Culture warriors typically think that the contending parties in our current struggle pit morality and truth against relativism and skepticism. If only we had more skeptics. As I read the culture wars, both sides are equally committed to moral absolutes. Either gay marriage is wicked or the opposition to gay marriage is immoral. Uncertainty is as much in short supply on Fox as it is on CNN.
A recent story about Emory University’s commencement speaker confirmed this impression at least to (all about) me. Ben Carson, an accomplished neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University, a Protestant of some evangelical variety, and an African-American humanitarian still cannot clear all of Emory students’ and faculty’s objections because he is not completely on board with evolution. According to this story:
About 500 Emory employees and students signed a letter, published in the campus paper, drawing attention to the fact that Carson doesn’t believe in evolution. The letter acknowledges the surgeon’s accomplishments and doesn’t ask that Carson be disinvited, but it suggests some of his views fail to align with Emory’s values. Other letter writers have defended the invitation, which was made after a group of seniors presented a shortlist of potential speakers to administrators. The surgeon is the cofounder of the Carson Fund, which has presented more than $4 million in scholarships to students with outstanding academic and humanitarian achievements.
Carson will still speak in Atlanta, though campus spokesman Ron Sauder said Emory wasn’t aware of Carson’s views on evolution until after extending the invitation. The invitation isn’t necessarily an endorsement of Carson’s opinions. “Our position is to follow the research and the scientific method where it leads,” Sauder said. “Our leading life scientists would define our views on evolution, and the number of signatories on that petition would probably speak to that.”
Even if Emory will not cancel the engagement, the response by part of a university community hardly identifiable with religious traditionalism is just the sort of reaction one might expect from a school like Liberty University if the administration were unwittingly to invite Francis Collins. Neither side today is willing to encounter an alien idea, both want to shelter its young from hostile beliefs, and each side does so under the banner of the pursuit of truth and intellectual freedom.
The last I checked, the American empire was full of citizens who are certain about their views, the ridiculousness if not perverseness of their opponents, and committed to keeping the other side out of power. If only the American public (as opposed to the mainline churches) had paid heed to Harry Emerson Fosdick.