Monday, May 14, 2012

Proud Alumnus of Emory College of Emory University

Going through graduation season and having many acquaintances who are going through graduation ceremonies has caused me to think about my own graduation and what it means to me.

I went to Emory College at Emory University and also the Graduate School of Emory University, and was even accepted into the Master of Divinity program at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. (I only attended the convocation--I enrolled in Reformed Theological Seminary shortly thereafter.)  It has been 46 years since I graduated from Emory College, and it wasn't until a couple of months back, when a representative of the Alumni office came through Starkville, Mississippi, that I have thought seriously about what graduating from Emory has meant to me.

While at Emory, I never thought about whether or not it was a good school.  It was the only one I knew.  My brother and I were first generation college goers.  None of our parents or grandparents had gone to college.  My mother and step-father had determined to make it financially possible for my brother and me to attend college, and the faculty of Druid Hills High School, likewise, made it their goal to qualify us academically to succeed in college.  Those are debts we owe that can never be paid back.  They can only be paid forward to try to do the same for the next generation.

It is a marvel to me that, at the time that Thomas J. J. Altizer, the author of God is Dead, was on the faculty at Emory and receiving much publicity, I was involved in Bible studies with other students and became a born-again, evangelical Christian!  I was developing a love/hate relationship with my alma mater.  She stood for many things that were anathema to me, but also, she was the nurturing mother to my educational achievement and social development.  Although I do not really identify with Moses, I can understand how he must have felt, owing his life and training to the household of Pharaoh, although his true loyalties belonged to the Great I AM of the Exodus.

More than anything else, I remember the academic freedom at Emory.  The people there were really intelligent.  I do not understand how I passed the entrance requirements, but can thank six people, specifically, who seem to me now, to have been the ones who prepared my mind for those entrance requirements:  Mrs. Camp, my Geometry teacher, and Mr. Hall, my Advanced Algebra and Calculus teacher both prepared me to think analytically, and Mrs. Pomeroy and Mrs. Garrard, whose English grammar and vocabulary stick with me to this day, and Dr. Meroney, whose Latin vocabulary and grammar prepared me to excel in language learning.  I can't leave thoughts of DHHS without kudos to Mrs. Gibson who gave me a job as Chemistry Laboratory manager, and whose excellent foundation enabled me to get an NSF undergraduate research grant in my freshman summer at Emory.  So it was not I, but they, who scored my SAT grades and got me in Emory.  Nonetheless, I was surrounded by intelligent students and faculty.

I have now taught in five colleges in addition to being a teaching assistant in Geology at Emory.  None has matched the academic excellence and freedom that I experienced at Emory.  Only in the church do I have the freedom to challenge the students to think, in the same way I was challenged at Emory.  As my teachers before me, I am more interested in the process you use to get your results, than the results, themselves.  My teachers didn't require me to come to the same conclusions they did, but they did make sure I was rigorous in the procedures of reaching mine.  Did I test every assumption?  Were the steps in the process logical and clear?  It was an atmosphere of academic freedom like this that formed my understanding of understanding.

After a "Creation vs. Evolution" debate with a biology instructor at a private high school in Jackson, Mississippi, a couple of decades ago, the biologist told me, "You clearly won the debate, but I still don't believe you."   We live in an age of intellectual schizophrenia in which we do not need for things to make sense in order for us to believe them.  Even though existential philosophy was dominant during those years, my education at Emory prepared me for coherence, a belief in things that make sense.

Of all my peers in theology, I appear to have a background with more science and math than they.  I am able to analyze the arguments of scientists better than most ministers who majored in history, Bible, social sciences, or languages.  My blogs in the last month have been written with the intent to demonstrate how to apply presuppositional analysis to the arguments of scientists.

Presuppositional analysis, contrary to what my evidentialist brothers may think, is not simply showing that Biblical presuppositions are the only ones that lead to true truth.  It is also getting into the analysis of someone else's logic and demonstrating the problem areas, either in their presuppositions, or in their conclusions.

Last week's essays were able to raise questions, in the scientists' own framework, as to the limits of their knowledge.  By examining in a secular framework their own problem areas, I have hoped to open the door to a faith-based presuppositional argument that is more scientific than theirs, because it examines more evidence and eliminates exclusion bias from the process.

If I am successful, I can thank my Alma mater, Emory University, for setting me on the right learning process.  Cor prudentis possidebit scientiam. [A heart of prudence shall possess knowledge. Proverbs 18:15]

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