In Thursday’s podcast, “The Life of Walter Bradley With William Dembski (Part II),” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks and design theorist William Dembski reflect on the biography they have written about a remarkable engineer, Walter Bradley, For a Greater Purpose: The Life and Legacy of Walter Bradley. In Part I, they discussed Bradley’s work in helping develop appropriate industries using sustainable technologies in the developing world. Here in Part II, they look at the way Bradley politely but effectively insisted on respect for the rights of religious students and faculty, as well as others. And got it.
Robert J. Marks: When Walter Bradley was a professor, one of the things that he wanted to do was to talk about his faith and science. His wife said “Walter, you have to go in and you have to say something.”
And Walter went in and said, “I was going to say something about my faith and then I chickened out.”
(A partial transcript follows. This portion can be found at approximately 01:42 to 4:31 min and then at 10:08 to 14:54 min. Show notes and links follow.)
Robert J. Marks (pictured): So they went home and they prayed some more and then Walter went in the next day and said, “Okay, today I’m going to share my faith.” And he went in — and he chickened out.
You can see in the book that he did this 22 times before he had the guts to actually make the presentation in class about his faith. It wasn’t proselytizing; it was simply saying that “I want you to know that I’m a Christian and as a result of that I hope that you see its impact on the way that I treat you.” Then Walter went ultimately around to different universities including the University of Washington, where I was at, sharing with faculty how to live out loud as a Christian.
If you have followed academia today you know that this idea of Christianity being talked about on college campuses is not celebrated very much. One time Walter was sharing his faith and the associate provost at Texas A and M University sent out a memo to 2,500 faculty saying, “You shall not talk about Christianity in the classroom.” Wow! This was probably in response to Walter’s doing this at Texas A and M. And this was a number of years ago of course.
One thing about Walter was, he had a lot of guts. He immediately called him up and says, “Look, you and I need to sit down and talk.” And he went over and very politely said, “Okay, I think this might be a good idea not to be able to share your faith in the classroom. But if you do this, how are we going to keep quiet all of the people that diss Christianity and say that Christianity has nothing to do with science, that Christianity has nothing to do with the pursuit of knowledge. We have to get a rule where this doesn’t happen either. How are we going to do that?”
And the assistant provost paused for a second and said, “I never really thought of it that way.” And as a result, the assistant provost put out a memo that basically retracted his previous criteria and said, “Just be careful about talking about your faith to make sure that you don’t alienate any of the students.” Which I think was probably a fair thing.
New section 10:08 to 14:54:
William Dembski: He had such a disarming way. But the thing is, it is just sticking the stiletto in though.
Robert J. Marks: It is.
William Dembski (pictured): So he was a master. He is a master.
Robert J. Marks: But he does it so, so wonderfully. He finally asked the provost he said, “Where did this complaint come from?” And it turned out it came from two atheist professors, the provost finally admitted. So Walter, in the true fashion of Walter Bradley, contacted the two professors and said, “Let’s set up a time and meet. I’d like to talk to you about this.” And he never got a response. They didn’t do anything.
Robert J. Marks: Here’s something else that was very bold that Walter did: Baylor does not allow atheist student groups but there was nevertheless an atheist student group that met on the Baylor campus. Now, I don’t know what your initial reaction would be but mine would be something like, “We have to go in there, pound our fists, and we have to say these atheists can not meet on the campus.”
Walter didn’t do that. He decided that he would join the atheist group, sit down, and have a chat with them. So he sat down and had a chat with them and went over some of their objections and then ultimately invited them over to his house. And this atheist group met with Walter for a number of weeks and finally the whole group disbanded because of what Walter did. He killed the atheist group with his love, with his compassion. And I tell you, that’s another example of taking a lot of guts to do things.
Robert J. Marks: Walter did all of this stuff while being a very successful researcher in mechanical engineering. He attracted millions of dollars in external grants and was just a model of what a mechanical engineering professor should do. But in his spare time he did this.
One of the other things that Walter did, outlined in the book also, is go to over hundreds of campuses and make a presentation called Scientific Evidence for the Existence of God. That’s a pretty provocative title.
He’s given it here, he’s given it in dozens of foreign countries. And of course with a title like that on a religious unfriendly campus he drew quite a crowd and he always presented it in this very disarming manner. And when he was asked questions at the end, he was always able to answer them calmly and convincingly. And often the entire meeting would leave and there would always be students who came up and wanted to talk more about it. So he had an incredible impact. That’s one of the first places that I met Walter Bradley when I was at the University of Washington. He came there and did that.
He was the one that helped create and promote the arm of Campus Crusade, now referred to as Cru, that ministered towards college professors. There were many college professors such as me that, because of the penalties of coming out with your faith and talking about faith and science publicly, you were afraid that you would get ridiculed. And he had been through this and he went to different campuses and talked to different professors including myself and said, “You need to come out of the closet.”
And it was very exhilarating for me to do that at the University of Washington. One of the things that I found out is, when I was very vocal about expressing my faith, people gave me more respect. If I was ashamed of it, they would come and kick me in the shins and bully me and things of that sort.
The previous episode: Walter Bradley: Finding a life of greater purpose. Bradley has been a pioneer in the development of appropriate technologies for developing regions of the world. Bradley’s best-known book is The Mystery of Life’s Origin (with co-authors), which questioned simplistic explanations on science-based grounds.