Zach Steensma—Staff Writer
On the week of Oct. 15, campus was abuzz with discussion across majors, interests, and disciplines about a mass email sent out regarding the upcoming “Creation Science Conference” occurring the following weekend. The conference, sponsored by the Siouxland Reformation Society, featured Dr. Terry Mortenson, a speaker for the organization known as Answers in Genesis.
Answers in Genesis is an Evangelical Christian apologetics organization which promotes a young-earth creationist viewpoint through books, video series, the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, and the Ark Encounter in Williamstown, Kentucky.
Following the mass email announcing the event, an apology was sent out regarding the email, as Dordt policy dictates that mass emails may only be used for campus-sponsored events, which the conference was not. Dordt College does not endorse particular positions or stances on the subject.
Nevertheless, the email and the subsequent conference sparked an interest for many students, including the Faith and Science Club, who organized a Science and Faith discussion panel on Wednesday, Oct. 18. The panel featured professors from various departments, including professors Tony Jelsma (representing Biology), Channon Visscher (representing Geology and Planetary Science), Walker Cosgrove (representing History), and Rebekah Earnshaw (representing Theology). It was a time of discussion and debate for many students.
“I appreciated that it was students who instigated the panel discussion… if students want to ask these questions, that’s fantastic,” said Earnshaw. “I’ve only been here awhile, but Dordt students seem passionate and interested and engaged… they want to listen, and not just treat the issue simplistically. Having a shared experience and being able to say ‘let’s talk about this, face to face,’ it’s encouraging.”
“I really appreciated the whole thing, that Dordt was willing to have a science and faith discussion,” said junior Biology major Jonathan Nyman, who attended both the panel discussion and the conference. “I’m currently taking the Perspectives on Origins class, so a lot of us have already been talking about this stuff. The panel was good and the professors did a really good job. My personal views didn’t change, but my respect for different views definitely changed because now I understand a little bit more about why people believe what they believe.”
On Saturday, Oct. 21, Dr. Mortenson gave a series of lectures in the BJ Haan Auditorium. There was a large assortment of tables, marketing a wide variety of books and other Answers in Genesis-branded resources for sale in the lobby. A variety of students and Dordt faculty, along with members of the broader community, were in attendance for a wide range of reasons.
“I’ve read quite a bit of material by Answers in Genesis, and just haven’t found their arguments to be very compelling,” said sophomore Theology major Brady Hornstra. “So I decided to go, mainly because I wanted to hear their arguments in person.”
Some students received extra credit in their classes if they attended and took notes, said junior Biomedical Engineering major Adam Galloy. “I do [also] have a general interest in the subject of origins, and how Christians reconcile scientific evidence with their faith.”
Mortenson’s talks covered a variety of topics about the book of Genesis and the subject of Creation, with lectures titled: “Creation vs Evolution: Why It Matters,” “Origin of the Species: Was Darwin Right?,” “Millions of years: where did the idea come from?” and “Noah’s Flood: Washing away millions of years.”
Students and faculty had plenty of thoughts regarding Mortenson’s message.
“All of their talk about how ‘we are at war against the idea of an old earth,’ it kind of made me uncomfortable,” said Galloy. “But one thing they specifically mentioned that I suppose I can give them credit for is that they said Old Earth and Evolutionary Creationists are still Christians, so I do appreciate that at the very least.”
“To the thoughtful members of Mortenson’s audience, his lectures might come off as a ‘Defense Against The Dark Arts’ course that doesn’t actually teach the fundamentals of the dark arts,” said Biology professor Robbin Eppinga. “I’d encourage anyone who is interested in the actual science, theology, or the intersection of the two to take a Dordt class that addresses the topics you are most interested in.”
Whether one agrees with Mortenson’s message or not, his presence on campus brought the subject of Biblical interpretation of the Genesis creation account into the spotlight.
“Overall I’ve appreciated the graciousness I’ve seen on both sides,” said Professor Earnshaw. “My prayer is that people would be willing to engage in the conversation.”