Beleaguered Minority?

Brad Harrub of Apologetics Press gave a talk at my university last week, to kick off a series of creationist presentations that went on in local churches.

I like talking to creationists — their views at least have the virtue of being wrong, when so much else said in defense of religon is not even wrong. So I hung around with a bunch of students afterwards who peppered him with questions. The students did a pretty good job, and Harrub adopted a defensive position, saying he was only asking that students be made aware of alternative views, and that they shouldn’t be told evolution was a fact (by which he meant 100% certain). I don’t think any of the physics majors I teach graduate without understanding that science is fallible.

But more interesting than the standard creationist arguments was the impression I got from Harrub that as a biblical literalist, he perceived himself to be in small minority of Americans. Most, he thought, were willing to grant that Jesus was a very good man and teacher, but not necessarily divine. Most, in his eyes, took the Bible to be a divinely inspired book, but were also willing to reinterpret or outright ignore it whenever it suited them. Most professional creationists I have encountered (such as those at the ICR) shared this perception.

It’s not, I think, an entirely inaccurate perception. Serious literalists are relatively few; they are overwhelmed by the people with the pragmatic attitudes Harrub deplored. Even many of those who pay lip service to the inerrancy of the Bible and so forth very often take their religion to be a practical, social, therapeutic affair. And Harrub must feel especially in the minority on college campuses. OK, Campus Crusade For Christ and equivalents are often the largest student groups, but the general culture in our universities is positively hostile to fundamentalism. That is precisely why Campus Crusade-type groups devotes so much effort to try and create a conservative religious bubble to protect students from the dire secular influences all around.

Now, Christian fascists enjoy considerable political power in the US, and I don’t want to be naively optimistic about the decline of fire-breathing literalist Christianity. Still, it seems the conseervative breed of Christians have good reason to worry about the corrosive effects of modern consumer culture on their children’s faith. It’s not the atheist evolutionist professors — I don’t think my kind enjoy that kind of influence — but consumerism, pop culture, and the sort of mindless liberal pragmatism that turns religion into therapeutic pap that threatens Harrub and company.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University