Evolution and Faith in Harmony at BioLogos Conference

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Photo courtesy of BioLogos
Photo courtesy of BioLogos

Are the biological sciences and religion in perpetual conflict with one another? Not necessarily, some believe, although the question remains a challenging one. Yet, this did not stop over 400 people who gathered to explore and discuss the topic in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan and online from June 30-July 2 for the Evolution and Christian Faith Conference, the culmination of a 3-year program supported by the John Templeton Foundation. The conference was the work of BioLogos, the organization established by Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project and author of the influential bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.

The conference was a powerful demonstration of the idea that science and faith can indeed enrich each other. Its appeal went far beyond the world of academic science and religion with the apparent diversity of attendees, including scientists, pastors, teachers, students, and laypeople—all eager to learn about the harmony between the two areas. Many of the talks and presentations from the conference are now available online.

Enthusiastic audiences engaged with a wide range of investigations and debates led by experts from the US and abroad. Some considered the big picture. For example, BioLogos fellow Ted Davis invited his audience to accompany him on a cultural journey that tracked how thinking on evolution has evolved in the years since Charles Darwin.

An even bigger narrative was unfolded by Grand Rapids pastor Leonard Vander Zee. In his talk, “From Stardust to the New Jerusalem: Gospel-Centered Preaching in an Evolving Universe,” he explored how pastors can “preach and teach” the biblical gospel in a way that helps apprehensive congregants take a fresh look at their long-held beliefs about creation and human origins. The big story of our lives, Vander Zee explained, begins with the Big Bang, weaves in the processes of evolution, and leads to the promise of a new creation. Integrating faith and science by linking them in such an overarching narrative enables Christians to embrace the insights of both.

Additional sessions considered more specific issues. Ard Louis of Oxford University explored how cultural and religious engagement with evolution is influenced by the metaphors that are deployed to communicate the science. One of the most popular studies in recent decades has been that of the selfish gene. The inference is that evolution reveals human beings to be genetic robots, but other descriptions of evolutionary processes are equally valid, Louis argued, and suggest very different implications. For example, scientists are now considering the ways in which the whole organism or environment influences evolutionary development, in so-called emergent top-down processes.

Other speakers considered issues from the doctrine of original sin to the extraordinarily uncommon nature of human beings. Breakout sessions, recordings of which are also online, extended discussions to matters from divine action and human origins to education and church life.

The organizers of the conference were delighted at the range of interests and backgrounds of attendees. Over a third were scholars and scientists; a significant portion were teachers; others were pastors. Disciplines represented included biblical studies and theology, paleontology and geology, biology and sociology. Many reported finding new ways of integrating their thinking about science and religion. One individual said, “Every speaker helped me to understand things better, to consider new ideas and prompt new questions.” “I am thrilled at what I heard and eager to learn more,” declared another.

All in all, it was clear that people of faith can engage with contemporary science and discover that it informs and deepens their faith. There exists a profound hunger for more learning about evolution. The conference demonstrated this truth: evolutionary science and biblical faith can live together in productive harmony.

  • AbedPeerally

    This a copy paste rather than i holding a PhD in Biological Sciences having to say so as I might sound biased.
    Probably quoted from Wikipedia:

    Early Muslim scientists and philosophers developed theories on evolution, and the transmutation of species, which were widely taught in medieval Islamic schools. John William Draper, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, wrote the following on what he called the “Mohammedan theory of evolution” in 1878:

    “Sometimes, not without surprise, we meet with ideas which we flatter ourselves have originated in our own times. Thus our modern doctrines of evolution and development were taught in their schools. In fact, they carried them much farther than we are disposed to do, extending them even to inorganic or mineral things. The fundamental principle of alchemy was the natural process of development of metalline bodies.”

    Al-Jahiz and the struggle for existence

    The Mu’tazili scientist and philosopher al-Jahiz (c. 776-869) was the first of the Muslim biologists and philosophers to develop an early theory of evolution. He speculated on the influence of the environment on animals, considered the effects of the environment on the likelihood of an animal to survive, and first described the struggle for existence, a precursor to natural selection. Al-Jahiz wrote the following on the struggle for existence in his work, Book of Animals:

    “Animals engage in a struggle for existence; for resources, to avoid being eaten and to breed. Environmental factors influence organisms to develop new characteristics to ensure survival, thus transforming into new species. Animals that survive to breed can pass on their successful characteristics to offspring.”

    Ibn Miskawayh and the Brethren of Purity

    Ibn Miskawayh’s al-Fawz al-Asghar and the Brethren of Purity’s Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity (The Epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa) developed theories on evolution that later had an influence on Charles Darwin and his inception of Darwinism. Muhammad Hamidullah describes their evolutionary ideas as follows:

    “[These books] state that God first created matter and invested it with energy for development. Matter, therefore, adopted the form of vapour which assumed the shape of water in due time. The next stage of development was mineral life. Different kinds of stones developed in course of time.

    Their highest form being mirjan (coral). It is a stone which has in it branches like those of a tree. After mineral life evolves vegetation. The evolution of vegetation culminates with a tree which bears the qualities of an animal. This is the date-palm. It has male and female genders. It does not wither if all its branches are chopped but it dies when the head is cut off. The date-palm is therefore considered the highest among the trees and resembles the lowest among animals. Then is born the lowest of animals. It evolves into an ape. This is not the statement of Darwin. This is what Ibn Maskawayh states and this is precisely what is written in the Epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa. The Muslim thinkers state that ape then evolved into a lower kind of a barbarian man. He then became a superior human being. Man becomes a saint, a prophet. He evolves into a higher stage and becomes an angel. The one higher to angels is indeed none but God. Everything begins from Him and everything returns to Him.”

    Eloise Hart also describes the evolutionary thought in the Encyclopedia of the Brethren of Purity as follows:

    “Another section describes the creation of worlds and the evolution of life in details that would have impressed Darwin. It explains how manifestation unfolds through successive layers, or stratified planes down to the mineral kingdom. Where, in this lowest kingdom, the most developed mineral entities live within its highest strata and blend imperceptibly into the next higher or vegetable kingdom. Likewise the vegetable kingdom contacts, at its highest level, the animal kingdom, whose culmination is man. The most evolved men contact higher spheres and, standing between the angelic and animal orders, serve on earth as vicegerents of God.”

  • http://www.earlysda.com earlysda

    “The conference demonstrated this truth: evolutionary science and biblical faith can live together in productive harmony.”
    There is a work missing. This should read: “The conference demonstrated this truth: evolutionary science and NON-biblical faith can live together in productive harmony.”