MORE...
ELLEN JOHNSON, President of American Atheists will be the guest on the Peter Heck Radio Show on WIOU coming out of Kokomo, Indiana tomorrow -- Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007 beginning at 4:15 ET. Check local listings. You'll be able to hear the program on WIOU 1350AM if you live in the broadcast area. The complete show will then be archived and available on Peter Heck's web site, http://www.peterheck.com .
Ms. Johnson will be discussing Atheism, the recent Utah Christian cross case, the flap over the "Golden Compass" and much more.
WHO & WHAT: Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists interviewed on the Peter Heck Radio Show.
WHEN: Wednesday, November 28, 2006 beginning at 4:15 PM.
WHERE: WIOU radio, 1350AM out of Kokomo, Indiana, the Peter Heck Radio Show. The program will be archived immediately following the live broadcast at http://www.peterheck.com .
MORE INFO: http://www.peterheck.com
(AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists, Freethinkers and other nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.)
David Silverman, communications director for American Atheists, will be this week’s guest on the new Internet radio sensation, “Answers in Atheism.”
David will appear live on this call-in talk radio sensation, that can be heard at www.answersinatheism.net on Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 7:00 pm. Eastern Time.
Y’all tune in, y’hear.
Believers and not cometh
Creation Museum bigger draw than thought
BY BRENNA R. KELLY | BKELLY@NKY.COM
PETERSBURG - Cars stream into the parking lot just after the 10 a.m. opening. License plates show some are from New York, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Carolina, Arkansas and Georgia.
All have found their way down the rural Boone County road to the Creation Museum.
Inside, visitors will walk through the Garden of Eden, see dinosaur bones, and watch the solar system unfold as "evidence of God's creativity."
All of it supporting the idea that God created Earth in six days, that the planet is just 6,000 years old and those dinosaurs traveled on Noah's Ark to survive the Great Flood that created the Grand Canyon.
In the six months since the museum opened, more than 265,000 people have toured the facility built by Answers in Genesis, a nonprofit evangelical ministry. Answers had predicted it might draw 250,000 the first year.
The museum will double its parking lot by next summer.
"We're starting to find that word of mouth is spreading across the nation," said Ken Ham, president of the ministry. "We're finding people will drive a whole day or two days to get here.
"We had secular skeptics who said people aren't going to come to this; 'Who's interested in this topic?,' but we knew all along people are very interested in this topic."
Critics say the museum is just drawing people who are already sold on creationism and the ministry's literal interpretation of the Bible.
"The people who believe are going there to have their beliefs reinforced," said Edwin Kagin.
"The evidence is overwhelming from all areas of science that the Earth is billions of years old and dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years before humans appeared," said Kagin, national legal director for the American Atheists, who lives in Union and has visited the museum three times. "It's an extremely well-done display, there's no doubt about that. However, because something is well-done does not make it true."
No matter who is coming, they are spending money in Northern Kentucky, filling up their gas tanks, eating at restaurants and staying in hotels. That has led to an estimated $10 million influx into the local economy, according to the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau.
NEVER A LULL MOMENT
Since the May 28 opening, crowds packed the museum, particularly on weekends. On the busiest Saturdays, visitors waited more than two hours to get in, said Mark Looy, museum spokesman. The museum still averages about 3,000 visitors on Saturdays. Ticket prices range from $9.95 for children to $19.95 for adults.
Museum staff say most visitors are from out of town, some from out of the country.
• See video, photos and more articles about the Creation Museum
Lori Lloyd, of Orlando, was one of about 800 people who toured the museum on a recent Monday. Lloyd and her husband brought their two teenage sons to learn about creationism.
The boys attend public high school. Daniel, 15, is in an honors biology class and his 17-year-old brother Michael studies marine science.
"I just felt like it would be good for them to get a different point of view," said Lori Lloyd, who is a firm believer in creationism and learned about the museum from the Answers Web site.
"I'm not intending to shove it down their throat," she said. "I'm not going to prevent them from knowing what their school's benchmarks include, and yet I'm also going to expose them to what God's word has to say about it."
POPULAR WITH HOME SCHOOLERS
The museum tells the story of how Earth was created based on the book of Genesis. The ministry claims that science backs its views and uses fossils and dinosaurs it says are thousands - not millions - of years old.
"Genesis is written as what's called a narrative history," said Looy, who is also co-founder of the ministry. "It's not like the poetry you would find in the book of Psalms, there are some parts of the Bible you don't take literally because it's poetic, but the book of Genesis is not a poem, it's not an allegory, and the writer of Genesis wrote straightforward history."
One of the museum's biggest audiences is home-school families. The parents come to the museum to learn how to teach creation-based science classes.
Nancy Paul, of Indianapolis, came in part to find resources to help her teach a sixth-grade home school co-op science class. She and her husband brought their five daughters, who range in age up to 6.
"They are young enough that I just want them to enjoy science at this age," she said. "They are too young to get into the debate about creation versus evolution."
The museum has also become a haven for field trips for Christian schools. On Monday, students from Harvest Preparatory School, a Christian school of about 630 students in Canal Winchester, Ohio spent the day at the museum.
Lillian Watkins, head of the school's science department, said she wanted her students to learn that "the biblical view of creation is the true one."
For Watkins, who teaches chemistry, science and calculus, the trip was her second to the museum. She also donated to its building fund.
According to Ohio teaching standards, Watkins said she has to expose her students to evolution. But she does it in her own way.
"Of course we cover the fallacies of evolution," she said, "but we teach God's word."
ADS, LOCATION DRIVE ATTENDANCE
In addition to school groups and home-school families, the museum is drawing people who hear about it at church. Answers in Genesis has eight full-time speakers who travel the country conducting about 250 "teaching events" each year, Looy said.
The ministry also advertised through billboards and commercials in six cities surrounding Cincinnati. But its best advertisement is word of mouth, Ham said.
"If you do something that's professional and well-done, you're not hitting people in the head, but making it very clear where you stand ... what we predicted was that when Christians come they will go back and bring people that they know don't agree with it," he said. "That's definitely what we see happening."
Most important for the museum, it has a central location. Answers in Genesis chose Northern Kentucky because almost two-thirds of the U.S. population lives within 650 miles, Looy said.
While building the museum, consultants told the group that it could expect 300,000 to 400,000 visitors the first year, Ham said.
"It appears that prediction is going to be right," he said.
To keep people coming back there will be new exhibits and shows. Next year the museum will add an indoor children's play area and consider converting its warehouse into a multi-purpose room.
It has also added afternoon lectures and plans several children's workshops. But the ministry doesn't expect to expand the museum itself in the near future, Looy said. The ministry has talked about building a Noah's Ark on the 49-acre site.
"We've talked about it, but nothing serious to the point to where we're fundraising or have any designs or drawings or anything like that," he said. "We want to see with this museum, how successful it is over a couple of years. Right now we're doing extremely well, but the proof in the pudding might be a couple of years from now."
Though the museum opened debt-free after it raised $27 million in private donations, it costs more than $7 million a year to operate, Looy said. As of November, the museum was making money, and if the attendance keeps up it could break even by its first anniversary.
That's when the Convention and Visitors Bureau will have a better handle on the museum's economic impact, said bureau president and CEO Tom Caradonio.
But anecdotal evidence shows that there has been an increase in stays at hotels and bed and breakfasts in the area, he said. The impact is hard to judge because a lot people who come to Northern Kentucky or Cincinnati aren't coming just for the museum, he said.
Caradonio also warns that the museum may not be able to keep up the strong attendance.
"I'll be surprised if they maintain this pace next year, because usually the way attractions work, the first year is the best year," Caradonio said. "And then they keep trying to build back to that number."
While Answers in Genesis is reveling in its success, the museum's critics are dismayed.
"They are doing remarkably well, which is a testament to the ignorance of the American public," said Kagin.
Lawrence Krauss, another critic, said the museum benefited from free publicity around the world when it opened last summer. Krauss, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University, said he thinks once Answers in Genesis' core believers have toured the museum, attendance could drop.
"My hope is that this is a little flash in the pan," he said. "And then the rest of the country will ignore it as it's supposed to be ignored."
Krauss, who has toured the museum, doesn't think that it will change anyone's mind.
"It's really meant to validate the beliefs of those people," he said, "and make them feel comfortable in the lie that somehow science supports this."
Krauss said the museum may confuse people, especially children who are too young to have learned science. He said anything that prevents people from learning about science is dangerous because the world will need science to solve problems including global warming, energy needs and even national security.
"It's full of lies, the world isn't 6,000 years old whether you want it to be or not," he said. "And you shouldn't have to lie about the world to believe in God."
Clearly, a must see movie. Edwin.
Golden Compass author hits back
The author of the book on which the new film The Golden Compass is based has hit back at critics who accuse him of peddling "candy-coated atheism".
Phillip Pullman dismissed as "absolute rubbish" accusations by the US-based Catholic League that the film promotes atheism and denigrates Christianity.
"I am a story teller," he said. " If I wanted to send a message I would have written a sermon."
The Golden Compass - which stars Nicole Kidman - premiers in London on Tuesday.
We knew from the beginning that the producers of this film intended to leave out the anti-religious references. We think this is a great shame
Terry Sanderson, National Secular Society
The film also stars James Bond actor Daniel Craig and is based on the first part of Mr Pullman's best-selling His Dark Materials children's trilogy.
In the book - set in an imaginary world - the heroine Lyra fights against the Magisterium, an evil organisation some have interpreted as based on the Catholic Church.
The three-part series culminates in an epic battle in which God dies - at the hand of a child.
Those who have seen the film - which cost £90m to make - say the explicit anti-religious message of the books has been muted. But the Catholic League, which bills itself as America's largest Catholic civil rights organization, have nevertheless launched a nationwide boycott campaign.
The League says that parents might be taken in by the toned-down film - but will then fooled into buying the "overtly atheistic and anti-Christian" books.
League President Bill Donohue said: "Eighty-five per cent of the people in this country are Catholic or Protestant and I'd like them to stay at home, or go see some other movie.
"Pullman is using this film as a sort of stealth campaign. He likes to play the game that he's really not atheistic and anti-Catholic. But yes he is and we have researched this.
"This movie is the bait for the books."
Too many layers
But Mr Pullman - who is attending Tuesday's premier in London's Leicester Square - in dismissed the Catholic League as "a tiny, unrepresentative organisation."
He told the BBC: "The only person Bill Donohue represents is himself.
"I don't want to talk about these criticisms about atheism in my books. It's too long an argument to have, and there are too many layers to the subject."
A spokeswoman for the Catholic Church in Britain said she was unaware of a concerted UK campaign to boycott the film: "We have not seen the film yet, so we cannot comment on its message," she said.
Christian journalist Peter Hitchens said that while he opposed a boycott, he wanted parents to be aware of Phillip Pullman's themes.
He said: "If you buy this book for your child, don't imagine for a moment that you are handing over a neutral story: this author has a purpose.
"Don't forget, this is a writer who has previously gone on the record to say he is trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."
Ironically, Mr Pullman has also come under fire from secularists - who say there's isn't enough anti-religious sentiment in the film.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: "We knew from the beginning that the producers of this film intended to leave out the anti-religious references.
"We think this is a great shame. The fight against the Magisterium (Pullman's thinly-disguised version of the Catholic Church) is the whole point of the book. Take that away and the most original and interesting element of the story is lost."
Whether the Catholic League's campaign against the Golden Compass will succeed is open to question.
It previously spoke out against the Da Vinci Code - a fictional film that alleged Jesus married and had a child.
The film went on to become one of the highest-grossing movies of 2006.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/11/27 16:54:21 GMT
© BBC MMVII
From Reader Z:
With the evidence right before them, they will not see. Willful ignorance Department.
November 25, 2007
Rock of Ages, Ages of Rock
By HANNA ROSIN
On a muggy afternoon in July, a group of geologists from around the country put on some bug spray and fanned out along one of Ohio’s richest fossil beds. The rock walls were slippery and steep at points, and some people came in their dress shoes straight from the conference that brought them together. But no one seemed daunted; when let loose on the rocks they behaved like children with a piñata, filling their pockets with local specimens and cooing over their treasure. “Ahh, that’s a beautiful brachiopod!” or “A fine trilobite! Let me see that.”
A brightly painted sign in the state park explained that 450 million years ago these ancient creatures lived at the bottom of a warm, shallow sea during the Ordovician period. But none of these geologists believed it. As young-earth creationists, they think the earth is about 8,000 years old, give or take a few thousand years. That’s about the amount of time conventional geology says it can take to form one inch of limestone.
Creationist ideas about geology tend to appeal to overly zealous amateurs, but this was a gathering of elites, with an impressive wall of diplomas among them (Harvard, U.C.L.A., the Universities of Virginia, Washington and Rhode Island). They had spent years studying the geologic timetable, but they remained nevertheless deeply committed to a different version of history. John Whitmore, a geologist from nearby Cedarville University who organized the field trip, stood in the middle of the fossil bed and summarized it for his son.
“Dad, how’d these fossils get here?” asked Jess, 7, looking up from his own Ziploc bag full of specimens.
Whitmore, who was wearing a suede cowboy hat, answered in a cowboy manner — laconic but certain.
“From the flood,” he said.
What was remarkable about the afternoon was not so much the fossils (the bed is well picked over) but the gathering itself, part of the First Conference on Creation Geology, held on the Cedarville campus. Creationist geologists are now numerous enough to fill a large meeting room and well educated enough to know that in rejecting the geologic timeline they are also essentially taking on the central tenets of the field. Any “evidence” presented at the conference pointing to a young earth would be no more convincing than voodoo or alchemy to mainstream geologists, who have used various radiometric-dating methods to establish that the earth is 4.6 billion years old. But the participants in the conference insist that their approach is scientifically valid. “We’re past the point of being critical of evolutionists,” Whitmore told me. “We’re trying to go out and make new discoveries and actually do science.”
Creationist geologists are thriving, paradoxically, at a moment when evangelicals are becoming more educated, more prosperous and more open to scientific progress. And though they are a lonely few among Christian academics, they have an influence far out of proportion to their numbers. They have just opened a state-of-the-art $27 million museum in Kentucky, and they dominate the Christian publishing industry, serving as the credentialed experts for the nearly half of Americans who believe in some version of a young earth. In a sense, they represent the fundamentalist avant-garde; unlike previous generations of conservative Christians, they don’t see the need to choose between mainstream science and Biblical literalism.
This creationist approach to science is actually a relatively modern phenomenon, only about 50 years old. When the state of Tennessee put the biology teacher John Scopes on trial for teaching evolution in the 1920s, the creationists did not have a single credentialed supporter. Their main champions were an expert on penmanship, a dropout from homeopathic school and a Canadian surgeon who was billed on his travels as “the greatest scientist in all the world.” William Jennings Bryan, noted prosecutor in the Scopes trial, was not overly concerned with the age of the earth; he equated six-day creationism with the flat-earth theory.
Then in 1961, John Whitcomb, a theologian, and Henry Morris, a hydraulic engineer from Texas, published “The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Explanations.” The book revived a relatively obscure, century-old theory of Noah’s flood as the most violent catastrophe in earth history. The flood, they argued, warped the normal geological processes and caused rapid transformations. Water from the skies and from within the earth (“the floodgates of heaven”) slammed into the oceans, killing the sea creatures and covering the “high mountains,” as it says in Genesis. For months afterward, the planet convulsed with earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. After a brief ice age, the earth became the ecosystem we know today. Continents shifted; the water receded; the animals left the ark and spread over the earth.
Until then fundamentalists had mostly avoided any close study of geology, because a literal reading of the Bible was too difficult to reconcile with the accepted age of the earth. But “The Genesis Flood” served as their version of “The Feminine Mystique,” a generational manifesto that liberated them to explore. In the decades since, a small band of geologists, including Whitmore, have set to work improving on the Morris-Whitcomb model using the modern tools of their field: close examination of rocks and fossils combined with computer models.
Now the movement can count hundreds of scientists with master’s or Ph.D. degrees in the sciences from respectable universities. The change started in part when Christian colleges that used to resist mainstream science started premed programs, which meant they needed trained biologists and chemists. Eventually they added courses in physics, chemistry and geology. Most geologists teaching at Christian colleges in the United States today say they do not believe in a young earth; they typically argue that a “day” in Genesis does not necessarily mean a literal 24-hour day, or that there could have been long gaps between the days. But the young-earthers treat the words of Genesis as irrefutable fact.
Their ideas are being showcased in the new Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., opened in May by a creationist group called Answers in Genesis, whose headquarters are nearby. With its wide-open spaces and interactive exhibits, the place feels like a slick museum of natural history, updated for the Hollywood age. Many of the exhibits were designed by Patrick Marsh, who helped create the “Jaws” and “King Kong” attractions at Universal Studios in Florida. Giant dinosaurs guard the courtyard entrance, promising fun and adventure. Inside, a replica of the ark leads you from seaboard to bottom deck, a rumbling theater replicates the flood, James Cameron-style. Lifelike models of Adam and Eve (who looks like the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen) frolic in a lush garden among the animals, including several dinosaurs.
The museum expected about 250,000 visitors in the first year. Instead, despite its $20 entry fee, it has had that many in six months, according to Michael Matthews, the museum’s content manager. Almost every day, minivans and buses from Christian schools fill the parking lot, sometimes after 10-hour road trips. The museum’s target group is the 45 percent of Americans who, for 25 years, have consistently agreed with the statement in a Gallup poll that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”
The museum sends the message that belief in a young earth is the only way to salvation. The failure to understand Genesis is literally “undermining the entire word of God,” Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis, says in a video. The collapse of Christianity believed to result from that failure is drawn out in a series of exhibits: school shootings, gay marriage, drugs, porn and pregnant teens. At the same time, it presents biblical literalism as perfectly defensible science. A fossil shows a perch eating a herring, evidence, they claim, of animals instantaneously trapped by catastrophic events after the flood. In a video, geologists use evidence from Mount St. Helens to show how a mud flow can cut a deep canyon in a single day. “This is what I see based on science,” said Andrew Snelling, one of the many creationist geologists at the conference in July who consulted with the museum.
At the conference, participants got together to tackle some difficult questions: How is radioisotope dating flawed? How was the Grand Canyon formed? If all those animals died in one cataclysmic event, why do their fossils appear in such distinct order? Their discussions recall a pre-Darwinian age, before science and faith became enemies. The old-earthers see their discipline as more pure than intelligent design; the intelligent-design people focus on a notion of a mystery “designer,” without specifying who that might be and what the mechanisms are. To the young-earth creationists, this is both unscientific and dubiously religious. “We don’t subscribe to this idea of the ‘God of gaps,’ meaning if you can’t explain something, then blame God,” Whitmore told me before describing a method that hardly seemed more scientific. “Instead, we think: ‘Here’s what the Bible says. Now let’s go to the rocks and see if we find the evidence for it.’ ”
The heads of all the leading scientific creationist institutes from several countries showed up for the Cedarville event, along with the movement’s other stars: John Baumgardner, a geophysicist who worked for 20 years at Los Alamos National Laboratory; Kurt Wise, who got his Ph.D. in paleontology from Harvard in the ’80s as a student of Stephen Jay Gould, the nation’s most famous opponent of creationism; and Marcus Ross, 31, the latest inductee into the movement, who got his Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of Rhode Island last summer.
Like any group of elites, they were snobs about their superior degrees. During lunch breaks or car rides, they traded jokes about the “vulgar creationists” and the “uneducated masses,” and, in their least Christian moments, the “idiots on the Web.” One leader of a creationist institute complained about all the cranks who call on the phone claiming to have seen dinosaurs or to have had a vision of Noah’s ark. (How Noah fit the entire animal kingdom onto the ark is a perennial obsession.)
Because they have been exposed to so much standard science, the educated creationists like Kurt Wise try not to allow themselves the blind spots of their less sophisticated relations. Some years ago, for instance, fellow creationists claimed to have found fossils of human bones in Pennsylvania coal deposits, which scientists date to millions of years before humans appeared. After examining them, Wise concluded that they were “not fossil material at all” but “inorganically precipitated iron siderite nodules.” Wise later pushed to get himself appointed as scientific adviser to the new creationist museum so he could “keep out the scientific garbage.”
In a presentation at the conference, Wise showed a slide of a fossil sequence that moved from reptile to mammal, with some transitional fossils in between. He veered suddenly from his usual hyperactive mode to contemplative. “It’s a pain in the neck,” he said. “It fits the evolutionary prediction quite well.” Wise and others have come up with various theories explaining how the flood could have produced such perfect order. Wise is refining a theory, for example, that the order reflects how far the animals lived from the shore, so those living farthest from the water show up last in the record. But they haven’t settled on anything yet.
“We have nothing to fear from data,” Ross told me. “If we’re afraid, it means we don’t trust God’s word.” The older generation of creationists “would come up with an explanation or a model and say, ‘This solves it!’ I’m a bit more cautious and at the same time more rigorous. We have lines of possibility that we continue to advance but at the same time we recognize that this is science, so the explanations are subject to change with new discoveries.”
As the latest recruit into a small elite, and with his clipped dark hair and goatee, Ross was the novelty at the conference. He grew up in Rhode Island, was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania and got his Ph.D. under David Fastovsky, a well-known expert in dinosaur extinction at the University of Rhode Island. Fastovsky knew Ross was a young-earth creationist; they’d talked about it after his application came in. “I guess I thought of it as a little bit like Jews playing Wagner,” Fastovsky told me. “The science stands or falls, just like the music, regardless of the disposition of the scientist.” Ross subsequently wrote a 197-page dissertation about a marine reptile called a mosasaur, whose disappearance he tracked through the Cretaceous period, about 65 million years ago. Fastovsky described the paper as “utterly sound,” and the committee recommended very minimal edits.
At the conference I asked Ross whether he still believes what he wrote in his graduate thesis. His answer confirmed him as the product of the postmodern university, where truth is dependent on the framework: “Within the context of old age and evolutionary theory, yes. But if the parameter is different, portions of it could be completely in error.”
Outside school, Ross studied what he considered great breakthroughs in creation geology. In 1999, Ross came across John Baumgardner’s theory of catastrophic plate tectonics, which was proposed a few years earlier. The theory is the first attempt to describe the mechanism of the flood. It involves a fantastic “runaway” situation in which the ocean floor slides into the earth’s mantle in a matter of weeks and then hot rocks come to the surface of the ocean floor, causing ocean water to vaporize and rush out like a geyser (“the fountains of the great deep” described in Genesis). A computer model refining the theory purports to show an earth wobbling crazily on its axis as land masses come together and then break apart, forming the continents we have today.
“Until then, my options were pretty pathetic,” Ross said. Now he had something that “accounted for a large body of geological evidence,” proposed by a geophysicist trained at U.C.L.A. and supported by three other geology Ph.D.’s.
So which side did he choose?
“I have faith that the Bible is a true and accurate record of the earth,” he said. “I also entertain the possibility that I’m wrong. It would be cartoonish to say I don’t have doubts from time to time. Everybody has moments of doubt. But I can have those moments without my brain exploding.”
The new creationists are not likely to make much of a dent among secular scientists, who often just roll their eyes at the mention of flood geology. But they have become a burden to many geologists at Christian colleges around the country.
In recent years a number of Christian institutions have been undergoing what Alan Wolfe, a sociologist, calls “the opening of the evangelical mind.” Instead of teaching a fundamentalist world-view that is always at odds with secular academia, many evangelical colleges are easing their students into the mainstream.
The statement of faith for Wheaton College in Illinois, Billy Graham’s alma mater, for example, says that Scripture is “inerrant in the original writing” and that “God directly created Adam and Eve,” but when it comes to pinning down the age of the earth, the school balks. Wheaton has a strong geology department. Its professors argue that the Bible makes no specific mention of the age of the earth. They belong to groups like the Geological Society of America and wring their hands about the “geo-literacy” of the church. “Geology at Wheaton is presented and practiced much the same way as at secular universities,” the department chairman, Stephen Moshier, said in a recent talk. Other professors have issued long tracts comparing the various methods of radiometric dating and showing that they all agree: The earth is over four billion years old.
Most members of the American Scientific Affiliation, a collection of Christians with degrees in the sciences, qualify as old-earthers, according to Moshier. But the young-earthers have “a lot more influence,” he told me. They have “tremendous clout” with Christian publishers and are “very, very successful at getting their word out,” he said. “I know so many Christians who have tried to write books from a different perspective and been rejected.”
Marcus Ross, meanwhile, is thriving in his teaching job at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., founded by Jerry Falwell in 1971. Like many Christian colleges, Liberty is expanding rapidly to keep up with growing demand; the school adds 800 students a year, and now has a total of 10,000 on campus and 18,000 more distance-learning students. Each semester, Ross teaches a huge, mandatory survey course called History of Life. Most kids in the class are creationists, but Ross finds gaps in their world-view. His aim is to make their creationist logic more consistent, and his surveys show that he succeeds. At the beginning of the class, only 54 percent of students say the age of the earth is less than 10,000 years. By the end, it’s 87 percent. The biggest shift? Did dinosaurs and man live at the same time? That one moves to 80 percent from 40.
These numbers make Moshier cringe. “It can get so frustrating,” he said. “Many of us at Christian colleges really grieve at what a problem this young-earth creationism makes for the Christian witness. It’s almost like they’re adding another thing you have to believe to become a Christian. It’s like saying, You have to believe the world is flat to be a Christian, and that’s absolutely unreasonable.”
Given the difficulty of their intellectual enterprise, the creationist geologists often have a story about the time they nearly gave it up. For Wise the crisis hit when he was a sophomore in high school. He was already an avid fossil collector who dreamed “an unattainable dream” of going to Harvard to study paleontology and then to teach at a big university. But as he told a friend, he couldn’t reconcile the geologic ages with what he read in his Bible. So he set about figuring this out: every night, for months, he cut out every verse of the Bible he’d have to reject to believe in evolution. “I dreaded the impending end,” he writes in a collection of essays called “In Six Days: Why 50 Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation.” “All that I loved to do was involved with some aspect of science.”
When he was done, he tried to pick up what was left. But he found it impossible to do that without the Bible being “rent in two,” he writes. “Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible.” In the end, he kept his Bible and achieved his unattainable dream. But it left him in a strange, vulnerable place. “If all the evidence in the universe turned against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate. Here I must stand.”
In “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and author, presents Wise as an Othello figure, destroyed by his own convictions. “The wound, to his career,” Dawkins writes, “and his life’s happiness, was self-inflicted, so unnecessary, so easy to escape. All he had to do was toss out the Bible. Or interpret it symbolically, or allegorically, as the theologians do. Instead, he did the fundamentalist thing and tossed out science, evidence and reason, along with all his dreams and hopes.”
If Wise still has doubts, or unhappiness, he has learned to put them aside. When consulting for the Creation Museum, he considered his most important duty to be presenting a “coherent story line about the earth’s history,” he said. “Even if it’s wrong, it’s a starting point. We use coherence as a criteria. It ought to fit together not as a set of random processes but something coherent orchestrated by God. And not just coherent but spine-tingling. God is behind this story. I can know it as a single story, and the story can be understood, and the story can be spine tingling. There’s a Whoa! factor. And it’s there from the first verse: The Lord God is One.”
Hanna Rosin, a contributing editor for The Atlantic, is the author of “God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save the Nation.”