Celebrating 10 Years with President Deb Haarsma!
Deb Haarsma has served BioLogos as President for 10 years! BioLogos founder Francis Collins, staff and board members reflect on her leadership over the years.
In 2013 I stumbled upon a job posting for BioLogos. I wasn’t looking for a job, as I was a tenured professor and happy with what I was doing. But my scholarly area of research was science and religion, and I was tired of hearing about former students who had given up their faith over a supposed conflict with science.
I had heard of BioLogos and its mission to show the harmony between science and Christian faith. Perhaps they’d be willing to bring me on in a part-time capacity. The work was interesting and important, but I wasn’t sure if it would be sustainable as a career.
Deb Haarsma was the new president of BioLogos back then, and she too was entering the work tentatively. Initially she just took a year’s leave of absence from her own tenured faculty position and chair of the physics department at Calvin University. I’ve heard her say more than once that her most immediate goal was simply to keep BioLogos afloat. Small non-profit organizations do not have the greatest track record of longevity.
But now this month Deb completes her tenth year as president of BioLogos. After her first year, she went “all in” on the work of BioLogos. The next year I followed suit (it turns out that doing science and religion work as a faculty member at a Christian college was the more precarious option!). During these ten years, BioLogos has not just survived but flourished with Deb as its leader. To honor this significant milestone, I asked a few people to give a paragraph or so of reflection on Deb’s 10 years as president of BioLogos. Everyone I asked immediately responded affirmatively, and most couldn’t limit themselves to a paragraph! Their words give a really compelling account of Deb’s leadership.
The success of BioLogos is due in no small part to Deb’s personal characteristics and virtues. She is the personal embodiment of the values of BioLogos: Christ-centered faith, rigorous science, and gracious dialogue. To find someone who does well in just two of these categories is rare. But Deb is off the charts in all three.
During these ten years, BioLogos has not just survived but flourished with Deb as its leader. The success of BioLogos is due in no small part to Deb’s personal characteristics and virtues. She is the personal embodiment of the values of BioLogos: Christ-centered faith, rigorous science, and gracious dialogue.
In 2012 BioLogos began searching for a new president. I thought of all the amazing scholars and ministry leaders I had met in the thrilling but turbulent couple of years I’d been on staff. We had so much promise and momentum, but like every startup we lacked maturity. I remember thinking, “Deb Haarsma knows the science and faith issues so well, but she is also a gifted communicator and strategic thinker. She’d be terrific!” Lo and behold, Deb was selected for the job, and BioLogos flourished as a result.
People are drawn to Deb in part because her love for God and science is infectious. Her credentials are impressive, but you don’t feel intimidated because she’s geeking out over a new NASA photo or telling you about her Big Bang-inspired earrings.
Perhaps most importantly, Deb is exactly the same person behind closed doors as she is in public. She isn’t merely a “professional Christian.” She reads her Bible, prays, and is active in her local church. She is committed to her marriage and her family. The pressures of leading an organization are extreme at times, but Deb’s faith helps her stay grounded. She cares deeply about the mission and people of BioLogos. Deb has been an important mentor and friend to me over the years. Hearty congratulations on this wonderful milestone!
Bishop Claude Alexander
When thinking of Deb Haarsma and her leadership of BioLogos, the words of Psalm 78:72 come to mind. It reads, “He (King David) cared for them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands.” I have had the privilege of witnessing the truth/integrity of Deb’s heart and the skillfulness of her hands. She leads with an openness of mind, heart, and hands that invites others to be caught by the wonder and certainty of God found in God’s world and in God’s Word. This has resulted in BioLogos expanding its reach into diverse communities, its consideration of topics to address, and the perception of its relevance to a wider audience.
I love the way Deb thinks of scientific discovery not just as some cerebral exercise, but as an act of worship, honoring the God of creation. She is multi-talented: she can describe the technical details of galaxies and the cosmic phenomenon of “gravitational lensing” in one moment, and then in the next she is playing the piano beautifully, leading her audience in singing the hymn “How Great Thou Art” to God in grateful wonder.
Deb and I are cut from the same scientific cloth, being trained as radio astronomers in the same years of graduate school. So I’ve been particularly inspired by how Deb relates the development of Creation as a seamless progression, from the mind-blowing initial energy and inflation of the universe in the Big Bang, through the development of galaxies and their stars and planets, to the delightful diversity of life on planet Earth. Through her leadership of BioLogos, she has changed the whole tone of the “science and religion” conversation from one of academic debate to one of wonder and awe, curiosity and praise. And joy. Science is a gift from God for finding truth and knowledge about the physical world, and Deb sets the example for us of how science can be practiced with love and for the purpose of service to others and blessing the world.”
I have had the honor and privilege of working alongside Deb Haarsma since she first became the second President of BioLogos. It’s hard to believe that was nearly ten years ago! It is exciting to see where God has taken this ministry in that time under Deb’s leadership.
When Darrel Falk, a dear friend to many of us and the first President of BioLogos, stepped down as President, I was delighted when Deb was tapped to be the second President of BioLogos. I was a big fan of her book with her Calvin University colleague and husband, Loren Haarsma, called “Origins.” The sensitivity of that book had deeply impressed me. Based on that book alone it was clear to me that Deb was going to be a leader who could build bridges to diverse Christian communities.
That expectation was confirmed over and over again as I worked with Deb more closely in the ensuing years. I’ve had three roles with BioLogos that have allowed me to see Deb’s leadership at close quarters. First, in 2012 I became Chair of the Evolution and Christian Faith (ECF) granting program, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and the Issachar Fund, and initiated through the tireless work of Darrel Falk while he was President of BioLogos. ECF was a major, high-impact program for BioLogos as it moved into a new phase of growth. The transition from one gracious President to the next made the work of the review panel—and my work with long-time BioLogos staff member Kathryn Applegate—a real pleasure.
Second, through my work with ECF I became more involved with BioLogos. In the fall of 2013, I was asked by the Board Chair at the time, Jud Carlberg of Gordon College, to join the Board. Jennifer Wiseman joined the Board at the same time, and we had a long run as Board members together! Shortly after I joined the Board, Deb was faced with several key challenges. One is an ongoing one: how to fund the work that BioLogos does. While grateful for all that the Templeton Foundation has done to support the work of BioLogos over many years, supporters of BioLogos and an independent assessment indicated that we needed a plan that would diversify how BioLogos is funded. Deb and Jud came up with a blueprint that has served BioLogos well ever since. It is exciting to see how BioLogos has grown through what Deb and Jud set in motion.
Another challenge that Deb took head on was how to grow into her role as the head of BioLogos. Academics don’t get a lot of training in executive leadership! Deb has always been committed to growing personally and professionally as an organizational leader. In those early days of my service on the Board, it was really impressive to see how Deb grew as a leader.
I am proud of all that Deb has accomplished, and consider it a great honor to have served alongside her for so long…I’m excited about what the next ten years will bring!
Third, in 2014 Jud Carlberg became gravely ill, and it was clear that he needed to step aside from his duties as Board Chair. I transitioned to Board Chair for the next eight years, which gave me a unique insight into Deb Haarsma the Christ follower and organizational leader through our frequent meetings. As a department chair at a major research university for 13 years I have had the chance to observe many administrators. I can tell you that Deb has been outstanding. The Board of Directors grew during this time to include fresh voices and a set of new Board members with tremendous leadership gifts. The amazing staff team grew as well. Deb handled that growth beautifully. As all leaders must, Deb dealt with some very sticky situations with aplomb, and with the sort of godly character that should characterize Christian leaders. In addition, she continued to grow her footprint as a writer and speaker, all while retaining her unquenchable love for astronomy and astrophysics. Innovative programs like Integrate, the Voices Program, a publication from the fruitful dialogue with Southern Baptists, and revamping the massive BioLogos website were all initiated under Deb’s leadership on our shared watch. Most importantly in my mind, Deb’s commitment to Christ never wavered, nor did her love for Christ’s church and helping it to celebrate God’s amazing creation.
After eight years as Board Chair I handed that role off to my successor, Dwight Baker, and rotated off of the Board (after an extra COVID year!) this past April. I am proud of all that Deb has accomplished, and consider it a great honor to have served alongside her for so long. Deb has continued to lead BioLogos in its twin commitments to honoring God’s Word and his world. I’m excited about what the next ten years will bring!
I first met Deb Haarsma at one of those early New York BioLogos meetings. I was immediately impressed—here was a serious and dedicated follower of Jesus who was also an MIT-trained astrophysicist and Chairperson of Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College. I wanted to get to know her! Then the position of President of BioLogos came open. As NIH Director I was excluded from any substantive involvement in that search, but I was absolutely thrilled when Deb was chosen, and she said yes.
That was ten years ago. My hopes for how Deb’s leadership could propel BioLogos to a new level of impact have been more than met—they have been exceeded! With recruitment of a remarkably talented and dedicated team, a diversity of new inputs to the website, the initiation of a powerful podcast, major new efforts in creation care, curriculum development for home schoolers, numerous meetings and workshops, and a recent powerful focus on the Silicon Valley mission field, BioLogos is now reaching an increasingly wide range of audiences at a particularly critical time. BioLogos has essentially become the most respected meeting place for serious discussions about science and Christian faith.
But Deb will never let this go to her head. In public presentations, Deb makes the point that our calling is to be faithful, and to imitate Christ. Yes, she would agree, the challenges are great, but we are not alone. In the words of Deb’s favorite hymn, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” Deb Haarsma, my dear friend, I am deeply grateful for the way that you have been shaping BioLogos to follow the calling of the Creator over these last ten years, and I look forward to many more!
My hopes for how Deb’s leadership could propel BioLogos to a new level of impact have been more than met—they have been exceeded!
About the authors
Bishop Claude Alexander
Deb Haarsma | Break Forth into Praise
Deb Haarsma | James Webb Space Telescope