Campus News

What will Bethel students learn about origins?

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Bethel faculty members gathered  on Tuesday, March 17 to discuss  the school's position when it comes to teaching students about origins. It's an issue that has created some division within the school because professors, students, staff and administrators have different opinions on it. The forum gave the faculty a chance to present their views to members of the school's board. The comments will all be considered as the school develops a position statement. “The goal is to have some kind of position paper for the board to vote on at their April meeting,” said Dr. Janna McLean, dean of arts and sciences. This position paper will not be specifically Bethel as an institution’s stand on man’s origins, but more of a guideline for education. “We’re not working on a statement of what Bethel believes, or what Bethel faculty believes, or what Bethel students believe,” said McLean. “We’re working on a statement about how do we teach about it.”  Barbara Bellefeuille, vice president for academic services, also emphasized the teaching aspect of the discussion. “The reason it was faculty is they’re the ones that teach it,” she said. “That’s what we’re talking about, a teaching position on origins.” “That position statement might be about our educational responsibilities and not choosing one of the many positions that people hold, but at least, in doing that, it would still affirm certain things that we’re committed to and certain things that aren’t an issue to us,” said Bethel College President Dr. Gregg Chenoweth in an interview conducted last year. “We don't want a 'position,' but we want a position on how we educate (students),” said Dr. Beth Kroa, assistant professor of chemistry. While faculty members disagree on how to interpret the creation account given in Genesis 1 and 2, both McLean and Kroa made it clear that there is one major prerequisite for any potential staff member at Bethel. “While during the interview we talk about origins and we definitely want to hear what people say, we don’t have a litmus test,” she said. “We have a statement on the Web: “God is Creator.” If you fall outside of believing that God is Creator, you’re not a good mission fit. But within that, we don’t have a requirement that you believe a particular thing.” “We require that everyone affirms God as the creator and sustaining power of this universe.  God revealed Himself through His Word and in His world,” said Kroa. McLean went on to say that there is a variety of views regarding God’s creation of man in the department of sciences. These range from young-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, and evolutionary creationism. Concerns about Bethel’s official ties with the Missionary Church denomination have been raised because of this issue, but Chenoweth addressed these concerns when he was asked about them last year. “Bethel is not pulling away from the denomination structurally, relationally, nor theologically,” he wrote in a response to questions from "The Beacon". “I think it's fair to say there is as much adherence to the Missionary Church articles of faith at Bethel as there is in the parish ministry across various districts of the denomination, there is as much ministerial fruit at Bethel as you would find in the denomination’s healthiest churches and Bethel demonstrates robust initiative with the denomination and her local churches in recent months and years.” Concerns about the way the talks are progressing on this issue have also been expressed. “There was a pre-agenda, and (the talks are) being guided by that pre-agenda, and being very assertive and making good progress," said Dr. Vicki DeBolt, assistant professor of biology. "It is progressing rapidly in one direction. Those who are concerned about that direction are afraid to speak.” DeBolt is also concerned about the way she will have to teach different views in the classroom. “I don’t think that much will change,” said DeBolt. “Except that there will no longer be freedom to bring up the weaknesses in evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory will be taught as scientific fact.” Kroa, Bellefeuille and McLean all said  it’s important for students to be aware of all the views on origins that are present, and that includes atheistic evolution. “I think a student who graduated from Bethel who didn’t understand the principles of evolution would be in a very weak position to get a good job or go to graduate school or to (be able) to represent him or herself well in the field of biology,” said McLean. “I believe that we all teach evolutionary theory, because it’s very important for the students to be aware of what evolution has to say,” said DeBolt, who expressed more concern about evolutionary theory. “The concept that God, or some force which will be called God, created the world via evolutionary process in which man has evolved from a common single-celled ancestor with everything else on the planet over four point so many billions of years.” “A professor should be able to intelligently and non-threateningly present forum on both views,” said Kroa. “We want people to feel safe to ask questions.” Classes such as "Science and Faith Seminar," a class that discusses all views on origin, are tools used to move toward this goal.  Speaking on the relationship of a professor’s own views to their educational content, Bellefeuille said she thinks professors should discuss all views on origin. “We would desire that our faculty teach you all the views,” she said. “As a matter of fact, we would want them to teach even what I would call godless Darwinism. You need to know what that means.” Bellefeuille went on to say that there is a distinct difference between teaching, investigating, and advocating a certain belief. “I think particularly because Bethel is a place for young people to really learn these things from a believer, for our students to learn what’s being said about this is very important,” she said. “But then at some point, we want to come to the decision: we believe God is Creator, and we want to come back down to the authority of Scripture, and that God had His hand in creation absolutely, without question.” The effects of a school position statement on classroom content may or may not be as visible as one might expect. Bellefeuille said she doesn’t think it will affect classroom policy much at all. “If it comes to just clarifying that we are doing it this way, it shouldn’t change anything,” she said. “But it hasn’t been written yet, so it’s hard to tell.” “I think at some level, it could make faculty more intentional about talking about (different perspectives.) And perhaps more intentional, depending on how it comes out, about (how the Missionary Church stands,)” said McLean. Dr. Bryan Isaac, associate professor of chemistry,  talked about the reconciliation between faith and science during an interview with "The Beacon" last year. “So I guess I see Bethel going to a place where we’re studying how creation and the Scriptures can go together,” he said. Isaac also commented on individual faculty members’ views and how those views are related to hiring policy. “We hire people who are wrestling with science and Scripture and how they go together,” he said. “We let them wrestle, but we need to see that they continue to be committed to Scripture and they continue to be committed to the evidence as witness-bearing.” President Chenoweth said he hopes to have an official resolution sometime this calendar year.  


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