While hearing of a Freed-Hardeman professor publicly defending the study of the Bible as the truth of God's word is not a surprising event, it is not very often that they get to do so at Oxford University in England. This past July Dr. Richard England, professor of music and adjunct graduate professor of counseling at FHU, had such an opportunity. For the fourth time Dr. England made his way to the week-long Oxford Round Table conference at Oxford University in England. When asked how he received such a prestigious invitation all England had to say was, “I honestly have no clue.” Although he may not be exactly sure, there are some pretty good indicators. Apart from being a seasoned attendee to the conference, England has written several book chapters and books. His presentation at the conference his first year resulted in it being published as a chapter in a textbook. The second year he received a second book offer based on his presentation and the third year his paper was published in the academic journal, Forum on Public Policy.
Last year the conference focused on discussing the ability to reconcile mathematics and science with arts and humanities. This year’s forum took the discussion a step further, asking if and how religion could be unified with other disciplines. The discussions focused on the approach to understanding and the approach to knowledge, but many times included debates about educational policy and politics. The caucus was composed of a diverse group of academics, including forty representatives from various religious backgrounds and different countries. Lending to the religious tensions was the keynote speaker, Dr. Richard Dawkins, a well-known and widely published promoter of militant atheism. In his speech Dawkins indicated that religion in any type of educational institution should never be studied as truth; that there is no God; and that no discipline should have an inclusion of God beyond literary studies. “The debates got very personal and very intense at times,” said England.
England, however, had no problem engaging in discussions as a Christian and creationist. England confronted the belief in evolutionary biology and atheism stating at one point, “It's amazing to me that individuals could say without hesitation exactly what happened 60 billion years ago, and believe they could predict with reasonable certainty the next steps in the evolutionary process, but they bring an umbrella because they are uncertain if it is going to rain.” The conference, England said, was “very enlightening and very frightening.” England reported that what he really understood as a result of attending the conference is that the Christian faith is “ . . . at war in a very strong spiritual sense. There were many times where I thought I was seeing the seeds of the next persecution of Christianity. If people like Dawkins have their way, schools such as Freed-Hardeman would not be allowed to exist. The discussion is not about science, mathematics, arts, or humanities, but it is about a political agenda to silence those who believe in God.”
He went on to say, “I hear from students at times that we are in a ‘bubble’ at Freed-Hardeman. Well good! We need to use the opportunity to know what we believe, and why we believe it without having to endure ridicule and persecution so that when we leave campus we are ready to deal with these things. I am very grateful to have had an opportunity to discuss and debate issues of God, religion, and morality with those that do not believe in God. If there is anything gained by my participation at the conference, I want it to be that you can learn to be confident in your faith and stand up for the truth in the face of those who may seem intimidating.”