Evolution and Faith in Harmony at BioLogos Conference

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.