June 18, 2013 | 9:36 a.m.
By Linnea White '13
More than 75 students gathered in May for the Quest Forum, Perspectives on Creation. Five Bethel faculty—four from the College of Arts & Sciences and one from Bethel Seminary—shared their personal struggles with the question of how God created the world. The focus was not on debating the evidence for each position, but rather on the experiences each person had with the issue and how their thinking had changed.
Carrie Peffley, instructor in philosophy, shared that as a child she was taught that biblical creationism was right and evolution was wrong and incompatible with Christian faith. However, while studying abroad in England during her undergraduate years, she learned that creationism was not held universally in the church, now or historically. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides provided Peffley a model by discussing the uncertainties and tensions involved in trying to know something that we did not experience and have no direct evidence for, such as the beginning of the earth. Peffley says, “I think we should embrace and explore these tensions. There are tensions that exist for advocates of creation, a literal seven days, and for advocates like me of creation through some sort of biological evolution.”
Thomas Becknell, professor of English, never felt a struggle between the stories of creation and evolution. “I felt no dissonance or need to reconcile the narrative of Genesis with the narrative of Darwin. They are differing kinds of stories with differing kinds of purposes,” he says. He explains that because from childhood he has experienced the Bible as God’s Word and as a literary work, he does not feel the tension between creation and evolution with which many Christians struggle.
Unlike the others who shared, Professor of Physics Tom Greenlee initially embraced the ideas of evolution, automatically accepting popular science and culture. After he became a committed Christian during graduate school, this began to change. Gradually, he accepted young earth creationism. “…I did learn more and more scientific evidence that’s more compatible with a young earth viewpoint than an old earth one. And I’ve seen the importance of creation and the flood accounts in the other parts of the Bible,” he says.
Kyle Roberts, Bethel Seminary associate professor of theology, said that he grew up separating his faith from science and being skeptical of scientific theories, including evolution. In college, he took courses in geology and astronomy at his Christian college and began to realize “that scientists weren’t just making that stuff up.” For Roberts, processing the scientific evidence and his faith was a difficult process. He was forced to examine and even question his beliefs and come to terms with the idea of uncertainty. Speaking of this struggle, he says, “Anxiety is not always a bad thing; in fact it’s necessary for development toward maturity. I found in my own personal development that anxiety is unavoidable.” Coming out of that struggle, Roberts began to identify himself as a theistic evolutionist, because as he examined the evidence, he did not find the evidence against evolution compelling.
The final speaker was Teresa DeGolier, professor of biological sciences. She attended a Christian high school and college, where evolution was largely ignored. She became uncomfortable with this after she began teaching high school biology. As a teacher, she heard heated discussions among Christian science teachers about whether to teach evolution, frustrating her because they were arguing so viciously. After a parent asked her a simple question about evolution that she couldn’t answer, she realized, “I teach in the sciences. I simply need to look at this. I can’t go around with blinders on.” When DeGolier returned to graduate school in biology, she encountered scientific evidence that convinced her that evolutionary theory was the best way to make sense of what she was learning. She emphasized that biology students must understand evolution in order to understand contemporary biology. “Failure to expose students to what is a predominant explanation for why organisms look and act the way they do would be a great disservice to students as they advance their careers,” she says.
After each speaker shared his or her story, the audience submitted questions. A theme that rose both from the stories and the question and answer period was humility and uncertainty. Each speaker noted that the evidence is incomplete and acknowledged that sincere and devoted Christians disagree on this topic.