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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church: Introduction

This is the first post is a 10-part guest-post series on Evangelicals, Evolution, and the Church.

For those of us that are Evangelicals, the Church is not a cultural or ethnic club, an institution to provide moral guidance, or even a religious organization. Although each of these aspects can be true of the Church (for better or worse), this is not what defines it. The Church is the corporate body of Christ, the collection of all sinners saved by grace and mandated to further the kingdom of God on earth. It manifests itself worldwide and more intimately at the local level. We look to the Church to feed us spiritually, even as we as individuals provide support to others in the body. We celebrate together, grieve together, share similar fears and dreams, and help each other when in need. We share a common purpose and a common spiritual ancestory.

In short, the Church is our family.

And problems within this family affect us at that deepest level. When the family rejects us, it can cause loneliness and despair. When the family is acting in a way that is unhealthy, we want to intervene to change that direction. And when members of the family are struggling in some way, we are eager to help. These problems are only too familiar for Evolutionary Creationists (EC) as we struggle to find our place in the evangelical family.

An Evolutionary Creationist Returns Home to the Evangelical Community

In a poignant article called Surprised by Joy, biologist Darrel Falk recounts how he returned to the Christian faith, but felt he could not return to the evangelical church.

So I got back on the road which leads to God—I began once more the life of faith. I never expected though that I could be a part of an evangelical community again; the differences between the facts of biology and the views of evangelical Christians seemed too great. So I did my best to live the life of an evangelical Christian without being in an evangelical fellowship. I had a deep and meaningful personal relationship with God, but corporate evangelicalism, I was certain, would have to be a thing of the past.
But God has created us to be in relationships, relationships with both himself and with each other. Falk quickly realized that he was missing out on something essential; being part of the body is vital for both spiritual health and fulfillment and he longed to be part of the evangelical community. He was able to finally return to that community, and that return was surprising as it was joyous.

Eight Perspectives on the Relationship between Evolutionary Creationists and the Church

Over the next two months, 8 guest contributors will discuss various aspects of the relationship between evangelical ECs and their spiritual family, the evangelical church. Starting next Monday, evolutionary biologist Douglas Hayworth will discuss his own challenge in finding a church home within the evangelical community. Very few evangelical churches welcome the active participation of ECs, and Doug will provide some guidance on how an EC can approach this search for a welcoming community. I believe his points will be helpful to other ECs, but I am also hoping other ECs can provide Doug with some feedback of their own as his own journey has reached somewhat of a crisis point.

The next two contributors will discuss how they have responded to anti-evolutionism within the evangelical church. TWU biology chair Dennis Venema will talk about his experiences addressing unhealthy views of science and God’s creation in the local church. He will use the particular example of how he provided an alternative view to the “Focus on the Family Truth Project” classes in both his own church community and in a neighbouring church. ASA webmaster Terry Gray will then consider the response at the denominational level. In the 1990’s, Gray was an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and was put on trial by his denominational body for his views on evolution. Today, Gray is part of an effort within his current denomination (the Christian Reformed Church – CRC) to take a positive stand on the compatibility between evolutionary biology and the Christian faith. Gray will discuss both of these experiences in his article.

The first half of the series will conclude with an article by palaeoanthropologist and evolutionary biologist Jim Kidder. Jim encountered Christ while in Japan, and then anti-evolutionism within the American evangelical church. He will provide some personal perspectives on his journey and relationship with the church.

The second half of the series will focus on how we as EC’s can help our brothers and sisters in Christ develop a healthy view of the science / faith relationship. Engineer, scientist, and bible teacher Phil Wala’s article will discuss how evangelical scientists can help their fellow evangelicals in this area. Critical thinking has never been a strong-point within our community (to put it mildly!), but this skill (required by all good scientists) will be very helpful for evangelicals trying to come to grips with a constantly changing modern world.

Two pastors will then provide their perspectives on the science / faith dialogue. Baptist minister Murray Hogg will discuss the challenge of tackling this difficult and controversial topic. If not handled with wisdom, care and humility, EC’s “eagerness to help” may be counterproductive. Using the Apostle Paul’s approach to Christian maturity and the “weaker brother”, Murray will discuss how we can be helpful without being hurtful. Keith Suckling, an Anglican priest, will then discuss his experiences leading a Test of Faith course in his church. "Test of Faith" has just released several new curricula and teaching materials, and it will be interesting to hear some feedback from one of the early users of this material. (Note: The material is not yet available in North America but should be available soon).

The series will conclude with a post by church elder and chemical engineer Allan Harvey. Allan taught a science and faith course in his Presbyterian church several years ago. His lesson on evolution contains the best simplified overview of “definitions of evolution” for Christians that I have seen. Allan will provide a post on “10 lessons learned on teaching a science / faith course in the church”.

Promoting Health in the Family

Many of the series published on this blog (with the exception of the student series) have been somewhat academic in nature – academic in the sense that one can interact with the posts without necessarily making a huge personal investment. This one may be somewhat different. All of the posts will share very personal perspectives on the science / faith dialogue, and challenge each of us in various personal ways. How could it be any other way? The topic of evolution and the Church is about our relationship with our spiritual family, our desire to help our family grow in its relationship with its Creator, and our longing to remove the stumbling-block of antievolutionism so that faith in Christ is considered both viable and desirable.

We want to be part of the family; we want our family to be healthy; we want to see our family grow.

Enjoy the series.


Brent said...

I'm super excited about this series, Steve. I've just started leading a weekly group for Lent through Polkinghorne's 'Lenten Meditations on Science and Faith.' While originally it was to be a campus group at our Christian Study Center in Gainesville, I prayed about it and decided to also invite my evangelical church family. It's my first time interacting with my church family on these issues. I'll be following this series with great interest!

D.L. Folken said...

The family of God accepts all who come to Christ by faith. There is much diversity within the body of Christ.

The leadership of the evangelical church just knows that acceptance of Darwinian evolution is an oxymoron and leads to the death of the church. It is like a disease that spreads.

If you look at England, you will notice that half of them are atheists now. The Christians over there decided to buy into Darwinian evolutionary theory. The result has been the rise of atheism.

The big problem is that atheists who run the educational system also discriminate against every non-Darwinian. If a person accept evolution, the Darwinians then take that belief and promote atheism with it.

If you talk with atheist, they focus on Darwinian evolution. They don't normally attack the God idea because they know atheism starts with evolution.

If we had freedom of speech and freedom of religion in higher education, the problem would be solved. The problem with higher education is that it excludes it critics and discriminates against those who don't accept their worldview of naturalism.

God Bless...

Barry said...

It seems that Greg Koukl agrees with much of what ZDENNY said. On his program this week he attacked the Roman Catholic church for embracing evolutionary science.

(at around 56 minutes)

I wish he would invite some serious scientists onto his show to talk every now and then, and not just DI talking heads.

Unknown said...

ZDENNY's thoughts on England are a little bit off the mark, I'm afraid. Sadly, the Church has always had barren patches there, and it was thus long before evolution became a topic of conversion or even a twinkle in Charles Darwin's eye (reading Jonathan Swift helped bring this home to me). As for half of Brits being Atheists, you might get that impression from reading the Guardian, but I don't think it's a very accurate description of the situation on the ground. Just as the 15% of people in the US who claim no religious affiliation are not all atheists, so the large number of Britons with no religious affiliation are not all atheists signed up to the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Society; the NSS actually reached it's membership peak around the late C19th.

To wit, there are many ways to kill a Church, most of which have existed for a long time. Evolution is not the cause, although in some theological settings, it may be a symptom.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Brent,
Is that “Lenten” book of Polkinghorne’s also called “Searching for Truth” (his books often seem to be published under several different names depending on the publication location)? If it is the same one – excellent book. (Then again, my own bias is that just about any book by Polkinghorne is excellent!)
Re: your own experience sharing with your church family, I’d be very interested in hearing about that … as would others I’m sure. This series should offer ample opportunity to share your experiences.
Hi Zdenny:
Re: “If you talk with [an] atheist, they focus on Darwinian evolution”. I live in Toronto which is about as “post-Christian” a city as you can get. I have friends and colleagues that are atheists and I interact with them frequently – it is not my experience that they focus on Darwinian evolution at all (it just doesn’t seem to come up at all!). My teenage kids’ youth group at church attracts many non-church kids (kids from families that haven’t been inside a church building in a couple generations). Many of these kids also identify themselves as atheists (but still are interested in participating in the worship services, bible studies etc.). When I asked my kids if Darwinian evolution had any influence on their atheist friends my son just laughed no; my daughter said “I bet none of them know what that is”.
Also, from my reading of history, philosophy, and current events (all admittedly very amateur amateur pursuits), I think the rest of your conclusions are also well off the mark (as David Morris points out).
I do agree wholeheartedly with your first statement that “The family of God accepts all who come to Christ by faith. There is much diversity within the body of Christ.”

Anonymous said...

I am serving in a church that is currently showing the Focus On The Family producion The Truth Project. Is there any way that I can get a copy of Dennis Venema's article in which he discusses The Truth project


Dennis Venema said...

Hi DuWayne - it's a recorded lecture in 12 parts - the first one is here:


The following 11 segments are linked underneath in turn.



Cornelius said...

Regarding those videos, I think we need to be very careful before we jump in and start declaring what is functional and what is not, we still don't know enough to say either way.


It would also seem that supposedly random insertion events aren't so random after all.


Dennis Venema said...

Hi Cornelius, (Cornelius Hunter, perhaps?)

Your links only demonstrate the lengths some will go to in an attempt to discredit very clear evidence for common descent.

The olfactory receptor pseudogene analysis I discuss in the talk has the following features:

-we see functional versions of these genes in related organisms, so we know what these genes do when they are functional

-these genes have high homology at the nucleic acid AND amino acid levels, despite the fact that they are no longer made in proteins

-we find these inactivated genes in the precise genetic locations predicted by shared synteny

-the patterns of shared inactivation mutations between species, when used as an independent method of determining relatedness, produce a tree identical to trees assembled based on genome-wide homology alone.

Here's a snippet from a forthcoming paper to be published in the ASA journal PSCF:

"To accept the ID argument is to hold that the Designer placed these sequences into the human genome in the precise syntenic location where we observe functional versions of these genes in other organisms, with highly homologous sequences that share apparent mutations in a nested hierarchy that matches phylogenies based on independent criteria, to perform an unrelated, as-of-yet unknown function. While such a possibility can never be absolutely ruled out, one wonders why the Designer would choose a method of design that would give such a strong impression of common ancestry. "

Cornelius said...

As ever when confronted with the "overwhelming evidence" we find that there is much more to these stories than we are told by proponents of naturalistic evolution. Previous genes such as these were claimed to be non-functional, with the GULO pseudogene being an example. We now know that this is actually an elegant example of a compensatory design mechanism that is actually very difficult to explain from an evolutionary view.

Amélie Montel-Hagen et al., "Erythrocyte Glut1 Triggers Dehydroascorbic Acid Uptake in Mammals Unable to Synthesize Vitamin C," Cell 132 (March 21, 2008) 1039-48.

Evolution would have us believe that this remarkable mechanism has somehow originated three independent times; in bats, primates, and guinea pigs. The very nature of the evolutionary process, as one largely based on chance events, rules out such repeated outcomes. Design however easily accounts for this.

Design theorists would predict that these olfactory receptor genes will turn out to have something similar. Given the rate at which all different functions are being found for junk DNA it would be unwise to bet against it. In the meantime evolutionists are relying on their Darwin-of-the-gaps, assuming that because no function is known therefore none will ever be found.

Dennis Venema said...

Hi Cornelius,

So, this mechanism is elegant in your opinion? You're suggesting that the designer

(a) put functional GULO genes into mammals, but that they

(b) lost function via mutation, so

(c) the designer then provided a workaround, but left the defective GULO genes in the genomes?

Also, have you never heard of convergent evolution?

Dennis Venema said...

Also, glucose and DHA/ascorbic acid have very similar structures: the transporters in question can transport both. So, the fact that this transporter has picked up the slack after the inactivation of GULO (in several cases) is hardly surprising.

Cornelius said...

The argument that these regions of DNA are non-functional and so would not have been placed where they are by a designer has been falsified. Aside from the theological arguments used by naturalistic evolutionists about what God would or wouldn't have done, there is no solid scientific evidence that points to common genetic descent between organisms anymore than common design motifs.

Convergent evolution is an attempt to explain away the many, many instances of repeated design outcomes we see in nature. However, we know that the very nature of chance events prohibits this.

Steve Martin said...

Hi Cornelius. Welcome.

From your comments I can see you are passionate supporter of ID. Passion is good. Although this blog’s participants come from a wide variety of perspectives, many of us here (maybe most) are passionate about our faith in Christ, a faith that we would describe as Evangelical. Maybe you also share this passion. Most of us are also now are convinced that the scientific evidence strongly supports evolution (at least common descent – see evolution definition E2 of Allan Harvey’s definitions – most of us are also comfortable with E4 & have no theological difficulty with E5), but were at one time defenders (even passionate defenders!) of YEC, OEC, and/or the IDM.

But we acknowledge that YEC, OEC, IDM supporters are also usually our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we strive to treat eachother with love (as Christ asked us to) – and this despite our firm conviction that a lot of YEC / OEC / IDM theology is dangerous to the Church - even as many within the Evangelical church consider EC theology dangerous. It is something we need to work through as a family.

Re: your comments, it isn’t clear to me if you appreciate the difference between, for eg a Darrel Falk and a Jerry Coyne (sorry if you are very familiar with these differences – I’m not meaning to be insulting - I just don’t know your background). If not, this is probably some you want to familiarize yourself with - ie. The difference between EC & New Atheists (at opposite ends of the poles).

I’m wondering if you’ve seen Loren Haarsma’s ASA talk with Bruce Gordon from the Discovery Institute. Haarsma is not an ID supporter but as a true friend asks some of the toughest questions to ID while dispelling the common myths about ID within his own TE community.

Steve Martin said...

Oops, something went wrong with the last paragraph in the last comment. My recommendations are the following:

1. Loren's paper Four Myths about ID and Four Myths about TE. For ID supporters in particular, one should read what Haarsma says on methodological naturalism.

2. An mp3 of Loren's talk on the same subject that he gave at the ASA annual meeting with Bruce Gordon of the Discovery Institute

Frank said...

I applaud Cornelius' arguments and too see no reason to abandon my belief in creation as God has revealed to us. There are rebuttals to the arguments presented -

Why do Darwinist continue to use debunked arguments and frauds, peppered moths, horse evolution, Lucy, vestigial organs, shared genes and so on? Are they simply not aware of the great work done in these areas by scientists who accept God's word at face value? Or is it something else? Darwinist dogma only remains as the prevailing view because of an a priori commitment to natural causes and refusal to allow creation scientists to publish their work and findings that challenge the paradigm. This hegemony is now being exposed and all scientists will eventually have no choice but to succumb to the overpowering evidence for creative design as revealed in scripture.

Compromisers will end up being the ones with egg on their faces, having abandoned God's inerrant Word for belief in a discredited materialist philosophy. Darwin himself would never have proposed it if he knew what we do today.

Cliff Martin said...


Please bear in mind that many of us who frequent this site are formerly ardent Creationists (mostly YEC) who, through serious study of science, have become convinced of evolution and common descent. We are not "compromisers" any more than you are. It was not an easy pathway, not one frivolously chosen. We are here, preferring the evangelical church, because our roots and our Christian convictions are evangelical. Did your read Steve's excellent comments immediately preceding yours?


I am so glad you are doing this. I learned of it through a Facebook post by Dennis. The open hostility toward evolution, and Christians who accept it, which is displayed in this comment thread point to the need for this series.

Moses said...

I eagerly await the rest of this series. Most of us ( OK maybe I should not assume or presume) "I" am not as knowledgeable of science or specifically genetics as is Dennis Venema, nor am I credentialed theologian, so I rely on the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of others - and compare, confirm with my limited knowledge in those areas. I would suspect this is the case for most evangelicals. For thirty years of my life I accepted the word of pastors, theologians, and "scientists" who fervently and persuasively preached/taught a YEC worldview. I also spent a good part of my life defending this view ( in my average joe capacity ). But after a while, I started to see holes in the arguments, and inconsistencies in the theology. Perhaps there are many other people with similar feelings, but don't know how to - or are afraid to explore the possibility that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence...or that maybe the fence is not necessary after all. I've heard a lot of theory, I want top hear the stories...how is the fence coming down? What works, what doesn't? Is there hope for an evangelical church that is truly embracing of EC's and EC theology or is that too much of a paradigm shift? Most people who gave up on YEC also gave up on faith...or at least the church. I am hopeful that this trend will change and that EC's will become better at communicating their faith - both in the church community and in the general population.

Jordan said...

I'm really looking forward to this series, Steve. As you know, I was denied Holy Communion a few years back because of my acceptance of evolution, and I haven't been a member of a church body since. I've been meaning to find a new church, but getting back into the network can just sometimes feel so awkward, particularly since I was raised in the church to begin with and have never faced this position before. Hopefully I'll find new inspiration while reading this series!

Frank said...

Many scientists have become convinced through combined study of scripture and the scientific evidence of the accuracy of the account that God revealed to us in Genesis. All attempts to understand the world without reference to the actions of the Creator of everything will reach false conclusions, Darwinism and uniformitarianism being perfect examples.
Careful examination of this data by creation scientists has revealed that there is no need to depart from our belief in creation.

Jordan said...

I think most people here would argue that evolution is the action of the Creator, Frank. Evolutionary creationists don't generally deny the hand of God in evolution. Let's not confuse creation with miracles. We're individual creations of God, but we were not miraculously conceived in the womb.

Cornelius said...

Human evolution is presented as irrefutable fact, and yet there are many reasons to doubt it, not only theologically but scientifically. Every new fossil find seems to completely overturn what was known before. There are solid grounds to think that the biblical record and the fossil record are in agreement.

[url=http://store.fastcommerce.com/BiolaApologeticsEvents/human-origins-weekend-seminar-ff808181266f04c5012675f6fc780338-p.html]Human Evolution: Confronting the Myth[/url]

Cornelius said...


Dennis Venema said...

Hi Cornelius,

Fazale Rana and Reasons to Believe are not credible sources on human evolution, sorry. They're an example of Christian "folk science" - apologetics with a predetermined conclusion that bends the "science" to fit. This approach works for the average layperson in the pew, but it doesn't work for scientists or knowledgeable laypersons.

There were several pro-ID and OEC/RTB types at the ASA meeting this last summer when I presented a talk on genomics evidence for human evolution (without naming names). No one was able to mount a scientific critique of the evidence, and no one tried the lame OEC or ID arguments either. Why not? Because they know that they don't work on folks who know the science.

Steve Martin said...

Moses: I think this series will certainly help you start to answer some of these questions … I too am really excited to hear what each of the participants has to say & also the input from other readers.

Jordan: I do hope and pray that you will find a church home … or at least a community of believers with which you can find fellowship. As mentioned in the OP, I think that relationship with other Christians is extremely important for our spiritual health. But this can be a difficult task – as Doug’s post’s tomorrow points out.

Frank, Cornelius: Other perspectives are more than welcome here (and always will be), but I’d ask that you actually read the OP, the OP comments, and maybe some of the background material on this blog before making tangential comments and then dropping your favourite links that back up those comments. Please interact with the posts at hand. As has been mentioned before, most of us here

a) were at one time some type of anti-evolution supporter
b) have actually examined the evidence for ourselves and have changed our minds (often reluctantly) and
c) have probably heard most arguments documented on the Discovery Institute, Answers in Genesis, and ICR sites a dozen times, but are kind of tired of answering the same questions when people are not prepared to listen to the answers.

Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D. said...

I have been doing a lot of reading/thinking about Lesslie Newbigin's idea of "plausibility structures" (borrowed in part from Peter Berger). This seems to be strongly operative here. We all filter the evidence through the plausibility grids we possess. There is no such thing as pure data; all data is theory-bound at the outset, as Polanyi noted.

So, perhaps one approach is to begin, not with data as such, but with a discussion of the different approaches we bring to the data. This can enhance charity for those with whom any of us may tend to disagree, without implying that the choice of plausibility structures is arbitrary or culturally relative (I don't think that).

But I appear to be repeating what I've said in the past. This is a liability of being 55.