Messiah College Origins Statement
Families considering Messiah College sometimes ask whether the College has an official policy defining our position on origins, governing what is taught in our science classes and elsewhere. We recognize the significance of this issue to many Christians and appreciate being asked about it. Few things are more important than choosing a college that will respect a family's beliefs. At Messiah we affirm a Christian world-view as we guide our students in the difficult process of forming their own beliefs, a process that we hope will include thoughtful reflection on various ways in which our faith interacts with other aspects of our lives, including science and other branches of knowledge. Indeed, we believe that this is the mission of a Christian college of the liberal and applied arts and sciences: to intentionally expose students to multiple perspectives, in an atmosphere supportive of faith, in order to help them learn to discern what is true, just, and worthy of belief. Examples of this approach and its effect on students can be found in our publication, "Education Messiah-Style," which maybe obtained free of charge upon request.
Messiah College recognizes the preeminence of Christ and promotes the authority of the Bible over our lives and our beliefs. Central to the recognition of biblical authority is the task of seeking the intended meaning of any given passage of scripture. We understand this to be the meaning intended by the author, at the time a particular passage was written to a particular audience. Although the meaning of a passage (understood in this way) is often the literal sense — what the bare words signify — this is not always the case, as students of the scripture have long recognized. For example, when John the Baptist called Jesus the "lamb of God," he spoke a profound truth that, if taken literally, would actually be false! The varied types of literature found in the Bible call for different modes of interpretation. This approach does not undermine the inspiration of scripture; quite the contrary, it underscores the importance of knowing the true sense of scripture, that we might rightly discern the word of truth and live accordingly.
Questions of interpretation come to the foreground when we read the opening chapters of Genesis, especially the passages about the creation of the heavens and the earth. Many different interpretations have been held on good grounds by theologically orthodox believers since the early church, such that there has never been a consensus on how to interpret this part of scripture. However, Christians in all ages have affirmed that the world had its origin in a purposeful act of God, who continues now faithfully to uphold the creation. All members of the Biological Sciences Department believe this and seek to help students understand what this crucial doctrine means for our lives. Messiah College does not go beyond this core belief by requiring faculty to agree with any particular interpretation of Genesis.
Within the Biological Sciences Department there is no single interpretation that all faculty would endorse; nor should this be surprising. Indeed, the College expects faculty to form their own positions thoughtfully and to communicate these to our students in appropriate ways. In this way we can offer our students multiple models for relating science and faith, which parallels what we do in other academic disciplines. We believe it is especially important to do this with science, as it reflects a genuine, legitimate diversity of opinion within the Christian community and better equips students to evaluate information that might not fit neatly into one particular model. College library holdings, which are extensive in the area of science and faith, include many representative examples of each major position found within the Christian community today; these would include young-earth creation (often called "scientific creationism"), varieties of old-earth creation (including "progressive creation," "continuous creation," and "theistic evolution" or "evolutionary creation"), and intelligent design.
Specifically which models do our faculty find most helpful? Some faculty support the concordist (or harmony) model, which sees many points of agreement between two divinely authored "books," nature and scripture. Others are attracted to the complementarity model, which emphasizes differences between the questions addressed by natural science and theology, while seeking conversation between them: where science deals with how the world was made, theology complements this by telling us why and by whom it was made. Other models may also be favored by a given faculty member. Department faculty, in general, tend to favor models that accept the validity of scientific evidence for an old earth, but this is not a matter of policy. Various opinions are held regarding the validity of evidence for evolution as a means of divine creation. For greater understanding of our overall approach, we recommend the following books, some of them used in courses at Messiah:
1) Richard L. Bube, Putting It All Together: Seven Patterns for Relating Science and the Christian Faith. University Press of America, 1995.
2) Robert B. Fischer, God Did It, But How? 2nd edition. ASA Press, 1997.
3) John Polkinghorne, Belief in God in an Age of Science. Yale University Press, 1998.
4) Richard T. Wright, Biology Through the Eyes of Faith. Harper & Row, 2003.
5) Deborah B. Haarsma and Loren D. Haarsma, Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, and Evolution. Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2007.
6) Francis Collins, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. The Free Press, 2006.
Anyone seeking additional information is invited to write directly to: Chair, Biological Sciences Department, Messiah College, Mechanicsburg, PA 17027.
Image: "Duria Antiquior" (1830), watercolor by geologist Henry de la Beche depicting life in ancient Dorset based on fossils.