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Evangelicals and Evolution:

A Student Perspective
A Weblog Series published on An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution

Contributors:
Ryan Bebej
Emiliano Carneiro Monteiro
Eric DeVries
Jordan Mallon
Bethany Sollereder

Edited by:
Steve Martin

Document Version: 1.0b


Last Updated: December 1, 2009

This document is a compilation of works by several authors; the individual articles remain the property of the
individual authors. You are free to share, copy, or distribute this document in full within the limitations of the
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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

Table of Contents

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


II. Evangelicals and Evolution - A Student Perspective: Introduction.................................................................. 4
III. My Journey from Opposing Evolution to Studying It...................................................................................... 4
IV. An Evolutionary Biology Student Discovers Christ ......................................................................................... 6
V. My Transition from a Conservative Creationist to a Theistic Evolutionist...................................................... 7
VI. Clarifying Concepts in the Creation-Evolution Dialogue ................................................................................. 9
VII. Avoiding the topic of Evolution in Christian Academia: Reflections from a Theology Student ................... 10

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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

I. Overview of the Series and Contributors


A series of articles on “Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective” was published from October 24, 2009
through November 23, 2009 on the weblog An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution. It included six separate posts.
Authors in order of appearance included:

1. Steve Martin wrote the series Introduction which was published on October 24. He publishes the weblog
An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution.

2. Ryan Bebej contributed the article My journey from opposing evolution to studying it which was published
on October 26. Ryan is a Ph.D student at the University of Michigan in the Dept. of Ecology and
Evolutionary Biology where he studies the early evolution of whales.

3. Emiliano Carneiro Monteiro contributed the article An evolutionary biology student discovers Christ ... and
the toxic anti-evolutionism that often taints the Gospel which was published on November 2. Emiliano is
a doctoral student studying cellular biology with a focus on morphology at the Universidade de São Paulo,
São Paulo, Brazil. He is currently researching the digestive system of a Phasmid (stick bug) species, as
well as physiological features of its digestive processes.

4. Eric DeVries contributed the article My transition from a conservative creationist to a theistic evolutionist
(albeit with some unanswered questions) which was published on November 9. Eric is a post-grad
biology student at Calvin College.

5. Jordan Mallon contributed the article Clarifying concepts in the creation-evolution dialogue which was
published on November 16. Jordan is a Ph.D. student at the University of Calgary where he is studying the
evolutionary palaeoecology of the Late Cretaceous herbivorous dinosaurs from Alberta.

6. Bethany Sollereder contributed the article Avoiding the topic of Evolution in Christian academia:
Reflections from a theology student which was published on November 23. Bethany is working on her
Masters in Christian Studies at Regent College in Vancouver, where her studies focus on evolutionary
theodicy from an evangelical perspective.

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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

II. Evangelicals and Evolution - A


Student Perspective: Introduction The Series
Over the next month, in a series of posts on this blog,
This is the first post in a seven-part series on five post-secondary students will be sharing their
“Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective”. perspective on evolution. Three science students will
share their personal accounts on reconciling their faith
For many evangelicals, their first serious encounter with evolutionary science. In separate posts, Ryan
with evolution occurs as a student in post-secondary Bebej and Eric DeVries will describe their transition
school. Evolution is certainly encountered and from opposing evolution because of their faith, to
discussed prior to this, but it is usually in the form of accepting evolution while growing in their faith.
anti-evolution propaganda. Our churches, youth Sandwiched between these posts, will be the story of
ministries, Christian camps, and other Christian Emiliano Monteiro, a student of evolutionary science,
organizations are very good at attacking evolution; they who found faith in Jesus Christ through a campus
are not so good at introducing thoughtful material on ministry, but then discovered that his new Christian
the dialogue between modern science and an community rejected the conclusions of the science he
evangelical expression of the Christian faith. Thus the was studying. The fourth post in this series will be
first encounter with the evidence for evolution in from Jordan Mallon. Jordan has been involved in the
college or university can be a formative experience for creation-evolution dialogue for quite some time, and he
evangelical students; it can be traumatic or awe- will share three concepts that he has found helpful in
inspiring, depressing or exhilarating, faith shaking or this dialogue. Finally, Bethany Sollereder, a theology
faith affirming. student, will discuss why Christian academics often
avoid the topic of evolution. Evangelical academia may
Better Availability of Resources for be making progress, but there is still room for vast
Today's Students improvement.
Fortunately evangelical students today have access to
The evangelical landscape on the science-faith dialogue
much better resources than past generations. Today,
has changed dramatically in the last generation.
there are numerous books, articles, and electronic
Although we are still a long way from making peace
material that provide a positive view of evolution from
with science, I am hopeful that within another
an evangelical perspective; even twenty years ago these
generation evangelicalism will have accomplished this
resources were virtually non-existent. Today a healthy
once seemingly impossible objective. If we are to
minority (maybe majority?) of evangelical scientists
arrive there, it is this generation of students that will be
accept the scientific consensus for evolution, our OT
carrying the torch.
biblical scholars acknowledge that the best scholarly
interpretations of the ancient scriptures (including
Enjoy the series.
Genesis) do not in any way exclude evolution, and a
healthy number of our theologians accept that God
created through the process of evolution. III. My Journey from Opposing
Evolution to Studying It
This recent, and significant, change is reflected in our
mainstream evangelical institutions. For example, This is a guest post by Ryan Bebej and is the second in
Wheaton (which could possibly be referred to as our series on “Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student
“Evangelicalism’s Rome”) has for years been offering Perspective”. Ryan is a Ph.D student at the University
a Theories of Origins science course for its of Michigan in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary
undergraduates. The major course objective is to give Biology where he studies the early evolution of whales.
students a background for evaluating the merits of
scientific and theological claims for origins theories. That I am currently studying evolution is somewhat of
Source material from a range of creationist positions a miracle. If ten years ago someone had told me that
(YEC, OEC, and EC) is reviewed in the course. today I would be earning my Ph.D. at a large public
Student surveys show that a YEC position on human university, researching the evolution and paleontology
origins is historically the position with the most support of mammals, I would have never believed them. Why
at the beginning of the course, and the position with the not? Well, for the majority of my life, I believed that
least support when the course ends. the concept of biological evolution was complete
rubbish. I was raised in a close-knit Christian family
that was very active in our local church, and I had

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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

always been taught that the Bible was literal history, courses, in which I learned about radiometric dating,
precluding any types of evolutionary scenarios. stratigraphy, and how to interpret the rock record, and I
became thoroughly convinced that the earth had to be
These anti-evolution sentiments were indirectly billions of years old rather than thousands.
affirmed even in my public high school. In the small
town where I grew up, being a Christian was virtually In a January term evolutionary biology class, we
assumed, and schools were very accommodating of surveyed the fossil record, and I was completely
religious belief—even in the classroom. I recall that the overwhelmed by the anatomies of transitional fossils,
little background on evolutionary theory that I gleaned of which I had virtually no prior knowledge. These
from my high school biology class was prefaced with a fossils exhibited the mosaics of anatomical
disclaimer that we didn’t have to believe any of it if we characteristics that one would expect to see in an
didn’t want to. Needless to say, I promptly forgot most intermediate form, and they came from fossil beds
of what was said about Charles Darwin, natural during the time periods between their proposed
selection, and the like, and I continued believing what I ancestors and descendents. In my mind, the evidence
thought almost everyone else around me believed: that for the evolution of life on an ancient earth continued
God created the universe miraculously several to grow (and this was before I even knew about the
thousand years ago and that the idea of evolution was abundant genetic evidence). I became convinced that
simply not true. evolution was anything but false; in fact, given the
weight of the evidence, it seemed to be the only
My Initial Exposure to Evolution in College coherent explanation of the past and present biological
However, once I got to college, things began to change; world.
it was there that I began to seriously wrestle with
evolutionary theory for the first time. In my Evolution and My Faith
introductory biology class at Calvin College, we read But even as I began to accept that evolution was a real
some articles about evolution by writers ranging from phenomenon, I still wasn’t sure how this could be
Phillip Johnson to Howard Van Till to Richard reconciled with my Christian beliefs. Growing up, I
Dawkins. These initial readings didn’t convince me to had always thought that there were two positions: you
change my views, but they did prompt me to start were either an atheistic evolutionist or you were a
thinking critically about evolution for the first time. Christian who was opposed to evolution—there was no
middle ground. Fortunately, my Calvin professors, in
In my second semester, I took an animal biology class both the science and religion departments,
that spent a good deal of time focusing on how demonstrated to me that there are many people who
evolution works according to population genetics. Prior don’t fall into these two polarized camps. There are
to this, I had never really understood the basics of many Christians who agree with the findings of the
evolutionary mechanisms, and I admit that I was a bit greater scientific community, while managing to
alarmed at how plausible it seemed. Could evolution retain—and even grow and strengthen—their faith.
really have occurred? If it did, what would that mean This revelation opened up a whole new set of doors to
for my faith? This became a crucial issue for me, and I me that I had no idea even existed.
began to read ravenously and watch anything and
everything I could get my hands on that discussed Since those first couple of years when I was afraid that
evolution. Yet, despite my little obsession with the my knowledge of evolution would lead to a crisis of
topic, if someone had asked me what I thought about faith, I have found the opposite to be true. My study of
evolution at that time, I would have answered with a evolution as a scientist and my pursuit of integrating
resounding, “I have no clue.” my scientific knowledge with my Christian beliefs have
helped my faith to grow by leaps and bounds. I often
My Second Year: The Evidence Builds wonder how my faith would have been affected had I
I read a ton during the summer following my freshman been confronted with the evidence of evolution
year. By the time my sophomore year began, I had somewhere other than Calvin. If I had not had the
realized that there was an awful lot of strong evidence support and encouragement of such understanding
for biological evolution. During my second year of Christian professors who cared deeply about my
college, the strength of this evidence continued to personal and spiritual development, my faith might not
grow. In my comparative anatomy course, the have remained intact. But by God’s grace, I was in just
homology of structures across disparate animals, as the right place at the just the right time, and today I
revealed by their development, provided compelling take great pleasure in studying the long history of life
evidence for common ancestry. I also took two geology in God’s creation.

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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

at the time of what kind of arguments creationists used


to defend their point of view. I never met Adauto
IV. An Evolutionary Biology Lourenço in person, but I rushed to buy a set of 5
DVDs with his lectures.
Student Discovers Christ ... and
the Toxic Anti-Evolutionism that Discussions: Some Fruitless, some Fruitful
often Taints the Gospel While watching the DVDs I had my first faith crisis.
Here was a Christian preacher spreading information
This is a guest post by Emiliano Carneiro Monteiro that was simply not true. Soon I ran across more and
and is the third post in our series on “Evangelicals and more information about the whole “Creation vs
Evolution: A Student Perspective”. Emiliano is a Evolution” subject. In no time I was familiar with most
doctoral student studying cellular biology with a focus (if not all) arguments used by creationists to defend
on morphology at the Universidade de São Paulo, São their point of view. I was also aware that almost all
Paulo, Brazil. He is currently researching the digestive their arguments were false. To make the situation
system of a Phasmid (stick bug) species, as well as worse the topic suddenly seemed to be really important
physiological features of its digestive processes. for those around me. However, the many discussions I
had were tiring and fruitless, so I avoided arguments
My New Life in Christ about it as much as I could when at Church or among
My story with Christianity, and with its struggle with Christian friends.
science, began on January 31st, 2007. In the middle of
a great big mess in my life I met Alberto Malta, a very I even had one or two arguments with my girlfriend,
dear friend and a leader with Campus Crusade for Karollina, on the subject. She is also a biologist and
Christ at the Universidade de São Paulo. I was in the played a big role in leading me to Jesus Christ. Until
last year of my undergraduate degree in biology and recently, she defended a creationist point of view (she
after a long talk with Alberto, I took the first step was never profoundly interested in the whole
towards the Christian faith and accepted Christ. Before controversy though). Through my own investigation,
that, in my adolescence and throughout college, I interest and dialogue, she became aware of the full
would have described myself as an agnostic or an array of Creationist’s arguments. She has since
atheist, although today I realize my position was reviewed her ideas and now accepts the compatibility
probably pantheistic. The Campus Crusade for Christ of evolution and the Christian faith.
website published a little post about my story at:
http://www.ccci.org/training/evangelism/cojourners/bui Evangelical Christianity in Brazil
lder-model.aspx Evangelical Christianity is having truly exponential
My Introduction to Creationism growth here in Brazil. That is great because many
At the time, I was already well aware that some people are getting to know more about the gospel and
Christian denominations did not accept evolution and are engaging in following Jesus Christ. It is also very
held a ‘literalistic’ interpretation of the book of good that we Brazilians are developing our own
Genesis. Although it surprised me at first I didn’t really identity and addressing the unique problems we face
mind; I was busy experiencing my new life and setting here south of the equator. Still, the process is slow and
my things straight. Furthermore I saw no problem with evangelical Christians in Brazil tend to follow trends in
Darwin's theory. Evolution didn't get in the way of my the US evangelical church. Antagonism towards
faith but actually helped. To me, it was a wonderful evolution is one harmful idea that the American church
and elegant process that explained how life developed. has exported to Brazil.
Back then the subject of creation and origins rarely
came up. When it did I often told people that I accepted I’m extremely grateful to those who helped me grow in
evolution but wasn’t a fanatic about it and that there my Christian faith. Still, it breaks my heart to see so
should be more profound and fulfilling explanations many honest followers of Jesus believe that one must
that lay outside science. deny evolution in order to be a Christian. That is due
partly because of a lack of information, but also due to
But tension soon arose. At the first church I attended the spreading of misinformation (for example, the
(Igreja Batista Esperança) everyone kept talking about ministry of Dr. Adauto Lourenço). I continue to find
“Dr. Adauto Lourenço”. I soon discovered that he was the subject of evolution completely fascinating, and
a physicist, with a doctorate degree from Bob Jones learn more and more everyday. I do not think that the
University, and a creationist. I wasn’t completely aware knowledge of the theory of evolution should interfere
in a destructive way with anyone’s beliefs.

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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

Early impressions of Evolution


Portuguese Resources on Science and Faith I grew up in a typical, western Michigan, Dutch family.
Francis Collins’s book Language of God really helped By this I mean to say my family was reserved, proper,
me. I remember thinking while reading: “Hey, this guy and attended church every Sunday. Our first church
agrees with me!”. I also had the opportunity to meet was a mega-church named Calvary which we attended
and talk to some ministers and theologians whose until I was in 4th grade. At this point my dad decided
views on Christian faith and science differ from the that he was tired of all the behind the scenes drama so
creationists. Unfortunately very few books that show a we left to find a “better” church. Ironically we ended
positive relationship between faith and science get up at one of the spiritually deadest churches I have ever
translated into Portuguese, and other resources in attended. It was there that the idea of evolution was
Portuguese are almost non-existent. first presented to me. And in a typical “good” Christian
way, it was described as a theory which directly
Instead, creationism is being widely promoted amongst contradicted the bible and was therefore wrong; so
evangelical communities in Brazil as being the one and wrong in fact that those who accepted it were
only Christian approach to science. It is despairing for ostracized as “unbelievers”.
me to see anti-evolutionary misconceptions and false
scientific statements being spread in a country that Attending a Conservative Christian school
already has significant challenges with its educational in a Liberal part of America
system (poor management, and lack of investment from When I was in grade 6 my family moved to a part of
the state). I don’t think there has ever been a poll in California that many would describe as relatively
Brazil to measure the acceptance of evolution, but I liberal. Being the only Christian school in the area, my
doubt the results would be good. parents enrolled me in a conservative, Baptist school.
Again the idea was taught that evolutionary science
Conclusion could not be reconciled with God’s plan for humanity.
So that is my story. I am hopeful that with prayer, love Only this time instead of just hearing it, I integrated it
and action, we may see a change in the evangelical into my belief system and self-identify. I came to
churches in Brazil. I am hopeful that they can spread believe that whomever held to the theory of evolution
the Gospel in a way that is relevant for my fellow was at best direly misguided and at worst going to hell.
countrymen, but without the damaging additions to the
Word of God that are intellectually faulty and hinder Instead of joining an existing church, my family
faith in Jesus Christ. connected with a couple other families to start our own
church. We lived the challenges of launching a church
Paz de Cristo in an area resistant to organized Christianity. One of
the biggest challenges was church growth, which was
V. My Transition from a extremely slow. This lead to quickly solidifying the
Conservative Creationist to a relationship between my family and the few others who
were part of the church and it was with these families
Theistic Evolutionist (albeit with that my love of the outdoors, of mountains and the
some unanswered questions) ocean, developed. The hobbies of hiking and
backpacking became central to my life in California,
sparking my interest in biology. Evolution was not
This is a guest post by Eric DeVries and is the fourth really avoided as a subject of discussion with this
post in our series on “Evangelicals and Evolution: A group of families; it was more put on a side burner, and
Student Perspective”. Eric is a post-grad biology not considered an important enough issue to waste
student at Calvin College. energy discussing. Instead we went about meeting a
much more diverse group of people, realizing that
I’m an evolutionist, a theistic evolutionist to be Christianity does actually consist of more than the
specific. My transition to this position is relatively conservative, Dutch social group we were part of in
recent and I still have much to learn about the Michigan.
interaction between faith and science. I can’t say that
my journey is a unique story, but maybe it resonates Learning to be more Open-Minded in a
with some readers of this series.
Conservative Heartland
Moving back to Michigan is a turning point in this
So here it is.
story. The irony is that I started becoming more open

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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

minded in one of the most conservative places in beginning to accept about evolution. It was a real
America after I had learned to be a fundamentalist in testament to the changes I had been going through
one of the most liberal areas of the country . On the since moving back from California that I was able to
recommendation of my dad, I became connected with spiritually and intellectually engage evolutionary
Young Life, which is a Christian organization in high theory.
schools. I loved it. These people, instead of hiding their
failings, accepted them and worked those weaknesses Evolution and Biblical Interpretation
into their stories, changing them into something that My exploration of evolutionary theory, and its
God could work with to teach others. My experiences implications, made me revisit my ideas of biblical
in the conservative Christian school in California had interpretation. I began to see that a literalistic
taught me the exact opposite, to hide my failings and interpretation of Genesis leads to many discrepancies.
only deal with them between myself and God. It took One, which may not seem as blatant as others, but
me a long time to accept this new approach, nearly two oddly enough is the one I remember most, is the
years in fact. geography of the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2 the
garden is described as having 4 rivers flowing through
We started attending a church in Grand Rapids which it. One of those is located in Egypt, while two others
was pretty “radical”. The pastor there had no are located in current day Iraq, and the fourth has its
reservations about discussing topics which most probable current day location in Ethiopia. How these
churches would avoid. The sermons opened up dinner four rivers found themselves, within the recent past
table discussions. Our discussions became more open (geologically speaking), to either originate or terminate
minded, and my parents tackled controversial topics; in one area is still beyond me.
we were not afraid to ask some hard questions about
our conservative brand of Christianity. We never This rethinking of biblical interpretation was important
outright denied specific traditional beliefs, but we were in my journey. But even more important was the
encouraged to ask questions about these beliefs. Yet evidence supporting evolution. Coming back to Calvin,
through this entire time I never gave up on my belief following a semester in Spain during my third year, I
that evolution was a theory from the devil, and that the decided to take a J-term evolutionary biology class.
proponents of evolution were like little demons running This class was a three week course exploring the
around spreading a theory directly against the will of evidences behind evolution. I had previously studied
God. population genetics, homology, and common ancestry
in first two years of college, but had yet to see a
These discussions, along with my eventual acceptance condensed list of the evidence supporting each idea.
of my failings, became a crucial point in my ability to We examined the various anatomies of the ear bone in
mentally prepare myself to engage evolution once I the transition from land to water in the story of the
went off to college. whale. We read The Song of the Dodo by David
Quamman, which sifts through the various ideas
Starting College and my investigation into presented by naturalists over the past two centuries
Evolution before delving into island biogeography and its affects
After graduating from high school I attended Calvin on the composition and genetics of an isolated
College. Calvin was like pouring alcohol on a fire as it population. But most important was our discussion
caused my desire to ask questions, and in particular about genetics, which was spurred on by our readings
questions regarding evolution, to explode. Why did so in Quamman and our study of the whale. I began to see
many Christians at this Christian College actually the picture of history painted by genetics using the
accept this theory which I had been taught was wrong mechanism of evolution.
(notice the difference between belief and taught at this
point in my life)? I began to dig deeper into the And it convinced me.
evidence for evolution; and the more I learned the more
concerned I became. Evolution made sense, or at least Now I identify myself as a theistic evolutionist; an
its basic arguments made sense. Some of the particulars interesting transition.
were, for me, a bit sketchy. But the basic claims of
evolution had a logical ring to them, and they appealed Conclusion
to that left-brained side of who I am. So I accepted a I transitioned from a conservative creationist to a
conditional form of evolution which excluded the theistic evolutionist in a journey that took anywhere
common ancestry of apes and humans. These new ideas between 4 and 8 years, depending on the starting point.
brought tension between my faith and what I was Today I see evolution as a beautifully fluid display of

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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

the creative aspect of God. But that does not mean I creative agency. Evolution is often described by
have all the pertinent questions answered. One of the believers and non-believers alike as ‘godless’.
biggest unanswered questions is how to explain death.
Evolution is pushed forward by death, but according to This conflation is unfortunate because the Bible teaches
the biblical account death is an evil only present in the that even natural processes, such as weather, are under
world after “the fall”. And for that reason how do I God’s control (e.g., Lev 26:4; Deut 11:14; 1 Sam
explain “the fall”? So evolution doesn’t explain 12:18; Job 5:10, 37:6; Ps 135:7, 147:8). More to the
everything, and it actually presents new problems. point, we are each called a creation of God (Ps 139:14)
despite the fact that human conception and
But evolution happens. For me the bible no longer development proceeds by entirely natural processes.
dictates what I believe about science. I don’t think it The Bible’s distinction between agency and mechanism
was ever meant to. Science describes science. That’s therefore allows God to exercise His creativity using
that. the laws of nature He instilled at the beginning of
creation. In this sense, creationism doesn’t preclude
evolution at all! I liken evolution to the Lutheran
VI. Clarifying Concepts in the doctrine of the Real Presence, in which God is “in,
with, and under” the natural processes that produce
Creation-Evolution Dialogue biodiversity on Earth.
This is a guest post by Jordan Mallon and is the fifth in
our series on “Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student 2) Methodological and Ontological
Perspective”. Jordan is a Ph.D. student at the Naturalism
University of Calgary where he is studying the If evolution were truly godless because it does not
evolutionary palaeoecology of the Late Cretaceous invoke divine intervention, then the same argument
herbivorous dinosaurs from Alberta. would necessarily apply to all of science because the
scientific method excludes all appeals to the
The transition from young earth creationism to a supernatural. Miracles, by definition, can’t be measured
position that reconciles evolution and faith doesn’t or explained and therefore they do not further our
occur abruptly. It’s a process that takes time and knowledge about how the universe works. Sir Isaac
usually proceeds by the gradual piecing together of Newton once believed that the stability of our solar
concepts and information. This was certainly the case system was due to the miraculous intervention of God,
for me. When I was growing up, I sympathized with but the French astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace later
young earth creationism as taught by the conservative showed that the stability could be explained entirely
Lutheran church I attended. Now I research and teach through the natural laws of gravity.
evolutionary science at the university level, but only
after a prolonged period of soul-searching and careful It’s important to note, however, that the preclusion of
study during my post-secondary education. My miracles from science is only done in practice. Science
theology of nature is still incomplete, but the clarifying cannot comment on whether or not miracles happen, or
concepts introduced below helped to deconstruct the whether or not God exists; science is neutral on these
barriers that often polarize the evolution-creation matters. God may perform miracles every day, but for
‘debate’ and allowed me to gradually formulate what I the reasons given above, the scientific method simply
consider a more integrated view of science and faith. can’t detect them. The search for natural processes that
Hopefully, these concepts will help other students in operate in the universe is called methodological
their struggle to harmonize evolution and evangelical naturalism. The atheistic belief that there’s no God and
Christianity. that the natural world is all that exists is called
ontological naturalism. The former is perfectly in line
1) Agency and Mechanism in Creation with Christian principles, but the latter, obviously, is
The word ‘creationism’ is understood by many not.
evangelical Christians to refer to the miraculous and
instantaneous creation of life by God. This view is 3) Accommodation and Concordism
prevalent and has pigeonholed many of us into If there’s nothing inherently atheistic about the
confusing agency for mechanism. That is, the act of scientific theory of evolution, why do so many
creating becomes needlessly associated with divine evangelicals oppose it so strongly? The answer in large
intervention. The corollary is that any explanation for part has to do with the assumptions we bring to the
life’s diversity that doesn’t appeal to miracles, such as scriptures. Evangelicalism, under the influence of
evolution, is assumed to somehow exclude God’s

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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

fundamentalism, has promoted the idea that in order to Keith Miller’s edited volume Perspectives on an
take the Bible seriously, we must believe that it Evolving Creation. Steve Martin tells a similar story to
provides a literal and accurate description of the mine in a blog post here. Be sure to also see Steve’s
physical universe. That is, God revealed to the authors selected bibliography for more resources about the
of Scripture scientific facts about the universe that relationship between science and faith.
could not otherwise have been known to them at the
time. This assumption is known as scientific
concordism. A concordist interpretation of the Genesis VII. Avoiding the topic of
creation accounts obviously does not leave room for
evolution. Evolution in Christian Academia:
Reflections from a Theology
In spite of the popularity of concordism as it pertains to
Genesis, history shows that it’s a largely unwarranted
Student
assumption. At various points in the past, prominent This is a guest post by Bethany Sollereder and is the
Christian scholars used the Bible to support numerous sixth in our series on “Evangelicals and Evolution: A
outdated ideas about science, most notably geocentrism Student Perspective”. Bethany is working on her
(e.g., Jos 10:12; 1 Sam 2:8; 1 Chr 16:30; Job 38:4; Ps Masters in Christian Studies at Regent College in
19:4–6, 24:2, 50:1, 93:1, 96:10, 104:5; Ecc 1:5; Hab Vancouver, where her studies focus on evolutionary
3:11). These ideas have since fallen by the wayside in theodicy from an evangelical perspective.
light of scientific knowledge, and Christians now read
these parts of the Bible in a different way. Rather than “I just don’t think that’s a very interesting question...”
blindly insisting that our understanding of the physical the professor said slowly from the front of the full
world must accord with a literal interpretation of these lecture hall, “there are so many more important issues.”
passages, we now appreciate that God sometimes The first year class of graduate students collectively
accommodates His message to the limitations of human sighed in disappointment. The questions about
understanding. The sun may not literally rotate about evolution had poured in when they were told they
the earth as the Bible describes, but it certainly could ask any question of a panel of professors at the
appeared that way to the earth-bound Hebrew people of end of the year long course in Christian thought and
the Old Testament. The principle of accommodation is culture. The answer they received seemed like yet
the understanding that God spoke to the authors of another evasion.
Scripture using language and imagery with which they
were familiar. Many Christians now feel that, given the The Science – Faith Dialogue: Great
previous shortcomings of concordism, the Genesis
creation account might likewise be better understood as
Potential in Christian Academia
I have now spent six years in the Christian academy
an accommodation of God’s timeless message to the
and I find it remarkably hard to understand why the
culture of the ancient Hebrew people. If that’s indeed
discussion on the interaction between faith and science
the case, then accepting evolution may be no more
is so often avoided. If anything, it is a wonderful
heretical than accepting that the earth goes around the
doorway into many “more important” topics such as
sun!
hermeneutics, models of biblical inspiration, ancient
worldview, cultural engagement, and interdisciplinary
Further Reading studies. The science-faith topic stems from and reaches
The concepts introduced above are obviously into all these areas and many more. The beauty of this
interrelated and merit much lengthier discussions than subject area is precisely that its implications are so
given in this essay, but time and space prevent further wide-reaching. The same tools that you use to exegete
elaboration. I’ll offer instead a few relevant resources Genesis 1-11 extend out into the rest of the biblical
that helped shape my thoughts here. Stephen Godfrey literature. For example, an understanding of ancient
and Christopher Smith’s co-authored book Paradigms near eastern cosmology gained in Genesis 1 brings an
on Pilgrimage dedicate a couple helpful chapters to excellent understanding of passages as diverse as 1
exploring more fully the concepts of agency and Chronicles 16, Job 26, Psalm 104, Isaiah 40,
mechanism, and methodological and ontological Philippians 2, and Revelation 21! A discussion that
naturalism. Denis Lamoureux’s books Evolutionary takes modern science into account can challenge
Creation and I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution traditional readings of everything from theodicy to
similarly provide a thorough discussion of the literary criticism, leading to a wide array of interesting
principles of accommodation and concordism. All the topics. Perhaps it is because it can lead in so many
various concepts considered here are connected in directions that professors avoid it: it is a conversation

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Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

that might never end. 36% do not have an opinion either way. For one
hundred and fifty years, evolution has provided biology
The Challenge of Teaching about Origins with its unifying theory and the evidence for it has only
On the other hand, the issue of origins in particular strengthened over time. However, 61% of Americans
seems to be uniquely challenging from both an still do not accept evolution as valid. Perhaps the
emotional and a spiritual perspective. Step the wrong ambivalence in the Christian academy is simply a
way in this issue, and it is not simply belief in the reflection of the wider culture’s lack of conviction. In
historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis that this case, it would be a great opportunity for the
threatens to topple, but potentially a person’s entire Church to rise up and become, once again, those who
faith! However, given the spiritual volatility of the drive discovery of the natural world forward while
topic, isn’t the Christian academy the perfect providing a theological framework in which to
environment to critically examine issues of faith, and understand those revelations.
therefore issues of origins? Would it be better for the
student to struggle through these issues in the context New Resources for Evangelicals
of leading a church or working in the secular At the Bible College I attended, a small faculty was
environment? Yet, even though questions about origins responsible for covering a wide spectrum of academic
are embarrassingly common, it seems that the topic is disciplines. As a result, the idea of tackling the massive
often sidestepped in order to avoid giving offense. issues involved in the science-faith dialogue may have
Even when asked directly about it, answers from seemed quite daunting. Ten or fifteen years ago this
Christian faculty are often short and evasive; there task was even more difficult since there were so few
seems to be a fear of committing too strongly to one books that affirmed both evolution and an evangelical
side of the debate. Perhaps this betrays a lack of clear faith. Today, however, there is a torrent of books which
thought on the side of the faculty; perhaps it is simply provide both the scientific and hermeneutical material
an unwillingness to engage in such a volatile issue so necessary to “get past” the most common roadblocks to
directly. Yet it is precisely because it is such an accepting evolution: how to read Genesis and how to
explosive topic that we need more thorough training in reconcile the theory of human evolution with our
the area. affirmation of divine creation. Francis Collins, Darrel
Falk, Denis Lamoureux, and Loren and Deb Haarsma
“I feel so frustrated” a student once confessed to me, “I have all provided valuable resources to the evangelical
feel like everyone deals with the evolution debate as if community.
it’s a conversation we’ve already had, yet I’ve never
heard it talked about once in two years!” From the With so much good information “out there”, why is
faculty’s point of view, I can imagine that dealing with there still a reluctance to discuss the science-faith
the same issues over and over again, year after year, interaction in our academies? I think that we shy away
would be exhausting. It is true that addressing the from the challenges science presents to our
hesitancies of students in relation to the science-faith interpretation of the Bible because there is always a
interface must be tiring, especially when it can be a “fear factor” involved in evangelical hermeneutics.
remarkably pedantic area, and can branch almost out of This was clearly seen at my Bible College where
control. But that is not a good reason for avoiding it! biblical criticism was largely portrayed as that
I’m sure that New Testament Greek professors do not “slippery slope” where “liberals” began by questioning
consider it an exhilarating task to teach the declensions the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and ended up
year after year. However, delivering this technical denying the resurrection of Christ. There was very little
information is foundational, and they realize that the effort put into incorporating the beneficial aspects of
relative drudgery of grammatical basics will one day criticism because there was so much fear that one
lead to more interesting debates on interpretation. might go “too far”. We evangelicals are happy to
admit, as a sort of joke, how susceptible we are to guilt;
Reclaiming the Study of God’s Works in it is much less frequently admitted how susceptible we
our Culture are to fear. Yet the reality is that as God’s children we
I wish that the science-religion dialogue would receive have nothing to fear when searching for truth in God’s
a similar grounding: some aspects of the topic may be Works and his Word. The discoveries of science and
tedious, but this grounding is necessary in light of the the tools of higher criticism help us to understand better
current cultural battles. And the cultural battle is real. A the amazing world in which God has placed us and the
Gallup poll on Darwin’s 200th birthday found that only ways in which God has revealed himself to us. With
39% of Americans accept evolution, while another the excellent voices speaking from within both science
and theology, the time is ripe for moving past this

11
Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student Perspective

debate. But we should do this carefully by working of a robust theology of creation without extreme
through the issues rather than ignoring them. dogmatism over the method of creation. It was a brief
answer, and it did indeed stir up controversy in some of
Conclusion the tutorial sessions after the class, but it was one of the
Fortunately those first year students in that full lecture first times I had observed a positive, informative
hall I mentioned in the opening did not have to wait answer that clearly dealt with some of the issues raised.
long for a more helpful response. Another professor on I hope this type of response is a harbinger of what we
the panel took the microphone and spoke about fossils, can come to expect of Christian academia, and that
genetics, his preference for the term “evolutionary Evangelical students will receive the guidance they
creation” over “theistic evolution”, and the importance need in the science-faith dialogue.

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