Creation crisis in Christian colleges
by Kurt P. Wise, Ph.D., Bryan College, Dayton, Tennessee
January 31, 2006
While many believers are committed to a Christian college education, escalating college costs are forcing these Christians to be very careful in their “shopping” for colleges (either for themselves or for their children). If one believes, as I do, that creation is foundational to all education, then an important criterion should be what the college professors teach about Genesis.
Recently, both the Wheaton College student newspaper (this is a prominent Christian school near Chicago) and Chicago Tribune ran stories1 about the age of the earth in Christian colleges. Now, controversy in Christian colleges is not new. Nor is young-earth versus old-earth a new conflict in the church, for it’s been with us for over two centuries. But, as the author of the Tribune article implied, this conflict might be getting worse.
So why is there a conflict? The rub comes from the fact that although 44–47% of the population seems to believe in something resembling young-age creationism,2 probably more than 90% of Christian colleges and their professors do not. With the exception of Seventh Day Adventist colleges, it’s virtually impossible to find young-age creation taught at denominational colleges (Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, etc.), and some, such as (Southern Baptist) Baylor University, won’t even teach Intelligent Design.3 The Christian colleges which teach young-age creation are few and far between.
For example, among the nondenominational colleges, the only regionally accredited Christian colleges where you can get a young-earth-oriented biology major that I know of are (listed with increasing size): Bryan College (Tennessee), Master’s College (California), Cedarville University (Ohio), and Liberty University (Virginia). And, if you want a young-earth geology major ... well, you’re simply “out of luck.”
OK, but why can’t you simply go to a Christian college and stand firm on the age of things? The answer, in my experience, is that believers can more easily stand firm in their Christian beliefs in a secular university (where you know you can’t believe much of anything you hear about origins) than to stand in sectarian beliefs in a Christian college (where it’s hard not to trust professors who stand before you in such good Christian standing).
As an example, the Tribune article mentions three biology majors at Olivet Nazarene College who entered the school as creationists, but who are now theistic evolutionists. As a further example, the Wheaton College newspaper shows the results of a student survey (42% of the students responded) which showed that whereas 47% believed in a young earth before entering Wheaton (the same percentage which Gallup finds for the population at large in its polls), only 27% believed in a young earth by the time of the survey. The same survey indicated that Wheaton professors were a greater influence on their age-of-earth belief than their parents were!
The adoption of a Christian college’s teaching should be a concern to any young-earth creationist looking for a good Christian college.
But why is the conflict worsening? The answer given by the Tribune writer is the “increase in evangelical Christians and the rise in home schooling for religious reasons.” The implication is that a greater percentage of entering college students will be believing in young-earth creation in the future. In fact, if the young-earth creationists increase in numbers, then they will soon make up more than half of the average college science class. At some point, the frequency of young-earthers will be large enough to threaten the control that the old-earth creationist professor is trying to maintain in the classroom. This could generate something of a crisis in the classroom. On the other hand, if young-earth students and their parents asked the right questions and demanded young-age creation teaching from Christian colleges, what looks like a crisis could be transformed into a revolution in the teaching of Christian college science.