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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.


dopderbeck said...

Wow Steve -- a real list of heavy hitters. Looking forward to it. Wish you could have rounded up a theologian, though.

Steve Martin said...
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Steve Martin said...

Hi David,
Any specific Evangelical theologian you have in mind? If you do, how about sending them my Invitation to Contribute link? :-)

This is of course the problem. There are a number of really solid evangelical scientists that can make great contributions; Evangelical theologians that can comment positively on evolution are few and far between. Are there even 7 Evangelical theologians alive who could contribute to a series like this? (Not counting guys like polkinghorne & mcgrath etc. who were scientists first).

james f said...


This is outstanding. May I suggest - if the contributors are willing - that the series be compiled into a pdf file that could be posted for download at places like the ASA, the NCSE, the National Academy of Sciences, and the CLP?

Steve Martin said...

Hi James F,
Hmm. Compiling into a PDF? Actually, that sounds interesting. I don't think the contributors would have a problem with that ... will need to check. They certainly shouldn't have a problem with uploading to ASA site ... most of us are actually ASA members (and at least one, who will remain nameless, that I've bugged about becoming a member :-) ).

The other option, is just to link to the series on all the sites. That might be more useful anyways .. many people prefer to read html online rather than pdf. At the end of the series, I'll be posting a "Series Summary" post with links to all other posts.

In the meantime, I'm not going to argue if you put a link to this series on any sites with which you are affiliated :-) .

Anonymous said...

>A Chorus of Evangelical Voices that Reject the Conflict Thesis

I had sort of an aha experience a few years ago watching an 'creation vs. evolution debate' video with Philip Johnson and evolutionist William B. Provine. Johnson said at the outset that he and Provine agreed that if the creationist view was wrong, then there was no more place for God, life was meaningless, etc.

At the time I was reading Kenneth Miller's book where he said by insisting on this, creationists "are the unlikely and unwitting allies of vigorous athiests like Dawkins, Provine, and Lewontin who would agree enthusiastically that a complete success for materialist science condemns any search for God to ultimate failure." (p. 215)

Johnson said: "I would agree with Will Provine on this, I would tend to stress ... a theistic picture of the world is fundamentally inconsistent with the manner of thinking that evolutionary biologists have employed to reach their conclusions. That is to say, contemporary evolutionary biology, like much else in science, is based on the premise that nature is all there is -- it is based on a premise of metaphysical naturalism."

It hit me that in addition to the two possibilities that Johnson or Provine were right, there was a third option - they were both wrong and their starting assumptions were what were at fault. Johnson needed as a debate partner someone who shared the thesis that there was an inherent conflict.

James F said...


I have contacted the NCSE's Faith Project Director - the NCSE may be able to assist by hosting the compilation as a downloadable file, and since Keith Miller is an official NCSE Supporter it ties in nicely. I'm sure I can have the CLP link these to these posts in the meantime.

One other thing I would suggest for such a compilation is an additional introductory statement from you giving a history of Evangelicals with respect to evolution (Asa Gray, Benjamin Warfield, etc.) as you did in an earlier post. I think that this historical perspective would be invaluable.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Steven R:
Thanks for the anecdote. I think there is an interesting 3-way tug-of-war occurring between 1. ECs, 2. atheists, and 3. Special Creationists. #1 and #2 accept the evidence for evolution in opposition to #3. #1 and #3 believe in God in opposition to #2. #2 and #3 agree that evolution and theism are incompatible in opposition to #1. Your partner one-day ends up being your opponent the next.

James F: Feel free to contact me directly by email. It might make the coordination of something like this easier.

Scott Bailey said...

Looking forward to this series very much. Have already referred several people to it.

Possibly relevant with more to come:


Any thoughts?

Looney said...

Um, working in high tech, we have the basic concept that technology always requires a technologist, which is accepted by fools, geniuses, atheists, religious quacks and everyone else universally.

Evolution not only asserts that technology doesn't require a technologist, but that technology proves the non-existence of the technologist. Evolution is simply a blind and fanatical rejection of reality. I don't see why Christians need to spend any time reconciling our views to this nonsense.

Steve Martin said...

Scott: Welcome. Well, the series is well on its way .. the 7th installment just went up today. Hope you enjoy it. And nice post on your site ... for my own ruminations on the topic, see the scripture catagory posts on my site.

Welcome. It is difficult to respond to your statement that "Evolution is simply a blind and fanatical rejection of reality" since I'm not sure what you mean by evolution. Maybe you could read my meaning of evolution post and clarify.

Looney said...

Steve, I did look at what you wrote. Evolution is simply a synonym for "change". Yes, "change" explains everything. On the other hand, invoking "change" explains exactly nothing at the same time.

In real science, a theory involves fixed relations between measurable quantities. Evolution is just a meta-narrative that floats around and changes shape like a fog. It was an idea created by theologians. It is theologians who tell us that we must believe in evolution because "scientists say so".

Now if theologians would let go of evolution, the theory would probably die a natural death due to the fact that real scientists don't care about the theory and their aren't enough Richard Dawkins in the world to keep it alive.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Looney,
I don’t think you read the whole article on the meaning of evolution that I referenced. Evolution as synonym for change is definition E1; the grand meta-narrative is definition E6. It appears you are conflating E6 with some of the other definitions. I would agree that a majority of scientists do not care about this E6 definition (although, there are more Dawkinites that you might imagine). However, its pretty clear that the majority of scientists (including the scientist authors in this series) are comfortable with definitions E2, E3, and even E4. Please review the sections on E2, E3, and E4 – these are the definitions in which I’m most interested.

Looney said...

Evolution = change = the superset of all theories, whether true or false, real or imaginary. Thus, you are correct to list E2, E3, E4, E6, along with a few billion other theories. When you pick up a Dawkins book or a graduate level molecular biology text, you will see that they freely switch from one theory to the next. When they are happy with the result, evolution is credited with the success, although the actual theories employed may come from chemistry or physics. Being an engineer, I am in the habit of enumerating the theories that I used in a derivation and crediting them individually, rather than giving thanks and praise to Darwin. I guess that is the difference between science and engineering.