Evangelism 101: Speaking Evolution

A couple of days ago, I commented on a college-friend’s Facebook post. Unlike me, she used our biology major to become an environmentalist with a PhD. I used our major to edit my husband’s first book.

Nature's Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith, Daniel M. Harrell

Image Credit: Photograph of Cover of Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith, Daniel M. Harrell | Cover Image @ Pacific Stock / SuperStock | Cover Design by John R. Robinson

***Shameless plug: Buy Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith. Send our daughter to college.***

Our genetics professor also commented. I hadn’t seen him since I failed his class and he left to teach at a different college.

I don’t think the two events were connected. It was just a really dark semester. The next time around, I made a decent grade.

In between, he called me into his office. Unlike my advisor who urged me to change my major—the college had a medical school matriculation reputation to maintain—he just wanted to make sure I was OK. He prayed for me.

It Only Takes a Spark

I confess that I’ve forgotten a lot of genetics. I’ve never forgotten that one adult, who saw my humiliation, participated in some of it, and nevertheless addressed me with dignity and hope instead of dismissing me or my failure.

So of course, I “friended” him. In keeping with his character, he started a conversation. Not a long one. He’s still busy, trying to help failing students learn genetics at that other college. I bet he’s graciously tolerating the kid who eats chips and crinkles the snack bag right under his nose while he’s lecturing. And I guarantee he still offers thoughtful devotions before his labs.

During our e-chat, he mentioned wrestling with the shifting Evangelical sands around Genesis 1.

Evolution is a touchy subject.

I checked out his school page. The official perspective he offers his students? Intelligent design.

That other college must have a reputation—and a donor base—to protect, too. Mine would. Committed Christians (and their institutions) everywhere wrestle to interpret Scripture and science faithfully. Not everyone achieves humility or grants others dignity in the midst of this “conversation.”

The Tongue Is a Fire

Some of us feel that speaking the language of evolution is celebrating the God of evolution (Ps 19). Some of us are fluent in the language of evolution because it is the language of our unbelieving brethren (1 Cor 10:27). Some of us decline to speak evolution because we do not wish to compromise the language of faith (1 Kgs 18:21). Some of us combine elements of both in hopes of creating a third mutually-acceptable language (1 Cor 14:23–25).

Way back in high school, I raised this issue with my father, a medical doctor, and it was from him that I learned to praise the Creator in both the language of science and the language of faith. My college advisor didn’t think it was possible to be so bilingual. My husband is a fairly accomplished translator.

As for me, I continue to believe that speaking evolution is speaking to unbelievers in the language of their unbelief. Learning another language means learning to think in that language, too; however thinking evolution does not deny faith. It simply encourages one to be more thoughtful, intentional, deliberate, and humble with that fire, the tongue (Jas 3:5–10).

Out of the Same Mouth

“Am I dishonest? Am I cruel to the unbeliever?” asks Han Fei-tzu in Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide. His daughter has brought him a similar conundrum and he’s explained to her how he can both be godspoken and serve the heathen as a diplomat.

“‘Does a daughter judge her father?’ [answers] Qing-jao.

“‘Of course she does,’ [says her] Father. ‘Every day all people judge all other people. The question is whether we judge wisely.’

“‘Then I judge that it’s no sin to speak to the unbelievers in the language of their unbelief.’”

The scary language of unbelief is not the most powerful element when we make our judgments. Rather, it’s our tone of voice, whether we speak in the language of unbelief or of belief. Achieving humility and granting others dignity—that is what is remembered. That is what stirs hearts, even twenty years on.


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