Inside Higher Ed reports on an incident stemming from two articles written by professors at Calvin College and published in what is apparently a scholarly journal, the American Scientific Affiliation‘s Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith. (I have never heard of the American Scientific Affiliation or any of its journals, but then I am not generally familiar with “scientific” organizations that declare their a priori allegiance to particular sets of beliefs about the supernatural.) Daniel Harlow and John Schneider questioned the literal truth of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve and of the Fall (links go to their papers) in light of what biology has revealed about human genetic origins and evolution. The IHE article clarifies that the professors “were not disavowing the role of God or of their church, but were arguing that modern science challenges traditional, literal readings of the Book of Genesis in ways that may require theological shifts.” That sounds to me like a pretty gentle and noncontroversial stance to take — I would certainly have gone much farther — but of course the primary response from Christian Reformed Church members was outrage:
Nonetheless, the reaction from readers of The Banner, as expressed in many (but not all) comments on the website, was clear: no deviation from Genesis as literal truth could be tolerated. “To protect the church and college from false teachers and contrary orthodox beliefs it would be right to let these guys go,” said one comment. “Clearly, professors who deny the scriptures as interpreted by our creeds and who have broken the promise they made when they signed the Form of Subscription should be fired,” said another.
One recent post says: “Why is it that so many Christians and academics in Christian colleges seem more concerned about keeping in step with what the world teaches than they are about what God’s Word teaches? Are we ashamed of God’s Word in the face of the beliefs of our worldly peers?”
Of course, it didn’t stop with angry comments on The Banner‘s website. These Reformed Christians took their protests to the root of the “problem” and tried to get these professors into some career trouble. They actually succeeded in getting one kicked out of his (tenured) job — though of course it is being billed as an “agreement” which everyone involved is just tickled pink about.
Such comments … were also sent to college officials, where the two professors were investigated. One — John Schneider — has now left the tenured position he held for 25 years, as part of an agreement with the college. The other religion professor, Daniel Harlow, remains at the college, and is refusing to back down from his views.
A joint statement from Schneider and the college says that the parties mutually agreed that Schneider should leave Calvin because of tensions raised by his scholarship and a desire that these tensions not create “harm and distraction.” While the statement praises Schneider’s commitment to the college, it also says that his “recent and proposed scholarly work addressing issues in genetic science and Christian theology, as they relate to human origin, have engendered legitimate concerns within the college community and its constituencies.”
Let’s rewind a moment. What Schneider and Harlow did was point out that when religious doctrine disagrees with an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence, that doctrine should be reexamined and slightly tweaked so as to accommodate our improved understanding of reality. Is this really such an immodest proposal? Are we truly at the point when Christians will rebel against the notion that observably false beliefs should be discarded? Calvin College already teaches evolutionary biology! And yet, worries about the “harm and distraction” brought about by anyone mentioning the obvious Biblical implications of evolution are endorsed as “legitimate concerns.”
Meanwhile, many Christians object to what they see as discrimination faced by religious scientists supposedly “expelled” from academia. Real science is about examining the evidence to make inferences about the nature of reality, whatever those may be. Secular institutions of higher learning are not the ones making scientists sign a Form of Subscription to particular dogma. The doublethink … it is breathtaking.