Creationism at University

Genesis page 1, KJVOver the last week there has been an explosion of interest in the blogosphere about an amusing article from December of last year by Jake Hebert, called “Wanted: Young Creation Scientists” (which we looked at at the time). The likes of Larry Moran jocularly treated it as an actual job advertisement, but in fact Hebert was offering advice rather than employment. In particular, he said:

Work hard to get the best possible grades and push yourself to truly understand the material. When choosing a school, choose one with a rigorous academic program and a research program that truly interests you. Although you should not be dishonest about what you believe, it’s probably prudent to not draw attention to your creationist beliefs while you are a student, particularly if you are in a field that directly touches upon the origins controversy (such as paleontology, biology, or geology).

Given the increasing anti-Christian sentiment in society and the academic persecution in the secular universities, there may very well come a day when it will no longer be possible for a Bible-believing Christian to get an advanced degree in the natural sciences. Academically gifted young Christians should therefore “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16) before that door of opportunity closes.

In other words, work hard and keep your head down. August’s edition of Acts & Facts (pdf) returns to this subject, with differing perspectives. Jayme Durant’s editorial, Turning Classroom Opposition into Opportunity, talks about a case in which a student (her own daughter) did not keep her beliefs to herself:

One of my daughter’s required courses in college was philosophy. Early in the semester, the professor opened the class by reading some Bible verses and then asking the students to raise their hands if they believed what he just read. My daughter was one of a very few with an upraised hand. She happened to be sitting in the first row that morning.

The professor looked at her and said, “Well you want to know what I think about that?” He took a few quick steps, slammed his hands on her desk, and leaned in a few inches from her face. His face was red and spit flew as he yelled, “I think that’s a mean-spirited God, and anyone who believes that must be a mean-spirited person!”

My daughter heard audible gasps throughout the classroom as she sat, composed and calm, but saying nothing in return. Afterwards, other students came up to her in the hallway, telling her they couldn’t believe the teacher had acted that way and that they admired the way she handled it.

Despite this baptism by fire her relationship with this professor apparently went quite well, as she “found her professor more approachable when she asked genuine questions about his lectures.” She even wound up with a “glowing recommendation” from him for graduate school.

This understandably truncated account – we never do learn why the professor was so confrontational (I suspect he was trying to provoke debate with the class on whatever the issue was, if poorly), nor precisely what kind of questions were asked later in the semester – exemplifies the approach they are recommending this month. “Ask questions,” they say, “and it may unlock doors of opportunity”: not a word about not drawing attention to yourself.

The featured article for this month, by Henry Morris III, is also on the subject: Creation and College. Morris expands on Hebert’s advice about picking an educational institution (“Although the Bible does not provide a specific test for prospective educational institutions…”) and gives some more general instructions about what to do while you’re there (e.g. “Ensure a constant circle of godly Christian friends.”). Following that we have some more stuff about asking questions:

The most productive process for maintaining a solid Christian witness and an open confession of biblical truth in an educational setting is often to simply ask questions. Most educators welcome open discussion, and here are some basic classroom guidelines:

  • Respect the teaching profession. […]
  • Be polite, courteous, and factual. Sarcasm or disdain will seldom yield good results. […]
  • Use the student’s right to know when you ask questions: “Please help me understand….” “Please tell me if I understood you correctly. Did you mean to say…?” “Am I correct to understand that…?” “Would you help me understand why you believe that to be so?” “May I ask for the background evidence on that?” “Please tell me the basic reasoning behind that statement.”
  • The most powerful phrases are “please help me” and “please tell me.” Questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” are weaker, although they may soften the approach. Questions that require responses are more likely to generate additional information.

The objective in this process is twofold: to elicit additional information from the instructor and to allow the class (and perhaps the teacher) to see the level of support for the information you are introducing into the discussion. Remember, the closer the class discussion is to the factual “what” and “how,” the less likely philosophy (or theology or worldview) is to be a part of the discussion—and the more the student is expected (and needs) to be involved in learning the content. The more “why” is involved, the more the student is at liberty to question—and to sort through the answers for genuine factual information.

Here, at least, we have some more specific question ideas: they basically boil down to “how do you know?” but without the barbed “were you there?”

Hebert and Morris’ respective advice are not completely contradictory, and so they can potentially be weaved together just as you might reconcile two differing biblical passages, but the difference both in emphasis and authorship are quite interesting. Unless I am mistaken, neither Morris nor Durant have attained “an advanced degree in the natural sciences”: Hebert however has and so his advice was likely based on his own experiences. Did he find that his professors were actually capable of defending their claims? Have Morris and Durant stumbled upon a new strategy that he missed?

Has anyone reading this seen one of these strategies in action?

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2 thoughts on “Creationism at University

  1. It’s interesting that YECs often imply that if any professor does not gleefully entertain creationist ideas, they are bigoted and unreasonable. Would they feel that way if a student wanted them to seriously discuss flat earthism as a viable model of the earth’s shape? I’m sorry YECs, but your worldview has the same degree of plausibility to those well acquainted with the evidence. I myself tried to make YECIsm work while in college, and even asked mildly provocative questions of professions about YEC ideas. But when I started getting into the field and doing serious research, I realized how much evidence contradicted YECIsm, and was sorry i ever went down that misguided path. I also realize that what I saw as cynicism or impatience from some professors was actually restraint, considering that in retrospect, I didn’t know what I was talking about, and was quoting YEC authors who didn’t know what they were talking about.

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