The Reality of Creationist “Academic Freedom”

Some of you have been here long enough to remember the big creationist battle that was ripping apart La Sierra University, a private university in Riverside, California, which is part of the Seventh-day Adventist system of higher education.

Some professors at the university had been teaching evolution, which is contrary to their church’s belief in young-earth creationism. There were online petitions against them, 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.

It ended up with the creationists firmly in control and Lee Greer, an assistant professor of biology, said the university refused to renew his three-year contract — see La Sierra Professor & Board Members Expelled!. That very thing (well, the exact opposite of that thing) — happened to Guillermo Gonzalez (whom we call “Gonzo”) when he was denied tenure at Iowa State University because he was a creationist. The Discoveroids posted about Gonzo endlessly, and have never stopped praising him as one of their most revered martyrs. Yet they never uttered a peep about what was happening at La Sierra.

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, because it’s difficult to see what doesn’t happen, but whenever a creationist school expels (or doesn’t re-hire) a science-oriented faculty member, the Discoveroids are silent. They never defend the academic freedom of such people by organizing protests, encouraging letters to the editor, promoting legislative inquiries, and staging campus demonstrations invoking their “Teach the Controversy” and “Academic Freedom” slogans. They never insist that the “strengths and weaknesses” of “both sides” should be taught at creationist schools. Why? It’s because they’re happy when creationism — and only creationism — is taught at such places. They really don’t want the “controversy” taught and they don’t want academic freedom. They want everything and everyone to be creationist.

The reason we bring this up is twofold. First, there’s some recent news about the La Sierra situation. In the Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California, where La Sierra University is located, we read LA SIERRA UNIVERSITY: Employees’ case dismissed. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

A Riverside County Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by three La Sierra University employees who resigned their positions under pressure, saying the Riverside Adventist institution was protected by constitutional freedom of religion protections.

Judge Edward Webster ruled that the 2011 resignations were not coerced, as the employees alleged, and said the three men violated their contracts with the university by espousing values at odds with Seventh-day Adventist teaching.

Egad — they were Expelled! The news story continues:

Ricardo Graham, president of La Sierra’s board of trustees, asked the men to resign after they made derogatory remarks about church officials and were heard discussing how they violated church teachings on matters such as the consumption of alcohol. The conversation was inadvertently taped and fell into the hands of top church and university officials.

Wow — somehow the university “inadvertently” taped their private conversations. Two of the men who were forced out are identified later in the article:

Jeff Kaatz, La Sierra’s former vice president of development; Jim Beach, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; and Gary Bradley, a former biology professor. Beach remains at La Sierra as an associate professor of mathematics. Ricardo Graham had asked the three — and one other man not involved in the suit — to resign.

And the court sees no problem with that. We’re told:

[Judge] Webster said in the March 5 ruling that “the church is entitled to make its own decisions about how to respond when employees of a church-run school are deemed to have violated SDA (Seventh-day Adventist) doctrine.”

That doesn’t bother us. A religious institution should be free to teach what it wants. Some, like Catholic and Anglican schools, teach straight science in science classes. Some — like La Sierra — prefer full throttle creationism, and some teach a little of each. On the other hand, a state-run school is constitutionally prevented from promoting religion, so they’re required to teach straight science (not creation science or intelligent design).

Students should choose the school that suits their needs, and they should get what they pay for. Similarly, a teacher who accepts a job at any one of those schools should have enough brains to know what he’s getting into, and should teach what his employer expects him to teach.

Getting back to the news story, here’s something that not even George Orwell could have written:

In his ruling, Webster said that as a trustee, one of Graham’s jobs is to “safeguard the principles of moral integrity and academic freedom” of the university.

We would have preferred it if the judge had used a different expression — like “institutional freedom” — but he unwittingly revealed what “academic freedom” looks like at a creationist school.

We said there were two reasons for writing about this incident. The first is to point out the dog that didn’t bark. We refer to the silence of the Discoveroids — who pretend to be champions of academic freedom. Think about it. Have you seen a word from them about La Sierra? We haven’t.

The second is to remind you of some controversies like this that are still out there. There’s the Creationist Chaos at Bryan College in Tennessee, where people on the science faculty who teach evolution are under attack (about which the Discoveroids are silent); and then there’s the situation at Indiana’s Ball State University (ironically where Gonzo now is) — see Ball State Imbroglio Heats Up Again. Ball State is the only case where the Discoveroids are involved — on the side of the creationists.

In each of these cases — La Sierra, Bryan College, and Ball State — the flaming hypocrisy of the Discoveroids’ one-sided version “academic freedom” is clear. In state school science courses, they demand the freedom to wedge their Oogity Boogity stuff in too. But when creationist schools throw out science and its teachers, they give tacit approval by their silence.

See also: “Academic Freedom” for Creationists Only.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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25 responses to “The Reality of Creationist “Academic Freedom”

  1. How sad. A few years ago, these biology professors visited Pepperdine, and were very curious about how to best teach evolution at a Christian school. The good news for Pepperdine was that there is no institutional stand against evolution, for YEC, etc., compared to the situation at La Sierra. Even at that time, the profs were very concerned that if they taught the science as it should be taught, their jobs could be in jeopardy. How prescient. At schools like Pepperdine, the difficult questions arise in the religion division more so than the science division, and the science-religion discussion crosses numerous academic divisions from humanities to science. Folks like Coyne flatly state that science and religion are incompatible, which is no doubt true for many religionists. However, this does not mean that thoughtful persons should not examine and express their faith in the context of sound science.

  2. I should add, as I think that I have written before, the Science Division at Pepperdine refused to sponsor a talk by Stephen Meyer under the auspices of the Division. The student convocation committee invited him, gave double convo credit and drew numbers, but not much interest, In his typical fashion, Meyer was ego-maniacal and disingenuous.

  3. Mark Germano

    I’d like to reiterate my call from earlier for the DI to hire an “evolutionist,” either an atheist or a TE, to prove their devotion to academic freedom.

  4. ladyatheist

    The students at these religious institutions are being cheated. It’s shameful

  5. “Thoughtful people” can separate ethics from religion, and thus have no conflict whatsoever with science. Problem solved.

  6. Ceteris Paribus

    @Douglas E Pepperdine was the university location used as bookends for the beginning and ending sequences of the film “Expelled”. I would suppose that Pepperdine did not provide the use of its facilities entirely gratis, but being biblically oriented, negotiated a fee of some mutually agreeable number of pieces of silver.

    To be fair, only a few people shown in the university “audience” were Pepperdine students. Most were extras furnished by the producers.

  7. Thankfully, young people are leaving religion in droves, so much so that Hambo, for example, is worried about his future revenue stream. I would love to see a study comparing students at secular (real) universities with students at bible (fake) colleges and their rates of abandoning their sky wizard. I’ve thought for some time that people go to church and to bible colleges for the same reason people go to magic shows: They wanna get permission to believe in, well, magic. The lucky ones eventually see the man behind the curtain . . . . .and get out.

  8. Mark Joseph

    Perhaps you haven’t noticed, because it’s difficult to see what doesn’t happen, but whenever a creationist school expels (or doesn’t re-hire) a science-oriented faculty member, the Discoveroids are silent. They never defend the academic freedom of such people by organizing protests, encouraging letters to the editor, promoting legislative inquiries, and staging campus demonstrations invoking their “Teach the Controversy” and “Academic Freedom” slogans. They never insist that the “strengths and weaknesses” of “both sides” should be taught at creationist schools. Why? It’s because they’re happy when creationism — and only creationism — is taught at such places. They really don’t want the “controversy” taught and they don’t want academic freedom.

    This statement needs to be repeated loudly and often! It partakes of the brilliance which we so often notice in our favorite curmudgeon (at least when he’s not talking about politics). Superb!

  9. Here’s a paragraph on the topic I wrote in a recent post at my blog:

    Christian colleges have fired and continue to fire numerous professors and scientists for teaching theistic evolution or supporting it outside the classroom. In past decades fired evolutionist professors included Daniel Wonderly, P. Edgar Hare, Richard M. Ritland, Harold E. James Jr., Edward N. Lugenbeal, and Howard Van Till. In more recent years, La Sierra University fired Prof. Lee Greer and three trustees, and Shorter University fired Prof. Richard Pirkle and 60 (that’s 6 times 10) faculty and administrators either for believing in evolution or not being sufficiently intolerant towards homosexuality. Reformed Theological Seminary fired Bruce Waltke; Calvin College fired Prof. John Schneider and investigated Daniel Harlow. Olivet Nazarene University banned Prof. Richard Colling from teaching evolution, banned his textbook, and eventually forced him out of his job. Eastern Nazarene College fired Prof. Karl Giberson. Bryan College closed Todd Wood’s research center (Wood is a creationist but admitted there was evidence for evolution) and then forced all faculty to sign a statement committing them to Biblical creationism and a literal Adam and Eve, presumably at the expense of their jobs if they didn’t.

  10. Bob Carroll

    A “Curious Affair” indeed! Silence is as important as noise in elucidating the causes of events. Thanks to Sherlock, we have been made aware of this for over 100 years. Let’s pay attention to the classics.
    And a big thank you to SC, once again.

  11. CB – The Expelled fiasco happened before I arrived. However, as background, the office that negotiates the use of the campus is generally only interested in how much $$ they can collect. For example, when I was a division chair, ZOE 101 was often filmed right outside my office window and on the central plaza. And my impression was that faculty folks, having no idea what the filming office is up to, were quite upset that Pepperdine facilities were used for Expelled. Thankfully, most people would not have recognized the classroom. Also as an aside, once upon a time Ben Stein was an adjunct professor [business I think] and probably had some influence on filming on campus.

  12. Don’t forget Billy Dembski, aka Doctor Doctor, arch-creationist, was fired from the Baptist Southwest Theological Seminary for heresy. Fortunately for Dumbski he was merely terminated by firing rather than terminated by fire.

  13. “The conversation was inadvertently taped and fell into the hands of top church and university officials.”

    Do the two professors now not have a case against the taper(s)? And because their contracts were not renewed, there are actual damage amounts in play. Or am I missing something?

  14. Universities accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Schools and Colleges (TRACS) agree to impose the teaching of Young earth creationism (see TRACS is recognised by the US Government as a valid accrediting agency. Faculty at Biola University need to have their beliefs vetted periodically by William Lane Craig. And Bryan College, TN, has started requiring professors and staff, including tenured professors already in place, to sign a statement saying that they believe Adam and Eve were created in an instant by God and that humans shared no ancestry with other life forms.

    Academic freedom, clearly, includes the freedom to persecute.

  15. So William Lane Craig is the Grand Inquisitor of BIOLA? I wonder how many profs he’s expelled for independent thinking. The Inquisition– what a show.

  16. SC: “Perhaps you haven’t noticed, because it’s difficult to see what doesn’t happen, but whenever a creationist school expels (or doesn’t re-hire) a science-oriented faculty member, the Discoveroids are silent.”

    I begin with a million thanks! for that. But the fact that you had to mention “Perhaps you haven’t noticed” indicates that there’s a huge, yet easily correctable, problem on our side. I call it “‘Darwinist’ amnesia.” Whenever the story is about one “kind,” of evolution-denier, especially the media’s favorite YECs, it’s like none of the other “kinds” exist. The first thing I think of is “How would the other ‘kinds’ react?” As with evolution, it’s about similarities and differences, with each one important, but telling only half the story.

  17. SC” [Discoveroids] really don’t want the “controversy” taught and they don’t want academic freedom. They want everything and everyone to be creationist.”

    I know what you mean by “be a creationist,” but new readers might not. So for their benefit:

    Discoveroids do not want people to be like the AiG or ICR creationists, who criticize Discoveroids. It’s OK to be like the good little followers of AiG and ICR, meaning to believe a young earth and life, global flood etc., but only if one keeps quiet about the details of their origins story, and keep the focus on the bogus “weaknesses” of “Darwinism.” But Discoveroids would much prefer that these newly-minted “creationists” be like them, privately knowing that young earth and life, global flood, even independent origin of “kinds” is pure nonsense, but never daring to admit it, and instead play “don’t ask, don’t tell” to keep peace in the big tent.

    Another common misconception is that Discoveroids want everyone to be fundamentalist Christians. Some people have even suggested that if the Discoveroids get all that they want that they’d fire Medved and Klinghoffer (Jews), Behe (Catholic) and Berlinslki (agnostic). That’s completely baseless fantasy. As long as one spreads Discoveroid anti-“Darwinism” memes, and praises their radical, paranoid authoritarian worldview, one will always be welcome in their big tent. While many evangelical Christians, like Francis Collins will not.

  18. Frank J may be interested to learn that the Centre for Intelligent Design, the UK franchise of the Discovery Institute, is chaired by Norman Nevin, a biblical literalist Young Earth creationist, who preaches about a historical Eden, Noah’s flood, and the Tower of Babel as the actual origin of the diversity of languages.

  19. @Paul. That’s certainly interesting, but all the more reason that we need to keep alerting the public to the differences in apparent beliefs, and more importantly tactics among anti-evolution activists. The first question that comes to my mind is whether Nevin has challenged Behe, who has always conceded ~4 billion years of common descent, or Dembski, who has always conceded the billions, while pretending to remain unsure of common descent. If not, why not? If so, why have they not accepted the offer? We know why, but 99+% of the people don’t.

    As you know, if we quote-mined like the “creationists” it would be very easy to pretend that Behe and Dembski are YECs too. But that would not only be untrue, it would dilute the more important point – that old-lifers at the US DI welcome anyone who’ll peddle unreasonable doubt of evolution. Nevertheless, they must really hold their nose and bite their tongue about Nevin, because I never heard his name mentioned by any of them. Even Paul Nelson, the apparent YEC at the US DI, mostly avoids the “when” questions and overt Biblical references.

    I’ll look up more about Nevin, to see if he’s also a geocentrist, or even a true young-Earther. as opposed to an old-Earth-young-lifer, (that would also fit your examples). Whatever he turns out to be, this makes the DI even more different than AiG than I thought. But that does not mean more similar to mainstream science. In fact, in terms of what matters most, ID is the most extreme anti-evolution pseudoscience, despite the concessions of old-life, and sometimes common descent, by it’s most notable promoters. Even flat-earthers make testable statements, and have no problem refuting other creationists, even if it risks weakening the big tent. Whereas the DI’s “official” position is “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

  20. @Paul:

    First thing I found googling Nevin and Young Earth was this excerpt (emphasis mine):

    Well, I think we can put the question of Norman Nevin being a Young Earth Creationist to rest now. We “skip over Genesis” – that seems fine. That being the case, all bets are off, including ID.

    So, given that Norman seems to now accept that the universe is Old, we can regard this as something of a start. There is hope that creationists can be converted.

    from this 2008 link.

    Of course the more important part is that he advocates an overtly Biblical approach. Other comments in that link echo my suspicion that the US DI is not likely to be happy about that. But also unlikely to show the public their displeasure. In fact, admitting an old earth (or universe, or life) is not a “start,” (as it was 100-150 years ago) but paradoxically a step backwards – into the big tent.

  21. Another note on Nevin to be perfectly clear. The quote I found above was not “mined” to “prove” that he’s an OEC, but the first one found at random. It may be that I’ll find a more recent one that has him advocating young earth, life, universe. or even geocentrism. But would that mean that, after 2008 he found evidence for that, and changed his conclusions accordingly? Or merely that he since found that YEC “sells better”? Only a mind-reader knows of course.

  22. This on Nevin:

    Also in which he embraces the days of creation and explicitly relates the waters of the deep to Noah’s flood. None of which stopped Centre for Intelligent Design from hosting Behe in the UK a few years back. Behe seems to be some kind of guided evolutionist, while insisting in the teeth of the evidence that natural evolution is incapable of generating novelty. While wearing their ID hats the C4ID pres, VP Galloway, and Director Alastair Noble keep quiet about their religion, insisting that ID is science. Lots more about these people on the bcse website and blog site

  23. And later in the thread that Frank J quoted at 1:20 today, and from the same commentator: “Incidentally, I need to correct myself – I listened again, and William finally forced Norman Nevin to admit that he is in fact a young earth creationist, which essentially confirms that Intelligent Design is just creationism with its lippy on (and smudged over its teeth).”

  24. @Paul Braterman.

    Good catch. I just caution to make sure that Nevin admitted it in those exact words. If all he admitted was recent origin of life, or even just H. sapiens, that does not necessarily mean that he’s a young-earther or young-universer. Either in terms of personal belief or in terms of what he most wants his audience to believe.

    Certainly Nevin prefers a more overtly Biblical strategy than most ID peddlers. But even the more politically correct ID peddlers tailor their words to suit the audience at hand (though that’s getting harder to get away with in the Internet age).

    Bottom line is that if one defines “creationism” as a strategy to promote unreasonable doubt of evolution by any means necessary, ID is not only creationism, but the “purest” form of it. But if one defines “creationism” as an honest belief in a literal 6-day, young life (& maybe young earth and universe too) origins account (as most people on the street apparently do), ID is nothing of the sort, but rather something far more sinister. With the “scientific” YEC of AiG et al somewhere between those extremes.

  25. E. Weissberg

    The full transcript of the Judge’s statements and the arguments by both sides is here: