David Barton and Ken Ham aren’t mistaken, they’re just lying

Karl Giberson and Randall J. Stephens, who we discussed a few weeks ago in “Evangelicals vs. Science,” have an op-ed column in today’s New York Times on “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason.”

The Republican presidential field has become a showcase of evangelical anti-intellectualism. Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann deny that climate change is real and caused by humans. Mr. Perry and Mrs. Bachmann dismiss evolution as an unproven theory. …

The rejection of science seems to be part of a politically monolithic red-state fundamentalism, textbook evidence of an unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious. As one fundamentalist slogan puts it, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” But evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced.

This is a real phenomenon and Giberson and Stephens are right to be concerned — both for their own evangelical Christian community and for the nation as a whole, given that this “rejection of science” has become a prerequisite for seeking the Republican nomination for president.

Some Republicans have been — quietly, and without much success so far — pushing back against the anti-science, anti-reality ideology dominant in their party’s primary campaign.

[Former Republican Sen. John] Warner, a former Navy secretary, now travels the country for the Pew project, making speeches and appearances at military bases, and calling attention to the national-security concerns of climate change and fossil-fuel dependence.

Working with Warner on the Pew climate-change project is George Shultz, President Reagan’s secretary of State, who helped advise George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and who remains an influential Republican voice. Last year, Shultz, who now serves as a distinguished fellow at Stanford University, cochaired the “No on Prop. 23” campaign in California, which successfully defended California’s pioneering climate-change cap-and-trade law against an oil-industry-led effort to overturn it.

“My own opinion is that this problem is very real,” Shultz told National Journal. “I recognize there’s a lot of people pooh-poohing it. Whether they like the science or not, there’s a huge problem coming at us. There’s a huge melt coming in the Arctic regions. There’s melting taking place.” Of Republicans like Perry who deny climate science, he said, “They’re entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to the facts.”

That — from Coral Davenport’s National Journal article, “Retired Republicans Quietly Try to Shift GOP Climate-Change Focus” (see also this from Phil Plait) — is a positive sign. George Shultz is a significant figure. Unfortunately, though, he’s a significant figure from the past. In the present, people like Bachmann, Cain and Perry have much more influence in the Republican Party and, despite what Shultz says, they seem to think they’re entitled to their own facts.

Herman Cain’s proud ignorance about sexuality, Michele Bachmann’s endorsement of anti-vaxxer hysteria, and Rick Perry’s repeated assertions that climate change is a hoax cannot be separated from their shared embrace of the anti-science ideology of “creationism” and dismissal of evolution.

Creationism is indefensible on the evidence. The facts are against it. That leaves its proponents with no option except to go meta, attacking the very idea of “evidence” and “facts” by following Pilate’s example and shrugging off the evidence by asking “What is ‘truth’?” Opposed and refuted by overwhelming scientific evidence, they are forced to attack science itself, suggesting that the whole endeavor and the very possibility of learning about the natural world is somehow illegitimate.

Once you’ve taken that leap and made that ideological claim, there’s no reason not to apply the same no-standards standard to sexuality, medicine, climate science or economics. You’re no longer bound by science, by facts, by reality, by what is. And once that’s the case, you’re free to assert whatever foolish absurdities you calculate will be most politically expedient. You can say that you chose to be heterosexual. You can say that vaccines cause autism. You can say that carbon doesn’t trap heat. You can say that reducing demand leads to economic growth.

And since hermeneutics is also a kind of science — a way of seeking after the truth and determining, as best as possible, the facts and reality of the matter — embracing the ideology of anti-science also means you’re free to say that any text means anything you want it to say. To be unbound by facts is to be unbound by texts as well.

Again, the issue here is not questions of belief in things which simply have not been proved. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe in something despite a lack of compelling proof or evidence that it is certainly true. But it is not reasonable to believe in something in spite of compelling proof and evidence that it is certainly not true. To do that is to say that reality itself does not matter.

And once you’ve said that — as Bachmann, Cain and Perry all have, in public, on television — then you have, as Giberson and Stephens say, “rejected reason.” You’ve left your senses and no longer make sense, only non-sense.

I cannot know or guess whether Bachmann, Cain and Perry have truly embraced the nonsense they claim to believe or if those nonsensical claims are something more cynical. I cannot know for sure if they are deceived or deceivers. But I think we can know which is the case with two of the evangelical leaders discussed by Giberson and Stephens: David Barton and Ken Ham. Barton and Ham, they say, “have been particularly effective orchestrators — and beneficiaries” of the evangelical “parallel culture” that rejects science and reason:

Mr. Ham built his organization, Answers in Genesis, on the premise that biblical truth trumps all other knowledge. His Creation Museum, in Petersburg, Ky., contrasts “God’s Word,” timeless and eternal, with the fleeting notions of “human reason.” This is how he knows that the earth is 10,000 years old, that humans and dinosaurs lived together, and that women are subordinate to men. Evangelicals who disagree, like Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, are excoriated on the group’s website. …

Mr. Barton heads an organization called WallBuilders, dedicated to the proposition that the founders were evangelicals who intended America to be a Christian nation. He has emerged as a highly influential Republican leader, a favorite of Mr. Perry, Mrs. Bachmann and members of the Tea Party. Though his education consists of a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University and his scholarly blunders have drawn criticism from evangelical historians like John Fea, Mr. Barton has seen his version of history reflected in everything from the Republican Party platform to the social science curriculum in Texas.

Barton and Ham are not deceived. They are deceivers. They tell lies that they know to be lies. They tell lies for money.

Barton doesn’t merely misread and misquote the founding fathers due to careless scholarship and ideological blindness. His misreadings and misquotations reveal too much care and craft for that to be the case. His distortions are composed with painstaking care. They are deliberate, intentional and knowing. He devises and markets conscious falsehoods — false claims that he knows to be false. He does not believe what he says. He does not mean what he says. He says what he says only in order to deceive others and thereby to separate them from their money.

The same is true for Ken Ham. Ken Ham is a liar, a charlatan, a con-man, a bearer of false witness. He lies for money. Like Barton, he has been personally and publicly corrected innumerable times over many years, confronted again and again with the demonstrable, undeniable falsehood of his statements. And like Barton he makes no correction and offers no apology for those false statements. With an astonishingly cynical contempt for his audience, he simply assumes that his critics have no influence among those he has been fleecing, and he willfully continues fleecing them, continuing to make the very same claims and statements that he has been shown are false, continuing to say things that he knows are not true. Because he can get away with it and because it’s profitable.

David Barton and Ken Ham are not fundamentalists. They are not in denial, defensively retreating from a bewildering world they do not understand except as a vague threat to their faith. No. Fundamentalists in denial are their prey, their mark — the goose that provides them with golden eggs.

It’s considered rude to state this so bluntly. That’s what they’re counting on. Their ability to continue this lucrative con depends on a misplaced notion of civility that mistakenly presumes that the presumption of good faith is absolute and impervious to evidence. That warped idea of civility is what creates the space in which they are free to act in bad faith with impunity, to lie without any danger of ever being called to account for lying. Refusing to call liars to account is not civility, it’s aiding and abetting — becoming an accomplice in their scam.


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