I am currently reading the book Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America by Jeffery Sheler, published in 2006. There is a chapter about Wheaton College in Illinois, which is generally considered one of the best, if not the best, evangelical college in the nation. Sheler recounts part of a conversation he had with Dorothy Chappell, dean of natural and social sciences.
“Our students are recognized as among the best,” she said. “That must say something about our program. We don’t teach Christian science here. We teach science, period. It’s the same science as the University of Illinois teaches, or the University of Chicago.”
Sounds good, but things soon start getting weird.
Skipping ahead a bit we find this:
“We do believe that God created the universe, and that Adam and Eve were the first humans,” Chappell said. “But we are agnostic as to how God did it.” In practical terms, that means the school doesn’t push what Chappell called “young earth creationism”–a view drawn from a literal interpretation of Genesis that asserts that God created the universe in six twenty-four hour days just a few thousand years ago.
Sheler now cites the familiar Gallup polling data that shows widespread public support for YEC. Then comes this:
At the same time, she said, Wheaton’s acceptance of evolutionary theory is limited to changes within a species rather than the widely held view that humans evolved from apes. “There is no assent given here to the vew that Adam and Eve descended from hominids.”
So what happens when the two sources of data — revealed truth and natural truth — seem to be in conflict?
“It means we haven’t interpreted the data correctly,” Chappell said, “Either we’ve missed something in our science or we are failing to understand the scriptures correctly. We’re not afraid here of exploring truth. That’s what scientific research is all about. That’s what life is about.
If Wheaton is teaching that evolution only occurs within a species, or that there was a time when there were exactly two human beings on the planet and that they appeared without the benefit of an evolutionary history, then they are manifestly not teaching the same science as the University of Illinois or the University of Chicago. What Chappell describes here is old-earth creationism, and it is tantamount to rejecting evolution.
Assuming that this description of Wheaton’s approach to evolutionary biology is still valid, then I find it interesting that the foremost evangelical college in the country has not made its peace with evolution. I suspect that Chappell, and the other Wheaton faculty who give no assent to the idea that Adam and Eve descended from earlier hominids, are well-familiar with the various schemes of theistic evolution people have devised. They just do not find them credible.