The Threat of Evolution to Christian Education
On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s publisher, J.M. Dent & Sons of London, released 1,250 copies of his work, The Origin of Species. Over the next 17 years, some 16,000 copies of the book would be published—a tremendous number of any single book to be sold in that day and age. It was, said some, the book that would make man “timeless.” Since then, the controversy surrounding the system of evolution that Darwin’s book espoused has not abated. Today, most, if not all, state-supported colleges and universities teach organic evolution as a fact of science that is not to be doubted by any “right-thinking” person. In an era of increasing secularism and humanism, it is an understatement to say that evolution is vogue.
Because they recognized that evolution represented a serious obstacle to building faith in God and His Word, for the most part Christians of the past steadfastly opposed it. Restoration Movement history is filled with examples of just how serious a threat Christians understood evolution to be. In 1925, the Scopes trial brought evolution squarely into the public eye. Just two years later, in the fall of 1927, G.C. Brewer, a well-known preacher among the churches of Christ, delivered his “Lecture on Evolution” in Fort Worth, Texas. Two years after that, in 1929, George Klingman authored his book, God Is, published in direct response to the widely circulated pamphlet, Godless Evolution, written by Charles Smith, founder and first president of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism. Brewer, Klingman, and many others of that era understood that evolution—unchallenged and consistently accepted—ultimately results in the destruction of faith in God and His Word in the hearts of men.
Many today have acknowledged that point as well. In fact, there can be little doubt that present trends toward home schooling, and the significant increase in the number of Christian or private schools in recent years, are attributable directly to the fact that concerned parents no longer are willing to sit by idly and allow their children to be indoctrinated with evolutionary concepts. The price—the loss of a child’s soul—is simply too high.
Parents, therefore, have sought assistance from a variety of sources as they attempted to find the means by which to protect the faith of their children. One of the sources to which mothers and fathers turned with supreme confidence was Christian education (e.g., Christian academies, colleges, universities, etc.)—and rightly so. These institutions were begun by concerned Christians who wanted to provide high-quality education and a haven of safety where their children would have their faith in God and His inspired Word strengthened. Parents believed it was worth the financial sacrifice to ensure that the faith of their children was both protected and encouraged. Thus, Christian education became a valuable tool. Because it had such lofty goals, and because it was so successful in attaining those goals, it flourished.
Untold thousands have been blessed by it. However, the pioneers of Christian education in this country have long since departed. And in some instances—because they no longer are here to remind us—their goals and objectives have faded along with their memories. As a result, on occasion those involved in Christian education have forgotten their roots, and the sacrifices made by so many of the past. Consequently, the temptation has arisen to meld once again with pseudo-intellectualism (opposition to which being the reason Christian education began in the first place). Gradually, without meaning to, we sometimes become that which we initially set out to oppose. A good example of this very thing is the teaching of organic and theistic evolution.
Origin and destiny are linked inextricably one to the other. To teach erroneous concepts on origins often results in one teaching erroneous concepts on destiny. We need to be reminded that if we give children a false, warped concept of their origin, ultimately they will end up with a false, warped concept of their destiny as well. G. Richard Culp, in his book, Remember Thy Creator, noted:
One who doubts the Genesis account will not be the same man he once was, for his attitude toward Holy Scripture has been eroded by false teaching. Genesis is repeatedly referred to in the New Testament, and it cannot be separated from the total Christian message (1975, pp. 160-161).
Those of us who teach in, serve as administrators for, financially support, or send our children to Christian schools, need to remember these two important points raised by Dr. Culp: (1) if we teach our children that evolution is true and that the Genesis account of origins is untrustworthy, it cannot help but reflect upon their attitude toward the remainder of Scripture and lead them to believe that it, too, is untrustworthy; (2) the Genesis account of creation cannot be separated from the “total Christian message.” Christ, on more than one occasion, gave His divine stamp of approval to matters pertaining to origins as discussed by Moses in the first eleven chapters of Genesis (John 5:46-47; Mark 10:6ff.; Matthew 24:37-39; et al.). Other inspired writers of both the Old and New Testaments did the same (e.g., Psalm 8; Nehemiah 9:6; 1 Peter 3:20-21; Romans 1:20-21; 1 Corinthians 15:45; et al.). There are over 200 allusions to, quotations from, or references to the book of Genesis in the New Testament, and over half of those come from the first eleven chapters.
Man’s origin was an important topic to the writers of God’s Word. It should be no less important to those of us who support Christian education today. After all, isn’t that why we became involved in Christian education in the first place—to teach our children that God’s Word provides “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3)?
LESSONS FROM THE PAST
In their brilliant work, The Christian Scholar, professors Adron Doran and J.E. Choate have provided a chilling documentary, from actual historical records, of events that transpired at the College of the Bible in Lexington, Kentucky during the years of 1912-1917. Their discussion provides an interesting case study, and shows what can happen when Christian schools abandon the teaching of the Word of God on origins and replace such teaching with evolutionary dogma.
During the lifetime of J.W. McGarvey, Isaiah B. Grubbs, Charles L. Loos, and Robert Graham (the “old guard” at the College of the Bible), classrooms were free from the teaching of evolution and other forms of liberalism. But no sooner had they passed away than their former positions began to be undermined. R.H. Crossfield, the newly appointed liberal president of the College of the Bible, moved rapidly to appoint four new faculty members trained in higher criticism of the Bible. Only Hall L. Calhoun, who had earned his Ph.D. from Harvard, remained as a vestige of the “old guard.” Calhoun, who was the dean of the College, had been trained by McGarvey himself as his protégé. But the appointment of Crossfield destroyed any hopes Calhoun had for the future of the College of the Bible.
Early in 1917, Benjamin F. Battenfield, a mature student (in his late thirties) at the College of the Bible, complained to dean Calhoun about organic evolution being taught as fact in his classes, carrying with him evidence supporting his claim (class notes, statements from other students, etc.). Battenfield had come to the College of the Bible in 1910 because he wanted an education at the feet of men whom he thought revered God and His Word. As it turns out, such an education would prove to be more elusive than he ever could have anticipated.
Calhoun was convinced by the evidence that Battenfield’s charges were correct, and he set about trying to correct what he saw as a serious doctrinal problem in the teaching program of the College of the Bible. But he was to meet stern opposition from practically every quarter. As opposition to his stand from members of the College’s faculty and administration grew, Battenfield decided to make the matter public. On March 12, 1917 he mailed to three hundred ministers an open letter, accompanied by a petition signed by numerous students, asking the Board of Trustees for an impartial investigation into the charges. Twelve days later, dean Calhoun released a statement to the Christian Standard (a popular religious magazine of that day), in which he stated: “In response to certain inquiries which have come to me,... candor compels me to state that for more than a year I have been fully convinced that destructive criticism was being taught in the College of the Bible” (as quoted in Doran, 1986, p. 4). Almost immediately, president Crossfield and the accused faculty members mounted a counterattack, issuing a letter of denial, stating that Battenfield’s allegations were false and represented nothing more than a vicious, unwarranted attack on the school. The student newspaper, the Crimson Rambler became involved, taking the side of the College.
In spite of pleas from those outside the academic atmosphere who loved and appreciated the school, the Board of Trustees decided to conduct only a brief, internal investigation. On May 2, 1917, the Board met to investigate the Calhoun/Battenfield charges. When additional members of the student body came to Battenfield’s support, providing eyewitness testimony about what had been taught in their classes, they were singled out and punished academically. Students who could have provided valuable information never were interviewed by the board. Shortly thereafter, the Board issued a report denying any culpability, and defending the professors involved, asserting that: “The Board believes that the disposition to preserve the good of the past, combined with the ability to improve the task of the present, should be the underlying principle to its trusteeship of the institution” (as quoted in Doran, 1986, p. 4). All efforts to reopen the investigation, and to secure a neutral, independent investigating team, were rebuffed by president Crossfield and the trustees. As Doran has suggested: “The findings were a complete cover up and a perfect whitewash...” (1986, p. 4). Dr. Calhoun was left with no choice but to resign, which he did in the summer of 1917. In their discussion of this controversy, Calhoun’s biographers offered these chilling concluding remarks:
There is really no place to end this never-ending chapter on the 1917 “Battle of the Book” that shook the very foundations of the College of the Bible in Lexington, Kentucky, for well over two-hundred days. The shockwaves of the aftermath of the earthquake have not yet subsided (Doran and Choate, 1985, p. 121).
As a result of these events, the College of the Bible went into extreme liberalism. Faculty members taught evolution as fact, administrators approved it, and trustees ignored it. Numerous Kentucky churches passed resolutions dissociating themselves from the school. Those who tried to correct the problem were belittled and denigrated. Eventually, however, history proved their testimony true (see Doran and Choate, 1985, pp. 103-121; see also Doran, 1986, pp. 4,10).
LESSONS FOR THE PRESENT
In assessing the events that occurred between 1912 and 1917 at the College of the Bible, Doran has written: “It is altogether possible for the ‘Firestorm in the Bluegrass,’ which swept the College of the Bible in 1917, to sweep the campuses of our Christian Colleges and Universities today” (1986, pp. 4,10). This is a warning that should not be ignored, especially in light of teachings that have been documented in some Christian schools. There are clear indications that opposition to the teaching of evolution is not as pronounced as it once was, and that some institutions may be in danger of traveling the same road to liberalism as the College of the Bible. The evidence over the past few decades suggests that the teaching of various forms of evolution—within an atmosphere of Christian education—has been tolerated, accepted, and even, in some cases, encouraged.
Though numerous examples could be provided, certain ones stand out due to the fact that the circumstances involved parallel so closely those of the “Firestorm in the Bluegrass.” For example, in 1985-86, both then-current students and recent graduates of the biology department at Abilene Christian University brought to the attention of the administration the fact that two professors, Archie Manis and Kenneth Williams, had taught, and were teaching, evolution as fact. Dr. Manis even had gone so far as to hand out photocopies of the text of Genesis 1 from his personal Bible, upon which he had handwritten his comment that the text was a “myth.” The scenario in 1985-1986 was almost an exact duplicate of the one at the College of the Bible in 1917. The President of the University, William A. Teague, offered strenuous and patent denials of the charges, even though eyewitness testimony was available, along with written proof, to document the students’ charges. The University’s Board of Trustees performed a perfunctory “internal investigation,” and spurned requests from alumni and interested Christians for a more thorough, independent investigation to be carried out by respected Christians not specifically associated with the University. After its investigation, the Board issued what came to be known as the “gray report” (so-called because it was produced on gray paper), denying that either of the professors involved had taught evolution or labeled Genesis 1 a myth. A 200-page book, Is Genesis Myth?, was written to expose the whole sordid affair, because University officials were unwilling either to acknowledge, or correct, the problem (see Thompson, 1986). Eventually, under duress, the University placed restrictions on the professors’ teachings, even going so far as to require them to pass out cards on the first day of each semester’s classes, in which supposedly it was made clear that although the topic of evolution would be examined, it was not something the professors actually believed. This action—certainly too little too late—occurred only after extensive public pressure from parents and alumni and the loss of financial support to the school. In January 1988, Dr. Manis announced that, as a result of “the evolution controversy” (as he designated it in an interview published in the university’s student newspaper), he was resigning to accept a position teaching high school biology in another Texas city (see Fitzpatrick, 1988, p. 1).
Prior to the debacle at Abilene Christian University, two Christian scientists, Jack Wood Sears and Donald England, professors at Harding University, mailed a letter to various biblical language scholars. Accompanying their October 1983 letter was a questionnaire on matters relating to origins as discussed in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. However, the questionnaire clearly was “loaded” in an attempt to secure only answers supporting the uniformitarian views that the two professors were already on record as advocating (see Sears, 1969, 1983; England, 1972, 1983). Among the inquiries that the questionnaire made, for example, was this: “Is there a principle of Hebrew grammar or a rule of exegesis which would preclude the possibility of an indefinite time lapse between verses one and two or between verses two and three of Genesis chapter one?” The professors also asked this question: “Assuming the creation days of Genesis one were twenty-four hour days, is there a principle of Hebrew grammar or a rule of exegesis that demands the conclusion that each of the six creation days were consecutive, that is, no time could have elapsed to separate day one from day two, day two from day three, etc.?”
Fortunately, the questionnaire came under close scrutiny by some who realized what these two men were attempting to do, and their effort was exposed publicly (Thompson and Jackson, 1984, 4:5-12; see our review of the questionnaire at: “That Loaded Questionnaire”). In a debate with this writer in November 1983 on evolution, creation, and the age of the Earth (see McClish, 1983), Dr. Sears announced publicly that the results from this questionnaire would be published in a forthcoming book. Fortunately, due to the exposure of both their intentions and the dubious nature of the questionnaire, the book never materialized and the results of the questionnaire were shelved quietly.
In the September/October 1984 issue of his bi-monthly publication, Does God Exist?, John N. Clayton of South Bend, Indiana published an article by Norman Hughes, professor of biology at Pepperdine University, which bills itself as a Christian university. The article was titled, “Monism, Belief, and Scientific Explanations,” and set forth the view that Christians should have no trouble believing in evolution. The author even went so far as to state: “I believe that it is an uncritical acceptance of the monist fallacy which causes many believers to be terrified at the idea of evolution” (Hughes, 1984, 11:16). Again, a public response was required to answer this false teaching (see Jackson, 1984).
Just two years later, however, Dr. Hughes once again was in print on this same topic. In a letter to the editor of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, he wrote: “I am a theist—I believe in God and in Jesus Christ as His revelation to mankind. I am an evolutionist.... But please, don’t call me a ‘theistic evolutionist!’ ” (1986, 38:282). One wonders what, exactly, the professor would like to be called, if not a theistic evolutionist. Would he prefer the term “evolutionary theist” perhaps? More important, one wonders what he is teaching the children entrusted to him by parents who thought they were sending their children to a Christian university to have their faith in God’s Word (including Genesis) strengthened.
Unfortunately, these are not merely isolated cases; additional documentation of similar instances could be provided if space permitted. The threat—both to a young person’s faith and to the future of Christian education—that these kinds of teachings represent cannot be overstated. Apparently, at least in some cases, we have failed to learn from history the terrible effects of teaching evolution as a legitimate concept of origins.
Must we be among those who are doomed to repeat history because we have ignored it, and thus refused to learn from it? From time to time, we need to be reminded that mistakes of the past can teach valuable lessons for those of us living in the present. For example, success and soundness in days gone by does not necessarily guarantee that an institution of Christian education is immune to destructive errors and an onslaught of liberalism today. What took faithful men and women of a previous era years of blood, sweat, tears, and great financial sacrifice to build can be destroyed in a much shorter time by those who do not share the same respect for the Word of God. History will teach us well, if we will but listen and learn.
In addition, we of the present generation must take great care to deal honestly and fairly with the evidence of false teaching. We must set aside personal pride and vanity, and be willing to admit that mistakes can occur, in spite of our best efforts to the contrary. When a charge of false teaching is made, and the evidence is such that it substantiates the charge, those involved in the administration of Christian education must have the strength of character to act immediately and correct the error, and to ensure that it does not recur. Children’s souls are at stake.
Also, it is critical that those dedicated to loving and defending God’s inspired Word not grow indifferent or weary in that love and defense. It has been said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, and that apostasy is always only one generation away. This is particularly true in the case of modern Christian education, which came into existence specifically because concerned parents wanted to protect their children’s precious souls. The teaching of evolution goes a long way toward obliterating such an admirable goal. After all, if evolution is true, children have no souls. The question then becomes: How long will it be before our children figure that out for themselves, and act accordingly?
Culp, G. Richard (1975), Remember Thy Creator (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Doran, Adron and J.E. Choate (1985), The Christian Scholar: A Biography of Hall Laurie Calhoun (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate), pp. 103-121.
Doran, Adron (1986), “Satan Has Done It Before,” Christian Light, pp. 4,10, May.
England, Donald (1972), A Christian View of Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
England, Donald (1983), A Scientist Examines Faith and Evidence (Delight, AR: Gospel Light).
Fitzpatrick, Julie, (1988), “Manis Resigns Faculty Position,” The Optimist [Abilene Christian University student newspaper], p. 1, January 15.
Hughes, Norman (1984), “Monism, Belief, and Scientific Explanations,” Does God Exist?, ed. John N. Clayton (South Bend, IN: Donmoyer Avenue Church of Christ), 11:16, September/October.
Hughes, Norman (1986), “ ‘Theistic Evolution’—A Confusion of Terms?,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 38:282.
Jackson, Wayne (1984), “A Pepperdine Professor and Evolution,” Christian Courier, (Stockton, CA: Courier Publications), 20:29-31, December.
Klingman, George (1929), God Is (Cincinnati, OH: F.L. Rowe).
McClish, Dub, ed. (1983), Studies in Hebrews (Denton, TX: Valid Publications), pp. 405-434. This volume is the printed record of the second annual Denton lectures, and contains in written form the debate between Dr. Jack Wood Sears and Dr. Bert Thompson.
Sears, Jack Wood (1969), Conflict and Harmony in Science and the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Sears, Jack Wood (1983), “How the Worlds Were Framed,” Studies in Hebrews, ed. Dub McClish, (Denton, TX: Valid Publications), pp. 405-416.
Thompson, Bert and Wayne Jackson (1984), “That ‘Loaded’ Questionnaire,” Reason & Revelation, 4:5-12, February.
Thompson, Bert (1986), Is Genesis Myth? (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).