Communicating Compatibility in Christian Higher Education, Part 3

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May 22, 2010 Tags: Education

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. You can read more about what we believe here.

Communicating Compatibility in Christian Higher Education, Part 3

Over 325,000 students are enrolled in the evangelical colleges of the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities. The institutions exist primarily to help students see that there need not be a divide between the world of the academy and the life of faith. This is Part 3 of a series that addresses various issues at the junction of this Y-shaped intersection. Here we discuss a particular student and his response to Ken Ham’s view of a failing Christian college.

Earlier this year, Ken Ham in his State of the Nation address singled out Calvin College and one of its professors for what he considered to be inappropriate statements about biblical hermeneutics.

Most of us who are associated with Christian higher education would regard Calvin as the gold standard to which we all aspire. This institution takes Scripture very seriously. At Calvin, Christian scholars in general--not just students--come from around the country (and the world) to learn what it means to be a person who walks faithfully with God. If all Christian colleges were as rigorous in their academic and scriptural faithfulness as Calvin College, our countries would be much better places.

Mr. Ham singled out Calvin College as being scripturally unfaithful. In summarizing Calvin's perspective on Scripture, he said "you might as well throw the whole thing away…." In a later post he went on to also say that Calvin College is:

One of many institutions that continues to contribute to the undermining of biblical authority in our culture. They will have much to answer for when Christian educators stand before the Lord one day—and they will be held accountable.

It is hard for me to imagine any opinion about Calvin College further from the truth than that which is implied by Mr. Ham in this statement.

It is not surprising that many Calvin College students were displeased to hear their institution denigrated in Mr. Ham's State of the Nation address. One student, a college freshman at the time, Daniel Camacho, did what all responsible individuals ought to do when they think unwarranted statements have been made. He wrote a letter to the editor of his school newspaper.

Choosing not to be diplomatic, Daniel indicated that Mr. Ham’s address included “lies, inaccuracies, and caricatures…” Like everyone, college freshmen make mistakes. This wording, in my opinion, was a mistake

I have had the privilege of spending my career as a college professor. Working with young people as they leave the security of their homes and transition into a life governed by their own choices is not only a great privilege, but a great responsibility. The way we handle their questions and respond to their opinions plays no small role in influencing the perspective through which they will view the rest of their lives. How we handle their mistakes is critical. We who are educators and mentors ought not to belittle our students, especially in public.

If I had been Daniel’s professor, and if I had been asked, I would have encouraged him to reword this section. I would have asked him to consider saying something like: “it is hard for me to imagine any set of statements further from the truth…”, but accusing Mr. Ham of lying is likely unfounded because it accuses him of knowingly telling untruths. We know what he said, and we know it is untrue, but personally, I doubt that Mr. Ham knew his statements were untrue. So instead of saying that Mr. Ham was lying, let’s find a way of saying what needs to be said in a manner that can be more easily documented.

So Daniel made a mistake. However, the rest of Daniel’s letter was extremely well written. Everyone -- even Mr. Ham -- would need to acknowledge that Daniel’s arguments are logically laid out and articulately presented. Consider this for example:

The Calvin Community should pray for this man and his followers.

You know what I think is wrong with society? You know what I think is compromising the Church? It’s the ideology of Ken Ham. His rigid black-and-white beliefs and the lack of charity parallel the mentality of the new atheists, including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. In fact, I believe these two streams are twin mutations of modernity. It is either faith or reason. It is either religion or science. They both share a rhetoric of fear, making exaggerated claims about how the other side is taking over the nation and world. No wonder all of their followers are massively paranoid.

You know why a lot of people are throwing away the Bible today? It is because of people like Ken Ham and his twins. People are being forced to decide if the Bible is divine or human.

Whether you agree with Mr. Camacho or not, his ability to express his thinking clearly is enough to light up the eyes of any college professor. What more could one ask of a freshman than this? If he’s wrong, give him gentle guidance so that he can find that out for himself. Give him time. Gently lead him towards the literature which contains profound thinking which will enlighten his mind. Help him move to the next stage, but at the very least acknowledge that this young man makes interesting points in an engaging fashion.

When Daniel clicked on the “send” button after drafting his letter to his college newspaper, he had no idea that what he had written would be seen by anyone other than his fellow students and professors. Imagine his surprise then when he learned that Mr. Ham himself had read his letter and critiqued it before a national audience!

In establishing his interaction with this young man, this could have been a teaching moment for Mr. Ham. Instead he publically chastised Daniel and made the following especially strange comment:

It reminds me of a child who throws stones at others and then ducks behind the woodshed so he can’t be held accountable

It is difficult to teach a student from the woodshed and Daniel was hardly hiding behind it. So how did Mr. Ham use this teaching moment? He challenged this young student to a debate and he insisted that Daniel document his statements.

Daniel, far from hiding, proceeded to elaborate on his thoughts, (thus providing the documentation that Mr. Ham sought) and sent them in a letter to Mr. Ham. Mr. Ham has not responded to Daniel, and there has been no public opportunity for this college freshman to respond to his all-too-public thrashing by Ken Ham.

Christian education ought not to work that way. BioLogos exists to seek harmony between science and evangelical Christianity. We are especially concerned that the voices of young people be heard. They will be the ones to carry Christianity into the future. Daniel is considering being a pastor. Please pray that his unfortunate woodshed experience will not deter him from the task ahead.

In our next post on this matter, we will print Daniel’s letter to Mr. Ham.


Darrel Falk is former president of The BioLogos Foundation. He transitioned into Christian higher education 25 years ago and has given numerous talks about the relationship between science and faith at many universities and seminaries. He is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.

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Rich - #15697

May 31st 2010

beaglelady:

I’m glad you watched the video.

I don’t know where the video came from, or whether it was from an event that had a question and answer session.  If you are really interested, nothing is stopping you from writing to Sternberg for more information.

What I was trying to point out was the massive list of morphological changes that have to be accomplished. and the corresponding genetic alterations that have to be made.  I’ll give you the dog’s tail, but that means that instead of, say, 3,000 morphological changes, you need only 2,999.  The question is:  where in the neo-Darwinian literature do you find these 2,999 changes explained?
 
Why is it Sternberg’s obligation to prove that neo-Darwinian processes *can’t possibly* have turned a land mammal into a whale?  Why isn’t it the obligation of the neo-Darwinists to show that they *can*?  You’ve complained that Sternberg hasn’t published his *disproof*; I haven’t seen you complain that the Darwinians haven’t published their *proof*.  Why the double standard?


Rich - #15699

May 31st 2010

beaglelady and others:

Here are a couple of links regarding whale evolution, mentioning in particular the views of Prothero in National Geographic and a debate involving Meyer, Sternberg and Prothero:

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/11/6_bones_of_contention_with_nat.html#more

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/12/ouch_intelligent_design_guys_p.html

The debate might be the one where the video came from; the second article indicates that the entire debate was later to be made available, but I haven’t followed the trail yet.


Gregory - #15708

May 31st 2010

Hi Argon,

Thanks for following-up on my questions using language that I could more or less understand, even as a non-biologist! You are obviously much more an ‘insider’ to the fields of biology & genetics than I am. I appreciate as-clear-as-possible communicators, given the diversity of backgrounds & knowledges represented here at BioLogos.

You wrote: “Marguilis’ idea seems more like an anthropomorphic, teleological projection to de-emphasize ‘evolutionary competition’ (e.g. like the Gaia hypothesis of Lovelock).”

This may be true. I was at a conference not long ago where Margulis spoke. She didn’t mention Gaia or teleology or even anthropic ideas (which I know differs from anthropomorphic, but the term ‘anthropic’ begs to be used these days *outside* of cosmology & astronomy).

She criticized ‘western biologists’ for simply *not getting it* wrt symbiogenesis, suggesting they’ll eventually ‘come around’. She was adamant about ‘western’ specialized ignorance based on its narrow ideology, which even apparently affects biologists.


Gregory - #15709

May 31st 2010

(cont’d)

I assume you’re a ‘western scientist,’ Argon. Perhaps even a biologist? It may be worth looking at her edited first English translation of Kozo-Polyanzky’s “Symbiogenesis” (1924!) just out this year. Perhaps this could even be given a review at BioLogos?

Also, I wonder if you’re familiar with Betty Smocovoditis’ “Unifying Biology” (1996)? It seemed fascinating to this ‘outsider.’ A Greek Orthodox Christian biologist, it seems.

Unifying Biology


beaglelady - #15801

June 1st 2010

I don’t know where the video came from, or whether it was from an event that had a question and answer session.  If you are really interested, nothing is stopping you from writing to Sternberg for more information.

Rich,

If you don’t know where the video came from or what event it was, why do you keep referring people to it?  Why should I be the one writing to Sternberg?  Why don’t you care where it came from?  You like to criticize other people for getting information from the internet. 

If Sternberg doesn’t know that a mammal tail can move up and down, why should I believe anything else he says? 

The complete story of the awesome transition from terrestrial mammal to fully aquatic whale may not be fully recoverable.  I’m sure scientists will continue to discover more and more as research progresses.  Meanwhile, look at the curious atavisms and vestiges in modern whales we have pointed out.  If these is not from evolution, enchantment seems a better explanation than ID.


beaglelady - #15803

June 1st 2010

Correction:

I meant to say,

If these are not from evolution, enchantment seems a better explanation than ID.


Rich - #15826

June 1st 2010

beaglelady:

I keep referring to Sternberg because he is brilliant mid-career evolutionary biologist.  He knows the “atavisms and vestiges” involved ten times better than you do, and still is not convinced by neo-Darwinism.  I thought that you and others might wish to learn something from someone who knows far more about the subject than you do.  But apparently you are not looking to learn, but only to pick at one tiny fault.  And from your continual dodges of any even semi-technical discussion, I infer that you have no arguments against him based on your own personal knowledge of biology, but rely entirely on authority for accepting the position that he rejects. 

It’s utterly irrelevant where the video came from.  The truth of his arguments does not depend on the provenance of the medium in which they are found.  Do you need to know where Kepler’s Laws came from in order to be able to verify their truth?  This is Logic 101. 

I’ve repeatedly said that I’m *not* opposing ID to “evolution”, but only to neo-Darwinian evolution.  The fact that you still haven’t understood the distinction, despite my more-than-patient attempts to get it across, absolves me from further responses to your comments.


Rich - #15842

June 1st 2010

beaglelady:

By the way, you wanted the entire debate that included the Sternberg comments.  You wanted to hear audience questions and comments.

We aim to please:

http://www.discovery.org/v/1711

The debate was held in a neutral forum, and run by an organization with no love for ID.  Rumor has it (I haven’t heard the whole thing yet, so I’ll refrain from judgment) that Prothero and Shermer were crushed by the ID side.  But you can decide for yourself.


beaglelady - #15869

June 1st 2010

I thought that you and others might wish to learn something from someone who knows far more about the subject than you do.  But apparently you are not looking to learn, but only to pick at one tiny fault.

That’s a tiny fault?  It seems that I’ve hit a sore spot, and that has made you abusive.  The message is, watch the video, praise Sternberg to high heaven since he is such a genius with a big brain and fancy degrees, but do not criticize it or Rich will get angry and scratch your eyes out.


Rich - #15878

June 1st 2010

beaglelady:

Yes, it *is* a tiny fault, as you would perceive if you grasped the force of Sternberg’s *overall* argument.  Ever hear of losing sight of the forest for the trees?  The dog’s wagging tail is one tiny sapling in the Amazon rainforest of the Sternbergian argument.  Your objection is like finding a grammatical error in an essay by Thomas Jefferson, and declaring Jefferson’s political philosophy invalid on the grounds that a man who would make such a careless slip is probably wrong about most other things. 

I have never meant to be abusive, but it’s very hard for me not to be impatient when I have to explain very basic things about evolutionary theory, and discover that you don’t understand them, yet are still willing to fight tooth and nail to defend neo-Darwinism.  I have no desire to scratch your eyes out, but I do have the desire to challenge your apparent intellectual pride.  My message is:  Don’t be too proud to learn something from Sternberg.  Don’t be too proud to admit that you don’t have answers to his questions.  Don’t be too proud to admit that you have no proof that neo-Darwinian mechanisms can create whales.  As Socrates taught us, the beginning of wisdom is to admit what we do not know.


unapologetic catholic - #17111

June 9th 2010

The whole problem with the ‘lack of transitional fossils from land mammals to whals is that Sternberg appears to be ignorant of tose transistionals surroundign us today.

Here’s a photogrpah of a part terrestial and part marine animal alive today with a tail that contradicts Sternberg:

http://www.juliezickefoose.com/blog/uploaded_images/giantflattail-734157.jpg

another:  http://fairenuf.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/manatee-713615.jpg

The transistionals are all around us today despite Sternberg’s “math.”


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