April Maskiewicz on the “E” Word
Let’s challenge the cultural paradigm that evolution and faith are not compatible.
I watched a fantastic TEDx talk this weekend by Dr. April Maskiewicz, who teaches biology at Point Loma Nazarene University. I first got to know April in 2010 when BioLogos and PLNU began hosting week-long summer workshops for high school biology teachers from Christian schools. Watching April teach and interact with the teachers in the program impressed upon me how rare it is to encounter people who understand and communicate well about evolutionary biology. April does both and more: Because she herself has had to wrestle with how to reconcile evolution and Christian faith, she cares deeply about—and is gifted at—addressing the objections her students raise about evolution.
April begins her talk with a personal introduction: “I’m an evangelical Christian, and by that I mean I view the Bible as God’s revelation and Jesus as my savior, and I’m a biologist that embraces evolution, that all life on earth shares a common ancestor, including humans.” Let’s just pause for a moment and reflect on how category-breaking that is. For many people, “Bible-believing Christian” and “evolution-embracing scientist” are like oil and water—they just don’t go together. Yet April, and I, and many, many others in the BioLogos community and beyond, are living proof that they can—much to the frustration of folks like Ken Ham and Jerry Coyne.
April goes on to tell her personal story—how she grew up in the church, but was told by a college biology professor and her pastor that she couldn’t believe in God and evolution; how when the evidence for evolution mounted, she became an atheist; how after college she moved to Japan, and how there, through an intense few months of reading the Bible and trading hand-written letters with her sister, she became a Christ follower.
Then came the long and arduous process of reconciling her biblically-informed faith with evolutionary biology. April came to realize that the Bible needs to be taken on its own pre-modern and pre-scientific terms, and we should not require it to answer questions it wasn’t intended to answer. Understanding more about biblical interpretation allowed her to take science on its own terms.
April spends the remainder of her time addressing three misunderstandings Christians often have about evolution:
- All Christians think the same way about evolution as I do (6:32-9:00). Actually, Christians, including pastors, have a lot of different views, and they hold them with varying levels of certainty. Our beliefs are more complex or nuanced than the “ingroup” or the media leads us to believe.
- Evolution means “without a creator” (9:00-13:35). Most people assume evolution is tantamount to atheism, but “accepting biological evolution to explain the incredible diversity of life on earth does not require you to adopt a particular worldview.” Embedded in this segment are some great explanations and metaphors for how evolution works.
- If humans evolved from a common ancestor with other organisms, this makes us less special (13:35-16:00). Science reveals mechanism, while religion illuminates agency—“God created” is not a claim about mechanism, but agency. We’re not special because of how God made us, but because we’re loved by God; because we have the capacity to know God; and because Jesus died for us.
In the first week of her evolution course, April surveys her students—most of whom self-identify as Christians—and 90% reject evolution as the explanation for how humans came to be on this earth. Many say, as April was was led to believe so long ago, that you have to choose between God or evolution. That’s outrageous! I’m with April. Let’s change the paradigm.
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