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Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics

A Weblog Series published on An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution

Keith Miller
Dennis Venema
Richard Colling
Stephen Matheson
Karl Giberson
Gordon Glover
Douglas Hayworth
Ted Davis

Edited by:
Steve Martin

Document Version: 1.2

Last Updated: April 7, 2009

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Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

Table of Contents

I. Overview of the Series and Contributors ..........................................................................................................3

II. Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics: Series Introduction..........................................................................4
III. Creation, Evolution and the Nature of Science.................................................................................................5
IV. Is the Scientific Academic Community a Hostile Environment for Faith? ......................................................6
V. Teaching Evolution in Christian Higher Education: Faith Shaking or Faith Affirming? .................................7
VI. Evolution and Faith: Communicating their Compatibility in Christian Higher Education...............................9
VII. The Evolution Controversy at Calvin College: Historical Perspective ..........................................................10
VIII. Teaching Evolution at Calvin College: A Personal Perspective ....................................................................12
IX. Evolution in Public Schools: A Threat or a Challenge? ................................................................................14
X. Why Evolution should be taught in Christian Schools ..................................................................................15
XI. The Challenge of Teaching Science in a Christian Homeschooling Setting .................................................17
XII. Teaching Creation in Sunday School ............................................................................................................18
XIII. Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics: Historical Perspective and Future Directions .............................20
XIV. Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics: Conclusion .................................................................................22

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

I. Overview of the Series and Contributors

A series of articles on Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics was published from May 18, 2008 through July 2,
2008 on the weblog An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution. It included thirteen posts by nine different authors.
Authors in order of appearance included:

1. Steve Martin wrote the series Introduction on May 18, 2008 and the series Conclusion on July 2, 2008. He
publishes the weblog An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution.

2. Keith Miller contributed two articles for the series: Creation, Evolution, and the Nature of Science on May
19, 2008 and Is the Scientific Academic Community a Hostile Environment for Faith? on May 22, 2008.
Keith edited the book Perspectives on an Evolving Creation and has written numerous articles on science
and faith including Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation.

3. Dennis Venema contributed the article Teaching Evolution in Christian Higher Education on May 26,
2008. Dennis teaches biology at Trinity Western University.

4. Richard Colling contributed the article Evolution and Faith: Communicating their Compatibility in
Christian Higher Education on May 28, 2008. Richard is the author of the book Random Designer.

5. Stephen Matheson contributed two articles for the series: The Evolution Controversy at Calvin College:
Historical Perspective on June 2, 2008 and Teaching Evolution at Calvin College: A Personal Perspective
on June 4, 2008. Stephen publishes the blog Quintessence of Dust which explores issues of science and

6. Karl Giberson contributed the article Evolution in Public Schools: A Threat or a Challenge? on June 9,
2008. Karl is the author of the book Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution.

7. Gordon Glover contributed the article Why Evolution Should be Taught in Christian Schools on June 11,
2008. Gordon is the author of the book Beyond the Firmament. His three children attend a private
Classical Christian school. He is currently publishing a series of blog posts on the topic of “Science
Education in Private Christian Schools”.

8. Douglas Hayworth contributed two articles for the series: The Challenge of Teaching Science in a
Christian Homeschooling Setting on June 16, 2008 and Teaching Creation in Sunday School on June 19,
2008. Douglas is an evolutionary biologist.

9. Ted Davis contributed the article Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics: Historical Perspective and
Future Directions on June 29, 2008. Ted is the vice-president of the American Scientific Affiliation, and is
consulting editor for both Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith and Science and Christian Belief.

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

Miller will examine whether the scientific academic

II. Evangelicals, Evolution, and community is a hostile environment for faith.
Academics: Series Introduction Three biologists who teach at Evangelical colleges or
universities will provide the next four posts in the
This is the first installment in the “Evangelicals, series. Dennis Venema from Trinity Western
Evolution, and Academics” series. University will discuss whether teaching evolution in
Christian higher education is faith shaking or faith
Most Evangelicals strongly believe that the theory of affirming. Richard Colling from Olivet Nazarene
evolution is incompatible with their Christian faith. University will highlight the importance of language,
The conflict thesis is deeply ingrained in both our words, and emotions in communicating compatibility
cultural and theological thinking. And for many between evolution and faith in Christian higher
Evangelicals the halls of scientific academia are the education. Finally, Stephen Matheson will provide a
heart of “enemy territory”, an academic guild (so it is brief historical sketch of the evolution / creation
feared) that is wedded to “Atheistic Darwinian” discussion at Calvin College, and, in a second post,
philosophy. The movie Expelled feeds off (and further will offer some personal reflections on his own
feeds the fire) of these fears. experience at Calvin.

Evangelicals vs. Evolution & Academia: The Although much of the public discussion focuses on
Conflict Thesis post-secondary scientific academia, most Evangelicals
But is the theory of biological evolution equivalent to are introduced to evolution, and form their biases
“Atheistic Darwinian” Philosophy? Are evolutionary towards it, much before setting foot inside a university
science and an Evangelical expression of the Christian lecture hall. Our next four posts will discuss aspects of
faith incompatible? Must Christians who accept the this introduction. Karl Giberson will summarize the
scientific consensus for evolution also abandon belief results of a small research project he conducted on the
and trust in a personal God by whom all things are teaching of evolution in public schools. Gordon Glover
created, and in whom all creation is sustained? Is the will share his thoughts and experiences on evolution in
scientific establishment our enemy? Must we fear it? Christian schools. Douglas Hayworth will discuss the
challenges of teaching evolutionary science in a home
For a small but growing number of Evangelicals, the school setting. Finally Hayworth will provide some
answer to all these questions is an emphatic NO. We guidance on teaching creation theology in church
do not believe that the scientific evidence for Sunday Schools.
biological evolution warrants atheism. Our acceptance
of evolutionary science in no way compromises our Ted Davis will then wrap up the series with some
faith in the Creator God who revealed himself through concluding thoughts on the historical context and
the incarnate and risen Christ. Through science, future direction of Evangelicals and evolution in
including evolutionary science, we are discovering the academia. The landscape has changed dramatically in
wonders of God’s creation. This discovery should be recent years, but there are still significant challenges to
celebrated, not feared. be addressed.

A Chorus of Evangelical Voices that Reject the Full Circle

Conflict Thesis In one way, this series brings me full circle. My initial
Over the next month, I will be publishing a series of encounter with biology and anthropology in high
guest posts on the topic of “Evangelicals, Evolution, school was a very painful experience. Thereafter I
and Academics”. All of the authors in this series are carefully avoided all opportunities for the evolution
Evangelicals; all of them accept the scientific demon to raise its ugly head. This series presents
consensus for biological evolution; and all of them voices and viewpoints that I wish I had heard all those
believe that there can be a positive relationship years ago. For Evangelicals currently grappling with
between Evangelicals and evolution in academia. the implications of an evolving creation, I hope these
voices prove much more timely.
Keith Miller will begin the series by discussing the
nature of science. Since the misunderstanding of this Enjoy the series.
nature is a primary cause for the perceived conflict
between science and faith, this initial essay sets the
stage for much of the later discussion. In a second post,

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

From the perspective of scientific inquiry, a

III. Creation, Evolution and the supernatural agent is effectively a black box, and
Nature of Science appeals to supernatural action are essentially appeals to
ignorance. A supernatural agent is unconstrained by
natural “laws” or the properties and capabilities of
This is a guest-post by geologist Keith B. Miller, and is natural entities and forces -- it can act in any way, and
the second installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution, accomplish any conceivable end. As a result, appeals
and Academics” series. Keith edited the book to such agents can provide no insight into
Perspectives on an Evolving Creation and has written understanding the mechanisms by which a particular
numerous articles on science and faith including observed or historical event occurred. Belief in the
Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation. creative action of a supernatural agent does not answer
the question of how something happens. “A miracle
Despite the long theological dialogue with occurs here” is no more an answer to the question of
evolutionary theory, many people continue to view “How?” than is “We don’t know.”
evolution as inherently atheistic and inseparably
wedded to a worldview that denies God and objective Divine Action and Scientific Explanation
morality. Although this understanding of the meaning One commonly held perspective that tends to reinforce
of evolutionary theory is strongly promoted by some, it a conflict view of science and faith is that God's action
is widely rejected as philosophically, theologically, and or involvement is confined to those events which lack a
historically false. Science is a methodology, a limited scientific explanation. Meaningful divine action is
way of knowing about the natural world. Scientific equated with breaks in chains of cause-and-effect
research proceeds by the search for chains of cause- processes. This view has been called a "God-of-the-
and-effect, and confines itself to the investigation of gaps" theology. God's creative action is seen only, or
"natural" entities and forces. This self-limitation is primarily, in the gaps of human knowledge where
sometimes referred to as “methodological naturalism.” scientific description fails. With this perspective, each
advance of scientific description results in a
The Limitations of Science corresponding reduction in the realm of divine action.
The first detailed use and discussion of the term Conflict between science and faith is thus assured.
“methodological naturalism” (MN) was in 1986 by However, this is a totally unnecessary state of affairs.
Paul deVries, an evangelical Christian philosopher at God's creative activity is clearly identified in the Bible
Wheaton College. He used the term to describe the as including natural processes, including what we call
legitimate purview of science as one limited to chance or random events. According to scripture, God
explaining and interpreting the natural world in terms is providentially active in all natural processes, and all
of natural processes and causes. Furthermore, deVries of creation declares the glory of God. The evidence for
embraced this understanding of the nature and God's presence in creation, for the existence of a
limitations of science because he saw it as consistent creator God, is declared to be precisely those everyday
with, and supportive of, a vibrant and vital role for "natural events" experienced by us all.
theology. In his view, to broaden science to include the
supernatural would be yielding to a culture of Some people will argue that MN arbitrarily excludes
scientism. supernatural agency from scientific explanation and
unnecessarily restricts the search for truth. It does
Science restricts itself to proximate causes, and the nothing of the sort. If God acted in creation to bring
confirmation or denial of ultimate causes is beyond its about a particular structure in a way that broke causal
capacity. Science does not deny the existence of a chains, then science would simply conclude -- "There
Creator -- it is simply silent on the existence or action is presently no known series of cause-and-effect
of God. Methodological naturalism simply describes processes that can adequately account for this
what empirical inquiry is. It is certainly not a statement structure, and research will continue to search for such
of the nature of cosmic reality. Science pursues truth processes." Any statement beyond that requires the
within very narrow limits. Our most profound application of a particular religious worldview. "God
questions about the nature of reality (questions of did it" is not a scientific conclusion, although anyone is
meaning and purpose and morality), while they may of course free to draw such an inference. However, if
arise from within science, are theological or God acted through a seamless series of cause-and-
philosophical in nature and their answers lie beyond effect processes to bring about that structure, then the
the reach of science. continuing search for such processes stimulated by the
tentativeness and methodological naturalism of science

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

may uncover those processes. academy is hostile to faith. Many conservative

evangelicals unfortunately do see the secular university
Some non-theists see God as an unnecessary addition as hostile territory. There are certainly individuals
to a scientific description of the universe, and therefore within secular institutions who are openly hostile to
conclude that there is no rational basis for belief in a faith, and there are also no doubt some few particular
personal God. In fact, as I have argued, God is departments at some institutions where there is a
unnecessary for a scientific description, but a scientific culture of antagonism toward faith. However, I will
description is not a complete description of reality. argue that these are exceptions. Furthermore, the
Science excludes appeals to supernatural agents simply secular academy is an ideal environment in which to
because the actions of such agents cannot be productively challenge and deepen one’s faith, and to
investigated by scientific methods. To then use this develop a Christian mind.
methodological exclusion to support a
philosophical/religious exclusion is completely My Personal Experience with Secular Education
fallacious. That science does not make reference to First, a bit of personal background. I attended public
God says nothing about whether or not God is actively schools growing up, and all of my college and post-
involved in the physical universe or in people's lives. graduate education has occurred in secular public or
private colleges and universities. My faith grew and
Continuous Creation matured both through my studies and through my
I fully and unhesitatingly accept the doctrine of involvement in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.
creation. God is the Creator of all things and nothing While pursuing my PhD I was involved in a very
would exist without God's continually willing it to be. dynamic graduate student Bible study that challenged
Creation was not merely a past accomplished act, but me to pursue a more thorough integration of my faith
also is a present and continuing reality. The best term and my chosen discipline in geology. I was
for this view of God's creative activity is "continuous intellectually and spiritually stretched in a way that I
creation." I also believe that God's existence can be might never have been otherwise. In addition, never
known in the creation through faith. However, once in my 12 years as a student in college and
scientific observation provides no proof of the graduate school, nor in the nearly 20 years as a faculty
existence of a creator God, indeed it cannot. Neither member at a state university, have I experienced
does scientific description, however complete, provide hostility toward my faith. By contrast, I have been
any argument against a creator. Since God acts through encouraged to deepen my faith and to increasingly see
process, scientific description and the theology of all that I do in the academy as part of my Christian
creation are perfectly compatible. Thus Christians vocation. We all have that challenge, regardless of our
should not fear causal explanations. Complete occupation or situation, to live our lives in a consistent
scientific descriptions of events or processes should and transparent manner and to image God to the world.
pose no threat to Christian theism. Rather, each new
advance in our scientific understanding can be met Secular Academia: This is not Enemy Territory
with excitement and praise at the revelation of God's Part of the perspective that underlies the portrayal of
creative hand. the secular academy as enemy territory is a broader
secular/sacred dichotomy that pervades much of
evangelical religious culture. Ignorance breeds fear,
IV. Is the Scientific Academic and the more Christians isolate themselves as a
community from the rest of the world the more they
Community a Hostile will fear that world. This fear is misplaced, because the
Environment for Faith? real enemy is not external but internal. And the
interactions we have with others, both inside and
outside of the faith, serve to help us more rightly see
This is a guest-post by geologist Keith B. Miller, and is ourselves. We also are called to transform the world
the third installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution, around us, and that requires being engaged with it.
and Academics” series. Keith edited the book Seriously engaging the ideas and arguments of others
Perspectives on an Evolving Creation and has written is part of that challenge. Having someone reject or
numerous articles on science and faith including argue against our faith is an expected part of that
Theological Implications of an Evolving Creation. engagement. This need not involve hostility or
personal rejection, and, as I have stated above, I have
An extension of the “warfare” view of science and experienced neither from my non-Christian teachers or
Christian faith is the often-stated claim that the secular colleagues. We Christians, I believe, are often too

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

quick to claim persecution when others reject our recognize that the few prominent and vocal atheist
arguments. Sometimes our arguments deserve to be activists do not represent the scientific community.
rejected – we have often been lazy in our thinking, and Unfortunately, some Christians can see only an atheist
failed to take seriously the stewardship of our minds. face of science, and are blind to their brothers and
Furthermore, if our faith claims are never rejected, sisters who have been called by God to serve in a
perhaps we are not talking to the right people. scientific vocation in the academy.

The Scientific Establishment: No Pervasive Promoting a Christian Worldview in Science

Hostility to Faith I will conclude by quoting from a short essay that I co-
Like the claim made against the academy, the charge wrote with my wife Ruth (a faculty member in
that the scientific “establishment” expresses a Electrical Engineering):
pervasive hostility to faith is similarly false. A very
important feature of the scientific enterprise is that it “Finally, the academy, and professions, can be
takes place within a multi-cultural and interfaith engaged by Christians who demonstrate a
community of scholars. At a typical professional mastery of their disciplines, and who take
scientific meeting there will be participants from a seriously the views of others. It is the passionate
wide range of nationalities, cultures, and religious pursuit of truth, not a defensive response to
traditions. Yet those scientists from these various criticism or a reactionary denouncement of
backgrounds can sit down together and productively others, that will make the Christian worldview a
discuss scientific questions, examine evidence and respected voice. Above all, a life lived with
reach conclusions. They can do this because scientific integrity and in sacrificial service will reveal the
knowledge is not tied to a particular religious or non- reality of a God who demands our entire lives.”
religious worldview – it is universally accessible.
(Miller, K.B. & Miller, R.D., 1997, “Taking the
Though science as a discipline is religiously neutral,
Road Less Traveled: Reflections on Entering
individual scientists are not – nor should they be.
Careers in Science,” Perspectives on Science and
People of faith, including many professing Christians,
Christian Faith, vol.49, no. 4, p.212-214.)
are active respected members of their professional
societies and occupy prominent leadership positions
within these organizations. This is true of every V. Teaching Evolution in
professional (geology and paleontology) society of
which I am a member. And the Christian representation Christian Higher Education: Faith
is not a token one. There are thousands of Christians Shaking or Faith Affirming?
who are active scientists in academia, government and
industry. Beyond their mere presence within the
scientific community, Christians are becoming This is a guest-post by biologist Dennis Venema and is
increasingly vocal about their faith in the context of the fourth installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution,
their chosen vocation in science. This has been one and Academics” series.
very positive response to the increasingly loud voices
of those who would see only conflict and hostility Teaching biology at the university level is a joy and
between faith and science. privilege. There are days that I wonder at the fact that I
am paid for doing what I love. Watching students “get”
Scientific Organizations: Building Bridges Between the material, see connections, and grow in confidence
Science and Faith as scholars is exactly why I love what I do. While I
Scientific organizations are also increasingly enjoyed teaching (as a graduate student) at a large
recognizing the destructive impact of the perception public university, I enjoy it all the more at a Christian
that science and religious faith are in necessary institution. Here I get to see students develop
conflict. As a result, many are publishing statements, holistically: deepening in their faith as well as honing
providing educational resources, and convening their intellects, and all for the glory of God.
symposia that address the nature of science and attempt
to dispel the “warfare” view. Such organizations The Challenge for Christian Academics in Biology
include: the Geological Society of America, the Yet there are also days when I can be heard muttering
Paleontological Society, the National Association of “should have been a chemist, should have been a
Biology Teachers, the National Academy of Science, chemist” – my tongue-in-cheek response to the realities
and the AAAS. I personally have been involved in of being an evangelical Christian biologist. The issue
some of these efforts. It is important that the public

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

is, of course, evolution. Darrel Falk puts it well when teach it well. At a secular institution, this is
he describes his early university career: straightforward; at a Christian institution, this can be a
nightmare. Yet few things worth attaining are easy –
“During those years, I was inclined towards the and Christian students deserve an education as
natural sciences and math. I found that if I scientifically rich as anyone. Indeed, our calling as
restricted my intellectual energy to chemistry, Christian faculty behooves us to offer students the best
physics and math, leaving aside biology, all education possible, for it is for God’s purposes that
would go much more smoothly for me. In contrast they are in training. Should we sell them short when
to biology, those disciplines seemed to have no teaching evolution, the central organizing principle of
direct implication for my Christian faith. Biology modern biology? God forbid.
did, so I shied away from it in large part because
studying it would entail thinking about the details Christian Universities: Ideal Settings for Learning
of evolution, and my faith was too important to About Evolution
me for that.” A Christian university is an excellent setting for
dealing with the theological implications of evolution.
(Falk, Coming to Peace with Science, p.21).
Students for whom evolution is a faith-shaking
Chemistry in many ways is the perfect science to teach experience are in a place of safety – surrounded by
at a Christian university. It avoids the young-earth / faculty, staff and peers who care about their whole
old-earth issues that challenge physicists and person, not just their scholarship. There are
geologists, and no mention of evolution is required. If opportunities for asking hard questions, and hashing
only this middle path was of stronger interest to me as through the issues. To be sure, this is a difficult process
an undergraduate student. for some students, especially those from families
dedicated to young-earth creationism. For other
Approaches to Teaching Evolution in Christian students, it is hardly an issue at all. In either case, it is
Higher Education far better to deal with evolution in a setting where
There are several options for teaching evolution (1) in positive, faith-building support is available. Given the
Christian settings. One approach is to denigrate prevalent belief in our society that faith and evolution
evolution, either overtly or subtly. This is remarkably are in conflict, the absence of this support in many
simple in practice – omit a few key details here, change academic environments can lead students to confuse
of tone there, smatter some distortions of genuine the evidence for evolution as being evidence against
scientific controversies, et voila – you are everyone’s God.
hero, a stalwart defender of the faith. You will never
ruffle feathers telling people (students, administration, Faith Shaking or Faith Affirming?
parents) what many of them long to hear. The problem Does teaching evolution shake or affirm faith? It can
with this approach is, of course, one’s own intellectual do both. Ironically, the greater danger may be denying
honesty. or denigrating the evidence for evolution. In the face of
overwhelming evidence (and more mounting by the
A second option is to minimize evolution – to mention day) this approach sets students up for a fall in the
it as little as possible. This is easy for a chemist, but future, should they ever closely examine the data.
almost impossible for a biologist. Biology without Then, faced with the false dichotomy of God or
evolution is like physics without either Newton or evolution, they cannot choose well. At best, they will
Einstein. Or, to continue the chemistry motif, imagine choose God and reject His works; at worst they will
if atomic theory was perceived to run counter to choose His works (not seeing them for what they are)
Christian faith – and a Christian professor needlessly but reject Him. One of the joys of teaching biology at a
emphasized gaps in current understanding to minimize Christian institution is putting the lie to this false
or denigrate it. It is hard for non-specialists to choice. The history of the cosmos and life on earth is
appreciate just how central evolution is to biology, but an amazing story, one that displays the power,
it is precisely that central. Teaching biology without creativity, majesty, and patience of our Creator. As
evolution reduces it to an 18th-century-style litany of evangelical students come to see the beauty of
descriptive lists devoid of meaningful connections. No, evolution as a vehicle for God’s creative design, many
this way will not do either – not if we are to honour are affirmed in their faith. They see that they need not
God with our hearts, souls and minds. fear evidence for evolution if God Himself has
ordained it as a mechanism of His creative acts in the
The more difficult path, but the one I believe needs to past, present and future.
be followed, is to teach evolution thoroughly and to

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

1. In this post I refer to “evolution” as the scientific consensus I believe that education is the key, but it is essential to
that all life descended from a common ancestor through natural
recognize that there is much more to education than
processes of speciation (see Allan Harvey’s definitions,
just reciting scientific facts and concepts. If we
specifically E1 – E4). It is important to note that these legitimately claim the badge of bona fide secular or
scientific definitions in no way imply the absence of God in the
process of evolution Christian educators, we must unapologetically speak
the truth of science, but we must also do so with a
sensitive, loving, and accepting spirit – actively
VI. Evolution and Faith: engaging students where they are at.

Communicating their When my book, Random Designer was published, a

Compatibility in Christian Higher National Public Radio interviewer asked an intriguing
question: “What is the greatest challenge you
Education experience in teaching evolution at a Christian
college?” I told her that the greatest challenge had
This is a guest-post by biologist Richard Colling, and nothing to do with teaching evolution per se: Evolution
is the fifth installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution, is what it is. Rather, I told her that my greatest
and Academics” series. Richard is the author of the challenge was to sensitively listen to and gauge my
book Random Designer. students’ backgrounds and understanding so that I
could effectively reassure them that new
“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, understandings in science need never threaten their
love, and a sound mind.” II Timothy 1:7 faith.

One would think this verse would energize and enable In a diverse classroom of 230 students, this is no small
all Christians in the mission of confidently undertaking because it flies in the face of what they
communicating Christ’s primary messages of love, have been taught growing up. For students coming
forgiveness, and relationship. Yet from first-hand from very conservative Christian backgrounds where
experience as a veteran biology educator at a Christian evolution is routinely pronounced as evil and regarded
university I can attest that something is tragically as a litmus test of Christian orthodoxy, the challenge is
amiss: A peripheral issue (evolution) is getting in the to encourage and affirm them in their faith. For non-
way. Indeed, an ungodly and consuming fear of believing students, the task is different, but no less
evolution has engulfed the Christian community. And important - encouraging them to keep an open mind -
when fear reigns, power, love, and sound thinking are perhaps even giving this God thing a second look.
casualties. In addition, this disabling fear is as When successful in striking just the right balance in the
contagious as influenza or AIDS – blindly passed from classroom – speaking the truth in love while also
generation to generation, hence not easy to overcome. recognizing and affirming each student where they are
in their spiritual and intellectual journey - something
This fear infecting the Christian community derives magical happens. The preconditioned division and
from concern that the foundations of the faith, based discord that they brought to the classroom begins to
upon literal interpretations of scripture, are being melt away - replaced by understanding and acceptance.
undermined by the claims of science. Regarding
evolution, this concern seems legitimate, especially in The Importance of Language, Words, and
light of advances in biology and genetics. The human Emotions
genome project - a 3.1-billion letter linear digital As I suggested above, teaching the actual scientific
directory of humanity - was deciphered in 2003. Now, facts of evolution is straightforward. However, if the
for the first time in history, we have acquired the letter- goal is actual student learning and effective integration,
by-letter document revealing humanity’s present and two practical obstacles come into play - both of which
past genetic connections with all other life at levels of must be successfully addressed.
precision never before imagined. This is not your
mother or father’s gap-laden fossil record. Rather, it is The first obstacle is language - the words we use to
an exquisitely-defined map of our entire evolutionary communicate meaning and purpose. The unfortunate
history! So how do Christian educators in the sciences reality is that words like randomness, evolution, and
help people recognize that their fear of evolution is mutation positively drip with ambiguity – frequently
unnecessary? poorly defined and easily misunderstood. The
consequences for relationships can be disastrous as
Teaching with Truth and Love well-meaning good people talk right past one another

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

and misunderstanding, confusion, and agitation

escalates. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that terms VII. The Evolution Controversy at
like mutation and evolution are precisely defined and Calvin College: Historical
understood by all parties.
The second and perhaps the most significant obstacle
to understanding evolution and mapping a path to This is a guest-post by biologist Stephen Matheson,
peace is that in addition to being poorly defined, words and is the sixth installment in our “Evangelicals,
such as mutation and evolution often carry enormous Evolution, and Academics” series. Stephen publishes
negative emotional baggage. Emotions are powerful the blog Quintessence of Dust which explores issues of
because they typically (at least initially - until we have science and faith.
counted to ten!) overwhelm rationality. After all, I
doubt you would take it kindly if someone called you a At Calvin College, we describe our institution as "a
mutant! In addition, although actually inherently comprehensive liberal arts college in the Reformed
compatible when properly understood, referencing tradition of historic Christianity." Our college is owned
seemingly counterintuitive words like random and by – and is an official ministry of – the Christian
evolution in the same sentence with God is likely to Reformed Church (CRC). Like all pastors and officers
elicit red-faced responses from even some of the most of the CRC, Calvin faculty are required to formally
sedate Christians and secular scientists. affirm three Reformed "forms of unity": the Belgic
Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons
These two things – imprecise definitions and negative of Dort. Furthermore, Calvin faculty are required to
emotions - erect powerful barriers to effective attend a Reformed church, choosing from a list that
communication and understanding of evolution. excludes prominent Reformed denominations such as
the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), such that
It has been said that people do not care how much you only the CRC and its sister denomination, the
know until they know how much you care. In my Reformed Church in America (RCA), are workable
experience, this is true. Therefore, the first step in choices.
overcoming resistance to evolution is is to establish
understanding and trust. The point of the foregoing is this: Calvin College is an
outgrowth of the CRC, an ethnically Dutch Reformed
At Stake: A Credible Faith denomination with some distinctive characteristics.
Twenty-first century college students are a savvy and (One of those characteristics is a tendency toward
discerning lot: They can smell a fraud a mile away. On deliberate action and careful documentation of such
the other hand, they appreciate a Christian educator action, as we'll see below.) And so, when considering
who respects and cares enough about them to speak the the history of controversy over evolutionary science at
transparent truth regarding controversial subjects like Calvin, it is important to start with the CRC.
evolution. In short, they want and deserve the real stuff
– including everything that modern biology and Evolution and the CRC
genetics can teach them. Then, armed with actual
knowledge and understanding, they can intelligently The CRC has an official position on "Creation and
make up their own minds how to put it all together. My Science." The summary statement begins as follows:
experience is that they do this very well.
All of life, including scientific endeavor, must be
It is truly a sad day in the life of a Christian community lived in obedience to God and in subjection to his
when new understanding and insights into God’s Word. Therefore, Christian scholarship that
marvelous creation revealed by biology and genetics - integrates faith and learning is to be encouraged.
including evolution - are viewed as a threat to faith. No The church does not impose an authorized
doubt there are many legitimate questions to address, interpretation of specific passages in Scripture;
but continued denial of evolution by the Christian nor does it canonize certain scientific hypotheses.
community is a sure-fire losing proposition for the Instead, it insists that all theological
credibility of the gospel and our Christian faith. We interpretations and all scientific theories be
can, and must do better. The next generation is subject to Scripture and the confessions.
depending on us to confidently speak the truth in love -
and with no fear! In my opinion, there is much to commend here,
although the "insistence" that scientific theories "be

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

subject to Scripture and the confessions" does give me denominations of many kinds. Dark threats of
pause: competing understandings of this conviction led "secession" were already being uttered in the early
to the painful struggle I will describe shortly. The 1980's, and by the mid-1990's, dissatisfaction with
statement then turns to human origins: CRC decisions on creation and on women in office had
driven thousands of people – and scores of
Humanity is created in the image of God; all congregations – out of the denomination, birthing one
theorizing that minimizes this fact and all theories new denomination in the process. It would be a
of evolution which deny the creative activity of mistake to underestimate the intensity of the conflict.
God are rejected. The CRC's current position on the matters at hand is
the fruit of that conflict, and it all started at Calvin
I don't know any Christian who would disagree with
that. But there's more.
The basic outline, sketched by Boonstra, is as follows.
The clear teaching of Scripture and the
In 1982, Davis Young (then professor of geology)
confessions rules out holding views that support
published the now-classic (and soon-to-be-updated)
the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human
Christianity and the Age of the Earth. Young
specifically disclaimed human evolution, but embraced
This blunt disavowal of human common ancestry with the great age of the earth and repudiated YEC claims.
non-human species is, it would seem, completely This surely lit some fuses, but the eruption of open
unambiguous, committing the CRC to an unqualified conflict seems to have followed the publication (in the
rejection of entire fields of scientific inquiry. official church magazine, The Banner) of an interview
with Clarence Menninga (then professor and chair of
More to the point of this post, those who know me geology at Calvin) in which Menninga openly asserted
should be worried. I am fond of exploring genetic and the likelihood of an ancient earth, a lengthy span of
genomic findings that are best explained by common human history, and even the possibility that Adam was
descent, and in various public forums I teach students a Neanderthal. Angry letters became an "avalanche"
(and others) that the human genome is overrun with which became more of a firestorm in 1987 with the
features that point quite unmistakably to our kinship publication of The Fourth Day by Howard Van Till
with other organisms on earth. How can a Calvin (then professor of physics and astronomy, and subject
professor get away with this? Well, consider the final of a previous post at my blog). Like the geologists,
sentence of the CRC's statement. Van Till did not specifically endorse human evolution
(or common descent in general), and the book focuses
But further investigation or discussion regarding on cosmic history without delving into biological
the origin of humanity should not be limited. evolution in any detail. But The Fourth Day openly
explores approaches to Genesis that view it as
This final declaration is the reason I can be a professor something other than narrative history. At that point,
at Calvin College. Without it, I wouldn't even consider the college empanelled a committee to examine the
being a part of the faculty or of the denomination. professors' conduct. I find Boonstra's description to be
So how did this enigmatic statement come to be?
The mandate of the committee was to determine
Evolution and Creation at Calvin College: Initial whether these statements are in accord with the
Controversy 1984-1988 synodically adopted guidelines for the
interpretation of Scripture and with the doctrinal
The statement, which summarizes a report approved by statements of the Christian Reformed Church."
Synod(1) in 1991, represents the culmination of a [...] The committee's conclusions and report were
controversy that rocked both church and college for greeted with considerable fanfare. This was
several years. According to Harry Boonstra, author of probably the only committee in the history of the
Our School, a nice little history of Calvin published in college that elicited a press conference.
2001, "the creation-evolution debate became the most
critical controversy in the history of Calvin College." It Evolution and Creation at Calvin College:
came at a time of simmering conflict over issues of Synodical Conflict 1988 - 1991
women in church office and other concerns
(hermeneutics, secular politics) that loosely The subsequent trustees' report to Synod in 1988 was
characterize recent struggles in Christian churches and "generally supportive of the professors," but the

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

response of the denomination was a swarm of If you're confused by this, join the club. That
overtures, overwhelming in their condemnation of the declaration seems not to differ in any significant sense
report. The Synod meeting saw "vigorous" debate, from the statement that was adopted and is quoted in
ending with unenthusiastic endorsement of the the first section of this post. Boonstra does not explain
college's report. But Synod empanelled its own how Synod got from Declaration F to the position
committee (it's a CRC thing), "mandated to study the statement we have now, but the only real difference I
relationship between general and special revelation." can see is the all-important disclaimer, the one
And 1988 saw the publication, by Van Till, Young and sentence that saved academic freedom for biologists
Menninga, of the excellent but hard-hitting Science (among others) at Calvin College.
Held Hostage, which was subtitled "What's Wrong
with Creation Science AND Evolutionism." The Conflict Subsides

It was during this time that public attacks on the Shortly thereafter, the conflagration seemed to end –
professors' views reached levels of slanderous vitriol not with a bang, but a whimper, according to Boonstra:
that make me angry and ashamed even now. I will omit
the details; suffice it to say that great harm was done to Synod 1991 still received twenty-four overtures –
the cause of Christ and to the good name of the CRC. mostly critical of Van Till's views – but these
As Boonstra puts it, "scurrilous accusations were used overtures were now in competition with the thirty-
as often as genuine arguments." These slanders eight overtures against women in ecclesiastical
appeared in huge advertisements in the local office. By 1992 this number was reduced to three,
newspaper and in a magazine (Christian Renewal) and two final overtures in 1994 were the last blip
popular with conservatives (and, later, secessionists). on the synodical screen. The church seemed to
I'm glad I wasn't here to see it, and I'm certain I signal that the storm was over.
wouldn't have exhibited the restraint that Dave,
Well, there it is: a not-so-brief overview of the most
Clarence and Howard showed, and continue to show,
intense controversy in the 125-year history of Calvin
toward people who have earned the strongest of
College. In the next post, I'll offer my personal
rebukes for indefensible behavior.
reflections on Calvin College as it is today, based on
my seven years as a biologist and evolutionist at one of
(It should be noted that the professors were not the
the finest Christian colleges in the world.
only targets; college leaders and trustees were
disparaged with comparable opprobrium.) (1) The CRC is governed by a yearly assembly, a synod,
composed of representatives of each classis, which is a group of
Reasoned debate and discussion occurred as well, congregations. A classis, or an individual congregation, can
thank God, and the best example is the exchange bring recommendation or complaint to Synod through the
delivery of an overture.
initiated by Alvin Plantinga which played out on the
pages of Christian Scholar's Review and Perspectives
on Science and Christian Faith.
VIII. Teaching Evolution at Calvin
The committee made its "lengthy and thorough" report College: A Personal Perspective
three years later, in 1991. Again, a storm of critical
overtures set the stage for protracted debate in the
Synod meeting. Here's Boonstra: This is a guest-post by biologist Stephen Matheson,
and is the second in a 2-part essay on the evolution
This time synod debated for eight hours – much controversy at Calvin College; view part 1 here. It is
of it focused on a minority recommendation the seventh installment in our “Evangelicals,
(Declaration F) that "the church declares that the Evolution, and Academics” series. Stephen publishes
clear teaching of Scripture and of our confessions the blog Quintessence of Dust which explores issues of
on the uniqueness of human beings as image science and faith.
bearers of God rules out all theories that posit the
reality of evolutionary forebears of the human In the previous post, I summarized the momentous
race." Synod, however, refused to accept this conflict over evolution and creation that rocked Calvin
statement, largely on the grounds that the CRC College and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC)
had never made an official pronouncement on the throughout the 1980's. By 1991, the dust had largely
scientific details of creation. settled, although ongoing conflict regarding the roles
of women in ecclesiastical office compounded the

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

damage and led to significant departures of members without obvious equivocation. I am known as an
and congregations from the CRC. Ten years later, in outspoken advocate for common descent on and off
2001, I joined the faculty. I offer here some thoughts campus, and have spoken publicly on the topic of
and observations on the current situation at Calvin and evolution and explanation quite recently, at a large
in the denomination regarding biological evolution. CRC church and in tandem with my friend and
colleague in the philosophy department, Kelly Clark.
Harry Boonstra's history of Calvin College (Our My blog is well known to my colleagues, and one
School) was published in 2001, on the occasion of the particularly successful entry (which deals explicitly
college's 125th birthday, and a decade after the with evolutionary biology) is featured in the current
momentous synodical report on "Creation and issue of Calvin's e-zine, Minds in the Making.
Science." Before describing the episode, he provides
some rationale for his decision to emphasize it, and These observations indicate that the Calvin College of
here is one interesting claim: today is a safe place for a Christian biologist who is
excited about the explanatory power of common
...after the 1991 synodical report, "Creation and descent. But I'm not sure they communicate just how
Science," there has been very little formal far the college seems to have come. So let me close
discussion on creation and evolution in either the with a personal account that should make it very clear
CRC or Calvin College. Neither has there been, that academic freedom at Calvin, with respect to
to my knowledge, an overview of this controversy. evolutionary theory, is quite strong.
No doubt many of the participants were battle
weary, but the questions require ongoing A few months ago, I went before the Calvin College
discussion. Board of Trustees to be interviewed for reappointment
with tenure. The interview went very well, and I was
That was seven years ago, and I haven't noticed
recommended for tenure. We discussed several
"formal discussion" of evolution in the CRC since
interesting topics, one of which was my emphasis on
then, nor does it seem that the topic is being discussed
God's sovereignty regarding his creation. My
more actively at Calvin than when I came in 2001.
"statement on the integration of faith and learning"
Most notably, it seems to me that the subject is not
outlines my contention that the typical creationist
considered to be strongly controversial or dangerous.
notion of the Fall – a cataclysm so radical that it utterly
There was a small brouhaha in the student paper and
ruptures the fabric of creation and makes the world
on the faculty listserv in 2004, centered on comments
before the Fall completely incomprehensible – is an
by a faculty member that I and others found to be
unacceptable underestimation of God's sovereignty
muddled and somewhat dismissive of evolutionary
over the cosmos. From there, we turned to questions
science, and there were tiny ripples of dissent when I
about the Fall itself, and I described my position quite
and others agreed to participate in an "Origins
bluntly: I have no doubt about human common
Symposium" that included presentations by four Calvin
ancestry with other animals, but I also recognize that
faculty in juxtaposition with presentations by four
this creates difficult questions about the nature of the
YEC proponents. There have been some uncomfortable
Fall, and I look forward to further work (by scholars
moments, and there are surely many on our faculty and
more qualified than I am) on this problem. After a
staff who harbor doubts and suspicions regarding
time, I was asked to step out of the room while the
common ancestry. (This includes some who are fans of
group deliberated. In the hallway, I ran into the
the old-earth creationism of Hugh Ross and colleagues
president of the college, Gaylen Byker, and we were
at Reasons To Believe.) We still hear from disgruntled
soon having an engrossing and amiable chat about
constituents, and some of them can be obnoxious. But
human animal ancestry (with animal welfare and
there is no strong reason to expect a campus conflict
veganism as a backdrop). Unfortunately, we were
centered on evolutionary biology.
interrupted by the Trustees, who summoned me back
into the room to affirm my work as a Calvin College
On the positive side, some of my colleagues, most
professor and to warmly congratulate me on being
prominently Loren Haarsma, have contributed to
recommended for tenure.
discussions of evolution, creation and design, openly
embracing evolutionary explanations. And Deb and
I hope the point of all this is obvious: the leaders of
Loren Haarsma (both of the physics and astronomy
Calvin College may well have preferences regarding
department) have recently published a book exploring
the amount and timing of discussions of common
origins from a Reformed perspective; published by the
descent, and perhaps the fundraisers would love it if
CRC itself, the book discusses human evolution
we never brought it up at all. But they have never

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

expressed any opposition of any kind to anything I and every other imaginable ill. School children are
have ever said or written about evolution. supposedly being taught to think of themselves as
meaningless assemblages of molecules with no more
There is much more that could be said, but we'll save it purpose or meaning to their existence than the pencils
for comments and discussion. But I would be remiss if in their desks.
I didn't end with a tribute to Davis Young, Clarence
Menninga, and Howard Van Till, not just for writing a These hyperbolic claims should raise our eyebrows.
book that changed my life but for courageously paying They certainly raised mine. Having known
a price that purchased the blessings I now enjoy at schoolteachers for all my life, from my sainted mother,
Calvin College. Dave...Clarence...Howard... thank you. to my sister and brother-in-law, to all the teachers I had
in public school, to my countless students studying to
become teachers, and so on, I simply could not imagine
IX. Evolution in Public Schools: A that any public school teacher anywhere would teach
any of these things. These peculiar ideas are not in the
Threat or a Challenge? textbooks; they are not natural extensions of
evolutionary theory; they are very unlikely to be a part
This is a guest-post by Physicist Karl Giberson, and is of the worldview of the teachers—so why are Johnson
the eighth installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Ham claiming children are being indoctrinated
and Academics” series. Karl is the author of the book with these ideas? Do they know something we do not?
Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in
Evolution. Research Reveals the Rhetoric is Wrong
My intuition gave rise to a modest research project a
America’s evolution controversy is rooted, curiously, few years ago. My student, Tim Johnson, and I looked
in her noble attempts to provide every child with a free at the public school curriculum in Quincy,
quality education. Early in the 20th century, when Massachusetts. Quincy schools, located on the bulls-
public schools began to educate students beyond the eye of America’s bluest state, are hardly restrained by
8th grade, the curriculum included impressive amounts local conservatism and far beyond the reach of the
of science. And, although evolution in textbooks like creationists. There is thus no reason to suspect that
that used in the Dayton school where John Scopes public schools are constrained by any pandering to the
taught was a minor topic, students were bringing home foes of evolution.
accounts of origins at odds with what they were
learning at home and in their churches. William As we expected, our examination of the textbooks and
Jennings Bryan was the first great champion of the idea teaching standards, and our interviews with teachers
that taxpayers should not have to fund schools that confirmed that evolution was being taught with
undermined their values. thoughtful and careful consideration of the concerns of
the students. Religious issues were addressed directly
Evolution in the Public Schools: A Recipe for in the classrooms and students were assured that
Atheism and Moral Anarchy? evolution did not rule out belief in God as Creator. No
The public schools have remained the primary doubt the imaginary wall between church and state was
battleground for the origins controversy, particularly in repeatedly breached by Quincy’s conscientious
the courts where endless challenges to the teaching of educators.
evolution have been launched by local school boards
from Pennsylvania to Louisiana and California. Anti- Our study, summarized in the article “The Teaching of
evolutionary pundits like Phillip Johnson have charged Evolution in Public School”, concluded that there was
the public schools with promoting atheism in the name “no evidence that public school teachers in Quincy are
of science, even suggesting that evolution is exacerbating tensions with students and parents in the
responsible for widespread moral anarchy of the sort way that evolution is presented; indeed, most of them
we saw at Columbine. are expending energy in minimizing such
tensions…Quincy public school teachers are
Johnson is joined by crusaders like Ken Ham, the late appropriately sensitive to the religious backgrounds of
Henry Morris, John Ankerberg, the late D. James their students.”
Kennedy, Anne Coulter, and others who claim, as
earnestly as any Old Testament prophet, that evolution We concluded there was no basis whatsoever for
is the basis for Nazism, homosexuality, rising divorce Johnson’s charge, in "Defeating Darwinism by
rates, pornography, drug addiction, socialism, atheism, Opening Minds", that American educators have chosen

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

to “tell the people that all doubts about naturalistic

evolution are inherently absurd … and that their silly X. Why Evolution should be
misgivings will be allowed no hearing in public taught in Christian Schools

Our research suggested exactly the opposite, and I This is a guest-post by Professional Engineer Gordon
suspect that this inference could be extended to the Glover, and is the ninth installment in our
majority of public school systems in America. Anti- “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series.
evolutionary pundits like Johnson and Ham are simply Gordon is the author of the book Beyond the
wrong. They are little more than shrill demagogues Firmament. His three children attend a private
pretending to fight imaginary foes and selling lots of Classical Christian school. He is currently publishing
books in the process. Quincy public schools nowhere a series of blog posts on the topic of “Science
teach students that they are the result of “a mindless Education in Private Christian Schools”.
evolutionary process.”
Private Christian schools exist to give parents a
The Theological Challenge for Evangelicals distinctively Christian alternative to secular education.
This is not to say, however, that all is well and that From my experience, however, the way that the
evolution can be comfortably harmonized with Christian worldview is compared and contrasted to
traditional religious understandings. It is one thing to secular philosophies often results in academic subjects
note that evolution need not exclude God as creator being treated as individual battle-fronts in an all-out
and quite another to show exactly how creation and war against secularism. While the intent is to prepare
evolution are to be harmonized. In "Saving Darwin: Christian students to effectively argue the case for
How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution", Christ and promote biblical thinking wherever they
published this month by HarperOne, I offers some find themselves, good science often becomes a casualty
tentative suggestions in this direction. But this of friendly-fire.
harmony comes with a price that many evangelicals
may be unwilling to pay—the loss of some key aspects Methodological Naturalism: Friend or Foe?
of the traditional creation story. Somewhere along the way, as the shifting lines of
battle were being hastily redrawn, methodological
I suggest in Saving Darwin that we must abandon the naturalism (MN) ― the methodology traditionally used
historicity of the Genesis creation account. Adam and to approach questions about the physical world ―
Eve must not be thought of as real people or even found itself pinned down in the same foxhole as
surrogates for groups of real people; likewise the Fall materialism ― a worldview philosophy that says the
must disappear from history as an event and become, physical world is all that exists. Even though MN
instead, a partial insight into the morally ambiguous raises no weapon against Christianity, it unfortunately
character with which evolution endowed our species. wears the same uniform as materialism and the two are
Human uniqueness is called into question and we must easily confused in the fog of battle. Once this happens,
consider extending the imago dei, in some sense, the natural sciences cease to be effective tools of
beyond our species. These are not simple theological learning and discovery, and are instead taken by force
tasks but, if we can embrace them, I think we may be and conscripted into the service of Christian
able to finally make peace with Darwin’s Dangerous apologetics.
This unfortunate case of mistaken identity is most
There is a lot of work to be done. Evangelical churches evident in the life sciences, where comparing and
have typically been unwilling to confront this topic— contrasting our material frame to that of other creatures
except to run off evolutionists like Howard Van Till for the sake of scientific inquiry is summarily rejected
when they become controversial—and it will be a great as a dangerous philosophy that treats mankind as a
effort to reorient the teaching ministry of the church to meaningless cosmic accident. As a result, science
bring it into alignment with the generally accepted teachers in Christian schools have little choice but to
ideas of modern science. But only when this task has ‘fight the good fight’ by shielding students from any
been accomplished can we declare the war in the practical utility of evolutionary biology and supplying
public schools to be over. them with every conceivable reason why this 150 year-
old paradigm of natural history is fundamentally
flawed. So why would any private Christian school
risk losing students, teachers and financial support by

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

teaching evolution ― an issue that has become a key access to Christian faculty, staff, and parents that can
litmus-test of faith for evangelicals? provide faith-building support.

Why Teach Evolution? #1 - It is Good Science The questions that are bound to arise can indeed be
The most obvious reason to teach evolution is that it is challenging. Do these obvious patterns reveal an
good science. There is simply no other natural cause- authentic natural process of creation, or could they
and-effect approach that unifies the life sciences under have been purposefully built into the created order (by
a single coherent paradigm. And unlike the fiat) to enable man to make sense of the world around
supernatural intervention paradigms typically taught in him? What are the theological consequences Christians
the place of physical science (such as special creation face if this scenario is authentic? What are the
and intelligent design), evolution actually allows theological consequences we face if this scenario is
practicing scientists to draw non-trivial conclusions only apparent? And if the traditional Christian doctrine
about God’s creation ― an important point entirely of special creation is indeed non-negotiable, does
underappreciated by Christian parents and teachers “enabling scientific progress” excuse God for creating
who are not called to sort through the challenging data a biosphere that conspires at every level against a
of natural history and make sense of it. superficial reading of the biblical creation account?
These are the real challenges of evolution ― not blood
It is important that students understand how scientific clotting or the bacterial flagellum!
ideas, even when incomplete, fundamentally flawed, or
theologically offensive can still add to our material Why Teach Evolution? #3 - It Offers an
understanding of the created order. However, all too Opportunity to Discuss Biblical Inspiration
often Christian schools use biology class to highlight Teaching evolution also provides ample opportunities
the perimeters of our scientific ignorance and focus on to discuss the nature of special revelation and the scope
only those areas where the theory of evolution breaks of biblical authority in a very relevant context. Rather
down. They mercilessly criticize the paradigm for than cause us to question the inspiration of Scripture,
failing to answer questions that don't even fall under its teaching evolution should force us to examine the very
jurisdiction. If we took this same paralyzing approach nature of biblical inspiration itself. On what level does
with us into the physics classroom, Newton’s laws of God speak to us? Does God emphasize the technical
motion, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and details of cosmic structure, making the Scriptures
Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle would all be relevant only to those generations who shared the
mocked as ‘godless’ paradigms of matter and motion cosmology of the biblical authors? Or does God
that fail to address spiritual realities, and are hopelessly emphasize the teleological details of cosmic function,
flawed at the fundamental level. After all, none of making the Scriptures relevant to every generation
these ideas even pretend to offer a complete picture of regardless of their “contemporary” scientific
reality; and each are based on necessary assumptions paradigms?
that fall apart on some level. While such an approach
might have the temporary effect of making science Not Easy, but Essential
look silly and incompetent in the face of biblical truth, The questions raised above are difficult and there are
it doesn’t prepare our graduates for success in the real no easy answers. But Christian educators must be
world where seeing through a glass darkly doesn’t willing to tolerate a certain amount of unresolved
require us to close our eyes completely. tension in the science classroom. Not every question
will have a satisfying answer, but our children are
Why Teach Evolution? #2 - It Enhances Critical better served by teaching them to think through the
Thinking issues and deal with the theological consequences that
Teaching evolution in a private Christian school can are inevitable once we start poking around the cosmos.
also provide many fruitful opportunities for students to If we fail to teach our students the proper use of
exercise critical thinking skills. Whether we like it or contemporary scientific paradigms in their current
not, the undeniable patterns found in comparative form, no matter how theologically unsettling they
anatomy, the fossil record, biogeography and might be, we are effectively denying them a seat at the
molecular genetics all converge on a single universal table of discovery and isolating an entire community
scenario of common ancestry. If Christian students (professional scientists) from the light of the Gospel.
face this overwhelming reality for the first time in the
workplace or at a secular university, a crisis of faith We all want our children to have the best education
can follow. It is much better for students to learn about possible, to succeed in their various life pursuits, to
evolution in a Christian school setting where they have learn how to think critically about the world around

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

them, and to develop a theologically robust God- knowledge gap begins to form at exactly the time in
centered worldview. Teaching evolution as a valid children's education when they should be learning to
paradigm for understanding the life sciences, at the critically evaluate information and authorities. This
appropriate age level, is entirely consistent with these makes it more and more difficult to answer or
goals. meaningfully discuss important questions that will (or
at least should) arise concerning the relationship of
scientific knowledge and Christian faith.
XI. The Challenge of Teaching
Challenge #2: Inadequate Science Curricula
Science in a Christian Most Christian homeschooling parents choose science
Homeschooling Setting textbooks and resources from Christian publishers.
Having done so, most parents will become uncritical
about its primary content and theistic perspective,
This is a guest-post by Evolutionary Biologist Douglas falsely assuming that the curriculum adequately fills
Hayworth, and is the tenth installment in our the knowledge gap by raising all the important
“Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series. questions and providing all the appropriate Christian
Douglas and his wife homeschool their three children. answers. In fact, I am not aware of any "Christian"
texts that fairly (i.e., meaningfully) cover science in
One of the most challenging tasks facing relation to origins, natural history, evolution and
homeschooling parents is providing a good science design, not to mention other significant science topics
education to their children. And providing a healthy that have theological implications. I contend that
academic and theological perspective on evolution is Christian parents (even young earth creationists (YEC)
one of the most difficult aspects of this task. There are who wish to perpetuate the "incompatibility" or
several specific challenges that must be faced. First, "conflict" thesis) would provide their children with a
there is typically a knowledge gap; few parents have better science education (i.e., critical thinking skills) by
the training necessary to properly guide middle- and learning from a secular textbook because they would
high-school level learning in science subjects. Second, be more vigilant in scrutinizing what is presented and
few if any science curricula from Christian publishers therefore also more engaged in the subject.
provide the necessary academic and philosophical
guidance on issues of science and faith. To make Challenge #3: Finding Supplementary or
matters worse, these publishers often claim or imply Alternative Resources
that they do provide strong guidance in these areas and Three years ago, my daughter's 7th grade curriculum
thus give typical parents a false sense of security. included the first text (physical science) in J. Wile's
Third, grade-appropriate supplementary resources are series (Apologia Press), which our curriculum supplier
currently nonexistent or unavailable to homeschoolers. (Sonlight) had recently adopted for middle and high
Fourth, hands-on laboratory experimentation, which is school. I soon discovered that the book's entire
necessary to reinforce the empirical nature of science, presentation is bent and contorted to support YEC. At
is more difficult and expensive for individual first, I attempted to use the situation as a learning
households than for public and parochial schools. I opportunity for my daughter; I wrote discussion
derive these points from my personal experience as a questions and counterpoint examples corresponding to
homeschooling parent of three children and from my Wile's book chapters. Needless to say, it was a lot of
observation of nonscientist Christian homeschooling work for me, and I think not very productive for my
friends. daughter.
Challenge #1: Lack of Parental Scientific I finally came to the conclusion that it would be better
Knowledge to supplement a secular textbook with a discussion of
Lack of parental scientific knowledge is often a relevant issues rather than attempt to undo and correct
significant challenge. No parents are trained in the the theological bias and scientific errors of a Christian
broad range of academic areas required to fully text. Secular textbooks that are intended for public
examine the evidence for cosmological, geological, school use must pass the scrutiny of many scientists
and biological evolution. They must depend on the and diverse school boards throughout the country; as a
expertise of others. As their children grow older, result, they more accurately present reliable scientific
parents must increasingly rely on the authority of their consensus and have very little theological baggage (see
chosen curriculum and textbooks rather than their own post #8 in this series). The disadvantage in using a
life experience and direct knowledge. Ironically, this public school textbook for homeschooling is that

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

teacher resources (answer keys, etc.) are not available history-based curriculum that covers the spectrum of
to the general public. For me personally, this is not a Christian responses to medical advances is helpful
significant issue since I am trained in evolutionary here. By the way, this is the strength of the Sonlight
biology and well read in science-theology issues, but I Curriculum my wife uses for our children.)
suspect it can present a significant challenge for typical
parents. For 8th grade, my daughter used a Glencoe Over the last couple of years, I have been navigating
Life Science book, which a schoolteacher friend gave these intellectual waters, attempting to identify science
to me. That was a successful schooling year, but I had resources for Christian homeschoolers who wish to
to manually "work" all the chapter questions in order to teach something other than a YEC perspective.
check her answers. As a biologist, I am not certain how
well I will be able to help her with physics this coming Despite there being an immense amount of information
school year. available on the internet, parents will find it almost
impossible to identify any well-organized, non-YEC
Challenge #4: Providing "laboratory" experience curricula and other resources for science
Interacting with the natural world using scientific homeschooling within a Christian worldview.
methods is the surest way to instill an inquisitive Thankfully, the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA)
attitude towards the structure and function of creation. has always sought to assist the church in appreciating
Although individual households cannot afford the the wonders and challenges of science. Recently, the
equipment needed to perform many traditional science executive director, Randy Isaac, asked if someone
experiments, they have the advantage of flexibility. For would be willing to organize a special section or wiki
younger grade levels, I recommend using "knowledge group on the ASA website to address the needs of
encyclopedia" books (rather than traditional homeschoolers. I immediately volunteered and am
textbooks), coupled with as many hands-on activities currently developing ideas for the project. My personal
as possible. Visit science centers, natural history goal is not so much to advocate the evolutionary
museums, conduct cooking and other kitchen work as creationist view but to outline and review all available
chemistry and physics lessons, plant a garden and resources so that parents can make informed choices
measure growth rates, go bird watching and fossil about the options that exist. Hopefully, complementary
hunting. materials can be suggested, and (in time) new study
guides and supplements can be written and posted.
For older ages, find projects that require learning more
about a science subject or application thereof. For The project is in its infancy, so I welcome any and all
example, last year my son and I studied electronics ideas that interested readers might have. What kinds of
together so he could learn how to assemble an LED teaching aids are you looking for? Are you willing to
timer circuit to light up a space ship model. Frequently review a particular textbook or curriculum that you
look up "how stuff works" on the internet. Encourage have used? Have you written any materials for your
your children to consider the theological implications own children? What kinds of questions have your
of all that they observe around them. For example, children asked about science? I'd love to hear your
when studying and examining ecology (e.g., feedback in the comments. You can also contact me
ecosystems, food webs and nutrient cycles), ask your directly by email at
children (and yourself!), "How could this orderly, God-
given "balance of nature" function without animal
death?" XII. Teaching Creation in Sunday
Help Meet the Challenge School
In summary, good curricula and resources for teaching
middle and high school science at home are scarce to This is a guest-post by Evolutionary Biologist Douglas
nonexistent. Although there are some good Hayworth, and is the eleventh installment in our
supplementary books and study guides about creation- “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series.
evolution issues that have been published recently
(e.g., Origins by Deb and Loren Haarsma), these are In my previous post, I discussed issues related to
high school level materials and are not integrated teaching science in a homeschooling setting. For that
topically with an ordinary sequence of science topics. topic I focused on middle- and high-school levels,
These also do not address some of the other science- where the main challenge is finding curriculum that
theology issues, including those to relating to the does not promote young earth creationism (YEC) or
practice of medicine. (A good world literature and some other version of the faith / science conflict thesis.

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

I now turn my attention to that other realm of teaching narratives than adults because they are less concerned
and learning in which most devoted evangelical about distinguishing between "fact" and "meaning".
Christians regularly participate: Sunday School. In so
doing, I will shift my focus from older to younger Tell the Story. Explore the Story.
children for several reasons, which I trust will be The creation, garden, and flood narratives are certainly
obvious as I proceed. MORE THAN mere stories, but they are NOT less
than that. Just as the four gospels cannot be understood
Sunday School Begins with Creation. properly (or the differences between them reconciled)
Most Sunday school curricula for grades 1-4 comprise unless each author's individual theological purpose
a repeating one- or two-year cycle through the stories (i.e., "story-telling purpose") is appreciated as the
of the Bible. Lessons 1-4 at the beginning of the primary framework, so, too, the creation narratives
sequence are usually creation, Adam and Eve (the fall), cannot be understood without keeping in mind the
Cain and Abel, and Noah (the flood). After going story-telling context. And aren't we all agreed
through this bible-story cycle several times, children (evolutionary, progressive and young-earth creationists
graduate to middle school where Sunday School alike) that the point of Genesis chapter 1 is that God
curriculum is almost always topical or creedal created everything that exists? It is irrelevant whether
(catechism) in format. If creation and the garden of it took six days, a blink of an eye or billions of years.
Eden story are ever discussed again, it is within the Keeping the "story-telling" theme in the forefront helps
context of discussing the creation/evolution issue or as to keep focus on God's message (i.e., the moral of the
it relates to specific doctrinal statements in one's story) rather than theologically insignificant details.
catechism. I suspect that some churches never again
revisit the Genesis stories with their teens and adults. So, call it a story and tell it like a story. Describe
Fortunately, some good resources do exist for Genesis as God's story to the children of Israel through
discussing creation "issues" and theology with teens Moses. Then explore the story as the moral tale that it
and adults (e.g., Allan Harvey's lesson plans). Whether is. Use the "framework" model to outline the creative
churches will take advantage of these resources is works of days 1-6. (Even if one takes the six days as
unclear. literal, the framework is still the best way to
understand the significance of those days.) For a craft,
My main concern relates to the formative elementary- don't have the children draw the events of each day on
school years. I fear that the creation-evolution separate pages (as is commonly done). Instead, have
controversy has so dominated the landscape that it has them add the days' events sequentially to one picture;
diverted attention from the most important lessons of then ask them if there is any part of the world that is
the Genesis story. In fact, YEC organizations are so missing. For the garden story, ask the children to think
well funded and clever in marketing their message that about what the various elements represent? Tell them
they have convinced many churches to use their that "Adam" means "man" (it is an individual's proper
children's Sunday school materials. As a result, name only secondarily). What does the serpent
children are preconditioned not only to adopt the represent? What do the trees represent? What do Adam
conflict thesis but also to understand the Genesis and Eve's disobedience represent? Ask the children
stories in very narrow theology terms. Creation is how they are like Adam and Eve. Do they like to learn
reduced to meaning "in six days" and "no evolution" about different animals and learn their names? Do they
when it ought to evoke our deepest and most profound ever do things they know are wrong? Do they feel
thoughts about our existence, of God's sovereignty and ashamed when they do wrong?
intimacy, of his transcendence and immanence, and of
our calling as his image-bearers. Give the Simple Back Story. Don't Over-answer
Don't misunderstand me. What our children need in When questions arise, provide a little more of the back
Sunday school is not a counter-offensive aimed at story. Explain how the pagan people in Abraham and
correcting YEC's scientific or theological flaws. That Moses' day worshiped the sun and moon and believed
would keep the attention on all the wrong things. What in many gods that battled one another and created
our children (and friends) need is a presentation of humans to be their slaves. These pagans also had
Genesis that sparks the imagination like a good fairy garden-of-Eden stories that attempted to explain why
tale or children's story. Genesis is the opening chapter humans always struggle to do what is right yet
of God's great story, not the preface to an instruction constantly fail. Genesis is God's retelling of these
manual or science textbook. Fortunately, children may pagan stories in a way that corrects their wrong ideas.
be better prepared to understand the Creation It is perhaps an understatement to suggest that our

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

Sunday School teachers may need some training about fundamentalists share many core beliefs, but differ
the back story themselves. from one another mainly in attitude, especially their
overall attitude toward modernity, including science.
Most of all, don't provide more answers than children George Marsden, the leading historian of
need at their level, and don't strong-arm them by giving fundamentalism, defines it as “militant anti-
definitive answers. We evolutionary creationists modernism,” and both parts of that definition are
shouldn't try to explain how we know that the creation crucial. Where fundamentalists have historically
stories aren't literal, and YEC's should not try to insist emphasized separation from the world and its
that a literal interpretation is the only valid and "safe" “worldliness,” evangelicals have typically been much
Christian interpretation. Children (and our Sunday more willing to engage the world on its own terms, and
School teachers) need to know that there are some thus their understanding of the world is negotiated to a
things about which they must suspend judgment until much greater extent than that of fundamentalists.
they are older or more widely read. When children ask
about reconciling evolution and the creation account, Evangelical Tension with Science
remind them of the story (literary context) and then
explain that adult Christians differ on how exactly they Nevertheless, evangelicals exhibit considerable tension
make sense of the two ways God reveals himself to us. and ambivalence when it comes to science, especially
However, we all share a trust in a faithful God, a God human evolution. On the one hand, evangelicals
who has a message of purpose and love for all of us enthusiastically embrace the findings of science, when
Adams and Eves. it comes to most applications in medicine and
engineering. They also accept the experimental
Tell the stories and let God speak for himself. sciences, such as physics, chemistry, physiology, or
thermodynamics. They have no problems with
gravitation, the periodic table, the circulation of the
XIII. Evangelicals, Evolution, and blood, or the law of entropy. Here, their attitude is
highly empirical: if it can be shown from repeatable
Academics: Historical Perspective experiments and observations, it’s true and presents no
and Future Directions challenge whatsoever to religious belief.
On the other hand, evangelicals are quite hesitant to
accept some conclusions of the so-called historical
This is a guest-post by historian of Science Ted Davis, sciences, such as geology, cosmology, and
and is the twelfth installment in our “Evangelicals, evolutionary biology. Fundamentalists reject the very
Evolution, and Academics” series. Ted is the vice- legitimacy of those sciences, and have created their
president of the American Scientific Affiliation, and is own alternative explanation, “creation science,” which
consulting editor for both Perspectives on Science and comports with their particular views of biblical
Christian Faith and Science and Christian Belief. authority and hermeneutics. Evangelicals are more
ambivalent. Many evangelicals accept the big bang –
For at least a century, evangelicals have typically indeed, quite a few evangelical leaders believe that
rejected both evolution and higher biblical criticism. aspects of the big bang theory strongly support belief
Sometimes there are good reasons: the claims of some in the divine creation of the universe. Many
biblical scholars are so outrageous, and the claims of evangelicals also accept modern geology, with a 4.65
some scientists so anti-religious, that a strongly billion-year-old earth and the long history of living
negative response is entirely appropriate. Too often, things before humans arrived on the planet. But
however, the evangelical encounter with modern evolution - understood here to mean the common
science conforms to what historian Mark Noll has descent of humans and other organisms - presents very
called “the scandal of the evangelical mind”—namely, serious problems for many, perhaps most, evangelicals.
“that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”
Evangelicals and Evolution: Looking for
Fundamentalists and Evangelicals: Significant Alternatives
This motivates many evangelicals to look for
John Stackhouse has given an excellent definition of an alternative views. Some embrace creation science.
evangelical. I especially like the breadth of his criteria Others prefer one of the many varieties of “old earth
for being an evangelical and his emphasis on creationism” or “progressive creationism.” Probably a
ecumenical cooperation. Evangelicals and large number prefer the confident, sometimes even

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

cocky tone of the “intelligent design” movement.

Officially (at least), ID takes no stance on the age of There exists an enormous gap between popular
the earth and universe, though most ID adherents have conceptions of science – conclusions, methods, and
no quarrel with mainstream science on those issues. attitudes – and those of scientists themselves. This gap
Technically ID has no stance on human evolution, is not unique to science among practitioners of
either: as long as “design” can be shown within science specialized knowledge, and it is not unique to
itself, evolution is in theory acceptable to ID evangelicals among the lay public. But it is real and
advocates. In practice, however, many ID leaders have very significant, and it affects theologians and biblical
said strongly negative things about both “evolution” scholars no less than anyone else. Those who try to
(or “Darwinism”) and “theistic evolution,” leading bridge this gap are mostly scientists (in their role as
most observers to conclude that ID is just another form educators at colleges and universities and insofar as
of antievolutionism, albeit the most sophisticated form they write books for lay readers) and science
that has yet appeared. Many ID advocates view the journalists. Both of those professional communities
hypothetical “just-so stories” of evolutionary biologists tend to be skeptical if not hostile toward Christian
with scorn: they want to see convincing evidence that beliefs, and this can exacerbate an already difficult
what might have happened actually did happen, before state of affairs. If ways can be found to popularize
they embrace a fully evolutionary account of life’s good science, while showing appropriate sensitivity to
history. the concerns of evangelicals, it would be a very good
Reconciling Evolution with Scripture
Signs of Hope
Most evangelicals do not see any viable way to
combine human evolution with the following beliefs, Certainly there are reasons to hope. The conversation
which they base on their interpretation of the Bible: about science and religion is considerably broader now
than it was at the time of the Scopes trial in 1925. Back
 the uniqueness of humans, who alone bear the
then, many Protestants faced a very grim choice. On
“image of God”
the one hand, they could follow politician William
 the fall of Adam and Eve, the original parents Jennings Bryan and the fundamentalists, rejecting
of all humans, from a sinless state, by their modern science in the name of biblical authority and
own free choices to disobey God orthodox beliefs. On the other hand, they could follow
theologian Shailer Mathews and the modernists,
 the responsibility of each person for their own rejecting biblical authority and orthodox beliefs in the
actions and beliefs, within a universe that is name of modern science. There was no one out there
not fully deterministic like John Polkinghorne, a leading contemporary
scientist who accepts evolution but also upholds the
 the redemption of individual persons by the Nicene Creed (a pertinent example is his book, The
atoning sacrifice of Christ. Faith of a Physicist).
Evangelicals cannot and must not be separated from And Polkinghorne has plenty of company – Francis
their crucial beliefs about human dignity, freedom, Collins, Joan Centrella, Owen Gingerich, Simon
responsibility, sin, and redemption. The 64-dollar Conway Morris, William Phillips, and Ian Hutchinson
question is: can they maintain those beliefs without (to name just a few) are all excellent scientists, and
simultaneously affirming the necessity of an historical, they all believe in the divinity of Jesus, the bodily
separately created first human pair? resurrection, and the actual divine creation of the
universe. But they are all scientists, not theologians
Evangelical Theologians and Biblical Scholars: It is (except for Polkinghorne, who is both). In Galileo’s
your move day, it was the scientists who eventually convinced the
theologians and biblical scholars to accept Copernicus’
Reconciling the theory of evolution with these core theory of the earth’s motion around the sun, but it took
beliefs depends to a great extent on evangelical a long time. And the process was difficult and often
academics, particularly theologians and biblical painful. I suspect we are in for more of the same.
scholars. Can they be persuaded that the scientific
evidence for evolution is sufficiently strong to warrant
a re-examination of the traditional view? Can a
credible gospel and credible science be harmonized?

Evangelicals, Evolution and Academics

articulate adequately. Some gave me encouragement;

XIV. Evangelicals, Evolution, and others challenged me. But all of them enriched my own
Academics: Conclusion spiritual and intellectual journey. So to Keith, Dennis,
Richard, Stephen, Karl, Gordon, Douglas, and Ted –
thanks. Thanks a lot.
This is the final installment in our “Evangelicals,
Evolution, and Academics” guest-post series.

After six weeks and thirteen posts we have come to the

end of our series on Evangelicals, Evolution, and
Academics. As nearly every post indicated, the
Evangelical engagement with evolution in academia is
one characterized by considerable tension and conflict.
It is a conflict that, to most observers, will not end
anytime soon.

However, many Evangelicals, including all those who

participated in this series, hope and pray that the
continuation of this conflict will be short lived. We
want our community to rediscover an authentic
theology of creation, and to stop relegating the opening
words of scripture to simple science and history. We
want science classes in our homeschools, in our
Christian schools, and in the public schools to be
viewed as opportunities to explore the wonders of
creation, all of God’s creation, even processes of
creation that seem threatening to our faith. It is these
sometimes threatening opportunities that can enable
robust spiritual growth.

There is certainly hope. Many evangelical scientists,

and evangelical biologists in particular, see no conflict
between their orthodox Christian faith and the
evidence for biological evolution. Even though anti-
evolutionism often remains strong in their churches
and college affiliations, these evangelical scientists
have worked hard to present the truth contained in both
of God’s books. This presentation of the truth
frequently takes courage as well as healthy doses of all
nine fruits-of-the-spirit (Gal 5:22,23).

Although the implications of biological evolution can

seem faith shaking, they can also be faith affirming.
This is certainly true in Christian universities where the
support of Christian educators can help students work
through the theological minefields. However, it can
also be true in secular universities, institutions that are
often ideal environments to challenge and deepen one’s

This series has been a learning experience for me

personally. I very much appreciated the perspectives
and experiences shared by all contributors. Some
presented ideas that were completely new to me; others
helped me clarify thoughts that I was not able to