The rejection of science seems to be part of a politically monolithic red-state fundamentalism, textbook evidence of an unyielding ignorance on the part of the religious. As one fundamentalist slogan puts it, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” But evangelical Christianity need not be defined by the simplistic theology, cultural isolationism and stubborn anti-intellectualism that most of the Republican candidates have embraced. Like other evangelicals, we accept the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ and look to the Bible as our sacred book, though we find it hard to recognize our religious tradition in the mainstream evangelical conversation. Evangelicalism at its best seeks a biblically grounded expression of Christianity that is intellectually engaged, humble and forward-looking. In contrast, fundamentalism is literalistic, overconfident and reactionary.
There’s some truth to this, of course, but — forgive the griping — it’s deeply annoying to me. First, it doesn’t say anything that Mark Noll didn’t say in 1994; and second, the only reason it’s in the NYT is that it flatters the prejudices of the readership. A more nuanced view of evangelicals, like the one Alan Wolfe wrote for the Atlantic some years ago, would never run in the NYT.
The problem here actually has little or nothing to do with evangelicalism per se: it’s the long-standing know-nothingism of American populism, which comes in varying religious and not-so-religious flavors, has connived at the evisceration of American public education, and makes millions of Americans unable and unwilling to understand evidential arguments. Blaming the evangelicals is cheap and easy, especially for evangelicals. The real issue is far larger and deeper, and its consequences can be seen even in New York City itself — and there are versions of it overseas as well, though not always populist ones. The very same intellectual flabbiness that makes some people trust Answers in Genesis makes others believe that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare’s plays.