Scripture and science: Biology professor explores evolution
Canadian Mennonite University hosts fifth annual Scientist in Residence
Dr. Dennis R. Venema travels across the country engaging in conversations about how evolution and Christian faith can co-exist. While, as an Evangelical Christian, he grew up convinced that belief in evolution meant being an unfaithful, his views have shifted significantly over time.
Venema is Professor of Biology at Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley, B.C. and was Scientist in Residence at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) from February 4-6, 2019. He spoke in classes, in a student forum and chapel, and offered a public lecture, exploring Christian understandings of creation in light of evolution, and how studying the created order can serve as a form of worship.
"As a young person I remember hearing evolution whispered at church and thinking, 'Oh that's a bad word.' That was like swearing," says Venema. "If you were in Sunday school, your flannel graph didn't have 10,000 people on it, it had two." He learned, largely by osmosis, that believing in Darwin's theory of natural selection was bad because scientists and atheists used it to delegitimize the need for God.
In 2004 everything changed when he was asked to write an article on biology and faith. In the process, his plan to argue for intelligent design (which denies evolution and necessitates the existence of God the designer) changed dramatically. His ongoing research and reading left him thoroughly unconvinced by the argument and his convictions turned 180 degrees.
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Venema now reflects that the conversation about evolution and faith is at a very different place than it was even 10-15 years ago. Now it is commonplace for his students to have heard about the debate when they enter his classes and many have already worked through it. But for those still wrestling with it, it's a big deal. For some it is more than a matter of personal belief in that it can thrust them outside of their faith community.
At the public lecture titled, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made? Adam, Eve, and Evolution, Venema presented detailed scientific evidence supporting the validity of evolution. He also dove into the tension between the belief that God created the world as an intentional act of design and the scientific research that shows random mutation and natural selection as key components of an ever-evolving created order. He invited attendees to ask how Christians might harmonize these two convictions. He asked, "What if we could view evolution as a mechanism for design, as the way God intended to bring about biodiversity?"
Venema was clear that science is not well-suited to answer many questions that people of faith, particularly evangelical Christians, have including whether Adam and Eve were historic individuals or how and when sin entered the world. He stated that the sooner we realize that science is not meant to answer these questions, the better. "A truly Christian approach must take both scripture and science seriously—neither ignoring nor uncritically accepting either, since both give us access to reason and to God's revelation."
Venema says he felt at home at CMU and relished the opportunity to speak in multiple settings as he engaged with students who come from many different points on the Christian spectrum.
This was CMU's fifth annual Scientist in Residence week, made possible through the generous support of Richard Penner of Saskatoon, SK. For more information, visit cmu.ca/sir.