A Youth Pastor and a Concerned Parent Talk about Evolution and Christian Faith

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The following email exchange was sent to us by a good friend and supporter of BioLogos in the hopes that it will be an encouragement to others in our communities who have been through a similar experience. All names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

Pastor Jim,

My son related to me this past Sunday that you’ve recently discussed evolution in the high school class. His anecdotes about the information you presented have me somewhat concerned that you may be misrepresenting the theory and inadvertently creating a straw man characterization of evolution that is easily torn down. For example, he mentioned that you claimed evolution teaches that mankind descended from monkeys. This is not a fair characterization of the theory, nor do I know any evolutionary biologist who believes that statement. (Darwin certainly didn’t.) He also mentioned that you stated there is very little evidence in the fossil record to support the theory. I beg to differ; that being said, evolutionary theory is based on more than just one line of evidence, and includes (in addition to a fossil record that becomes more robust every year) evidence from studies in biogeography, homology, comparative anatomy, evolutionary developmental biology (“evo-devo”), and genetics.

I’m a member of the American Scientific Affiliation and I write often on the intersection of faith and science, so I’d be happy to carve some time out to discuss with you privately (1) what the theory of evolution actually posits, and (2) help you better present the theory as it’s actually taught in academic institutions (not as it’s taught by Answers in Genesis). While we ultimately may not agree on the veracity of evolutionary theory, I think we can both agree that presenting both sides faithfully is in our children’s best interest. Rejection of one paradigm over the other should be based on facts, not a distortion of the facts.

In Christ,
Tom


Tom,

Thank you for the email, and for your gracious tone. As part of our apologetics series, I did teach about evolution last Sunday. Here were my big points, in case you were interested in knowing.

  • Science has not shown in any definitive way that life can be created from nothing.
  • An idea in favor of macroevolution is the similar DNA. However, the fossil record does not seem to be [in favor of macroevolution]. One would expect a much more vast discovery of transitional fossils. (I did not say there were none, either, but discussed a few). We did discuss how microevolution happens all around us. 
  • We talked about the unlikelihood of evolution with irreducible complex systems. 

I did not teach man’s descent from monkeys. I asked the class if they would like to discuss next week this common idea, but in no way taught anything on the subject, except for mentioning it. Because the class did not seem interested in the topic, I had planned on giving some resource on the position that man did not evolve from any ape-like creature. 

Do you have an article from an evangelical Christian who also believes in evolution that you could send me? I’d be interested in looking at it and possibly handing it out to the class. 

This Sunday, I plan on discussing again the transitional evidence, homologous, and vestigial structures. 

It’s certainly not my intention to distort the facts for either side. I agree that it’s not helpful for anyone. I have about 30 minutes max to teach a wide array of topics and could not present either the case for or against in exhaustion. Yet, I am going to teach towards the belief that I hold and feel best understands the Word of God. 

I appreciate you emailing...feel free to follow up with any questions you have!

Best,
Jim


Jim,

Greatly appreciated your response. And thank you for clarifying what you actually covered/discussed, as I know there can sometimes be a disconnect between what we as adults say and what teens take in. ;-)

In response to your points:

  • Science has not shown in any definitive way that life can be created from nothing. 

This is true, but such a statement must contain a good number of caveats. The field of abiogenesis is an exciting field, and great progress has been made over the last 60 years in hypothesizing and testing a number of possible scenarios that could lead (and have led) to the self-organization of proteins and amino acid chains. Science will probably never determine which of those possible scenarios (or another that science hasn’t yet hypothesized) occurred since it was likely a one-time event, but we are discovering that the laws of nature, specifically those involved in chemical reactions, lend themselves to self-organization, including the creation of complex organic molecules ... given the proper conditions. If one takes the philosophical position that God not only created the laws of nature and sustains them so that the cosmos can self-organize, a Christian should not fear the concept of abiogenesis, for such a development would have been ordained by the Creator from the beginning. Such a concept, if viewed from a theistic position, should serve as an occasion to cause us to fall on our knees in awe and worship the Creator-God!

  • An idea in favor of macroevolution is the similar DNA. However, the fossil record does not seem to be. One would expect a much more vast discovery of transitional fossils. (I did not say there were none, either, but discussed a few). We did discuss how microevolution happens all around us.

Evolution does not just rely on the concept of “similar” DNA but rather the concept that our DNA, once decoded, reveals an evolutionary history which, when compared to that of other flora and fauna, tells an amazing story of how inter-related all life on earth is. Using, of course, only living organisms, this history can be mapped out to a considerable degree thanks to the Human Genome Project. That being said, the fossil record, what little we have, strongly supports the concept of common ancestry. There is a great wealth of information regarding transitional fossils available. :)

  • We talked about the unlikelihood of evolution with irreducible complex systems. 

The major issue I have with the Michael Behe-coined concept of “irreducible complexity” is that scientific investigation tends to cease when someone like Behe encounters an allegedly irreducibly complex system and inserts the direct intervention of God into the process. What this does is create a “God of the gaps” in which we explain gaps in our current state of knowledge by invoking God. The concept of irreducible complexity, if used as an “apologetic pillar” of one’s faith, can create trouble when scientific endeavor ends up providing plausible explanations for how complex structures can come about through natural (albeit divinely ordained and sustained) processes, which is what happened in the case of Behe’s “air-tight” examples of the bacterial flagellum, the human blood-clotting system’s cascading mechanism, and the eye. Behe threw down the gauntlet and modern science answered the challenge.

Anyway, you asked for a pro-evolution article from an evangelical Christian. Instead of providing just a single article, I’d like to direct you to three webpages offered by BioLogos, an evangelical ministry started by Francis Collins supporting the reconciliation of evolutionary theory and the Christian faith. You are free to use them however you wish. 

If you’re not already aware of who Francis Collins is, he’s the former head of the Human Genome Project, current head of the National Institutes of Health, and evangelical Christian who authored the best-selling book The Language of God. (Since joining the NIH, Collins is no longer officially connected to BioLogos.)

Insofar as living evangelical Christians go who consider themselves evolutionary creationists, I could point to the aforementioned Francis Collins, Darrel Falk, N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath, Scot McKnight, Bruce Waltke, Mark Noll, and Denis Lamoureux (check out Denis’ high school web lectures!). Others who support BioLogos’ ministry include Os Guinness, Philip Yancey, Tim Keller, Wheaton College’s John Walton, Tremper Longman III, and many others. Even Billy Graham, as early as the mid-1960s, had no issue with the concept of evolution and common ancestry.

Past theistic evolutionists familiar to evangelical Christians include C. S. Lewis, James Orr (contributor to the early 20th-century The Fundamentals), and B. B. Warfield.

I guess what I’m trying to say in all this is that I think the evangelical church’s tendency to cast a suspicious (if not evil) eye toward evolution lies in the fact that a vocal minority of atheist scientists, including the infamous Richard Dawkins, claims that the fact of evolution negates the need for (if not outright declares the non-existence of) God. As a result, the evangelical church conflates evolutionary theory with an atheistic worldview, causing a lot of time and effort to be expended in the attempt to tear evolution down unnecessarily. Our children should not fear anything that modern science has to offer, including evolution. 

I fully accept the fact that you will teach our children (including my own) in accordance with your own interpretation of the sacred Scriptures and in harmony with the church’s doctrinal statement, but it would still go a long way for the kids at our church to realize that there are legitimate alternatives to special creationism, and that accepting the veracity of evolutionary theory does not mean they have to give up their faith. Their faith should be rooted in the infallible Living Word, Jesus Christ, and not a particular, fallible interpretation of Genesis; if this is the case, when they eventually do encounter the overwhelmingly strong (and admittedly fallible) arguments in favor of evolution, their faith will not falter. Since I became an evolutionary creationist, my faith in God and in Jesus Christ is stronger than it ever has been!

I’ve presented the evolutionary creationist position in several evangelical churches in the local area, so I’m available to conduct a Q&A for the high school group, if that’s something you’d ever like to pursue. At the very least, if there are students who are struggling mightily with reconciling their faith with modern science, I can help, as I already have in the case of several families [in our church] whose children were/are on the verge of drifting away as a result of the false dichotomy this critical and complex issue tends to generate. I even conducted a well-received book discussion group last fall with a number of families [in our church] using BioLogos President Deb Haarsma’s Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. It is a resource no youth pastor should be without, and I’d be happy to provide you with your own copy.

In Him,

Tom


Tom, 

This has proved very helpful for me. I still wrestle with some of what you bring up, as I do with much of the evidence for the young earth creationist viewpoint. I am glad you brought up Tim Keller, as I was unaware of his position. I read a helpful article about his view on Genesis 1 and Creation from BioLogos. 

I have decided to change direction for Sunday, too. Instead, I plan on giving a brief overview of “Christian Views of Creation.” I will emphasize that you can fall in any of the camps and still be a Jesus-loving, godly follower of Christ. I will discuss in brief youth-earth creationists, progressive creationists, ID, and theistic evolutionists. I will give strengths and weaknesses of each view and encourage them to continue to do their own study of God’s Word. 

I would love to talk sometime offline about all of this...and hear how God put you in this field. Thanks for the support, encouragement, and advice.

Best,

Jim


Jim,

I’m glad I can be of help! It’s a complex and difficult subject, as it touches on everything from science to philosophy to theology simultaneously. That can scare folks. But it’s also a very exciting topic, and one for which I’ve been passionate about all my life, despite now being 180 degrees out from where I was a decade ago.

Also glad you found Tim Keller’s white paper on BioLogos. He’s been a champion of BioLogos’ efforts for some time now, even without fully endorsing an evolutionary creationist position. That can be confusing for some, but I can understand the unique position that he’s in as a pastor.

I’m encouraged by your change of direction for next Sunday! I love the idea of an overview. I’ve attached a diagram from science and faith scholar Denis Lamoureux’s online materials that I’ve utilized in a number of presentations. It doesn’t touch specifically on ID though, because there is significant overlap between the ID and old-earth communities. Also keep in mind that Denis uses the term “intelligent design” on his chart differently than we in America are accustomed to. He believes in lower-case “intelligent design” because he believes God intelligently designed the laws of nature, not that God designed particular biological structures. This is a different position from the upper-case Intelligent Design movement popularized by Michael Behe, Philip Johnson, and the Discovery Institute.

I am available to chat any time. Perhaps we can meet up on a Saturday morning and eat some intelligently cooked pork products at IHOP or something. :)

Best regards,
Tom


Jim,

I want to thank you again for being such a gracious partner in dialogue. Your attitude and willingness to “course correct” without sacrificing your own intellectual integrity is a rarity!

BioLogos has made it a priority to engage in such dialogue, even inviting those who disagree with BioLogos’ position to partner in public—and irenic—conversations about evolution (see Southern Baptist Voices and Discussing Origins: BioLogos, Reasons to Believe, and Southern Baptists). Even if we choose not to conform our respective views to others’, it certainly fosters a greater measure of respect and understanding, furthering Jesus’ imperative that we love one another and seek unity in purpose.

I haven’t yet had the chance to talk to my son. How did Sunday go?

Best regards,

Tom


Tom,

Thanks for following up. I was kidding with your son on Sunday that he was going to be leading the discussion on theistic evolution. He was terrified at first, then realized I was kidding. 

Sunday went great and had the students thinking and talking. It’s been a good overview...now we dive into some hard questions of the faith! 

Thanks again!

Jim

Notes

Citations

MLA

, Anonymous. "A Youth Pastor and a Concerned Parent Talk about Evolution and Christian Faith"
https://biologos.org/. N.p., 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 17 December 2017.

APA

, A. (2017, March 22). A Youth Pastor and a Concerned Parent Talk about Evolution and Christian Faith
Retrieved December 17, 2017, from /blogs/guest/a-youth-pastor-and-a-concerned-parent-talk-about-evolution-and-christian-faith

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