Evolution of Faith and Science

Kristine Johnson
Kristine Johnson

Kristine is a member of the American Scientific Affiliation and an aerospace engineer for Honeywell. She is featured at the BioLogos Forum “Believing Scientists Respond.”

Religion and Science

Our churches need to be in discussions about science and faith. If we don’t, students (and adults) will look elsewhere for answers. We know many students leave the church when they are taught only a dichotomy that they must choose between science and faith.

Before COVID-19, a team from Minnesota had visited Choluteca, Honduras, each January for a short-term mission trip for about a dozen years. (Can you think of a better time to escape a Minnesota winter for 10 days?)

I have been blessed to travel with the team three times, most recently in 2017. A lovely couple led the team; she’s a retired family practice physician, and he’s retired from construction. They truly have a heart for the community in Choluteca and have developed many enduring friendships through the years.

Our team partnered with a local church for ministry while there. Our efforts needed to be beneficial to the community in a healthy way, and the local church knew best how to do that. The church has a bilingual school with students from preschool through high school. We learned in advance of one trip that the school had some needs for science curriculum and supplies.

During the process of coordinating with the science teacher to gather what we could, I was invited to speak to the high school students on science and faith. Because our team had been there many years and made many friends, I benefited from trustworthiness to speak on a topic charged with emotion and strong opinions.

It’s also an area where some students have faith-challenging questions. Several times now, I have shared with the students about science and faith. Each time I’ve received positive feedback from the students and faculty. I have loved being a small part of their faith and educational journeys.

As the seasons in my life have changed, it’s uncertain if I will ever revisit Choluteca. I’m thankful for social media, which allows us to remain connected from afar.

A few weeks ago, the school principal reached out to me. One of the students had questions about evolution. He had heard that chimpanzees and humans share 99% of the same DNA. Could this be true? This started a conversation on bringing science and faith resources to the students.

I immediately contacted a few Spanish-speaking friends, including a physics professor in Spain and a linguist in Mexico that I knew would be aware of quality science-faith resources in Spanish. They provided links to some great free options that I shared with the principal to review and pass along to the students.

She also asked me if I would be willing to Zoom with the students the following week and give a presentation. We chatted about possible topics, and she requested the presentation be titled “Is it OK for Christians to accept modern science like evolution and Big Bang cosmology?” I had a week to prepare.

Knowing this is a Christian school attached to a church and they use a curriculum not friendly toward consensus science, I asked about their statement of faith so that I would be respectful of their position. Their statement of faith did not include any specifics, only that God is the creator. I decided after introducing myself and giving my credentials to focus on three main ideas:

  • Jesus is the creator, and because he rose from the dead, we should put our trust in him.
  • The Bible is a book of redemption and not a science textbook.
  • Christians hold a range of views on the creation timeline and process. These views include evolutionary creation, old earth creation, and young-earth creation. And yes, it is OK for Christians to affirm modern science like evolution and Big Bang cosmology.

I felt it was vital to start first and foremost with the main idea that Jesus is the creator, and because he rose from the dead, we should put our trust in him. I wanted to remind them that we are saved by grace through faith and not by our intellect, knowledge of science, or perfect theology.  

I also wanted to emphasize that the Bible is a book of redemption and not a science textbook. The Bible needs to be read in context within the literary genre and style, as intended by the original authors. As John Walton says, “The Bible was written for us, but it was not written to us.”

Ancient Hebrew people didn’t have microscopes and telescopes, so their understanding of nature was different than ours, and this is reflected in the descriptions of nature in the biblical text. Since the Bible doesn’t tell us much about the natural world, and we know God created the universe, we should study nature to understand how and when God created it.

Finally, I shared how Christians hold various views on the creation timeline and process. I spent quite a bit of my presentation discussing the evolutionary creation view. I shared that Christians with this perspective are numerous and gave several famous examples. I reminded them that this view is an authentic way to understand both Scripture and nature. I gave a brief overview of what evolution is (and what it is not).

Next, I shared about the Old Earth Creation view, which accepts Big Bang cosmology (as does the evolutionary creation view) but does not believe God used the process of evolution to create all biological diversity. I explained that Big Bang cosmology is about the expansion of the universe and the formation of stars and galaxies; it doesn’t address biology.

Lastly, I mentioned that some Christians hold a young earth creation theological understanding and believe that the earth and universe are less than 10,000 years old. After explaining three of the common Christian views, I circled back to remind the students that in each case, God is the creator, each view is held by faithful Christians, that agreement on the details of how and when are not required for salvation, and that yes, it is OK for Christians to accept modern science including evolution and Big Bang cosmology.

In the question-and-answer time, it was clear some of the students and teachers had been thinking about these ideas. I addressed the question on how I understand the creation account in Genesis 1, where dinosaurs fit in the creation and the Bible, if I think there’s life on other planets, if God has put scientists in place to make their knowledge and discoveries known to the world, and my experience in discussing science with conservative Christians.  I had time to answer most of the questions live and later went to the site where the presentation had been streamed and was able to answer the remaining questions plus correct several misunderstandings about evolution and Genesis 1.

I’m thankful for this opportunity and for a friend who translated for me. What amazing technology we have that allows communication across national borders and language differences. From the comments, I could see that many found the information useful. It seems likely we will have a similar event in the future.

Our churches need to be in discussions about science and faith. If we don’t, students (and adults) will look elsewhere for answers. From surveys (see Barna Research), we know that many students leave the church when they are taught only a dichotomy that they must choose between science and faith.

Learning that there are more options to integrate theology and science – and that Christians can accept modern science like evolution and the Big Bang – can reduce this trend. I’m hopeful the students in Choluteca, Honduras, will remember this as they continue their studies and grow in their faith. Pray with me that they will.

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