Abilene In Turmoil

By Fred Melton

It may not be a real big surprise to some brethren that Abilene “Christian” University has been teaching the theory of evolution in their science classes for years now but it certainly was a revelation to Dr. Bert Thompson, Professor of Bible and Science at Alabama Christian School of Religion – an alumnus of Abilene. Thompson, who heads up the Apologetics Press in Montgomery, Alabama and lectures on creation and evolution, was first alerted by an ACU student named Mark Scott. Scott sent Thompson a huge packet of class materials including the evolutionary notes of Dr. Archie Manis, Associate Professor of Biology at ACU and an elder of the Baker Heights Church of Christ in Abilene.

Among the items sent by Scott was class handout material by Manis entitled “Research in Genesis” which contained a marginal note in Manis’ own handwriting: “Creation, Hymn, Myth -I — 1:1-2:3 Hymn, Myth -2 — 2:4-24.” Other “evidences” of the evolutionary teachings were the required reading of Science & Creationism by Ashley Montagu, the famous evolutionist/humanist of Princeton; Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism by Kitcher and essays from Natural History by the infamous J. Gould, an evolutionist and committed Marxist. This was all done, according to Thompson’s investigations, “without any refutation whatsoever, ” and had evidently been going on for over fifteen years.

Thompson admits that he did not believe (indeed, did not want to believe) the charges at first, but was determined to follow “proper channels” in order to find out the truth about the matter. Thompson first wrote personal letters to Archie Manis and Kenneth Williams, another professor at Abilene, asking them to explain themselves concerning the teachings of evolution at the University. While waiting for some response from these two professors, a letter arrived from Perry C. Reeves, Dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences at ACU. Reeves praised Williams and Manis as “dedicated men” with the intent to “expose our students to the way in which evolutionists think and to ex pose them to evolutionists’ claims so that these students will be better equipped to face attacks on their faith when they leave ACU.”

As the controversy began to heat up, Thompson observes that a “cover up of significant proportions was beginning to take shape” from the two professors all the way to the President and the Board of Trustees, who had ordered them to completely ignore Thompson’s letters.

Meanwhile, Mark Scott, who had first alerted Thompson to this “rotten” business discovered that his biology grade had been lowered from an “A” or a “B” to a “C” and a Botany lab grade to a “D” which kept him from making the Dean’s list. When Mark confronted Manis about why his grades had been lowered, Manis replied (as told by Mark Scott), “The real reason I got a ‘C’ was because it was the only way he could get rid of his anger and keep him from taking me (Mark Scott), you (Bert Thompson), and your ‘outfit’ to court and suing us” (Mark’s grades were later raised back to a “B”).

As other students and parents began to be drawn into the fight, one Rowena Lobley wrote to Thompson that her daughter Brenda, a second year medical student out of San Antonio, had graduated magna cum laude from ACU and was “very confused about evolution.” When Brenda was asked if her instructors (Drs. Manis and Williams) ever refuted evolution, she replied, “quite the contrary, it was presented as fact” and she felt that ACU thinks that if it doesn’t teach evolution it will lose credibility which the “scientific community.”

Back in the sacred halls of Abilene, “Dr.” Manis waltzes into the room on the first day of the freshman biology class and proclaims, “There are some people ‘outside’ the university community who are trying to tell me what I can and cannot teach. But they won’t succeed. I’m an elder in the church, and I believe in evolution, I’m going to teach it to you, and you are going to believe it as well.” One of the students in the class, upset by Manis’ remarks, reported the situation to Robert Hunter, Vice President of the University as well as several others in the administration. Nothing was done.

After exhausting what he calls “chains of command” without any satisfactory results, Bert Thompson asks for and receives a face-to-face meeting with ACU officials which lasted about two and one-half hours. Thompson was accompanied to the meeting by James Williford, an elder of the 5th and Grape Street Church of Christ in Abilene as an “independent” witness. Neither Manis nor Williams was present at the meeting and when asked the reason for their absence, Dub Orr, representing the ACU Board of Trustees replied that Archie Manis was “red-headed and hottempered and might do something violent.” According to a signed statement by James Williford, the administrators present were confronted with a briefcase full of documentation that in fact Manis and Williams were teaching “either theistic or organic evolution as factual, true and to be accepted.”

Thompson promptly produced copies of “Evolution Notes” authored by Archie Manis some of which were as follows:

Evolution’s history and methodology will continue to feed debates for generations, but the fact of evolution is beyond dispute. The concept is rational, scientific, and supported by an overwhelming mass of evidence from past and present.

Evolution is a fact, not a theory. It once was a theory, but today, as a consequence of observations and testing it is probably the best authenticated actuality known to science. There are theories concerning the mechanisms of evolution, but no competent student doubts the reality of evolution.

. . . whatever the historical antecedent of Genesis, it represents but one of the innumerable creation myths which different people at different times have invented in order to account for the manner in which Earth and everything upon it came into being.

The god who is reputed to have created fleas to keep dogs from moping over their situation must also have created fundamentalists to keep rationalists from getting flabby. Let us be duly thankful for our blessings.

Such blasphemous materials were presented to students in the ACU biology classes “without any refutation whatsoever. ” When Dr. Fair, Dean of the College of Bible was shown the biology notes, he stated that in his opinion they were “rotten.”

Thompson then asked the administrators to request Manis and Williams to sign seven statements of belief in the Genesis account of creation and disbelief in evolution or fire the two professors. The officials “vehemently opposed” such a document because it would “insult the faculty members.” Thompson replied, “How could it be an insult to ask a Christian professor to sign a document in which he stated that he did not believe Genesis 1-11 to be a myth, that he did believe Genesis 1-11 to be literal and historical, that he did not believe in or advocate organic evolution or theistic evolution, and in which he stated that he did, and would refute such false concepts concerning evolution?”

The two professors finally sent Thompson letters to the effect that they believe in the Bible, Christianity, the biblical account of creation, and do not advocate organic evolution. Thompson replied, “That doesn’t tell me a thing. What I want to know is are you a theistic evolutionist? Any denominationalist could say the same thing.”

The bottom line seems to be that these men are theistic evolutionists and can, therefore, “state forthrightly” that they believe God created the earth and everything on it but did it by means of evolution. Manis was asked: “Do you believe that God created the heavens, earth, and everything in them in six literal days of approximately twenty-four hours each?” Manis replied, “I think he could have, if he had wanted to, but I don’t think that’s the way he did it. . . . ” He stated he does teach evolution and does not refute it. Furthermore, the University defended these professors, possibly fearing legal repercussions or loss of credibility with the “scientific community” if they dared to dismiss them.

If the once venerable Abilene “Christian” College (now a university) finds itself in this kind of turmoil as it advances toward “educational respectability,” what will the future hold for other such schools. As for Abilence – “you’ve gone a long way, baby.”

(For documentation of this material, see Is Genesis Myth? The Shocking Story of the Teaching of Evolution at A CU by Bert Thompson. This is available free from Apologetics Press, Inc., 230 Landmark Dr., Montgomery, AL 36117-2752.)

Guardian of Truth XXX: 5, pp. 129, 151
March 6, 1986