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What is an anti-intellectual?

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 12-1-10

Ken Ham had one of his associates attack Randall Stephens and I on his website yesterday. It is hard to know what to make of the strange pseudo-engagements with our work coming from Ham’s organization.  I generally ignore this kind of thing, but Georgia Purdom has provided such a powerful illustration of the thesis of The Anointed that I can’t help but comment.

Purdom, who taught biology for several years at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, has taken umbrage, understandably, at Randall and I for labeling her boss, Ken Ham, an anti-intellectual. She then puts on a display of anti-intellectualism worthy of an Oscar. She starts by describing The Anointed as “very anti-academic” and “tabloid-like.” This is a bizarre claim to make about anything published by Harvard University Press.  You can certainly disagree with books from Harvard University Press; you can accuse them of being too liberal, or unfriendly to religion; or insensitive to issues outside the ivory towers of academia. But you can’t call the most academic press in the world “anti-academic.” Our book was edited by Joyce Seltzer who objected vigorously every time Randall or I used language that was not objective.  If Harvard University Press is “tabloid-like” then what word is left to describe the National Enquirer or Glenn Beck—the actual purveyors of tabloid news?

Randall and I were quite careful to define anti-intellectual and nowhere in The Anointed do we reduce it to Purdom’s caricature of people who “do not have advanced degrees.” We expressed concern about this problem, but the real issue is whether one is informed about the consensus of experts, or whether one holds discredited views that experts reject.

Purdom is especially upset at our suggestion that Biblical scholarship is critical to properly understand the Bible. She describes our concern like this:

“An outcome of this supposed anti-intellectualism is that the Bible is not correctly interpreted and understood. In other words, the Bible is not clear and only people with advanced degrees or professionals can tell others what it really means.”

Purdom certainly knows that the Bible was not written in English so she has to know that even she cannot even read the Bible until Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic scholars have translated it. And she also has to know that translations are never perfect but require careful judgments that only scholars can make. This is not to say, of course, that ordinary people cannot benefit from reading the Bible.  Of course they can. But when it comes to understanding the meaning of complex passages—like the creation story in Genesis—scholars are critically important. What does the Bible mean when God says “Let us create man in our image,” using plural pronouns?  Why does the Genesis story, translated literally, say “When God began to create, the earth was without form and void?” This clearly implies that the creation began with pre-existing material. What does that mean?

Such complexities clearly require the specialized knowledge of scholars. To suggest otherwise is the very definition of anti-intellectual.