Living and Studying in a Meaning-Filled University

The News Magazine of HBU

By Louis Markos, Professor of English

I have had the privilege of teaching English at HBU to thousands of students over a span of 30 years. Although the personal concerns, cultural backgrounds and levels of academic preparedness of my students have fluctuated quite a bit over the decades, one thing has not changed: their seemingly innate interest in etymology. Whenever I pause in my lecture to parse for them the Greek or Roman or Anglo-Saxon roots of words, their ears always perk up and their attention sharpens.

They may have been raised in a postmodern society that has instilled in them the belief that words are nothing more than arbitrary, man-made constructs, but they know in their hearts and souls that that is not true. They naturally seek out meaning in words, and when I demonstrate for them that “nostalgia,” “provide,” and “gospel” mean, literally, “homecoming pain,” “to see before,” and “good news,” I can tell by their faces that they feel they have, for a moment, peered into something transcendent and metaphysical.

And the same goes for good and evil, right and wrong. HBU is blessed to be one of the most diverse universities in the country. Though my fellow faculty and staff members are all believing Christians, I have been afforded here the rare opportunity to teach Christians from every denomination, Jews and Deists, Sunni, Shia, and Sufi Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians, Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, and seekers, agnostics, and atheists of all kinds.

And yet, despite this religious diversity, my experience as a professor has confirmed for me that the vast majority of my students have a clear moral understanding of the distinction between virtue and vice. That moral sense is written in their conscience and runs far deeper than their particular ethnic background. Indeed, one of the major reasons that our Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist parents send their children to HBU, and let them live on campus, is that they want them to receive an education that respects and abides by the moral codes embedded in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.

Now, the growing threat of cancel culture and the aggressive relativism of social media have made my students more reticent about affirming publicly the existence of moral absolutes, but I can tell by their responses in class and in their essays that the majority of them are still fully aware that moral standards exist and are binding. That does not mean that they do not violate those standards – we all do, for we are all sinners – but it does mean they are aware of them, and most of the time, feel guilty when they break them.

The number of students embracing moral relativism has increased; nevertheless, with very few exceptions, they all believe firmly that they possess an in-built purpose that they feel compelled to discover and fulfill. Even those who support the transgender agenda do so less because they believe gender is meaningless than that they want all people to have the right to pursue their deeper identity and purpose.

They may parrot what they read and hear on social media, but most retain an unshakable sense that words and morality and their own identity and purpose are real and meaningful and transcend the tight, spatiotemporal limits of our world. This they understand on an intuitive and visceral level, as they also understand that the world and their bodies have been designed. They may speak the language of Darwin in which they have been raised, but they know that the world in which they live and the people with which they interact are not merely products of random, purposeless time and chance.

Whatever their background in terms of evolution or creation, science or religion, our STEM students, experience has taught me, are happy to be learning in an environment where they can acknowledge that we have been fearfully and wonderfully made, that our universe runs by laws that are rational and discernable, and that we can rest our decisions on the foundational belief that we all possess innate and essential worth and value and that we can trust our senses.

The evidence that our world and ourselves have been intelligently designed runs through every weave of the fabric of creation. We see that design—and not just the illusory appearance of design—as much in the macrocosm (the Big Bang and the fine-tuning of the universal constants that allow for the possibility of human life) as in the microcosm (our front-loaded, information-rich DNA and the irreducibly complex molecular machines that keep our bodies running).

As rational human beings, we know how to identify the difference between randomness and intelligent design, what William Dembski has called specified complexity. That is why most people, whether or not they have studied archeology, have no problem differentiating between a circular arrangement of stones placed there by the chance forces of weathering and the mysterious, but clearly human-designed circle of stones known as Stonehenge; or between a jagged cliff that bears a slight resemblance to a human profile and the four heads on Mount Rushmore; or between arbitrary shapes and squiggles on a rock wall and the hieroglyphics on an Egyptian temple.

The late Carl Sagan initiated the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) to scour the universe in search of evidence for alien life. Yet that same Carl Sagan willfully blinded himself to the abundant evidence for design in the cosmos without and the DNA within. How wonderful that HBU students can study at a university whose professors know what intelligent design looks like and are not afraid to identify and celebrate it when they find it.

Here we can study the STEM as well as the true root and seed.