Mount Vernon Nazarene University biology professor Paul Madtes has spoken in college classrooms for the past 30 years, yet he still felt nervous last month as he stepped onstage to defend Intelligent Design at a Church of the Nazarene conference on origins.
Part of the anxiety came because most of the audience at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego—made up of Nazarene professors, pastors, and students—disagreed with his beliefs on how God created the world. Some attendees were his colleagues and former students. Madtes said he’s not usually a confrontational person, but he felt God had called him to defend Intelligent Design, and he’s “not convinced that [Darwinism] is as well-established and solid as people believe.”
Madtes is up against BioLogos, the leading proponent of theistic evolution (TE), a Templeton Foundation–funded attempt to merge faith in God and Darwin. TE is popular on many Christian college campuses and especially in Madtes’s Nazarene denomination. Until last year Point Loma professor Darrel Falk served as BioLogos president, and PLNU housed the BioLogos office.
Madtes first encountered TE views as a college student in the 1970s, and noticed the idea gaining popularity in the ’80s. As more scientists signed on to this belief system, they often ignored evidence that doesn’t fit with their evolutionary model. But through years of study, Madtes saw too many flaws in Darwinism to accept the TE position of many of his peers. The strongest arguments against it have come up in recent research, he said, pointing to discoveries in DNA mapping research that show so-called “junk” DNA has specific roles and is not merely an evolutionary byproduct.
Previous Nazarene conferences included only TE speakers, but this year organizers invited Madtes to provide the Intelligent Design perspective and Georgia Purdom (Answers in Genesis) to speak from a six-day creationist viewpoint. On an overcast morning in January, Purdom argued that the question boiled down to biblical authority, noting that TE undermines a literal Adam and Eve and argues for millions of years of death before the fall of man. Madtes showed that the Earth is perfectly fine-tuned to support human life, and certain mechanisms are irreducibly complex, meaning they can’t be broken down into smaller components and explained by evolution.
Falk then presented arguments for evolution and common descent: fossil and geological records, similarities between different animal embryos, and similar ape/human genetic defects. Madtes later noted to me that he was surprised how dated much of Falk’s data was, and how Falk didn’t take into account newer research, such as DNA mapping, that is discrediting evolution on a macro level. “For those who hold tightly to the belief that evolution is true and God did it, it’s difficult to follow if major elements of what you’re holding are becoming scientifically weaker and weaker,” Madtes said.
But discussions with conference-goers found most minds hadn’t changed. Later sessions on biblical scholarship contained only TE voices, and few attended the workshops Madtes and Purdom offered. An informal survey by conference organizer Thomas Oord suggested that an overwhelming majority of ministers and professors in the denomination believe in TE—though most lay people do not.
Some TE proponents acknowledge their inability to answer difficult questions. Jennifer Chase, a biology professor at Northwest Nazarene University and a former student of Madtes, admitted she couldn’t explain exactly how TE is different from deism, or what a God-filled view of evolution looked like. But she explained that “there are some problems that I can cope with, like the literal Adam, and others I can’t, like the age of rocks.”
Madtes believes TE support among some Christians is an extension of the sacred-secular divide, with individuals compartmentalizing their Christianity and professional lives. Madtes realizes that holding this view often won’t make him much money or many friends in academia. He’s been working on a biology textbook for the past six years that presents differing views on origins but argues for the young Earth model. He’s not sure if the book will sell, but he said “it’s what God wants me to do.”
Last fall Kevin Hester, a Southern Baptist church planter, launched a new church in St. Joseph, a western Michigan town. A sponsoring church on the east side of the state is helping financially, but money is tight for the married father of seven children. He thought about a new revenue source, and hit on one: eBay.
Hester, with 16 years’ experience selling on eBay, decided to ask attenders at his sponsoring church to donate saleable items and bring them to church on “eBay Sunday,” March 9. That’s the day this year the switch to daylight saving time occurred, so his advertising tagline was “Think Spring, Think Planting, Get Involved.”
The plan worked. Last Sunday churchgoers donated everything from a box of Dallas newspapers from the time of the Kennedy assassination to wooden clocks to church organs. A church member delivered the items to Hester via U-Haul truck. Several other church planters have now contacted Hester for information about setting up their own eBay Sunday—or Sundays. Hester says sponsoring churches typically cut a check to support a church plant, leaving people in the pews cut off from direct connection to the work—but when people go through their accumulated stuff and choose items to donate, “it makes church planting more personal.”
Hester has now set up a website, churchplantingoutofthebox.com, that explains the idea and lists items that sell well online. They include antiques, rare books, cameras, and collectibles, but not items in poor condition, Beanie Babies, or stuff from the Franklin or Danbury mints. Hester says the concept works just as well for those who want to hold garage sales or sell items on Craigslist.
Church planters who don’t want to add internet-auction seller to their responsibilities might look at recruiting an enterprising youth group to run the auction. They’d be developing business skills while raising money for the church planter. Hester says church planters should be creative: “God is creative. He expects us to think outside the box.” —Susan Olasky