Calvin professors in center of origins conversation
Schneider retires, Harlow remains, dialogue continues

Two Calvin religion professors, Dan Harlow and John Schneider, have been in the middle of campus and national media conversations this year about the historicity of Adam and Eve and the theological implications of various positions on this subject.

National Public Radio, The Banner (the Christian Reformed Church denominational magazine), the Grand Rapids Press and a number of internet publications that discuss faith and science carried commentary on the work of the professors and the campus dialogue that ensued.

More Online

FAQ about recent scholarship by Professors Harlow and Schneider

Harlow's ASA article

Schneider's ASA article

Human Origins Seminar Series

NPR story on Evangelicals on Adam & Eve

Wall Street Journal editorial

In the meantime, Schneider voluntarily retired from the college because of a “shared goal of a respectful and amicable resolution” (this quote coming from a document signed by Schneider and the provost of the college, Claudia Beversluis). Harlow will continue teaching at Calvin. The college’s board of trustees was informed of these outcomes at its May meeting.

In 2009, Harlow and Schneider were invited by their colleagues (a network of Christians in science) to address “the biblical and theological issues involved if Adam and Eve are understood as literary theological figures rather than historical beings.” Harlow and Schneider participated in a set of plenary lectures on Adam and Eve at the annual American Scientific Association (ASA) meeting at Baylor University.

The ASA is “a fellowship of men and women of science and disciplines that can relate to science who share a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science.” Founded in 1941, the ASA’s stated purpose is “to investigate any area relating Christian faith and science” and “to make known the results of such investigations for comment and criticism by the Christian community and by the scientific community.” Calvin College has long played a leadership role in the ASA.

The lectures were published in the fall 2010 issue of the ASA journal, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.

Both Harlow and Schneider describe their articles as conjectures—proposals describing the theological questions that must be considered, if, in fact, God used the process of evolution to create human beings. These theological questions examine the pre-fall condition of humanity, the nature of the fall itself, the meaning of original sin, the nature of evil, and the nature of the atonement.

The questions that Harlow and Schneider raise, and some of the possible solutions that they offer, are not new in Christian theology. But there are important and acknowledged questions about how well these possible solutions fit with scripture as interpreted in the Reformed confessions that guide the work at Calvin College.

Since the publication of the articles in Perspectives, there was an internal discussion at the college related to how the theological themes in the articles are related to the theological positions of the Reformed confessions. The Professional Status Committee, which is made up of both faculty and administrators, identified theological issues related to evolutionary science as issues that need careful proactive review, and initiated a review. The theological themes proposed in these articles were considered carefully and in light of Calvin College’s adherence to scripture and the Reformed confessions.

In addition, the 2010-2011 school year was marked by a host of seminars, workshops, colloquiums and conversations on the topic of human origins.
Titled the Human Origins Seminar Series, the year-long slate included talks on such topics as: “Scientific and Theological Issues on Human Origins,” “Reading Genesis 2-3 in an Age of Evolutionary Science,” “Those Scary Fossils: History of Paleoanthropological Discoveries,” “Adam’s Bloodline: Genesis, Race and Human Origins,” “Evolution and the Fall: Clarifying the Issues, Imagining the Possibilities,” “What can Evolutionary Psychology Tell Us about Sin?” and “What Augustine Still Has to Teach Us about Human Origins and God’s Creating Work.”

All told more than 20 formal events were held as the campus wrestled with the ramifications of new discoveries in the world of science, particularly with regard to human genomes, and their impact on long-held theological viewpoints.

Faculty and administrators expect that, despite the rhetoric related to the recent work of Harlow and Schneider, Calvin will continue its tradition as an active participant and leader in this discussion.