Evolution and Christian Faith Chapter (From “The Christian College Phenomenon”) by Dr. Richard Colling
Richard Colling is a former chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences at Olivet Nazarene University and the author of the book Random Designer: Created From Chaos, To Connect With the Creator This chapter is reprinted from hi blog with his permission.
Dr. Collings blog can be found at http://randomdesigner.com/
Evolution and Christian Faith Chapter (From “The Christian College Phenomenon”)
Evolution and Christian Faith
The shouting all around us makes it hard to hear. But the voice of God is different than other sounds. It can be heard over the din that drowns out all else. Even when it is not shouting. Even if it is just a whisper. Whether revealed through scripture or coded in our DNA, the softest whisper still inspires and transforms over chaos and confusion…when it is speaking the truth.
Michael (not his real name) looked across my office desk, discouraged and visibly shaken. As if I were his last spiritual lifeline, his eyes, filled with confusion, pleaded with me to reassure him that what he was learning in his biology classes about evolution was not really true.
Michael was a sophomore biology student. He came to us—as many students from the mid-western United States—from a strong Christian-fundamentalist family. All of his life he was told that evolution was a “lie of Satan,” starkly incompatible with scripture and the Christian faith. The passionate anti-evolution teachers during Michael’s formative years were the people he loved and trusted most: his parents and pastors. And their vocal confidence and insistent denial of evolution left no doubt that they regarded evolution as a litmus-test issue of Christian orthodoxy. One was either in or out—no middle ground whatsoever.
My heart ached as he related his story. Both his parents and pastors had recently informed him that if he accepted evolution he could neither be a Christian nor a part of the church fellowship. Emotionally and spiritually cut off, he broke into a soft sob as the agonizing spiritual pain and rejection overcame him.
Michael was an inquisitive and bright college student. He simply could not comprehend why acceptance within his faith community required him to check his God-given intellect at the door of the church. As a Christian biology faculty member for many years, I had seen this troubling scenario play out many times before in the lives of other students. Michael was at a crisis point. He was almost persuaded to unbelief, but not by science or evolution. Rather it was the insistent scientifically uninformed teaching and judgmental spirit of his religious mentors precipitating his faith crisis.
We talked for a long while that afternoon and several times during the semester. I prayed with him, each time encouraging him to hold fast to his faith—explaining that many Christians, including myself, saw no conflict with evolution and the Christian faith. Nevertheless, at the end of the term, Michael transferred to a nearby state university. The last I inquired, he had apparently abandoned the Christian faith altogether.
Unfortunately, Michael’s harrowing experience with these apparently well-intentioned, but misguided Christians is far too common, prompting many to regard Christianity as a non-viable option.
Is all Truth God’s Truth?
According to the Joeckel/Chesnes survey, 66.5 percent of CCCU students and 35 percent of CCCU faculty share the view of Michael’s religious mentors that evolution is incompatible with the Christian faith (FSQ 51 and SSQ 39). This finding should concern all believers because the either/or proposition carries with it an inherent hazard seemingly unrecognized by its anti-evolution proponents.
Of course, if evolution truly is a figment of biologists’ imaginations, this either/or proposition functions just fine: God’s supernatural role, along with the Christian faith, is safe from the perceived lethal talons of science. But what if evolution is real? Indeed, the Human Genome Project completed in 2003 along with genetic analysis of the DNA of numerous other species has changed everything in this regard. More on this later.
So the relevant questions appear rather straightforward. Is the anti-evolution cohort of the Christian community right: Is evolution really Satan’s lie? Does evolution truly preclude belief in God and exhibit incompatibility with the Christian faith? Significantly, who framed the question of God and science in this either/or manner anyway? And finally, why does it matter? It seems to me that, for a Christian, addressing these questions matters for at least three reasons:
Truth: As a matter of basic scriptural principle, to the best of ones ability, Christians are obligated to speak the transparent truth. Being scientifically uninformed is categorically no excuse for blindly or intentionally perpetuating false information. Such conduct cannot possibly honor God. It is far better to simply acknowledge those things one does not know than to claim a self-anointed religious or scriptural authority paradigm to justify speaking—or tolerating—falsehood.
Credibility: One of my biology faculty colleagues, Aggie Posthumus, aptly notes that, “What you allow, you teach.” In this context, when a vocal Christian minority requires that the facts of biology be disregarded, yet the larger Christian community fails to immediately confront and assertively disown such a position, it paints all Christians as out of touch with reality. As a consequence, the spiritual witness of Christians in general is eroded and the credibility of Christians to engage in any issue called into question. After all, if Christians refuse to acknowledge obvious physical/biological realities, why should anyone trust them to render reasonable analyses on spiritual or other issues? This incremental under-the-radar trend toward cultural irrelevance should be profoundly troubling to all Christians. Even as I write this chapter, for the first time in American history, it appears that Christian Protestants will soon no longer be represented on the United States Supreme Court. Coincidence or case in point?
Love and Compassion: As Michael’s experience illustrates, believers and unbelievers who understand and accept evolution find it hard to comprehend the suspicion and hostility directed toward them by Christians who portray them as enemies of the faith. Such unfair and harsh judgment—especially when done in the name of God—does not honor God or draw people to the Christian faith. Instead, it alienates them. Scripture tells us that Christians should be known for their love and compassion, and for their openness to new revelation, inspiration, and learning. Indeed, Jesus modeled these concepts for us to emulate. In this light, how can the judgmental spirit directed toward those who accept evolution possibly be justified by those who call themselves followers of Christ?
Danger and Opportunity
Herein then, lies perhaps one of the greatest challenges for the Christian community – defining a pivotal and crucial point in the modern history of the Christian faith. For if evolution is real, describing a continuum of life over many millions of years, and if Christians truly believe the Bible, uniformly embracing the Biblical maxims that God is the creator and all truth is God’s truth, the only logical and viable faith-preserving position for Christians is that evolution must be seen as part of God’s wondrous creative plan.
This understanding raises a difficult question that many in the Christian community may not be ready to hear: By their continued adamant denial of well-established evolutionary processes and the continued framing of evolution in an either/or format in opposition to God, are literalist Christians unintentionally fortifying the atheist’s case against God?
In light of the physical reality of evolution, the self-defeating and destructive theological consequences of a literalist “incompatibility” position are indeed profound: Denial of evolution ultimately reduces to denial of God and his almighty creative acts.
Thus, in an unfortunate and evidently unforeseen twist of irony, the literalist anti-evolution Christians, while claiming to speak for God, actually find themselves speaking against belief in God. Marching hand-in-hand with outspoken atheistic scientists like Richard Dawkins, they proclaim the exact same scientifically unfounded message that evolution and belief in God are incompatible. In doing so, anti-evolution Christians have unwittingly adopted and vocally embraced an atheistic position as a fundamental tenet of the faith – utterly failing to recognize that this either/or proposition virtually guarantees that as scientific understanding regarding evolution continues to advance, God’s role as creator and sustainer of life is slowly, but surely erased. Nothing like painting oneself into a corner! Everyone knows that in a courtroom setting, an attorney who successfully frames the opening arguments will eventually win the case. I have never understood why Christians so naively and eagerly agreed to play by the atheist’s rules regarding evolution. Surely we can do better!
Nevertheless, for better or worse, here we find ourselves at the dawn of the 21st century in a society driven by advances and understanding in science and technology. The human genome—the letter-by-letter codebook of human life—simultaneously reveals both magnificent and messy secrets of our evolutionary past at unimaginable levels of precision. These revelations are real and concrete physical realities: indisputable facts. They can no longer be denied or ignored by Christians without risking a slow, but certain cultural irrelevance.
Therefore, if Christians truly believe that the Christian faith has something of priceless and eternal value to offer the people of the world, it seems crucial that these scientific realities be courageously addressed with honest and open resolve. Indeed, I would think that Christian leaders would be eager to begin.
A Potential Leadership Role for CCCU Member Institutions
Thomas Chesnes, in the first chapter of this section, “Deconstructing the Second Pillar of Anti-evolutionism in Christian Higher Education”, quotes Arthur Holmes regarding evolution, “The Christian college will not settle for a militant polemic against secular learning and science and culture, as if there were a great gulf fixed between the secular and the sacred. All truth is God’s truth, no matter where it is found, and we can thank him for it all.” Chesnes correctly points out that this wonderful ideal is not always manifested at all CCCU member institutions—to the shame of Christian-college administrators who fail to provide a “safe” environment for discussion of these controversial issues. Nevertheless, Holmes’s statement is an honorable standard to which Christian colleges must aspire. Biology and the Bible need never be at war, and the risk of losing the next generation is becoming too great to ignore.
Profound confusion and misinformation seemingly overwhelm efforts to achieve a positive faith-affirming détente between evolution and the Christian faith. For this reason, the journey will require courageous and steadfast leadership. But positive transformational change is attainable if education is afforded a high priority. In this context, CCCU institutions can indeed play a leading role by redefining terms, exposing flawed atheistic assumptions, promoting knowledge and understanding, dispelling fear, and most importantly, articulating a reasoned theological perspective of evolution that establishes a permanent place for God and the Christian faith in the intellectual discussions of the culture. Hand in hand, I believe Christian leaders and CCCU member institutions can effectively—and redemptively—accomplish this peace mission. In doing so, they will render an invaluable service to God and the Christian faith.
A Vision for the Road Ahead
Having spent the first pages of this chapter describing the hazards and liabilities inherent in the foundational underpinnings of the “Second Pillar of Anti-evolutionism in Christian Higher Education” addressed in the Joeckel/Chesnes survey of Christian Colleges, I would like to now devote the remainder of this chapter to providing some foundational background information about science and evolution, and also to offer insights and perspectives that could help CCCU member institutions regarding positive future actions.
Dynamics and Challenges of Teaching Evolution—Precise Definitions, Emotions, and Scientific Facts
A functionally viable framework for reconciling evolution with the Christian faith must start with a scientifically accurate and philosophically appropriate understanding of evolution itself. But learning is not completely a function of the cognitive/analytical parts of the brain: Language and emotions play important roles! And when it comes to evolution, emotional fervor runs high. Therefore, if we legitimately claim the badge of bona fide Christian educators, we must unapologetically speak the truth of science, but we must also do so with a sensitive, loving, and accepting spirit.
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, my greatest challenge was to sensitively listen to and gauge my students’ backgrounds so that I could effectively reassure them that new understandings in science need never threaten their faith.
In a large and diverse classroom of general-education students, this is no small undertaking. For students coming from very conservative Christian backgrounds where evolution is routinely pronounced as evil, the challenge is to speak the truth about evolution while simultaneously encouraging and affirming them in their faith. For non-believers, the task is different, but equally important: to encourage them to keep an open mind, perhaps even to give this God thing a second look. When successful in striking just the right balance—speaking the truth in love while also recognizing and affirming each individual where they are in their spiritual and intellectual journey—something magical happens. The preconditioned division and suspicion they brought to the classroom begin to melt away, replaced by understanding and acceptance.
Coming to Terms with Terms
Evolution is easily one of the most misunderstood scientific concepts in the general culture, a fact that greatly amplifies the confusion and angst regarding its compatibility with the Christian faith. The unfortunate reality is that words like randomness, evolution, and mutation positively drip with ambiguity – frequently poorly defined and easily misunderstood. Therefore, it is essential that these terms be precisely defined and understood by all parties.
A few years ago, I met with some clergy leaders to describe my book and explain my views on evolution. During the course of the inquisition, I was asked if evolution was true. My response was, “Yes, yes, no, and maybe—it depends on how one defines evolution.” I expanded on the idea.
- If evolution is used in the generic sense such as, “The university has evolved over the years,” the answer is “yes.”
- If evolution is used strictly to describe the biological/genetic mechanisms by which all life is related, the answer is also an unambiguous “yes.”
- If evolution is defined in the context of secular atheism (and as we have seen, literalist anti-evolution Christians) that insists that evolution precludes the existence of God and is incompatible with Christian faith, the answer is an emphatic “no.”
- Finally, if evolution is defined as the means by which the first living cells (known to have inhabited the Earth several billions of years ago) were created, the answer is a definite “maybe.” The truth is that while evolution well-explains biological development and speciation events, the mechanism(s) responsible for the appearance of the first life forms is still a mystery.
I had hoped that these nuanced, yet important distinctions would be helpful to the clergy leaders. Unfortunately, the judgmental, anti-evolution, literalist mindset permeated the room, and having already reached their conclusions regarding evolution and those who teach it, I honestly do not think they were even listening.
Overcoming Emotional Obstacles to Learning about Evolution
Another 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. When using such emotionally charged words, the consequences for relationships can be disastrous as well-meaning, good people talk right past one another and misunderstanding, confusion, and agitation escalate. 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! Thus, it is important to recognize that using seemingly counterintuitive, emotionally laden concepts like random and evolution in our references to God represents a formidable emotional challenge for many, despite the fact that when properly understood, these concepts are indeed inherently compatible with one another.
What Is Evolution Anyway? Our Perspective Determines Our Destiny
Two years ago, I presented two papers at the Wesleyan Theological Society science/religion conference at Duke University. During the discussion period, a respected university theologian made what was to me a most startling and puzzling pronouncement. He said, in essence, that evolution dictated death, dying, and suffering, and that it must be considered in this context when discussing its theological implications. The unmistakable inference was that this person believed evolution was something bad. I have since learned that this view is also widely held by many Christian pastors and religious leaders.
It was an epiphany, one of those special moments in time when a complex problem is comprehended in a completely new way. I suddenly realized that if just one small (but hugely significant!) scientific misconception could be corrected, an entirely new and much more productive path forward might be possible.
So let’s be perfectly clear: Does evolution dictate death and suffering? Emphatically no! Simply put, this idea is just completely wrong. In fact, it is precisely the opposite: Evolution functions proactively – and redemptively – to preserve life and health, not to detract from or destroy it!
The genetics driving this redemptive feature of evolution are a bit beyond the scope of this essay, but perhaps an analogy will suffice for the present. One of my sons is a police patrol officer. In preparation for duty, each day he dons his bullet-proof vest. Police statistics say that it is highly unlikely that the vest will actually ever be needed, even over his entire career in law-enforcement. However, I must confess that I am very glad that he conscientiously takes this protective precaution—just in case! Evolution functions in a similar manner, proactively (and continuously) duplicating, reorganizing, and modifying genes in our DNA. These new versions of genes can then serve as life-saving backups when essential functional genes are occasionally damaged or destroyed. In this way, they provide critical protection and resilience for life just as the bullet-proof vest—just in case!
The accuracy or inaccuracy of our perspective determines our destiny. If the underlying assumptions and understandings of evolution are plainly wrong, productive outcomes are unlikely. Thus if the Christian community truly desires to find compatibility between evolution and the Christian faith, a scientifically sound understanding of evolution is a necessary pre-requisite. Perhaps this more accurate redemptive perspective regarding evolution can be useful in this regard.
The Genetic Evidence Demonstrating Evolution
Until the late 1990’s much of the evidence of evolution came from rare and sometimes confusing fossil records embedded in different geological strata dispersed all over the world. However, recent advances in molecular biology—especially in the field of genetics—have changed everything. These advances culminated in 2003 with the completion of the Human Genome Project, an international endeavor spear-headed by Francis Collins, a Christian, author of The Language of God, and co-founder of the Biologos Foundation, an organization committed to seeking harmony between science and faith. The human genome is a 3.1 billion-letter linear digital DNA directory of humanity. This directory is unlocking the secrets of humanity’s present and past genetic connections with all other life at unimaginable levels of detail and precision. This is not your mother or father’s gap-laden fossil record; rather, it is an exquisitely detailed map of our entire evolutionary history! The actual genetic concepts and corresponding data are exceedingly complex, yet also very intelligible to the trained molecular-geneticist. I will summarize several of the distinctive categories.
Analysis of Chromosome Rearrangements
When individual chromosomes in different species are compared, it becomes apparent that some species share common breakage and fusion patterns. Breaks and fusions in the chromosomes are not mysteries, but well-understood genetic events that occur, albeit relatively rarely, in all advanced life forms. Like assembling a jig-saw puzzle in which every piece fits “just right,” defining the locations of common breakages or fusions in different species allows geneticists to decipher the chronological relationships between these species. Numerous cases have been documented, but a most noteworthy example is human chromosome two which is the unmistakable fusion product of two ape chromosomes. (1) Since chromosomes are inherited only through the parental line, this physical reality unequivocally demonstrates common ancestry between humans and the ape line.
Gene Duplications—New Gene Assemblies
Gene duplications within DNA occur with relatively high frequency. Typically the resulting spare copies of genes are simply redundant, but occasionally they, either alone or in combination with other genes, give rise to new biological functions. An interesting example is color vision in primates in which the duplication of the opsin gene bestows color vision to the ape line, including humans. (2) Once again, since such genetic traits are passed only from parents to offspring, by identifying the precise location and inheritance of such changes in human DNA compared to DNA from related species, geneticists are able to firmly establish chronological evolutionary relationships.
Duplicated genes occasionally experience very specific mutations that render them inactive. These inactivated genes are called pseudogenes and, once established, they are permanently retained as residual “baggage” within our DNA, inherited uniformly from parents to the offspring in each succeeding generation. Humans possess thousands of these mutated inactive genes. In addition, and highly relevant to this type of evolutionary genetic analysis, each pseudogene typically exhibits a unique inactivating mutation that endows it with a precise one-of-a-kind “fingerprint” all its own—a sort of evidence within the evidence. The presence, in different species, of identical pseudogenes located at precisely the same location and bearing the exact same inactivating mutation (fingerprint) establishes a common evolutionary heritage between these species.(3)
HERVs and Parasitic Kin
Our DNA is being overrun by parasites. It’s true! That is the bad news. The good news is that humanity is, but for individual rare (and tragic) exceptions, dealing with these genomic DNA parasites rather well. These virus-like pieces of DNA, numbering in the millions, never leave our cells and literally pepper our DNA. One group of parasites, the human endogenous retroviruses (HERV), appears to be kin to the HIV-AIDS virus. A key characteristic of these DNA parasites is their ability to conservatively replicate in our cells (that is, to make a copy of the parasitic DNA while leaving the original copy intact). The copied DNA piece is then free to randomly insert into a brand new location and once this new insertion event has occurred, the precise position in the DNA is permanently fixed. Both the original and new parasite DNA are then faithfully transmitted to succeeding generations. These distinctive features of random insertion and permanent fixation provide geneticists a powerful tool to explore evolutionary relationships between species. If two different species possess the same parasitic DNA piece located in the exact same position in their DNA, common ancestry is conclusively established. This field is still young, but already numerous examples have been described that demonstrate common evolutionary connections between apes and humans as well as other species of animals. (4)
These genetic concepts are complex, but it is important to note that complexity does not equate to uncertainty. The data described here are indisputable physical realities of God’s creation—facts. Unfortunately, most of this genetic information is not widely known. In addition, in my experience, the receptivity index toward learning about such things among Christians is disappointingly low – even among leaders of Christian institutions of higher learning. For example, a Christian university theologian informed me—in no uncertain terms—that the genetic data described here which establishes our evolutionary heritage need not be taken seriously by Christians because the scientists doing the studies possessed “fallen” minds. Therefore, the conclusions the scientists reached need not, and could not, be taken seriously. He also made it abundantly clear that my confidence in these things placed me outside acceptable Christian boundaries for a Christian university professor.
The medieval silence-the-messenger mentality is still alive and well among American Christians. Biology and religion faculty members at Christian institutions still come under pressure and/or attack if they publicly acknowledge evolution or point out the error and counterproductive consequences of the anti-evolution literalist’s positions.
A Michigan pastor and long-time friend, Reverend Jerry Batterbee related that the evangelical response of many of his Midwestern pastoral peers to evolution was, “We sure hope evolution isn’t true, but if it is, let’s make sure no one finds out about it.”
Aldous Huxley once said: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” (Aldous Huxley,“Proper Studies”, 1927English critic & novelist (1894 – 1963))
Surely Christian leaders can do better.
Prophets Without Honor—An Invitation
Family is everything. As Howard Van Til notes in the preceding chapter, “Inherited Beliefs and Evolved Brains: A CCCU Challenge”, people predictably will do all in their power to safeguard their families (or tribe) from harm. Indeed, what father or mother, upon learning of a potential danger to the family, would not take immediate and decisive action to proactively warn the family members and institute whatever measures necessary to help them prepare and confront the danger looming ahead? It is the reasonable, responsible, and right thing to do.
As a microbiologist and Christian educator, I have had a front-row seat over the past three decades as the genetic data (God’s data) unequivocally demonstrating the reality of evolution has become known. I recognized early on that continued denial of this growing body of scientific evidence by Christians was a recipe for cultural and spiritual irrelevance. Because I care for my Christian family, I attempted to gently warn the leaders—particularly in my own denomination—of the impending danger of the anti-evolution mindset. Believing that education and honest, open intellectual discussion of topics like evolution provided the best possible resolution, I wrote Random Designer, a book designed to promote compatibility between science and faith to Christians and also non-believers. In addition, I repeatedly offered to meet with pastors and church/university leaders, individually or in small groups, to update them on the latest scientific findings relating to evolution and to offer assistance in devising strategies to help them develop theological frameworks that would be faithful to the science and faithful to the faith. The responses I received were, “No, it is better to let sleeping dogs lie,” and “Your message of compatibility between science and Christian faith is unwelcome in the churches.” Unjustified personal and professional attacks on my scholarship and Christian character soon followed.
What you allow, you teach. When leaders of Christian academic institutions value and support the voices of scientific ignorance, fear, power, and money—voices that seek to squelch and intimidate the voices of truth regarding God’s magnificent creation—they not only betray God; they erode the grand mission of Christian higher education. In addition, they broadcast the unmistakable message to the rest of the world that Christians are insecure in their faith and lack credible answers to the secular atheistic voices of science and culture. Are they right about Christians? Time will tell.
It is time to put an end to the false and destructive idea that God must be limited to a seventeenth-century understanding of science, and also the atheistic canard that God must be somehow divorced from his created order. I believe Christian higher education—beginning with CCCU member institutions—offers the best avenue to successfully achieve this goal. However, courageous, committed, and knowledgeable leadership is needed from three key groups.
- Courageous Christian Leaders. University administrators and boards of trustees are the essential catalysts: No meaningful discussion or progress can occur until explicit permission is granted from these key people. They must view their job as standing resolutely for education, facts, and truth. They must openly encourage discussions between qualified Christian biologists and religious leaders with an unwavering commitment to find common ground and bring peace to the division and discord. They must also nurture safe intellectual environments where the science of evolution as well as relevant theological/religious questions can be freely discussed in the classroom and beyond. Anti-evolution literalists will most certainly object and likely even issue ultimatums. How should the leaders respond? It is one thing to be tolerant of different views, but when the position of vocal Christians is 1) at odds with established facts and truth, 2) denies God’s creative genius, 3) embraces the fundamental (and flawed) argument of atheistic scientists against belief in God, and 4) unfairly and harshly judges all other Christian brethren as outside the boundaries of the faith, one has to ask, “Will the real Christian leaders please stand up?” Courage indeed!
- Courageous knowledgeable biology faculty. Biologists are needed who understand the latest genetic data, are effective communicators of complex scientific concepts to people with limited scientific backgrounds, and are willing to endure personal attack and vilification by the anti-evolution crowd. Input from physical science faculty could also be valuable. These science educators would simply serve as resource people to bring/keep religious leaders and theologians up to speed on the latest scientific knowledge relating to evolution.
- Courageous religion faculty. These individuals must be genuine scholars of scripture, theology, and the Christian faith – committed to expanding and/or modifying traditional Christian theology in ways that promote compatibility with new scientific discoveries. To successfully accomplish this task, they must also possess a basic understanding of evolution and how life truly works. Ultimately, these professionals are key to the success or failure of this overall peace mission. As a professional and sacred trust, I sincerely hope they will respond to the call.
Christian scholars involved in these discussions must be unconditionally protected from “administrative drift.” Weak institutional leaders often talk a good game, giving the appearance of public support, but actions are another thing altogether. When the anti-evolution literalists wear them down with threats to restrict donations, to stop sending students to the university, or demand that faculty members be disciplined, restricted, or fired for teaching evolution, a different leader often emerges, and truth and integrity become casualties. While such conduct should never take place at Christian institutions, sadly, it does indeed occur. Appeasement of ignorance is a lazy form of leadership. It betrays the truth and erodes the Christian faith in subtle, yet insidious ways as onlookers realize that even in Christian circles, money and personal power politics trump truth, integrity, and genuine education.
If any of these three groups of people fail in their respective responsibilities, the entire message of compatibility between evolution and the Christian faith is likely doomed—at least in this generation. Yet failure is not an option: In light of the indisputable evidence establishing evolution’s reality, if Christians persist in their claims that evolution is incompatible with the Christian faith, it is they themselves who are pronouncing the verdict against God and, by extension, the Christian faith. That is why it is crucial that Christian leaders rise to the occasion and articulate a more positive, faith-affirming resolution.
The challenge is not for the faint of heart. Jesus said a prophet is without honor in his home country. Christian leaders and faculty members with the courage to address the evolution issue honestly and openly will quickly come to understand Jesus’ words on a very personal level. However, the next generation is looking for us to be salt and light—to be credible witnesses of the world as it is, as well as the God and faith that we claim. Given this Biblical command, can we do any less?
In II Timothy 1:7 (NIV), the apostle Paul writes, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” The truth is that a mature faith has nothing to fear from science. Evolution, properly defined and understood, should never be viewed as being at odds with the Christian faith. An unequivocal public affirmation of this truth from the Christian community—especially the Christian theological leadership—is long overdue. CCCU member institutions have a grand opportunity to play a transformational role in articulating a grander narrative of God. Therefore, I invite all CCCU member institutions to join the effort. Michael and thousands of others like him are depending on us.
Richard Colling, a Ph.D Microbiologist, served for 28 years as a professor of Biology at Olivet Nazarene University – 23 years as Chairman of the department. He left Christian higher education in 2009 amidst controversy surrounding his book Random Designer, a work promoting peace and harmony between science and faith. Inspired by a deep love for students and a gift for communicating complex scientific concepts to general audiences, Colling believes that Biology and the Bible need never be at war and that open honest inquiry nurtures a strong resilient faith. Colling’s unique scientific perspective and strong personal faith offer a fresh new voice in the science-religion discussions.
1. J.W. Ido, A Baldini, D.C. Ward, S.T. Reeders and R.A. Wells, “Origin of Human Chromosome: An Ancestral Telomere-Telomere Fusion,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 88, No. 20, (1991 Oct 15):9051-5.
De Pontbrian, A., Wang X-P, Cavaloc Y. et. al. (2002), “Synteny comparison between apes and human using fin-mapping of the genome. Genomics 80, 395.
Wilcox, David L., “Establishing Adam: Recent Evidences for a Late-Date Adam (AMH@100,000 BP).” Perspectives on Science and Christian Belief, 56:Number 1, March 2004, 49-53.
2. Dulai KS, von Dornum M, Mollon, JD, and Hunt DM. (1999) “The evolution of trichromatic colour vision by opsin gene duplication in New World and Old World primates.” Genome Res. 9, 629.
3. Gilad Y, Man O, Paabo S, and Lancet D (2003). “Human Specific Loss of Olfactory Receptor Genes.” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 100, 3324.
Goldberg A, Wildman DE, Schmidt TR et. al. (2003) “Adaptive evolution of cytochrome c osidase subunit VIII in anthropoid apes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 100, 5873.
4. Kazazian HH (2004) “Mobile elements: Drivers of genome evolution.” Science 303, 1626.Salem A-H, Ray DA, Xing J et. al. (2003). “Alu elements and hominid phylogentics. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 100, 12787.
Tomas JW, Touchman JW, Blakesley, RW et. al. (2003) “Comparative analysis of multi-species sequences from targeted genome regions.” Nature 424, 788.
Zhu L, Swengold GD and Seldin MF (2003). “Examination of sequence homology between human chromosome 20 and the mouse genome:intense conservation of many genomic elements. Hum Genet. 113, 60.