Man of Science, Man of Faith

As the executive director of the non-profit BioLogos Foundation, biologist Darrel Falk struggles daily to strike a delicate balance between two forces: science and religion

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At a young age, Darrel Falk found himself living in two worlds.

"Growing up in an evangelical Christian household in western Canada, I used to think to myself, 'how did it happen that I was just born into the right religion?'" says Falk, now a professor of biology at Point Loma Nazarene University and executive director of the BioLogos Foundation, a Christian advocacy group founded by now-National Institute of Health director Francis Collins in 2007. Critical of intelligent design and running contrary to creationism, the organization promotes a theory of theistic evolution -- that God creates through the natural sciences, like evolution, and the Christian faith need not be in conflict with mainstream science. The foundation started as a resource for people like Falk, who "knew there was a discrepancy between what they were experiencing in church and what other people believed."

"We're not involved in political campaigns, or policy, or anything like that," says Falk. "For us, it's a grassroots movement."

To many (like, initially, myself -- a lapsed Reform Jew from Massachusetts with a very liberal upbringing), the foundation may sound like yet another agent fighting in the perpetual culture war between science and religion. The Biologos Foundation declares its mission to be "a spirited and gracious dialogue and a confidence in the harmony between science and faith." And it aims "to help the church develop a worldview that embraces both of these complex but complementary belief structures." The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, strictly prohibited from lobbying or making political contributions. While its funding comes primarily from a number of individual donors, the largest and most questionable cash infusion came from a $151,920 grant from the John Templeton Foundation (often referred to as "God's Venture Capitalist" or a "conservative sugar daddy") in 2008, shortly after the organization's founding.

But don't expect to see BioLogos commenting on the 2012 Republican primary, or making a push for Bible study in public schools. The goal of the organization is not to thrust religion upon the secular masses, but to aid evangelical Christians reconciling their spirituality with the natural world of science.

With his background, Falk is a poster boy for BioLogos. During his youth, Falk became increasingly skeptical of the Bible as the literal word of God. "By the time I was 11, I was reading the New Testament, where it speaks in terms of the angels coming from the four corners of the Earth," he recalls. "It was almost too good to be true. I remember saying to someone 'angels came from the four corners from the Earth. Is the Bible implying it was flat?' I was living in two worlds: the Christian world, I world I wanted to live in and was beautiful, and this other world where things just didn't seem right."

Falk graduated from Simon Fraser University in 1968 with a B.A. in biology. As an undergraduate, he took courses in anthropology, genetics, physics, biology, and math. As his appetite for science grew, so did his skepticism with his faith.

"When I went into university, the doubts weren't that bad," Falk says. "Through my childhood years, I had thought to myself 'the world is so beautiful, how could it have happened by chance?' I believed so strongly that there had to be a God. But as time went by, through grad school and all, evolution helped me lose my faith. I walked away from Christianity."

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Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

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