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Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the…
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Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line

by Jason Rosenhouse

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Author Jason Rosenhouse is a mathematician and an staunch atheist, who was raised in a culturally Jewish (non-religious) family.

He became interested in the concept of creationism and looking at its evidence alongside the evidence for evolution. To further his goal, he attended several conferences sponsored by various sorts of Creationists, visisted the National Creationism Musueum and read scientific papers regarding evolution and books extolling Creationism.

Unfortunately for the Creationists, he found nothing in their doctrines that convinced him of a supernatural deity, a young earth or even Intelligent Design. Many of the Creationist arguments have been well refuted over the years by dozens if not hundreds of scientific papers on intermediate forms, convergent evolution, the accuracy of the fossil record and carbon dating and the addition of new genes through a variety of mechanisms. Yet, these papers are not recognized or refuted by the Creationists. Instead they seem to create over-simplified, almost cartoonish versions of science and then laugh at them in terms that the non-scientists can see are without common sense, much less scientific sense.

I found this to be an interesting read. As someone whose career has been in science, I wholeheartedly accept the theory of evolution. I also respect the Christian version, which as a liberal Christian, I have never felt that it should be read literally.

And as a (very liberal) Christian, I don't agree with some of his thoughts about religion.

Nevertheless, the book has clarified my thinking as to the strength of the scientific argument and has given me definitions of many of the Creationist terms.

I see now why the version of the young Earth Creationism can be seen to be the foundation of fundamentalist thought. If the seven day creation is not true, then where does that leave the story of Adam and Eve? And without Adam and Eve, we lose the notion of the fall of man requiring a Savior.

Well worth the time. 4/5 stars ( )
2 vote streamsong | May 21, 2017 |
This is the story of Rosenhouse's exploration of Creationism. Rosenhouse is an intelligent, rational mathematician and declared atheist (though the way he describes his beliefs I'd put him in the agnostic category myself). He decided in college to explore the seemingly irrational views of ultra-conservative Christians to try to understand how they can possibly deny evolution. This book describes his journey through conferences, museums, and personal conversations. It also has a light smattering of history of the creationist-evolutionist debate.

This was a surprisingly considerate and fair book considering the fact that it was coming from an atheist talking about Creationists. From the beginning, Rosenhouse insisted that although he was well-known as "that atheist guy who goes to Creationist conferences," he was almost always treated with respect and kindness. This is possibly because his main goal was to educate himself rather than to change anyone's mind. He did, of course, make public comments/questions to the speakers at the conferences, but they always were polite and seemed to be answered politely as well.

Despite this even-handedness, there were a few times that I cringed while reading this book. For instance, he lumped Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, Christian Science and and other lesser known ideologies all in with Creationism. He even said that they were pretty much the same thing. They're really not, though. Denying the possibility of evolution is not the same as saying that God directed evolution. Yes, I can see where an atheist might think the second option wasn't sensible either. But the basic difference remains - one set denies evolution altogether the other does not. To me, and I would imagine to many atheists as well, an all-out denial of the evidence for evolution is less sensible than saying God directed the evolution. Another lapse in his even-handedness was when he criticized the Creationists as being name-callers - as if that doesn't go both ways. Trust me, I've been disappointed in interviews and essays by prominent evolutionary theorists like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. Scientists can disparage and name-call too.

From what I could tell of his book, the conferences were all about getting together with people who totally agree with you to say "Here's what we agree on, now how can we get others to see the light?" Then they'd have the requisite book signings and other gatherings. So Rosenhouse had plenty of time to hobnob. In his book, he related several interesting conversations between himself and Creationist individuals. Most of these conversations seemed to include teenagers. He'd give information about which authors to read if they wanted to learn more about evolution, or just have an interesting discussion about the points of each argument. I imagine he had a lot of conversations with teenagers because they're less jaded about trying to convince people of their points of view.

This was an interesting book, and I'm glad I read it. It had some shortcomings (noted above), but listening to this book actually educated me on certain things. For instance, years ago I was turned off by Richard Dawkins when I heard an NPR interview in which he disregarded a question from a Creationist. This question could have been easily answered: it was the old "how could evolution be scientifically possible when entropy (chaos) is always increasing?" (This is the second law of thermodynamics.)

The answer is: entropy always increases in a "closed system." A closed system is one that doesn't have any exchange of energy with the outside. Like the entire universe. There's only one universe. There's nothing that it can exchange energy with. On the other hand, Earth is not a closed system. It's always losing atmosphere to the space surrounding it. It's always getting light and heat from the sun. That's called an open system. Animals are open systems too. We breathe, we eat, we poop. That's energy exchange. Evolution took place in an open system, therefore the second law of thermodynamics doesn't apply and there is no contradiction.

Ok, maybe that wasn't easy to explain...Point is, Dawkins could have answered the question politely instead of rudely disregarding it. Although I still think Dawkins was in the wrong, after reading this book I now understand how frustrating it might be to be constantly answering exactly the same question over and over and people ignoring my answer. ( )
  The_Hibernator | Jan 11, 2016 |
Sometimes there is a book that sounds as if my own constantly chattering inner voice is talking to me from its pages. This is one of them. His encounters with Ken Ham, director of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum mirror my own in which I attended a lecture by Ham, expecting to be amused by his version of creationism but instead left shaken by his theology and the acceptance of his preaching by 4000 of my fellow attendees. Jason Rosenhouse, a mathematician wonders how and why creationists believe what they believe. Instead of constantly arguing with them, or worse, constantly telling himself that they are stupid,he reads the literature and attends their conventions. What he finds is that they they are for the most part, good people trying to understand how God and their belief systems work in the face of evidence from science that literal interpretation of scripture is just not true. Rosenhouse has nothing but kind words for the everyday believers in creationism. But he also separates them into the attendees of these conferences and the "professional creationists" who feed their followers dollops and drips of bad information, religion masquerading as science and terrible theology. They are at best ignorant, at worst demagogues. All seen through Rosenhouse's eyes and his Jewish Atheism. Rosenhouse's clear eyed reading of Christian scripture is more intelligent and deeper than Ken Ham's other creationist champions that I have read. Rosenhouse thoughtfully explains what he has learned about conservative creationism believers and, in many ways, defends the believers from complete dismissal by scientists while never never letting the reader forget that evolution is pervasively scientifically proven across so every field of science. This book has been equally well received by reviewers from conservative Christian Wheaton College and The National Center for Science Education. ( )
  smasler | Aug 6, 2014 |
Rosenhouse, a math professor, did his postdoc in Kansas. While there he worked with the state department of education developing science and math curriculum. This was during a time when creationists were lobbying the state to teach their "science" in the classroom. So Rosenhouse went to one of their conferences. He was hooked. This book is the record of Rosenhouse's experiences at various creationist and intelligent design conferences and the Kentucky creationist museum. Interspersed throughout the book are his refutations of creationism and ID and his explanation of his own secular atheist beliefs.

I admire the way he respectfully debates with creationists. Most people find their ignorance of science irritating. Rosenhouse reports that he enjoys debating with them because in them he sees a passion for the big scientific questions that he shares. He finds a broad spectrum of creationists, from Bible-thumpers to ones with scientific backgrounds who are at least attempting to find viable scientific models for the flood, for the days of creation, etc. What Rosenhouse sees as their concern is not evolution per se, but the perceived dehumanizing effects of evolution. What special and sacred place do humans occupy in a world where we are not starkly separated from primates? I admire the way in which we tries to dig deeper into their worldview and sympathetically understand their concerns.

What else should we know about the creationists? For one, they are expert scienticians.** They are good at throwing around scientific terms, although they often misuse them. Rosenhouse catches this especially when he hears a talk involving information theory, which is one of the foundations of intelligent design. As a mathematician he is not afraid to stand up at Q&A and point out the blatant misuse of terms and bad chain of logic that a speaker has employed. Ironically fellow conference participants - most of whom have no scientific background - often tell him he needs to learn more about science!

Another interesting feature of this subculture is their common belief in a doctrine called the "perspicuity of scripture." If God wrote the Bible to speak to everyone, they say, then anyone who is literate should be able to comprehend scripture. If Genesis says "day," then by gum, it means day! This mindset is rather foreign to me, fascinated as I am by historical and literary approaches to the Bible. They seem to forget that a literate layman's ability to read the Bible presupposes a Biblical expert's need to translate it, which always involves some amount of interpretation. But this kind of dissecting of the broader background of the creationist worldview makes this book a great window into creationist thought.

And liberal Christians don't come off any easier in Rosenhouse's estimate. He reviews various liberal theologians' approaches to Genesis and finds most of them lacking. The main hermeneutic he seems amenable to is just admitting that the Bible is written by humans who bring their culture into the way they understand God, and rather than being God's word word-for-word the Bible is a human document that provides glimpses into God. I have thought this for some time but Rosenhouse's subjects do not.

One of my favorite chapters was his description of his identity as a cultural Jew. I have long admired Jewish culture for their focus on education and debate. Rosenhouse wants the culture without the metaphysics - one might call him a religious non-realist. There are days I feel the same way. But like Rosenhouse, one wonders if cultural religion will last. If every Jew went this route, would there still be synagogues? Are the creationists right in believing that once you start to let go of literalism and fundamentalism, secularist atheist isn't far off?
5 vote JDHomrighausen | Sep 19, 2013 |
Jason Rosenhouse is a math professor whose hobby is attending creationist conferences. In 2000, he moved from New England to Kansas for a postdoctoral position that included coordinating the Kansas State University teacher certification program with Kansas Board of Education math standards, so he became inadvertent witness to controversy over evolution in public education. A few years later he moved to Virginia for an assistant professorship at James Madison University, not far from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg.

I’ve been reading his blog for years, expected to pick up this book eventually, tossed it into the e-shopping cart when it didn’t make the cut as a Science, Religion, and History group read. I can’t fully tell whether he gets it, accurately presents the perspective of insiders (creationism strikes me as so dull that I wonder why anyone would want to hang onto it, and the dishonesty of the Intelligent Design people makes me seethe), but others have said he does a pretty decent job for an outsider. His tone is not completely devoid of snark, but is not unsympathetic either. The gist is that he can understand why, if certain aspects of Christianity matter deeply, then evolution would be difficult to accept, and a compromise of theistic evolution would be unpalatable. It is not as simple as literal vs metaphorical meaning of the Bible, but more about the relationship between humans and God that is disturbingly called into question.

The chapters are organized around three conferences (the 2005 Creation Mega-Conference in Lynchburg VA (focus on young earth creationism), the 2007 Darwin vs Design conference in Knoxville TN (focus on Intelligent Design), the 2008 Conference on Creationism in Pittsburgh PA (focus on “scientific” creationism)), and the Creation Museum in Petersburg KY, with summaries of conference presentations, anecdotes of conversations with participants, discussions of theological and philosophical issues. His emphasis is not so much on refuting creationist claims, but more on exposing strategies employed by creationists of various stripes to maintain views at odds with virtually every scientist on earth, with more insight into the appeal than I’d be able to muster, and perhaps a backdrop of his own views mellowing from pure scientific argumentativeness to a more psychologically nuanced understanding of the trouble spots.

He is not unsympathetic because he is not anti-religion. He is an atheist Jew, a combination that isn’t a contradiction; belief (or dis-belief) is not a litmus test for cultural belonging. A chapter entitled “Why I Love Being Jewish” is preceded by this:

As a nonbeliever there are certain words that do not come naturally to me. Words like
holy, worship, faith, sacred, prayer, numinous, divine, and perhaps most of all, transcendent. When I hear people use such language, it usually just sounds pretentious and overwrought to me. I do, however, get occasional glimpses into what “transcendent” might mean. What other word adequately captures the gloriousness of humanity’s journey from frightened and primitive beginnings to ever greater understanding of the world?

Would you really like to know how to honor scripture? You do not do it by burdening the ancients with notions of infallibility, or by acting as though their simplest thoughts were expressed in poetry and metaphor, or by twisting their plain words into a form more consonant with modern science. You do not honor them by pretending they were possessed of special insight. They were just people, no different from anyone today, doing their best to make sense of their world. Reading their literature instantly connects you to fellow human beings far removed in space and time, not because of the answers they provided, but because of the questions they asked.

You honor scripture by seeing it as one link in a long chain.

Recommended for its succinctity (219 pages), clarity (e.g. a preface that outlines the chapters to follow), and straightforwardness, as well as its sincere (and IMO successful) attempt at insight.

(read 3 Feb 2013)
3 vote qebo | Jul 7, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
While the author has greater respect for creationists as a result of his encounters, he maintains that if evolution by natural selection is true, then creationism and even Christianity as a whole, with its anthropocentric view of the cosmos, cannot be. However, for all their biased selectivity toward the evidence and misuse of science and history, at least creationists (unlike more sophisticated theological evolutionists) recognize what is really at stake. Rosenhouse is an amiable storyteller and a fair-minded reporter. The narrative drags and diffuses a bit as the author wrestles with theology, but that has more to do with theology’s abstruseness than Rosenhouse’s.
added by smasler | editKirkus Reivews (Feb 20, 2012)
 
Rosenhouse’s blend of personal observation and probing investigation of scientific and philosophical questions is what makes the book such a delight. Precisely because creationism can appear so absurd from an academic standpoint, there is a danger of ignoring the intellectual concerns that animate creationists, or to treat evolution-deniers as fundamentalist caricatures. Rosenhouse never falls into such traps. He is invariably respectful of anti-evolutionary ideas—while being careful to explain exactly why they fail, he makes a genuine effort to understand the intellectual appeal they hold for many creationists. For example, starting with describing the well-funded, professionally presented Creation Museum in Kentucky, Rosenhouse goes on to explore theological concerns about evil in the world and the notion of a “curse” on creation. And then, he goes on to address why theologically liberal attempts to endorse evolution as a way of distancing a creator from the suffering in our world seem unconvincing—both to conservative Christians and to those standing outside the Christian tradition such as Rosenhouse himself.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199744637, Hardcover)

Why do so many Americans reject the modern theory of evolution? Why does creationism, thoroughly refuted by scientists, retain such popularity among the public? Is the perceived conflict between evolution and Christianity genuine, or is it merely an illusion peculiar to Protestant fundamentalism?

Seeking answers to these questions, mathematician Jason Rosenhouse became a regular attendee at creationist conferences and other gatherings. After ten years of attending events like the giant Creation Mega-Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia, and visiting sites like the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, and after hundreds of surprisingly friendly conversations with creationists of varying stripes, he has emerged with a story to tell, a story that goes well beyond the usual stereotypes of Bible-thumping fanatics railing against coldly rational scientists. Through anecdotes, personal reflections, and scientific and philosophical discussion, Rosenhouse presents a more down-to-earth picture of modern creationism and the people who espouse it. He is neither polemical nor insulting, but he does not pull punches when he spots an error in the logical or scientific reasoning of creationists, especially when they wander into his own field, mathematics. Along the way, he also tells the story of his own nonbeliever's attempt to understand a major aspect of American religion. Forced to wrestle with his views about God and evolution, Rosenhouse found himself drawn into a new world of ideas previously unknown to him, arriving at a sharper understanding of the reality of science-versus-religion disputes, and how these debates look to those beyond the ivory tower.

A personal memoir of one scientist's attempt to come to grips with this controversy-by immersing himself in the culture of the anti-evolutionists-Among the Creationists is a fair, fresh, and insightful account of the modern American debate over Darwinism.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:37 -0400)

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