It is necessary to say something here about the struggle over
President Poteat's religious and scientific views which caused so
much turmoil and dissension not only among the Baptists of the State
but also among its other citizens and throughout the entire South in
the years 1920-25. This struggle and its issue constituted an epoch in
the history of the denominational colleges of the South and in higher
education generally. Here a word of caution is necessary; we are not
to think that Poteat was alone involved; in nearly all colleges and
universities of the South, both denominational and others, the
fundamental concepts of modern science were taught. The difference
was that Poteat was intent on saying that there was nothing
irreconcilable between these concepts and those of true Christian
religion. One other difference was that most of the other teachers who
explained the theory of evolution were only professors of biology,
whereas Poteat as president of a college and of large denominational
activity and influence was more open to attack, and yet felt it his duty
both to religion and science to maintain his position.
First of all Poteat was a believer in the theory of evolution. His
view is well but briefly stated in an article, "The Content and Scope of
Biology," found in the Wake Forest Student, XX, 237f., January,
1901. He wrote:
There is no single object or phenomenon which is independent of the process of
evolution. The process is, in brief, the process of becoming. The present is the child
of the past, in the case of the individual organism, the tribe, the race, the earth on
which it lives, or the sun which energizes all. History is not a succession of events
or stages, as of links in a chain, having no other relation than that of contact. The
antecedent events or stages are in great part the causes of those which follow. The
endless variety of animal and plant forms which brighten and beautify our world,
has arisen by descent with slight modification from more and more simple forms
through long ages.
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