Hobby Lobby Museum of the Bible

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It may be a little unfair of me to label it the “Hobby Lobby” Museum of the Bible. Still, the Museum, which will open next month in Washington, will be brought to you by Steve Green, the man who fought for and won his right to impose his religious belief on you and me. On the other hand, the good news seems to be that the Museum will not be as tendentious as the Ark Park, in that, according to a sneak preview in the Washington Post,

The museum, which will be among the largest in a city chock-full of museums, presents broad, sometimes abstract concepts about the Bible, communicated through cutting-edge technology and immersive experiences.

And although the Museum expects to attract evangelical Christians, it apparently will not specifically attempt to “bring to life the living word of God . . . to inspire confidence in the absolute authority” of the Bible, as was in its initial mission statement, according to the Post. Indeed, the museum reportedly sought advice from experts in many different traditions. Nevertheless, at least one scholar, Steven Friesen of the Society of Biblical Literature, has studied the Museum’s website and inferred that it is promoting a specific view of the Bible and relates very little, for example, about how the Bible was compiled. (I only skimmed the website and also suffered through some videos, incidentally, and I thought they were not unreasonable.) Likewise, Grant Wacker, an expert on the history of Christianity and an evangelical Christian, declined to serve on the Museum’s board, because he would have been required to sign a statement of faith that he thought went too far.

Tablet
Cuneiform tablet illegally imported into the United States from Iraq. Credit: United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

‘Taylor and Francis pulls paper after threat against editor’

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I came across a notification yesterday that the publisher Taylor and Francis had withdrawn a paper following a threat against the editor. The paper in question is The case for colonialism, by Bruce Gilley, a professor of political science at Portland State University. The paper was originally published in a journal known as Third World Quarterly. It has been the subject of a petition calling for its withdrawal, but the withdrawal notice, directly below, makes no mention of such a petition. If you click on the link to the paper you will find,

Abstract

WITHDRAWAL NOTICE

This Viewpoint essay has been withdrawn at the request of the academic journal editor, and in agreement with the author of the essay. Following a number of complaints, Taylor & Francis conducted a thorough investigation into the peer review process on this article. Whilst this clearly demonstrated the essay had undergone double-blind peer review, in line with the journal’s editorial policy, the journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence. These threats are linked to the publication of this essay. As the publisher, we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.

Oh dear, oh dear. Thanks to a friend of a friend on Facebook, I found the article here. I downloaded and saved the article in case it disappears again. The abstract reads,

For the last 100 years, Western colonialism has had a bad name. It is high time to question this orthodoxy. Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found, using realistic measures of those concepts. The countries that embraced their colonial inheritance, by and large, did better than those that spurned it. Anti-colonial ideology imposed grave harms on subject peoples and continues to thwart sustained development and a fruitful encounter with modernity in many places. Colonialism can be recovered by weak and fragile states today in three ways: by reclaiming colonial modes of governance; by recolonising some areas; and by creating new Western colonies from scratch.

According to an article in Inside Higher Education, the paper had been rejected by 2 reviewers. 15 members of the editorial board subsequently resigned on September 20. Inside Higher Education noted that the article was criticized for lack of rigor, failure to “engage with the broader literature,” and to ignore “colonial-era atrocities.” The editorial board members, however, resigned because of what they thought was “a failed editorial process” and “dishonesty” on the part of the editor-in-chief. A more detailed discussion of the paper may be found in an earlier article in Inside Higher Education.

The important point is not the merits of the article; if it were, this discussion would be out of order on PT. What is important is that an article has been published in a technical journal, the editor has supposedly been threatened, and the article has been pulled. I am afraid I do not know the nature of the threat, nor how credible it is; all I can say is that withdrawing the paper has set a terrible precedent. Further, as someone else commented on the Facebook thread, it would have been substantially better had the article been published so that it could be “comprehensively debunked in public.”

Let us hope that this instance is one of a kind and that we do not soon see biologists, astrophysicists, and political commentators, among others, subjected to similar threats.

Five principles for arguing against creationism

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Guest author Jonathan Kane is the editor and primary author of God’s Word or Human Reason? An Inside Perspective on Creationism, co-authored with Emily Willoughby, T. Michael Keesey, Glenn Morton, and James R. Comer, and published December 2016 by Inkwater Press. Matt Young is this post’s moderator.

America’s changing beliefs

Since the 1980s, every few years Gallup has conducted a poll about American attitudes towards common descent. The portion of Americans who are creationists has generally stayed in the range of 40 to 47 percent, while the percentage who believe that humans evolved without God’s guidance has stayed in the single digits or teens but seen a steady increase, with a comparable slow decrease in the percentage who are theistic evolutionists. Using the poll data from 2014, the introduction to my book said that the arguments and methods used by science educators over the past decade had not been effective, since they had not made any meaningful dent in the portion of Americans who are creationists.

We apparently were doing something wrong as of 2014, but as of this year it seems that we’ve finally begun doing something right. The newest poll data, released May 22 of this year, indicates that American support for creationism has recently dropped to its lowest level on record. Perhaps as significantly, support for theistic evolution has seen its sharpest increase in the four decades of polling (although it hasn’t quite reached its historic high in 1999), and this is the first time in the history of the poll that creationism and theistic evolution have received equal amounts of support.

Graph
Americans' views on human origins, according to Gallup. Graph by Emily Willoughby.

I think my book is part of a general trend among science educators over the past year or so towards finally figuring out an effective way to communicate with creationists. I’ve learned this the hard way, both from debating with creationists at forums and over the nine-year process of writing and editing my book. In this article I’m going to summarize some of the conclusions I’ve come to about how to best argue against creationism, in the hope that other critics of creationism can argue against it in a way that is as effective as possible.

Tenodera sp.

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Photograph by Kurt Andreas.

Photography contest, Finalist.

Praying mantis
Tenodera sp. – praying mantis nymphs, New Paltz, NY, May 12, 2014.