Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Big Quote Flap and Armageddon

There is a currently a flap in the noosphere over a Paul Nelson misquote by Karen Armstrong. For those who haven't been following this, many Bloggers including me picked up on Karen Armstrong's article in the Guardian on George Bush's fundamentalist beliefs and how they influence policy and we often picked up on her juicy quote of something allegedly said by Intelligent Design advocate, Paul Nelson.

The problem with this quote was uncovered by Nick Matzke and posted on Panda's Thumb.

This has led to a furious discussion on Intelligent design websites such as Telic thoughts, and the Discovery Institute's Evolution News site. The latter site goes so far as to claim that:

"Today there is another urban myth building up a head of steam, and being helped along by Darwinists, about Discovery Fellow Paul Nelson. Guardian reporter Karen Armstrong reports: 'Great shakings and darkness are descending on Planet Earth,' says the ID philosopher Paul Nelson, 'but they will be overshadowed by even more amazing displays of God's power and light.' And yet this is pure rubbish because Nelson never said anything like this, and it turns out that Armstrong never even interviewed him. Nelson points this out in his letter to the Guardian demanding a correction. "

This flap obscures the bigger point that some people do believe this end of world stuff and this is a big focus of Amstrong's article. She comments:

"American fundamentalists are convinced that the second coming of Christ is at hand; they have developed an end-time scenario of genocidal battles based on a literal reading of Revelation that is absolutely central to their theology."

Clearly this sort of literalist reading of Revelation is common. There is even a rapture index at and here you can find the index's highs and lows for various years:

2003 High 177  2004 High 157 2005 High 161 2006 High 159
2003 Low 133 2004 Low 135 2005 Low 143 2006 Low 151

Record High 182 Record Low 57
24 Sept 01 12 Dec 93

How many people believe the end is close? That is less certain. An often quoted figure is around 59% of Americans responding to a 2002 CNN Times poll. The closest authoritative source for this datum and other related data is, a non partisan site that tracks polling data from a number of sources. So let's examine their cited polling data.

Pollingreport's summary of religious related polls gives reports the 59% data in context:

"As you may know, the last book of the New Testament, called the Book of Revelation, contains passages which some people say predict how the world will end. Do you think the events described in the Book of Revelation will occur at some point in the future or don't you think so?"

Yes, will 59 77 83

Don't think so 33 15 13

Not sure 8 8 4

This is an isolated data point, but consider this poll in Pollingreport's religion polling page from a 1999 Newsweek poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates:


"Now, regarding your own religious beliefs: Do you believe that the world will end, as the Bible predicts, in a battle at Armageddon between Jesus and the Antichrist?"


% % % % %

Yes 40 45 71 28 18

No 42 39 18 54 57

Don't know 18 16 11 18 25


Asked of those who believe in biblical prophecy about Armageddon:
"Do you believe the Antichrist is on Earth now?"


Yes 47

No 31

Don't know 22

So if you take belief in Biblical Armageddon AND belief that the Antichrist is on Earth now as serious belief in the immediacy of the Armageddon, then between 17 and 18% of Americans make up the hard core believers in Biblical Armageddon.

This may seem a small number relative to other strange beliefs that Americans have but certainly Armstrong's larger concern about the role of these sorts of beliefs in shaping Administration policy needs to be addressed. What are we for instance to make of this claim by Joel Rosenberg cited in Media Matters:

"I've been invited to the White House, Capitol Hill. Members of Congress, Israelis, Arab leaders all want to understand the Middle East through the lens of biblical prophecies. I'm writing these novels that keep seeming to come true. But we're seeing Bible prophecy, bit by bit, unfold in the Middle East right now."

After all we do know religious beliefs do influence how people view and react to the world around them. So in these dangerous times, do we really want to trust foreign policy to people who believe not only in literal interpretation of the Bible, but also believe that the end is nigh? It is not clear what the President really believes, but given the dangers present today, especially in the Middle East, maybe we ought to know about not only the President but where other government leaders fall in the spectrum of belief about Amageddon.

Other links and comments:

Bill Moyers:

Bill Moyers is clearly concerned about the effects religion on administration policy:

"We're not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half of the members of Congress are backed by the religious right. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian-right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian Coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who before his recent retirement quoted from the biblical Book of Amos on the Senate floor: "The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land." He seemed to relish the thought."

Media Metters:

Two balanced summaries of what is known about George Bush's religious beliefs and his alleged belief in God's plan for America and his Presidency.


Washington Post:

Another good summary with a very different twist: namely that in spite of his religious beliefs George Bush's actions on the international front have furthered the cause of secularism.


So you have your pick in terms of the President's beliefs and how they shape is actions.

Joel Roseberg's web site says it all:

As for Paul Nelson...maybe the Armstrong flap is cosmic payback for a an alleged little distortion of his own.

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