1.7 Teach the Kulturkampf
Tom Willis Hammering the Wedge—Kansas 1999 and a world not in motion
By 1999 the Discovery Institute had a new game plan manifesto, the Wedge document, which articulated the goal of overthrowing materialism to make science “consonant with Christian and theistic convictions,” Discovery Institute (1998). This sure sounded like an obviously theistic rationale for the design movement, at odds with their professed disconnection from religious assumptions, and ID apologists from Discovery Institute (2005a) to Dennis Jones (2013e) have taken pains to recommend that bystanders pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
But a revealing illustration of the minefield of antievolutionary thinking the design movement was marching into, and how ill-equipped philosophically they were to grapple with it, occurred when creationist activists got elected to the state’s board of education to revise the science curricula to make the state more congenial to Kulturkampf sensibilities. Full texts of the various drafts for the standards remain available for inspection, Kansas Science Standards (1995; 1999a-d; 2001), with detailed comparison analyses by Jack Krebs (1999b) and Kansas Citizens for Science (1999; 2000) of what the creationist revisions were up to.
Design advocates from Phillip Johnson to Phyllis Schlafly fell over one another in praising this effort to stem the spread of evolutionary indoctrination in education, yet paid no attention to the full content of the revisions, which went way beyond coddling ID at the sacrifice of logic and evidence—the Kansas revisionists also wanted the Big Bang out of the “evolutionary” picture too, Glanz (1999).
The nominal sponsor of the 1999 revision effort was veterinarian Steve Abrams, former head of the state Republican Party, who drew on a block of creationists for advice in wording the provisions. But the chief author of the Kansas revisions was Tom Willis, who serves as President of the YEC Creation Science Association for Mid-America, Krebs & Case (1999), with Willis (2000a) acknowledging that “a number of the members of the Creation Science Association for Mid-America were personally and intimately involved” in the drafting of the standards.
Only a few of those covering the Kansas affair took note of the Willis connection, curiously enough, such as the “Happy Heretic” Judith Hayes (2000, 191-192) and William Piotrowski (1999) for Religion in the News, though Piotrowski did slip a cog en route in describing lawyer Phillip Johnson as “an engineering professor”!
To give a quick measure of how jejune Willis’ understanding of rather fundamental processes were, apropos some fossil fish in a Kansas museum Willis (2000b) insisted they had been dated by “the guesswork of Lyell,” but that “the bogus Lyell dating has endured, even in the light of the new concept of punctuated equilibrium.” Here is that “evolution is just a guess” notion Scalia danced past in 1987 spooling out once again a decade later, where the scientific work of past investigators is flicked aside as easily as cigar ash. Recalling the analysis of the punctuated equilibrium issue in section 1.3 earlier, though, one can only marvel that Willis somehow thought P-E had anything at all to do with geological dating methods.
Willis found most everything about evolution disagreeable, even characterizing the University of Kansas’ natural history exhibits as blasphemous, Ecological Society of America (2000). When interviewed online for the Washington Post (1999) to answer questions on the controversy, Willis reflected the conflict and confusion that was playing out as his YEC worldview collided with the outside world. Willis affirmed the complete scientific accuracy of Young Earth creationism and reminded the listeners how God “clearly forbade teaching evolutionism: ’Thou shalt not bear false witness.’” Willis insisted also in adjoining sentences: “The new Kansas Science Standards do not prevent the teaching of evolution one bit. It is a myth that there is no evidence for Biblical Creation.”
So at the grassroots level of Kansas in 1999, was the teaching of evolution to be reduced to a perfunctory exercise contingent on a much bigger picture, the truth of biblical creationism? That’s what their efforts were looking like, but things were far weirder than even that when it came to the amazing cosmos of Tom Willis.
You see, the idea that the earth revolves around the sun is another of those ideas in modern science that Willis thinks is not at all settled. Willis confirmed his open-mindedness to geocentrism in an interview for New Scientist, Bob Holmes (2000, 42). Willis (2000c) was a bit more explicit for the CSAMA on the subject of where he imagined the evidence stood on the earth motion issue. According to his assessment, “both the observations and the Bible indicate quite strongly that the earth does not move,” and that “For those of us interested in good science, the question remains, ’Is this principle valid?’” The only possible honest answer for Willis was that ’Not one shred of evidence supports the notion of cosmological uniformity, and many support the notion that, not only is the ’principle’ balderdash, but the Earth is actually the center of the universe.“
Willis concluded his CSAMA treatise in a spirit of open-minded befuddlement: “The purpose of this essay is not to assert that geocentrists, or anyone else is right. I do not know who is right, though I strongly suspect that, as He promised, God will ’confound the wisdom of the wise.’” Comforting sentiments, to be sure, at least in the pre-17th century cosmology inhabiting the brains of the Creation Science Association for Mid-America.
While Willis fielded a variety of juvenile objections to Big Bang cosmology, he was utterly oblivious to how irrelevant this was to the central issue of heliocentrism. To accept geocentrism meant functionally junking the work of that archetypal “Christian scientist” poster boy Isaac Newton (whose gravitational calculations do rather turn on our tiny Earth orbiting the really big Sun, and not the other way around). Which, come to think of it, puts Willis in the same leaky boat as Phillip Johnson’s “theistic realism,” where physicist Steven Weinberg spotted a similar problem there concerning the role of theory in science and how Newtonian gravitation fitted in, covered in Chapter 4 of Downard (2004).
Consider also that because Willis (2008a) believes it is the science of modern evolution that is so faulty, and its practitioners so pernicious, he would prefer evolutionists not be allowed to teach at any level of education, vote or hold public office—which, come to think of it, is also rather similar to the way civil liberties in general were conducted back in the pre-17th century era when the sort of cosmology Willis is attracted to was more popular. Societies get exactly what they value, remember.
All this would be disconcerting enough if it were the only instance of creationist geocentrism sticking its nose into American science education. But as it happens, Paul Ellwanger (who inspired the 1980’s “equal time” legislation efforts, remember) is also a geocentrist, as may be seen in Ellwanger (1998). It is interesting that in his summary of the 1982 McLean v. Arkansas creationism trial, John Whitehead (1982) listed among the Factual Inaccuracies the court had committed (Whitehead’s ellipses): “Paul Ellwanger in supporting model legislation was not ’motivated by ... desire to see the Biblical version or creation taught in the public schools’ (p. 13, which he opposes, but instead to see all the scientific evidence on origins taught.” Geisler (1982, 22) likewise insisted that Ellwanger “desired a scientific version taught in the public schools.” Neither Whitehead nor Geisler ventured whether some of the “scientific evidence” Ellwanger thought worthy might also include a few that established in his mind that the Earth did not revolve around the Sun, possibly because neither of these creationist apologists bothered to explore what Ellwanger did think about such things.
Along with Ellwanger, R. G. Elmendorf (2000) represents a retrograde band of Roman Catholics who insist that those true facts of science support their fixed earth position along with all that antievolution stuff, part of a scattered community of 20th century Christian geocentrists Robert Newman (2000) catalogued in his Access Research Network article on “Evangelicals and Crackpot Science” (other examples of which we shall be encountering in due course). Holocaust denier Robert Sungenis is the latest entrant in the Catholic geocentrist procession, Hess (2014d).
Astronomer Francis Graham (1992) reviewed one amazing geocentric volume that accused Copernicus (and Einstein) of being part of the grand Satanic Lie, showing just how busy some tortucans could be when all the analytical brakes were off. For ironic comparison, the medieval philosophical concern about heliocentrism didn’t apparently involve Satan at all, or even anxiety that our position in the universe was being demoted—an interpretation expressed by Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) among others that would become the preferred trope on the Copernican Revolution by the 19th century. Instead, the medieval cosmic inferiority complex noted by Danielson (2009) fretted about whether it was proper to relocate the gloriously perfect Sun to the gross center of things occupied by the “base and vile matter” of our lowly Earth, which functioned rather like a scab over “the excrementary and filthy parts of the lower world” whence heavy stuff was drawn by its Aristotelean nature, doomed to fall apart and decay.
For 17th century Copernicans, then, bumping the Earth up to a heavenly traveler seemed like a status boost, elevating our otherwise base condition into cosmic joyride, though eventually it did occur to people that the vast emptiness of interstellar space was way bigger and made the journey more intimidating than the old tidy geocentric epicycles where the Sun could be thought of as but a Greater Light just far enough away for the Lesser Light of the Moon to eclipse it every now and then. Danielson (2009, 57) quoted the Pensées qualms Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) had about this new vista: “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.“
Although Eugenie Scott (2000e) placed geocentrism one notch up from Flat Earth believers on the Creation/Evolution continuum at the National Center for Science Education (which Scott helped found in response to the rising tide of Creation Science in the 1980s), she mentioned only 1980s practitioners and so did not connect the community to the Equal Time or Kansas cases or spot its Kulturkampf undercurrent. Eve & Harrold (1991, 129-130) understandably plotted modern Biblical geocentrism on the extreme right wing of creationism, and the geocentric subculture continues to burble up into politics, such as the ruckus in Texas after a Republican politician breezily included geocentric “science” claims in a memo, covered by Bruce Wilson (2007) regarding its connections to Christian Reconstructionism (more on that in due course).
That political aspect is reflected by another player on the geocentric stage, Ohio college computer science teacher Gerardus Bouw, a man with twin missions: (1) the promotion of scientific truth via the Association for Biblical Astronomy, publishing articles such as Bouw (2001; 2004; 2007; 2008), Stott (2003) and Hanson (2005; 2006) rejecting heliocentrism and global warming, and (2) furthering the highly conservative political agenda of the Constitution Party (a.k.a. the “Taxpayers Party“) with its recurrent presidential candidate Howard Phillips (1914-2013). Glenn Branch (2014ae) noted Bouw was slated to testify on behalf of the credibility of Creation Science back at McLean v. Arkansas—one can imagine what amazing statements Bouw might have ventured under cross examination, giving Geisler’s satanic UFOs a run for his money.
The belief that the Bible required Ptolemaic cosmology remained surprisingly popular among certain conservative American religious denominations into the 20th century, such as the Missouri, Wisconsin and Norwegian Lutheran synods. That owed little to Lutheran doctrine, though—while late in his life Martin Luther (1483-1546) had made an offhand 1543 remark critical of the then-new Copernican idea, otherwise he appeared indifferent to the issue, and his follower Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) didn’t want to isolate the new movement from ongoing scientific trends and so readily qualified it as a mathematical concept suitable for discussion (along with arithmetic and astrology), Moran (1973)—it was, after all, still the 16th Century.
Modern geocentrism played a background role for members of George McCready Price’s Religion and Science Association and Walter Lang’s Bible Science Association (BSA) in the 1930s, Numbers (1992, 106, 237-238, 243-244). Numbers described the “codependent relationship” that endured for many years between Lang’s quirky BSA and Henry Morris’ Creation Research Society, who overlooked the BSA’s geocentric elements because they avidly disseminated CRS material (a circumstance reminiscent of the current relationship the Intelligent Design movement has with their Young Earth compatriots). BSA members also actively helped Nell Segraves prepare creationist textbooks for California starting in the late 1960s. Meanwhile, Mawyer (1987, 57) blithely described the BSA to his Fundamentalist Journal readers as “formed solely for the purpose of educating church laymen on how to witness to people who believe evolution is a fact.“
Toumey (1994, 128-130) related how disconcertingly open-minded members of the BSA were even in the mid-1980s to lectures by Bouw and other geocentrists. That was the period when Tom Willis and Nancy Pearcey were there. Walter Brown (1989a, 44) relied on one of Willis’s BSA paleontological claims about Lucy the australopithecine, and Martin Gardner (1997, 17; 2000b, 16) touched on Pearcey’s YEC background and subsequent migration to the Discovery Institute. Curiously, nothing of Pearcey’s BSA creationist work appears to be preserved online, though Paul Taylor (1995, 71) contained this secondary reference (bracketed material in Taylor):
Astronaut Neil Armstrong reportedly said his greatest fear in landing on the Moon was the expected thick layer of dust. [Nancy Pearcey, ’The Age of the Earth: Does Mother Nature Tell?’, Bible-Science Newsletter, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bible-Science Association, February 1987), p. 9.]
The preposterous Lunar Dust Myth that Pearcey was apparently helping to promote is explored in Appendix II of Downard (2003b). Pearcey’s Foreword to Phillip Johnson (2002d, 7) coyly mentioned her stint as “a contributing editor for the Bible-Science Newsletter, an unabashedly creationist publication (now defunct)” while the biographical info on her in Dembski (2006b, 353) floated even higher overhead with a general allusion to her “writing on science and Christian worldview since 1977.” Left unsaid was how many of the BSA’s views she held in those days or whether she had occasion since to reevaluate any of her thought processes that may have contributed to her having held them in the first place. This could be of some relevance, given that her activities at the Discovery Institute included joining Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson and Stephen Meyer to brief Republican congressmen Charles Canady (Florida), Sam Brownback (Kansas) and Tom Petri (Wisconsin) and others on ID positions, Applegate (2000a-b).
The BSA has a spin-off organization, the Twin Cities Creation Science Association (currently at tccsa.tc, where the Southern Minnesota Association for Creation also posts), and the BSA remains active itself revamped as Creation Moments. By the early 21sct century both groups showed no signs of recognizing their geocentric-friendly roots, particularly the history of the TCCSA compiled by Olson (2003), and may be suffering from a bout of historical amnesia comparable to the many Seventh-day Adventists I run into who are unaware of the role their denomination played in the genesis of Flood Geology. When I accessed the Creation Moments website on 21 August 2003 they showed their ready willingness to co-opt the ID oeuvres, though, by recommending Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box as their “Featured Product of the Day.“
Just how many geocentrists there actually are in the United States is hard to tell since pollsters do not usually measure what they may think is a totally extinct group. A 2006 General Social Surveys study of over a thousand adult Americans found 20% expressing disagreement with the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun, which Mazur (2010) chalked up to the generally low level of education of those holding that view. A 2012 survey by the National Science Board (2014) found a similar percentage of Americans getting the “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?” wrong—a result that even got noticed by the Kulturkampf libertarians at Breitbart (2014).
One could take heart (sort of) that other regions showed comparable values, such as the European Union in 2005 and India in 2004. Whether many of the respondents were active doctrinal geocentrists of the Ellwanger and Bouw variety is unknown, though the Indian figures could also reflect their own peculiar tradition of Vedic cosmology (more on that in a later chapter). Al Arabiya (2015) reported on a young Saudi cleric expounding on the idea that the Earth couldn’t be moving because people can fly on a plane to China without it slipping from under them and moving their destination farther away, showing that least some 21st century Muslims can manage the same sort of relative motion ignorance that pre-Galileo Europeans harbored 400 years ago.
However miniscule their numbers may be, though, the upshot is that the two main efforts in the later 20th century to pry evolution from American public schools (the 1980s Balanced Treatment laws and the 1999 Kansas case) turn out to have been directly influenced by the reasoning skills of people who would have fallen in that 2006 survey’s geocentric 20% without batting an eyelash. I think that’s kind of important.
The extent to which geocentric analytical methodology has rippled through the antievolution world can be tracked by who cites what. One may start with the founding sage of the Intelligent Design movement, as Philip Johnson (1991, 175) noted the work that “persuaded me that there are grounds to be suspicious of both the Java Man and Pekin [sic] Man fossil finds, which established what is now called Homo erectus,” was “the privately printed Ape-Men, Fact or Fallacy, by Malcolm Bowden. Bowden is a creation-scientist, but unprejudiced readers will find his book thoroughly documented and full of interesting details.” But Bowden is way more than merely a Creation Scientist (as if that weren’t sufficient reason to be wary of his arguments)—Bowden is yet another geocentrist, defending his position in Bowden (2006) with such observations as:
there is evidence that the earth is NOT moving around the sun, but either the aether is moving around the earth carrying the planets with it, or the earth is spinning on its axis. The most likely model is that the aether is rotating around the earth as calculations show that if it did not, it would rapidly collapse upon itself.
Stephen Hawking, take note—or Phillip Johnson, for that matter.
Bowden appeared as one of the interviewed experts in Eternal Productions’ creationist video A Question of Origins (2004), along with apocalyptic boosters Chuck Missler and Dave Hunt, the ICR fossil point man Duane Gish, and Richard Milton for sundry Commentary. As advertised at morethanwords.net: “This video exposes the fallacies and complete ignorance of the theory of evolution to the point that you will marvel that the world still accepts and defends a theory that modern science has proved to be false.” I marveled more at their pseudoscience inclusive witness list.
Actually, Duane Gish (1998) had felt comfortable enough with Bowden’s reasoning skills to pen a short Foreword to Bowden’s fourth book, True Science Agrees with the Bible, showing more gumption than Johnson by at least vaguely acknowledging that “Bowden’s position on a few subjects may be controversial“—which may be one of the grander understatements in a venue not widely known for timidity, as well as being a flourish of conflict avoidance that reminds me of that old gallows humor quip: “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?“
Such tactical acceptance of some of what Bowden may say puts Johnson in the same scholarly boat not only with Duane Gish and Eternal Productions, but also with YEC Paul Taylor (1995, 34-35, 53, 90-94, 97-99) who busily mined Bowden and Bouw without recognition of their geocentrism, and YEC Scott Huse (1997, 136-138) who sauntered down the same path as Johnson by relying on Bowden to doubt the authenticity of “Java Man.” Huse may have been literally following Johnson here, since Huse had a tendency to borrow other people’s scholarship without acknowledging the source, such as Huse’s liberal vacuuming of Luther Sunderland seen in Note 171 of Chapter 2 in Downard (2004, 178). Huse’s bibliography also included an unused Creation Science Movement pamphlet by Bowden on “Decrease in the Speed of Light (Its Evidence for Creation),” Huse (1997, 209).
Now at this point the epistemologically finicky observer can hardly resist asking some impertinent questions. Anyone capable of believing in this day and age that the earth doesn’t revolve around the sun would appear to be really good at rearranging the facts of nature to fit a preconceived (and scientifically untenable) conclusion, never mind how much documentation they may drizzle around it. That the motivation for that belief happens to be theological is actually of no consequence—the problem is that it is a really dumb idea, whatever the source. And so, shouldn’t anyone be just a tad skeptical about accepting at face value anything coming from someone who can think that way, and be all the more inspired to check out whatever documentation might be offered as maybe being too good to be true? Don’t trust, and definitely verify, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan. Or is no idea too hair-brained to trip the skeptic alarm?
And what if some enterprising science teacher, armed with the shield of Justice Scalia’s Edwards v. Aguillard dissent, decide to offer some of Bowden’s geocentric arguments in their homage to open inquiry? Who exactly is to say they shouldn’t be able to do that, and on what possible grounds? If Ellwanger was reasonable enough to draft the 1980s Balanced Treatment legislation, or Bowden insightful enough to uncover the soft underbelly of human evolution in a way professional paleontologists have not, or Willis adequately informed to frame science education logic for the state of Kansas in 1999, why shouldn’t educators take a peek at the rest of their views? Doesn’t everybody get to play? Fair’s fair, isn’t it?
All of which lends some irony to Dennis Petersen (2010) affirming the sound character of his Young Earth creationism (”True science will not contradict the clear teachings of the Bible“) and offering the discarded theories of the past as historical precedent for tossing out the falsified theory of evolution, examples such as “The geocentric theory of astronomy.” He should take that up with Willis, Ellwanger, Bouw and Bowden.
Not that the sailing is all that clear for those creationists who do take a whack at their geocentric partners in the creationist subculture. As Lerner (1994, 4) remarked: “one side makes the young-earthers look ridiculous; the other side warns them of looking hellfire.” In the case of Faulkner (2001b-c) assailing Bouw at AiG, it is the spectacle of seeing someone who believes in the primacy of Biblical interpretation (overriding all physical evidence not deemed concordant with it) slamming into somebody who thinks exactly the same way, having to suddenly turn all evidence-based in order to reject the claims of their geocentric rivals, and risk sounding like the dreaded Old Earth Creationists by how liberal and figurative they can be when interpreting the scripture regarding the fixity of the Earth (such as Psalm 105, as though this could be relevant to a science subject in the first place). At one point Faulkner (2001c) complained (with considerable unintended irony) how “Bouw fails to apply the same rigorous standards that he applies to the heliocentric theory to his own pet model,” as though YEC defenders weren’t loaded to the gunnels with their own weighty double standards.
The realization that there could be serious geocentrists in the 21st century brought to mind Charles Wycliffe Goodwin (1860, 210) commenting on 19th century British education in the Essays and Reviews: “The school-books of the present day, while they teach the child that the earth moves, yet assure him that it is a little less than six thousand years old, and that it was made in six days,” but that “This phase may now be considered past, and although school-books probably continue to teach much as they did, no well-instructed person now doubts the great antiquity of the earth any more than its motion." Spoke to soon, Chuck!