Evangelicals and Evolution

Evangelicals and Evolution June 12, 2012

A Pew survey of the 4000 evangelical leaders who attended the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization in Port Town, South Africa, last year found that 47 percent of global evangelical leaders believe that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time” — slightly more than the 41 percent who believe that “A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

This second answer could mean that God created the diversity of species through supernatural interventions in the evolutionary process, or it could mean that God accomplished his purposes through a providential ordering of the initial conditions of the universe and the natural means he had ordained.

I’m less concerned where you stand in the present debate (I stand with the 41 percent, and I hold open the possibility of supernatural interventions but presume that God worked through the natural processes he set in place) than i am with the process by which we adjudicate the issue.  On the one side there is the potential for a knee-jerk anti-science attitude — and on the other side the potential for an overestimation of the powers of science (or human intellect in general).  The one side could be too dismissive of the theological problems evolution presents (which I, of course, believe are soluble, especially when one disentangles evolution from evolutionism, science from scientism) — while the other side can be too quick to reject anything but a superficially literal reading of the Genesis creation narrative.  What we should refrain from doing, what I believe we must refrain from doing, is suggesting that only one side can be Christian.  Then, I think, we risk doing great damage to our children, who will feel as though they’re raised in an intellectual straitjacket, as though being a Christian requires the sacrifice of intellectual vitality and inquiry.

The purpose of the BioLogos Forum is to make Christians more comfortable — and to enhance the Christian’s spiritual life and worship — with the view that God brought about the astonishing diversity of life forms through the ordination of natural laws and processes that caused life to evolve from simpler to more complex forms.  The organization, founded by the great evangelical scientist Francis Collins, recently received a substantial amount of money from the John Templeton Foundation which it will disburse in the form of $30,000 to $300,000 grants to pastors, scientists, churches and etc. who want to investigate the intersection of evolution and faith.  It’s not required that one actually believe that the theory of evolution best describes the natural process by which life developed — but it is required that one have an open mind to fleshing out the possibilities and the consequences if it were so.

Applications are due this Friday, but the application (or really, at this stage, it’s a pre-application) is simple.  (Full disclosure: I have some collaboration with BioLogos.)  There are a host of issues worth exploring: the evolution of life, the evolution of consciousness, cooperation versus altruism, the evolution of a “religious instinct,” the role of faith in science, methodological naturalism, the history of Christianity and evolution, evolution (the science) versus evolutionism (the philosophy), the role of churches in cultivating Christians in the sciences.  I hope some of my friends in the academy are considering applying.

I asked the folks at BioLogos to put together a brief Q&A with the basic information:

What exactly is evolutionary creation, and who is BioLogos?

Evolutionary creation (EC) is the view that the diversity and interrelation of all life on earth are best explained by the God-ordained processes of evolution and common descent. Advocates of EC believe evolution is not in opposition to God, but a means by which God providentially achieves his purposes.

The BioLogos Foundation, founded by Dr. Francis Collins just before he became Director of the NIH, is a community of evangelical Christians committed to exploring and celebrating the compatibility ofevolutionary creation and biblical faith.

In a nutshell, what’s this grants program all about?

Evolution and Christian Faith (ECF) is a $3.5 million program designed to enable scholars and church/parachurch leaders to address various theological and philosophical questions commonly voiced by Christians about evolutionary creation. We also invite proposals which explore how evolution as God’s tool enriches Christian faith and worship.

Academics have been working on theistic evolution / evolutionary creation for years. What’s new about your approach?

For too long the academy and the church haven’t interacted much on the topic of origins. Our goal at BioLogos is to foster this kind of dialogue: we regularly convene meetings of leading evangelical pastors, theologians, and scientists, and we host the BioLogos Forum where we feature engaging essays from a wide range of contributors.

The ECF program will take the dialogue to the next level. It is important to build a collaborative network of scholars and church leaders who are interested in helping the church think about evolution in constructive ways. To that end, BioLogos will host three summer workshops for grantees to gather, share ideas, and learn together. Also, preference will be given to proposals with high translational potential — potential to make a significant positive impact on the church. In fact, translation will be as important as theological and scientific integrity. Finally, proposals from teams of scholars and church or parachurch leaders are particularly encouraged.

How much money are we talking?

Grant awards vary from $30,000 to $300,000 for projects completed within 34 months (2013-2015).

Who should apply?

Scholars, church leaders, and parachurch organizations with an interest in helping the church think about evolution in light of Christian faith and vice versa. You don’t even need to be a supporter of evolutionary creation to apply; you just need to be willing to think openly about the ramifications if evolution were true. Eligibility guidelines can be found here.

When’s the deadline?

Pre-proposals are due June 15, 2012. That’s only a couple of weeks away! Luckily, the application process is fairly easy: it consists mostly of a short (1,500 word) description of the project and an estimated budget. Successful applicants will be invited to submit full proposals at a later date. Please visit EvolutionChristianFaith.org for details and access to the submissions portal.

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