Religion as science and vice-versa

Proponents of the so-called theory of scientific creationism are requesting equal time. As a result, bills requiring the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in public schools have been introduced in at least a dozen states including Illinois, Florida, and South Carolina. Enthusiastic supporters of Georgia House Bill 690 (see related story) had predicted that as many as 40 states would call for similar legislation in the 1980s if the bill passed. But it, like another hard-fought bill in Iowa, failed last month.

Defending their theory on scientific grounds, spokesmen for scientific creationism assert that all species were created separately according to an orderly plan, and by an intelligent creator. They believe the earth is young—somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 years old. They dispute evolutionists, who say the earth is several billion years old, and that creation resulted from random processes.

“Man was always a man, and dog was always a dog,” said Richard Bliss, director of curriculum development at the San Diego-based Institute for Creation Research. (As the research arm of Christian Heritage College, a liberal arts school operated by pastor Tim LaHaye’s Scott Memorial Baptist Church, ICR conducts seminars, sponsors research, and produces study materials supporting scientific creationism.) Bliss said ICR does allow for the concept of genetic variation within groups, and regards the question of time—whether earth was created in six symbolic or actual 24-hour days—an “open question.”

Many of the bills endorsing the “two-model approach”—the public school teaching of both evolution and creation—reportedly are based on a model bill being promoted nationwide by Paul Ellwanger, an Anderson, South Carolina, hospital worker. He says the bill developed a year ago out of a consultation of scientists and lawyers; it has no religious language, he says, and “contains the ingredients of a constitutionally impregnable bill.”

Attorney Wendell Bird of Atlanta, a former editor of the Yale Law Review, frequently is cited as the leading legal theorist for creationism. Denying that creationism is an establishment of religion, Bird has argued that creation as described in Genesis can be taught legally without mentioning the Bible or religion.

The San Diego-based Creation Science Research Center has spent nearly $30,000 and enlisted attorney John Whitehead of the Christian Legal Society in its ongoing legal battle with the California State Board of Education. The CSRC opposes the present system, in which creationism can be taught only in social science classes as a religious philosophy, and not in biological science classes. Former associates of Morris formed the CSRC because they had a greater desire to get creationism into the schools by legislative and courtroom channels, and didn’t want to be identified as a sectarian group. (The ICR is church-run.)

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Even though most of the present legislation supporting the two-model approach avoids mention of God or the Bible, opponents say the proposed bills still constitute an effort by fundamentalist Christians to present their religion as science. They say many educators would teach Christianity even if legislation allowing creationist teachings has no religious language.

But ICR director Henry Morris, a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, whose study of both the Bible and science caused him to repent of his former sup port for evolution, says evolution is just as much a religion—but for humanists and atheists—as creationism is for Christians. Both origin models are theories, he says, and creationism can be defended on scientific grounds as well as or better than evolutionists can scientifically defend their own view.

Nearly 100 debates have been held by ICR scientists with proevolution college professors over the past five years. Duane Gish, regarded as ICR’s top debater, encountered University of California scientist Paul Sarich last month in a debate to be televised over the Christian Broadcasting Network. He planned a debate with noted anthropologist Ashley Montague earlier this month.

(The Creation Science Association of Canada claims difficulty in finding proevolution spokesmen willing to debate. Its solution has been large-screen videotaped campus presentations of debate two years ago between Gish and theologian John A. T. Robinson. Also in Canada, former head of the Alberta Teacher’s Association, Ivan Stonehocker [an Evangelical Free Church layman], is leading efforts to mandate teaching of creationism in Alberta classrooms.)

Both Ellwanger and Bliss say students today are being taught evolution only, in violation of academic freedom to learn all alternatives and to form their own decisions. They say nationwide surveys show overwhelming public support for teaching both evolution and creationism. (The CHRISTIANITY TODAY-Gallup Poll revealed that 50 percent of all adult Americans believe God created Adam and Eve to start the human race.) Unlike Ellwanger, ICR has urged voluntary public school teaching of both theories of origin rather than through mandatory legislation. However, Bliss said ICR understands the frustration of parents whose children are being “literally programmed” by the exclusive teaching of evolution.

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Creationist Legislation
Georgia Legislators Rest before Creating Bill

Georgia legislators made a lot of speeches in favor of God this year, but they adjourned their annual session without senate-house agreement on a bill that mentioned him. The much-publicized subject of most of those speeches was House Bill 690, a proposal that would have mandated the teaching of creation whenever evolution is taught in the state’s public schools.

A conference committee compromise cleared the state senate on the session’s last day, but Speaker Tom Murphy gaveled his house to adjournment before calling up the bill for a final vote. The author, Representative Tommy Smith, was standing to be recognized when the session ended. (See related article.)

Smith, a freshman legislator representing five sparsely populated southeast Georgia counties, had been shepherding 690 for more than a year.

As originally introduced, 690 called for the teaching of “scientific creationism” when evolution is taught in Georgia elementary and secondary schools. Smith’s intent was to leave out all religious language so that the law would stand a better chance of surviving court challenges. Even so, at an early meeting of opponents, a lawyer representing the American Civil Liberties Union promised that his organization would seek to have the act nullified on First Amendment grounds.

In testimony last fall, stated clerk James Andrews of the Presbyterian Church U.S. opposed the bill on grounds that it would create unnecessary conflict. He quoted from the denomination’s 1969 General Assembly declaration on the lack of conflict between evolution and Scripture. (Certain other mainstream Protestant leaders have opposed creationist legislation, as have the National Association of Biology Teachers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Humanist Association.

Smith and a loosely organized group of volunteer supporters tried for months to dislodge the bill from the house education subcommittee chaired by Cas Robinson, representative from a populous district in suburban Atlanta’s DeKalb county and a PCUS minister and former executive in his denomination’s headquartrs.

Nearly 1,000 supporters showed up at the capital one day in February to boost the bill. That afternoon Robinson’s panel sent it on to the full committee, but the word “scientific” had been dropped. Robinson told reporters that his research had determined that the term was not widely used. After removing the nonreligious term the subcommittee inserted the adjective “divine” before “creation.”

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Debate on the floor of the Georgia house prompted more attempts at amendments. A few were successful. The word “divine” was dropped, but an even more explicit religious term was added. The definition section of the legislation was changed to say that creation was “by God.”

When the house version got to the senate it took on more life. A committee quickly cleared it for floor action, but the “by God” language remained.

Smith, who once worked as a United Methodist youth director, then tried to get the house to accept the senate version. The lower chamber came within one vote of passing it, but failure to do so meant that a conference committee compromise version would be required.

Supporters of the legislation dominated the conference panel and they drafted a proposal that left the option with parents of the students instead of with school boards. Families that wanted their children excused from such creation teaching would be allowed to have them excused. The senate agreed to the conference report, but Smith’s efforts to get the house to vote on it failed. After the gavel was banged for the final time, fellow legislators surrounded him to express their consternation that he was not given an opportunity to present the bill.

Undaunted, promoters of the proposal believe they gained enough public understanding and support this time to get it through the legislature next year.


North American Scene

Representative John Anderson (R.-Ill.) stuck to his abortion stand favoring choice last month, despite opposition from religious groups, including his own denomination, the Evangelical Free Church. Delegates at the Great Lakes District’s annual meeting in Deerfield, Illinois (with 140 churches in five states, the denomination’s largest district), voted to send a letter asking the Rockford layman to review his abortion position and “publicly change [it] to conform to the word of God.” Anderson, the only Republican presidential candidate supporting federally funded abortions, did not respond to the letter.

Evangelism to French-speaking Canadians is the new three-year project of the Baptist Federation of Canada. The federation, which coordinates the work of four Baptist bodies having a combined membership of 130,000, has earmarked $100,000 for church building and support for two evangelism workers in the Montreal area. Home visitation and one-to-one evangelism have shown increasing results among French-speaking students and professionals, said federation general secretary Fred Bullen.

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The current boom in church-operated schools is reflected in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Officials of LCMS say attendance last year at LCMS-managed schools increased to 175,000 students, and that 7,500 more were turned away for lack of space. An estimated one-third of LCMS parishes sponsor parochial schools, making theirs the largest Protestant school system in the U.S. (The 2.7-million-member denomination recently announced plans to build a $9.8 million headquarters near its Concordia Seminary campus in Clayton, Missouri.)

Public school prayer remains an issue at state and national levels. The Massachusetts Supreme Court last month declared unconstitutional the state’s controversial, month-old law, which required teachers to ask for student volunteers to lead the class in prayer, while allowing those not wishing to participate to leave. Meanwhile, Southern Baptist president Adrian Rogers and National Association of Evangelicals public affairs director Bob Dugan are among church leaders supporting congressional passage of a bill to reintroduce prayer into the public schools; Dugan says such a bill stands a good chance in this election year, claiming that the majority of voters (and 95 percent of NAE members) support such legislation.

An American celebration of 14 centuries of Islam is being planned for next fall by a private, Washington-based national committee. Islam Centennial Fourteen is headed by two former U.S. diplomats, William Crawford and Lucius Battles. Billed as promoting better public understanding of Islam, the celebration will consist mostly of a 60-minute documentary film and a traveling museum exhibition. A 75-member national committee includes oil and business leaders, in addition to religious figures—president Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame, Episcopal Bishop John Walker, and faith healing evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton.

World Scene

The assassination last month of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero of El Salvador increased polarization in this violence-wracked Central American nation. Romero, 62, shot while celebrating a funeral mass in a San Salvador hospital, had led the drive for human rights that culminated in the overthrow last fall of a rightist military regime that had lasted for 47 years. Romero also had demanded that the new civilian-military junta end its own repression. The shaky junta has attempted, with U.S. encouragement, to undertake liberal land and banking reforms while crushing leftist opposition. But it has proved unable to curb the military, police, and rightist vigilantes who have continued battling leftist guerillas. The death toll has exceeded 700 already this year.

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Laotian refugee representatives last month gave formal approval to the project to resettle them in Guyana. The consortium of evangelical relief agencies that proposed the project (March 7 issue, p. 48), has chartered and is refitting a ship owned by Youth With A Mission, with a capacity of 700 passengers, for transporting the Hmong tribal people. The consortium expected to begin ferrying the refugees to Guyana before the end of this month. The Hmong were pressing to expand the agreed-upon pilot project from 1,500 persons to 10,000.

A significant step toward normalization of relations between East and West German Lutheran churches was taken last month. The chairman of the West German Lutherans, Bishop Eduard Lohse, met with his East German counterpart, Bishop Albrecht Schönherr, and the East German state secretary for church affairs, Klaus Gysi. It was the first such meeting since the East German government forced its Lutheran churches to withdraw from the united German church in 1969. Two years ago the East German government called a truce with the East German church, promising to end discrimination against Christians in education and employment. Since then the Lutherans have resumed formerly forbidden religious radio and TV programs and long-blocked church construction and repair.

At the last minute last month, Pope John Paul II announced a synod of Ukrainian rite bishops (Roman Catholics from the area of the Soviet Union annexed from Poland at the end of World War II). The Ukrainian Catholics want the status of a Uniate Church, such as the Melchite and Maronite rites of the Middle East enjoy. They also want Cardinal Josef Slipyi, 88, who was exiled to Siberia for 18 years at the end of World War II, as their patriarch. But compliance with these demands would complicate efforts toward reunion between the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches, and would anger the Soviet government because it had officially transferred the Ukrainian Catholics to Russian Orthodox jurisdiction in 1946.

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Seven Soviet soldiers who refused orders to fire on Afghans were summarily executed by firing squad, according to a report in the National Catholic Reporter. Sources indicated that all were conscientious objectors from Tashkent, in the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, and members of unregistered Baptist churches there.

An uproar in the main Dutch Reformed Church grouping resulted when the South African government said it might consider amending legislation that prohibits marriage and sexual relationships between whites and blacks. The prospect was debated last month at a joint meeting of the Afrikaans-speaking Nederduitse Gere-formeerde-Kerk(NGK) and its three “daughter” churches—black, Indian, and Colored or racially mixed. They issued a statement that said they would have no objection “in principle” if the government were to “reconsider” the laws. It was the mildest statement the nonwhite churches could agree to. But within hours, the head of the NGK repudiated the joint statement. The three nonwhite churches for the first time publicly accused the NGK of a breach of faith and threatened to cut their ties with it.

Christians in Nepal were granted permission to hold public evangelistic meetings for the first time recently in the capital city, Katmandu. Robert Cunville, a member of the Billy Graham India team and a leader of the strong Khasi church in northeast India, was the speaker for the meetings.

Combined weekly attendance at reopened “official” Protestant churches in China is ranging between 8,000 and 10,000 persons in 15 churches. The Chinese Coordination Center of World Evangelism made this assessment last month, adding that its sources indicate that preparations are being made to open several more churches.


Academia: Long-time Mennonite pastor and Princeton Seminary graduate Richard C. Detweiler, 55, was selected president of Eastern Mennonite College. He succeeds outgoing president of 15 years Myron Augsburger. Leon Pacala will leave his post as president of Colgate Rochester (N.Y.) Divinity School in order to become general secretary of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. The association has nearly 200 member schools, with an increasing number of them since Vatican II being Roman Catholic.

Former UCLA basketball star Ralph Drollinger has announced plans to enter the professional ranks. The seven-foot, two-inch, 250-pound center created a stir in 1978 when he turned down a $400,000, three-year contract offer to play with the New Jersey Nets in order to fulfill a personal four-year commitment to Athletes in Action, a barnstorming-witnessing basketball ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. His ultimate goal is a full-time evangelistic ministry.

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Exiled Soviet Baptist pastor Georgi Vins, now living in South Bend, Indiana, has opened in nearby Elkhart a Bible-sending and news information agency for persecuted Christians in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The agency will be an international office for Vins’s unregistered Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians and Baptists.

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