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Soaping the slippery slope

"Soaping the slippery slope" Continued...

Issue: "School choice," Aug. 25, 2012

Burtchaell writes about William Jewett Tucker, president of Dartmouth from 1893 to 1909, who took difficult parts of Scripture as metaphorical and called for "a Bible set free from the last bondage to literalism." As conviction of the Bible's truth disappeared, all that was left was "vague moralizing," and in time "the purge of Christian purpose" became evident to all. Tucker changed the board of trustees so that in 1906, near the end of his incumbency, a majority of board members were not active members of any church.

Tucker's comments as he left office showed why Dartmouth was on its way to becoming indistinguishable from secular counterparts: He did not want to discuss "distinctive tenets" of the Bible but only "those fundamental obligations and incentives of religion in which we are all substantially agreed." Then he proclaimed, "Formerly the distinction was, Is a man orthodox or heterodox? Today the distinction is, Is a man an optimist or a pessimist?" Tucker's successor as president, Ernest Hopkins, said in 1921 that "friendliness and good will [are] the essence of the religion Jesus taught." Churches, in other words, were clubs.

Watch the treatment of Darwin. At Dartmouth during Tucker's reign, chapel became voluntary but a course on evolution compulsory. Wake Forest's president from 1905 to 1927, William Poteat, tried to meld Christianity and evolution, and oversaw religious drift. When Ohio Wesleyan President James Bashford interviewed zoologist Edward Rice for a faculty position, Rice said he would teach evolution and Bashford replied, "I wouldn't want you if you didn't."

Francis Patton, Princeton's president from 1888 to 1902, hired Woodrow Wilson to be a professor but told him he should teach "under theistic and Christian presuppositions." Patton complained, "In your discussion of the origin of the State, you minimize the supernatural & make such unqualified application of the doctrine of naturalistic evolution & the genesis of the State as to leave the reader of your pages in a state of uncertainty as to your own position & the place you give to Divine Providence." In 1902 the trustees made Wilson president, and Wilson over the next 10 years undermined what was left of Princeton's biblical base (see sidebar).

Marsden quotes at length an article Cosmopolitan magazine published in 1909-Harold Bolce's "Blasting at the Rock of Ages"-that summarized a national tragedy: "Those who are not in close touch with the great colleges of the country, will be astonished to learn the creeds being foisted by the faculties of our great universities. In hundreds of classrooms it is being taught daily that the Decalogue is no more sacred than a syllabus; that the home as an institution is doomed; that there are no absolute evils; that immorality is simply an act in contravention of society's accepted standards."

How the mighty had fallen.

Woodrow Wilson and the 'evolution' of government

By Marvin Olasky

Wilson (Bettmann/Corbis/AP)

Once upon a time-no, let's give the exact year, 1888-critics of seminary professor James Woodrow outed him as a Darwinist and ousted him from his professorship. The Southern Presbyterian General Assembly, meeting in Baltimore, reviewed and upheld the dismissal. That would be a minor historical footnote except that a 32-year-old future president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, attended the convention and became "unorthodox in my reading of the standards of the faith." In essence, he became a theistic evolutionist.

In the late 19th century Princeton President James McCosh emphasized biblical teaching. His successor, Francis Patton, rated eloquence above biblical orthodoxy when recruiting professors, so he hired Wilson but expressed concern that the new professor emphasized the influences of Roman law in shaping Western civilization yet was "silent with respect to the forming & reforming influences of Christianity." Patton told Wilson that Princeton trustees "would not regard with favor such a conception of academic freedom or teaching as would leave in doubt the very direct bearing of historical Christianity as a revealed religion upon the great problems of civilization."

Patton's prediction was incorrect. The trustees in 1902 also chose a good talker rather than a solidly biblical thinker. Wilson as Princeton president announced what many had come to believe: Princeton "is a Presbyterian college only because the Presbyterians of New Jersey were wise and progressive enough to found it." Wilson quickly eliminated Bible classes (under pressure, he partly relented) and made sure that students received indoctrination in evolution.

Ten years later Wilson ran for president and suggested that the real candidates were not Taft, Roosevelt, and himself, but Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. America was in trouble, Wilson declared, because some people had the "Newtonian" view that the government should have an unchanging constitutional foundation, somewhat like "the law of gravitation." He argued that government "falls under the theory of organic life. ... Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of Life."

Wilson's summary: "All that progressives ask or desire is permission-in an era when 'development,' 'evolution,' is the scientific word-to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle." In other words, forget about the text of the Bible or the Constitution: As society rapidly evolves we must have "a living constitution" open to judicial reinterpretation, regardless of the words on the page. Just as colleges were on a slippery slope, so was government.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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