Assemblies of God conference to discuss ‘Genesis and genetics’

(photo source: faithandscience.ag.org)

It will always warm my heart to see a Protestant church denomination putting on a conference about science that isn’t actually designed to make a mockery of virtually everything science stands for. Last month, I made mention of such an event hosted by none other than the First Baptist Church of Dayton, Ohio (yeah, that’s right: I said “Baptist”).

Today, I’d like to briefly plug the second Faith & Science Conference to be organized by the Assemblies of God USA (the first was in 2011). The conference’s noble mission is to provide “ministry leaders, teachers, students and lay people with numerous resources to deal with these issues at a time when congregations are becoming more and more scientifically literate.” The event’s theme, “Genesis and genetics,” looks interesting as well, and topics that will be up for discussion include embryonic and adult stem cell research, prenatal genetic testing, genetic influence on human behavior (such as same-sex attraction), Christian theories on origins and environmental stewardship.

I’m sure Tony Jones, at least, will be glad to see the agenda includes more than “Did evolution really happen?” and rightly so. As far as the conference’s take on “Christian theories on origins,” I’m guessing a range of viewpoints will be presented. Stephen Meyer, author and director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for “Science” and Culture, is among the lineup of speakers after all, but it also includes ASA president and astronomer Jennifer Wiseman; Baylor University professor of psychology, neuroscience and biomedical studies Matthew S. Sanford; Evangel University biologist Michael Tenneson and Fermilab lead engineer Steve Krstulovich, who came to faith in God one night at the Argonne National Laboratory (which is kind of awesome, by the way).

Like the Baptists, I don’t believe AG congregations are widely known for their liberal tendencies, and yet they don’t seem to have any problem openly discussing the compatibility of an evolutionary view with biblical Christian faith. A friend of mine, Phil Wala, presented a paper a paper at the first Faith & Science Conference, and he called it a “a bold and positive move by the Assemblies of God leadership.”

“Although there was a strong presence of YEC and ID participants, I was encouraged by the enthusiastic acceptance of evolutionary creationism at the highest leadership levels of the denomination, even if anti-science attitudes still prevail at the local church level,” which is one of the reasons he left the denomination four years ago, he said.

Wala, an electrical engineer who holds 26 patents in the industry, also wanted to make sure I let my “scientifically literate” readers know that next year’s conference is looking for abstracts to be presented. You can find details here.

These efforts to present peace, love and harmony between faith and science will always find critics among fundamentalist Christians and the fundamentalist unaffiliated. But as long as they’re seeking truth and not presenting information that is objectively false or deliberately misleading, I applaud the efforts.

Tyler Francke

  • LorenHaas

    Tyler, not all Baptist Churches are the same. They vary widely between and
    within denominations. I attend an American Baptist Church and my pastor was enthusiastic about me leading an adult study group through Peter Enns “Genesis for Normal People” which assumes evolution.
    Also keep in mind that evolution was acceptable to many of those who developed the
    “Five Fundamentals” back in the day. The anti-Old Earth, anti-Evolution thing came along later and became prominent back in the ’60’s as more of a cultural backlash than anything else.

    • Hey Loren, I hear you! You may have misunderstood: The conference organized by First Baptist Church Dayton was on science and theology and intended as a direct response to young-earth creationism. I wasn’t criticizing Baptists. In fact, if you check out the post below, you’ll see that while some people do stereotype Baptists as unilaterally opposed to evolution, I don’t think that’s fair: http://www.godofevolution.com/even-baptists-are-cool-with-christianity-plus-evolution/

  • Phil Wala

    At the first conference, in 2011, I was encouraged by how the A/G leadership responded to my presentation on “Churches that Push Scientists Away: Restoring Engagement with Scientists (While Reassuring the Faithful)”, knowing that it was coming from someone who had recently left their fellowship. Jim Bradford, the General Secretary of the denomination, took the time to personally convey his heartfelt apologies to me for the ways in which I and other scientifically literate people had been pushed away from the denomination, and deserves credit for setting the tone for a warm and welcoming atmosphere, despite the presence of conflicting viewpoints. It may take a while before that level of acceptance filters down to the majority of pastors, churches, and constituents (hopefully not another 50 years!), but I commend the denominational leadership for modeling that acceptance at the first conference, and now following up with a second such gathering.

    For those interested, the paper I presented at the first conference can be accessed here:

    http://walamn.com/documents/Wala_Churches_That_Push_Scientists_Away.pdf

  • Joy_F

    Ken Ham doesn’t think much of the Assemblies of God stance on evolution: http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2012/09/22/assemblies-of-god-journal-takes-a-dogmatic-position-against-those-who-insist-on-a-literal-genesis/

    I attended an A/G college for undergrad. Their Biology Prof taught (shocker) Biology. They allowed debate, but made certain to present that evolution was a valid explanation and that it was the take of the Professor, that evolution was the best explanation for origins. My professor presented the Big Bang theory as an explanation for how God was at work. She again, allowed for debate, but made her thought on the subject clear – and saw no discrepancy between Christianity and evolution. I don’t know what the other Biology Professors taught at other A/G schools. Mine was in Texas though, in the heart of the Bible Belt, so it doesn’t get a whole lot more conservative than that.

    Churches have generally not mentioned it at all. Their members however are a good mix, some of the strongest supporters of Ken Ham have been in my A/G churches and some of the smartest scientists who introduced me to Theistic Evolution have been in A/G churches. The live and let live attitude is more the norm as a whole.

    It was in Baptist churches and among Baptists friends that I met the most resistance. The conservative curriculum I had to learn was Pensacola Christian’s curriculum – the Assemblies of God, thankfully has no stance on education and no curriculum 🙂

    • I have a lot of respect for A/G churches. I had some experience with them when my wife and I lived near Springfield, Mo., and I once went to a conference at a very large Assemblies of God church that was very challenging, enjoyable and biblical. Typically, when Ken Ham writes a blog post criticizing something I take that as a rubber-stamp “seal of approval” in my book 🙂

  • Tim Dresselhaus

    I would point out that the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God recently revised the Doctrine of Creation position paper to include this statement, on the heels of an affirmation of the special creation of Adam: “Any evolutionary theory, including theistic evolution / evolutionary creationism, that claims all forms of life arose from a common ancestry is thereby ruled out.” The General Presbytery rightly discerned that a fair reading of the Genesis account is at variance with evolution’s cardinal doctrine of common descent.

    http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Position_Papers/pp_downloads/PP_The_Doctrine_of_Creation.pdf

    • Too bad. For a while it looked like they were interested in moving forward. Guess not. Thanks for sharing, though!

  • When I was active with an Assembly of God church in the 1990s I kept my acknowledgement of a much older earth quiet as I didn’t buy into the literal reading of the Genesis account. My mother and a classmate who I started going to church with got into the old earth vs. young earth discussion as she asked “how long is a day” as I got into the dialog with a church mate at Faith World Outreach — speaking up for the Old Earth acknowledgement came in my 30s as I walked around in the Red Line tunnel in Chicago where I photographed myself with a metal etching speaking of the real era of the Dinosaurs. When I reaffirmed my faith in God I became open about my evolution acknowledgment as it’s a cross between theistic evolution and deistic evolution. I left the church because of my acknowledgement being it came from a philosophical angle as I became a science fiction writer – I read more on science on my own as I went to a public school biology class. I was handed the Big Daddy tract by a friend who gave me a NIV bible — I saw the doctrine of dinosaurs and humans co-existing as total bullshit as I said, “there no damn way they could had co-existed.” This was years before Pat Robertson revealed he’s a theistic evolutionist. Baptists (more so Independent Baptists believe the earth is 6000 years old.) When I left the church I challenged Young Earth Creationism and the King James Only Movement — the roots of young earth creationism fall on the early Seventh Day Adventists and the beginnings of the modern King James Only Movement as the teachings of this went across the board of Christiandom. Young Earth Creationism was also included with all the Jesus Junk in Christian Bookstores as the heavy metal band Generation challenged Theistic Evolution as they didn’t understand it. I had been prone to use snarl words at Young Earth Creationists as they call Theistic Evolutionists the result of McChurch. This is a term that King James Onlyists use when a Christian cites modern translations of the Bible. Reading this I wish my old pastor spoke up for theistic evolution in 1994 along with Pat Robertson as he told Ken Ham to shut up. Then I found myself classing with this flat earth butthead who is spouting from the King James Bible as I used one line from that very bible to call him out asking if he drinks his own piss. (When he printed parts of this he bleeped piss out as the King James Bible is not immune to strong language.) Scott Waters of the thrash metal band Ultimatum and I weighed in on the King James Only Movement as he pointed out the King James Bible has the word “bastard” in it — it left it wide open wondering if there is going to be a sermon about “pissing bastards.”