Adventist University: Evolution Battle Continues

A month ago we wrote Adventist University Will Teach Creationism, thinking that the long and bitter battle over creationism at La Sierra University had finally been resolved. They’re a private university in Riverside, California, part of the Seventh-day Adventist system of higher education.

The university had been teaching evolution, which is contrary to their church’s belief in young-earth creationism. There were online petitions signed by thousands, and charges that biology classes were being guided by Satan. Three biology professors were singled out for teaching evolution, and many wanted them to be removed from the faculty.

We had written three earlier times about the struggle, and there are links those earlier reports in our most recent post, when it appeared that the creationists been triumphant and the university would retain its coveted accreditation with the Adventists. We didn’t know what would become of the biology professors who had been — gasp! — teaching evolution, but otherwise the doctrinal crisis seemed to be over.

Now it seems that we were premature in that conclusion. In the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, where La Sierra University is located, we read Creation vs. evolution debate at La Sierra University. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Nearly two years of pressure on La Sierra University to better incorporate Biblical creationism into its biology classes is leading to warnings from key oversight organizations. A Seventh-day Adventist Church board says the college hasn’t gone far enough to address creationists’ concerns, while a secular commission is worried that the outside lobbying could impinge on academic freedom.

A difficult situation. How will this play out? Let’s read on:

University leaders last month publicly apologized for not adequately emphasizing church teaching in biology classes and promised to do more. A pro-creationist group that gathered more than 6,300 petition signatures critical of the university says some biology professors promote the theory of evolution over Adventist beliefs.

Yes, we’ve already posted about that. The news article continues:

But the pledge wasn’t enough for the Adventist Accrediting Association board, which last week declined to extend La Sierra’s Adventist church accreditation for a full five years. Instead, the university received a provisional one-year extension, to Dec. 31, 2012, to give the university more time to infuse Adventist religious beliefs into science classes and make other changes.

The real crux of the matter is whether the Bible has a privileged position as a source of knowledge,” said Lisa Beardsley, director of education for the worldwide Adventist church. The inadequate teaching of Biblical creation “is a symptom of a problem,” an indication that La Sierra hasn’t done enough to ensure students are thoroughly exposed to the Adventist worldview, she said.

The university is on probation, as it were. So why don’t they just go full-bore creationist — Noah’s Ark all the way? Here’s the problem:

The pressure on La Sierra is causing concern at the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a federally approved accreditation agency that, among other things, measures academic quality and integrity at public and private colleges and universities. Federally approved accreditation is required for acceptance of university class credits by most other universities and many employers, and for most financial aid.

Whoa! Now we see what’s going on. The university is being torn in two very different directions. It is written in Matthew 6:24 (King James Version):

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Here’s more about the secular accreditation agency:

The association in August extended its accreditation of La Sierra for eight years but said the controversy over creationism could threaten La Sierra’s academic autonomy. It is sending a team to the university in the next several weeks to review the university’s handling of the situation, said Ralph Wolff, president of the association.

“What we want to make sure of is that non-academic outside forces are not controlling the curriculum,” he said. “While we respect that it is a faith-based institution, it is still an academic institution.” … An accredited university can require faculty to present a religious denomination’s beliefs on creation, as long as faculty accurately explain that the scientific consensus is in favor of evolution, Wolff said.

Nothing is resolved yet. And what about those biology professors who were teaching evolution? The Press-Enterprise reports:

Repeated phone calls to four biology faculty members were not returned. One of them, Professor Gary Bradley, told the website Inside Higher Ed in 2009 that he would not denounce or contradict evolutionary theory in his class. Sean Pitman, moderator of [an Adventist website], said statements like that indicate that Bradley and two other professors the website targets reject Adventist beliefs on creation.

Stay tuned to this blog. It looks like we’ll be visiting this issue in the future.

Copyright © 2011. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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9 responses to “Adventist University: Evolution Battle Continues

  1. SC, you’ve just given me a shock. If the people that were named in this post are the one’s I believe them to be, I went to college with Sean Pitman, and a relative of Dr. Bradley was the librarian at my Adventist elementary school. That librarian glued together the pages in an astronomy book that discussed the possibility of life on other planets. (I unstuck them, since I was a rebellious youth.) Pitman led softheaded prayer sessions that the students were required to attend at Southern Adventist University. I need a glass of Scotch and several pages of Stephen Jay Gould to clear my head.

    What does astonish me is that anyone in an Adventist school is brave enough to teach evolution in anything other than disparaging terms. Huzzah for Dr. Bradley, and huzzah for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

  2. “The real crux of the matter is whether the Bible has a privileged position as a source of knowledge”

    Indeed. It’s refreshing to hear the creationists say that, though, as its usually the mainstream scientists pointing that out.

    My guess is the school is going to follow its funding. I don’t know how much they get from adventist sources vs tuitions of students who expect to go to an accredited university. But I’d expect the school will probably make the decision that harms its funding sources the least.

  3. You don’t hire a biologist to teach theology, or vice-versa. If they must teach cretinism, teach it in a theology class, and the college may happily straddle the fence.

  4. What if the biologists are eventually “expelled” for teaching evolution? How is that going to look to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges? What’s more important, college credits and tuition support from government loans and grants or monies from creationist supporters?

  5. Hi Greg Camp,

    You wrote:

    “Pitman led softheaded prayer sessions that the students were required to attend at Southern Adventist University. I need a glass of Scotch and several pages of Stephen Jay Gould to clear my head.”

    I don’t think you must have me confused with someone else. While I did attend Southern from 89-93, I never did lead a prayer group, small or large, and have yet to do so. As far as opening your mind a bit more, perhaps a little Gould and Scotch would actually help in your case? I think your Gravatar says it all…

    All the best ; -)

    Sean Pitman, M.D.

  6. Sean, I have no idea why, but your comment got caught in the spam filter. Sorry about the delay.

  7. SC wrote:

    your comment got caught in the spam filter

    My guess is the dual hyperlinks. Most spam filters are sensitive to more than one hyperlink in a comment. They tend to think its spam since spammers tend to put lots of hyperlinks in comments in hopes someone, anyone will click just one of them.

  8. Curmudgeon: “So why don’t they just go full-bore creationist — Noah’s Ark all the way? Here’s the problem:”

    There’s an even bigger problem, which is why no one would ever dare teach “Noah’s Ark all the way.” If you can pick-and-choose evidence to make evolution look “weak,” you can do the same – with infinitely more ease – to make YEC and OEC look weak. And to add insult to injury, mutually contradictory to boot.

    Which is why a shrewd evolution-denier, and even a not-so-shrewd one who has memorized the proper sound bites, will always try to keep the focus not on the “Ark,” or when “kinds” all popped up out of “dust,” but on “weaknesses” of “Darwinism.”

    Hey Sean, we miss you at Talk Origins. If you ever need a break you can come back and debate geocentrist Tony Pagano and OEC Ray Martinez. If it really is all about the science you’d have no problem challenging other evoluion-deniers in the “big tent.”

  9. Sean,

    I was at Southern from ’91 to ’95. I recall you being involved in the student religious clubs, but it has been some time. Perhaps you’d like to address the main question, though. Will La Sierra University be allowed to teach science or not? Will Adventism in general open itself to a broader world or not?