01.06.12: The Evangelical Brain Trust

By Molly Worthen

The central question of the culture wars that have raged since the 1970s is not whether abortion is murder or gay marriage a civil right, but whether the Enlightenment was a good thing. Many evangelical Americans think the answer is no, according to “The Anointed,” a field guide to the evangelical experts you haven’t heard of — but should.

Many evangelicals, Randall J. Stephens and Karl W. Giberson say, get their information on dinosaurs and fossils from Ken Ham, an Australian with a bachelor’s degree from the Queensland Institute of Technology. Ham believes human reason should confirm the Bible rather than reinterpret it, and teaches that God created the world a few thousand years ago. His ministry, “Answers in Genesis,” includes a radio program broadcast over more than 1,000 stations, a magazine with a circulation of 70,000 and the ­multimillion-dollar Creation Museum in Kentucky. While other evangelicals — for example Francis Collins, the born-again Christian who runs the National Institutes of Health — offer more nuanced perspectives on science’s relationship to the Bible, Ham commands a far larger audience.

When it comes to history, many evangelicals reject the world-class historians in their own fold — such scholars as Mark Noll and George Marsden, who advocate a balanced account of Christianity’s role in early America — in favor of the amateur David Barton’s evangelical makeover of Washington and Madison.

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