Apropos of our discussion of the proper interpretation of Genesis, Kelly James Clark, writing at Huffington Post, summarizes the state of play at some Christian Colleges:

Shortly after the 2004 publication of his book, Random Designer, biologist Richard Colling was prohibited from teaching introductory biology courses at Olivet Nazarene College in Illinois and his book was banned from the campus. Peter Enns, who earned his PhD from Harvard University in Near Eastern languages and civilizations, claimed that the first chapters of Genesis are firmly grounded in ancient myth, which he defines as “an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins in the form of stories”; in 2008, the board of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia forced Enns, a tenured faculty member, to resign after fourteen years. In 2010, Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando fired biblical scholar Bruce Waltke for stating that evolution is true. In 2011, Calvin College fired theologian John Schneider and silenced biblical scholar Dan Harlow for challenging the traditional Christian understanding of a literal Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve are the third rail for contemporary evangelical scholars–touch it and you will die (homosexuality is another third rail).

See the original for relevant links.

We should note that all of these institutions aspire to be serious educational establishments. These are not just thinly veiled propaganda mills like Liberty University or Patrick Henry College. Yet, challenging in any way the traditional view of Adam and Eve gets you into serious trouble. It is another rebuke to those who claim that it is only a fringe, uneducated minority who believe that Genesis contains literal history.

Clark’s whole essay is brief and worth reading. After a summary of the various ways in which modern science renders implausible the traditional view of Adam and Eve, he writes:

And while most scientists and some theologians and philosophers teaching at Protestant Christian colleges know this, very few are willing to speak out. The message of the dismissals is clear — speak out and get fired. When dissenting Christian voices are squelched or fired, faculty clam up.

Christian colleges and seminaries desperately fear change. According to Peter Enns, “The theological tradition embraced at Westminster Theological Seminary, stemming from deliberations in England during the seventeenth century, is nevertheless perceived by its adherents to enjoy an unassailable permanence and in need of no serious adjustments, let alone critical reflection, despite many known advances in biblical studies or science since that time.”

How can Christian intellectuals be getting fired, just when Christians need leadership on this and other science-related matters? With such a paucity of intellectual assistance, Christians feel forced to choose between the science of human origins, on the one hand, and an antiquated theology of human origins on the other.

Of course these institutions fear change. The whole point of Christianity, as they see it, is that it doesn’t change. It is a rock that anchors you as you are buffeted by the forces of sin and evil in the culture at large. It defeats the whole purpose if central theological ideas must constantly be reinterpreted every time science makes a bit of progress.

And then there’s this:

Along with their firings, Protestant Christian college and seminary presidents have taken the side of antiquated theology over science (contributing even further to Christian colleges’ climate of fear). For example, in 2010, at a conference chock full of Christian leaders, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (the flagship seminary of the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.), resoundingly declared that the Bible unequivocally teaches six twenty-four-hour days of creation and a young universe (on the order of tens of thousands of years, not billions). He claims:

I would suggest to you that in our effort to be most faithful to the scriptures and most accountable to the grand narrative of the gospel an understanding of creation in terms of 24-hour calendar days and a young earth entails far fewer complications, far fewer theological problems and actually is the most straightforward and uncomplicated reading of the text as we come to understand God telling us how the universe came to be and what it means and why it matters.

In his wooden and historically uninformed interpretation of Genesis, Mohler, armed with no training whatsoever in the relevant sciences or ancient Mesopotamian history, rejected cosmology, geology, and biology. At the end of his sermon, Mohler boldly asserted: “I want to suggest to you that when it comes to the confrontation between evolutionary theory and the Christian gospel we have a head-on collision. In the confrontation between secular science and the scripture we have a head-on collision.”

But it’s easy to see this from Mohler’s perspective. You should not need any training in science or ancient Mesopotamian history to understand the Bible. The Bible, after all, is not just any old ancient text. If you are trying to understand it through literary theory or a study of ancient cultures, then you are just fundamentally using the wrong tools. The Bible is a direct communication from God to humanity, and among its purposes is the transmission of facts about our unfortunate spiritual condition. God would not convey such central truths in a way that only twenty-first century PhD’s can comprehend. The Bible is perspicuous, and its central points are readily comprehended by anyone of normal intelligence reading the text in his native language.

If that is how you see things, then the young Earth view follows naturally.

There are interesting nuggets in Clark’s article, so go have a look and let me know what you think!

Comments

  1. #1 Alex SL
    http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com
    July 15, 2014

    Of course these institutions fear change. The whole point of Christianity, as they see it, is that it doesn’t change. It is a rock that anchors you as you are buffeted by the forces of sin and evil in the culture at large. It defeats the whole purpose if central theological ideas must constantly be reinterpreted every time science makes a bit of progress.

    Yes indeed. The whole point of organised religion is to keep the beliefs constant. The whole point of faith is that it is impervious to empirical evidence and rationality.

    And that is the tragedy, isn’t it? A “Catholic University” or “Christian College” is kind of an odd thing. Either it is religious, in which case the purpose of a university is defeated, or it is open to free inquiry, in which case the religious part is undermined. Either – or.

  2. #2 Neil Rickert
    July 15, 2014

    To me, this growing intolerance is evidence that evangelical Christianity in America has become a cult.

  3. #3 GregH
    July 15, 2014

    It’s been a cult for much longer than that. It’s just that it was more or less the exclusive cult in Western society for several centuries, which only reinforced its beliefs in the inerrancy of scripture and the rightness of its moral absolutism. For which we continue to pay the price.

  4. #4 MNb
    July 15, 2014

    I have no real idea what went wrong in the USA, but this kind of stuff never ceases to amaze Dutch me. Remember: The Netherlands were the first country to become calvinist. Only 50 years ago the vast majority was actively christian.
    The most religious university of the country is this one:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VU_University_Amsterdam

    It was specifically founded with the purpose the preserve the protestant inheritance. Still Evolution Theory has been taught since decades:

    http://www.vu.nl/nl/opleidingen/bacheloropleidingen/opleidingenoverzicht/a-b/biologie/hoe-is-de-opleiding-ingedeeld/evolutie-en-diversiteit-van-leven/index.asp

    It’s “worse”:

    http://www.falw.vu.nl/nl/voor-het-vwo/wetenschap-in-gewone-woorden/biologie/2013/evolutie-van-homoseksualiteit.asp

    The essay was granted a 9,5 out of 10. At an originally orthodox-protestant university.

  5. #5 John Pieret
    http://dododreams.blogspot.com/
    July 16, 2014

    As MNb points out, these are largely localized effects, in terms of countries, histories and sects. I attended a Jesuit college in the US many [mumble] years ago. It wasn’t what you may think. We had a Protestant professor showing us, from the text of Genesis, that the God of Abraham was not a monotheistic god but, rather, that Baal was a real, but lesser god, according to the Bible. Socially, we had the Resident Advisors in the dorms finally take severe action and tell us that, if we were going to smoke pot, we should at least close our doors. There was never a science class that ever suggested that the Adam & Eve story was remotely true.

    The American version of Catholicism was never subject very strongly to the hierarchy’s version of Catholicism. Healthy young couples in the 50s were having 3.2 children and everyone pretended, including the local priests, that the “rhythm method” was amazingly effective. When New York was about to pass same sex marriage, the Bishops couldn’t mount a significant counter attack, despite the fact that New York has one of the highest concentrations of (cultural) Catholics of all the states. Just today, NPR had a story about Catholic school teachers, many of whom aren’t Catholic, being forced to sign “morality clauses” as part of their contracts to prevent gay teachers from entering same sex marriages in states that allow them and the Catholic parents fighting back against it.

    American Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism are historic accidents. In the upheaval following the Civil War, when much of the old system was crumbing in the face, not only of the War’s aftermath, but the new economic order of the accelerating Industrial Revolution, there was also the most frightening, to many people, aspect of “Modernity” … the “New Criticism” of the Bible, precisely focused on literary theory and a study of ancient cultures. Some Christians sought to simplify. Even the Beatles could understand the impulse:

    When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
    Speaking words of wisdom: let it be
    And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me
    Speaking words of wisdom: let it be

    Before long (in historical terms) the Fundamentalists/Evangelicalists will be denying they ever really believed in a literal Adam & Eve, just as the Southern Baptists deny that they are racists, despite the reason that they are Southern Baptists.

    All religions evolve … or they take the other course and go extinct.

  6. #6 FullMetalMarmotte
    Switzerland
    July 16, 2014

    Wow.. then it is indeed true that Christian are being discriminated against ! Never thought the right wing nuts could be right on this point. Can’t wait for Fox News to start attacking those Christian Colleges

  7. #7 eric
    July 16, 2014

    Wow.. then it is indeed true that Christian are being discriminated against !

    Depends on how you count it. Christian professors are suffering discrimination due to their adherence to a theological idea that is shared by them and by many non-Christians. I.e., that A&E are not literal. So are they being discriminated against as Christians?
    The school’s hiring policies guarantee that only Christians will be hired, so only Christians will be affected by this discriminatory conduct. But I think it’s very safe to say that if the school would be equally vehement about firing nonChristian staff that publicly declared A&E were not literal.

  8. #8 MNb
    July 16, 2014

    Thanks, JohnP. For an outsider like me it’s sometimes difficult to get what is happening.

  9. #9 Michael Fugate
    July 17, 2014

    “All religions evolve … or they take the other course and go extinct.”

    And they don’t necessarily progress, either.

  10. #10 JimV
    July 20, 2014

    Most of my relatives are rather fundamentalist Christians who went to such colleges and send their children to them. I know of three such colleges within 100 miles of me in western New York State. (Ones that my nephews and nieces have considered – there may be more.) One nephew once told me, “Science can’t be true because it is always changing; religion must be true because it never changes.” I thought about mentioning all the heretics who were burned at the stake or excommunicated to insure that it doesn’t change, as well as referring to all the different sects and at least three different canonical sets of books of the Bible, but instead I just wrote him off as a possibility for learning to think for himself. He’s a nice guy, but he’ll never learn calculus either. I have two grand-nephews from him and counting, who will probably also go to those colleges.

  11. #11 rigadoon
    July 21, 2014

    Take a look at the book “Slaughter of the Dissidents: The Shocking Truth about Killing the Careers of Darwin Doubters” by Jerry Bergman and see what the other side does. There are many hidden “Darwin Doubters” because they fear the academic establishment.

  12. #12 Michael Fugate
    July 21, 2014