Science in Christian Perspective



EVOLUTION and BIOLOGY in a Christian High School

From: JASA 18 (September 1966): 87-89.

A Christian high school is more than a school having Bible classes and chapel. Rather than being a place of censorship it is an institution that meets the ideas and problems of the modem day and offers the help of a Christian faculty to students as they wrestle with the ideas and problems. In such-an environment the issue of evolution is met. This author contends that evolution may be the process of how God made the living creatures. This is consistent with Christian thought as to how God made the living creatures, and with Christian thought as to hotv God answers prayer and fulfils prophecy - that is, the doctrine of Providence.

Not all subjects that we teach in high school have equal opportunity for conflict or seeming conflict with the Christian faith. One would not expect much of a problem with mathematics and the Christian faith, or industrial arts and the Christian faith. But we find the fields of history, social problems, and biology much more sensitive to these difficulties. In our thinking today we are especially concerned with the science of biology because the theory of evolution has such a central position in it. We are all acquainted with the storms of controversy that have surrounded evolution from the days of Darwin and Wallace. Much of the opposition has been from those who have held to the traditional faith of the church. How can this subject be handled in a Christian high school?

In considering this subject it is first necessary to define more clearly what we mean by a Christian high school. Some may think that it merely is an ordinary high school with chapel and Bible study added. This concept of a Christian school is probably held only by people not too well acquainted with an actual institution. A Christian school does have chapel and Bible classes, but it is Christian in a much more profound and thorough going way. The admissions policy and discipline are affected by the Christian character of the school as are also the various subjects that are taught. History from the Christian point of view is a much more complete history than that which leaves out important segments because they deal with religious matters. The very best in music is the great music of the church. How can we adequately discuss the great social issues of our day and leave out the relevance of our faith to them? Science is more meaningful and soul-stirring when we recognize that we are but thinking the thoughts of God after Him.

There are, others who think of the Christian school as a school where the church acts as a censor to make sure that its students come into contact only with those ideas that are "safe" for one who professes to be a Christian. It is true that this concept is one that might be adhered to by certain schools and churches. But we here in this school reject that concept for very good reasons. In the first place, if the Christian faith has something wrong with it so that it cannot compete in the world of ideas we ought not keep the truth from youth and foist on them a lie! In the second place, our censoring of ideas would prove to be futile. In our modem day of communication the students would come into contact with the ideas anyway. Then, our young people would suspect there was something wrong with the Gospel we proclaim if we tried to keep them from hearing anything else. We recognize the basic dishonesty and futility of that kind of so-called "christian" school.

*Willis A. Olson is on the faculty of Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Paper read at the October 3, 1964 meeting of the North Central Section of the American Scientific Affliation meeting at Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis. Minnesota.

It is our philosophy that a Christian school is one which stands fully committed to the Christian faith not only in chapel and Bible class but throughout the entire curriculum. We do not seek to divide ideas and activities into that which is secular and that which is sacred. There is a sacredness even about the common things of life and the Christian faith has relevance to some degree at least in every field of study. The Christian school is not the censor of ideas but rather it furnishes the kind of environment where students can meet ideas, even those which oppose the Christian faith, but where the student can see them in their proper perspectives. Let me quote from the Philosophy of Education of Minnebaha Academy.

We believe it essential to the maturing of the Christian personality that the student be exposed to a realistic view of other standards and philosophies, even though they may be in conflict with the Christian point of view. In the light of this objective, we will not omit from our curriculum the use of materials and resources which present a sincere picture of man and his condition even though these may appear to conflict with the Christian ideals and faith.

We believe that a liberal education, particularly at the upper grade levels, should include an encounter with the realities of non-Christian societies and that the ideal situation for such an encounter occurs under the guidance and interpretation of a Christian teacher.

Although Minnehaha Academy is unequivocally committed to the Christian faith and world view, we see our protective role as a Christian school not as a shelter from the world in which we live, but as a "companioning" role with the student as he makes his encounter with opposing idealogies of a world in which Christ is not yet known.

Note that we believe that the role of the teacher is that of a guide and companion to the student as he struggles in the world of ideas. Certainly there has been struggle with the idea of organic evolution.

At Minnehaha Academy we do not avoid the issue of organic evolution and its seeming conflict with traditional conservative Christian belief. We do not have to avoid it because in the classroom we have the freedom to speak of Scripture and theology as well as the evidences for evolution. In the state schools the teacher may teach the evidences for evolution but because of the separation of church and state he may not discuss Scripture and theology. Yet it is just at this point that the student needs help! Frankly, I do not see how a public school teacher can adequately handle this problem in the classroom. The other resource of help for the student is his pastor. In some cases the pastor is well equipped to help the student but, in too many cases, though the pastor knows Scripture and theology, be does not know science. Too often the pastor's response is to throw out of court the evidences for evolution. This is a most dangerous course. Pastors would do well to engage in some serious study of biology. They should do this at a university where they could come into direct contact with ideas prevalent in the biological world today. They should not omit the laboratory portion of the work if they would understand the problems that their young, parishioners have. Reading a book about the subject is not enough to prepare the pastor to help these earnest young people. We must not lose this vital intellectual battle.

At this point I want to say that the particular views that I am about to express are not necessarily those of the administration of Minnehaha Academy or of other teachers on the staff. They are my own. Though I have heard approval of some of my ideas by my colleagues, this paper is by no means an official pronouncement of the school on the subject. We have academic freedom here as long as it does not violate our Christian commitment.

As a practical matter evolution is not handled extensively early in the course. One cannot avoid referring to it because it is such an integral part of biology, but the main study of it does not occur at this time. It is my judgment that the student at that point usually does not have sufficient background- to have a basis for judgment in these matters. Too often they have opinions based on mere hearsay from a variety of sources - some dependable, others wildly conjectural.

As the school year passes and various organisms are studied, observations are made concerning differences and similarities in anatomy, development, and physiology. The very systems of classifications are reminders of these similarities and differences. One need not repeat here the classical data upon which the theory of evolution is based. It is sufficient to say that among the important parts of the biology course are those experiences that a student has as be comes face to face with the actual objects of biology in the laboratory. After such experiences it is not easy to lightly cast the ideas of evolution aside. Nor do we think that he ought to! One of the basic things about being Christian is being honest!

It is late in the school year when special attention is given to the ideas of evolution. By this time the student has had considerable contact with the objects of nature which suggest evolution. He has dissected animals and plants. He has looked at fossils and tried to understand their great age. He has gotten a taste of genetics and heard of DNA and heard also of possible mechanisms which might result in evolution. It is to be expected that about this time that some students show concern about what they have learned from science and what they have learned from teachers of religion. Too often they have beard from some people the alternatives "evolution" or "creation". That these might not be opposites has not occurred to many. Even some of the -secular" textbooks indicate that these are the choices. One either believes in evolution or he believes in special creation.

It is my contention that truth does not really conflict with itself. But our comprehension of it nuzy, due to the fact that man's knowledge at best is fragmentary and partial.

There is no doubt in my mind of the truth of the Scriptures and the Christian faith. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead has forever settled this matter. God is the Creator and the Book of Genesis is inspired of God. Anyone who is a Christian must necessarily also believe in creation.

On the other band the evidence is strong that evolution of living things to our modem species has actually occurred. It is the simplest and most satisfying response to that which we observe in nature. This is not the Place or time to argue the case for it. The literature is easily available to anyone in this country who wishes to investigate it. In parentheses let me say that Christians ought to thoroughly investigate it before making statements about it. To condemn evolution without investigation is to be guilty of the same sin as those who crucified Christ. They crucified Him for blasphemy when He claimed to be the Son of God. Had they investigated they would not have crucified Him. The evidence was available. To go on - The question before us today is how we handle the problem of evolution in the setting of the Christian school.

In my own classes I do not insist that the students accept the solution which I have worked out for myself. (And some do not accept it.) But I offer it as a suggestion as to bow they might solve their problem. It is the old idea that God may use evolution as a process in producing the species that we have today.

That God would work this way is not at all foreign to Christian thought. Throughout the years there ba~e been Christians who have believed that though men act freely and independently and though natural things function according to the mechanistic laws of the physical universe, behind it all is the sovereign hand of God who guides all according to His will.

Anyone who has prayed and accepted the falling out of circumstances in a singular way as an answer to his prayers should not have problems with accepting the idea of the same hand of God in using natural laws to bring about the variety of species which have arisen. After all, who made natural law?

In a like manner anyone who can believe that human history shows the providential finger of God, should not have trouble with the idea. Certainly those who believe in prophecy must recognize that God can work even through agents who do Dot recognize Him. Remember it was Caesar who gave the command that the world should be enrolled for taxation. This was the apparent human reason that Christ was bom in Bethlehem rather than in Nazareth, thus fulfilling the word of the prophet, Micah.

Of course, such an interpretation raises questions. Usually the most insistent one is in regard to the origin of man. In this area I do not pretend to have the competency of an anthropologist. However, all the evidence at hand in regard to the physical nature of man-and, to some degree, mental and emotional nature - indicate relationship to other animals. Else, why test drugs on animals before testing them on man? Why use animals for experimentation in psychology? Isn't it the whole point that animals are similar to man in some respects? Our bodies need the same materials as other living things and therefore we use both plants and animals for food. I can see no good reason why in these aspects we cannot accept that man is one with other protoplasmic creatures.

However, as Christians we recognize that man is far more than a mammal with a highly developed central nervous system. Man is a spiritual being. Again, here our faith looks to the resurrection of Christ. In the book of Genesis, did not God take a physical being and breathe into its nostrils the breath of life and that being became a living soul? Certainly, to my mind, the origin of spiritual man indicates special creation.

The question arises as to why the early part of Genesis gives the story of creation in the form in which it is given. Who am I to answer for God? But it occurs to me that the story of Genesis is written to all men everywhere of all periods of history. It seems to me that the Holy Spirit has chosen words which would make sense to people of early Babylonia, Palestine, Eygpt, Medieval Europe and modem America. The cosmologies of peoples have been vastly different in the past from those accepted by modern man. And yet God wished to speak to th ' em also. Genesis gives the story so all may know that God is the Creator.

This is the kind of reasoning I use with my students when we consider evolution and the Christian faith. It is the kind of thing that cannot be done in a public school because of the doctrine of separation of church and state. I hope that my attempt to help students will result in candidness in working with scientific data and at the same time result in increasing devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ.


1. The Philosophy of Education and Statement of Objectives, Minnehaha Academy, Minneapolis, Minnesota; page 1, Affirmations, paragraph 6.