BioLogos at 10 Years — And Growing!


Francis Collins, Deb Haarsma, and Darrel Falk at the BioLogos conference

I remember what things were like before BioLogos. In the early 2000s, I was a young astronomer and professor at Calvin College. There were many loud voices on the landscape on science and faith, intent on waging a culture war. There were atheist scientists like Richard Dawkins, actively denouncing religion and religious people. While my scientist colleagues at secular universities were generally indifferent or curious about religion, this militant brand of atheism was what the public heard. Meanwhile, young earth voices like Ken Ham were making loud claims on the other side. While most young earth leaders say this is not a salvation issue, the message my students heard was that they needed to reject established science on age of the Earth and evolution in order to hold to Christian faith. Too many Christian young people felt trapped in a false choice between science and faith. Too many scientists did not feel welcome in the church.  

There were certainly some bright points. My scientist friends and I were involved in the American Scientific Affiliation, which for decades has brought together believing scientists for fellowship and discussion of differing views. There were several good books on science and faith, and good scholarship happening at Christian colleges and in mainline denominations.  But there wasn’t much online and there were few nationally known voices. It seemed like the most prosperous organizations and the slickest messaging were all tying Christianity to rejection of scientific findings — findings that I knew had abundant evidence in God’s world.

I longed for there to be an organization of national prominence that would present rigorous science alongside biblical faith, and spread the message to a much wider audience. I hoped for voices that would speak the truth in love, rather than fight the culture wars.

Founding

Then in 2006, Francis Collins published The Language of God. For once a good book on science and Christianity became a New York Times best seller!  Francis had the scientific stature and national visibility to reach a wide audience. He had won presidential awards and been on the cover of Time magazine for his leadership of the Human Genome Project. Now he was on late night television, bantering with comedian Stephen Colbert about his new book!

And people reacted. Many secular scientists said “You’re a top-notch biologist—so why are you talking about religion?” And many conservative Christians said, “We love hearing your story of coming to faith—so why are you talking about evolution?” Francis received a flood of emails, containing many of the same questions. So he founded BioLogos to be a place where those common questions could be addressed, online and in person. The organization was incorporated in late 2007, and this week we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of going live: the launch of biologos.org with answers to commonly asked questions and the publication of the first blog post from Francis Collins. The first in-person events were held later that year. To hear Francis’ story of the founding of BioLogos, just listen to his recent podcast episode or watch his conference presentation.

I didn’t hear about BioLogos at first. I saw The Language of God come out in 2006, and was becoming more active on these issues myself, publishing Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Design in 2007. Then in 2010, I was invited to join the BioLogos Advisory Council. It was exciting to take part in conversations about the organization as it took shape. I was one of many believing scientists, theologians, historians, and others who were attracted to the BioLogos message. Francis Collins had raised a banner high enough that we could all rally around it. And the banner was high enough to finally attract funding around this message—we remain grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for generous start-up grants. BioLogos was off and running!

Reach

Francis Collins was able to convene some of the best known faith leaders today—people like pastor Tim Keller, biblical scholar N.T. Wright, pastor John 

Ortberg, and author Philip Yancey. While Francis’ scientific accomplishments may have prompted these leaders to take his phone call, it was his Christian faith, humble approach, and personal friendship that drew them into the conversation. These faith leaders in turn attracted many others—megachurch pastors, theologians, seminary leaders, campus ministers, authors, and more. A series of private meetings was held in Manhattan where faith leaders spent time with believing scientists in person. We worshipped together, learned from each other, and discovered it was possible to have a positive, thoughtful dialogue around challenging questions of creation and evolution. Over the years, we’ve extended this dialogue to other groups, including Southern Baptist leaders and the Reasons to Believe organization (including our joint book, Old Earth and Evolutionary Creation). We learned over and over that how we talk about our differences matters at least a much as the views themselves.   

Meanwhile we were producing hundreds of articles and videos online, and these attracted a growing audience. From the initial Common Questions, to the daily blog, to the comment section and online forum, anyone could read more and get involved. Today we have over a thousand resources and over a million visits per year! Traffic has been growing strong, particularly among young people (40% growth in 2018 over 2017). On social media, it’s great to see people engaged in the conversation—our followers click, like, and share posts on Facebook at twice the rate of other non-profits. And we’ve just launched a podcast! Subscribe here to Language of God.

Our videos are viewed over 200 thousand times per year. Videos produced by BioLogos or through our grants include reflections from John Walton, Pete Enns, Jeff Schloss, Ard Louis, and many more; the BioLogos Basics series, the Author of Life series for high school students, the Origins series for small groups, and The Big Story sermon.

Supporting teachers has been important from the beginning. In the early years, we ran Biology by the Sea, a series of annual weeklong workshops in San Diego for high school biology teachers. These teachers went on to impact students for years. Today we are building a curricular supplement for high school biology courses in Christian schools and home schools.

We’ve also produced several good books. If you haven’t yet read How I Changed My Mind About Evolution: Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science, please grab a copy (and buy a second copy for a pastor or student in your life). This readable book shares several personal stories on science and faith, an engaging way to consider the questions. BioLogos also gave grants for several projects between scientists and theologians, leading to important new books including Adam and the Genome, Evolution and the Fall, and Finding Ourselves After Darwin. The newest book in our series with InterVarsity Press is Understanding Scientific Theories of Origins, a college textbook from an interdisciplinary team of Wheaton College professors.

Today you can meet BioLogos in person at many events around the country. We have 20 great communicators in our Voices speakers bureau who reach nearly 10,000 people a year at venues across the country. For many, this is the initial entry point to BioLogos. Attendees can meet a scientist sharing how he came to Christ, or a theologian addressing questions raised by genetics, or a biologist explaining the evidence for evolution and the range of Christian responses. Our Voices have spoken at the National Press Club, InterVarsity’s Urbana conference, major research universities, churches across the country, and more.

Our conferences have grown over the years as well. Instead of a private meeting for a few dozen faith leaders, this spring 370 people joined us in Baltimore for our national conference on Beyond Conflict: Science, Faith, and the Big Questions. The times of worship, learning, and dialogue impacted not only our minds, but our hearts and spirits. The mainstage speakers were engaging and inspiring.  An early career scientist wrote “I found the conference to be very healing, uplifting, and one of the best spiritual/intellectual few days of my adult life.”  Teachers, seminary professors, and pastors returned home with plans to begin new conversations about science and faith in their communities.

National Impact  

These stories of impact are repeated across the country and around the world; we hear regularly from individuals for whom BioLogos has been life-changing. We are also seeing encouraging signs that the cultural landscape has changed in the last ten years. In our first decade, the topic of evolutionary creation has been a major focus, so I’ll focus on those impacts here.

Anecdotally, I’ve seen a significant increase in awareness of—and openness to—evolutionary creation (others of our Voices speakers see the same thing). Now when I speak at a conservative campus or church, instead of a sea of hostile or blank stares, I see several enthusiastic, nodding heads mixed in. Now I always have some people approach me to express deep gratitude for our resources and for the impact BioLogos has had on their lives. Leaders at these venues—like senior pastors and college presidents—often share the stage with me and encourage the conversation, even if they or their institutions do not share all BioLogos views.

In May 2017, Gallup published their latest survey results on national views of origins, discovering that support for young earth creationism may be on the decline after holding steady for nearly 40 years. I was excited to see that the drop the young earth response was not matched by an increase in the atheist response, but by an increase in the response that brings together God and scientific findings. In the last decade, sociologists have studied views on origins in depth, and shown that Christians who hold young earth views likely do so because of their interpretation of Genesis and a desire to see God in the picture. In February 2019, the Pew Research Center tried with changing the wording of their question to include an option which God gave a role alongside evolution, and discovered that 62% of evangelical Christians accept evolution if God is involved.

At BioLogos, our hope is not primarily that all Christians to accept evolutionary science (though that would be great!), but that they will see evolutionary creation as a faithful option for Christians to consider. When pastors or teachers introduce this view as one of several views held by Christians, even if it’s not their own view, they change the shape of the conversation at their church or school. Along these lines, we were excited to see a 2017 survey from the National Association of Evangelicals, in which 90% of evangelical leaders (heads of denominations and major ministries) agreed that “It is acceptable for evangelicals to have different views regarding the origin of the earth, so long as they maintain that God is the creator.”

Changed lives

At an event two months ago, a college student came up to me to thank me for BioLogos materials, then said “I’ve been reading BioLogos my whole life.” His whole life? I just about fell over! He said “Yeah, all through middle school and high school I’ve been reading your website.” On our 10 year anniversary, I’m proud to say that for college students today, there has always been a BioLogos.

The stories that move me the most are those of people coming to Jesus Christ for the first time. A man wrote to us a few years ago, saying “I’m 67 years old and have never believed in God. Some events in my life have caused me to look for a relationship with Jesus. The science vs. faith [issue] has always been my main reason to reject God. Then I found you guys ( Francis Collins on line then BioLogos).… The Holy Spirit is guiding me towards Christ because of BioLogos.” May the Holy Spirit continue to move in the life of Dave and many like him!

The need is still great. In a survey just last year from Barna, 53% of church-going teens said “the church seems to reject much of what science tells us about the world.” In a survey a few years ago, 50% of Evangelicals said that scientists are divided on evolution, when there is actually consensus at the 99% rate. While we’re seeing some change in the broader culture, the challenges in many evangelical communities are not abating. Opposition to scientific findings is often used to signal Christian identity. Smart, faithful, loving people are being told the truth of the Bible is at stake. We have much to do.

Where will BioLogos be in another 10 years? While we can’t know the future, we have big dreams for fresh ways to engage the most pressing questions raised by today’s science, both in person and online. At our recent conference, we addressed not only evolution and Adam, but scientism, gene-editing of embryos, creation care, and even life on other planets! Whatever projects we take on and whatever topics we address, we are committed to bringing together biblical faith and rigorous science in humble dialogue.

Now it’s your turn. We can’t launch into the next 10 years without you! Think about how you could get more involved. Maybe it’s preaching a sermon or starting a dialogue at your church. Maybe it’s leading a small group discussion or working with youth. Maybe it’s sharing the podcast with your friends and colleagues. Maybe it’s working with students in your classroom. Maybe it’s your financial support. If you haven’t already, remember to subscribe to our newsletter to stay posted on our latest content and events. Join us for another 10 years!


Deborah Haarsma
About the Author

Deborah Haarsma

Deborah Haarsma is President of BioLogos. She is a frequent speaker on modern science and Christian faith at research universities, churches, and public venues like the National Press Club. Her work appears in several recent books, including Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Design and Christ and the Created Order.  She wrote the book Origins with her husband and fellow physicist, Loren Haarsma, presenting the agreements and disagreements among Christians regarding the history of life and the universe.  She edited the anthology Delight in Creation: Scientists Share Their Work with the Church with Rev. Scott Hoezee. Previously, Haarsma served as professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin University.  She is an experienced research scientist, with several publications in the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomical Journal on extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. She has studied large galaxies, galaxy clusters, the curvature of space, and the expansion of the universe using telescopes around the world and in orbit.  Haarsma completed her doctoral work in astrophysics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her undergraduate work in physics and music at Bethel University. She and Loren enjoy science fiction and classical music, and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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