The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'God allows the universe to create itself and evolve'

Editor's note: Read responses to this article by Allen R. Utke and Patrick Russell.

Science, religion and politics collide in public-school classrooms. In the past few years, conservative Christian groups in some communities have gained control of public-school boards.

They replaced the teaching of evolution with intelligent design, or ID. Parents in Dover, Pa., even sued the school board to restore the teaching of evolution to the curriculum—arguing that ID is based on a biblical view of creation and isn’t science. They won. (See "'Not science': Judge John E. Jones" for a profile of ELCA member John E. Jones III, the judge who decided the case.)

In some instances, including Dover, the voters ousted conservative school boards and elected members who pledged to remove ID from the classroom.

As an astronomer, everywhere I look in the universe—from the largest galaxy to the smallest organism—I see evolution. As a Lutheran Christian, I also confess that God created me and all that exists. For me, there is no conflict.

But intelligent design proponents believe our universe is too complex to have evolved from simpler forms and so must be the result of some design. ID traces its origins to the 1991 book Darwin on Trial (InterVarsity Press, 1993) by Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor.

Opposition to evolution, especially biological, is a hallmark of many proponents of intelligent design. The ID movement heavily influenced the 1999 Kansas school-board decision to remove references to evolution from science curricula. Those against evolution focus on what ID adherents call “irreducibly complex organisms” that can’t be explained by evolutionary theory.

Most curricula influenced by the ID movement don’t directly identify the designer, but it’s clear that it’s God—as God is understood by conservative Christians. In his opinion in the Dover case, Jones said the evidence was overwhelming that ID is “a religious view, a mere relabeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

Moreover, ID is poor theology. ELCA member and Minneapolis Star Tribune commentary editor Eric Ringham wrote: “[Intelligent design] attempts to define, and limit, the mind and power of God.” Why couldn’t God just let the universe evolve?

In Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford University Press, 2004), Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross demonstrate how conservative Christian groups promote intelligent design for political purposes. Many of the movement’s spokespeople, they claim, spend time influencing public policy and not doing scientific research. Creationism, a much older viewpoint, depends directly on a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation.

I am a “genetic” Lutheran. I was always active in church during high school and at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., where I majored in physics. I went on to graduate school to pursue astronomy. I found I had many theological questions.

My academic experiences gave me an interest in campus ministry, and so it wasn’t a big surprise that I headed for Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., after earning my degree in astronomy.

But immediately following my seminary graduation, I returned to St. Olaf to teach physics and astronomy where I soon was asked if I would like to teach a section of “Introduction to the Bible.” This was the birth of my identity as someone whose career combined both science and religion.

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