RANDOM DESIGNER IN THE HANDS OF REACTIONARY PEOPLE
My Alma Mater, Olivet Nazarene University, is in the news after President John Bowling barred Deparment of Biological Sciences Chair Rick Colling from teaching an introductory biology class and banned his three-year old book, Random Designer: Created from Chaos to Connect with the Creator (a thoughtful reflection on theistic evolution) from being assigned by any ONU teacher.
The issue is partly described in a current Newsweek column by Sharon Begley titled "Can God Love Darwin, Too?" Begley frames the issue well, it seems, but she doesn't get it completely right. She paints the picture of President Bowling making his barring/banning decisions in order to protect or take pressure off of Colling. But the issue, from Rick Colling's perspective in a recent blog posting on "Higgaion," is not that Bowling's decision was made to take the heat off of Colling, but to take the pressure off of Bowling and his efforts to raise money in a major funds campaign for the university.
I write about this, first, because I have two children who are students at Olivet Nazarene University. Second, because I am an alumnus of ONU. Third, because I am an evangelical Christian minister in the holiness tradition which is once again being threatened and co-opted by Fundamentalist agendas and conservative political power plays. Fourth, because I know at least one of the ONU Trustees who has made this an issue and he is not a person I consider to have integrity.
I have read Random Designer and find in it nothing for alarm or reaction. On the contrary, Colling is in solid company with scientists who are also Christian but who are unwilling for the sake of scientific and Christian integrity to let the Bible be turned into a proof-text for "scientific creationism," on the one hand, and unwilling to leave God's creative intention and design out of observable processes of natural selection or adaptation, on the other. In Random Designer, Colling is trying to offer a gracious bridge for thoughtful people of Biblical faith who also value scientific integrity and do not believe the two are exclusive.
But then come reactionary people. These Fundamentalists (in a wide variety of denominatonal and nondenominational clothing) are sure they know more, know better, and see in any deviation from their narrow, defensive perspective within what they thought were "their universities" a threat to the very core of Christian testimony. These people are out to defend God from any deviants within Christianity by condeming the deviants and their deviations. They cull out "evolutionist sympathizers." They are sure there is no such thing as natural selection. They are sure organisms never adapt in progressive or complementary ways. They are sure God is not big enough to create or imaginatively design in such a grand way. They are sure that the human species is less than 10,000 years old. They are sure all data to the contrary is distorted and not credible. They are sure that if you think--or teach--otherwise, the church--and perhaps your very soul--is in eternal peril.
And they are, simply, wrong--wrong with the facts and wrong with their intentions and wrong with their re-actions. And now they have the president of a Christian liberal arts university squirming under their thumb, caving to their religious prejudice, and moving the university under his momentary guidance further in the direction of Fundamentalism.
I suppose if Bowling is looking for money from the pockets of Fundamentalist-leaning donors, he'll save his funding campaign. But if he's looking for resources and support from those of us who think of faith and science more comprehensively, his decision to censure Colling and ban his book helps us make decisions about our relationship with ONU, too.
No doubt, Colling's job is on the line. Perhaps Bowling's job is on the line. Unfortunately, Olivet's future is in the balance, too. But there are larger issues than jobs and reputations. There are matters of truth and principle and integrity.
As this is a developing story, I may write more later.