Q&A on “A Compromise on Creationism”

The growing conversation around accreditation of creation science, academic freedom, and national norms can be guided by better information.

Correction note:

On March 23, a false claim about Dembski at Southwester Baptist Theological Seminary was corrected, and a quote from Dembski was added. Dembski was asked to recant his views on a local flood. The original version of the article erroneously stated all faculty were forced to recant his belief in an old earth. Several faculty at SWBTS, including leadership, affirm an old earth. I want to thank Ted Davis for pointing out this oversight.

The text now reads:

William Dembski is a well known critic of evolutionary science, but he believes the earth is old and understand’s Noah’s flood was local, not a global event. He was a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (accredited by SACSCOC) when they retroactively required him to affirm a global flood. As Dembski explains,

My questioning the universality of Noah’s flood meant I was a heretic, or at least not suitable for teaching at Southern Baptist seminaries, and thus I’d need to be clearing my desk immediately—unless my theological soundness could be quickly reestablished.

In response, Dembski was forced to violate his conscience by recanting his belief in a local flood. This unfair application of belief statements violated his academic freedom and severely impacted him and his family.

My apologies to SWBTS. The reference already linked to in the text made clear that my prior claim was incorrect. Thank you @TedDavis for pointing this out.

3 Likes

There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’ll necessarily respond somewhat piecemeal.

A couple of things caught my immediate attention:

  1. You cite 2012 CHEA-AUPP declaration (which had already come up on another thread) as the basis for asking CHEA to enforce Academic Freedom. This leads to two thoughts. (i) If, after eight years, they have not gotten around to getting that into their Recognition policies, you may have an uphill battle getting them to do so now (and it will need to be in those policies for them to enforce it). (ii) If you want to do this, then AUPP may well be a willing ally.

  2. Reading the CCCU statement on ‘Academic Freedom and Christian Higher Education’, I noticed that “the doctrine of human depravity” was cited as why “Christian professors are called to exercise humility in their scholarship and teaching and to remain open to correction.” It occurs to me that according to that doctrine Christian universities, as human creations, are likewise “finite and fallible, limited in their understanding and subject to unknown or unacknowledged biases”, and thus in need of humility and correction – a fact that this document fails to mention. That humility should extend to being cautious as to what limits they place on their faculty, and correction would most likely come, in the first instance, from within (and so be hampered by limitations placed on their faculty’s freedom to criticise the institution’s entrenched views).

6 Likes

This.

2 Likes

See above. Correction noted.

1 Like

This is a very good point. I agree with you here @tim.

The bit on “violations of academic freedom in creationist institutions”, rang bells, but I could not recall if I was remembering BC or BJU, as they both start with B, and they’re both iconically conservative Christian colleges.

Doing some scratching around, I turned up this article, which made me think it was BC I was remembering:

This also indicates that BC’s troubles with this extended well beyond 2014.

I also cannot help but feel, given the lack of “clarity” and “charity” (to use CCCU’s terms) BC & BJU displayed towards their own faculty, with their decision to back-door changes to their Faith Statements retroactively, that BJU’s distorted and less-than-charitable treatment of an outsider, even a Christian outsider like yourself Joshua, was perhaps all too predictable. Easier to simply ‘shoot the messenger’ than to carefully evaluate the message.

2 Likes

Yes, I referenced Bryan in the QA. Also @deuteroKJ was on faculty there at the time, and he had discussed in the comments of the WSJ thread.

A little more scratching will lead you to NYT, Christianity Today, World Mag, and several others :slight_smile:

Bryan College was a happy & healthy place from my beginning in 2006. I personally felt both safe & supported, as I worked up the promotion & tenure ranks. We hosted a Genesis/origins conference that produced this book (in which I contributed a chapter). But the first sign of trouble was in Jan 2014, when I and a colleague were called into the president’s office due to this BioLogos article. The sad irony is that this article was based on a grant we had received from BioLogos with the expressed approval of the president the previous year!

Long story short: within weeks the admin forced the clarification to its doctrinal statement (itself a violation of the school’s charter), forcing a mass exodus (only a couple due to the doctrinal statement; most others leaving b/c of the sub-Christian and inhumane treatment).

While the creation issue made all the press, the sad reality is that it was more of a smokescreen to mask other internal issues (especially fear of falling short during the accreditation process and pressures due to low enrollment). Still, the academic freedom issue was front-and-center for a few of us. But we didn’t have the means to fight it.

5 Likes

Did you reach out to AAUP, SACSCOC, CCCU or TRACS? Did you know at the time that academic freedom is a concern of accrediting organizations?

All three of this groups should have been willing to defend you. It would be important to know if you asked but they wouldn’t. AAUP is not an accreditor, but they should have been willing to go to bat for you too.

Honestly, no. I had no idea the “rules of the game” at the time, and the combination of emotional distress and trying to make quick decisions about my own contract and immediate future dominated my time and energy. A couple other professors secured an attorney to challenge the school’s sudden change to the doctrinal statement. I joined them at first but, on the advice of many colleagues, decided to play it safe, sign my contract, and hang on in order to feed my family and hope for future resolution. I hung on for a couple of years, but was sidelined by administration…until finally getting a chance to move on.

I often wonder if I did the right thing. But we were so naive back then. Life was good…until it wasn’t. We had no idea things could change on a dime, nor that so-called Christian leaders could be so cruel. I do wish I had more wherewithal about the legal issues and opportunities like those you mention. But we were never trained on these things.

3 Likes

Would you be willing to contact them, as appropriate, now? I have information to give you on how to file a complaint.

Though you have moved on, keep in mind that others are still stuck in the mess. Having moved out of that situation, you can raise the issue without facing the risk of retaliation. So it is an act of service to choose voluntarily to engage this issue now, instead of leaving it to others more vulnerable than you are now.

None of us are, and we find ourselves isolated and threatened with institutions do wrong.

2 Likes

Over the last few days I’ve been having a conversation with a faculty member at a different university who is deciding whether or not to accept the Biology course I teach for transfer credit. I have provided syllabi, lecture notes, and grading rubrics. I have also assured this person that I teach a “humanistic perspective,” whatever that means. It was his phrase, not mine. Some sort of certification process that my course “meets national norms” would have saved me a lot of time and energy. Apparently HLC accreditation isn’t enough to ensure transfer of a 3 credit, lecture only, Gen Ed introductory Bio course.

3 Likes

That gets to an important advantage to what I’m encouraging. It would put science courses at these creationist schools above reproach.

Even if an institution is accredited, that doesn’t mean other institutions are obligated to accept credit from them. For any reason, they can arbitrarily choose not to accept credits.

But if the accreditation process includes a process to ensure they really are good science courses, that makes the situation different. It becomes harder to arbitrarily reject them.

6 Likes

3 posts were split to a new topic: Ken Ham Responds to Swamidass WSJ OpEd

This topic was automatically closed 7 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.