Thursday, September 13, 2007

Richard Colling: Scientist, Christian...and Martyr

Some of you will remember that I previously posted on Dr. Richard Colling, a professor at Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois, who defended evolution as God's process, contrary to the strict literal interpretation of Genesis preferred by the Church of the Nazarene, the denomination in control of ONU. Colling is a man of faith who also clearly recognizes that the real world tells a story that may ultimately be closer to God's truth than that portrayed in primitive biblical texts. In a 2004 article, Colling describes his perspective:

Colling is one of a small number of conservative Christian scholars who are trying to convince biblical literalists that Darwin's theory of evolution is no more the work of the devil than is physicist Isaac Newton's theory of gravity....

Usually, the defense of evolution comes from scientists. But Colling has another motivation.
"People should not feel they have to deny reality in order to experience their faith," he says.

Since that time, however, the forces of darkness and ignorance influencing the administration at ONU have decided that Richard Colling should not be allowed to teach science when it contradicts stubbornly held myth. Colling's personal struggle to bring peace between science and religion has come to a head, and now Professor Colling faces a situation more reminiscent of conditions in Iran than America. A pre-release Newsweek on Colling and other scientists of faith shows how these courageous individuals are being persecuted for their ideas, much in the same fashion as Galileo was persecuted for his. Because of his attempts to reconcile faith with the facts of science, ONU, under pressure from some "irate parents, pastors, and others" has brought the inquisition to Professor Colling:

Colling is prohibited from teaching the general biology class, a version of which he had taught since 1991, and college president John Bowling has banned professors from assigning his book. At least one local Nazarene church called for Colling to be fired and threatened to withhold financial support from the college...

...Yet with the new term, Bowling banned "Random Designer" [Colling's book] from all courses; it had been used in at least one history class, an advanced biology course and the general biology course.

The science blogosphere has picked up on Colling's current plight. Although Richard Colling is a lifelong member of the Church of the Nazarene, a graduate of Olivet Nazarene University and believes in a God that is "...bigger, far more profound and vastly more creative than you may have known", the reaction from Church of the Nazarene despots would lead you to believe he is another Christopher Hitchens. As PZ notes at Pharyngula:

He must have done something truly horrible! Why, he sounds like some kind of godless atheist who is trying to pry his students away from the loving embrace of the church.

At EvolutionBlog, Jason comments:

You would think that even at a Christian university a person's religious views are not really relevant to what gets taught in science class. And I wouldn't have thought that theistic evolution was such an outre position among Christians that Colling would come in for this kind of flak for writing a book about it.

Panda's Thumb comments on the expected (and so far, attained) Discovery Institute hypocrisy over "teaching the controversy":

ID proponents are quick to argue ‘viewpoint discrimination’ whenever their attempts to introduce their scientifically vacuous ideas fail....
So when can we expect a cry of outrage from the Discovery Institute, demanding that Colling will be allowed to teach his usual classes?
Has Hell frozen over? Oh the irony…

Yes, where is Casey Luskin? Anika Smith? Michael Egnor? Denyse O'Leary?

Henry Neufeld, however, cuts right through to the main issue in a post entitled "Where Teaching the Controversy is Prohibited". The "Teach the Controversy" argument is nothing but pure propoganda - there is no expectation on the part of its advocates that any sort of "controversy" be taught. It is only the first step in getting control of the curriculum and weeding out evolutionary science altogether. As Neufeld argues:

I have suggested many times before that before one believes what IDC (intelligent design creationism) advocates say about their goals, one should look at the way they handle the matter where they are in control....

This action shows some of the destructive potential of ignorance, but it also removes any fig-leaf of respectability from the “teach the controversy” argument. The advocates of creationism generally do not want the controversy taught. They want to win. If they were to win a court case allowing their materials into the public school classrooms, their next move would be to prevent critical examination of those ideas, and then to prevent the teaching of evolutionary theory itself....

I believe that the Olivet example is what theistic evolutionists such as myself can expect from the ID movement. They want to shut us out. They certainly don’t want to “teach the controversy” about ID, a controversy that is very much alive amongst Christians.

You see, “teaching the controversy” is good when you want to wedge your way into the public schools, or force your way into universities. It’s not so good when someone wants to fairly examine the controversy inside a Christian school. They want a “heads we win, tails you lose” situation.

Other good discussions of Colling's situation can be found at Metacatholic and Higgaion. And while I'm sure other bloggers have also commented, we all can do no better than to let Richard Colling speak for himself. I have been privileged to have exchanged emails with Richard Colling over the past few days and he has written eloquently on his perspective, his plight and his desire to do nothing more than to teach students that they do not have to fear science in order to maintain personal faith. With Professor Colling's permission, I post the entire message I received this morning:

Hello Chris,

This article tells only the tip of the iceberg, but will give you a flavor...

Here is the actual truth. All I have ever wanted to do is to communicate and then cultivate a message of peace and harmony between Science and Faith. Unfortunately, what I have learned over the past two years is that some profoundly scientifically naive fundamentalist Christians only want war - apparently intent on destroying and discrediting anyone who does not conform to the fundamentalist creationist mindset.

I truly feel that I can empathize with Galileo of 1633 when the Catholic church placed restrictions on him. I suppose it was inevitable that it would someday come to this: The battle fought against the scientifically naive religious authority and won by Galileo (albeit it took 400 years for vindication) was in the physical sciences. (The earth is NOT the center of the universe.) In contrast, regarding the emancipation of evolution (biological sciences) from the self-appointed religious authorities has not yet occurred in the United States. Perhaps it is time.

I believe that it is a matter of when, not if, the evolutionary paradigm WILL be integrated into the evangelical Christian theology. If not, the Christian faith will be relegated to cultural obsolescence. With the genetic data derived from the human genome project and other sources, the evolutionary connectedness of life on earth can no longer be denied. Therefore to build the foundation of the Christian faith on opposition to evolution is not only silly, it is suicide for the long-term viability and credibility of the faith.

It has been a rude and very unsettling experience. While promoting a message of peace, and after 26 years of faithful devotion to Christian higher education and investment in the lives of thousands of our college men and women, it is difficult to describe the depths of my disappointment that a few profoundly scientifically ignorant individuals have been allowed to create such discord and damage to to me and the university in the public's eye - by convincing a university president to acquiesce to their demands. (even though the president privately continues to say that he has identified nothing in my teaching or writing that is scientifically or theologically deficient.) The truth is this: My students love me, I love them, and we are all getting along fine. The outside critics notwithstanding...

I have been told in essence in a letter from the president of the university that although it may seem unfair, the truth and facts will not matter here. Perception is what is guiding his actions. I am still numbed by these words coming from a university president when discussing the teaching of biology in a university setting. Therefore, it seems that the only tools allowed for this discussion and commitment to truth and principle are political tools. Sad. I have always held that it is truth and education that sets us free, not uninformed political perceptions.

I am under no illusion that certain members of the board of trustees who have been uniformly hostile toward my teaching and writing may now attempt to manufacture something to use to retaliate against me. Oh well. I stand on truth and principle.

I include here for you a written statement I provided to the local newspaper. The article should come out today. Feel free to disseminate any of this commentary and information.
All I have ever wanted in my 26 years of writing and teaching is to communicate a message of peace and harmony between science and faith. I believe I have faithfully fulfilled this work in a manner that models the stated ideals of an Olivet Nazarene University faculty member. Therefore, I am very disappointed by these unwarranted and unnecessary actions which seem to suggest otherwise.

I believe these measures, made in response to off-campus scientifically uninformed critics of evolution, cannot help but cast a negative, and up until this time, an undeserved reflection on Olivet's reputation as a bona fide institution of higher education. As a proud ONU alumnus (Class of 1976) and veteran faculty member of 26 years who devoted my entire professional career to upholding the Olivet mission of "Education with a Christian Purpose", this seems like a medieval blow to the university's dedicated professional faculty and the institution's educational standing in the greater academic community.

In a culture and society increasingly driven by advances in science and technology, it is a sad day in the life of a Christian university when new understanding and insights into God's creation revealed by biology and genetics are viewed as a threat to faith. Students deserve better. Those who continue set biology at odds with the Bible do a terrible disservice to both.

Let the whole world know. It is time for truth and transparency.

Rick Colling

Not much else to say. Professor Colling is another of those rare men of honor and integrity who might just bring someone like me back to the fold. I will tell you one thing: I no longer believe creationism is merely many manifestations (such as this) I think it is actually evil. I can no longer give creationism or its proponents any quarter....


Anonymous said...

If I were a student on Dr. Colling's campus, I'd try to organize a peaceful gathering on the quad or under the flagpole, where his book would be read aloud, paragraph by paragraph, to anyone who would listen.

Anonymous said...

The problem with your understanding of our denomination is this: THERE IS NOTHING IN OUR DOCTRINE OR MANUAL OF BELIEF THAT CONTRADICTS EVOLUTIONARY THEORY! We believe that God created the Earth, but we have never had the small-minded, rather stupid view that He could not use evolution to do that. And no one I know, at least in our local church, holds to a 'young earth' viewpoint. Nor is that view an accepted one in our doctrine. That is one of the saddest things about Dr. Colling's plight--that he is being pilloried for teaching biology in a way that does not even contradict our doctrine. Although I am a lifelong Nazarene, I did not go to a Nazarene university. If I had, I would be even more ashamed than I am, that the ignorant have won a round in my house.
By the way, I don't hear the stupid anti-evolution folks arguing that the Theory of Relativity is 'only a theory,' and there aren't really any atomic bombs...

Pastor Ryan said...

To Jason from Evolution blog: I am curious as to how you would define “a persons religious views.” I would define religion as the worldview that someone adheres to. Being a Christian, I know that I have a biased worldview, fortunately the enlightenment happened. It brought with it Universal morality (thank you Kant) as well as equality, democracy, “freedom” and a bunch of other ideas that are merely fabrications. Think long and hard about it. The idea of Tabula rasa came about then. Humanity also deified the mind so much so that we still believe that our brains can achieve unadultured truth? Thank God for Nietzche (never thought you would hear a Christian say that eh?) With the advent of existentialism which lead to deconstructionism and post modernism, we no longer have the dominating force of modernity. See I would say that modernity teaches a religion. It gives us a religion. It does not need to convince us that we have a problem, the world is aware that we have problems. Very few people would say this is a perfect world (many might say this is the most perfect world, but then you get to deal with Voltaire) What my religion teaches is that Jesus is the savior, and as primitive as it may sound, my faith is my savior. With modernity progress (science) is the savior. That is why teaching evolution as more than a theory is touchy in a Christian setting. Our narrative keeps the divinity in his place. The narrative of evolution places science or the human intellect which creates science, in the place of judge and ruler. So you said, “a person's religious views are not really relevant to what gets taught in science class.” I contradict this by simply saying that every person has their own religion, which can also be called worldview, life philosophy, narrative, etc. Only an omnipotent being is capable of speaking about anything completely unbiased. Since only an omnipotent being is capcable of knowing what is unbiased, and since no person I know is omnipotent, it is impossible for limited beings to know where truly unbiased knowledge lies. We have to take the leap of faith somewhere. Christians leap to God. I cannot speak for others. If that is immature, well I am aware of where I stand, that does prohibit me from learning about the world around me, I just have to keep in mind that I am not infalliable.

To anonymous 1, if they did that, then the students would begin to understand why Colling had to self publish this book. We should read the fine print better, it was banned from classes. It isn't a scientific treaty. Its a personal theology. I really doubt that any other school would allow this as a science text book. Using it for a debate class or a philosophy class sure, but not for History or science.

Anonymous said...

I am a student at Olivet, and I took a science class with Dr. Colling and I have actually sat down on a personal basis with Dr. Bowling and we did discuss this issue.

First of all, you all must realize that here on our campus, we support both Dr. Colling and Dr. Bowling. The MYTH that Dr. Collings job is in danger is just that, a myth. And I heard that from Dr. Bowling himself.

Dr. Colling simply put, is one of the smartest men that I have ever meet. I may not agree with the man, but he is smart. You must realize however that there is no peer review of this book, that is one of the reasons that people have such a huge problem with this book. He had no accountability to what he put down on paper. Much of the opposition comes from outside the school. There are those who do disagree with Dr. Colling, but the ones who are having all the problems are mostly outside of the school.

About the book being banned. Let me clarify this right now. It is NOT, let me say that again, it is NOT banned. It is sold in our bookstore, a copy can be borrowed from the Library and Dr. Bowling even has a copy in his office. The only thing with the book itself that has been done is that Dr. Colling has been asked that it not be used as a textbook. It has no peer review, why should he be able to use that when others have gone through the correct steps to have their books published and make them available for text use?

Honestly, as a student, and I believe that the student body would agree, we support our professor and our president, they both are handling this really well.

I do have to say this, anonymous1, a rally would do nothing. I am not going to sit and listen to someone read a book when I can go into the library, get it, and read it whenever I want.

Christopher O'Brien said...

keuw - I was struck by this comment you made:

Since only an omnipotent being is capcable of knowing what is unbiased, and since no person I know is omnipotent, it is impossible for limited beings to know where truly unbiased knowledge lies.

If that is true, and you yourself are not omnipotent, then how do you know your faith in Jesus is not misplaced? Perhaps the bible is what it is: a Bronze Age text written by people with limited knowledge of the world...

Anonymous said...

Currently I am a student at Olivet, and I am also in one of Dr. Colling's advanced science classes. It is true that we support both Dr. Colling and Dr. Bowling, however students are siding more toward the side of Dr. Colling since Dr. Bowling has to play politics along with his personal beliefs. People should know that Dr. Colling's theories are neither forced on students nor are they taught as the new way things are. Students are left to themselves to decide how they want to apply Dr. Colling's thoughts and theories.

As for arranging some sort of gathering in the quad - sadly we can't. any gathering that can be viewed by the university as a protest is cause for suspetion, fines, and on the extreme a loss of scholarship support from the university.

Here at Olivet, especially amoung any of the students who know Dr. Colling or know of him, or have read his book are on his side. There are many efforts being made by university students to show their support to Dr. Colling and the unfair criticism that he finds himself in. We won't let him "go quietly into the night." He inspires us in more ways than one: Scholastically, emotionally, and especially spiritually. We may be on a Conservative Christian Campus but that doesn't make us ignorant, we are willing to embrace all types peoples and beliefs even if we don't agree with them. That is something that has been forgot lately and needs to be brought back into the open.

Pastor Ryan said...

Christopher, Thats what makes it faith. I cannot prove it, I have to use my incomplete and broken body and interpret the world to the best of my abilities. Believe me in no way can i ever persuade someone to faith. Christians who attempt to do so have bought into a modern conceptual Christianity that lowers conversion to an intellectual act instead of an adoption as a new son. Believe me, im not really trying to convince anyone that y reality is true. I am merely asking the science community not to act as the Inquisition once did and impose their views on me. Perhaps I am too much of an existentialist, perhaps I have read too much Nietzche or Rorty, more likely, I have read to much Kierkegaard. Everyone makes a leap of faith, and everyone has a faith of sorts, a secular idea doesn't exist. I am aware of my bias, I will never say that I am unbiased, i here suggest that absolute truth is difficult for broken humans to attain. If the Allah turns out to be God, im screwed, if Krishna is the real god... well maybe i will get it right in the next life. If Yahweh is God, then perhaps his mercy will flow onto me. If there isn't a God, then oh well. I will have messed up. I committed myself to endless service and sacrifice, to loving me neighbor above myself, but then, i am willing to die with that error.

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