At a golf course he owns in Virginia, Donald Trump erected a historical marker claiming that the site was important in the Civil War, and that: “Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’ ”
Contacted by the New York Times, one local historian replied, “No. Uh-uh. No way. Nothing like that ever happened there,” and two other local historians agreed, though apparently less quotably.
Confronted with the historians’ insistence that no one died at any notable battle near the site, Trump told the reporter, “How would they know that? Were they there?”
Normally, the bizarre trail of falsehoods spouted by Mr. Trump wouldn’t attract much attention here. But when someone dismisses knowledge and expertise by saying “Were they there?,” my ears perk up.
You see, that question is a major part of the creationist schtick, especially from Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis (which is building a giant Ark amusement park to complement their creationist “museum” in Kentucky). He posed the question in the title of an essay he wrote for the Institute for Creation Research in 1989. He explained at the time:
Carl Sagan presents the Big Bang theory as if it were fact. We need to ask him the same sort of questions God was putting to Job: “Were you there, Carl, when the earth came into existence? Do you know anyone who was there, Carl? Do you know anyone who has all the information?” …
We need to ask ourselves this question: “Where do we put our faith and trust? In the words of scientists who don’t know everything, who were not there? Or in the Word of God—the God who does know everything—and who was there?
He still makes it a centerpiece of his public presentations, as in the video below (2011), or this account from 2006:
Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With dinosaur puppets and silly cartoons, he was training them to reject much of geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.
“Boys and girls,” Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, “you put your hand up and you say, ‘Excuse me, were you there?’ Can you remember that?”
The children roared their assent.
“Sometimes people will answer, ‘No, but you weren’t there either,’ ” Ham told them. “Then you say, ‘No, I wasn’t, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.’ ” He waved his Bible in the air.
“Who’s the only one who’s always been there?” Ham asked.
“God!” the boys and girls shouted.
“Who’s the only one who knows everything?”
“So who should you always trust, God or the scientists?”
The children answered with a thundering: “God!”
There’s no indication that Trump is particularly religious, let alone an acolyte of Ken Ham, so this may be a matter of convergent evolution between two men with limited respect for evidence and out-sized egos.