Bridging Faith and Evolution Science
My story is rooted in my love for the Bible and science.
Growing up, I was homeschooled because my father was in the military. Through our travels, my family taught me that God made the earth in seven days and that dinosaurs weren’t millions of years old. Coming from a conservative Christian family, I went to church regularly and didn’t understand biodiversity scientifically.
Once my dad retired from the military and we moved to Missouri, I began my journey through public school. I struggled through science class and my teacher tutored me at home. With the extra help, I was able to achieve a B in the class, but he didn’t bother to teach me about evolution. When my teacher skipped the chapter, I asked him what it was about and he tried to give me a basic breakdown without getting too far into it. Telling me that the parents complain about the material, he said he always skipped it for the sake of making his life easier.
...the closer you are to someone when you’re disagreeing over controversial issues, the more personally someone will take it.
When I graduated from high school and went to a community college nearby, I swore I’d learn about the sciences. In my church, we were taught that the Bible was the truth and science proved it; therefore, I had faith in finding the answers I was looking for in college. Once I began my Biology class, my teacher was a true inspiration. I couldn’t remember what an atom was, but with his mentorship, I was able to achieve an A and find a deep appreciation in science.
I couldn’t steer away from my religious perspective at the time and still didn’t understand evolution. I was reading religious material on the topic and Christian authors always distinguished between the concepts of microevolution and macroevolution. The former is defined as a change in gene frequency within a population that could happen quickly from one generation to the next, the latter is an evolutionary process above the species level which could take up to millions of years. They claimed that microevolution did happen, but macroevolution didn’t. I felt like I was being deceived because there was bias in the material. How they expressed their reasoning didn’t make sense to me and the examples they gave could be argued away.
I was searching for an answer that couldn’t be argued away.
What the issue really came down to for me was whether the creation story was literal and whether macroevolution was legitimate. I still held onto my faith, but as I explored other interpretations of biblical literature, I realized there were a lot of misunderstandings about the Bible; in fact, even many mainline Christian denominations have openly declared that evolution has “no conflict with theology”. Eventually, I became more open to learning about the Bible differently than my parents and during that time I was developing my education as an undergraduate in Anthropology.
It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I understood evolution for the first time in the office of my Anthropology professor. My professor had been talking about macroevolution and showed us a video of bacteria adapting to E. coli over time. At that point, I hadn’t believed in macroevolution and became confused after class. After discussing it in her office, she explained (with much patience) that while a few days might seem like a blink of an eye for us humans when compared to our lifespan, it appears to be an eternity for bacteria, since they could reproduce so quickly in only a matter of minutes. When countless generations are spawned over this period of time, we begin to observe the effects on a macroevolutionary level for the bacteria.
Once I processed what she said, it clicked, and I realized I had been missing out on the origins of life and how truly amazing it was. I got goosebumps and overly excited, exclaiming that we need to be telling everyone about it and how amazing that is. She tried to calm me down but failed.
From then on, I knew I had to dedicate my time to helping others learn about the amazing changes that happen in the world around us. My goal is to give people the same ‘a-ha!’ moment that I had my professor’s office and to help people feel comfortable with asking questions about controversial topics.
A challenge I’ve faced with the gap between the science community and the public has been the complex jargon, misunderstanding of what science is and does, and a lack of empathy while communicating. I deeply feel that communicating positively with one another, even if you don’t agree, is crucial for opening the door for further conversation. Scientists should focus on building positive experiences with the public and by doing so, it’s implied to listen to their feelings, religious beliefs, and meet them where they’re at in their beliefs of critical topics including evolution and climate change. Even as a college student, I found that some science authors had a bad attitude towards creationists and that off-put me to listening to a word of what they said.
Scientists should focus on building positive experiences with the public and by doing so, it’s implied to listen to their feelings, religious beliefs, and meet them where they’re at in their beliefs of critical topics including evolution and climate change.
Unfortunately, not everyone in my religious community understands my perspective of the Bible or the scientific consensus of evolution. My mother sat me down with a Christian book and looking through its pages was horrifying yet nostalgic at the same time. I had been trained to recognize pseudoscience, but when I tried to explain that concept to my mom, she got angry with me over the topic. Eventually, I just had to sit and listen. She felt that by rejecting creationism, I was rejecting God.
My dad got angry with me for an entirely different reason. Although curious about evolution, he felt that the sciences were inherently liberal politically and therefore didn’t acknowledge my education. He argued with me about how we should treat others who are different from us and the kind of laws the U.S. needs to enforce as a nation. I disagreed with him, pointing out that Jesus stood for equality in the Bible, but he thought that he was already treating others equally politically. We couldn’t resolve our differences and we didn’t have another discussion on the matter.
I quickly realized that the closer you are to someone when you’re disagreeing over controversial issues, the more personally someone will take it. I changed my approach to the topic by listening more and not directly stating any disagreement. By talking about the science community as if they were a resource for everyone, people came to listen to my side too. I often emphasize the good things that science does when discussing evolution or climate change and avoid placing blame or disagreeing with anyone.
In my pursuit of a graduate degree in biology, I have discovered a love for science communication, another topic I wasn’t exposed to. Over the summer of 2018, I stumbled upon a website and contacted the Director of Community Science Education, Dr. Katherine Carter at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). After an extensive interview and application process, I was selected for the opportunity to run a Science Booster Club program, the first of its kind, in the state of Missouri. The organization is dedicated to bringing the concepts of evolution and climate to underrepresented areas.
With training in non-conflict communication, public relations, and leadership building, I was able to use this opportunity to start an NCSE Science Booster Club on campus to engage college students in the chance to develop their skills in scientific outreach, leadership, and education. Since the initiation of this program, I have engaged over hundreds of people of all ages in the Warrensburg community with fun, interactive science activity kits. Answering questions and encouraging the learning of all ages, bringing the public a positive experience with the sciences brings me joy. I’ll never forget the face my professor made when she saw me and my volunteers in the community parade with a big science banner flashing NCSE’s logo, brandishing the tree that Charles Darwin drew in his journal. We both beamed at each other as she cheered for us.
My goal is to give people the same ‘a-ha!’ moment that I had my professor’s office and to help people feel comfortable with asking questions about controversial topics.
Other events we’ve participated in include the local farmers market, the Missouri State Fair, and the community fall festival. Most of the families like to talk about topics we display, but one elderly woman felt that we needed to hear the story of the Bible. She talked to us about Jesus and the cross for 20 minutes while I slipped in little tidbits about evolution into the conversation. I realized through her speech that she had no idea that I was religious and saw me more as an entity of science than a person. I kept reflecting on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
Eventually, the lady left, but on her own terms and with a smile. I feel that even though she didn’t leave feeling any different about evolution, she felt good about talking to someone in the sciences.
Exposure is incredibly important because anyone going into the sciences will have to learn about evolution. Sometimes I worry about how many potential scientists we lose each year just because the topic scared off a young college freshman. I truly hope I can help people become comfortable with their exposure to evolution without feeling that it’s anti-religious to talk about it. Scientists are a diverse group of people with all kinds of beliefs and I hope that my peers can understand that I have a religious belief in my personal life as well. My story is about learning how to unbias myself while investigating the answers in the universe and embracing the truth as I go along. I believe that the sciences helped me grow in a way that my religious community couldn’t during my childhood and I’m thankful for both aspects of my life.