Church embraces science with Evolution Sunday

COSTA MESA — For many, evolution and creationism are incompatible concepts, but that's not how Rev. Sarah Halverson sees them.

The pastor at Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa believes so strongly that science and faith go hand-in-hand that on Sunday she will cede her pulpit to a geochemist researching NASA's Stardust mission.

It's all part of Evolution Sunday, a nationwide event that has some Christian churches celebrating, rather than condemning, the work of naturalist Charles Darwin on the 202nd anniversary of his birth.

"So often, we only hear from one side and yet, we're Christians grounded in our faith who follow Jesus and who feel like we live our faith," Halverson said. "We also don't think we need to check our brains at the door once we come to church."

But not everyone in the Orange County Christian community agrees that science and religion can be happy partners.

Tom Thorkelson, a Newport Beach resident who is the interfaith relations director for the Orange County Council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that although he believes that evolution could have been part of intelligent design, not all Christians agree.

"I would imagine that very fundamental churches that are evangelical … could find that evolution is contrary to their theological precepts, and therefore they could be very opposed to it," he said.

According to a December Gallup poll, 40% of Americans said they believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago, while 38% believe that humans evolved with God's guidance and 16% believe that humans evolved without a divine presence.

Halverson said she reads the Old Testament as more allegory than historical fact.

"The literalist perspective is not the only way," she said.

Halverson studied at the Claremont School of Theology and is finishing her doctoral thesis at Chicago Theological Seminary.

She said she was drawn to Fairview — a small, self-identified "thinking church" — because of its progressive theology. In addition to accepting science, Fairview puts social justice at the heart of its work, and welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Geochemist Christopher Snead, who will take over the pulpit from Halverson, said that the idea for his visit came from a chat with Halverson.

A UC Berkeley graduate now studying at UCLA, Snead said he considers the Bible "not a book of fact, so much as it's a book of truth."

"It all depends on how you view religion," he said. "If you pick up a Bible, and walk away from it with the belief that the Earth is 6,000 years old, then that is definitely at odds with science."

If, on the other hand, you pick up a Bible and walk away with an overwhelming desire to help your fellow man, then, no, that is not at odds with science," he added.

Snead said he looks forward to the opportunity to speak to a church congregation, but he views religion "sort of like political parties."

"Spirituality is a more personal endeavor that appeals to me," he said.

Halverson said Fairview celebrated Evolution Sunday two years ago, but this will be the first time the church has a guest speaker discuss the topic. She said she was unsure how other Christian groups in the community would respond, but events like Evolution Sunday are part of being a 21st-century church.

"Our faith is ancient but it's also new and refreshing, and calls us forward," she said. "Just like the science that understands our universe keeps expanding, our faith keeps expanding."

If You Go

What: Evolution Sunday

When: 10 a.m. Sunday

Where: Fairview Community Church, 2525 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa.

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