Trinity Western professors explore science and faith
“There are believers who have reconciled excellence in science with a vibrant Christian faith”
LANGLEY, BC–Trinity Western University (TWU) is celebrating academic recognition amid the broad campaign to delegitimize its proposed law school. Two of its professors are among 25 successful international applicants selected to participate in an elite seminar at Oxford, exploring the interaction between science and faith.
The seminar, titled “Bridging the Two Cultures of Science and the Humanities,” includes funding and scholarly support for individual research projects proposed by each professor, as well as funding to establish a science and religion club at the professor’s home campus.
“Of the 25 recipients in this seminar, Trinity Western is the only school that received two applicants,” says Myron A. Penner, professor of philosophy at TWU and one of the seminar participants. “That speaks to the climate here for exploring science and religion.”
Penner’s project is a manuscript focused on helping students from conservative Christian backgrounds overcome any fear in engaging science.
“There are Christians who have a fear of what is being claimed by the scientific community, especially when it comes to implications of a scientific worldview in the age of the Earth and the nature of human origins. The book I am working on isn’t specifically about evolution, but evolution is one case study that is helpful in understanding the larger phenomenon of this science fear.”
Penner explains the tension is not necessarily between science and religion, but between science and specific interpretations of Scripture. There are good reasons, he says, to believe scientific claims like the Big Bang, evolution and the age of the Earth.
“Our unshakable commitment to [the gospel] needs to be distinguished from our own interpretations of what the Bible says on any particular point of doctrine,” says Penner. “Right through the present day, there are believers who have reconciled excellence in science with a vibrant Christian faith. It seems the height of ego for someone who doesn’t have the ability to navigate the data to ignore what science is saying because they don’t like it.”
The other TWU participant is biology professor Dennis Venema, who is writing a book to help Christian professors who are not biologists better understand the scientific basis for evolution and how the theory of evolution can be complementary to a Christian worldview.
“Many Christians oppose evolutionary biology because they feel it conflicts with the Genesis account,” he says. “There is good evidence, however, that the Genesis narratives are not speaking in terms of modern science. We need to recognize that we not only need to translate the language of Genesis, but also the culture and expectations of the original recipients of the text.”
Venema says many Christians don’t understand how drastically recent discoveries support evolution.
“Evolution is so well supported, and the evidence for it so compelling, that one cannot reject evolution and claim to have an up-to-date view of science.”
Of the 25 projects being funded by the grant, seven are overtly connected to the evolutionary view, while none approaches human origins from a traditional creationist perspective.
Venema says this is because the Templeton Religious Trust, the foundation funding the seminar, “typically doesn’t fund anti-evolutionary work, because of its many scientific shortcomings.”
Stan Rosenberg, executive director of SCIO, the group organizing the seminar, says it is focused on the broader dynamics of the cultures of science and humanities, rather than simply the science of human origins.
While he identifies himself also as a theistic evolutionist and believes that modern science cannot genuinely be used to support a traditional creationist view, he is clear that applicants views on the subject were not considered in selecting proposals.
“I think [theistic evolution] makes the most sense of reality. That doesn’t presume that I’ve found all the answers. I’m interested in engaging with deep, reflective thought wherever I find it. I’ve changed my views on this over the years and it’s because of trying to listen to others.”
Critics of the theory of evolution, however, highlight that it remains unproven, despite the tremendous amount of time and money being dedicated to exploring it. They also emphatically state that there is substantial, modern scientific support for the biblical narrative of creation.
Gary Chiang, professor of biology at Redeemer University College, says, “There is a wealth of scientific knowledge that fully supports creation as written in Scripture. The existence of living fossils [such as the platypus or crocodile] tells us that organisms have the capacity to stay the same. Species reproduce generation after generation as the same species, as described in Scripture.”
While the debate about human origins will likely continue for the foreseeable future, Penner says one thing he appreciates most at TWU is the openness to embrace differences.
“Among the staff and students, there are a variety of perspectives. We are a climate of freedom and safety to pursue both scientific expertise and a vibrant faith in a complementary way.”
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