Hope you saved the college student responses to my question on science and faith from the July “Generations.” Also, I found the one denying dinosaurs: “In Sunday School I was taught that God created all of us in His image. Thus we supposedly did not come from a cave man or a monkey or anything other than what we are now. And evolution did not occur. And dinosaurs did not even exist.” Here are more (my comments noted in parentheses):
“Even Darwin on his deathbed admitted that the world is the way it is because of God's creation and not evolution.” (Such false claims are legion, about Mark Twain and others.)
“It is hard for me to put my total faith in evolution.” (Nobody asked you to.)
“In the fossil record, the 'missing link' for transitional forms has never been found. In the fossil record a horse or an elephant have indeed changed, but the horse is still a horse and the elephant is still an elephant.” (Many transitional fossil forms are known. The earliest “horses” are not much like today's horses, zebras and asses. If the lineage had gone extinct 50 million years ago, we'd likely have put the fossils in the Condylarthra, an extinct catch-all order of Eocene herbivores. Likewise, the ancestors of elephants are unlike both mastodons and elephants.)
Three categorical responses: “I am a Christian, so of course I do not agree with the theory of evolution;” and “The idea of evolution goes against everything I believe as a Christian (Luke 10:29-37?; Matt. 25:31-46?; Micah 6:8?); and “Natural selection contradicts the Catholic faith.”
(Some denominations, clergy, and even secular outfits find scientific understanding of biological change and origins, paleobiology, geologic dating, relativity, cosmology, and even the causes of contagious diseases unacceptable. However, official Catholic doctrine has gradually accepted evolutionary science since the 1920s. And many denominations, plus lots of faithful clergy and laity have little trouble incorporating a scientific understanding of God's universe into their worldview.)
Occasional responses objected to my “wasting” time on religious concerns at all. But every year, some students gave science/faith issues more serious thought:
“I'd like to know more about modern cosmology and its implications for philosophy and religion. For example, is there room for God? Is the universe anthropic, or is it just a machine?”
“I am disturbed that we will never know the truth.” (Their prof (me) believes that humans can probably never be certain about anything important. Only Elohím can be certain, if God wants to be.)
“From more than 10,000 years ago until a few hundred years ago, most cultures fancied humans as the center of a world of more or less manageable size. Some (not all) thought the universe was relatively young. Thus, humans seemed to have been involved in most of its history. Copernicus and others (which we considered in class) have shown us that, as humans, we have occupied only a moment of time in a vast, old, awesome universe, in which we seem not to amount to much. How should reasonable people of good will deal with such knowledge?” (Extensive response later.)
“How can we call ourselves scientists if we do not believe humans evolved this way when there is so much evidence to back it up? How do we draw the line between religious beliefs and scientific evidence?”
“How do you (me, their prof) reconcile evolution and faith?;” and “Can you believe in evolution and remain in good standing with your church?”
Some of the many responses were anonymous, others not, but I no longer know who wrote what. Most introductory and liberal education students were relatively recent high school grads, but a few were juniors or seniors who had postponed satisfying liberal ed science requirements, or older students who had returned to college long after finishing high school. Whatever the reason, some are obviously more mature or more concerned than others.
Truly interested students were usually most curious about the last two topics above. Bemidji State University is a public institution; it is not our job to indoctrinate students regarding religion. Two points here: first, students could satisfy the lib ed science requirement with less exposure to evolution by taking chemistry, physics, or “Physical Science for Non-Scientists” (PSNS) courses. Some faculty advisors seemed to routinely steer students to PSNS because “biology is too hard.” That's OK, my best freshmen often became arts, humanities, and social science majors, but well informed ones, better able than their fellow citizens to distinguish scientific topics from questions that cannot be answered by testing with real data about the physical universe.
Second, science/faith concerns came up toward the end of spring quarter, though evolution came up repeatedly earlier on. Students who regularly attended class had often heard me say, e.g., “In adult Sunday school, someone mentioned …,” or “Elaine is on the church's Finance Committee, where she… .” So they knew we were churched, but nothing about our take on doctrine. Please save this column for future reference.
Evan Hazard is a retired BSU biology professor.