Believing in God and Evolution [Excerpts]
An anti-evolution group is capturing headlines with its plans to distribute a special edition of The Origin of Species to tens of thousands of college students at secular universities next month, hoping that an introduction that promotes creationism will change the views of those who read it.
But while that group is fighting for the hearts and minds of students at secular colleges and universities, there is also a theological and scientific struggle taking place at Christian colleges. Some professors, with support from prominent scientists, are trying to defend the teaching of evolution and to make it safe for those who teach biology and the Bible to talk about ways in which belief in evolution need not represent an abandonment of faith. Many Christian colleges have statements of faith -- which in some cases must be followed by all students and faculty members -- that endorse the literal truth of the Bible or of specific parts of the Bible (six literal days of creation, for example, or that Adam and Eve are the parents of all humans). So teaching evolution as scientific fact, which would just be taken for granted at many non-Christian colleges and universities, raises all kinds of delicate issues.
If Christian colleges don't permit the teaching of evolution, "they could be left behind," said Richard Colling.
He knows how sensitive these issues are. Colling [in 2009] left Olivet Nazarene University, where he taught for 30 years, after a dispute in which he was barred from teaching general biology or having Random Designer, his book, taught at the university that is his alma mater. When the book appeared in 2004, some anti-evolution churches campaigned to have him fired, and while the university initially defended him, it subsequently put limits on what he could teach and barred his book from being taught.
Much of the push for change is coming through the BioLogos Foundation, a group founded by Francis Collins to promote "the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms seeking harmony between these different perspectives." Collins led the Human Genome Project and now leads the National Institutes of Health -- and he is also someone who takes his Christianity seriously, and believes that there is no incompatibility between his faith and his science.
BioLogos currently has two major projects in the works that relate to changing the discussion about evolution at Christian colleges. A series of faculty workshops is being organized, starting with one at Gordon College, a multi-denominational Christian college in Massachusetts, at which biology and religion professors at Christian colleges will talk about issues related to evolution and how it can be taught at Christian colleges. In addition, BioLogos leaders are writing several books on how evolution can be taught within Christian colleges, and have an agreement from InterVarsity Press to publish the first in the series, and possibly additional titles.
Going with InterVarsity -- a Christian publisher that has released numerous books about creationism and intelligent design -- is intentional, as was the decision to have the academic gathering at Gordon. Organizers are looking for venues that will increase the comfort level of professors and presidents at Christian colleges, some of whom might be reluctant to have such discussions in secular settings.
"We want to help the church and colleges come to terms with Darwin's theory and not feel threatened by it," said Karl Giberson, president of BioLogos, a professor at Eastern Nazarene College, and director of the Forum on Faith and Science, at Gordon.