Karl Giberson and the firing of Dr. Bruce Waltke: “Those of us who teach at Christian colleges write with the knowledge that our books may get us fired”

Given Dr. Bruce Waltke’s recent firing from Reform Theological Seminary in Orlando for saying that evolution is true, what Karl Giberson wrote in Christianity Today back in September of 2008 seems tragically prophetic:

Two centuries after evidence began to mount up that the earth is ancient, Christian bookstores feature titles arguing that all this science is wrong. A hundred and fifty years after Darwin, many evangelicals continue to reject evolution, even as data from the genome project establishes the near certainty of Darwin’s central idea of common ancestry. Young Earth creationists reject definitive evidence for the big bang theory.

Many evangelical scientists have encountered great hostility when they have tried to help their fellow Christians come to terms with controversial scientific ideas. Richard Colling has been on the hot seat at Olivet Nazarene University for over a year because some powerful fundamentalists don’t like his acceptance of evolution. Darrel Falk encountered similar problems in the 1990s. Howard Van Till fought this battle for years at Calvin College and finally left his faith tradition altogether. And so it goes. (I have experienced a bit of this myself since the publication of Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution.) The sad truth is that science writers in the evangelical world are discouraged from plying their craft. Those of us who teach at Christian colleges write with the knowledge that our books may get us fired.

Giberson’s observation that Christian academics working in the sciences at Christian colleges “write with the knowledge that our books may get us fired” can now add his humanities colleagues to the potential hit list as well, for Bruce Waltke is not in the sciences, but is an expert on the Hebrew Bible, and was fired, not for writing a book, but just for posting a video on the Internet stating the obvious: evolution is true. Here’s BioLogos this week on the utterly pathetic intellectual atmosphere being generated at Christian colleges by fundamentalists:

The fact that Dr. Waltke felt he was unable to leave the video in place, despite the fact that he still agrees with its contents, is an extremely important statement about the culture of fear within evangelicalism in today’s world. Leading evangelicals who support evolution are rightly fearful of personal attacks on the integrity of their faith and character. Even when they believe that scientific data must be taken seriously, and that science has revealed the ways in which God created the world, they are more willing to be associated with those who are clearly wrong about God’s truth as revealed within His World, and who are thereby also wrong about how they understand His Word. How will the Church ever come to discern truth and falsehood if academic discourse is neutered for fears of public perception? This situation, before us, more than any that we are familiar with in the one year history of biologos.org, poignantly demonstrates the importance of the task we all have.

There are countless people, especially young people, who are discovering that the world of science is not out of touch with reality. Data emerge every day that make this even more clear. As Dr. Waltke himself says in the video, we cannot allow Christianity to become a cult––but this is what will happen if the Church continues to turn its head. When young people discover that neither the science they’ve been taught in their churches nor the theology that undergirds it are credible, many will feel they have to throw out their faith.

When a religion does not take the findings of science seriously, and becomes strictly self-referential and insular—shutting down dialogue and downplaying the importance of reality testing—it’s a cult, right?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Karl Giberson and the firing of Dr. Bruce Waltke: “Those of us who teach at Christian colleges write with the knowledge that our books may get us fired”

  1. Karl,

    I left this comment on another blog that suggested that the accrediting bodies would recognize the academic freedom violation and act to defend the professor speaking about evolution – especially if it were a biology professor.

    I think this is highly unlikely. Accreditation bodies are meaningless when it comes to academic freedom issues – especially regarding faith standards. Even if a formal complaint is lodged against the university, the accreditation body will simply ask the university administrator to respond in writing. Then they MIGHT insert this response as a page (noting that there was some concern) during the next regular accreditation date which might not be for several years.

    Even if the controversial teaching in question (evolution) is accurate, appropriate, sensitively communicated, and within the bounds of the university and denominational written religious positions, accreditation bodies will NOT act in support or defend a biology professor being censored or restricted or fired.

    Christian institution administrators know this. They defend their self-righteous self-serving tyranny by portraying themselves as speaking for God – as smiling, kind, benevolent, defenders of the faith. They frame the issue as between ‘them and all members of the university community’ against the targeted one in an attempt to isolate and discourage. In doing so, they sow even greater division and discord – all to simple serve their own purposes and legitimate their actions.

    Justifiable evidence to support their actions is not necessary. All that is required for them to be successful in their bid to get rid of the targeted one is that they either suggest by theological question or implication – or claim by broad outright statement – that the targeted individual’s teaching or writing is outside the boundaries of faith. (No specifics necessary) That is their tyranny card, for which there is no accountability as far as accrediting bodies.

    (Misunderstanding of) evolution presents a substantial barrier to faith, but this pales to insignificance in comparison to the damage done to the faith by the actions of our 21st century pharisee Christian leaders. The world is watching… but increasing they do not even care.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Giberson,
    I noticed that “Saving Darwin” is assigned the Dewey Decimal number 231.7 which classifies this book as “religion” or “theology”. It seems that Darwin, who had his degree in theology, and you who have a degree in science, have both meddled in a field in which you have no right to teach.

    Please note that I am not a young student, but a 75 year old librarian.

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