The Christian Right: Giving Conservatism a Bad Name

The Butterflies & Wheels news round-up has linked to an article about the American ‘conservative’ alternative to Wikipedia, a site called ‘Conservapedia‘, which boasts of being  ‘The Trustworthy Encyclopedia’.

Conservapedia, it transpires, has started a ‘Conservative Bible Project‘, which aims to correct what it sees as liberal bias in Biblical translation and scholarship. The article reports:

The folks behind Conservapedia, a right-leaning version of Wikipedia, have launched the Conservative Bible Project, aimed at getting rid of what they call liberal bias, wordiness, emasculation and a general dumbing down of the Old and New Testaments.

A dozen or so users, led by Conservapedia founder Andy Schlafly – the son of conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly – are tackling the 27 books of the New Testament and 39 books of the Old Testament. Anyone can offer suggested changes.

Mr. Schlafly is a Princeton- and Harvard-educated lawyer and home-school teacher in New Jersey who began Conservapedia in 2006 because he felt Wikipedia was too liberal and anti-Christian. He believes the project will restore the Bible to its original intent.

“The trouble is, new translations of the Bible are done by professors at liberal universities who overwhelmingly voted for Obama,” Mr. Schlafly said. “Their political bias seeps into their translations and we felt it necessary to counteract that with one that uproots and eradicates any liberal bias.”

In Mark 3:6, for example, they have changed “Pharisees” – the Jews who were regarded as antagonists of Jesus – to “Liberals” though one user helpfully suggested “self-proclaimed elite.” The “girl”  who danced in the Gospel of Mark, causing King Herod to behead John the Baptist, is more accurately referred to as a “temptress,” Mr. Schlafly said. And “hell” isn’t used nearly often enough, conveying liberal permissiveness.

Anyone with even a passing interest in Biblical scholarship should immediately be able to see the utter absurdity of ‘translating’ ‘Pharisee’ as ‘liberal’, but then the project also includes bizarre ideas such as ‘explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning’ (I can’t wait to see what they’ll do with Matthew 19:24). Logic is not a strong point of the project team: they seek to oppose ‘dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity’, at the same time as ‘preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio’. Right.

Having checked out the nuttiness that is the ‘Conservative Bible Project’, I decided to take a look at Conservapedia’s ‘trustworthy’ page on evolution, and soon wished I hadn’t, for the whole entry is a jumble of arguments drawn from the Christian fundamentalist pseudo-scientific ‘creationist’ movement, some of which are so pathetic it is amazing to think anyone would find them impressive.

For example:

In addition to the evolutionary position lacking evidential support and being counterevidence, the great intellectuals in history such as Archimedes, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Lord Kelvin did not propose an evolutionary process for a species to transform into a more complex version.

Incredible. Citing figures from the history of science, philosophy, and even theology as non-believers in evolution before the theory of evolution by natural selection had even been formulated! As convincing an argument as saying computers obviously don’t exist because Shakespeare didn’t use one.

Another fine example of the ’scholarship’ used in this article is found in a section entitled ‘Creation Scientists Tend to Win the Creation-Evolution Debates‘, which begins:

Creation scientists tend to win the Creation-Evolution debates and many have been held since the 1970’s particularly in the United States. Robert Sloan, Director of Paleontology at the University of Minnesota, reluctantly admitted to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the “creationists tend to win” the public debates which focused on the creation vs. evolution controversy.

Two footnotes are provided for this Wall Street Journal quote. The first links to an article entitled ‘Truth in Advertising: Damaging the Cause of Science‘, which is found on the website of a fundamentalist televangelist whose research includes material on ‘The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge’ and ‘Bible Prophecy and the New World Order’. The second links to an article entitled ‘Who wins the Debates?‘ on another fundamentalist site called ‘In the Beginning’.

The first article states:

Finally, if creationism is really only a religion, why do evolutionists consistently lose their scientific debates to creationists? Such debates have been held since 1970. In 1979, The Wall Street Journal for June 15 reported, “The creationists tend to win” the debates.

While the second states:

If creation is only a religious view then why do creationists win the overwhelming majority of debates with evolutionists on Creation Vs Evolution?  These debates have been held since 1970. The June 15th, 1979 Wall Street Journal reported that, “The creationists tend to win.”

Neither, then, is a proper reference of the sort one would expect in an encyclopedia, but then the author is unlikely to actually care about the details of the quote, as on its own it seems – through the eyes of a creationist – to offer scholarly confirmation of the superiority of creationism (creationists, of course, love quote-mining). I looked up the article in question via the Wall Street Journal website. The correct reference is:

‘Modern Creationists Seeking Equal Time In U.S. Classrooms’ by Lawrence Rout, The Wall Street Journal, Jun 15, 1979.

Referencing aside, what are we to make of this quote? Put simply, it proves nothing about the scientific credibility of evolutionary theory and is based on a logical fallacy. Even if 100% of those who attend creation/evolution debates came away as convinced creationists, this would have no bearing on the scientific facts.

Besides, given the fact that a recent Gallup poll found that only 39% of Americans accept evolution as factual, it would hardly be a great surprise to find that, were a representative sample of the American population to attend a creation/evolution debate, the majority would be likely to leave with their anti-evolution convictions intact.

Creation/evolution debates often attract a large number of religious believers, and amongst them frequent churchgoers in America, only 24% accept evolution as fact. Of course, if we wanted to play the numbers game, we could note that only 21% of those with a high school education accept evolution, as opposed to 74% of those with postgraduate degrees (not a statistic you’re likely to find on many creationist websites!), but again, this in itself does not ‘prove’ evolution.

What kind of an ‘encyclopedia’ attempts to bolster its claims about science with appeals to a logical fallacy based on the views of the ‘man on the street’? Well, the same kind of encyclopedia that wants to re-write the Bible to make it fit conservative economic notions and speak the language of talk radio, and the same kind of encyclopedia that promotes the Obama birth certificate conspiracy nonsense.

Conservatism is not based on lunatic principles, religious fundamentalism, or pseudo-science. However, that’s the kind of American conservatism that is once again rearing its ugly head following the election of a Democratic President. This is shameful and deeply embarrassing, and doesn’t bode well for the future of sensible conservatism in the US.

Edmund Standing holds a BA in Theology & Religious Studies and an MA in Critical & Cultural Theory and is the author of The BNP and the Online Fascist Network. His other articles on this website can be found in the articles archive.

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