Showdown at Olivet Nazarene

According to Newsweek there’s trouble brewing at Olivet Nazarene University:

There may be some battlefields where the gospel’s “blessed are the peacemakers” holds true. But despite the work of a growing number of scholars and millions of dollars in foundation funding to find harmony between science and faith, evolution still isn’t one of them. Just ask biologist Richard Colling. A professor at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois and a lifelong member of the evangelical Church of the Nazarene, Colling wrote a 2004 book called Random Designer because–as he said in a letter to students and colleagues this year–“I want you to know the truth that God is bigger, far more profound and vastly more creative than you may have known.” Moreover, he said, God “cares enough about creation to harness even the forces of [Darwinian] randomness.”

Sounds like Colling is a theistic evolutionist. What’s the problem?

For all the good it’s done him, Colling might as well have thrown a book party for Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion). Anger over his work had been building for two years. When classes resumed in late August, things finally came to a head. Colling is prohibited from teaching the general biology class, a version of which he had taught since 1991, and college president John Bowling has banned professors from assigning his book. At least one local Nazarene church called for Colling to be fired and threatened to withhold financial support from the college. In a letter to Bowling, ministers in Caro, Mo., expressed “deep concern regarding the teaching of evolutionary theory as a scientifically proven fact,” calling it “a philosophy that is godless, contrary to scripture and scientifically unverifiable.” Irate parents, pastors and others complained to Bowling, while a meeting between church leaders and Colling “led to some tension and misunderstanding,” Bowling said in a letter to trustees. (Well, “misunderstanding” in the sense that the Noachian flood was a little puddle.) It’s a rude awakening to scientists who thought the Galilean gulf was closing.

Oh, so that’s the problem.

I actually do not have a whole lot to say about this. You would think that even at a Christian university a person’s religious views are not really relevant to what gets taught in science class. And I wouldn’t have thought that theistic evolution was such an outre position among Christians that Colling would come in for this kind of flak for writing a book about it.

I mention this story merely as a footnote to several of my recent posts on framing. Do you think the people who are causing trouble for Colling just need to have it explained to them that evolution and religious faith are compatible? Or do you think, perhaps, that they have already considered and rejected that possibility? While we’re at it, do you think they represent a small, fringe group within the Church of the Nazarene, or is it more likely that their’s is the dominant view?

Just asking.

An interesting coda. Professor Colling’s bio at the university webpage makes favorable mention of Random Designer:

He has also written a book, Random Designer, which establishes a permanent place for God in the intellectual discussions regarding science and faith. He is a frequent speaker at pastor conferences, colloquia and educational settings where he speaks to the realities and limitations of science as well as the supreme value of faith. He and his wife Sally served as leaders for an ONU student work and witness trip to the jungle of Guyana, South America in 2004.

Judging from the furor over the book, I’d say the writer here has some strange ideas about permanence.

Comments

  1. #1 John Farrell
    September 11, 2007

    Excellent post, Jason. Sheesh. Makes you wonder what some Christians will do to this guy.

  2. #2 Jason Rosenhouse
    September 11, 2007

    Glad you liked it! And thanks for the link. Looks like Dr. Matheson has an interesting blog.

  3. #3 RBH
    September 11, 2007

    Didja note Matheson’s self-description?

    | Reformed Christian | developmental cell biologist | evolutionist | NCSE Steve |

    A doomed associate professor, I fear.

  4. #4 Dave S.
    September 11, 2007

    And I wouldn’t have thought that theistic evolution was such an outre position among Christians that Colling would come in for this kind of flak for writing a book about it.

    I would have. Many fundamentalists I’ve met despise theistic evolutionists. They see them as compromisers, trying to bend religion so as not to offend science. Neville Chamberlain Christians if you will. Those fundy types would love to ‘frame’ it as a stark choice between evolution or faith. Because they are confident faith would win that contest.

    Here’s AiG’s Jonathan Safarti -

    To try to deflect the charge that the series [ed. Evolution, PBS] is anti-Christian they try to pretend that evolution and “religion” are compatible, with the aid of compromising churchians [ed. theistic evolutionists] who deliberately overlook many key points of conflict.

    And here he is in the Refuting Evolution study guide, which was made in response to response to Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science by the NAS, –

    7. How does Teaching about Evolution � try to sanitize evolution?

    (p. 22)By claiming that it is compatible with many religions, by recruiting religious leaders to support it, by having “dialogues” which portray teachers having success diffusing opposition by asking students to ask their pastor about evolution, and their pastor stating that “Evolution is okay!”

    8. What is theistic evolution and do many Christians oppose theistic it?

    (p. 22). Theistic evolution teaches that God used struggle for survival and death as His method of creation. But Scripture teaches that God�s creation was “very good.” “Very good” cannot include death, struggle, decay, etc. A god who created by evolution is indistinguishable from no god at all.

    9. How can one say that evolution and creation are compatible? Is this true?

    (p. 22)The only way to assert that evolution and “religion” are compatible is to regard “religion” as having nothing to do with the real world, and being just subjective. This is not true

  5. #5 386sx
    September 11, 2007

    Ah yes the Nazarene Church. I still remember the time when one of those travelling missionary shows came and told the story about how they were at one church where they told Satan to “get thee out” if he was in the room, and how suddenly the door inexplicably slammed shut but there was nobody there!!

    And then we took up a collection for the benefit of said missionaries.

    And then they told the story about the time when one of them took a picture of the sky and after the film was developed somehow Jesus was standing right there on the clouds!! They sold those for $5.00 in the lobby afer the show was over.

    Yes those were the good times.

  6. #6 Steve Matheson
    September 12, 2007


    YOP! We are here! We are here! :-)
    Glad someone’s seen my blog. Don’t ya think I read yours?
    RBH wrote:

    | Reformed Christian | developmental cell biologist | evolutionist | NCSE Steve |
    A doomed associate professor, I fear.

    I’ll post something soon about why you don’t need to worry about me. The short version: 1) Calvin is a safe place for folks like me; 2) I’d be happy to teach elsewhere if it weren’t.

  7. #7 David D.G.
    September 12, 2007

    Colling is prohibited from teaching the general biology class, a version of which he had taught since 1991, and college president John Bowling has banned professors from assigning his book.

    Heh. At most schools, this sort of treatment would guarantee that book becoming an overnight underground success as its sales went through the roof — which is a vertically challenging string of metaphors, but you get my drift.

    ~David D.G.

  8. #8 Midwestern Gent
    September 13, 2007

    Guess the Nazarene’s don’t like a big, profound god. Maybe it’s just easier to relate to a small, shallow deity.

  9. #9 David Pettigrew
    September 17, 2007

    Speaking as a Nazarene pastor, I can assure you that this has upset many thinking people in our church. You can read our responses here: http://www.naznet.com/community/showthread.php?t=14199

  10. #10 biochem student
    September 20, 2007

    I am a senior Biochemistry major at a different Nazarene University. And as such, this entire debacle is astounding. Our Biology professors teach the wonder of creation through an evolutionary understanding. While they are sensitive to students uncomfortable (or naive) about the possibilities open to them within their own denomination’s statement of belief, they are not apologetic about their observations of the earth. The Department Chair of Biology at a Nazarene University in California has written a book similar to Colling’s. Do you see any reaction like this to his book?

    The Nazarene position on creation is purposefully vague. While it states that God created, the methods are left open to the interpretation of scientific endeavor. The reaction of this school to ban a book that they have been using in class for FOUR years is detrimental to the credibility of students in Nazarene schools everywhere.

    As a current medical school applicant (and friend of many people applying to graduate school in the sciences) I am ashamed of the reactions taken against this man. What is going to be the first reaction of an admissions board at the University of Chicago when they see my friends applying from Southern Nazarene University?

  11. #11 386sx
    September 21, 2007

    While it states that God created, the methods are left open to the interpretation of scientific endeavor.

    Thanks. Let me know when the “God created” part is left open to the interpretation of scientific endeavor too. Well, at least you only claim “knowledge” about things that (you think) the scientific endeavor can’t ever touch, I’ll give you that much. Funny how revelation can only “know” things that nobody knows.

  12. #12 T
    October 17, 2009

    As another person who majored in sciences at a Nazarene school (not Olivet), I can tell you Olivet’s reaction is “fringe”. My professors approached this as though it weren’t even an issue. They were also sensitive to the positions of incoming freshmen, and did a great job of letting everybody feel like their faith was valid regardless of what that individual faith looked like. Nor did they try to sugar coat it or make it to be evolution “lite”. Their position: Scripture answers questions about meaning in life, not mechanims of life. These are different tools to address different questions. The religion/theology faculty seemed to share this view, so there was consistency across campus – not even an issue.

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