Big Creationist Fight Breaks Out At Christian College; Somebody's Doing Heresy!

You guys all remember theScopes Monkey Trial, in which Spencer Tracy and Frederic March duked it out over whether a schoolteacher in Dayton, Tennessee (a surprisingly young Dick York), should be fined for violating Tennessee's law against teaching evolution, and then Gene Kelly got famous writing about it for the Baltimore papers? One thing a lot of people forget about the Scopes Trial is that John Scopes actually lost -- he was found guilty. We can recommend a good book on it: Edward Larson's Summer For The Gods. In the long haul, evolution "won," having the advantage of being scientific reality. And the victorious lawyer for the prosecution, William Jennings Bryan, died just five days after winning; he was memorialized in Dayton with the 1930 founding of Bryan College, a fundamentalist Christian school that does not teach evolution. And that's where the distant evolutionary descendants of velociraptors have come home to roost: The college is now having a big ol' creationism fight of its own. Let's pop up some popcorn (the result of both natural and artificial selection) and enjoy the show.

The problem, it turns out, is that while Bryan has never taught evolution, and in fact has an anti-evolution clause in its "statement of faith," the set of doctrinal guidelines that faculty at many Christian institutions must sign every year, the college's board of trustees decided this year to take a firmer stand on biblical literalism. The relevant section in the original statement of faith would seem to be pretty darn Creationist to start with:

"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;"

However, the board decided that this left far too much wiggle room for pagan apostates like Pat Robertson to sneak in, with their crazy notions that maybe a "day" in Genesis could be billions of years, when it is quite obvious to anyone who knows how to read that the Earth is just 6000 years old. And so they changed the statement of faith to read:

"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."

So none of that "Genesis is an allegory" for faculty at Bryan College, you secularist monsters.

As i09's Mark Strauss explains quite economically, this is no small thing for some fundamentalist Protestants, because without a literal Adam and Eve, whose progeny were punished forever for their disobedience, there's no Original Sin, and hence no need for Christ's resurrection, and therefore you might as well just go smoke pot and do buttsex with the hippies over at Southern Methodist already, for real.

Now, this "clarification" has not exactly gone over well with all of the faculty at Bryan, at least two of whom refused to sign the new version, and therefore did not have their contracts renewed for next year, although the president of the college, Stephen Livesay, puts it a bit differently, saying that the profs "rejected" the school's offer to return. Gotta make it clear who the bad guys are. And another seven faculty members announced they won't be back either; that's a loss of 25% of the school's faculty. President Livesay lost an apparently non-binding no-confidence vote by the faculty, 30-2, or rather, he chose not to win it, maybe.

Students are also protesting the new statement, which suggests that the school is just overrun with atheists or something. Some are wearing black armbands and setting up tables where students can write farewell letters of support to the departing faculty, and the Student Government Association published an open letter criticizing the board of trustees' decision:

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.

We believe that the manner in which this motion has been carried out threatens the atmosphere of academic freedom at Bryan College. We believe that the clarification promotes factionalism at the cost of honest debate and discussion.

You'd almost think that these young whippersnappers think there's more to Christianity than just blind obedience to authority or something. Next thing you know they'll be planning keggers with Oberlin.

Needless to say, young-earthers in the blogosphere have weighed in; one strict literalist, David Coppedge -- who made news for unsuccessfully suing NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab for religious discrimination after they fired him -- said the school didn't need heretics on the staff anyway:

If the Bible-compromising profs want to go, let them go. Good riddance. They applied knowing what the college believes…. If the professors love the world more than the Lord, let them go to the disgraced halls of secularism where terrorists are praised, where sexual orgies are promoted, and where conservatives are shouted down in the name of "free speech."

We just feel bad that we missed out on all those orgies, not to mention the peyote and clam dip. And yes, there's schadenfreude from bloggers who have been fighting creationism online, too, such as Jerry Coyne, who reminds us that the students and faculty only objected to the insistence on the literal existence of Adam and Eve, but still believe in Creation, and looks forward to the day when "Adam and Eve will be regarded as we now regard Zeus and Wotan."

This gives i09's Strauss a bit of a sad, because can't science and religion get along, a question that we won't address here, because we'll happily admit we're more interested in watching the god-botherers go after each other with blogs a-blazing. Does that make us shallow? Maybe a little. Pass the popcorn, please.

[Inside Higher Ed via i09]

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