Skip to comments.Tough Assignment: Teaching Evolution To Fundamentalists
Posted on 12/18/2004 5:56:30 PM PST by PatrickHenry
Professional danger comes in many flavors, and while Richard Colling doesn't jump into forest fires or test experimental jets for a living, he does do the academic's equivalent: He teaches biology and evolution at a fundamentalist Christian college.
At Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., he says, "as soon as you mention evolution in anything louder than a whisper, you have people who aren't very happy." And within the larger conservative-Christian community, he adds, "I've been called some interesting names."
But those experiences haven't stopped Prof. Colling -- who received a Ph.D. in microbiology, chairs the biology department at Olivet Nazarene and is himself a devout conservative Christian -- from coming out swinging. In his new book, "Random Designer," he writes: "It pains me to suggest that my religious brothers are telling falsehoods" when they say evolutionary theory is "in crisis" and claim that there is widespread skepticism about it among scientists. "Such statements are blatantly untrue," he argues; "evolution has stood the test of time and considerable scrutiny."
His is hardly the standard scientific defense of Darwin, however. His central claim is that both the origin of life from a primordial goo of nonliving chemicals, and the evolution of species according to the processes of random mutation and natural selection, are "fully compatible with the available scientific evidence and also contemporary religious beliefs." In addition, as he bluntly told me, "denying science makes us [Conservative Christians] look stupid."
Prof. Colling is one of a small number of conservative Christian scholars who are trying to convince biblical literalists that Darwin's theory of evolution is no more the work of the devil than is Newton's theory of gravity. They haven't picked an easy time to enter the fray. Evolution is under assault from Georgia to Pennsylvania and from Kansas to Wisconsin, with schools ordering science teachers to raise questions about its validity and, in some cases, teach "intelligent design," which asserts that only a supernatural tinkerer could have produced such coups as the human eye. According to a Gallup poll released last month, only one-third of Americans regard Darwin's theory of evolution as well supported by empirical evidence; 45% believe God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.
Usually, the defense of evolution comes from scientists and those trying to maintain the separation of church and state. But Prof. Colling has another motivation. "People should not feel they have to deny reality in order to experience their faith," he says. He therefore offers a rendering of evolution fully compatible with faith, including his own. The Church of the Nazarene, which runs his university, "believes in the biblical account of creation," explains its manual. "We oppose a godless interpretation of the evolutionary hypothesis."
It's a small opening, but Prof. Colling took it. He finds a place for God in evolution by positing a "random designer" who harnesses the laws of nature he created. "What the designer designed is the random-design process," or Darwinian evolution, Prof. Colling says. "God devised these natural laws, and uses evolution to accomplish his goals." God is not in there with a divine screwdriver and spare parts every time a new species or a wondrous biological structure appears.
Unlike those who see evolution as an assault on faith, Prof. Colling finds it strengthens his own. "A God who can harness the laws of randomness and chaos, and create beauty and wonder and all of these marvelous structures, is a lot more creative than fundamentalists give him credit for," he told me. Creating the laws of physics and chemistry that, over the eons, coaxed life from nonliving molecules is something he finds just as awe inspiring as the idea that God instantly and supernaturally created life from nonlife.
Prof. Colling reserves some of his sharpest barbs for intelligent design, the idea that the intricate structures and processes in the living world -- from exquisitely engineered flagella that propel bacteria to the marvels of the human immune system -- can't be the work of random chance and natural selection. Intelligent-design advocates look at these sophisticated components of living things, can't imagine how evolution could have produced them, and conclude that only God could have.
That makes Prof. Colling see red. "When Christians insert God into the gaps that science cannot explain -- in this case how wondrous structures and forms of life came to be -- they set themselves up for failure and even ridicule," he told me. "Soon -- and it's already happening with the flagellum -- science is going to come along and explain" how a seemingly miraculous bit of biological engineering in fact could have evolved by Darwinian mechanisms. And that will leave intelligent design backed into an ever-shrinking corner.
It won't be easy to persuade conservative Christians of this; at least half of them believe that the six-day creation story of Genesis is the literal truth. But Prof. Colling intends to try.
Isaiah 45:18 For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.
The word 'darkness' and 'vain' in the above verse are the same word. Follow the logic, and you have God stating that Gen. 2 is not the first instance of creation.
Now they are patting themselves on the back, convinced they have won something, having not heard a word and never realizing how stupid they look.
You are such an a$$.
you may want to go back and reread the article,...thanks, though it was a good read.
Depends,...if you are using a device to be employed several million years from now, you might want to revisit the identification problem with the mathematics.
Yes; it's standard operating procedure of the anti-Evo/anti-science crowd.
Thanks for pointing it out.
FOFL, so Eckleburg, have you figured out that the level of intelligence that you're dealing with here is about second year of high school level? They can't get beyond it, either in intellectual achievement or in flatulence jokes. It's like poking into a nest of demented flapdoodlebugs
Not all fundamentalists or evangelicals are on the order of Jack Chick or Peter Rucker, any more than the Soviet geneticist Lysenko is representative of advocates of "unguided" evolution or Hans Kung or Leonard Feeney are of Roman Catholicism. Evangelical Christian theology is essentially the theology of the Reformation. Present day Calvinist theologians like R.C. Sproul (PCA) or Albert Mohler (Southern Baptist) are part of a theological heritage stemming from Jesus and Paul, Augustine and other Church Fathers, the reformers John Calvin and John Knox, and theologians and preachers like Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and J. Gresham Machen into the present time.
It would appear that your experience with evangelical Christians and their beliefs is very limited.
The nuclear safety errors on the side of prudence. Evolutionary theory errors on the side of ignorance.
You got it precisely. Would that more people were as insightful! Warmest regards.
Indeed, it has been quite a stimulating existence of late.
An Op-Ed piece is slated for this weekend's edition of the York_Dispatch newspaper in Pennsylvania. There is an Intelligent design/evolution court case there between the ACLU and the Dover school board.
This should help you understand my thoughts on ID.
Thank you for mentioning it.
I hope you post link on a *seperate* thread!