From the Bible’s Genesis account of creation:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
That’s, of course, just a small section of the story, but it provides a nice flavor of it. Genesis will come into play — in a crucial way — later in this post.
But first, let’s consider this intriguing headline on the front page of today’s New York Times:
College Is Torn: Can Darwin and Eden Coexist?
And the top of the story:
DAYTON, Tenn. — William Jennings Bryan earned a permanent place in American history nearly nine decades ago in the Scopes trial, when he stood in a courtroom here and successfully prosecuted a teacher who broke the law by teaching evolution in a public school.
While not quite “the fantastic cross between a circus and a holy war,” as Time magazine put it, that captivated the nation in 1925, a similar debate is again playing out in Dayton, this time at an evangelical Christian college named for Bryan, which is being sued as part of a controversy over its own stance on the origin of humans.
The continuing debate at Bryan College and beyond is a reminder of how divisive the issues of the Scopes trial still are, even splitting an institution whose motto is “Christ Above All.” Playing out at a time when the teaching of evolution remains a cultural hot spot to a degree that might have stunned its proponents in Bryan’s era, the debate also reflects the problems many Christian colleges face as they try to balance religious beliefs with secular education.
Is that, in fact, what Christian colleges are doing? Are they providing “secular education” with a little religion sprinkled on top? Or is “balance religious beliefs with secular education” a nice turn of phrase gone factually awry?
Bryan College belongs to the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, an international association of 120 “intentionally Christ-centered colleges and universities.” How many of those institutions would suggest they are trying to “balance religious beliefs with secular education?” My guess: zero.
On the other hand, how many would suggest they are working to “transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth,” as CCCU’s mission statement puts it? My guess: all.
The real tension seems to be: How do Christian colleges balance their strong biblical worldview with rigorous academic scholarship and freedom? And later in the piece, the Times does a little better job hitting at that question.
But after that long tangent, let’s get back to the center of the Bryan College dispute. This is important:
Since Bryan College’s founding in 1930, its statement of belief, which professors have to sign as part of their employment contracts, included a 41-word section summing up the institution’s conservative views on creation and evolution, including the statement: “The origin of man was by fiat of God.” But in February, college officials decided that professors had to agree to an additional clarification declaring that Adam and Eve “are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms.”
It’s interesting that the Times neglects to include the full original statement (kudos to the Chattanooga Times Free Press for publishing it):
“(T)hat the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death.”
Hmmmm. Is it me, or does the full statement provide needed context in understanding the clarification? Without the full statement, one might get the impression that the college suddenly added the Genesis account to the equation. That’s just not the case. It’s always been there.
In fact, the word “Genesis” doesn’t appear at all in the Times story. Strange. Certainly, that newspaper’s readers would be familiar with the Genesis account of creation, right? Eden makes the headline but not the story, so presumably the Times editors think so.
The Times quotes Bryan College’s president as saying the clarification “was intended to reaffirm, not alter, the institution’s traditional position.”
Alas, the essential wording omitted by the Times makes it much more difficult for readers to judge the veracity of that statement.