With the story of Job in mind, it seems to me that we need to avoid two extremes in the debate over faith and science. One extreme is taking one’s cue from a faith tradition and assuming that every scientist who disagrees with that viewpoint must be perverse. Most scientists I have met are very open to evidence and discovering the flaws in their own thinking. To proclaim otherwise destroys one’s own credibility in speaking to the debate. The other extreme is to downgrade or mock the validity of Scripture because straightforward readings of Scripture point to a different view of the world than that of traditional science. Scripture has stood the test of time in so many areas and the last word in science is far from being spoken yet.
What does all this have to do with the teaching of evolution at a faith-based university? I recently met a conservative colleague from the Philippines who asked me what was going on at a sister institution. I told her that they were being accused of teaching evolution in science classes. Her immediate, unscripted response was, “Well, I hope so!” (Not what I expected from her.) What did she mean by that? Two things, I think. For starters we need to distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution. The former is taken for granted in horticulture classes, for example. All plants adapt to their environment or they die out in times of environmental change. Such adaptations are observable and can be tested and predicted. The model works. You cannot teach horticulture without teaching that form of evolution. Macroevolution takes such insights and extrapolates them to the distant past, which is not observable and is difficult to test. Should macroevolution be taught in faith-based universities? I think the best answer to this question is yes and no. Even if a scientist is unconvinced about the evolutionary hypothesis of origins, it is still necessary to teach the theories and the evidence they draw on in class. I think not to do so would be irresponsible.
In 2015 the Seventh-day Adventist world church in general conference session voted a new, tighter statement on creation, asserting a six-day, twenty-four hour time period in which creation took place fairly recently (thousands of years rather than millions or billions). I grant that the Bible doesn’t use such words to speak about God’s creation, but it is certainly the most natural reading of Genesis and related passages elsewhere in Scripture. I preferred the older statement, because of its reliance on biblical, rather than philosophical language. But I recognize that the new statement reflects the thinking of the majority of the membership of the church around the world. As such, it is an appropriate statement of what most Seventh-day Adventists believe. But one major piece is missing, as I have shared with church leadership. The statement does not address how the teaching of science should be done in light of the statement. I have recommended, and still do, a companion document, “In Defense of Science,” that spells out how a teacher addresses the tensions between the results of science and the results of faith and biblical research. Such a document does not exist, to my knowledge.
In the blog that follows, I will address the why and how of such teaching and also the consequences of teaching evolution and not teaching it in a faith-based institution. Perhaps it will be a step toward the kind of document I am suggesting above. What I share in the next blog may surprise you.