Atheists target Georgia professor for Bible beliefs

by Karen L. Willoughby, |

STATESBORO, Georgia (Christian Examiner) – After a complaint was filed by two atheist groups, administrators began examining the classroom activities of a tenured history professor at a state-run educational institution.

Class evaluation comments were acquired about Emerson "Tom" McMullen, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at Georgia Southern University. While most were laudatory, a couple included comments to the effect they did not like hearing McMullen's creationist views.

"Despite some negative reviews, the professor had been given an "A" overall on, where he has also been showered with praise from former students," according to an article on

Comments like "Awesome!", "Knowledgeable," "Funny," were offset by three out of 43 that had any negative content. "He is very conservative and doesn't believe in climate change or evolution, which is just dumb imho," was one of the three citing offense, according to the report. But this same student also described McMullen as "a smart professor with a plethora of knowledge about history" and despite the one concern said, "I respect Dr. McMullen and enjoyed his class."

In its Oct. 22 letter to the University, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and co-complainer Richard Dawkins of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science wrote "McMullen uses class time to proselytize students and advance his personal religion, Christianity."

As a historian with a focus on science, McMullen could talk with students about the development of scientific ideas, they acknowledged.

"He could even legitimately discuss religious doctrines masquerading as science, such as young earth creationism and intelligent design," their letter stated. "However, it appears that McMullen does not present these as religious ideas lacking scientific merit. Instead, McMullen presents these religious beliefs as scientific fact."

The groups charged McMullen with assigning creationist topics for special credit, such as watching the movie "God's Not Dead."

McMullen said the extra credit options always included non-creationist topics, according to the local newspaper, The Stateboro Herald.

McMullen, who served 20 years in the Army and retired as a major, dates his conversion from agnostic to Christian, to the time he worked among scientists in government labs.

"I don't buy that we descended from a common ancestor," McMullen told the Herald. "I was an agnostic, thought science had the answers and, investigating science, I realized science didn't have all the answers, including descent from a common ancestor, and then I came to believe in God."

The big-bang theory of the universe's origins departs from the cause and effect basis of science by offering no cause for the origin event, McMullen said.

"We cover a lot of topics that could be interpreted as me preaching in the classroom" he continued. "I don't preach creationism. ... Basically we've got across the board, broad-brush charges by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Dawkin's Foundation."

Georgia Southern University's associate vice president for legal affairs responded to the atheist groups' complaint.

"As a public university Georgia Southern is well aware of its great responsibility to abide by all provisions of the Constitution of the United States of America, including the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment," Maura Copeland wrote. "[We] will proceed with a thorough investigation of the allegations. Based on the results of this investigation, the institution will take appropriate follow-up action."

The website is the personal blog of Adam Laats Ph.D., an associate professor of history at Harpur College of Binghamton University in New York. He researches and writes about the history of conservative activism in culture, politics and education to try to understand the thinking behind tranditionalist, conservative and fundamental beliefs about education.

"McMullen attracted negative attention from the Freedom From Religion Foundation for his blatant preaching of creationist religion in his history of science classes," Laats wrote in a recent blog. "The FFRF asked GSU to discipline McMullen, but the issue raises difficult questions of academic freedom.

"Even staunch anti-creationists ... worry about this kind of college crackdown on creationists," he said.