Gise J. Van Baren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
Editorial comment about the creation debate at Calvin College I will leave to others. It is of interest, however, to note the reaction and comments of some as presented in the press. In the Detroit Free Press, Feb. 13, 1988, we were informed on the front page:
Three Calvin College professors who questioned the literal truth of the Bible’s creation story were spared possible disciplinary action Friday in a report issued after a year-long investigation of them by trustees of the school.
The report said physics professor Howard Van Till and geology professors Davis Young and Clarence Menninga had not violated doctrine of the Christian Reformed Church in their teaching and writing. The church owns the school, and tenured professors sign pledges to abide by church doctrine.
But the report approved by the trustees, while praising the men for their scholarship, reminded them of the limits imposed by doctrine, and said Van Till in particular had come close to breaching those limits.
The trustees’ seven-page report attempted to strike a balance between academic freedom and conservative criticism, of the professors, But one of the critics whose complaints sparked the inquiry labeled it “a whitewash.”
Lester DeKoster, former head librarian at Calvin, said all three have violated church doctrine by teaching that the world was not created in six days, as described in Genesis, and that evolution may have played a role in the creation of Adam, the first man. “‘If the board wishes to retain the full confidence of its full constituency then it cannot condone the positions of these three men, DeKoster said, “and the consequence now will be that they will have further eroded the confidence of the so-called conservatives in the church.”
The Grand Rapids Press, Feb. 12, 1988, reported on its front page:
Calvin College’s Board of Trustees approved a report Thursday night that was “very critical” of three science professors accused of teaching a form of evolution that conflicted with a literal interpretation of the Bible.
But the report called for no sanctions against Clarence Menninga, Howard Van Till and Davis Young.
A statement issued by the college today said their teachings “fall within the limits set by the Christian Reformed Church’s guidelines for how to interpret the Bible.”
At the same time, the report reminded the professors of the “limitations” that those guidelines place on the Bible’s interpretation . . . .
The following day, Feb. 13, 1988, the Grand Rapids Press presented another front page report of the event:
The age of the earth—and whether Adam and Eve were the first humans to walk it—weren’t the biggest concerns facing Calvin College students John LaGrand and Chris Vander Ark Friday.
What mattered to them was that the college’s governing board absolved three popular science professors of charges they are teaching a form of evolution that is opposed to the doctrines and creeds of the Christian Reformed Church.
Like many on the campus of the CRC’s denominational school, LaGrand and Vander Ark breathed a sigh of relief when the board announced its support for the three scientists. . . .
“We took the board’s action as really good news,” said Vander Ark, a 21-year-old English major at the CRC’s denominational college.
“The investigation had threatened to make Calvin look like an inhibited, extremely conservative Christian college,” added LaGrand, associate editor of The Chimes, the college’s newspaper.
“These professors deserve all the support and respect they can get,” he said. “The board handled this matter very well. They were definitely concerned with justice. “
At issue were the writings and teachings of the professors, all of whom hailed the report for supporting them in their research.
“By their recognizing the need for academic freedom . . . and by their encouraging us to perform our scholarship with intellectual integrity, the Board of Trustees have become the real heroes in this story,” said Van Till.
Well, I suppose one ought to say, “Three cheers for the ‘real heroes’!” But not all in the CRC believe they deserve that kind of praise. The Grand Valley Advance, Mar. 15, 1988, presented also a page account of this debacle:
. . . Pastors Randall Lankheet, of Jamestown CRC, and Robert Heerema, of Wyoming Park CRC, say Van Till challenges the belief in a real, historical Adam and the belief in Genesis as a literal history. Contrary to the findings of the study committee, they say, Van Till has stepped outside of the doctrines of the church in even raising such questions . . . .
Lankheet and Heerema, who have both had private discussions with Van Till since last April, say ,the Calvin professor and the study committee failed to stand firmly behind the belief in a real, historical Adam.
Study committee members Rev. James Vander Laan, of Kalamazoo, and Rev. Henry Vanden Heuvel, of Zeeland, however, insist that they and Van Till are in line with church doctrines that say a real, historical Adam is essential to the Christian faith.
“This is exactly the problem—that many people feel these (professors) deny the existence of Adam—but this is not the case,” says Vanden Heuvel. “The fact of Christ depends upon the fact of Adam; the two stand or fall together. “. . . .
Van Till suggests that church theologians need to consider the following evidence from science:
is 5 billion years old, and the Earth
is 4 billion years old.
•Life has existed on Earth for about three and a half billion years.
•The human race is genealogically related to the rest of God’s creatures.
While Van Till writes on the question of whether Genesis is literal or figurative history, he says he has not taught or written anything about the question of whether there was a real Adam.
Van Till says there is “no merit” in publicly discussing his personal beliefs on the matter, but he does think the CRC community should be discussing the question.
One might well ask: “Why does Van Till not want to discuss publicly his view on Adam?” Other expressions of concern have arisen. In the Christian Renewal, Feb. 29, 1988, we read:
. . . What this statement in effect does is pat the three professors on the head while at the same time issuing a mild slap on the wrist warning them to be more careful next time. The implication of this decision should be seriously considered by all members of the CRC. In the next and future issues, Christian Renewal will offer commentary and analysis of the study committee report and of the monumental decision by the Board of Trustees. This is a sad day for the CRC.
As could almost be expected, some had a heyday out of this whole affair. Our own local critic, John Douglas, stated in the Grand Rapids Press, Feb. 17, 1988:
I was going to do a full column on the recent investigation at Calvin College but have decided the whole thing is so pitiful that I should just leave it alone with a small comment.
I think it’s weird that on one hand the president of Calvin College is talking about attracting non-Christian Reformed students and at the same time the college is holding investigations to see if its science teachers are teaching stuff that contradicts the Bible—something I would think would be near impossible for a science teacher to avoid.
Of course, it’s Calvin College’s right to teach anything it wants and I would be the last to deny them that right. All I can say is “Good luck, Calvin College” as you stroll through the Dark Ages.
And the Grand Rapids Press religion editor had his moment of fun too at Calvin’s expense. He “interviewed” a monkey at the zoo:
“Well, ” I said, sliding closer, “I was hoping to get another angle on the Calvin College creation/evolution story. “
I sketched the details.
Some conservative members of the Christian Reformed Church were upset because three science professors were teaching the earth wasn’t created in seven days about 4,000 years ago, as the Bible says.
They were also upset because the men seemed to be giving weight to the argument that humans may have evolved from apes.
The animal’s head snapped back, alarmed. “Give me that again,” it said.
In the cage, the monkeys had stopped playing.
“Well, the theory is that man came from apes. You never heard of evolution?”
The monkey hopped off the bench. “No, never. Who came up with this anyway?”
“A man called Darwin.”
“Is he from Calvin?” the animal wondered.
“No, he died a hundred years ago.”
The animal leaned against the monkey house. A few of its friends had gathered behind the glass.
“Tell me again. You say these guys from Calvin think man came from us, monkeys?”
Yeah. That’s about it. And I just wanted its comments; I wanted the monkey’s side of the story.
The animal frowned. “I think the idea’s stupid. “
The animal pointed at me. “Take a look. You’re nearly bald; you’ve got bad teeth. You wear funny clothes. ” . . . .
The whole event is not, of course, funny. The Board of Trustees have taken a stand, evidently unanimously. There was no evidence of any minority report. There is evidence of unhappiness with the Board’s decision, including that shown in a full page ad in the Grand Rapids Press, Mar. 12, 1988, placed there by Mr. Leo Peters. Yet the objectors face the real problem: is not the teaching of these three men in line with the “Report 44” of the CRC?
Sadly, when there is evidence that some evolutionists are beginning to doubt their own teachings, now some at Calvin are ready to espouse it.