December 10, 2007

What Nathaniel Abraham Stands For

...We affirm that all things were created by God. Angels were created as ministering agents, though some, under the leadership of Satan, fell from their sinless state to become agents of evil. The universe was created in six historical days and is continuously sustained by God; thus it both reflects His glory and reveals His truth. Human beings were directly created, not evolved, in the very image of God. As reasoning moral agents, they are responsible under God for understanding and governing themselves and the world.

We affirm that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, though written by men, was supernaturally inspired by God so that all its words are the written true revelation of God; it is therefore inerrant in the originals and authoritative in all matters. It is to be understood by all through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, its meaning determined by the historical, grammatical, and literary use of the author’s language, comparing Scripture with Scripture.

We affirm that Adam, the first man, willfully disobeyed God, bringing sin and death into the world. As a result, all persons are sinners from conception, which is evidenced in their willful acts of sin; and they are therefore subject to eternal punishment, under the just condemnation of a holy God...

We affirm that the return of Christ for all believers is imminent. It will be followed by seven years of great tribulation, and then the coming of Christ to establish His earthly kingdom for a thousand years. The unsaved will then be raised and judged according to their works and separated forever from God in hell. The saved, having been raised, will live forever in heaven in fellowship with God.
The above are excerpts from the Doctrinal Statement of Liberty University. In order for Nathaniel Abraham to take his position as an associate professor there, he had to sign a statement that he is in agreement with that statement, as indicated in the university's Faculty Handbook (185 page PDF), which states on page 12 that:
Abraham had to agree to all of this. He had to believe it before taking his position at Liberty, and so it is likely a reflection of what he believed as a postdoc at Woods Hole. None of the material quoted from the doctrinal statement is compatible with good science, which requires empirical, testable, repeatable evidence. Abraham was never qualified to take a job doing research, not only because he knew all along that he would refuse to discuss and author publications about the research because it was based on evolutionary biology, but because he rejected the very basis of scientific inquiry from the outset.

Here, we get to the essential difference between scientific investigation and religious dogma — and this doctrinal statement is nothing but dogma. If Abraham had discovered something in the course of his work on zebrafish that provided some contrary evidence to evolutionary theory, not only could he have brought that to the intention of his PI, but it would have been incumbent upon him to do so. It would then have been incumbent upon his PI to investigate this new information and, were it shown to be both statistically significant and logically sound, publish that information. All of scientific theory is provisional; there is always the possibility that any given theory will be revised or even discarded, even evolutionary theory. Abraham, however, chose to shut himself away from this possibility. His agreement with a doctrinal statement asserting the literal truth of a religious text no matter what the evidence supports is an eloquent statement of opposition to scientific discovery. Unlike the situation of a scientific theory, evidence contradicting such dogma must, by definition, be rejected in favor of the a priori conclusion that the dogma is correct. Only evidence supporting the belief can ever be considered.

Which brings us to the point that those who support Abraham are raising regarding academic freedom. There can be no academic freedom in a context in which all students and faculty — and janitors, for that matter — must agree from the outset with an explicit doctrinal statement. Because of this statement, not even a tenured professor at Liberty University is free to stand up and say, "There are questions about whether the world was created in six literal days." All such discussion of such a notion is precluded and to even make such a statement is grounds for dismissal. In contrast, Lehigh University finds itself saddled with Michael Behe, probably until the day he dies, precisely because he is allowed to say anything he wants in the context of real academic freedom — even when those statements are outrageous and factually incorrect. Behe makes them knowing full well that he can't be dismissed for them precisely because Lehigh really does have a commitment to academic freedom. Those who believe, then, that Nathaniel Abraham or his attorney, David Gibbs III (himself a graduate of Liberty University) have the first concern about academic freedom simply haven't bothered to take a look at the situation in which Abraham landed and the conditions to which he agreed after getting himself dismissed from WHOI.

On a more personal note, though one I'm sure with which most readers here will agree, I'm astounded that anything trying to pass itself off as an institution of higher learning could require those entering it to agree to a rigid set of beliefs designed to circumscribe their thoughts. Clearly, such a device is not intended to foster inquiry but to prevent it. Implicit in such a statement is a limitation on the sources of information to which a student will have access and a curtailing of what can be taught in classes. Liberty University's doctrinal statement is nothing but an enforcement of superstition and a pact to be enforced against those who might stir up the nuisance of independent thought. I'm surprised they don't require that it be signed in blood.

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