Dennis Venema, Ph.D., gave an exceptional lecture
at Ambrose University on Friday, February 3, 2017. The event was sponsored by
the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation of Calgary, Ambrose
University, and the Templeton Foundation. What follows is a collection of
thoughts inspired by the cold, snowy evening, and the warm engaging crowd.
Venema, a geneticist
at Trinity Western University, who studies cell surface proteins in the wings
of fruit flies, began by referencing the words of
á Kempis, “There
is no creature so small and abject, that it representeth not the goodness of
God” before leading the crowd of approximately 100 people through a tour of
major scientific evidence supporting evolutionary creation. He drew heavily
from his recent book, Adam and the
Genome: Reading Scripture After Genetic Science
The book, published by
Brazos Press and available on is co-authored by Scott McKnight and
offers both a scientific and theological perspective on Adam and genomic
studies. I look forward to reading the contributions of both authors.
In many circles, the “two
book” concept of God’s revelation has become a common approach on such issues
and so Venema gave only the briefest of comments about how God reveals himself
through special revelation in the Bible and through general revelation in
Dr. Venema reminded his listeners that, in the
context of science, the word “theory” means a well-tested explanatory framework.
In contrast, in everyday language, we use the word “theory” to suggest that
something is not very reliable. We say, “Well, that is just your theory.”
Venema shared evidence
of evolution from such varied sciences as
physiology, fossil records, and embryology. Scientific results from each
discipline were brought to bear upon the evidence that points to the fact that
the ancestors of whales and other water-dwelling mammals were land-dwelling quadrupeds.
After showing further evidence in other systems and other animals, Venema made
the statement that evolution is a well-tested explanatory framework, supported
by a large body of experimental evidence, that makes accurate predictions; furthermore,
evolution has not yet been shown to be false by experimentation; nothing makes
sense in biology except in the light of evolution; and evolution is the most
foundational theory in biology.
One of the highlights of the lecture was when
Venema compared the changes that accrue in a language over time to the physical
changes in the population of a species over time. Evolution involves changes in
average characteristics in the overall population of a species rather than
changes that occur in an individual. He reminded his audience that it is
important to stay focussed on populations rather than individuals when
assessing evolutionary change. In the same way, language usage in a population
changes over time. Venema showed one verse from the Gospel of John in six forms
as it changed over time. He started with the West Saxon form (around 849 CE),
followed by the Wycliffe version, Tyndale version, 1611 King James Version, the
Cambridge King James Version, and lastly the contemporary New International
Version of the Bible to show how language changes in a very short period. He
made the point that evolutionary change is similar but much slower.
Having established that nothing in biology
makes sense without evolution, Venema then went on to show evidence that humans
are also part of the evolutionary process. Multiple sources of genetic evidence
such as chromosomal structure, and pseudogenes in both humans and apes, suggest
that 4 to 6 million years ago we shared a common ancestor with Pan troglodytes (chimpanzees). Not only have humans descended from
other species, contemporary genetic evidence (population genetics and
recombination frequencies) indicates that humans of today descended from a
population of approximately 10,000 humans that lived approximately 200,000
years ago.
Of course, all this genetic and scientific
evidence poses questions related to our common understandings of Adam, sin,
death, and the Fall. Venema pointed out that when we see such apparent
conflict, we must consider that this may be due to deficits in our science or
deficits in our theology and work to find a way of better understanding both. Venema
worked with Scott McKnight in publishing the book Adam and the Genome because he wanted to work with a New Testament
scholar as they considered the implications of reading scripture after genetic
science. In the theological realm, Venema readily admits that he is not the
expert, McKnight does most of the theological analysis.
One of the key questions in the New Testament is our understanding of the Apostle Paul’s words when he speaks of Adam. Venema and McKnight’s
book suggests that Paul was part of a long history of intertestamental writers
who wrote about Adam between the time of Malachi and Matthew and used the
concept of Adam for theological arguments. Other important questions will relate to Augustine, and others, also
contributed to our contemporary theology of what God means by saying that
creation is “good.” McKnight and others are now asking questions about such
words. Does “good” mean “perfect?” Does it mean that there was no death? How do
we understand sin coming into the world? What does the Bible mean when it
speaks of humans made in the image of God? Each of these questions demands new
consideration in light of contemporary genetic science. Such vast genetic
information has only been available to philosophers, scientists, and theologians
for a few decades. Our theology now needs to keep pace with our scientific

Venema referred to Sir Francis Bacon in his
lecture as one who readily understood the necessity of studying both “books” of
God’s revelation: God’s word and God’s works. I will give the last words of
this blog post to Bacon:
“To conclude, therefore, let no man upon a weak
conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man
can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or the
book of God’s works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an
endless progress or proficience in both. . .”

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