Cover Story
Brian Morley

Riding the rapids

Grand Canyon rocks challenge Christian colleges' divergent stands on evolution

Issue: "Rocks in their heads?," Sept. 11, 2010

IN THE GRAND CANYON- "How do you teach about evolution and creation?" That's one of the questions thoughtful parents most frequently ask when visiting Christian colleges with their high-school students.

Some colleges give straightforward answers that might startle some Christians. The biology department of Calvin College in Michigan issued a statement on May 7: "We teach evolutionary theory as the best scientific explanation for the dynamic diversity of life on Earth. . . . We teach biology from an evolutionary paradigm."

Across the border in Ohio, Cedarville University has an equally forthright statement from the other end of the spectrum: "We believe in the literal six-day account of creation, that the creation of man lies in the special, immediate, and formative acts of God and not from previously existing forms of life."

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Those two positions suggest the spectrum at Christian colleges: Calvin on the left, Cedarville on the right. Many colleges are in what today comprises the center: They state not how long the process took but see God creating the different kinds of life and specially creating man. Biola's centrist doctrinal statement notes that "the existence and nature of the creation is due to the direct miraculous power of God. The origin of the universe, the origin of life, the origin of kinds of living things, and the origin of humans cannot be explained adequately apart from reference to that intelligent exercise of power."

Biola University stipulates that "creation models which seek to harmonize science and the Bible should maintain at least the following: (a) God providentially directs His creation, (b) He specially intervened in at least the above-mentioned points in the creation process, and (c) God specially created Adam and Eve (Adam's body from non-living material, and his spiritual nature immediately from God)."

Many colleges emphasize the special creation of Adam and Eve. The Wheaton College statement of faith specifies "that God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race; and that they were created in His own image, distinct from all other living creatures, and in a state of original righteousness." Biola condemns "inadequate origin models" within which "(a) God never directly intervened in creating nature and/or (b) humans share a common physical ancestry with earlier life forms."

That's clear, but what should we make of the following "Statement on Origins" from the Messiah College Department of Biological Sciences? "Families considering Messiah College sometimes ask whether it has an official policy defining our position on origins, governing what is taught in our science classes and elsewhere. We recognize the significance of this issue to many Christians and appreciate being asked about it. Few things are more important than choosing a college that will respect a family's beliefs."

True, so what is Messiah's position? "At Messiah we affirm a Christian world-view as we guide our students in the difficult process of forming their own beliefs, a process that we hope will include thoughtful reflection on various ways in which our faith interacts with other aspects of our lives, including science and other branches of knowledge." Clear? Clear as mud. Prospective students and their parents should understand that teaching is not neutral: The way colleges "guide our students" often determines where those students end up. Students and parents should understand the spectrum of creation/evolution positions.

In covering the debate over the years, WORLD has tended to come from the position that asserts God's sovereignty in creation and His special creation of the universe, life, the diversity of life, and man. Our 2009 Daniel of the Year was Steve Meyer of the Discovery Institute, who, as a leader in the Intelligent Design movement, has with rigorous scientific discipline made the case for a Creator.

We have not covered sufficiently the right and left parts of the spectrum, so this fall we're making up for it. This article will look at some young-earth creationist thinking as compared with conventional theories, and suggest how Christian colleges should react. We'll come back later this fall with an examination of theistic evolutionary beliefs.

Reporting for WORLD has taken me to some places extraordinarily different from the United States-northwest Cambodia, eastern Turkey, central Zambia, to name just three-yet the strangest place I've visited lies within our borders but deep below the surface: the Grand Canyon. In July I spent a week rafting with 25 creationists, most of whom think that God created everything not in billions of years but in six days. For nearly 200 miles we headed down the Colorado River through rapids that contain the fastest-flowing water in North America.

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