The challenge of pursuing scientific truth while being true to biblical confessions is one the Christian Reformed Church cannot ignore, a Calvin College scholar told a group of Synod 2014 delegates. The setting was an optional lunchtime forum for delegates.
Loren Haarsma, an associate professor of physics, said Christian doctrine is compatible with biological evolution but that questions and possibilities abound within that framework.
“In the church we have a range of views on biblical hermeneutics, the age of the Earth and biological evolution,” Haarsma said at a luncheon hosted by the college. “How do we deal with that as a church and as a Christian college?”
The answers are far from simple, but scholars like Haarsma are exploring them with integrity, Calvin president Michael Le Roy told the group.
“This is an example of a scientist being rigorous about the science and being faithful about the confessions,” Le Roy said. “You can see it’s far more complex than the oversimplified views that often get portrayed.”
The forum aimed to help delegates gain insight into a Calvin-produced report on “confessional commitments and academic freedom.” Synod had earlier accepted the report, which was requested by Synods 2011 and 2012 out of concern about college teachings on human origins and evolution. The report is not a position statement but an explanation of the context in which the college does its work, officials said.
Calling confessional commitments and academic freedom “indispensable and interdependent elements” that shape the school’s teaching, the report acknowledges many Christians are “disturbed” by apparent conflicts between modern science and the creation accounts of Genesis. But it asserts it is “critically important” for Calvin faculty to “engage fully and deeply in the study of evolution and origins.”
Haarsma, who gives presentations to churches and runs a seminar series on Christian perspectives on science, gave no definitive answer to the controversial questions. Instead he offered a range of scenarios that have been proposed as to who Adam and Eve were. They included being specially created about 8,000 years ago, selected as representatives from among many humans and symbolic of many revelations from God in the ancient past.
Haarsma also presented different views of the historical origins of original sin, the scientific evidence on human origins, and what Scripture reveals about such issues. He stressed that scientific findings don’t rule out God or miracles, and that evolution doesn’t rule out God.
“If we can see gravity as God’s way of keeping things going in the universe and tectonic plates colliding to form mountains as God working naturally, we can see God working through the evolutionary process,” Haarsma said.
Asked by a delegate how confident he is in the theory of evolution and humans having common ancestry with other life forms, Haarsma said “the science is really good” from “multiple streams of evidence.” But other delegates questioned how the possibilities he posed relate to Scripture.
“How does the wrath of God against a sinful humanity play into these scenarios?” asked Rev. Jeffery Scripps of Classis Georgetown.
Rev. Paul Vander Klay, a pastor from Classis Central California, told Haarsma afterward he appreciated that he was addressing the issues.
“Part of the problem we have in the denomination is we’re not talking about this in a helpful way,” Vander Klay said. “I appreciate your courage. The church needs it.”
Synod 2014 is meeting at Central College in Pella, Iowa, from June 13-19. For continuous Banner coverage, please follow The Banner on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at www.thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit www.crcna.org/synod. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.