What Do Wheaton Students Learn About Evolution?

Jason Rosenhouse reads from the  Jeffery Sheler’s 2006 book about Wheaton College, Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America:

“We do believe that God created the universe, and that Adam and Eve were the first humans,” [Dorothy Chappell, dean of natural and social sciences] said. “But we are agnostic as to how God did it.” In practical terms, that means the school doesn’t push what Chappell called “young earth creationism”–a view drawn from a literal interpretation of Genesis that asserts that God created the universe in six twenty-four hour days just a few thousand years ago.

Sheler now cites the familiar Gallup polling data that shows widespread public support for YEC. Then comes this:

At the same time, she said, Wheaton’s acceptance of evolutionary theory is limited to changes within a species rather than the widely held view that humans evolved from apes. “There is no assent given here to the view that Adam and Eve descended from hominids.”So what happens when the two sources of data — revealed truth and natural truth — seem to be in conflict?

“It means we haven’t interpreted the data correctly,” Chappell said, “Either we’ve missed something in our science or we are failing to understand the scriptures correctly. We’re not afraid here of exploring truth. That’s what scientific research is all about. That’s what life is about.

If Wheaton is teaching that evolution only occurs within a species, or that there was a time when there were exactly two human beings on the planet and that they appeared without the benefit of an evolutionary history, then they are manifestly not teaching the same science as the University of Illinois or the University of Chicago. What Chappell describes here is old-earth creationism, and it is tantamount to rejecting evolution.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://none Seth

    When first reading this of course I was shocked at the fact it was a college teaching it, however upon further research the college is a known private Evangelical Protestant college. There for this is just common practice in this form of place, and that’s why most intelligent people stay away from them … ;)

    • Daniel Fincke

      Yes, but what makes this a little bit more remarkable is that Wheaton is one of the Evangelical universities with the strongest pretensions to serious academic credibility.

      And a number of my fellow graduate students in my philosophy PhD program at Fordham were from there. One even went on to teach there.

  • shane

    I took a class at Wheaton called, “Human Origins.” It was team taught by a geologist, a biologist, an anthropologist and an old testament scholar. I would say that I was definitely exposed to all of the relevant data in support of evolution from all of the natural sciences. We got the geological evidence for the age of the earth, molecular and embyrological evidence for the common descent of all of the animals and then the physical anthropological evidence for the evolution of hominids.

    In that class, I was taught that there were essentially 4 views on offer:

    1. Young Earth Creationism–world is literally 6k years old.
    2. Old Earth Creationism–still mostly creationism, but allows that some parts are metaphorical, like the reference to “days”.
    3. A view that accepts the age of the earth and the science of evolution, but holds a “special creation” of adam and eve.
    4. the view that evolution was always the mechanism by which God created life.

    I think Dot Chappell is maintaining that 3 is the official school line–but honestly, I had the distinct impression that literally all of the science faculty at the school believed 4. At any rate, I certainly came out of the class more convinced by the science of evolution, and better aware of the evidence in support of it than I would have otherwise.


    • Daniel Fincke

      But when you say that the 4 views were each on offer, were they each presented as plausible options and given arguments? Was the impression that they were each equally (or at least comparably) plausible options given and you simply found the evolution evidence more ultimately persuasive? Do you have any sense of the consensus opinion of the average Wheaton student coming out of such a class? What role did the Old Testament scholar play? What did that scholar think and encourage students to think about the relationship between biblical claims and scientific ones?