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The Scary Future of Creationism in America

Ken Ham's debate with Bill Nye is a reminder: Many creationist tactics from Ham's native Australia could come here.
 
 
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The Great Debate between science educator Bill Nye and creationist Ken Ham, live-streamed from Kentucky’s Creation Museum on  Feb. 4, was a clash of accents.

Nye had the smooth tones expected of a fourth-generation Washington, D.C., resident, Cornell graduate and PBS regular. His opponent’s accent was Australian.

Ken Ham had been a high school science teacher in his native Queensland, where he co-founded the Creation Science Foundation in 1979, before moving to the Institute for Creation Research in the United States in 1987.

Several schisms and realignments later, Ham heads the CSF’s U.S. and U.K. descendant, Answers in Genesis, promoting the idea that the Earth is some 6,000 years old, created directly by God over six 24-hour days, and subsequently devastated by a worldwide flood that killed all human and animal life except the elect breeding stock sequestered in a wooden boat built, at God’s command, by its captain, Noah.

A distinctly American combination of religious zeal and showmanship, producing media sensations from the 1925 Scopes Trial to this week’s debate, has created the impression of creationism as a U.S. phenomenon.

But creationism’s foremost historian, Ronald L. Numbers, wrote in his monumental study “The Creationists” that “no country outside the United States gave creationism a warmer welcome than Australia.” For the movement’s global reach, Numbers concluded, “American and Australian organizations” shared “much of the credit — or blame.”

Admittedly, surveys suggest anywhere from half to two-thirds of Americans believe some variant of the creationist view, compared with only 10 percent to one-quarter of Australians (depending on the survey). But Australian creationists are now showing the way.

The recent  revelation that creationism-teaching schools in at least nine states were receiving over $11 million of taxpayers’ money per year might have startled Americans. But that is tiny compared to the taxpayer funds pushing creationism in Australia.

Since the 1970s, Australia has ratcheted up public funding to private schools, such that, in 2013, more than 34 percent of all school students attend them. More than 90 percent of these private schools are Christian. These include a large Catholic sector, and some old, establishment schools, which parents choose more for lavish facilities and old-school-tie networks than any religious content.

Nonetheless, the fastest growth is in more strictly religious schools such as the 91 affiliated with Australian Association of Christian Schools, whose members must assent to a Statement of Faith declaring “the supreme authority of the Bible,” meaning that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are God’s infallible and inerrant revelation to man” and “the supreme standard by which all things are to be judged.” The Statement also affirms that, “in pursuit of their task, Christian schools only employ Christian teachers and Christian non-teaching staff who are able to subscribe to this Statement.”

To proponents of “inerrant revelation,” the Genesis six days of creation are a touchstone.

In 2010 (the most recent figures available), AACS schools received over $357 million from state and federal governments.

Also in 2010, AACS was one of three umbrella associations of Christian schools (along with Adventist Education and Christian Schools Australia) that wrote to the South Australian Non-Government Schools Registration Board objecting to a new policy on science teaching.

The policy stated that the board did not “accept as satisfactory a science curriculum in a nongovernment school which is based on, espouses or reflects the literal interpretation of a religious text in its treatment of either creationism or intelligent design.” The associations successfully objected to the board’s attempt “to determine what cannot be taught within a non-government school or how materials will be taught,” and the statement was removed.