Bryan College and evolution: maybe the board and president should listen to the faculty and students on this one

Inside Higher Education posted recently the latest developments in the unfortunate yet expected and predictable events at Bryan College over evolution. (See my earlier post here.)

You will recall that college’s board voted to “clarify” the colleges original statement on human origins from this:

“that 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[.]”

to this:

“We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms.”

I suppose one could call this a clarification, though a critical mass of faculty and students see this as shifting the goal posts. Those who do not sign the new statement of faith will be, according to President Stephen Livesay, “rejecting” the college’s offer of employment.

According to the article, this move by the board, along with other concerns about the president, was the straw that broke the monkey’s back, so to speak, and led to a 30-2 no-confidence vote in President Livesay’s leadership.

Apparently some faculty are resigning because 4 months is hardly enough time to think through this issue and if necessary make alternate employment decisions. I certainly see the point. It normally takes about 18 months (in a good job market) to find a new teaching position.

It seems like the leadership might not have thought this one through.

On the other hand, maybe they did….

Others have resigned because of the content of the “clarification,” and students have enacted various forms of protest (including on Twitter), and which lead to the following statement by the Student Government Association, quoted in the IHE article:

We believe that the current motion will alienate faculty, our brothers and sisters in Christ, by requiring them to affirm a negative on an ancillary matter of faith….We believe that the expertise and opinions of faculty have been largely if not entirely disregarded in the making of this decision. We believe that there has not been sufficient counsel sought, as per Proverbs 15:22, of those the college has hired specifically for their breadth of wisdom.

The student letter also questioned the manner in which the clarification was introduced, and the consequences for faculty members who felt they could not sign it. The college’s charter says the statement of faith cannot be changed, so some students felt calling the new language a “clarification” was disingenuous at best.

We believe that though the change has been largely billed as a clarification, professors who came in under the old statement of faith — having made no secret of their theological distinctives — will lose their jobs….We believe that it is unjust that professors who gained tenure, published research, and served faithfully under this old statement of faith will be either fired or be forced to choose between violating their consciences or providing for their families.

They sounds like a bright bunch of young people.

Perhaps as telling as anything about what is happening on campus is Livesay’s public comment, as reported in the article, that “faculty-administration relations were ‘solid.’”  Given what we see above, that claim sounds like a bit of a stretch to me.

Still others have hired a lawyer, and in my very non-legally-expert opinion (though I do watch CSI occasionally with my daughter), it sounds to me like they have a case, at the very least concerning the timing of the “clarification” and the how current faculty members are expected to respond. Much depends, however, on what the school’s governing documents say about the lead time faculty are obligated to get from the administration.

I know how hard it can be for institutions to re-examine issues that were crucial to why they were founded in the first place. But still, on the issue of human origins, age of the earth, etc., I do think it is time to move past fear and protecting of theological boundaries and join an adult conversation that’s been going on now for several generations.

At the end, the article quotes Karl Giberson, one of the co-founders of BioLogos (along with Francis Collins) and a former colleague at mine there.

[Religious] colleges should become more accepting of science, not less… Bryan’s stance is quite extreme, requiring faculty to sign on to young earth creationism, which includes the belief that the earth is 10,000 years old.

In my opinion, schools like Bryan should lose their accreditation. There should be no government approval of any sort for an institution that forces people to affirm that the earth is 10,000 years old, when we know it is 4.5 billion. It is also unconscionable to expect a scientist who knows the earth is 4.5 billion years old to suddenly start believing it is 10,000. How is that supposed to work?

I’ve uttered a similar sentiment in various places, including on this blog. Colleges that seek “secular” approval (accreditation) and money cannot maintain egregiously idiosyncratic positions on academic matters are that are open to investigation by any and all with proper training (e.g., how old is the earth; not, matters of faith like, “Is Jesus the Son of God?”).

This is not a matter of religious freedom but academic and intellectual integrity, not to mention responsibility. Their students are not actually being educated but indoctrinated. They are not being encouraged to cultivate the mind but hone apologetic skills.

In my opinion, in those cases, we have left the world of college education, which expands horizons, and moved to fear-based insulation that builds ever higher walls.

And the thing is, on the whole, Bryan College seem to be ready to find a better way forward.


11 recurring mistakes in the debate over the “historical Adam.”
The Historical Adam: It's Time to Stop Hiding Under a Theological Security Blanket
What I think about NOMA (not the ex-Red Sox shortstop but the evolution thing)
creating Adam, again and again
  • jesuswithoutbaggage

    Thanks for your report and analysis on Bryan College. I was a convinced young-earth creationist and was educated at a creationist Bible College not far from Bryan. Our science professors taught creationism and one professor was known for his published opposition to evolution.

    Yet it did not hold for me. Many years later, rejecting creationism led to a crisis of faith, and more than a year of mourning the loss of God, before I rediscovered Jesus, rather than the inerrant Bible, as my foundation.

    It may take awhile, but I think young-earth creationism will become further marginalized as the bulk of evangelicals realize the shallowness of accepting the Genesis creation accounts as historical events revealed by God.

    • Guest2

      Thanks for your encouraging and honest response here that strikes the same note as my past experience in the two countries I have lived in …viz South Africa and Britain. What a blessing to be set free from a shallow and bigoted stranglehold that had me as a puppet on a string in my beliefs.

  • James

    Appeal to authority as basis for belief is tricky. On the age of the earth the college president appeals to a particular interpretation of Scripture he considers cast in stone. Professor Giberson appeals to the collective wisdom of modern science, apparently also cast in stone. But there are few beliefs we can hold with absolute certitude. So we should keep our statement of most cherished beliefs (even their clarifications) simple: “I believe in God the Father Almighty creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son…I believe in the Holy Spirit…” Easier said than done!

    • Klasie Kraalogies

      Giberson appeals to collective interpretation of evidence, very much not cast in stone….

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

        +1. I would add that Giberson is correct to point out that it is foolish for a school to demand that its instructors accept a “belief” that the vast majority of anyone who knows anything on the subject rejects. Why does it seem that the fundamentalists are the most vigorous proponents of post-modernism in the church today?

        • Jack Heller

          I recognize you from the stufffundieslike page. Consider the possibility that Dr. Livesay may have learned some of what he knows of leadership at that institution in Greenville, SC. Yep, he’s an alumnus.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

            I did not know that. Things are falling into place now….

  • Luke Breuer

    The failure to distinguish between the following aspects of ‘evolution’ continues:

         (a) scientific
         (b) philosophical
         (c) theological

    The importance of distinguishing (the world was created by distinguishing, according to Genesis) has been lost in many of these discussions. And yet, it was known quite clearly in 1910; the following is from Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter Between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought:

    The burden of Wright’s contribution to the seventh volume of The Fundamentals was to discriminate between evolution as a scientific theory of species transmutation and evolutionism as a metaphysical worldview. The word evolution, he noted, “has come into much deserved disrepute by the injection into it of erroneous and harmful theological and philosophical implications. The widely current doctrine of evolution which we are now compelled to combat is one which practically eliminates God from the whole creative process and relegates mankind to the tender mercies of a mechanical universe the wheels of whose machines are left to move on without any immediate Divine direction.” Clearly Wright’s dissatisfaction with evolutionary theory centered less on exegetical questions about the early Genesis narratives than on the materialistic reductionism that had shorn natural history of any teleological element. (148)

    In other words, Wright is most strenuously attacking the formulation of ‘evolution’ which contains the claim: “God does not and never has acted in reality.” Note that Volumes 1–7 of The Fundamentals are freely available.

  • Anthony

    “Their students are not actually being educated but indoctrinated. They are not being encouraged to cultivate the mind…. in those cases, we have left the world of college education, which expands horizons, and moved to fear-based insulation that builds ever higher walls.”

    I agree, but what I think you’re really highlighting here is a problem with higher education culture in general – not just that of conservative Christian colleges. That is, secular universities suffer from the same climate, just in the other direction on the political-worldview spectrum.

    In my years attending the University of Iowa and Northern Illinois University, I too often experienced classroom climates that were as you described in the quote above, only students were indoctrinated into a liberal-secular worldview and the fear-based insulation was against conservatives.

    Note that I agree with much of the liberal worldview, but I abhor the lack of intellectual integrity and the indoctrination so many professors and institutions are guilty of, regardless of their positions.

    • Andrew Dowling

      “only students were indoctrinated into a liberal-secular worldview and the fear-based insulation was against conservatives.”

      Can you give some examples?

      • Anthony


        1. My Archaeology 101 instructor opened the first day of class by saying “If you’re a Christian, you’re probably going to want to drop this class.”

        2. In response to a question about why the U.S. has not intervened to stop genocide, the Genocide and Human Rights professor responded “racism.”

        3. Nearly all of my education instructors engaged in Bush-bashing on a regular basis, mostly focusing on the president’s intelligence as opposed to particular issues.

        4. My History Of The U.S. Since The 1960′s professor routinely claimed that the Iraq war represented the same kind of lying and deception that led to the war in Vietnam.

        5. My Multicultural Education professor claimed that all white people fall into one of three possible states of racism: (1) racist, (2) racist who has been reformed, or (3) racist who doesn’t know he or she is a racist. When I asked if it’s possible for a white person to never have been a racist, the professor responded “no.”

        That’s just a sample, but I’m sure you get the idea.

        To be clear, I’m not suggesting any or all of the above claims or arguments by my professors are untrue. However, certainly there is room for debate in each instance. None of the professors in these cases presented an alternate perspective or allowed for informed discussion and debate. They presented their positions as the only and obvious truth, and any time their claims were challenged by students they would dismiss the challenger as being uninformed and unenlightened (including the occasional eye-roll).

        To me, this is no different than the conservative Christian who dismisses the views of the progressive Christian as representing capitulation to worldly things or as being unfaithful to the Bible.

        • Andrew Dowling

          Thanks. None of those examples from what I can tell show indoctrination of a “secular” worldview . . the only one having to do with religion is the first, and I have to say I don’t think you’re putting his comment in full context; something like that could easily get him fired. The others are basically showing you had professors with liberal biases . . .you’ll find conservative professors with conservative biases in major universities as well (I had experiences with both). The big difference between the University of Illinois and Byran is that bias is institutionally enshrined in the latter. It’s a shame some professors aren’t more professional about openness to other opinions and creating a classroom environment that respects opposing viewpoints, but if that’s the case in your basic secular public university, it’s more an issue with the professor and not their narrow viewpoints being enshrined in some formal fashion via the institution.

          • Anthony

            You’re right. I should have used the term “secular liberalism” rather than liberal-secular because I intended to refer to a sort of package of beliefs and positions that typically are on the other end of the spectrum as conservative Christians and represent the worldviews of the majority of my professors. I did not mean for my examples to represent only secularism or professors’ comments on religion. Really, though, the point I’m trying to make remains the same even if you remove the secular part and just focus on “liberal.”

            Maybe I’m confused about what “indoctrination” is. If a teacher at any level or context presents a biased viewpoint that is based on selective evidence as irrefutable truth, and then treats reasonable opposing arguments as irrational or archaic, that’s not indoctrination?

            I’ll concede, too, that there is a difference between professors who are intolerant of others’ viewpoints and a college president institutionally enshrining a particular viewpoint. However, I think the outcome is similar for students, which is the broad point I’m trying to make.

            The goal of Bryan College’s president was to create a monoculture on the issue of human origins, right? That cheats students of the opportunity to expand their intellectual horizons through the exploration of diverse viewpoints and informed debate and discussion. But the same thing happens on a secular campus in which there exists, even in the absence of an institutional enshrinement, a liberal worldview monoculture.

            I believe you when you say there are conservative professors out there who only present one view, I just never encountered any in roughly sixty college courses (or, if I did, they were not open about their personal positions). What I experienced was a monoculture that indoctrinated students in a particular worldview.

          • Anthony

            By the way, I should note that I also had some spectacular professors who were very liberal, but taught in a way that presented shades of gray and created opportunities for students to develop their own worldviews. I just experienced too much of the other.

      • Howard Pepper

        I didn’t go to a public Univ. but I can see, in science at least, how there is some of the closed-mindedness and reactiveness in the other direction. To me, the problem is the hubris of scientism (involving probably a majority of scientists, and their controlling processes) – taking the METHODOLOGY of science and its still-limited findings into the realm of philosophy and assumptions about the nature of reality.

        That is, the problem of strict naturalism. Now, classic theism has the reverse problem, and does threaten to negate solid conclusions of science (as shown in the “young earth” case), and thus the wars over key issues like evolution. To me, both sides need to look to a mitigating position “between” or surrounding pure naturalism and pure supernaturalism, such as in Process philosophy/theology. (But non-binary solutions are hard to sell!)

        • Andrew Dowling

          I agree you have some aspects of this among certain scientists (if anyone peeves me off more than fundamentalists it’s the so-called “new atheists” . . who could be described as materialists fundamentalists . .that rolls off the tongue!) but speaking from strict personal experience, I’ve never been in any science class from elementary school through university in which the class discussion ever drifted anywhere near philosophical/theological discussions in terms of ontology/ethics etc. . . I think most science teachers are well aware of stepping on any toes (especially in the United States where nearly half the population don’t believe in evolution) and if anything most go out of their way to avoid crossing into that territory. I’m sure they’re exceptions, like in everything.

          But you’re absolutely correct . . non-binary solutions are never the ‘sexy’ answer and they don’t sell books or TV spots, sadly.

          • Anthony

            I would add that the experiences I’m referring to all happened in either social science or education courses. The hard science professors were extremely objective.

          • Howard Pepper

            Thanks, Andrew. I should have been more specific, in that I was not referring to public school or U. science teachers (who I’ve not been under since high school in the 60s) or textbooks (which I’ve not read). Just the way many apply naturalism in such a way that “science” seems to not allow any so-inclined members to gain legitimacy and/or funding for investigating any of several areas often labeled “paranormal” or “fringe”. Often these phenomena CAN be scientifically studied (and some are, but only on a limited basis and unable to get “traction” because of basically boycotts or lack of interest by the science establishment). From all I’ve been able to learn, research in these areas is unofficially banned and/or suppressed and undercut, at least partly because of a commitment to strict naturalism. I realize prayer has been researched some, but it’s not one of the things I’m thinking of.

  • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

    Giberson’s response was well put. I am not trying to be mean here, but I have no way of coming to terms with President Livesay’s decisions here. I mean this whole thing is just frankly stupid. What was he trying to accomplish, anyway?

    • ajl

      He is trying to maintain enrollments. There is a dwindling supply of students who will go to these kinds of colleges.

      The only way for them to not lose out on enrollments to other colleges like Cedarville and Taylor, they have to outflank them.

      Don’t be surprised if other colleges begin to outflank Bryant. There are too many conservative schools looking to tap into the small pool of applicants.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist

        Ok, that makes sense (sorta’); but given the response by the current student body and faculty, perhaps Livesay et. al totally missed the boat on this one? Or are all the remaining potential conservative students YECers?

        • ajl

          I think he misread the student body and the faculty – not necessarily the parents who are paying the tuition and trying to protect their little munchkins.

  • Howard Pepper

    I sort of “get it”, having long attended Biola U./ Talbot Sem. But it is not in any way intellectually nor spiritually justified or justifiable (what Bryan has done).

  • Muff Potter

    Can I still be a liberal progressive Christian without accepting evolution into my heart? Can I still get ‘saved’ from an irrational belief in the supernatural? (high snark level)

  • Muff Potter

    Just for the record folks and all snark aside, I do agree with Dr. Enns’ stance that academic freedom should be the norm in higher institutions of learning even if it conflicts with faculty majority and administration views. And of course it should also be allowed to traverse both sides of the aisle no matter how abhorrent to opposing camps.

  • Jeff

    correction: there is no party line on the age of the earth. It would be nice if bloggers and others would get their information from the people involved rather than one another. Wrong information no matter often repeated will always be wrong.

  • Kedric W

    “In line with 19th century evangelical thought, Bryan affirmed that the Genesis days of creation represented long periods of time and that the universe was untold millions of years old.”

    And while the quote is nice, just know that evolution is what’s drawing the headlines but there’s way more to it.