Academic Freedom and Confessional Integrity: A Delicate Dance

A well-executed dance is beautiful. Both partners carry out their own steps while providing space for their partner’s steps. All the while, they cling to each other in an embrace just strong enough to keep them from flying apart.


That is what academic freedom in a Reformed Christian college should look like. The college and the church community that supports it are partners in a dance. Both must give the other enough space, yet they need to cling together in a healthy tension that keeps them from breaking apart.

On paper it can seem pretty clear-cut. But sometimes research by scholars in pursuit of truth can bump up against the boundaries of Scripture and the Reformed doctrines that both the school and the church community embrace.

When that happens, how do academics, college administrators, and the church communities that support them balance the desire for academic freedom with the desire to remain faithful to Scripture and our Reformed confessions?

How do they stay together in that beautiful dance?

What Is Academic Freedom?

Anthony Diekema, former president of Calvin College, wrote the book on academic freedom and Christian higher education—literally. Many consider his book Academic Freedom & Christian Scholarship to be the authoritative work on the topic.

Diekema defines academic freedom as a sacred trust, one that is granted only to scholars and members of an academic community.

Gaylen Byker, current president of Calvin College, defines academic freedom as “the freedom of both the institution and faculty members to pursue truth without undue restraint,” freedom that is not understood as the absence of constraints but rather freedom to do what is right.

Some would say that the boundaries of the Bible and the Reformed confessions put constraints on professors in our church-related colleges that fly contrary to the whole notion of academic freedom.

But academics and administrators in colleges related to the Christian Reformed Church beg to differ, saying that there are just as many, if not more, constraints on their colleagues in state-owned secular schools. In fact, they feel that they have more freedom even while they are bound to Scripture and the confessions.

James K.A. Smith, professor of philosophy at Calvin College, said, “Most of us did our graduate training at a secular public university and it was clear all the things you were not allowed to think, implicit rules and boundaries and limits to what you could think and say. At Calvin, there are parameters, but they are on the table and everyone knows what they are, and they [don’t] sway with the winds of political ideology.”

What Role Do the Confessions Play?

Calvin College, which is owned by the CRC, requires professors to sign the Form of Subscription that officebearers in the church also sign, indicating faithfulness to Scripture and the Reformed confessions.

Other CRC-related colleges are supported by the CRC community but are independent in governance. In some form or another, all of them require professors to sign on to the mission of the institution, which finds its roots in the Scriptures and in the Reformed confessions.

Byker said the confessional commitments serve both a centering and a boundary function. “Within this confessional context, faculty members are free to engage in intellectual, moral, and spiritual inquiry, to discern the shape of a faithful Christian way of life and understanding of God’s world.”

Steven Timmermans, president of Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., compares the confessions to a great cloud of witnesses. “The Holy Spirit has guided Christians over the centuries to agree upon biblical interpretation,” he said. That gives the confessionally based college the added dimension of all those Christians over the centuries serving as a “great cloud of witnesses” observing scholars as they pursue their work.

Loren Haarsma, a physics professor at Calvin College, said the confessions provide a central starting point, but sometimes give competing theological concerns. “For example,” he said, “in the last century, debates about card playing and theater attendance pitted good theological concerns against each other: on the one hand, concerns about practicing piety and avoiding worldliness; on the other hand, concerns about the primacy of God’s grace and avoiding legalism.”

Sometimes it is the confessions themselves that come under scrutiny. Lee Hardy, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College who has written about academic freedom, said, “We can speak of conducting research and reflection within the boundaries set by the confessions; but we can also speak of research and reflection on those boundaries themselves. The first thing we should note is that the confessions are not infallible; the second thing we should note is that they (plus their interpretation) nonetheless represent our tradition’s best understanding to date of what is taught in the Word of God. So the confessions should not be immune from critical reflection; but neither should such reflection be undertaken lightly.”

Because these are deeply held and deeply loved theological concerns, the debate can become very emotional and threatening.

And there’s the rub.

When the Dance Gets Intricate

When one partner starts dancing outside the accepted pattern, how much room does the other partner give to accommodate those steps?

When emotions run high and tradition runs deep, how much room should the church, and college administrators, give to research that they feel may be straying beyond the bounds of the confessions and thus the commonly-accepted interpretation of Scripture?

Harry Fernhout, president of The King’s University College in Edmonton, Alberta, said that, first and foremost, faculty members need to demonstrate that the motivations come out of the heart of the institution’s confessional stance and mission. Also, the research being put forward should fall into that scholar’s area of expertise.

Hardy said a church-owned college should bend over backwards to defend and protect scholars who are working in good faith on controversial issues. “A college is where the church can do its thinking. This is not to say that scholars can do no wrong. But a college should always start with protection,” he said.

Haarsma concurs that such research is one of the ways colleges serve the church. “Whenever scholars have the expertise and feel led by God to study one of these controversial areas, church-affiliated colleges should encourage these scholars to do so,” he said.

“If a scholar’s work is sound and raises good questions, even if the work is controversial, and even if it doesn’t have all the answers neatly tied together, colleges should help communicate the scholar’s work to the church as a whole. In fact, the college might do more than merely communicate that work, but even celebrate it,” he added.

Haarsma has communicated some of that controversial research himself. He and his wife, Deborah Haarsma, also a physics professor at Calvin, cowrote Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Faith Alive Christian Resources), a book that explores many theories of the origins of human life that are held by Christians, many of which are in conflict with each other.

Share the New Steps with the Church

Rev. Peter Jonker is pastor of Woodlawn CRC, a church that meets on the campus of Calvin College.

He said it is important that faculty at a Christian college keep in mind the faith community in which scholarship takes place. “As [professors] do scholarship and offer conclusions, it isn’t with just the academic community in mind,” he said. “There are also the plumbers and carpenters and lawyers who are part of this community.”

He said that humility and respect for that community is important. “You present what you found in a way sensitive to them, because you’re part of this community.”

Rev. John Gorter agrees. He is pastor of Peoria (Iowa) CRC, where some members are sometimes deeply distrustful of what they hear coming out of the denominational college.

One way to ameliorate that distrust, he said, is to keep the people in the pew informed of the questions and struggles the professor is facing. “I know some don’t involve the constituency because they don’t sense the need for it, or are too busy, but some don’t do it because there is a fear that there are these wild-eyed non-thinking fundamentalists ready to lynch [them.] This is hurtful and almost insulting, basically saying ‘you’re out of it, you’re backwards.’” That is how deep distrust develops, Gorter said.

“I really appreciate the book by the Haarsmas. That was wonderful,” he said. “What that did was give us respect and dignity, saying, ‘We’re going to tell you our struggles and invite you to join us in our struggle so we can do this together.’”

Gorter said that when the church isn’t engaged, then new ideas get dumped in the lap of pewsitters, leaving them wondering where in the world those ideas have come from.

Smith acknowledges that how a scholar engages with the faith community can make a big difference.

“We have the luxury to think through hard questions that our brothers and sisters in Pella don’t have the time or luxury for,” he said. “But [we have] a responsibility to do it in a way sensitive to and charitable toward where our wider community is at. If we can’t conduct our work with that dynamic, we abuse the freedom that is given.”

Does the Church Know Its Steps?

Jonker and Gorter both acknowledged, however, that the respect must go both ways. “When a scholar finds something that seems to challenge what my community believes, we need to have respect for and trust in our scholars,” said Jonker. “We send them out on the frontiers to scout on the edge of things we have trouble seeing. This is how the process works. We’re arguing about ideas, but the process breaks down at the level of trust.”

Gorter said pastors have a special responsibility to help congregants listen. “Let’s not demonize each other, not assume the worst. Assume the best, really listen, try to understand where [scholars] are coming from” he said. “Ask how we can be faithful to the Lord and his Word together.”

Smith said the church also has to do its homework. “I do believe that the things we are wrestling with show that we take the confessions more seriously than a lot of CRC congregations that have been hijacked by a generic mega-church evangelical mentality where the confessions are not a living document,” he said. “You can’t just trot out confessions when you want to put up a fence.”

In the Dance Together

Fernhout points out that the CRC has undertaken the responsibility of supporting vibrant Christian higher education, so it has to accept what goes with the territory: creative engagement with issues. At the same time, it can serve as a corrective for ideas that are moving in the wrong direction or that are moving too quickly.

“In a healthy situation you have a back and forth movement between the academic endeavor and the church,” he said.

Just like a beautiful dance.

Further Resources

The Colossian Forum describes itself as a safe place to ask risky questions, particularly where faith and science intersect, in both practical and theological ways. It does this through retreats, scholarly research, and an extensive web presence. Especially interesting is an eight-minute video on the website called “More Light, Less Heat.

Academic Freedom & Christian Scholarship by Dr. Anthony Diekema.

Strengthening Procedures around Confessional Commitment and Academic Freedom at Calvin College” [PDF] is one of several documents available on the Calvin College website.

“Between Inculcation and Inquiry: A Virtue of Tolerance in the Liberal Arts Tradition” [PDF] is a paper by Dr. Lee Hardy on academic freedom.

Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design by Dr. Deborah B. Haarsma and Dr. Loren D. Haarsma. This link at Faith Alive Christian Resources provides samples of the book. There is also a pull-down menu that provides links to a whole series of articles by the Haarsmas and others related to each chapter of the book.

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

See comments (32)


Academic freedom - Teach, believe anything you want as long as it's not the Bible.

But, Christians are the ones who have the truth. We are the ones to be confronting the culture. There are two ways of understanding reality. Either we start with God's Word, the Word of one who knows everything, and who cannot tell a lie, who knows all information. Or we must rely on man to figure it all out. It would seem our church and learning institutions prefer the latter.

This was a very well-researched and written article, looking at the issue from various angles: academia, the church, and noting the challenges of being a confessional academic institution. The article was not biased, but rather well-balanced. The linked resources are also excellent for further reflection.

I would also like to note that some persons make it a habit to write negative, and sometimes downright mean-spirited comments on virtually everything The Banner reports on, or at least it sometimes seems that way. And some of these angry commenters use pseudonyms to hide their identity. There is nothing Christlike in this behavior, but plenty of cowardice. Please re-read the comment policy and even more so, try to speak in love and with civility. We in the CRC need a refresher course in that virtue.

If academic freedom is more important than subscribing to the confessions, and to the perpescuity of scripture, then the college that believes that should operate independantly, and not be owned by the denomination. That would clear up the relationships and jurisdiction, where you don't have one dance partner owning the other.

Then the authority of one in relation to the other will be exercised only in the context of general and special revelation in terms of mutual edification and admonishment, rather than institutional authority and ownership which can really complicate things.

J.K. Smith says in the Colosian Forum (cited above): "Very concretely, that also means that Christians need to resist our temptation to frame false dichotomies....
... At the very least, loving my brother requires that I relinquish the too-easy penchant to frame issues in my terms. In this respect, following Christ–and exhibiting his humility–might require letting go of my cherished dichotomies. That might be a way to imitate Christ’s kenosis (Phil. 2:5-11). It is not only our conclusions that should be “captive” to Christ; how we debate such issues should also reflect the “mind of Christ” (Phil. 2:1-5)."

I would only say that the concentration by Smith or anyone on the spirit and humility of a discussion should not disqualify the dichotomies framed by Driscoll as "false", which in itself is a cherished judgement made by Smith. In this case, I do not believe the dichotomy to be false. If Adam and Eve were not real, then there is a lack of legitimacy to their supposed relationship to God, and to our consequent relationship to God.

And in this case at least, it is hard to find a lack of bias in this particular source cited by the article.

The 'dance' is done best when the church as institution (CRCNA) and the college as institution (Calvin, Dordt, Kings, Trinity etc etc) are separate organizations with separated governance structions. Kuyperian sphere sovereignty 101.

If, for example, Trinity College's consituency (which may include CRC people but others as well, which is also good) don't like what Trinity College is doing, or do like it, they "vote" with their contributions and by where they send their kids. Pretty good system.

Having the CRCNA own Calvin College is a couple of steps separated from that pretty good system. And it is only our tradition (which, ironically, conflicts with our tradition) that keeps us from fixing this problem.

I am 66 years old and grew up in the Christian Reformed Church. I am amazed that a serious article in The Banner would begin with a reference to dancing. Does anyone else find this discomforting?

Thanks Gayla, I agree that you have created a well-researched article- very well done!

In my opinion we need to take a close look at what Fernhout says (your quote):...first and foremost, faculty members need to demonstrate that the motivations come out of the heart of the institution’s confessional stance and mission.

Herein is the issue- communication. We must clearly- unequivocally state the intent to those who will be reading, discussing, and making comments/decisions on academic study/research what the intent is- to challenge existing mores; to add wisdom and clarity to existing thought; to within the current mission and confessional stance offer and opportunity to exchange dialogue, etc.

Scholarship can be threatening when perceived as final word on a subject- however, enriching when seen as a collaborate venture to build relationships within the boundaries of grace.

I am a 78 year old lifetime CRCer and appreciated (as clumsy as I am) the analogy to dancing with someone else. I agree with Dr Backeter that we must learn to be open to discussion and avoid the bitter comments to things that we disagree with.

Truth is truth. Any effort to reveal the truth is an effort to understand the world as God created it and is, therefore, inherently Christian. Any resistence to doing so would then be inherently unchristian. Should it ever come to a point where our confessions are in any way threatened by the truth, then one of the two must go. I suggest the confessions. Just my two cents.

In a general sense, I would agree with anonymous that if our confessions are not consistent with "truth", then the confessions must be adjusted. But perhaps he might see "truth" differently. I understand Jesus to be "The Truth". And I understand the "truth" to be discovered in scripture. And understand this "truth" to be able to help us understand creation, both the purpose/meaning and the reality of our world and our place in it.

Our confessions must always be subject to scripture.

I get nervous when people put truth in quotation marks.

What does academic freedom mean? Is it a licensee to teach, believe and promote what we think is right? If God's word is authoritative, revealed truth, and is the plum line by which all subject matter is to be measured against, then why are the churches and learning institutions promoting what seems to be alternative conclusions outside the realm of this truth? If we start with God's Word in the first place, wouldn't we come to the right conclusion on nearly all subject matters, and why shouldn't we? We have a God who possesses all knowledge, wisdom and understanding. On all subjects.-Then where is the dance?

The Bible says, "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming."

Anonymous, your "nervous" comment made my chuckle.
I just had a conversation with someone who believes that Abdu l'a bahai has a better handle on the truth. That particular "truth" includes the belief that Jesus never physically resurrected from the dead, but that the resurrection was purely a symbolic thing, a spiritual awakening and confidence of the followers of Jesus. Why? Because science and mathematics obviously make the physical resurrection an impossibility.

So you see... that is another version of "truth".

But you are perhaps right. I did not need to put truth into quotation marks so often in my previous post.

Truthmatters, your comment led to a thought. Maybe the dance is not between academic freedom and confessional integrity. Maybe it is between academic endeavor and scriptural perspicuity. A good dance should mean those two are in sync. Academic endeavor (ie. historical context, study of hebrew) should fit with the clear teaching of scripture and make it clearer, and the clear teaching of scripture should guide and direct academic endeavor. When this does not happen, there is not a dance, but a competition. Not a dance but a struggle. Not music but discordance and loud clashing.

In a good dance, there is a pattern, a way of distinguishing one type of dance from another. And a dance that does not dance before the Lord as David did, will be the wrong kind of dance. A dance that concentrates on freedom or on integrity, at the expense of the creator, will lose its pattern, and will no longer be beautiful.

But maybe it is not a dance at all, except between institutions such as denomination and college. Maybe it is not a dance at all, but a walk down the narrow path, away from the broad path to destruction. Maybe it is not a dance at all, but the progress of a pilgrim given a journey by God.

Well put, John. A dance, a path, a journey...where does the Trojan horse fit in?
I agree with Gorter that pastors have a special responsibility to help congregants listen. We depend on our pastors to study Greek and Hebrew and whatever else is necessary to give them a clear understanding of the scriptures so that they can make it clear to us.
The Ministry Theorem, a website launched by CTS, is supposed to help pastors have a clearer understanding of science so that they can relay this knowledge to their congregations. I have serious misgivings about pastors and other leaders being guided by some of the material found here. Some of the articles indicate that the authors firmly believe in evolution/death before Adam and other beliefs that conflict with a calvinistic understanding of scripture.
If our youth and our leaders are being taught the same controversial dance steps, we pew-sitters can only expect to be stomped on

One question when beginning to dance: who leads?

@Michael Bentley

Well phrased question and I think the answer is clear. The partner who leads is the partner ultimately in authority. And that is the CRCNA I believe.

So, ultimately, its the church's authority structure (whatever that might be said to be) that makes the decision about a liberal arts college's academic freedom rules, even if that decision is to acquiesce in the rules decided by those on lower rungs of the authority ladder.

In my mind, there is something glaringly wrong with that picture.

I think that one of the problems underlying some of the recent and not so recent controversies on this matter is the view that the bible should be looked at as a complete and comprehensive science and history of the world.

Why shouldn't it be?

Byker and Diekema can fabricate definitions of academic freedom to fit their needs, and we can refer to the absence of academic freedom as a beautiful dance, but nobody seems willing to admit that academic freedom and confessional integrity are fundamentally incompatible.

The value of academic freedom is that it creates a safe place to express and promote new and unorthodox ideas. These ideas may create discomfort, offend and contradict dogma. When these ideas withstand the tests of evidence and reason, however, they add to human knowledge and force us to correct our perspective.

Ideally, students who are taught in an academically free environment learn to think both critically and openly. They discover that cherished assumptions are no better than one's ability to defend them. One of the joys of becoming educated is growing from closed-minded rigidity, to grudging acceptance of fallibility, to finally taking pleasure in using the tools of scholarship to convert your own misconceptions into new knowledge. In this environment challenging ideas are treasured.

Calvin's Form of Subscription and mission statement, on the other hand, oppose academic freedom. Their purpose is to prevent new or unorthodox ideas from being promoted. They allow one unchangeable perspective - that of Reformed Christianity as it was understood hundreds of years ago. They exclude from the staff voices who may challenge this perspective and censor challenging ideas from the classroom. Calvin students graduate with their religious assumptions buttressed, not challenged. They have learned to repel contradictory ideas and are charged with converting the world to their own way of thinking.

As a private college, Calvin can hire and teach pretty much as it pleases, but those who claim it has any meaningful kind of academic freedom are kidding themselves. The very ideas that academic freedom is designed to protect are the ones that are censored at Calvin.

The question is: Do we want to believe God or man?
From the beginning of time man has always sought answers to his questions regarding creation and the origins of man. As an Evangelical Church the CRC has stated that the Word of God is the authority for faith and life, and that the HC, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort are a means to define and defend that faith. Do we want to separate our faith from our Reformed institutions of higher learning, so that academic freedom can run freely - to be controlled only by the persons or person who think they have all the answers? I hope not!
I am thankful that we have a FOS that calls us to be faithful to what we say we believe! That is what preserves and maintains unity in the CRC.
Let's not look at our Creeds and Confessions as being a means of controlling- but rather as a means of preserving our Reformed Faith!
May God grant to us all a faith and unity that is rooted and grounded in His Holy Word!

@Rose. Because I don't think that this is what the bible is meant to be. To think that the bible is a complete and comprehensive science and history of the worls can easily lead to denial of occurrence of events and existence of beings e.g. dinosaurs, on the basis that the bible did not mention them.

I have no difficulty with the notion that scientific discovery and the results of scientific inquiry may lead us to reinterpret some of our faith and bible stories. Indeed, this has happened historically, and will continue to happen.

I personally find that quantum mechanics, cosmology and other branches of physical science are opening up exciting possibilities for re-imagining how we see things, including life. I find it wonderful(in the original meaning of the word) that our concept of time may be a less than exact mirror of reality, that time and space can form another dimension, that past events and beings may not be gone in the way we normally conceive of this, and that there may even be parallel universes. To me it all points to something my Minister preached on this morning which is that God's time may be very different from our time, but every now and then, we catch a glimmer of God's time.

Alyce, to say that the bible is not a complete and comprehensive science and history book, is to say that any science text is not complete, and any history book is incomplete and not comprehensive. This point is immaterial to the discussion. The real issue is whether what it does say is accurate, not whether what it does not say is accurate or inaccurate.

As far as the Bible mentioning dinosaurs, there is an argument that the Bible does indeed mention dinosaurs, as this better fits the description of behomoth and leviathon than any presently known existing species. But even if it doesn't mention dinosaurs, again, this has little relevance to the truth of what the scriptures actually do say. It doesn't mention zebras or kangaroos or buffalo or koalas either, so what? Everyone already knows this.

@Alyce. I used to think the same way... the Bible doesn't mention dinosaurs so it must be missing something; therefore it is not a comprehensive science and history book.
But what if the Bible does mention "dinosaurs" and we've just misinterpreted it? Job 40:15-24 describes behemoth which scholars have interpreted to mean elephant. That was the biggest animal, to their knowledge. The fossil records reveal the existence of many creatures larger than an elephants, including "diplodocus". Might the author of Job be describing this creature? Biblical scholars didn't intend to mislead us with their footnote; they just used the current scientific knowledge of their day.
Just because our Sunday school papers didn't show pictures of a T-Rex being loaded onto the Ark doesn't mean it didn't happen. Genesis 7:16 says "The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah." What happened to them after the Flood could be similar to the fate of the Passenger pigeon. The fossil record shows us what happened to all the rest of the creatures that weren't on the Ark.
I have no difficulty with the notion that scientific discovery may lead us to reinterpret some of our previous interpretations! I do have difficulty with interpretations of scientific discoveries that make us ask "Did God really say...?"

Oh, don't be so dismissive of my comment, Mr. Zylstra. I am agreeing with some of what you have said in terms of truth. My view is that the truth of scripture has more to do with God's love and our redemption through Jesus (and I don't, by the way, subscribe to the theory of substitutionary atonement)than with the setting out of a set of immutable scientific principles or complete accounts of actual historical events. I offer no pretense that any history or science book is complete and comprehensive, so I don't quite understand the analogy you have drawn with my comment. That said, I do admit that a lot also hinges on interpretation. For example, I don't see the creation story as set out in Genesis as precluding us human beings from having emerged from earlier life forms. Some may vehemently disagree with me on the basis that because Genesis does not describe this creation of human beings this way, it cannot possibly have happened. Other may disagree for different reasons which may have more to do with interpretation of the story in Genesis. I also don't think that it is necessary to believe that Adam and Eve actually existed as the first man and woman in order to appreciate the truth of the redemptive message of the bible. I therefore don't feel compelled to subscribe to the notion that all humans descended biologically from Adam and Eve. There will be many who would disagree with me on this point too. Fine, we can agree to disagree. What I do take issue with is opposition to scientific inquiry and new insights or explanations of events based on the results of such inquiry simply because it does not conform to centuries old doctrine or to a long-held interpretation of parts of scripture. Perhaps we do need to reintepret our undertanding of aspects of scripture, or at the least, re-examine underlying assumptions. Science, philosophy, art, music, history, sociology and many more disciplines all have an important role to play in this regard, and academic freedom is vital. But some folks seem to be afraid of this, or don't trust the CC professors.

As for "everybody knows that"......well, I still hear a lot of folks question the age of the earth as any oder than about 6,000 years, etc. The historical controversy surrounding the results of Galileo's scientific inquiry may seem all a bit silly to us now, but are some of our current controversies all that different?

Perhaps it would have been better to say that there are times when we may read too much into scripture and other times when we may not read enough.

Thank you for the conversation, Rose. You raise an interesting question, and I must confess that I am perhaps less sure than some others may be of what it is that God is saying through scripture in a number of instances. And, as is undoubtedly evident to anyone reading my comments, I don't always agree with all that I was taught (in the CRC) God is saying through scripture. Indeed, I find some parts of scripture to be at odds with what I think we are being told in other parts (does anyone else find the "Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac" story taken literally hard to swallow?. That said, I think it is a good thing for articles such as the one above to be written and for forums such as these. to be available. I think it shows that the CRC is perhaps in a healthier place than it once was.

Alyce, I won’t comment too much on what you have said in your last post to me. I think it speaks for itself. But I do want to make one point: you indicated on the one hand that you take issue with opposition to scientific inquiry simply because it doesn’t conform to scripture. Okay, fine. But the other side of that coin is that evolutionists often object to alternative theories simply because they seem to conform with scripture. Academic freedom should allow someone to postulate that the world is only 6000 years old, at minimum since the creation of man. Your assumption that “…I still hear folks question the age of the earth…” is precluding any serious discussion of alternatives, and I find that to be a shutting down of academic freedom. Bringing up the old red herring of Galileo’s theory is the typical response, but scientifically speaking, that theory is not relevant to discussion of the age of the earth, or age of the universe. A true scientist would not bring it up, except to exert non-scientific peer pressure in a social context.

Hello again, Mr. Zylstra and others. I accept that the Galileo affair may not find exact parallels today, but I would disagree that it is red herring. I would note that I would also find it problematic if someone were to denounce a theory simply because coincided with something that is said in scripture. However, I do not think that any scientist would accept the validity of a purported scientific theory if it were wholly based or wholly reliant on scripture. If someone does posit a theory that is based in, or consistent with scripture, he or she would need to demonstrate its plausibility according to accepted scientific practice. Otherwise, it remains an article of faith. I would also argue that theologians should have the freedom to explore questions of being and life, but they can speak authoritatively on the theological aspects of these questions, and to my mind that does not include, for example, the age of the earth. Similarly, scientists should also have the freedom to explore questions on being and life but can only speak authoritatively on the science aspects. The tricky part is the intersection of the two, and the origin of humans and creation are two aspects of the intersection(which seems to have widened significantly commensurate with growth in scientific knowledge). I don't think we ought to assume that theologians, doctrinal statements or even the long-held CRC interpretations of scripture are the owners of or necessarily the ultimate authorities in the intersection. To my mind, this space requires a dialogue, and academic freedom is essential to a meaningful dialogue. Gayla Postma has given a far more eloquent treatment of this than I have done. One more thing: it seems to me that the way Calvin College is governed and the terms on which it employs professors may be somewhat less conducive to academic freedom and meaningful dialogue than other CRC related colleges.
Thanks for "hearing" me out folks. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to engage in this forum.

Perhaps someone else can remember the historian who stated that the Galileo controversy had as much to do with the "scientists" of his day as with the Roman Catholic Church.

Also: one cannot help but notice that academic freedom has been curtailed in the publication of two journal articles in reputable magazines (Nature being one I believe)on laboratory developments in the H1N1 virus in ferrets.(if I have the details wrong please forgive me)

Makes one think that perhaps academic freedom isn't quite the universal principle that some would hold.

Alyce, I appreciate your conciliatory tone. And I agree with much of what you have said. Yes there is difficulty in the intersection between scripture and evolution (not in the intersection between science and faith). The difficulty is really that it is difficult to separate evolutionists faith in their theory, from the science that accompanies their attempted validation of their theory. The difficulty is that the theory is not falsifiable, since it is so pliable and plastic. No matter what one observes in nature that might argue against evolution, the evol-believers will have a way of squeezing the observation into the parameters of their theory, or they will change and adjust the theory. A theory that is not falsifiable, is not normally considered scientific.

For them, the principles of radioactive decay dating of rocks will always support the theory, because they will change the assumptions or the principles, until it does. The problems with dating lava (by Kr-Ar method) from a ten year old volcano as hundreds of thousands or millions of years old, will never invalidate the actual radioactive dating method for them. Rather, they will make "adjustments" based on their inherent beliefs, even though it is speculative thinking and not objective evidence.

So, what is the problem? the problem is that we have theologians and social science professors making conclusions based on empty statements in the field of science, while they don't understand the science themselves. The problem is that there is no support of science which demonstrates the difficulties with both the theory of evolution, and the theory of the age of the earth. The problem is that the bible is put on the defensive, rather than the theory of evolution being put on the defensive. This is poor scholarship and poor science.

It is giving in to the mantra that everybody is doing it, so it must be allright. It is suggesting that Genesis one is symbolic, without realizing that it is really the symbolic meaning itself that is being attacked by the postulations of evolutionary theory. The problem is couching the discussion in terms of faith vs science, rather than in truth vs falsehood. I believe Satan is laughing all the way to his lair.

When some geneticist postulates that the ancestors of man must have had a population of about ten thousand people, everyone oohs and aahs and bows down to him. But who is asking how that possibly could have happened? One day, no humans. Another day, suddenly ten thousand? Of course, they will say it is gradual, not sudden, but then how can they substantiate their statement? What was the day the ten thousand became human while their parents were not? But a scientist said it, so it must be gospel. As a person who works in science myself, I am amazed at the gullibility.

What would happen if the professors at Calvin(especially in the science department) were to teach exclusively from the point of view that upheld their "faithfulness to scripture and the Reformed confessions"?
Isn't it worrisome that the secular world has no problem with our Christian institution?