/** recent comments widget code */ /** end of recent comments widget code */

Saturday, 31 May 2008

An Update on Richard Colling’s Struggle to Teach Evolution at ONU

My original plan was to abstain from regular posts during the guest-post series on Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics. However, I want to highlight an update on Richard Colling’s situation at Olivet Nazarene University (ONU). Richard is one of the participants in this series, and his essay Evolution and Faith: Communicating their Compatibility in Christian Higher Education is the most recent post. In this essay Richard indicated that communicating the evidence for biological evolution should be done in a spirit of Christian charity, and that in the faith / science dialogue listening should often come before speaking. Given the fear that evolution produces in many Christians, this is indeed wise counsel.

But the spirit of Christian charity that Richard espouses does not seem to be reciprocated to him by some in his own community. For details on his struggle, check out Richard’s new update at his randomdesigner site. I’m not going to comment further here since I think everyone should read Richard’s own words. However, I really appreciate that he can remain positive throughout these struggles. Richard states:

Some people view the current situation as a negative for the university, but I think that depends on us and our responses. There is a rich history in scripture of God working in the lives of his people to right wrongs and accomplish great good for the Kingdom. Perhaps this is actually a golden opportunity for Olivet and the Church of the Nazarene to publicly reaffirm its core statements - to insistently hold out education, truth, and transparency as foundations for a brighter future. I believe if we are faithful to this commitment – willing to openly and honestly talk, teach, and learn together, God will bless our efforts. As a result, perhaps we can emerge stronger and even better-equipped to accomplish the truly important tasks to which He has called us in a world yearning for honest, credible answers to their deepest heartfelt questions.

I am hoping that Richard’s optimism is rewarded.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Evolution and Faith: Communicating their Compatibility in Christian Higher Education

This is a guest-post by biologist Richard Colling, and is the fifth installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series. Richard is the author of the book Random Designer.

“God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” II Timothy 1:7

One would think this verse would energize and enable all Christians in the mission of confidently communicating Christ’s primary messages of love, forgiveness, and relationship. Yet from first-hand experience as a veteran biology educator at a Christian university I can attest that something is tragically amiss: A peripheral issue (evolution) is getting in the way. Indeed, an ungodly and consuming fear of evolution has engulfed the Christian community. And when fear reigns, power, love, and sound thinking are casualties. In addition, this disabling fear is as contagious as influenza or AIDS – blindly passed from generation to generation, hence not easy to overcome.

This fear infecting the Christian community derives from concern that the foundations of the faith, based upon literal interpretations of scripture, are being undermined by the claims of science. Regarding evolution, this concern seems legitimate, especially in light of advances in biology and genetics. The human genome project - a 3.1-billion letter linear digital directory of humanity - was deciphered in 2003. Now, for the first time in history, we have acquired the letter-by-letter document revealing humanity’s present and past genetic connections with all other life at levels of precision never before imagined. This is not your mother or father’s gap-laden fossil record. Rather, it is an exquisitely-defined map of our entire evolutionary history! So how do Christian educators in the sciences help people recognize that their fear of evolution is unnecessary?

Teaching with Truth and Love
I believe that education is the key, but it is essential to recognize that there is much more to education than just reciting scientific facts and concepts. If we legitimately claim the badge of bona fide secular or Christian educators, we must unapologetically speak the truth of science, but we must also do so with a sensitive, loving, and accepting spirit – actively engaging students where they are at.

When my book, Random Designer was published, a National Public Radio interviewer asked an intriguing question: “What is the greatest challenge you experience in teaching evolution at a Christian college?” I told her that the greatest challenge had nothing to do with teaching evolution per se: Evolution is what it is. Rather, I told her that my greatest challenge was to sensitively listen to and gauge my students’ backgrounds and understanding so that I could effectively reassure them that new understandings in science need never threaten their faith.

In a diverse classroom of 230 students, this is no small undertaking because it flies in the face of what they have been taught growing up. For students coming from very conservative Christian backgrounds where evolution is routinely pronounced as evil and regarded as a litmus test of Christian orthodoxy, the challenge is to encourage and affirm them in their faith. For non-believing students, the task is different, but no less important - encouraging them to keep an open mind - perhaps even giving this God thing a second look. When successful in striking just the right balance in the classroom – speaking the truth in love while also recognizing and affirming each student where they are in their spiritual and intellectual journey - something magical happens. The preconditioned division and discord that they brought to the classroom begins to melt away - replaced by understanding and acceptance.

The Importance of Language, Words, and Emotions
As I suggested above, teaching the actual scientific facts of evolution is straightforward. However, if the goal is actual student learning and effective integration, two practical obstacles come into play - both of which must be successfully addressed.

The first obstacle is language - the words we use to communicate meaning and purpose. The unfortunate reality is that words like randomness, evolution, and mutation positively drip with ambiguity – frequently poorly defined and easily misunderstood. The consequences for relationships can be disastrous as well-meaning good people talk right past one another and misunderstanding, confusion, and agitation escalates. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that terms like mutation and evolution are precisely defined and understood by all parties.

The second and perhaps the most significant obstacle to understanding evolution and mapping a path to peace is that in addition to being poorly defined, words such as mutation and evolution often carry enormous negative emotional baggage. Emotions are powerful because they typically (at least initially - until we have counted to ten!) overwhelm rationality. After all, I doubt you would take it kindly if someone called you a mutant! In addition, although actually inherently compatible when properly understood, referencing seemingly counterintuitive words like random and evolution in the same sentence with God is likely to elicit red-faced responses from even some of the most sedate Christians and secular scientists.

These two things – imprecise definitions and negative emotions - erect powerful barriers to effective communication and understanding of evolution.

It has been said that people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. In my experience, this is true. Therefore, the first step in overcoming resistance to evolution is is to establish understanding and trust.

At Stake: A Credible Faith
Twenty-first century college students are a savvy and discerning lot: They can smell a fraud a mile away. On the other hand, they appreciate a Christian educator who respects and cares enough about them to speak the transparent truth regarding controversial subjects like evolution. In short, they want and deserve the real stuff – including everything that modern biology and genetics can teach them. Then, armed with actual knowledge and understanding, they can intelligently make up their own minds how to put it all together. My experience is that they do this very well.

It is truly a sad day in the life of a Christian community when new understanding and insights into God’s marvelous creation revealed by biology and genetics - including evolution - are viewed as a threat to faith. No doubt there are many legitimate questions to address, but continued denial of evolution by the Christian community is a sure-fire losing proposition for the credibility of the gospel and our Christian faith. We can, and must do better. The next generation is depending on us to confidently speak the truth in love - and with no fear!

Monday, 26 May 2008

Teaching Evolution in Christian Higher Education: Faith Shaking or Faith Affirming?

This is a guest-post by biologist Dennis Venema and is the fourth installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series.

Teaching biology at the university level is a joy and privilege. There are days that I wonder at the fact that I am paid for doing what I love. Watching students “get” the material, see connections, and grow in confidence as scholars is exactly why I love what I do. While I enjoyed teaching (as a graduate student) at a large public university, I enjoy it all the more at a Christian institution. Here I get to see students develop holistically: deepening in their faith as well as honing their intellects, and all for the glory of God.

The Challenge for Christian Academics in Biology
Yet there are also days when I can be heard muttering “should have been a chemist, should have been a chemist” – my tongue-in-cheek response to the realities of being an evangelical Christian biologist. The issue is, of course, evolution. Darrel Falk puts it well when he describes his early university career:

“During those years, I was inclined towards the natural sciences and math. I found that if I restricted my intellectual energy to chemistry, physics and math, leaving aside biology, all would go much more smoothly for me. In contrast to biology, those disciplines seemed to have no direct implication for my Christian faith. Biology did, so I shied away from it in large part because studying it would entail thinking about the details of evolution, and my faith was too important to me for that.”

(Falk, Coming to Peace with Science, p.21).

Chemistry in many ways is the perfect science to teach at a Christian university. It avoids the young-earth / old-earth issues that challenge physicists and geologists, and no mention of evolution is required. If only this middle path was of stronger interest to me as an undergraduate student.

Approaches to Teaching Evolution in Christian Higher Education
There are several options for teaching evolution (1) in Christian settings. One approach is to denigrate evolution, either overtly or subtly. This is remarkably simple in practice – omit a few key details here, change of tone there, smatter some distortions of genuine scientific controversies, et voila – you are everyone’s hero, a stalwart defender of the faith. You will never ruffle feathers telling people (students, administration, parents) what many of them long to hear. The problem with this approach is, of course, one’s own intellectual honesty.

A second option is to minimize evolution – to mention it as little as possible. This is easy for a chemist, but almost impossible for a biologist. Biology without evolution is like physics without either Newton or Einstein. Or, to continue the chemistry motif, imagine if atomic theory was perceived to run counter to Christian faith – and a Christian professor needlessly emphasized gaps in current understanding to minimize or denigrate it. It is hard for non-specialists to appreciate just how central evolution is to biology, but it is precisely that central. Teaching biology without evolution reduces it to an 18th-century-style litany of descriptive lists devoid of meaningful connections. No, this way will not do either – not if we are to honour God with our hearts, souls and minds.

The more difficult path, but the one I believe needs to be followed, is to teach evolution thoroughly and to teach it well. At a secular institution, this is straightforward; at a Christian institution, this can be a nightmare. Yet few things worth attaining are easy – and Christian students deserve an education as scientifically rich as anyone. Indeed, our calling as Christian faculty behooves us to offer students the best education possible, for it is for God’s purposes that they are in training. Should we sell them short when teaching evolution, the central organizing principle of modern biology? God forbid.

Christian Universities: Ideal Settings for Learning About Evolution
A Christian university is an excellent setting for dealing with the theological implications of evolution. Students for whom evolution is a faith-shaking experience are in a place of safety – surrounded by faculty, staff and peers who care about their whole person, not just their scholarship. There are opportunities for asking hard questions, and hashing through the issues. To be sure, this is a difficult process for some students, especially those from families dedicated to young-earth creationism. For other students, it is hardly an issue at all. In either case, it is far better to deal with evolution in a setting where positive, faith-building support is available. Given the prevalent belief in our society that faith and evolution are in conflict, the absence of this support in many academic environments can lead students to confuse the evidence for evolution as being evidence against God.

Faith Shaking or Faith Affirming?
Does teaching evolution shake or affirm faith? It can do both. Ironically, the greater danger may be denying or denigrating the evidence for evolution. In the face of overwhelming evidence (and more mounting by the day) this approach sets students up for a fall in the future, should they ever closely examine the data. Then, faced with the false dichotomy of God or evolution, they cannot choose well. At best, they will choose God and reject His works; at worst they will choose His works (not seeing them for what they are) but reject Him. One of the joys of teaching biology at a Christian institution is putting the lie to this false choice. The history of the cosmos and life on earth is an amazing story, one that displays the power, creativity, majesty, and patience of our Creator. As evangelical students come to see the beauty of evolution as a vehicle for God’s creative design, many are affirmed in their faith. They see that they need not fear evidence for evolution if God Himself has ordained it as a mechanism of His creative acts in the past, present and future.

1. In this post I refer to “evolution” as the scientific consensus that all life descended from a common ancestor through natural processes of speciation (see Allan Harvey’s definitions, specifically E1 – E4). It is important to note that these scientific definitions in no way imply the absence of God in the process of evolution

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Is the Scientific Academic Community a Hostile Environment for Faith?

This is a guest-post by geologist Keith B. Miller, and is the third installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series. 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.

An extension of the “warfare” view of science and Christian faith is the often-stated claim that the secular academy is hostile to faith. Many conservative evangelicals unfortunately do see the secular university as hostile territory. There are certainly individuals within secular institutions who are openly hostile to faith, and there are also no doubt some few particular departments at some institutions where there is a culture of antagonism toward faith. However, I will argue that these are exceptions. Furthermore, the secular academy is an ideal environment in which to productively challenge and deepen one’s faith, and to develop a Christian mind.

My Personal Experience with Secular Education
First, a bit of personal background. I attended public schools growing up, and all of my college and post-graduate education has occurred in secular public or private colleges and universities. My faith grew and matured both through my studies and through my involvement in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. While pursuing my PhD I was involved in a very dynamic graduate student Bible study that challenged me to pursue a more thorough integration of my faith and my chosen discipline in geology. I was intellectually and spiritually stretched in a way that I might never have been otherwise. In addition, never once in my 12 years as a student in college and graduate school, nor in the nearly 20 years as a faculty member at a state university, have I experienced hostility toward my faith. By contrast, I have been encouraged to deepen my faith and to increasingly see all that I do in the academy as part of my Christian vocation. We all have that challenge, regardless of our occupation or situation, to live our lives in a consistent and transparent manner and to image God to the world.

Secular Academia: This is not Enemy Territory
Part of the perspective that underlies the portrayal of the secular academy as enemy territory is a broader secular/sacred dichotomy that pervades much of evangelical religious culture. Ignorance breeds fear, and the more Christians isolate themselves as a community from the rest of the world the more they will fear that world. This fear is misplaced, because the 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 ourselves. We also are called to transform the world around us, and that requires being engaged with it. Seriously engaging the ideas and arguments of others is part of that challenge. Having someone reject or argue against our faith is an expected part of that engagement. This need not involve hostility or personal rejection, and, as I have stated above, I have experienced neither from my non-Christian teachers or colleagues. We Christians, I believe, are often too quick to claim persecution when others reject our arguments. Sometimes our arguments deserve to be rejected – we have often been lazy in our thinking, and failed to take seriously the stewardship of our minds. Furthermore, if our faith claims are never rejected, perhaps we are not talking to the right people.

The Scientific Establishment: No Pervasive Hostility to Faith
Like the claim made against the academy, the charge that the scientific “establishment” expresses a pervasive hostility to faith is similarly false. A very important feature of the scientific enterprise is that it takes place within a multi-cultural and interfaith community of scholars. At a typical professional scientific meeting there will be participants from a wide range of nationalities, cultures, and religious traditions. Yet those scientists from these various backgrounds can sit down together and productively discuss scientific questions, examine evidence and reach conclusions. They can do this because scientific knowledge is not tied to a particular religious or non-religious worldview – it is universally accessible. Though science as a discipline is religiously neutral, individual scientists are not – nor should they be. People of faith, including many professing Christians, are active respected members of their professional societies and occupy prominent leadership positions within these organizations. This is true of every professional (geology and paleontology) society of which I am a member. And the Christian representation is not a token one. There are thousands of Christians who are active scientists in academia, government and industry. Beyond their mere presence within the scientific community, Christians are becoming increasingly vocal about their faith in the context of their chosen vocation in science. This has been one very positive response to the increasingly loud voices of those who would see only conflict and hostility between faith and science.

Scientific Organizations: Building Bridges Between Science and Faith
Scientific organizations are also increasingly recognizing the destructive impact of the perception that science and religious faith are in necessary conflict. As a result, many are publishing statements, providing educational resources, and convening symposia that address the nature of science and attempt to dispel the “warfare” view. Such organizations include: the Geological Society of America, the Paleontological Society, the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Academy of Science, and the AAAS. I personally have been involved in some of these efforts. It is important that the public recognize that the few prominent and vocal atheist activists do not represent the scientific community. Unfortunately, some Christians can see only an atheist face of science, and are blind to their brothers and sisters who have been called by God to serve in a scientific vocation in the academy.

Promoting a Christian Worldview in Science
I will conclude by quoting from a short essay that I co-wrote with my wife Ruth (a faculty member in Electrical Engineering):

“Finally, the academy, and professions, can be engaged by Christians who demonstrate a mastery of their disciplines, and who take seriously the views of others. It is the passionate pursuit of truth, not a defensive response to criticism or a reactionary denouncement of others, that will make the Christian worldview a respected voice. Above all, a life lived with integrity and in sacrificial service will reveal the reality of a God who demands our entire lives.”

(Miller, K.B. & Miller, R.D., 1997, “Taking the Road Less Traveled: Reflections on Entering Careers in Science,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, vol.49, no. 4, p.212-214.)

Monday, 19 May 2008

Creation, Evolution and the Nature of Science

This is a guest-post by geologist Keith B. Miller, and is the second installment in our “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series. 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.

Despite the long theological dialogue with evolutionary theory, many people continue to view evolution as inherently atheistic and inseparably wedded to a worldview that denies God and objective morality. Although this understanding of the meaning of evolutionary theory is strongly promoted by some, it is widely rejected as philosophically, theologically, and historically false. Science is a methodology, a limited way of knowing about the natural world. Scientific research proceeds by the search for chains of cause-and-effect, and confines itself to the investigation of "natural" entities and forces. This self-limitation is sometimes referred to as “methodological naturalism.”

The Limitations of Science
The first detailed use and discussion of the term “methodological naturalism” (MN) was in 1986 by Paul deVries, an evangelical Christian philosopher at Wheaton College. He used the term to describe the legitimate purview of science as one limited to explaining and interpreting the natural world in terms of natural processes and causes. Furthermore, deVries embraced this understanding of the nature and limitations of science because he saw it as consistent with, and supportive of, a vibrant and vital role for theology. In his view, to broaden science to include the supernatural would be yielding to a culture of scientism.

Science restricts itself to proximate causes, and the confirmation or denial of ultimate causes is beyond its capacity. Science does not deny the existence of a Creator -- it is simply silent on the existence or action of God. Methodological naturalism simply describes what empirical inquiry is. It is certainly not a statement of the nature of cosmic reality. Science pursues truth within very narrow limits. Our most profound questions about the nature of reality (questions of meaning and purpose and morality), while they may arise from within science, are theological or philosophical in nature and their answers lie beyond the reach of science.

From the perspective of scientific inquiry, a supernatural agent is effectively a black box, and appeals to supernatural action are essentially appeals to ignorance. A supernatural agent is unconstrained by natural “laws” or the properties and capabilities of natural entities and forces -- it can act in any way, and accomplish any conceivable end. As a result, appeals to such agents can provide no insight into understanding the mechanisms by which a particular observed or historical event occurred. Belief in the creative action of a supernatural agent does not answer the question of how something happens. “A miracle occurs here” is no more an answer to the question of “How?” than is “We don’t know.”

Divine Action and Scientific Explanation
One commonly held perspective that tends to reinforce a conflict view of science and faith is that God's action or involvement is confined to those events which lack a scientific explanation. Meaningful divine action is equated with breaks in chains of cause-and-effect processes. This view has been called a "God-of-the-gaps" theology. God's creative action is seen only, or primarily, in the gaps of human knowledge where scientific description fails. With this perspective, each advance of scientific description results in a corresponding reduction in the realm of divine action. Conflict between science and faith is thus assured. However, this is a totally unnecessary state of affairs. God's creative activity is clearly identified in the Bible as including natural processes, including what we call chance or random events. According to scripture, God is providentially active in all natural processes, and all of creation declares the glory of God. The evidence for God's presence in creation, for the existence of a creator God, is declared to be precisely those everyday "natural events" experienced by us all.

Some people will argue that MN arbitrarily excludes supernatural agency from scientific explanation and unnecessarily restricts the search for truth. It does nothing of the sort. If God acted in creation to bring about a particular structure in a way that broke causal chains, then science would simply conclude -- "There is presently no known series of cause-and-effect processes that can adequately account for this structure, and research will continue to search for such processes." Any statement beyond that requires the application of a particular religious worldview. "God did it" is not a scientific conclusion, although anyone is of course free to draw such an inference. However, if God acted through a seamless series of cause-and-effect processes to bring about that structure, then the continuing search for such processes stimulated by the tentativeness and methodological naturalism of science may uncover those processes.

Some non-theists see God as an unnecessary addition to a scientific description of the universe, and therefore conclude that there is no rational basis for belief in a personal God. In fact, as I have argued, God is unnecessary for a scientific description, but a scientific description is not a complete description of reality. Science excludes appeals to supernatural agents simply because the actions of such agents cannot be investigated by scientific methods. To then use this methodological exclusion to support a philosophical/religious exclusion is completely fallacious. That science does not make reference to God says nothing about whether or not God is actively involved in the physical universe or in people's lives.

Continuous Creation
I fully and unhesitatingly accept the doctrine of creation. God is the Creator of all things and nothing would exist without God's continually willing it to be. Creation was not merely a past accomplished act, but also is a present and continuing reality. The best term for this view of God's creative activity is "continuous creation." I also believe that God's existence can be known in the creation through faith. However, scientific observation provides no proof of the existence of a creator God, indeed it cannot. Neither does scientific description, however complete, provide any argument against a creator. Since God acts through process, scientific description and the theology of creation are perfectly compatible. Thus Christians should not fear causal explanations. Complete scientific descriptions of events or processes should pose no threat to Christian theism. Rather, each new advance in our scientific understanding can be met with excitement and praise at the revelation of God's creative hand.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics Guest-Post Series: Introduction

This is the first installment in the “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series.

Most Evangelicals strongly believe that the theory of evolution is incompatible with their Christian faith. The conflict thesis is deeply ingrained in both our cultural and theological thinking. And for many Evangelicals the halls of scientific academia are the heart of “enemy territory”, an academic guild (so it is feared) that is wedded to “Atheistic Darwinian” philosophy. The movie Expelled feeds off (and further feeds the fire) of these fears.

Evangelicals vs. Evolution & Academia: The Conflict Thesis
But is the theory of biological evolution equivalent to “Atheistic Darwinian” Philosophy? Are evolutionary science and an Evangelical expression of the Christian faith incompatible? Must Christians who accept the scientific consensus for evolution also abandon belief and trust in a personal God by whom all things are created, and in whom all creation is sustained? Is the scientific establishment our enemy? Must we fear it?

For a small but growing number of Evangelicals, the answer to all these questions is an emphatic NO. We do not believe that the scientific evidence for biological evolution warrants atheism. Our acceptance of evolutionary science in no way compromises our faith in the Creator God who revealed himself through the incarnate and risen Christ. Through science, including evolutionary science, we are discovering the wonders of God’s creation. This discovery should be celebrated, not feared.

A Chorus of Evangelical Voices that Reject the Conflict Thesis
Over the next month, I will be publishing a series of guest posts on the topic of “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics”. All of the authors in this series are Evangelicals; all of them accept the scientific consensus for biological evolution; and all of them believe that there can be a positive relationship between Evangelicals and evolution in academia.

Keith Miller will begin the series by discussing the nature of science. Since the misunderstanding of this 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, Miller will examine whether the scientific academic community is a hostile environment for faith.

Three biologists who teach at Evangelical colleges or universities will provide the next four posts in the series. Dennis Venema from Trinity Western University will discuss whether teaching evolution in Christian higher education is faith shaking or faith affirming. Richard Colling from Olivet Nazarene University will highlight the importance of language, words, and emotions in communicating compatibility between evolution and faith in Christian higher education. Finally, Stephen Matheson will provide a brief historical sketch of the evolution / creation discussion at Calvin College, and, in a second post, will offer some personal reflections on his own experience at Calvin.

Although much of the public discussion focuses on post-secondary scientific academia, most Evangelicals are introduced to evolution, and form their biases towards it, much before setting foot inside a university lecture hall. Our next four posts will discuss aspects of this introduction. Karl Giberson will summarize the results of a small research project he conducted on the teaching of evolution in public schools. Gordon Glover will share his thoughts and experiences on evolution in Christian schools. Douglas Hayworth will discuss the challenges of teaching evolutionary science in a home school setting. Finally Hayworth will provide some guidance on teaching creation theology in church Sunday Schools.

Ted Davis will then wrap up the series with some concluding thoughts on the historical context and future direction of Evangelicals and evolution in academia. The landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, but there are still significant challenges to be addressed.

Full Circle
In one way, this series brings me full circle. My initial encounter with biology and anthropology in high school was a very painful experience. Thereafter I carefully avoided all opportunities for the evolution demon to raise its ugly head. This series presents voices and viewpoints that I wish I had heard all those years ago. For Evangelicals currently grappling with the implications of an evolving creation, I hope these voices prove much more timely.

Enjoy the series.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

An Invitation to Contribute

If you are an Evangelical Christian, and accept the scientific consensus for biological evolution, then you too can contribute a post to this blog. I’m looking for a wide range of contributors, including academics (scientists, theologians, and biblical scholars), church and parachurch leaders (pastors, elders, mission leaders, and youth directors), as well as contributions from “ordinary Evangelicals” in the pew. It doesn’t matter if you describe yourself as an Evolutionary Creationist (EC), a Theistic Evolutionist (TE), or something else; the key point is that you believe your faith in the incarnate and risen Christ is compatible with your acceptance of the scientific evidence for biological evolution.

A) Criteria for Authors
1. You are an Evangelical Christian. The definition provided in my What is an Evangelical post is pretty broad so I think it should include just about everyone within the Evangelical tent. If you have some specific concerns about the definition that might exclude you, but you would also like to participate, please send me an email and we can discuss your concerns.
2. Based on the definitions provided by Allan Harvey (see my What does Evolution Mean post for details) you accept the evidence for evolution, at least definitions E2 (common descent), E3 (evolutionary mechanisms like genetic variation and natural selection) and preferably E4 (the ability for these mechanisms to account physically for common descent).
3. You should be willing to interact with readers via comments for a short period of time following your post (at least several days, preferably a week).
4. You will make a concerted effort to remain irenic in both your post and your comments.

B) Criteria for Posts
1. Posts should be on some aspect of the evolutionary science / Christian faith dialogue.
2. Posts should be a maximum of 1000 words in length. There is no minimum; shorter is often better.

C) Procedure for Posting
Send me an email with the subject “Proposal to post on the Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution Blog”. Your email should be very brief and include the following:

  • A short one-paragraph description of yourself including a statement that you meet the “Criteria for Authors” above. (If you have published elsewhere, you may want to point to that as well if it is relevant to the science-faith discussion).
  • A short one-paragraph summary of the post you plan to write

I promise to reply to all submissions. (If you haven’t received a reply within a week, something is wrong – maybe it got caught in my spam filter). I cannot promise to publish all submissions.

D) Guest-Post Series
A great way to contribute to this blog is by contributing to one of the Guest-Post Series. In these, a variety of contributors will write about a specific aspect of the evolutionary science / faith dialogue. I have confirmed contributors for two series: The “Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics” series scheduled between mid-May and mid-June 2008, and the “Myths about Evolutionary Creationists” series in August 2008. However, I am currently looking for additional contributors for the following series:

1. Evangelicals and Evolution: A Student’s Perspective: It is often during the student years that the evolution /faith conflict first comes to a head. I’m looking for a wide variety of Evangelical students to recount their experiences and/or provide their perspectives.

2. Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church: Given the backlash regarding evolution encountered in both local and denominational church structures, it might be very difficult to recruit contributors for this series, particularly those in official leadership positions. I would appreciate if readers could forward this invitation to church leaders who might be able to contribute here.

If you have any additional ideas for series or topics, or how I could make this process work better, please leave a comment on this post where others can see your input. If your comment involves a proposal that includes your own personal involvement (eg. a new series in which you could be one of the contributors), please send that to me in an email.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Significant Milestones and Extending the Dialogue

This past week I celebrated two significant milestones. The first was the 13th birthday of my daughter. This was marked with, among other celebratory events, around a hundred phone calls to our home. (If you have a 13-year old daughter you understand. Trust me). The occasion also made me reflect on my own progress along life’s path. Now that both of our children are into their teens, the illusion that my wife and I are “Young Parents” is rapidly fading. Time is passing and change is happening.

One year of Blogging
This past week was also the 1-year marker for the launch of this blog. As I mentioned in my welcome post last year, I started this blog so that I could share my own thoughts on evolution and its implications for the Christian faith. I also wanted to receive feedback from other Evangelicals on these thoughts in the form of comments, criticisms, and corrections. This, I believed, would make my own spiritual and intellectual journey more satisfying. Well, thanks to many of you, I can say that the last year has been both a gratifying and growing experience. I want to thank all of you that have contributed in the form of comments, emails, and discussions, as well as posts on your own blogs and/or websites.

Evolution of the Dialogue
But now it is time for a change. Briefly, I will be extending the dialogue on my blog. Since a discussion primarily instigated by a single voice can hardly be described as dialogue, I will now be inviting other Evangelicals with similar convictions to post here.
As of today, the subtitle of this blog has changed from “Sharing one Evangelical’s perspective on evolution and its implications for the Christian Faith” to “Sharing an Evangelical perspective on evolution and its implications for the Christian Faith”. Note specifically that it is “An Evangelical perspective”, and not “The Evangelical perspective” or even “Various Evangelical Perspectives”. I am under no illusion that our Evolutionary Creationist (EC) view on origins is even a significant minority perspective within Evangelicalism. But I passionately believe it is a perspective that can legitimately claim the title Evangelical.

Guest-Post Series
One method for extending the dialogue on this blog will be through the introduction of regular guest-post series. I envision two types of series: 1) A number of consecutive posts on a specific topic and 2) An ongoing series of posts on a specific theme which is interwoven between other posts on this blog (eg. Similar to my Polkinghorne Quotes series). Each of these series will feature either: a) a specific guest contributor, or b) a variety of invited contributors. I have a few series in the works (mostly at the idea stage). The first of these series will be in the format of 1.b. It is entitled Evangelicals, Evolution, and Academics and will feature seven guest contributors. It will start on May 18 and run for approximately four weeks.

Participating in the Evolution of this Blog
In the next few days I will post my thoughts on how I see this dialogue proceeding, and the criteria for posting here. This “Invitation to Post” article will be placed prominently at the top of the right column under the “Welcome” link. I will be defining my own vision on how this blog will evolve, but I will also be looking for input from my readers. Although there is detectable teleology behind this blog's evolution, its future state is not predestined.

Once again, thanks for your support over the last year.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Factors involved in the shift to Evolutionary Creationism: My Story and Yours

A small but growing number of Evangelicals have embraced an Evolutionary Creationist (EC) view of origins. This is a significant paradigm shift for an Evangelical and can be a difficult and extended process. Since support for EC within the Evangelical community is rare, and direct opposition to EC is prevalent, why do Evangelicals launch into this journey in the first place? And why do they end up holding onto their faith?

Important Factors in the Paradigm Shift

I think there are 6 factors involved in the paradigm shift. The factors in this list do not necessarily occur sequentially, not all are relevant for all Evangelicals making this journey, and the importance of each will vary from one person to the next. However, I believe each is an important part of the process in a majority of cases. These factors include:

1. A realization that some of the “simple” traditional claims aren’t so simple
2. A loss of trust in Evangelical leadership that dogmatically defend untenable ideas.
3. An evaluation of the scientific evidence for evolution
4. A broad examination of biblical hermeneutics and Christian theology
5. The testimony of thoughtful Evangelical Christians who accept the theory of evolution.
6. An explanation of #3 and/or #4 from an EC viewpoint (someone in #5).

For those of us that grew up in an Evangelical community, #1 and #2 are certainly important. Most evangelicals (outside of the fundamentalist fringe) grapple with #1 at some time, usually during or prior to young adulthood. Many also rethink earlier assumptions because of #2. For example, hearing YEC leadership claims that the earth is only 6000 years old in the face of massive & elementary evidence to the contrary. If these leaders are so wrong about the age of the earth (and emphatically dogmatic in their wrongness), could they be just as wrong about evolution?

#3 is the most obvious factor, and certainly important for those in pursuing science in higher education. But I doubt it is the most significant factor in many other cases. #4 is an important factor for those pursuing degrees in theology or biblical studies, and while rethinking some of the rigid traditional hermeneutic methods is necessary for an EC viewpoint, it is hardly sufficient. Anyone who states that the bible provides positive support for evolutionary science is almost certainly twisting scripture.

Key Factors: The Testimony and of other Evolutionary Creationists

I suspect, however, that #5 and #6 are the most significant factors for the majority of Evangelicals that end up in the EC camp. #1 and #2 may be important first steps, but these do not necessarily lead to an EC position on origins. A comprehensive study of #3 and #4 may be sufficient but I suspect very few Evangelicals have the time, energy, and focus to 1) thoroughly investigate the evidence from biology, geology, genetics, paleontology, anthropology and related scientific disciplines and 2) navigate the maze of ANE cultural history, ancient Hebrew linguistics, Christian Theology, Biblical Studies, and OT exegesis. For most of us raised in a black-and-white evolution-is-evil environment, it is only after healthy doses of #5 and #6 that we make that final step into the EC camp with our Evangelical faith unscathed.

My Own Story

How did these factors play out for me personally? #1 and #2 brought me to a certain point, and a smattering of #4 during my university years brought me further along this path. However, I was still stuck in an ignore-the-issue anti-evolutionist position for many years. Interestingly, I did get a healthy dose of #5 working at a Christian camp as a teenager, but I wrote the friend off as both nuts and immature-in-the-faith.

Only recently (as I explained in my introductory post), did I revisit the issue of the interaction of evolutionary science and faith. And when I did revisit it, #6 was the critical factor, particularly Darrel Falk’s book Coming to Peace with Science. It was Falk’s personal story of faith, a story he provided prior to his summary of the evidence for biological evolution, which clinched it for me. I started the book conflicted about evolutionary claims; I finished the book comfortable with an acceptance of evolution. Even though #3 and #4 were still only beginning (and are, even now, works in progress), my paradigm had already shifted – not away from creationism, but towards a much different creationism.

Your Stories

I’m interested in hearing the stories of others who have travelled this journey. In particular, I am interested to know which factors were most important for you. Which ones were key to the shift in your own paradigm? Was it a relatively simple progression, or more disjointed like my own? Were there other factors involved that are not covered in the list above?