Saturday, February 14, 2009

War and Peace: 150 Years of Christian Encounters with Darwin

Are you tired of hearing about Darwin by now? I am too, so let's talk about what happened after Darwin. On February 27-28 (just two weeks from now), the Bryan Institute for Critical Thought and Practice is sponsoring a seminar entitled War and Peace: 150 Years of Christian Encounters with Darwin. The purpose of the seminar is to take a look at the ways various Christians have reacted to evolution in the past. This is not any kind of creationist conference. In fact, I'm the token creationist speaking, and I'm not even speaking about creationism. Instead, the purpose of this conference is to look into the history of Christians who reject and accept evolution (and one who did both). Hopefully, we might just learn something.

Our speakers are Jon Roberts (Boston University), Ted Davis (Messiah College), Steve Matheson (Calvin College), and me. Jon Roberts will be presenting an overview of the American Protestant reactions to Origin of Species, drawn from his excellent book Darwinism and the Divine in America. Ted Davis will be presenting his latest research on the use of cartoons in the antievolution movement of the 1920s and how they've been conceptually recycled in the modern debates. Steve Matheson will present a Reformed perspective on theology and evolution, particularly as it is manifested through the history of Calvin College. And I will present a new paper on Erich Wasmann, a Jesuit entomologist who famously clashed with Haeckel and his Monists in 1907.

One of my hopes for this conference is that we will begin to see beyond our convenient, propaganda-based categories of "creationist" or "theistic evolutionist." The more I study the issues, the more complexity I find. Wasmann is a good example of one who accepted the possibility of evolution and its consistency with Christian theology, but who also rejected universal common ancestry and the evolution of the human body. So what exactly is he? What label do we stick on him? I think that understanding the variety of reactions will help us to understand better the conflicts of our own time.

Like all Bryan Institute programs, all events are open to the public for free. A schedule of events can be found at the Bryan Institute website. If you're interested and have the time, I'd love to see you there.