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Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line [Hardcover]

Jason Rosenhouse

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Book Description

April 10 2012
Why do so many Americans reject the modern theory of evolution? Seeking answers, mathematician Jason Rosenhouse became a regular attendee at creationist conferences and other gatherings. After ten years of attending events like the giant Creation Mega-Conference in Lynchburg, Virginia, and visiting sites like the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, and after hundreds of mostly friendly conversations with creationists of varying stripes, he has emerged with a story to tell, a story that goes well beyond the usual stereotypes of Bible-thumping fanatics railing against coldly rational scientists. Through anecdotes, personal reflections, and scientific and philosophical discussion, Rosenhouse presents a more down-to-earth picture of modern creationism and the people who espouse it. He also tells the story of his own nonbeliever's attempt to understand a major aspect of American religion. Forced to wrestle with his views about religion and science, Rosenhouse found himself drawn into a new world of ideas previously unknown to him, arriving at a sharper understanding of the reality of science versus religion disputes, and how these debates look to those beyond the ivory tower.

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"Fascinating creatures, these creationists. Rosenhouse holds up a magnifying glass to the various varieties of this species as he strolls through the thickets of confusion known as creationist conferences. Conversationally, he draws you into a world experienced by few secularists. His anecdotes are entertaining - but also instructive about science, religion, and philosophy. An enjoyable read, whether or not you know anything about the creationism/evolution controversy." - Eugenie C. Scott, Executive Director, National Center for Science Education, and author of Evolution vs Creationism: An Introduction


"Armed only with curiosity and a razor-sharp intellect, the intrepid Jason Rosenhouse attended a series of creationist conferences over the course of a decade. The result, Among the Creationists, affords a unique glimpse at the cultures of American creationism, as well as Rosenhouse's own thoughtful and provocative reflections on science, philosophy, and religion prompted by his experiences. Highly recommended!" --Glenn Branch, National Center for Science Education


"Those of us who battle creationism usually wage the war on the Internet, on paper, or in the courtroom. Rarely do we get to know our adversaries as people. Jason Rosenhouse is the rare exception. Equipped with remarkable empathy and a deep knowledge of evolutionary biology, he wades into creationist meetings, trying to understand the mindset that leads people to oppose one of the best-supported ideas in science. The upshot is a remarkably readable chronicle that at once gives penetrating insights into the psychology of creationists while handily refuting their arguments." -- Jerry Coyne, Professor of Ecology & Evolution, University of Chicago, and author of Why Evolution is True


"From the plain foolishness of equating "Darwinism" with every social evil, to the serious implications of naturalism (methodological or natural) as viewed by theists, the author reports, documents, and then offers humane and honest judgment on the validity of the arguments. Serious evolutionists will find endless utilities in this handsomely-written work" -- Paul Gross, University Professor of Life Sciences, emeritus, University of Virginia, and co-author with Barbara Forrest of Creationism's Trojan Horse.


"This is a terrific book. Rosenhouse's incisive but accessible analysis of the never-ending problem of creationism treats the theological and scientific contortions of its promoters with both humor and pathos. His firsthand familiarity with rank-and-file creationists has enabled him to craft a response that combines a truthful account of how utterly misguided they are scientifically with a respectful recognition of their humanity." -- Barbara Forrest, expert witness for plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover


"Rosenhouse, a mathematician interested in the creation-evolution "controversy" has done a unique service. He attended creation conferences, talked with creationists, and took a serious look at the most lavish creation museum in America. These are efforts few evolutionists would be willing to endure...All in all I enjoyed reading Among the Creationists. It represents a unique attempt of a secular scholar to engage creationist communities on their own home ground and report his experiences. Rosenhouse has provided an immense service to our understanding of a remarkable, persistent, and wrongheaded phenomenon." -- Rudolf A. Raff Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN


"This is a well-written, enlightening take on a topic that has generated many books on both sides of a well-heated controversy. The author's sympathetic treatment of this deep divide is valuable. It will help both evidence-based and faith-based individuals move closer to an appreciation of the issues on the other side of this dispute." -- CHOICE


"Rosenhouse has written a highly readable and captivating volume that provides us with an exceptionable perspective on creationism and the people who believe in it." -- Metascience


About the Author

Jason Rosenhouse is Associate Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University. He is previously the author of The Monty Hall Problem: The Remarkable Story of Math's Most Contentious Brain Teaser.

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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  27 reviews
59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars most accurate view of creationists that I know April 13 2012
By A. Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As someone who was born and raised in the Deep South, I know creationists on a much deeper level than just the science vs. religion debate. Virtually all of my closest friends growing up, as well as almost my entire family, are Bible believing Christians who take Genesis literally. Despite the numerous books out there by scientists and philosophers that explain the mechanisms of evolution, its logical under-structure, and the evidence for its occurrence, I have always felt like there was a void in the literature when it comes to creationism. By this I do not mean creationist literature or refutations of it (there is plenty of both). Instead, I mean literature that correctly portrays the sociology of creationists like my family and childhood friends.

In my opinion, Jason Rosenhouse's book fills this void. Rather than just debunking arguments, the author shows what creationists actually think of the Bible and evolution. These reasons will probably be surprising for those of you who have not spent a lot of time around creationists. A good example of this is the frequency evolution is rejected on the grounds of being a brutal and wasteful process that seems irreconcilable with an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God (sort of a version of the problem of Evil). Dr. Rosenhouse's retelling of his trips to anti-evolution conferences and chit-chats with creationists really drives this point home. Creationists have a lot of different reasons for rejecting evolution (I think all of them are bad) and believe a wide variety of things from Young Earth Creationism to Intelligent Design (also bad). This diversity may cause you to nuance your methodology of talk to creationists.

(this book also covers all of the relevant design arguments much better than Dawkins's TGD or Hitchens' GING. While that is not the central point of the book, Rosenhouse has clearly read a lot of the philosophical literature on these arguments and methodological naturalism. He also makes a ton of great suggestions for those who may be more scientifically savvy but are unaware of the philosophical literature involving the evolution vs. creation and the God debates).

Even if this book does not lead you to nuance your view, this is still a fun read that is very well written and I highly recommend it.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Source for Understanding the Evolution/Creationism Divide April 13 2012
By Jeffrey W Hatley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've long been a fan of Jason Rosenhouse's blog, EvolutionBlog, and have used it as a primary source for staying current on the evolution/creationism dispute. When I found out he had written a book about his experiences at various creationist conferences, I was eager to read it, and I was not disappointed.

The first thing to note is that many of the stories recounted in this book first appeared on EvolutionBlog immediately after they occurred. However, there is still much value in this book for Jason's regular readers. The passage of time has allowed him to collect and organize his thoughts and experiences into a smoothly-flowing narrative, pausing frequently to explain the relevant pieces of biology or theology that have driven his conversations with creationists.

If you are not a regular reader of Jason's, and especially if you are new to the evolution/creationism debate and are seeking a crash course on the main issues, I cannot think of a better introduction to the subject. Among the Creationists is well-written, witty, thorough, and simply fun to read. It is *not* a biology textbook, and it is *not* a theological treatise. It is primarily a book of amusing anecdotes and insightful commentary.

Finally, allow me to say a few words on the tone of this book, since so many people wring their hands over this issue. While Jason is unflinching in his defense of science and his criticisms of creationists, the portrait he paints of creationists and IDers is wholly human, often empathetic, and nearly always positive. Jason makes it clear that, although he very strongly disagrees with those in the creationist camp, his numerous interactions with them have helped him to understand their (deeply flawed) worldviews. Thus, while the science points firmly toward evolution, and while theistic evolutionists try to build a bridge between their faith and the science, Jason understands why so many evangelical Christians feel their faith threatened by evolution, and why they consequently dig in their heels and search for ways to fit the science around their beliefs.

You should absolutely read this book.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Makes Creationists Tick June 19 2012
By R. Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jason Rosenhouse has a funny hobby. He is a professor of mathematics, and though he is proud of his Jewish heritage, he is an atheist. His hobby is to go to conferences of creationists, the people who have such faith in the Bible that they think the universe was created only a few thousand years ago and evolution never happened, and to see what sort of exchanges he might have with the conventioneers. In _Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolution Front Line_ (Oxford University Press), Rosenhouse explains his hobby, his studies of creationist thought and literature, the arguments brought forth by both sides, and the chasm between them. Naturally, he thinks science has the better explanation of cosmology, geology, and biology, and his book is written with that in mind. He does get exasperated with what he sees as the downright insularity and extremism of creationists, but he avoids being condescending, just as he (mostly) avoids being so when he is face to face with them. It would be nice to think that his is a step to bring both sides closer, but his experiences in his often bizarre hobby have convinced him further that evolution and traditional Christianity cannot easily coexist.

Rosenhouse looked at both creationist and evolution literature, and found the former had some convincing points, until he to creationist treatment of mathematics, where they were on Rosenhouse's turf. He was shocked. It wasn't just that they were making minor errors: "I am not saying that creationists had interesting points to make, but had misunderstood some difficult, technical detail. I am talking instead about errors indicative of a total incomprehension of the subject." He wanted to know more about how these misunderstandings occurred, and he went, among other places, to the Creation Mega-Conference at Liberty University, the Darwin vs. Design Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky (the last one more than one time). He repeatedly reports that the politeness was a two-way street on the personal level, and is generally welcomed by other attendees in a respectful and friendly manner. It has to be admitted that although he does get into conversation with the creationists, the conversations do not go very far; at most, he can ensure that they have the experience of seeing a respectful evolutionist that does not conform to their caricatures, and he might instill some slight doubt in minds which are not already fully closed. He finds that creationists simply think evolution, with its savagery and extinctions, is simply horrifying, and would not have been allowed by God.

_Among the Creationists_ provides an excellent summary of the principles of evolution and the science backing it up, and though Rosenhouse disagrees with creationist ideas, he has done a good job of trying objectively to report on creation science and its stepchild, Intelligent Design. It will be obvious on every page which side of the argument he supports, but he understands the other side well. He also summarizes the attempts, anathema to literal creationists, of accepting theological evolution, but warns, "This is not science and evolution in conversation. This is science telling it like it is and religion trying desperately to catch up. After science has dutifully applied its methods, over the course of centuries and frequently in the face of religious objections, you do not get to redefine your words and pretend that religion had the right answers all along." The best part of his book is that Rosenhouse takes us to creationist venues that those of us who take the scientific side never get to see. There are plenty of amusing anecdotes about his explorations, and insight into why creationists believe the way they do, as well as good explanations why they should not.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the belly of the beast June 28 2013
By Donald Prothero - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've spent over 40 years of my life wrestling with the problem of creationism, while trying to maintain my research career, keep up with book deadlines, teach my classes, and take care of my family. As I described in my 2007 book Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, battling the evolution deniers seems to be a thankless, never-ending task because no amount of effort in science education or good science in the media seems to make any difference. Their numbers (around 40% of Americans) have remained constant in the polls over many decades, no matter what approaches are tried. This is an endless source of frustration for many of us, since creationism is like the many-headed Hydra in the labors of Hercules: every time you cut off one head, it grows back two more. Science never seems to make any progress in blunting their efforts to contaminate schools with their religious dogma. At the end of my 2007 book, I tried my best to delve into the psychology and motivation of creationists, and to understand why they can deny obvious reality and tell outright lies over and over again without any guilt or self-awareness.
But I rarely spend much of my precious time reading their literature any more (I've read much of it over 40 years, and it never changes), let alone paying my hard-earned money to hear them speak day after day. Listening to the way they lie and distort the facts, and call professional scientists evil, is too much for me to sit through without getting upset. But Jason Rosenhouse has a much stronger stomach for their garbage than I. He attended one creation conference after another, calmly listening to their preaching and talking to the attendees while maintaining his cool. For that alone, I am in awe of him.
Rosenhouse is Associate Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University in Virginia, having previously taught at Kansas State University, so he is close to the epicenters of much of the creationist movement in this country. He regularly discusses the topic on his EvolutionBlog. As he describes, he is culturally Jewish but became an atheist, yet he has the patience of Job to sit through days and days of creationist drivel and read their atrocious books without getting angry. He is genuinely interested in understanding who they are and what motivates them, and why they can shut themselves out of so much of scientific reality and believe so much that is patently false.
Rosenhouse's approach in this book is to recount vignettes and anecdotes of his experiences at various creationist conferences and venues, intermingled with his dispassionate and extremely lucid dissection of the logical, philosophical, and scientific issues raised by creationism. He went, among other places, to the Creation Mega-Conference at Liberty University, the Darwin vs. Design Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. He's a mathematician by training, so he is personally offended when he hears creationists abuse math or statistics, just as I am when they lie about paleontology and fossils. In his words, "I am not saying that creationists had interesting points to make, but had misunderstood some difficult, technical detail. I am talking instead about errors indicative of a total incomprehension of the subject." For a mathematician, his level of philosophical sophistication is very advanced. In chapter after chapter, he runs circles around many of the specious arguments that creationists and theistic evolutionists who try to squirm out of the problem with weak arguments or special pleading. It comes as no surprise that he is also a ranked chess champion as well--he sounds like someone who is brilliant, cool, analytical, and dispassionate. Through all of his sacrifices spending time listening to the creationists, he is still honestly seeking answers to who these people are and what motivates them.
I found the motivation part of the book particularly revealing, because he has the patience to listen to them carefully, and analyze how their thinking works. It turns out that the answer in pretty clear and something we've known for a long time: creationists place their religious beliefs first, and anything else that science or culture tells them must conform or be twisted to fit their worldview. These beliefs include the idea that God watches over them, that there is a heaven, that humans are the purpose and goal of the universe, and that their religion provides the only source of meaning and morality in life. With such a strong belief filter in place, it's no wonder that science such a threat to their worldview. They reject not only the idea that humans are related to the rest of the animal kingdom, but any science (geochronology, cosmology) which places humans at the very end of billions of years geologic history or away from the center of the universe. As they say over and over again, they view "Darwinism" as "reducing us to animals," in their minds denying our "special relation to God" as well as "reducing morality to survival of the fittest" (the common confusion between evolutionary biology and social Darwinism). No wonder they reject not only the biological and paleontological evidence of our evolutionary relationships with other organisms, but also most of astronomy, geology, anthropology, and any other field that does not conform to this narrow but comforting perspective.
Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, in his book The Great Derangement (2009), describes going undercover in an evangelical church for many months. He found that creationists live in a very cloistered cultish subculture, where they read only what their church elders tell them to read, attend many church meetings and intensive weekend retreats to receive constant reinforcement, and avoid listening to or reading any outside sources that might challenge their worldview. No wonder they never bother to learn about the actual facts of science or evolution, but instead they get a distorted view of science from their creationist leaders. And such cult-like isolation from the real world explains why no amount of presenting science to them in an appealing manner will ever reach them. As long as the conclusions of science threaten their cherished worldview, they are not going to change their minds or learn to distinguish real science from creationist bunk. Instead, as Rosenhouse details again and again, they are easily swayed by shallow intuitive arguments that sound good when you don't think hard about them. But for a true skeptic like Rosenhouse, these arguments are very simplistic and unsatisfying, since he weighs evidence and looks at the totality of the argument from a much broader, less dogmatic perspective than do the creationists.
Among the Creationists is a very insightful book that allows the skeptic and scientist alike to better appreciate the forces that we are up against in the United States. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the creation-evolution wars as a valuable resource for dealing with the never-ending battle with the forces that deny science.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reasonable, compassionate, and fascinating. June 25 2012
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A former fundamentalist and creationist myself, I have never seen the ethos, the concerns, the values and deluded reasoning of creationists reflected more accurately, or with more sympathy and grace. These are not bad people...the motives of a typical creationist could hardly be more pure, tied as they are to questions of morality and meaning and concern about raising safe and successful children. But someone has placed the distorting lens of fundamentalist ideology in front of their eyes, and not without great difficulty can they see facts as facts.

I know these folks, and so even when they say things that are beyond foolish, that unintentionally insult me, or science, or the very act of trying to wrestle knowledge from a universe that doesn't care what we know or when we know it, I can still muster some friendly feelings toward them. It's what you get when bad wiring meets good intentions, I'm afraid.

Rosenhouse gives us a whirlwind tour of some of creationism's larger and more interesting venues--the conferences and presentations where rock star creationists like Ken Ham speak. He allows us to be a mouse in the corner and eavesdrop on conversations he has had with creationists in restaurants and church halls. With only the rarest exceptions, what Rosenhouse experiences and relates is a sympathetic but uncompromising view of creationists and their mistaken dogmas. Using events and court cases to help frame the discussion, Rosenhouse show us as clearly as anyone can what lies behind much of modern American creationism, and without delving very deeply into the actual arguments for and against evolution, manages to paint the picture of a subculture that superficially claims the mantel of science, while their real loyalties lie entirely with their biblical faith.

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