Continuing its push to add secular degrees to its theological offerings, Rocklin's William Jessup University will make its first foray into the sciences by offering a biology degree this spring.
Campus officials say students enrolling in their program will learn the prevailing scientific thought, while being exposed to alternate theories.
"Some people would say you can't teach the Bible and teach science. We would respectfully disagree," said campus President John Jackson.
He said sciences fit nicely into a "Christ-centered" education, and the two aren't mutually exclusive.
"Right science never contradicts right Scripture," Jackson said. "Science changes every day and our understanding of Scripture grows richer."
The campus, formerly known as San Jose Bible College, in recent years has sought to increase its student body by attracting students looking to work outside of the church, while maintaining its Christian evangelical stance.
"We want to serve more students and enlarge our offerings," Jackson said.
Jessup students agree to attend religious services and abstain from "sexual misconduct."
William Jessup, which moved to Rocklin in 2004, has an enrollment of 1,000 students and will have 17 degree programs this spring, six of which are religious in nature.
It also offers, among others, degrees in business administration, creative arts, mathematics and music.
To run the science program, the campus hired Ted Tollner, who has a doctorate in molecular, cellular and integrated physiology from the University of California, Davis. Tollner described himself as a scientist and man of faith.
"The learning objectives are the same. The science doesn't change," Tollner said. "You don't teach biology without teaching the big-picture view, and evolution is one of them."
Academics elsewhere note that religious institutions have long fostered scientific study. Religious orders founded many of the world's first universities. And until recently the two camps seemed to be at an armistice, said Mano Singham, a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and the author of three books on science and religion.
But over the last decade, some scientists, most notably British biologist Richard Dawkins, have sharply attacked efforts to use religion to explain unexplained phenomena in the natural world.
Conversely, religious fundamentalists' push to teach creationism has stoked the ire of the scientific community.
Tollner said students will focus on the prevailing scientific view through most coursework. One class, a feature at many institutions, will focus on the origins of life. In that course students will be exposed to alternate theories, including intelligent design.
The core belief of intelligent design is that some phenomena in the physical world are too complex to be random and that the most logical explanation is that the hand of an intelligent designer is at work.
Including intelligent design as part of science education remains controversial. Critics call it junk science.
Singham said attributing inexplicable events to a creator stops the scientific process.
"The scientific community is pretty clear intelligent design isn't science," he said. "Teaching it within the science class (means) you're giving people the idea it has scientific credibility."
But proponents see it as a legitimate, productive view being suppressed by the dominant academic thought.
They point to "credible peer-reviewed science" challenging some mainstream Darwinian beliefs.
"We're not saying that you can scientifically prove God," said Casey Luskin, research coordinator at the Discovery Institute, one of the leading proponents. "Intelligent design doesn't go so far as to determine the designer."
Luskin applauded what he called William Jessup's progressive approach to teaching biology. "I think it's great that they are going to teach students about the prevailing scientific view," Luskin said. "It's also great that they will expose their students to other theories."
Melding science and religion requires humility, Tollner said. It requires scientists to accept that scientific thought is fluid and it requires a more liberal reading of Scripture, he said.
Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @newsfletch.