How I Changed My Mind About Evolution, Kathryn Applegate and J. B. Stump, eds. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.
Summary: Twenty-five narratives of Christians who accept evolutionary creation and how, in most cases, they changed their minds in reaching this conclusion.
There is a widespread impression in American universities and among many young people that Christianity and science are at war with each other. No where is this more the case than over the issue of evolution. And sadly, many young people walk away from their faith, seeing the explanatory power of evolutionary theory and the failure of “evidences” for some creationist positions to hold up under scientific scrutiny. In many cases their teachers in the church have presented a choice between believing Christianity and believing science and that both are not possible and they believed them.
The twenty-five contributors to this book share two things in common–they deny that science and faith need be at war, and they embrace a position which they describe throughout the book as evolutionary creation (others would describe this as theistic evolution). They are scientists like Wisconsin embryologist Jeff Hardin, pastors like John Ortberg, biblical scholars like Scot McKnight and N. T. Wright, and theologians like James K. A. Smith. Most came to this position after much careful thought and study of both the scriptures and the science, often from young earth views, hence the title. N.T. Wright stands apart in observing that the American and British landscapes around these issues are very different, with most British Christians not seeing the conflict. He explores the elements in the American worldview that he thinks contribute to our scientifically and politically polarized climate.
The journey was sometimes costly. Tremper Longman III describes being terminated from a seminary position for coming to a position that did not see Genesis in conflict with evolution. For others, this was a journey of joyful discovery. Deborah Haarsma, a physicist and president of BioLogos (publishing partner for this book) describes how her understanding of evolutionary creation fosters worship as she praises God for his work over the long term, the glory of the system by which life came forth, his upholding of the natural world, all that is glorious in creation, and how aspects of creation illuminate scripture.
Pastor John Ortberg speaks of a phenomenon I’ve observed in work with Christians in graduate school and on faculty. They struggle with a kind of spiritual loneliness. He writes, after attending a BioLogos conference with many Christians in science:
“I can’t tell you how often I’d sit down with somebody at that conference and hear them say, ‘You know, when I’m at work and I’m with a bunch of scientists, they’re really skeptical about my faith. They’re suspicious about me.’ Then they’d say, ‘When I go to my church, they’re really skeptical about me because of my science. I feel like I don’t have a place where I really belong.’ The church ought to be a place where scientists can feel at home” (p. 94).
Several themes running through many of the contributions are a love of both scripture and science, a passion to think about the relationship between the two without forced solutions, which often means living with questions, and the importance within the Christian community for places where these questions may be explored in safety. Jeff Hardin discusses how he makes sense of evolutionary biology in light of his faith:
“One important ingredient in any answer is a commitment to apply the right interpretive approaches to the book of God’s Word and the ‘book’ of his world. Evangelical scholars have been crucial here in helping the church read ancient documents as they were originally intended to be read. Second, I believe that while the church should passionately affirm each of these two ‘books.’ we must resist the temptation to insist on an excessively tight articulation between each, given our limited human understanding. Third, we need to provide a space where godly people can engage in edifying dialogue about difficult subjects” (p. 60).
Not coincidentally, the collection is concluded by Richard Mouw discussing the creating of these safe spaces where hard questions can be discussed and different points of view explored respectfully. He recounts a conversation with a Catholic couple wondering about the thinking about creation they had encountered among many evangelicals about, and musing, “Don’t you evangelicals realize that God is slow?” Mouw raises the question of whether, indeed, our quest for quick solutions to hard questions is part of our problem–we have a hard time when God moves slowly.
This book is probably most helpful for those who, like the authors, are not satisfied with how they read the two “books” of science and scripture together, how they understand evolution in light of their faith. It will be helpful to any Christian in the biological sciences who must face these questions. And it will help pastors as they work with scientists and youth as they engage with science.
Lastly, I hope this book contributes to a different kind of conversation between Christians and those in science, whether they believe or not. Both of us, when we study the world, marvel at what we see and wonder at its intricacy and beauty. Might we have conversations celebrating together the capacities that enable us to explore and the wonderful things we find? Might we model a hunger for truth that never fears that a new discovery will diminish God, or us? And might we collaborate together in exploring ways to use what we find for the good of our fellow creatures? It just might lead a group of scientists to someday write a companion to this book titled How I Changed My Mind About Christianity.