From Puritans to Ken Ham: The long history of creationism in America

From Salon:

Modern-day creationist rhetoric has its roots in the Puritan desire to make America into a “City of God”

Saturday, Feb 22, 2014

In the annals of great American nuttiness, the recent live-streamed creation vs. evolution debate between former kids’ television host and all-around mega-egghead Bill Nye and Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham will forever hold a distinguished place. Held on February 4 at the Petersburg, Ky., Creation Museum, which serves as the flagship enterprise for Ham’s Christian fundamentalist Answers in Genesis ministry, the science vs. religion smackdown showcased two competing theories about the origin and nature of life that have come to shape much of the sociopolitical discourse in modern America.

It’s unlikely that the debate ultimately changed any minds, but it did demonstrate a long-running historical theme that has made the U.S. fertile ground for the belief that God created humankind with a providential purpose. Since the days when the Puritans first arrived on its shores, Americans have believed that their nation was specially ordained by God to create a perfected society on earth untainted by the sins of the Old World. The origins of the simultaneously maligned and revered notion of “American Exceptionalism” can be found in the earliest Puritan attempts to forge a Godly society out of America’s supposedly uncivilized landscape, and this early attempt at creating heaven on earth made the U.S. susceptible to creationism.

Although Ken Ham is a native Aussie, he comes from a country spawned, like the United States, from the once-powerful British Empire. Australia and the U.S. share many cultural similarities, including a penchant for fundamentalist Christianity, and Ham’s twenty-plus years in America preaching the gospel of Young Earth creationism have made him every bit the pugnacious adopted Yankee. Ham’s beliefs are, to put it scientifically, flat-out bonkers. He contends that God created humans exactly as depicted in the Book of Genesis; that the earth is only 6,000 years old; that humans once coexisted with dinosaurs and, most significantly, that the Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God. Yep, Ham is the most extreme type of biblical literalist, and has no compunctions about using the Bible as the complete guide to history, geography, paleontology and theology all in one neat package.

Ken Ham’s beliefs don’t even represent the majority of American Christians, whether they be Evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant or otherwise. Heck, Ham is even too out-there for televangelist Pat Robertson, who declared on his “700 Club” broadcast that “to say that it all came about in 6,000 years is just nonsense and I think it’s time we come off of that stuff and say this isn’t possible.” But if Bill Nye the Science Guy seemed at times to be utterly flummoxed over the awe-inspiring logical fallacies that characterize Ham’s beliefs, it’s worth noting that this debate was less about evolution and more about competing ideas about the nature of human existence.

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