Michael Tenneson, PhD
Chair, Department of Natural and Applied Sciences
Professor of Biology
Michael Tenneson (PhD science education, University of Missouri; MS biology/statistics, University of North Dakota; MA missiology/biblical literature, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary; and BA biology, UCLA) is a professor of biology and chair of the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences at Evangel University, where he has taught for more than 30 years. Initially trained as a field behavioral ecologist, he has done field research on birds, frogs, porcupines, lizards, and snails. His current research examines attitudes and beliefs of people related to science and theology. Tenneson has authored or co-authored numerous papers and presentations, along with several essays in edited volumes. He has led conference planning teams for several well-attended Faith and Science Conferences.
Thoughts on Human Origins
All people should be on a quest for truth and understanding, and equally important, we need to build genuine relationships with each other. We should know why we believe things to be true or false, which includes an honest evaluation of our presuppositions and biases. Science (whether of human origins or other fields) provides abundant empirical evidence to consider, as do theology and philosophy. While the categories of evidence from these fields vary, the truth testing (or hypothesis testing) processes should be very similar. That is, they should involve objective consideration of the relative strengths and weaknesses of competing explanations. Not only that, I feel these domains should inform each other. Scientists should learn from philosophers and theologians, and vice versa. And, people, not just ideas, are important. As we seek coherence of understanding, this pursuit must involve engaging each other with grace, humility, and love. Entertaining or upsetting ad hominem assaults do not belong in these engagements.
Reflections on The Age of Humans (the Anthropocene)
I think the creator is very active. He created and He creates. He loves and is, sometimes, loved. He healed the sick and breathed life into non-life. I often feel anticipation and excitement about new scientific discoveries of His omniscient creativity. Science helps me understand much about natural selection, genetic drift and emergence theory. But it is quite not enough; it cannot capture the essence of human purpose and value and life’s meaning. Therefore, I am confident that human origins involve both natural and supernatural elements. Some of these processes are quite satisfactorily explained by evolution leading to the lowest cost/benefit ratios. Others leave materialists scratching their heads (why does my life matter?). This holistic relational view is more comfortable to me than any of the conflict (sciences always wins, theology always wins) or unconnected (science, philosophy, and theology have nothing to contribute to each other) approaches. And, because anomalous findings keep cropping up, I’m holding some of my views in this area rather loosely.
As bearers of imago Dei, I believe we are morally accountable for our behaviors and choices at various levels. Specific to this prompt, I embrace the view that one of our God-given mandates is to exercise stewardship of God’s creation, this world. A materialistic perspective might yield similar conclusions regarding the most practical approaches and applications: reducing our consumption, re-using our resources, and recycling more. But my theistic worldview motivates me from a different angle. I can know my creator in a deeper way by enthusiastically embracing this call. Not only that, I can build relationships with other people by modeling for and/or educating them about the practical benefits of environmentally sustainable practices; loving my neighbor as myself, as someone once said we should do.
What it means to be human in the future will remain the same as it is today: it depends. But I can be specific about one thing. We will need to do a better job aligning our expenditures with paramount ethical considerations. I am hopeful that fair consideration of alternative approaches can yield good long term solutions.
Opportunities and challenges of public engagement with human alteration of Earth are many. Consensus building and learning how to disagree without being so disagreeable can be modeled and taught to young people, especially. Our educational system should provide training and practice in determining the merits of theories, how they interact with other domains of knowledge, and how our locus of moral control can guide our actions. I feel hopeful on one hand that we are getting better at analyzing and interpreting big data. I feel less confident in our ability to build consensus among diverse viewpoints. But, I believe that we can find consensus on the application of best sustainable practices while having diverse views on the fundamental motivations for so doing.