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UPDATED: Pacific Union College Students Defend Professor from Educate Truth’s Anecdotal Attacks

UPDATE: Educate Truth has now apologized to Pacific Union College.

Attempting to expand beyond its lagging campaign against La Sierra University, the Educate Truth site posted an anonymously recorded video of a Pacific Union College professor lecturing on the scientific issues surrounding origins. Pacific Union College immediately released a statement pointing out the incorrect assumptions made by the critics at Educate Truth:

The discussion was for Ministry Colloquium, a lecture and discussion series for theology majors. During the fall quarter, guest speakers led discussions on various issues confronting theologians today. In October, the religion department asked Dr. Ness to specifically present existing theories in science that conflict with our beliefs as Adventists, such as the age of the earth, the nature of the flood, and fossil records. Dr. Ness was never asked to present his personal views nor does the video show him professing personal beliefs.

In fact, Educate Truth’s claim, that Dr. Ness was only presenting one side was actually the point. This was an attempt to give students who already know one side a safe place to learn about the other before they confront it as pastors.

PUC adds:

At the start of the class, religion professor and Ministry Colloquium coordinator Myron Widmer provided the context for the upcoming discussion before Dr. Ness stepped up to the podium. But the posted video does not include this introduction; for unknown reasons, this important frame of reference was left out.

Left out? For conservatives who prize separation from the world, it seems deeply troubling to see them mimicking so closely the end-justifies-the-means tactics and mistakes of our broken political world. Remember Shirley Sherrod?

The professor of biology, Bryan Ness, who was taped, posted, and attacked online without his knowledge, replied in the comment section:

Just to be clear on a few points. I have no problem at all presenting the kind of information presented in that discussion to any group of church members, and have done much the same kind of thing on many occasions. The audience in the case of this presentation was a group of religion and theology majors. I was invited to simply share with them the current issues around origins facing the church today, which I did. I do modify the content somewhat in different venues, and most of the time, because I am not taking such a broad sweep at the whole area of origins, do not delve into some of the individual topics. The point is that I have no problem with others seeing the video, I have nothing to hide, it’s just that some discussions are more appropriate for one group than another. I also consider it unethical to post such a video without my permission.

Significantly, many PUC students have posted comments defending Dr. Ness by pointing out that the Educate Truth interpretation of the video doesn’t actually square with what was taught to them in the actual science classes. (Significantly, Educate Truth seems to be prioritizing the single filmed class anecdote over the many testimonies based on months of lectures. Oddly enough, Dr. Ness recently gave a PUC “chapel” talk in which he actually went through each day of creation, publicly affirming the Biblical record. But this evidence, as well as the repeated witness of PUC students and alumni seems to mean little to the Educate Truth leaders.

A student writes:

I’ve personally taken at least one class from Dr. Ness and if anything, I too can say that he seemed shy away from labels and easy answers. He was one of the only science professors I’ve ever had that wasn’t afraid to look at an issue from both sides as objectively as possible, especially considering the vast majority of his students come from a young earth upbringing. The last thing we needed as students was another Adventist ‘scientist’ that was not introducing science. The truth is that TRUTH is elusive.

I don’t think young Adventist students could be in better hands than those of Dr. Ness. Shane, your attitude and those of many of your supporters makes me sick.

Another one writes:

In taking Dr. Ness’s General Biology 112 class we go over some evolutionary topics, but they were not taught as absolute fact, just as what other scientists have been found to have been observed. I don’t find any fault in this because it is part of the learning process and something that we would be able to refute if we want to and have scientific reasoning for it, or in fact agree with and have reasoning for that also. It is better to be educated about a topic than to be ignorant about it and just argue it with the fact that the bible says so and be one sided about the whole thing, if you can see both sides of the problem, then you make a better argument. So i support Dr. Ness in his reasoning for giving a speech on possibly a local flood vs. a world wide flood.

And recent graduate writes:

. . .the eagerness with which these accusers will tear down fellow believers and undermine the impact of the church. Have they run out of victims down in Riverside, so that now they must hunt out intelligent, honest, and GOD-FEARING educators on other campuses, to the detriment of the community of faith? Congratulations, EducateTruth, you’re doing your best to ensure that the final generation of Adventists (not an eschatological reference) is a pure race, free from contaminating influences: honest dialogue about faith and science, intellectual vigor, and especially possible infection by new converts.

I pray that this stone-throwing spirit that is making Adventism sick will die out before it’s too late for the church. Thank you, Dr. Ness, for providing an intellectually stimulating AND spiritually resonant educational experience.

In posting this video, and publicly attacking a fellow Adventist without the courtesy of getting his side of the story, Educate Truth has overreached. They have damaged their reputation on the very things they claim to uphold in Adventism: education and truth.

It is increasingly troubling that the witch hunt for doctrinal divergence about Genesis is becoming so fevered that professors are recorded without their permission, attacked by name online without the attackers giving them the common courtesy of hearing their side, and then the honesty of their students who have heard more than one lecture is treated as less valid.

This repeated tendency to attack individuals as a way to weaken institutions, and prioritize doctrinal purity over human relationships should give us serious pause.

Is this really the future that we want for our church?

Is this how intellectually secure adults work through the serious issues of present truth?

I really can’t see Ellen White receiving a complaint about someone and then publishing it for the entire church to see without even seeking comment from the person involved.

Where is this really leading? Have our leaders stopped to consider the future cost?

It would be a very telling future development if, thanks to the plethora of posts and comments, sermons and rants, videos and news items – that when someone Googles “Seventh-day Adventist” it will be these sorts of intra-church fights that they see first on their computer. And given the time and attention this fight is getting from pew to president, it may be soon that when we tell someone that we’re Adventist, they will reply: “oh yeah, you are the church that likes to educate the truth, review the news, and go forward by attacking each other personally and publicly.

Who wouldn’t want to join a Christian community like that?

UPDATE: Educate Truth has now apologized to Pacific Union College.

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