by William Trollinger
Note: This post is a continuation of last week’s discussion about judgment and evangelical colleges and universities.
A specter is haunting evangelical higher education.
Evangelical and fundamentalist schools are tuition-driven institutions. Many or most of the parents paying the tuition and sending their children to these schools expect that these schools will uphold the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, to be read plainly and “literally,” and to be understood as the final authority on all matters on which it speaks.
In this regard, it’s a given that the idea of evolution is antithetical to the first three chapters of Genesis. To avoid controversy, one longtime strategy at some evangelical colleges has been to replace the word “evolution” with the word “development” in biology and related classes. This approach is in keeping with how publishers modified science textbooks in the wake of the 1925 Scopes Trial. For more on this approach, see Bill’s review of Adam Shapiro’s book Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools.
But as young earth creationism has supplanted old earth creationism in much of American evangelicalism and fundamentalism — a trend which began with the 1961 publication of The Genesis Flood — the pressures on evangelical higher education have expanded exponentially. Biology is not the only minefield; now, because so much of what it means to be a “Bible believer” in the conservative Protestant world presumes young earth creationism, mainstream geology and astronomy have joined mainstream biology as suspect, dangerous, anti-Christian.
Hence Ken Ham’s power when it comes to conservative Protestant higher education. His young earth creationist constituency is the same constituency that sends students and money to evangelical and fundamentalist colleges.
Some schools have sought to reassure Ham’s constituency by having their presidents affirm in writing the Answers in Genesis (AiG) “Tenets of Creation,” including the affirmation that:
…the entire universe including, but not limited to, the earth, sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, and Adam and Eve were created in six, consecutive, literal (essentially twenty-four hour) days . . . between about 6,000–10,000 years ago.
For those evangelical and fundamentalist schools that do not sign AiG’s statement or that do not include young earth creationism in their official faith statements, it has become increasingly important that their faculty not say or do anything to suggest that young earth creationism is bad science or bad Biblical interpretation.
In this way evangelical schools can stay off Ken Ham’s radar — and that matters. Of course, the implications for hiring, teaching, and scholarship are significant. One does not have to be on the AiG list of “Creation Colleges” to be, in some fashion, a “Creation College.”