religion profesor bruce waltke dismissed from evangelical seminary for accepting evolution

Dr. Bruce K. Waltke

Dr. Bruce K. Waltke was dismissed from Reformed Theological Seminary for not adhering to biblical creation as the origin of humanity.

this is sad.

scott jaschik of inside higher ed ran a story today about harvard trained religion profesor, bruce k. waltke, who was recentely dismissed form his position at reformed theological seminary in oviedo, fl. interestingly, it was a video of dr. waltke posted on the biologos foundation‘s website that prompted his dismissal. and what heinous crime was dr. waltke filmed committing? a sex scandal? public drunkenness? a financial scandal? no. the video showed waltke doing what he does best: lecturing. to be precise, dr. waltke was lecturing about creation and evolution. specifically, waltke not only endorsed evolution, but said that evangelical christianity could be facing a crisis if it does not come to accept science, and specifically evolution, as a viable explanation for the existence of humanity. but apparently, certain school officials didn’t like what the highly respected professor was saying. and amazingly, the school’s officials, who were apparently policing the content of another organization’s website, decided that what waltke said was worthy of dismissal. (thus, it is not only students that must beware of university policing of facebook photos in an effort to discipline students for underage drinking, but apparently senior faculty must now also be cautious of expressing academic opinions that are not congruent with a school’s religious standards committee. i shake my head.)

of course, dr. waltke is absolutely correct. we evolved. the earth was not created in six days 6000 years ago. in fact, the bible’s redactors couldn’t even decide which of the two creation stories (gen 1-2:3 and gen 2:4b-25) to include, so it canonized both stories. this is freshman level biblical studies material. but because waltke teaches at a ‘confessional’ school, his academic opinions are subject to censure by the very white and very male school administrators, who may or may not have advanced degrees in science or biblical studies. (unlike the rest of the practical theology faculty, chancellor and ceo dr. robert “ric” c. cannada, jr. does not list his academic pedigree or a link to his c.v.)

in fact, the school is so tied to its understanding of the biblical text as ‘inerrant’ that it places a full confessional statement on its website, including this nugget:

All Scripture is self-attesting and, being truth, requires the human mind wholeheartedly to subject itself in all its activities to the authority of Scripture complete as the Word of God, standing written in the sixty-six books of the Holy Bible, all therein being verbally inspired by Almighty God and therefore without error.

the university has defended the dismissal with a very weak response. according to inside higher ed:

Michael Milton, president of the seminary’s Charlotte campus and interim president of its Orlando campus, where Waltke taught, confirmed that the scholar had lost his job over the video…

Milton said that the seminary allows “views to vary” about creation, describing the faculty members there as having “an eight-lane highway” on which to explore various routes to understanding. Giving an example, he said that some faculty members believe that the Hebrew word yom (day) should be seen in Genesis as a literal 24-hour day. Others believe that yom may be providing “a framework” for some period of time longer than a day. Both of those views, and various others, are allowed, Milton said.

so essentially, you can interpret the creation stories in genesis any way you’d like, as long as it involves god creating and doesn’t involve science or evolution. i am reminded of henry ford’s famous claim regarding his model t cars: ‘any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.’ essentially, at reformed theological seminary you can interpret creation any way you’d like, so long as it’s creation.

the article continues:

But while Milton insisted that this provides for “a diversity” of views, he acknowledged that others are not permitted. Darwinian views, and any suggestion that humans didn’t arrive on earth directly from being created by God (as opposed to having evolved from other forms of life), are not allowed, he said, and faculty members know this.

Asked if this limits academic freedom, Milton said: “We are a confessional seminary. I’m a professor myself, but I do not have a freedom that would go past the boundaries of the confession.

perhaps the most disgusting (or at least stomach turning) part of the article came in the school’s attempt at conciliation:

Given Waltke’s role and reputation, Milton said that his resignation wasn’t accepted on the spot. But after prayer on the question, Milton said, officials accepted the resignation.

you see, we didn’t really want to fire him, but after we prayed about it, we felt it best. essentially, god wanted it this way. this actually makes me angry, and i don’t get angry. let me just state for the record: when those in authority attempt to defer responsibility by claiming that they ‘prayed about it’ or claim that their decision is ‘god’s will,’ they betray their cowardice and their lack of leadership. if you’re going to fire someone for petty, sectarian, doctrinal reasons, fire him, and tell him so. tell him why you’re firing him. do not fire someone and then feign sincerity while claiming the decision is god’s responsibility and ‘god’s will’!!!!

in the end, waltke is correct. until christians wrest the faith away from evangelical fundamentalists and the power brokers at christian colleges and seminaries, christianity will continue to appear like a backwards faith that is completely incongruent with modern society. the sooner christians can come to an educated understanding of the biblical texts – not simply the recitation of memory verses and confessional creeds, but the true understanding of the text, its context, and its interpretation in the light of critical study – the better off the faith will be. the more the likes of glenn beck are looked to as the champions and representatives of the christian faith, the more the  church will hemorrhage parishioners. academics and biblical scholars must stand up. we must stop talking only to ourselves and must begin addressing the public directly via blogs, online lectures, and other digital media. for the sooner the public is disabused of the notion that in order to be a real christian, you must be an evangelical fundamentalist, the sooner they will demand that the schools they choose not teach nonsense, which is exactly what is going on at reformed theological seminary: nonsense.

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31 Responses

  1. this was a really eloquent entry on a very important issue. thanks Bob!

  2. thanx meghana.

  3. Unbelievable. It’s a relief to teach at a secular college, where my religious or political opinions have no bearing on whether I am employed or not.

  4. This would have been a more eloquent entry if it had done any independent verification of facts, especially those contrary to the errors of the Insight article.

  5. mjg,

    please use this as an opportunity to disabuse me of any misstatements made either in my post or the inside higher ed article. i want to make sure i get it right, and will correct any mistakes.
    was dr. waltke not dismissed for his stance on evolution/creation? was michael milton misquoted?

    i am aware of rts’ news release that dr. waltke ‘resigned’ and did not return a faculty contract.

    (note to those not familiar with the employment process at many confessional institutions: at many confessional schools, professors are not offered tenure, but are required to sign annual contracts, usually ranging from one to five years. some say that by not offering tenure to faculty, these schools maintain control over the comments and opinions of their faculty, as they are able to not tender a renewed contract to the faculty member they no longer wish to have serve at the school.)

    robert cargill

  6. Since none of us were present for the origin of life or species, I think it is presumptuous to declare either creation or evolution as absolute. For me, neither explanation takes away from God’s power or Glory.

  7. Greetings to all,

    To summarize, RC is angry because RTS told a faculty member (BW) that his beliefs = nonsense because they (RTS) don’t agree with him (BW) and, as a result, have told him (BW) he must leave. In response, RC has asserted that RTS beliefs = nonsense because he doesn’t agree with them. Therefore, as a result, RC recommends that the individuals at RTS should leave (or be removed).

    That’s an Interesting line of reasoning, RC.

    According to your response, you “feel” a measure of disgust due to the fact that “apparently senior faculty must now also be cautious of expressing academic opinions that are not congruent with a school’s religious standards committee.”

    What rationale would lead you to condemn this private institution for exercising their freedom to set their own clearly stated confessional standards by which all parties are mutually agreed to submit and which are used to voluntarily govern their professors/employees upon entry to and continued employment with said institution (and its accompanying standards)?

    “i shake my head….so essentially, you can interpret the creation stories in genesis any way you’d like, as long as it involves god creating…”

    Yes, it is quite clear that the Bible begins with this statement (see Gen 1:1)

    “…and doesn’t involve science or evolution.”

    Please be careful with the defintions you are using with these words. The Bible is not against science nor are “evangelical fundamentalists” (using your term) against science if you intend to define the word as meaning “a testable hypothesis that allows for observational and repeatable processes to determine whether or not the hypothesis is true”. Also, the Bible is not against nor are “evangelical fundamentalists” against evolution if you intend to define the word as meaning changes within a kind (but being careful not to assimilate a “molecules-to-man” concept). Obviously, dogs evolve…into other types of dogs. Likewise, birds also evolve…into other types of birds.

    “…until christians wrest the faith away from evangelical fundamentalists and the power brokers at christian colleges and seminaries”

    By “christians” above, you must mean “only those – like yourself – who hold to a molecules-to-man view of macro-evolution”. It seems that you started off this blogpost stating your outrage against closed-minded indviduals/groups who are intolerant of other views on the Biblical account of the origins of life. Why are you so upset when you yourself hold to the same position?

    “christianity will continue to appear like a backwards faith that is completely incongruent with modern society.”

    Biblical Christianity has always appeared to the unregenerate world as a “backwards faith that is completely incongruent with modern society”. Recall, the apostle Paul taught that the gospel of Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death would be foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. The fact that Jesus and each of His apostles were killed, would seem to lend objective evidence to this biblical claim, no?

    Finally, you encourage that others “demand that the schools they choose not teach nonsense…”

    Apparently, you have labeled their teaching and actions as nonsense because they differ from your understanding. Isn’t this why you claimed you were upset about Mr. Waltke being “fired” from RTS?

    “…which is exactly what is going on at reformed theological seminary: nonsense.”

    To summarize, RC is angry because RTS told a faculty member (BW) that his beliefs = nonsense because they (RTS) don’t agree with him (BW) and, as a result, have told him (BW) he must leave. In response, RC has asserted that RTS beliefs = nonsense because he doesn’t agree with them. Therefore, as a result, RC recommends that the individuals at RTS should leave.

    Interesting.

    In the end, aren’t you angry at yourself?

  8. agreed randy. but, if you make a statement such as this, and leave the door open for evolution, you might jeopardize your standing at fundamentalist evangelical seminary, where you are to repeat the traditional doctrines of monday on wednesday, regardless of what discoveries are made on tuesday.

  9. zach,

    angry at myself? really? that’s where your reasoning has led you?

    imagine zach, if you will, a place where a professor could analyze the date bafore her or him, and where she or he could make a conclusion based upon the evidence. this is scholarship. now imagine that same professor reaching that same conclusion, but this time being dismissed (or not renewed) because that conclusion differs from a traditional confessional statement, the underpinnings of which were set in place long before the rise of modern science. this is not critical scholarship, but rather deliberate dogmatic and perhaps sectarian ignorance, strictly defined, as the inability or unwillingness to accept the data before us.

    the evidence for an evolved universe that is very, very old is overwhelming, while the problems with the two creations stories in genesis and their origins in earlier mesopotamian creation myths are equally compelling. and yet, were a professor at rts to follow the data and make a critical conclusion based upon said evidence, said professor runs the risk of dismissal.

    while your circular rhetoric above may be appealing to some, you’ve said nothing substantive, and you have failed to address my core complaint: a sr. professor was dismissed for a conclusion he held, a conclusion he based upon the evidence before him, but which happened to conflict with his employer’s confessional creed. and while private schools have every legal right to require employees to adhere to certain beliefs, this approach does not usually reflect positively in academic circles seeking critical analysis of the data. however, it does play well in the hearts and minds of those donors who wish to have their faith proved correct and to have those who dissent dismissed. conservative seminaries love to draw lines of distinction between themselves and pagan secular institutions, which they believe to be the liberal products of the ‘thoughts of man.’ (trust me, i know my fundyspeak.) but they are still limiting scholarship with a confessional creed, and i disagree with this approach. you may not, but i do.

    it is always easier to suppress or dismiss the dissenter than to deal with what he has to say. (trust me, i know. i work in qumran and the dead sea scrolls. you have no idea of the ‘anonymous’ suppression one must face when expressing a new idea or dissenting opinion.)

    as for your perhaps intentionally misguided thesis: you err in a fundamental (no pun intended) regard: i don’t care whether you reach the same conclusion as i do regarding creation and evolution. i really don’t. i do care, however, that you felt it safe enough to express a dissenting opinion here in this space without fear of censorship or reprisal, a luxury that ets apparently does not afford its faculty. and this is the nonsense of which i speak. a school of higher education is precisely where one should feel safe enough to ask the hard questions without fear of reprisal.

    then again, ets is a confessional school, seeking preservation of its core values of inerrancy of the biblical text over the search for actual truth. and this was the heart of dr. waltke’s comments: the longer xns reject science in favor of creation stories, the more increasingly people will reject christianity as an antiquated system of beliefs that simply refuse to accept modern realities. accepting that humans evolved does not mean that god does not exist. it simply means that a bunch of faithful men in a pre-scientific world did their best to explain the origin of the world without the luxury of science. now that we have science and technology to demonstrate whence we and the earth came, we should be more inclined to see the obvious similarities between the creation stories in gen 1 and 2 and the earlier epics of atrahasis, enuma elish, gilgamesh, etc. creation stories were etiologies, like the flood narratives, lot’s wife, etc. they were early attempts to explain the physiological world, which attempted to convey some theological reasoning in their explanation. nothing more.

    you don’t have to agree with me. in fact, i prefer it when people don’t. because here, i encourage thoughtful dissent and the ensuing exchange of ideas. my mind can be changed, and i am open to new ideas if arguments are rooted in fact and logic.

    would that all institutions of higher education were as encouraging of heterogeneous opinions as this simple blog. for it’s not what you ask, rather, it’s that you ask, as you have done here. so thank you for your comments.

    bc

  10. Even though I don’t believe in evolution, I think G-d should have created life by evolution because it is much more miraculous than creation.

    Kenneth Greifer

  11. I agree with your disgust at not allowing Watke the freedom to explore ideas, especially since his presentation wasn’t under any “official” school banner. Such lack of imagination reminds me of Galileo being ex-communicated for his theories of astronomy.

    But my point is to leave the door open for both evolution AND creation. My concern with your position is that one might assume evolution the only “reasonable” option, when they are both explanations that we cannot scientifically (empirically) verify because there are — inherently — no human witnesses to the origin of life or species.

  12. randy,

    i must concede your point to a certain extent. true, none of us were there to witness it. however, the scientific data we have all points to a slow, long process of natural selection on a very old earth, while the biblical creation stories neither align with one another or with much of the scientific data we have. on both literary and scientific grounds, ‘creation’ in genesis in increasingly hard to reconcile with each new scientific discovery. so while i wasn’t there for the formation of yosemite, based on the evidence, it looks a heck of a lot like the work of a glacier.

    the sooner christians realize it’s ok to understand some of the primeval stories of the bible as etiological myths, the sooner we can focus on the core and the purpose of the biblical text.

    bc

  13. It is easy to understand the threat that accepting evolution poses to those evangelical “leaders”. If evolutionary understanding of creation is allowed it is only a few short logical steps toward re-analysis and re-interpretation of the biblical traditions from which these church “leaders” derive their power. Understanding that God is not necessary for morality and for civil society is too dangerous for such an Evangelically fundamentalist established church to allow. I only wish that our fellow agnostics, atheists, unitarians, etc could organize strong enough congregations to bring sense into common religion, and thus attract thoughtful Christians. I agree that evangelical schools will appear backward, but unfortunately we still have a large percentage of Faithful who prefer to be led by the simplicity of 1 single book , the Bible, despite it’s inherent contradictions and it’s inability to be reconciled with modern science. My bet is that ignorance wins on this issue at least for a few decades more.

  14. [...] with the rts administration; in fact, i think they did the right thing.’ (i discuss in a comment on my former post how many confessional schools get around having to ‘fire’ professors [...]

  15. It’s almost as bad as being fired from a secular university for believing in creation

  16. agreed. what a professor believes should not be grounds for dismissal, be it religious, political, social, etc., especially if it’s discussed within an instructional setting.

  17. It never ceases to amaze me at how steadfast evangelicals and fundamentalists can be in their literal interpretation of the bible, creation and its relation to evolution.

    Firstly, nowhere in the bible does it state the world is 6,000 years old. That is a number that was arrived at by the calculations of Archbishop James Ussher, the Primate of Ireland, in the 1600s, based on the geneologies of the patriarchs and their “begottens”.

    Secondly, and I think Dr. Cargill can correct me if I’m wrong, the copper/bronze age writers or oral transmitters of the early creation stories did not have a firm concept of extremely long periods of time. Six was as good a number as 6 billion, which they probably couldn’t even fathom.

    Moreover, I think it was in another blog entry Dr, Cargill mentions that a simplified story doesn’t take away from its moral message. God is infinite: why should “He” be limited to human terms of time?

    Evolution may very well be the ongoing creation process. Ascribing human limitations to God is the height of hubris, a point fundamentalists and evngelicals would be well advised to remember.

    Even the late Pope John Paull II said it was perfectly fine to study the Big Bang and origin of the universe from that point forward. But he cautioned against probing anything before that, leaving that as God’s realm.

  18. randy,

    i must concede your point to a certain extent. true, none of us were there to witness it.

    Dr Cargill, “none of us were there to witness it” is straight out of the Ken Ham/AIG playbook. Pretty much word-for-word:

    “Were You There? No? Then why should I take your word for it over The Word of God Who WAS There?”

  19. Dr. Cargill, I have talked with Dr. Waltke on several occasions and he is both a scholar and a gentleman. I have had the privilege of attending classes he taught so I know firsthand that he is a class act. Dr. Waltke admits that he should have made several clarifications at the presentation he gave (as you later noted). Dr. Waltke resigned as it was never his intent to involve RTS in a situation where he admitted he could have done several things differently. Knox Seminary interviewed Dr. Waltke and believes that his position is in line with their confessional position. Had Dr. Waltke been allowed to explain his position some of the hubbub over his resignation could have been alleviated. One last comment. I wish that you were just as passionate for science teachers who are discriminated and fired because they have a confessional/faith position that informs their science. Just a reminder that discrimination is a two-way street. shalom, brent emery

  20. thanx, brent, for your comments. i am very much opposed to scholars being sacked/pressured to leave because of discussing any topic. animosity from those who don’t want religion taught towards people of faith is just as prevalent as animosity from confessional positions towards scholars who challenge those stances.

    shalom, bc

  21. Frank – evolution and the Bible are irreconcilable.
    The almost 6000 years came from the geneology of Jesus – starting at Adam. Since Jesus was preincarnate and all things were created through him
    then he was not descended from an ape. There is no evidence that the world is older.
    Evolution has less proof now than when Darwin proposed this crazy theory.
    You can’t be a Christian and an evolutionist.

  22. i respectfully disagree.

  23. Bob – does it not seem strange that Jesus was raised
    from the dead instantly as was Lazarus who was “dust” yet somehow God could not create Adam
    instantly from the earth. Why believe the second two miracles but not the first about Adam.

    Why would an all powerful God need 3 billion years to create life but be able to create loaves and fishes instantly. You would have to take all the miracles out of the Bible to reconcile evolution to creation.

  24. charles… Man is not descended from apes. We have a common ancestor. Perpepuating the myth that man descends from apes does nothing for the credibility of those who espouse it.

    You most certainly can be a Christian and an evolutionist. You can’t be a bible literalist and an evolutionist, however. That’s a no-brainer. However, being a bible literalist has nothing to do with being a Christian.

    Christianity is following the teachings of Jesus and accepting his way as the way to salvation and redemption of sin regardless of the source of the sin, not Paul, and not the Old Testament. This is something too many people seem to forget.

    Belief in the bible is a matter of personal faith, not scientific proof. If you believe in God and the way he works, that’s personal belief and faith and can’t be proven or disproven.

    That species have evolved from earlier species can clearly be proven, and over unbelievably immense geological and cosmic timespans,and not by the oft-cited carbon dating, but by far more accurate methods like uranium-lead.

    So, to that end I know we will respectfully agree to disagree. : )

  25. Frank – carbon dating of coal oil and gas is in the
    40,000 years range. Other methods assume there is
    no daughter element in the beginning and have proved wildly inaccurate. Eg 200 year old lava was dated at 1.2 billion years.
    Diamonds carbon date in the thousands of years even
    though there can’t be contamination . There is no proof
    that the the DNA of say a cow can be changed into that
    of a whale by cosmic rays or whatever.
    There is no proof of any common ancestor – they are still looking for the thousands of intermediates that
    Darwin predicted or his theory would not be true.

  26. Frank how can evolution be ” clearly proven” even the
    evolutionists admit there is no proof. DNA cannot design itself into another “kind” of creature. Billions
    of DNA code changes would be needed. Our DNA
    has built in correction. Have you seen any humans
    with say flippers , a blowhole , or wings – and there
    has been about 20- 30 billion humans in existence.

  27. charles, allow me to interject at this point by quoting from the classic movie billy madison:

    Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    of course i’m kidding, but some of your arguments above are problematic. you are propagating a intentionally? flawed misunderstanding of evolution (the straw man argument of direct linear descent). you are misstating facts (we do have evidence of pre-homo sapien species). and you are betraying an ignorance of c-14 dating.

    you are attempting to argue some sophisticated arguments with bad internet facts and arguments.

  28. Evolution is occurring on a daily basis. It’s occurring now in a small lizard on an island off Italy. One species is beginning to diverge into two. This very day.

    Evolution has no end goal or design in mind. Evolution is a response to environmental pressures and/or random mutations and genetic drift. Humans don’t have wings or flippers because we didn’t need them to survive.

    Cetaceans have vestigial hind legs which occasionally manifest. This, as well as fossils of semi-acquatic animals (pakicetids) that share characteristics shows their evolutionary path. Why do cetaceans have vestigial hind legs? Why does molecular DNA show a relationship between hippos, whales and sheep (artiodactyls), but not horses and rhinoceroses(perissodactyls)? Because hippos, whales and sheep had a common ancestor; horses and rhinoceroses did not share that common ancestor. They had their own. It’s all in the fossil record.

    Humans and chimpanzees share >98% of their DNA. Why? Why are there fossils that have characteristics of both early hominids and early chimpanzees, pointing to a common ancestor?

    Misconceptions about evolution:
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13620-evolution-24-myths-and-misconceptions.html

  29. I will believe the Bible rather than some daft Hollywood
    film. There are plenty of scientists who do not believe
    in evolution . There is a website of scientists who have
    signed to say Darwins theory is inadequate. How would God raise Lazarus and instantly create loaves and fishes if He needed evolution .
    You would have to take every miracle out of the Bible
    to believe that evolution is true.
    Even Dawkins would agree here.

  30. Frank
    God used DNA to design all living things. If you see
    two houses made of similar materials do you think it evolved from the first house.
    I thought “vestigials” had died with the fraudster Haekel (but they are still in the textbooks). These “vestigial” hind legs are muscle anchor points and are necessary for reproduction. They are the similar to the coccyx – which was supposed to be our tail – muscle anchor points .

    We share 50% of our DNA with bananas – do you feel
    like a banana .
    The lizard will still be a lizard just like a poodle and a
    dachund are still dogs.
    Darwins iguanas are still iguanas and his finches are still finches ( although they have genetic ability built in to adjust their beaks ).

    You are making the classic mistake of assuming
    selection and adaptation is evolution – it is not.
    How would mr. evolution know humans don’t need wings – as you say it knows nothing. So why are some
    humans not showing feathers ?

    The humans and chimp thing is nearer 90- 95% and
    this could represent 200,000,000 base pair differences.

    There is no way that DNA could spontaneously appear
    in a muddy pool – it is a highly complex code.

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