The Sorrows and Joys of Teaching Evolution at an Evangelical Christian University


(system) #1

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/the-sorrows-and-joys-of-teaching-evolution

(Doug B) #2

For our Evangelical students, this “acceptance” is only the the beginning. They have to tackle evolutionary thinking driving certain unfortunate attitudes and outcomes. There are now between 2-3 million fetal screens worldwide for Down syndrome or other aneuplodies—even little-understood micro-deletions. Outside of conservative-Christian developed countries (or regions w/in countries), many positive results end in abortion. How do we understand what’s driving this mentality—so opposed to what must be Kingdom-of-God dynamics? How do we speak against it? Evolutionary thinking as such—whether you consider it a part of the theory or a moral-philosophical add-on—must be addressed to those who think they are selecting more fit offspring. It goes without saying that right thinking on the most physical workings of evolution is an excellent starting point.


(Matthew Pevarnik) #3

I think that is an important point- that is to do any or all of the following:
a) separate a potential form of social darwinism that you described from the scientific theory of evolution
b) discuss limits of science to provide moral judgments
c) come up with a better way to apply the mechanisms behind the theory in a way that isn’t the evil eugenics/eliminate the weak understanding - perhaps like this report by the Evolution Institute: https://evolution-institute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/2Social-Darwinism_Publication.pdf

In other words, in a similar sense to how the audience reacted to Peter preaching in Acts 2 more Christian voices need to come in and answer ‘what then shall we do now?’ (that is in the light of the scientific theory of evolution)


(Phil) #4

Doug, I agree that is disturbing, but trying to think of the motivation of most I have come in contact with who have done prenatal screening, it seemed that evolutionary thinking (not sure what that actually means) had nothing to do with it, but the motivation was more related to the economic and lifestyle burdens of having an impaired child. Those have their own ethical and moral issues of course. From a social standpoint, testing is pushed in some countries due to the economic cost to society also. As Trisomy 21 patients seldom reproduce, effect on evolution would be trivial.


(Andrew M. Wolfe) #5

That’s right: For Evangelical students that come from a strict YEC background, they will have to take the time to unpack and decouple the nonsequiturs that they have been indoctrinated to believe. They will need to understand that the fact of evolutionary theory does not entail any loss of value at all for human life — as @pevaquark said, they need to “discuss limits of science to provide moral judgments.” Many of them have been taught that “evolution = BABYKILLERS!”, so because of this false teaching, we will need to go the extra mile to show them that this is actually an untrue misrepresentation of what the science shows about common descent.

I liken it to our modern understanding of basic genetic inheritence, DNA, and sperm-and-egg dynamics. In Scripture, we learn that God directly creates each of us, and this was really easy to believe when it was a complete mystery, hidden in the mother’s womb. Now, we are more or less fully aware of the dynamics whereby a single sperm cell and a single egg cell combine to create the recombined DNA of an offspring.

Amazingly, despite this, very few evangelical students hear how “sperm + egg = baby” and are shocked. Very few will say, “Actually, God didn’t make me fearfully and wonderfully; my parents each donated half of my DNA and here I am.” No, we naturally embrace a certain synergy of natural and supernatural processes even in this very well-understood mechanism of conception. We believe that God used natural processes and supernaturally created each of us specially.

I expect that when we stop teaching our kids falsehoods about evolution, they will also naturally find a synergy between evolution and their human-life-honoring faith. Until then, we’ll need to be explicit about it when we help them understand the facts of common descent. You’re right!


(Albert Leo) #6

@DennisVenema
They feel closer to God, not further from Him. They feel that they have a deeper appreciation for, and understanding of, His creation. They feel that their faith is now more their own, rather than merely that of their parents.

It is my understanding that for more than a thousand years the Vatican’s prime objective was to have humanity worship God in exactly the same way, using the exact same prayers, the same rituals, even in the Latin language–thinking that would be the most pleasing to Him. I, for one, hope they were wrong. I hope He values variety to the extent that He wants each of us, while hewing to a universal moral code, to actually worship Him in the unique way our unique mentality dictates. As Denis points out, ‘customizing’ the Faith our parents handed down to us does them more honor than blindly following it without giving it sufficient thought.
Al Leo


(Eakin C) #7

Dennis @DennisVenema

Do you at least admit to your students that your paradigm—uniformitarianism—is not the only one by which to view origins, has no definitive biblical support, and that an equally valid paradigm of catastrophism allows for closer biblical fidelity while still admitting the uniform processes presently at work? To me, that is the only honest place from which to teach, and will lead to less angst from your students.

Colin Eakin, MD


(Phil) #8

@EakinC, I think the response to that depends on how you define those terms. Could you elaborate as to whether you use the modern definition of uniformitarianism referring to the constancy of natural laws through time and space, or the old 18th century geologic definition that is no longer accepted by science?


(Eakin C) #9

Uniformitarianism holds that universe from its inception has always operated according to the physical processes and constants that we observe today, and will continue to do so Indefinitely.