The Author of Life film series and its curricula have been available for Christian schools and youth groups for over a year. We have received positive feedback from many scientists (both secular and Christian) as well as several pastors and friends from a variety of denominations. However, we are finding that getting our program actually used in churches has been a challenge. Churches whose doctrine finds little problem with evolution feel that the program isn’t critical for their youth, while more “fundamentalist” churches find our program too controversial. Sometimes the youth pastor is willing to try out the program, but they are afraid of potential backlash from parents or the church leadership. We have found some “middle of the road” churches that are using our curriculum, mostly Methodist and Presbyterian. We feel strongly that the conversation about faith and science should occur while students are still at their home churches before they go out on their own in college. Because of this, we have been spending a lot of time trying to figure out the root cause of the apprehension. Here are some of the things we learned after talking with youth group leaders, pastors and friends.
It’s not evolution itself: The idea that populations adapt and change over time isn’t really the issue. Everyone we spoke with, no matter how strictly they adhere creationist viewpoints, had no problem with what they call “microevolution”. There is good reason for this since we can watch microevolution occur in the petri dish or on the Galapagos Islands during times of drought or flood. There really wasn’t any problem with the concept of evolution beyond the species barrier either. The concept of “kind” has been expanded to include what scientists would consider families (two groupings less specific from species).
Macroevolution is improperly taught in high schools: Most people have been taught that the biodiversity of all living things is caused by small changes + millions of years. This is hard to grasp and believe. It isn’t hard to conceptualize finch beaks changing shape, but it is hard to conceptualize a proto-reptile’s descendants becoming birds and mammals given only natural selection and mutation as mechanisms. The idea that plants, microorganisms and animals all have a common ancestor seems highly implausible even given large tracts of time. For animal evolution, the concept of body plan genes, which are a set of genes that determine the body shape and arrangement of appendages of all animals, makes macroevolution make sense. Small changes in these genes (by copying and altering them) can make huge changes in form. If we expect the typical person to accept macroevolution, we need to properly explain how it is plausible.
It’s mostly about humankind: As Christians, we believe that humans are unique and that humans were created in God’s image. Christians believe that Jesus came to the earth to save humans, not monkeys or dolphins or other intelligent creatures. We believe that we were meant to take care of all of creation, which gives us the feeling that we are in charge – that we are at the top of creation – the pinnacle. This lies counter to the idea that we are at the end of a small twig of a giant bush of evolutionary branches.
Sin through one man, redemption through one man: Another non-negotiable many Christians have with evolution is the idea that we may not all have descended from one couple, who were the first humans and without ancestors. With Adam and Eve’s sin came death, decay and our need for a savior. That is central to the faith of many Christians. They are not comfortable with the idea of Adam as an archetype or Adam and Eve being a chosen couple who lived amongst other humans.
These are all issues that we have discussed in the Author of Life curriculum. We try to help students see ways that Christians have come to peace with the idea of human evolution and how if we take a closer look at the text of Genesis, we can hold onto the authority of God’s word while still looking objectively at scientific data. Our challenge will be to help churches be open enough to the idea of evolutionary creation to see that our curriculum encourages Christian youth to grow closer to God, not dilute their faith. To do this effectively, will require relationships built through contact work and careful, respectful conversation with church leaders. We can’t expect to gain acceptance through bulk mailings and Google ads alone. This work is best done through one relationship at a time, dismantling the misconceptions