Just a five-minute stroll from the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., sits the brown brick building that is home since last year to BioLogos, a foundation pushing churches and believers to embrace evolution, and in the process change how they read the Bible.
The brainchild of Francis Collins, who now heads the National Institutes of Health, BioLogos has taken in nearly $9 million from the Templeton Foundation and millions more from other donors. BioLogos in turn offers grants to church, parachurch, and academic leaders and organizations that promote “evolutionary creation.”
BioLogos president Deb Haarsma, former chair of Calvin’s physics and astronomy department, says churches that support evolution will be more effective witnesses in a culture that reveres science, and will help college students avoid a crisis of faith when biology professors argue for evolution. The BioLogos website states, “Genetic evidence shows that humans descended from a group of several thousand individuals who lived about 150,000 years ago.”
But Stephen Meyer, a Discovery Institute leader of the intelligent design movement, told WORLD BioLogos leaders are using “an unsubstantiated and controversial claim to urge pastors and theologians to jettison a straightforward reading of Genesis about the human race arising from one man and one woman. They think ‘the science’ requires such a reinterpretation, but apart from speculative models that make numerous question-begging assumptions, the science does no such thing.”
The BioLogos website gives three options regarding the existence of Adam and Eve: “One option is to view Adam and Eve as a historical pair living among many 10,000 years ago, chosen to represent the rest of humanity before God. Another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an allegory in which Adam and Eve symbolize the large group of ancestors who lived 150,000 years ago. Yet another option is to view Genesis 2-4 as an ‘everyman’ story, a parable of each person’s individual rejection of God.”
BioLogos is now spending $3.6 million (primary funder: Templeton) on 37 projects in the United States and around the world, with grants ranging from $23,000 to $300,000. According to the BioLogos website, funds go to “projects that explore consonance between evolution and Christian faith.” Projects must not “reject the conclusions of mainstream science (e.g. old earth, common descent, etc.).” The requirement is not so stringent on the other side of the spectrum: Proposals cannot reject, but they can “helpfully inform … historic, creedal Christianity (e.g. historical Resurrection, high view of Scripture, etc.).”
The projects include:
- A video series in Hawaii teaching evolution to Christian high-school students. Curricula for student groups or churches to “promote healthy dialogue on evolution and Christian faith.” Outreach initiatives to Catholics, Nazarenes, Vineyard churches, and Spanish and French speakers.
- A grant to Gordon College biology professor Craig Story to have 19 pastors spend a week learning from evolution-affirming scientists about DNA, galaxies, and biological change in microbes. “No one had a major meltdown,” said Story. “It was just a really good week.”
- A grant to fund a speaking tour for Wheaton College Old Testament professor John Walton, allowing him to share his interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis, which he says aren’t about the creation of the physical world. Walton sees Adam as a real person but one whom God did not literally make from the dust of the ground.
- A grant to Trinity Western University biologist Dennis Venema to co-write a book about Adam and evolution. Venema said his chapters will show, using measurements of genetic diversity, that modern humans did not originate from a single Adam-and-Eve-like couple, but from a group of ancestors around 10,000 in size. That’s consistent with the BioLogos belief statement that “God created humans in biological continuity with all life on earth.”
Eastern University biology professor David Wilcox is using a BioLogos grant to write a book about human origins models. He’s still weighing the options, but leans toward a model where Adam is the “chieftain” of a small, ancient tribe. One possibility for original sin, he says, is that it passed from Adam to his children via a process of enculturation and brain development. “We inherit sin, because we aren’t human unless we’re raised by other humans.”
Another BioLogos grant recipient, Oliver Crisp, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, says of Adam and Eve, “Maybe God implants in this pair a moral awareness and a likeness to God that was not present in other hominids.” Deb Haarsma says BioLogos does not have a set position on whether Adam and Eve were historical individuals or symbolic: “How sin entered the world, when and where it got started, these are questions that we’re researching and discussing.”
BioLogos personnel such as program director Kathryn Applegate discount the idea of miracles in natural history and say the evolution process worked by itself, without special intervention from God along the way: “I don’t think there’s evidence from the science that He supernaturally zapped something into existence.”
Some scientists are standing up against the BioLogos wave. David DeWitt, a biology professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., believes Adam was directly created, and says the genetics measurements supposedly disproving Adam and Eve rely on doubtful “molecular clock” rates calibrated with the assumption that “evolution is true, and that chimps and humans have a common ancestor.”
John West of the Discovery Institute, a leader in the Intelligent Design movement, says of BioLogos, “I don’t see them getting more clear about what it is they actually believe.” Were the first human beings created morally good? Or did they evolve as fundamentally selfish? The latter option would seem opposed to a traditional understanding of the fall, said West: “If you deny that, then when you say Jesus is your Savior—saving you from what? From His own botched creation?”
Jack Collins, a professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, is the author of Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? He told me, “The actual historicity of Adam and Eve is extremely important as a fundamental Christian doctrine. … Christian doctrine is best understood as the true story of who we are and how we got to be where we are. ... It will come apart if we don’t tell the story with the proper beginning.”
Collins added, “The Bible leads us to expect a special creation of humankind. … If we take the idea of a purely natural process from molecules to mankind, then I think that is very difficult to square with the Bible. … It might even be impossible.”
Author Os Guinness hopes BioLogos and Intelligent Design leaders will join in helping evangelicals “recover a healthy, fearless, and constructive view of science” while combatting scientism: Guinness says such dialogue “can only bless us all in the end.”
The Templeton Foundation is the financial daddy of BioLogos, but it also has some affluent uncles. The Issachar Fund, a private operating foundation in Grand Rapids, Mich., gave $564,958 between 2012 and 2014 to support the BioLogos grant program and aid the organization’s move to Michigan. Issachar president Kurt Berends, a former Calvin College history professor, said BioLogos espouses “a viewpoint that needs to be out there to engage the church.”
Berends said Issachar makes those grants through the National Christian Foundation. The chairman of NCF, Jim Blankemeyer, is also on the board of the Issachar Fund, and along with his wife provided the seed funding for Issachar when it launched two years ago. According to available IRS records, Blankemeyer is also a prominent personal donor to BioLogos, giving a total of $541,649 in 2010 and 2011.
Elsewhere, Templeton is trying to bring Christians to support evolution through funding of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion program: The “Dialogue” will award Templeton-subsidized grants worth between $90,000 and $200,000 to 10 Catholic and Protestant seminaries for “pilot programs integrating science into core theological curricula.” Jennifer Wiseman, director of the program, is a BioLogos board member.
Templeton also provided startup funding for the Faraday Institute, a British promoter of theistic evolution. Templeton grants often reflect the eclectic theology of its founder, John Templeton, who tried to meld aspects of Christianity with Eastern religions. An attendee at one Templeton seminar on evolution, Michael Brooks, described in New Scientist “the Templeton version of religion. A stripped-down, vague and woolly notion that there is something ‘other’ out there.”
For more about the promotion of evolution among Christians and the Templeton Foundation, see “Books of the Year” and “Facing the Pressure,” July 2, 2011. For an examination of the claim that Christians should adopt a version of evolution for the sake of a questioning younger generation, see “Married to Darwin,” WORLD, July 12, 2014. —D.J.D.
Denis Alexander: Adam and Eve lived long after the first homo sapiens, and were “people whom God assigned as the founders of his new spiritual family on earth. The model therefore envisages Adam and Eve as the Homo divinus—the first human beings to truly know God and walk in fellowship with Him.”
Stephen Meyer: Alexander’s claim “is not based on evidence, but on a speculative field called theoretical population genetics, [which] assumes but does not establish that humans and lower primates share a common ancestor and that all gene differences between humans and other primates are the result of random mutations.”