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"Our fellowship not an 'activist' group, and we largely confine our activities to reading books and discussing the tenants of the Christian faith as expressed in literature," Reimer wrote in an e-mail. "The group also forms a support network for Christian faculty who themselves struggle with the day-to-day expression of their faith in a ... complicated ... environment."
"For some in the group," he continued, "identifying themselves publicly risks tenure and promotion."
But perhaps the topic discussed most often — or at least the most controversial one — revolves around matters of faith and science. Many Christian students say it's a hot topic among their peers — especially because many are science majors — although their fellowships aren't necessarily taking vocal stances.
In February, the Veritas Forum — which brings top Christian thinkers to university campuses — sponsored a high-profile talk by Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project and a devout Christian. The event packed Wheeler Hall, plus two overflow lecture halls. Collins eschews intelligent design arguments in favor of a more science-embracing notion of "theistic evolution," or what he calls "BioLogos." In essence, evolution happened but God started it all.
Christians on campus vary in their beliefs on science and religion. But the consensus is that the two are not mutually exclusive. InterVarsity's Jennifer Hollingsworth says that while it does come up among students, it's not an obstacle to their faith. Student Andrew Tai says some students in InterVarsity take a literal reading of Genesis, while others believe in theistic evolution. On his part, Tai leans more toward the latter.
But there are others on the opposite end of the spectrum. Initially, when asked, Acts2Fellowship's pastor said his church doesn't take a position on intelligent design versus evolution. "We do study it because we know it's important for people," he said. "The Bible's not particularly clear about those kinds of things. The Bible's goal is to know God. ... The fact is, God created. Evolution is just a process. To think something came out of nothing, the probability of that is zero."
Yet the church's web site tells another story. Under its "Resources" are links to numerous PowerPoint presentations on science and God. One, labeled "Evolution and God," puts forth arguments for intelligent design, stating that "microevolution," or "small changes (coloration, height, etc.)," is "feasible," while "macroevolution," or the process that would give rise to new species, is "under question." It even went so far as to state that Darwinism acts as a shield for racism and rape.
In response, Acts2Fellowship's pastor called the PowerPoints "study aids for people to know the arguments for intelligent design." "But we're not very doctrinal," he added. "We don't hold these things to be certain. ... Intelligent design is ultimately something out there that's a theory, but we're not saying it's absolutely certain."
Jeff Chiu has questioned evolution since high school because he thought it was "too simple." Certain things were missing, he felt, such as the explanation of what makes humans different from animals. Although he says it's not something he brings up in his classes, he does discuss matters of faith and science with his peers.
Today, he said, "I feel like Darwin might be wrong," although he noted that he's still studying evolution and doesn't want to falsely interpret it. While Chiu is convinced that certain species may have adapted through evolution, he said he doesn't think it's logical to conclude that humans themselves are a product of evolution.
Kevin Padian, a professor of Integrative Biology and curator of the Museum of Paleontology who teaches classes on evolution, says students who don't believe in evolution typically don't identify themselves. "I think the general pattern is that students don't make a big deal out of this in their classes — for several reasons: they don't feel it's relevant, or you teach me science and I'll believe what I want to believe."
But he stressed evolution's importance as a theory — the strongest construct in science and not the type of loose conjecture the public associates with being unproven as fact. "Without a knowledge of evolution, antibiotics would make no sense; imunology would have no basis," he said. "We could not explain anything in the history of geology or of life on earth; comparative anatomy would make no sense; neither would embryology, physiology, or virtually any other area of biology and related sciences."
Whether some Christian students go on to question evolution in their studies or careers remains to be seen. Yet it seems certain that Christian students will incorporate their faith into their careers in more visible ways, whether that means changing fields or taking a more altruistic approach to their jobs.
"These are the people who are going to be the future doctors and lawyers and politicians or faculty members at universities," notes Brad Fulton of Campus Crusade for Christ. "So places where there hasn't been as large of a Christian representation ... there's just going to be an increase because a lot of these students have academic aspirations."
No going back
Darkness envelops Willard's cavernous auditorium. Jeff Chiu's face appears on a large screen. He tells his story of accepting Jesus. It was "heartbreaking for me to see God suffering to save a wretch like me," he says. "My life has been a miracle."
The screen goes dark. Then a stark, bluish spotlight glows down on a hot-tub-sized pool, set up on the left side of the auditorium floor. Pastor Ed and another male leader are already in the tub, as Chiu, dressed in a dark T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, gingerly steps in. A microphone is just outside the tub.
"I, Jeff Chiu, profess that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior of my life," he says into the mic.
"Let's pray," says Pastor Ed, as he and the other man grip Chiu's hands. The pastor lays his other hand on his shoulder, and they close their eyes and bow their heads. "Jeff, you're our brother in Christ. Upon confession, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
The two men hold his hands, as Chiu leans back and fully dunks his head and body underwater.
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