Christ Church as it is: Creationist Credentials

A couple of weeks ago, I introduced Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho’s friendly neighborhood theocracy-in-embryo, which weds garden-variety Christian Right hypocrisy with creepy, racist Neo-Confederate overtones. Today, I’m going to have a look at the Christ Church-affiliated New Saint Andrews College.

NSA cultivates a reputation as the ivory tower’s ivory tower – the curriculum includes lots of Classical studies, including Greek and Latin; the school’s vision statement puts much emphasis on the supremacy of Western Culture (or “Traditio occidentalis“). Zombie C.S. Lewis could totally be a member of the faculty, if he were into theocratic fundamentalism. Said faculty are all wearing Scholarly Robes in the group photo.

The original ivory tower is at the
University of Pittsburgh

Photo by Jeremy B. Yoder.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on classical studies. NSA’s air of musty erudition has attracted a mostly positive profile by the New York Times Magazine and a favorable rating from the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute. (Full disclosure: my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University, was also recognized by ISI.)

But, basically by their own admission, Christ Church’s theology is strongly right-wing. Is NSA’s ivory tower secure against the ideology of the church that founded it? The evidence is, not so much. NSA’s Code of Conduct sounds all sorts of alarm bells:

“The College seeks to recover true academic freedom, that is, submission to God’s Word in all our actions and attitudes in and out of the classroom.

As does the NSA Students’ Pledge:

I pledge to maintain sound Christian doctrine, to regularly attend an orthodox church, and to maintain a teachable spirit. I pledge to abstain from actively promoting doctrines contrary to the mission and goals of the College.

Who decides what is “God’s Word” and “sound Christian doctrine?” Conveniently, Doug Wilson, the pastor of Christ Church, is both a Board of Trustees member and a “Senior Fellow” at NSA. In fact, of seventeen faculty members, three are Wilsons. That’s DW, his son (if I’m not mistaken) Nathan, and brother Gordon.

Gordon L. Wilson, the “Senior Fellow of Natural Philosophy,” is actually my closest contact to NSA. Last fall I attended a debate on the topic of intelligent design between GLW and Washington State University biologist Mike Webster. It wasn’t pretty. GLW, who is basically miles to the right of Michael Behe, didn’t make a very good impression on behalf of NSA’s high-minded curriculum in rhetoric and philosophy – he dodged questions, failed to support his assertions, and generally displayed an inability (or unwillingness) to comprehend the logical underpinnings of the Scientific Method. In a particularly telling moment, he asserted that the reason ID/Creationists haven’t developed any testable hypotheses is because biased funding agencies won’t give them money.

That, of course, is laughable to anyone who does science for a living (i.e., a sizable chunk of GLW’s audience), because no one gets grant funding to develop hypotheses. Funding requests are descriptions of how you will test a hypothesis through a specific program of experiments or data collection. In other words, scientists receive funding after they develop hypotheses and convince funding agencies that they have a good way to test them.

The Eastern Box Turtle,
Terrapene carolina

Photo by West Virgina Blue.

It’s entirely possible that Gordon Wilson doesn’t actually know how scientific funding works. Which is consistent with the hypothesis that he’s more interested in adhering to his concept of “sound Christian doctrine” than doing science. The only published peer-reviewed research NSA’s Senior Fellow of Natural Philosophy has produced is a 2005 paper on the breeding ecology of box turtles [$-a]. (GLW’s NSA profile also mentions published “research, field notes, and abstracts,” but this is the only paper that comes up in a Google Scholar search.) It’s basically a census, although there are some t-tests. And it was funded not by an outside grant, but by what seems to be a donation from the biology department where GLW was an instructor when he did the study. Here’s the only mention of funding in the Acknowledgments section:

We would like to thank Paul Sattler (Chair) for allocating Liberty University Biology funds for the purchase of much of the field equipment necessary for this study.

To put this in perspective: I’m now a fourth-year doctoral student, and I’m not nearly to the point of having enough published work on my CV to say I’ve earned my doctorate yet, much less apply for a faculty position at a good university. I’ve personally written (as near as I can recall) four major grant requests, and contributed to a fifth; I’m a coauthor on a review article, one published original research article [$-a], and a third in press; I’m a coauthor on two more articles that are submitted for review, and I’m waiting for my first first-authored paper to go out to reviewers. And (what the heck) I’ve been published in the letters column of Science. Let me repeat: my pubs list is piddly. But it’s bigger than Gordon Wilson’s, and he’s somehow on the faculty at NSA. With the word “senior” in his title.

NSA might have a bang-up program as far as Latin studies go, but its resident “biologist” is clearly more interested in ideology than biology. I can’t say that bodes well for the “intellectual rigor” of the rest of the curriculum.

Edit, 7 Sept. 2008:
Added a couple of links to the NSA faculty pages in references to Doug Wilson’s positions at NSA and the number of Wilsons on the faculty.

Correction, 9 Sept. 2008:
Corrected the relationships between the Wilsons on the NSA faculty.


W. Godsoe, J.B. Yoder, C.I. Smith, O. Pellmyr (2008). Coevolution and Divergence in the Joshua Tree/Yucca Moth Mutualism The American Naturalist, 171 (6), 816-23 DOI: 10.1086/587757

R. Gomulkiewicz, D.M. Drown, M.F. Dybdahl, W. Godsoe, S.L. Nuismer, K.M. Pepin, B.J. Ridenhour, C.I. Smith, J.B. Yoder (2007). Dos and don’ts of testing the geographic mosaic theory of coevolution Heredity, 98 (5), 249-58 DOI: 10.1038/sj.hdy.6800949

G.L. Wilson, C.H. Ernst (2005). Reproductive Ecology of the Terrapene carolina carolina (Eastern Box Turtle) in Central Virginia Southeastern Naturalist, 4 (4) DOI: 10.1656/1528-7092(2005)004[0689:REOTTC]2.0.CO;2

J.B. Yoder, B. Shneiderman (2008). Science 2.0: Not So New? Science, 320 (5881), 1290-1 DOI: 10.1126/science.320.5881.1290


Why, oh why?

Via BoingBoing: a Ford dealership in Mojave, California, is bashing atheists to sell cars.

But did you know that 86% of Americans say they believe in God? Since we all know that 86 out of every 100 of us are Christians who believe in God, we at Kieffe & Sons Ford wonder why we don’t tell the other 14% to sit down and shut up.

Even leaving aside the silly assumption that everyone who professes a belief in God is a Christian, this is one of those things that makes life as a Christian among mostly non-believing collaborators and colleagues that much more awkward. It’s just embarrassing.

Here in Moscow, the closest we come to Kieffe & Sons is the Christian Reconstructionist Christ Church, the affiliated pseudo-accredited New Saint Andrews College, and an assortment of businesses run by church members, which are often marked by a window sticker bearing NSA’s logo. Although I’ve heard that a Christ Church-friendly coffee shop refuses service to homosexuals, I’m not aware of overtly bigoted advertising from these folks. And they’re Neo-Confederates. In both the case of the crazed Ford dealer and Christ Church, though, the best response by sane locals is simple: cringe, and take your business elsewhere.

[additional info appended 27 May 2008]
On NSA’s “pseudo-accreditation” – the college is accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, which originated to legitimize schools that teach Creation Science.



The antiracist Southern Poverty Law Center, which has previously called attention to the racist politics of with New Saint Andrews College founder/eminence grise Doug Wilson, now takes the New York Times to task for its deferential reporting on the pseudo-accredited Bible college in this Sunday’s Magazine:

Saint Andrews treats as a foundational Western thinker, right up there with Plato and Aristotle, a 19th-century theologian named Robert L. Dabney — a Confederate Civil War chaplain who described blacks as “a morally inferior race,” a “sordid, alien taint” marked by “lying, theft, drunkenness, laziness, waste.”

None of this makes it into Worthen’s article. In fact, when she does give a three-word quote to a Wilson critic, she uses the occasion to sarcastically describe how the woman took “two hours to detail Wilson’s crimes” — almost none of which are mentioned. Instead, Worthen refers lightly to Saint Andrews’ “chronic spats with liberals in town.”

Honestly, it was ridiculous that the Times gave no space to the multifarious connections between NSA and white supremacy. The absurdity of NSA’s intellectual pretenses pales next to the outrageous positions of its founder.


NSA: all the trappings of academia, none of the logic

The New York Times Magazine’s “College Issue” is running a
none too critical story about New Saint Andrews College, the pseudo-accredited hyperconservative school that has been trying to take over my present hometown for years. Highlights include NSA founder/eminence grise Doug Wilson saying that (1) he’d rather vote for Jefferson Davis than George W. Bush; and (2) rather than “woodenly” following the Old Testament commandment to execute homosexuals, “you might exile some … depending on the circumstances and the age of the victim.”

More revealing than those soundbites, though, is a comment from an NSA alumnus: “We want to be medieval Protestants.” Anyone who knows her Church history, of course, will immediately recognize this oxymoron: the Medieval Age of Europe is notably defined by the lack of Protestants. The Reformation didn’t start until well into the Renaissance (Martin Luther tacked up his 95 Theses in 1517). The use of the term “medieval Protestants” therefore implies a rejection of the cultural, philosophical, and intellectual movements that allowed Protestantism, and the Calvinist tradition with which New Saint Andrews allies itself, to arise in the first place.

Needless to say, the Times reporter let this whopper pass without comment.