France’s Own Evolution Debate
I will give you a few words about the evolution question among the French evangelical community, about the similarities but also about the big differences with the US situation. In France, evangelicals account for less than 1% of the country’s 65 million inhabitants. In the media, the creationist perspective has been discussed and debated. Many times on TV or in the press, evangelicals are caricatured as fundamentalist anti-evolution people, especially during 2009’s “Year of Darwin ”.
For example, a recent issue of a well-known French magazine, was titled “The Bible Against Darwin” and its cover text (translated) reads:
- Between a scientific debate and a political fight, evangelicals are trying to control the American society
- The creationist drift in France
Included in this issue are positive articles about the growing and active evangelical community. In fact, the “debate” is mostly concerning educational questions. Unlike in the States, in France, the biological program is the same for every child in the country, and it is only decided by scientists. Evolution has been taught for decades, even in primary schools. There is almost no private evangelical school, and almost no home schooling. When French pupils leave high school, many have a good knowledge about plate tectonics, radiometric dating, fossils, genetics…and the evidence for evolution. Most of the teachers are neutral with regard to the “religious” consequences of evolution, but some openly use it as a tool against a Christian worldview, most of the time by little remarks or jokes.
Therefore, the method of creation has never been an important question for French evangelicals. Since Darwin, some of them have seen evolution as God’s creative method, like James Orr and B.B. Warfield did. Old Earth creationism is probably the most common view. The creationist influence grew, however, when American missionaries came to Europe during the Cold War. Today, there is an active creationist community in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Quebec (all French speaking regions); the Web has been a powerful tool to organize these groups.
In 2009, six of the most influential evolutionary French biologists organized a big national conference tour titled “Evolution? Evolution!!” Biology teachers were required to attend. The purpose was to give educators or other interested parties arguments against Creationism and Intelligent Design. In fact, the conference organizers were most concerned with the Muslim creationist movement, which is growing (the Muslim community numbers about 3,500,000 people in France). Arun Yaya’s Muslim creationist Creation Atlas had been sent freely to every secondary school in France, which caused a real scandal in the scientific community.
In these conferences, Christian and Muslim creationist arguments were put on the same level. The conferences were religiously neutral. Armand de Riqlès from the “College de France” said: “I see no problem for evolutionists to work with theistic evolutionists, as long as they respect the naturalistic method of science!” Amen!
But, when I asked in front of a few hundred teachers gathered why Dawkin’s book The God Delusion, was on the recommended list, and why not Francis Collins’ The Language of God, I could feel some kind of embarrassment.
On Saturday, January 23, 2010, the French evangelical scientific network, created two years ago (the equivalent of the ASA) gathered to talk about evolution for the first time. All the speakers were pro-evolution. Most importantly, Henri Blocher, the most famous French theologian (author of In the Beginning) spoke very positively about the compatibility of evolution and the evangelical faith.
I think this was an historical day for the French evangelical community. But now we are at a crossroads; so far, creationists have been more active than pro-evolution Christians. Our website www.scienceetfoi.com and our blog are here to help people discuss science and faith with a peaceful spirit, “around a cup of coffee” as Darrel Falk would say. I recently had the opportunity to speak to some pastors of my own denomination and to explain to them the strong scientific evidence for evolution. The reactions have been very positive. In fact, pastors are looking for theological answers to their questions. The BioLogos Foundation plays a crucial role in showing that in such a scientific leading country, many evangelicals have “come to peace with science” and are “bridging the gap between faith and biology”.
Benoit Hebert has a master’s degree in theoretical physics and teaches in a college preparatory program for students preparing for university study in the sciences. In addition to his teaching, he has served as a youth pastor and also devotes much of his time now to the Science et Foi project along with two prominent French geneticists, Pascal Touzet and David Meyre. Hebert lives with his wife and three children in France.