Connecting the Dots: the NAE, the PCA, and BioLogos

Over at WORLD Magazine, Marvin Olasky has an interesting piece about a new collaboration between the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE ) and the  American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for the purpose of building “better dialogue and understanding between the scientific and evangelical communities.” Dr. Olasky’s concern is whether there will be real dialogue or whether the goal of the collaboration is to sell evolution to evangelical holdouts:

Dialogue, sure: But let’s make it a real dialogue, with proponents of Intelligent Design not frozen out. Better understanding, of course: But let’s focus on God and not make Charles Darwin a god. ‘Collaboration’? Not if the goal is to sell evolution to the three-fourths of evangelicals who still keep faith with the Bible’s teaching that God made Adam from the dust of the earth. Is this overly critical of what could be a good thing? Not if we take into account the 2006 AAAS ‘Statement on the Teaching of Evolution,’ which sees critiques of evolution as ‘attacks on the integrity of science.’ Not if we take into account Templeton’s ‘Science for Ministry’ funding of ‘programs that will help ministers and the congregations they serve to move away from … simplistic solutions and polarizing stereotypes.’

Dr. Olasky points out that this new venture comes on the heels of the criticism that the NAE received for its $1 million partnership with an organization that promotes contraception for unmarried couples. He notes that the NAE has since announced that it will not continue that partnership. His question “is a collaborating NAE once again trying to sway evangelicals rather than represent them?” is a very good one.

Dr. Olasky doesn’t, however, connect all of the dots regarding the AAAS, the NAE, and the Templeton Foundation. Here are some things that I think are relevant and that explain my own concern with this new collaboration.

First, the AAAS does indeed have a grant from the Templeton Foundation. The Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion program (DoSER) is an almost $6 million grant program which “engages the public on a range of questions in science and religion, including evolution, cosmology, astrobiology, and human evolution. The program seeks to establish stronger relationships between the scientific and religious communities and promotes multidisciplinary education and scholarship on the ethical and religious implications of advancements in science and technology.”

Note the very important inclusion of “human evolution.” The AAAS has argued strongly against any attempt to teach Creationism or Intelligent Design in the classroom as part of a science program because, according to them, religion shouldn’t be taught in a science curriculum.

Second, in addition to funding the DoSER program, the Templeton Foundation also funds the BioLogos Foundation. This year’s grant from the Templeton Foundation for BioLogos is entitled “Celebrating the Harmony between Mainstream Science and the Christian Faith.” This new grant states it’s purpose:

A significant number of Americans hold views contrary to certain well-established scientific facts. According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 40% of Americans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” Anti-evolutionary, young-earth views are even more pervasive among evangelical Christians than in the public at large. Many Christians believe evolution is inherently atheistic and therefore incompatible with their faith. This mistaken belief is frequently reinforced by militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and repeated by fundamentalist Christians like Ken Ham. In addition, the media repeatedly frame science/religion stories as though the two are at war. The BioLogos Foundation exists to turn the tide. In just two years BioLogos has made remarkable inroads into the evangelical community and broader culture by influencing key opinion leaders, scholars, pastors, and educators, and by reaching out to the general public.

This proposal builds upon those foundations as follows: First, we will sponsor a series of annual workshops for leaders of evangelical Christianity (scholars, scientists, pastors and para-church leaders) to dialogue about specific topics at the interface between science and Christianity. These will be patterned after the Theology of Celebration gatherings that we have hosted in 2009 and 2010 and will host in early 2012. Second, we will make significant improvements to the BioLogos website: 1) We will create a resource center with multimedia content to meet the unique needs of various groups such as pastors, teachers, parents, and students. 2) Through increased moderation of our blog comments, we will ensure that our website remains a place where people can gather to respectfully dialogue about topics of interest and relevance to science and evangelical Christianity. 3) We will better articulate our core beliefs and values to maximize our trustworthiness among Evangelicals.

I have previously posted about the Theology of Celebration gatherings from 2009, 2010, and 2012. At the gathering this year, the concern was raised that so many evangelicals reject evolution. Dr. Tim Keller, host of all three of the Theology of Celebration workshops, was interviewed afterwards:

Few Christian colleges or seminaries teach young earth creationism (YEC), participants noted during discussion groups. But less formal, grassroots educational initiatives, often centered on homeschooling, have won over the majority of evangelicals. ‘We have arguments, but they have a narrative,’ noted Tim Keller. Both young earth creationists and atheistic evolutionists tell a story tapping into an existing cultural narrative of decline. To develop a Biologos narrative is ‘the job of pastors,’ Keller said.

After the 2012 Theology of Celebration workshop, BioLogos announced a new grant program, Vision for Change, to focus on ways pastors and other church leaders can help their congregations learn to accept the “truth of evolution”:

As our regular readers well know, the majority of evangelical Christians reject one of the most well-established of scientific theories—evolution. Evolution lies at the heart of many scientific disciplines; it is as fundamental to biology as 2 + 2 = 4 is to mathematics or as E = mc2 is to physics. If these basic truths were found to be false, entire disciplines would collapse. To the majority of Evangelicals, however, an anti-evolutionary view of origins is equally fundamental. In their view, it affects how we read Scripture and understand the Gospel itself—the very heart of our identity as Christians. If evolution were found to be true, it would be disturbing indeed.

While Christian scholars and scientists have actively worked on evolutionary creation and related topics for decades, their work has mostly failed to leave the ivory tower, creating a vacuum in the church. Well-meaning public figures have moved into the vacuum to proclaim that much is at stake if Christians ever yield to mainstream science. These figures preach that scriptural authority, Christian theology, and Christian morals and values will all collapse if believers accommodate their thinking to the discoveries of ‘man’s historical science.’

It’s time for things to change.

The AAAS and the BioLogos Foundation, both funded by the Templeton Foundation, are actively working to promote the acceptance of evolution, including the common descent of man, by evangelical Christians. You may say that this is all well and good, but what difference does it make and why should I care? Well, that gets to my last point.

In addition to the fact that the best known pastor in the PCA, Dr. Tim Keller, is hosting these BioLogos workshops and is calling for pastors to promote the BioLogos view, the Stated Clerk of the PCA, Dr. L. Roy Taylor is the Chairman of the Board of the NAE. That means that my denomination, the PCA, is not only a member of the NAE, but has someone in the executive leadership of the organization. That makes their decisions, our decisions. In an endorsement statement by Dr. Taylor, he says:

The Presbyterian Church in America is part of the NAE because it is consistent with our doctrine of the Church. Fellowship and cooperation with other evangelical Christians is consistent with our theology. The NAE enables us to have a wider ministry, and it enables us to have a broader, more effective influence. Our fellowship, interaction, and cooperative ministry with our fellow evangelical Christians such as those in the NAE help us to serve Christ and the Church in our challenging times.

While I appreciate the usefulness of working together with other Christians in various organizations, it seems to me that the NAE is moving towards pushing certain views rather than representing the interests of the member churches.