Campus Location

Abilene Campus

Date of Award

Spring 5-7-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Modern and American Christianity

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Committee Chair

Dr. Doug Foster

Second Committee Member

Dr. Dan Brannan

Third Committee Member

Dr. Fred Aquino

Abstract

In 1985-1986, Abilene Christian University endured what one observer called the worst attack in “size, nature and intensity” on a university affiliated with Churches of Christ. The flashpoint was whether two biology professors were teaching evolution as fact without refutation. The university denied it, but the controversy raged for two years. Left unanswered was the most basic of questions: Did ACU professors actually teach evolution without a creationist rebuttal? Which leads to another: Why in 1985 – 130 years after the publication of On the Origin of Species and 60 years after ACU had fired a professor who questioned readings of Genesis – did the controversy erupt? This study attempts to provide those answers.

This study answers the first question principally through the use of primary sources – including interviews with those participants still alive and able to relay memories of the events, as well as memos, letters, and notes written by ACU administrators, faculty and students, and by the accusers and their allies. Secondary sources are used to help describe the history of Darwinism among Churches of Christ, especially in the decades leading to the ACU controversy. These sources include previously published material, and articles and letters written by those who were influential in shaping the assumptions of the movement.

The study finds that the controversy occurred when it did because of the decades-long assumption among Churches of Christ – reinforced by ACU leaders – that evolution was profoundly anti-Christian. But this attitude was not universally held, especially among science faculty at ACU, who had become increasingly willing to accept aspects of evolution. The study also finds that the accused faculty members did indeed teach evolution as fact without rebuttal in their classes. The semantic ambiguity surrounding the subject, however, allowed the university to issue denials eliding the substance of the evidence presented against the professors.

This study concludes that the attack was ultimately unsuccessful in its aims. The same forces that had led to the controversy – an unraveling of the consensus around certain beliefs among Churches of Christ beginning in the 1970s – also limited the effectiveness of the attacks.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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