Furman University in Greenville, S.C. was founded as a Baptist theological institute and, in 1850, named after the president of the first Baptist convention in America.
These days, the private school offers full academic credit to students who attend school-sponsored lectures by drag queens and political cartoonists.
In the early 1990s, Furman separated from the Southern Baptist Convention. Last week, Furman refused to offer credit to students for attending an address by a Ph.D.-holding lecturer who espouses the young-earth creation story in the Book of Genesis as literal historical fact.
And, in what has to be the final straw, at least five of the school’s professors used Facebook to mock the Christian students who invited the speaker.
The lecturer, Terry Mortenson, spoke on the Furman campus Wednesday night.
The group which had invited Mortenson is called Conservative Students for a Better Tomorrow. The group’s plan was to stage a creationism vs. science debate between Mortenson and a Furman professor.
The conservative Christian group had also hoped Furman’s Cultural Life Program Committee would identify the debate as an event for which students could earn cultural credit.
If they want to graduate, all Furman students are required to earn 32 cultural credits by going to school-endorsed events such as debates, concerts, lectures.
Furman professors weren’t interested in the debate, according to The Christian Post.
No fewer than five of them mocked the conservative Christian students on Facebook.
In a Facebook exchange, English professor Margaret Oakes advised associate Hebrew Bible professor Bryan Bibb by saying: “Don’t dignify the stupidity by acknowledging it.”
Religion professor Roger Sneed added: “They’re seeking you to give legitimacy to a completely [expletive laden rant redacted] load of foolishness.”
Campus Reform has swathes of the actual Facebook exchange. (Sneed uses the actual words “expletive laden rant.”)
“The comments on Facebook were definitely bullying,” Lauren Cooley, a member of the student group, told the Post. “It’s really inappropriate and unprofessional.”
“When we exposed the Facebook posts, one of the professors involved threatened a student by email,” Cooley added. She alleged that the professor threatened to call campus police for privacy violations because the Christian group publicized social media postings.
Political science professor Brent Nelson, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and state superintendent of education, maintained that Mortenson isn’t academically qualified to debate a political scientist such as himself.
“It was not because of the content of the program,” Nelson told The State, a Columbia, S.C. newspaper. “In this particular event the problems were with the credentials of the person that was to speak. He is a historian of geology. He is not a scientist.”
Mortenson holds three academic degrees: a Ph.D. in the history of geology from Coventry University in England, a master’s of divinity in systematic theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois and a bachelor’s degree in math from the University of Minnesota.
Nelson also has three degrees – all in political science – from the University of Wisconsin and Wheaton College in Illinois.
“I think the real problem is that there aren’t professors here that are even willing to sponsor conservative Christian speakers, so there’s no way we can even entertain the idea of having them be a part of the Cultural Life Program,” Cooley told The State.
Bibb, the Hebrew Bible professor, said he suggested an alternative debate about the literalism of Genesis which would involve professors from other universities. Such a debate, he suggested, would qualify as part of the mandatory 32 cultural credits.
No way, though, was the Hebrew Bible professor going to debate some guy who takes the Bible literally.
Mortenson said he was disappointed.
“If Furman University is teaching kids how to think and how to be scientific and how to understand truth, then this should be a tremendous academic exercise for them to come and listen to me,” he told The State.
“If I am an idiot who doesn’t know anything about what I’m talking about they should be able to spot all of my phony arguments and it would be a great educational experience for them,” he added.
Cooley told the Post that Mortenson’s show did go on last week even though no professors would debate him and no credit was involved. The official attendance count was 96 people—”a good turnout” for a smallish school with some 2,700 undergrads.
A few atheist students showed up to heckle.
None of the Facebook-spouting professors made an appearance.