In the Beginning
by Lisa Tramontana
In the beginning …
The words that follow that phrase have stirred incredible controversy over the years, prompting intense debate among scientists, scholars, theologians and politicians. It is a polarizing topic, but there is plenty of middle ground to explore and to ponder.
Creationism, evolution or intelligent design? Just how was the world created? And when? Christian fundamentalists hold fast to the Biblical account that in seven days, God created the universe and its first inhabitants, Adam and Eve. Evolutionists embrace the scientific theory that living things have evolved over millions of years. Intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe are too complex to be the result of natural processes, and must be the result of an intelligent cause.
This article is not a scholarly essay on the creationism vs. evolution debate. This is the story of Dr. Charles Henry Voss Jr. and how his personal beliefs on this subject created a calling that has guided him most of his adult life. You won’t meet many people more determined to share their message, in spite of the fact that he has, as he admits, attracted many critics over the years.
But even now, at 91, Voss is still at it. He has just authored a creationism booklet that he is encouraging Louisiana educators to consider including in their curricula. (Public schools may teach biologic evolution in the science classroom, but creationism, considered a religious theory, is off-limits.*) “Of course, I understand why the subject is so controversial,” he said. “And we will probably never agree on it. But I think if we’re going to present one side, we should be able to present the other. I think it’s a fair and balanced idea. I think it’s in the students’ best interest to be exposed to both ideas.”
And when Voss says “the students’ best interest,” he is talking about not just their science education, but their spiritual well-being. Voss is a devout Christian who takes the Bible literally and takes seriously his obligation to promote his faith. Considering his background, how could it be any other way?
Voss was born to American missionary parents in China, but at a very young age, his parents moved to Baton Rouge, where Voss grew up. After earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from LSU, he earned a Ph.D. from North Carolina State University. In 1962, he came to LSU as a full professor in the engineering department where his research focused on biomedical areas, including the development of pacemakers, artificial hearts, hearing aids and protective devices for patients with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy).
In the late 1960s, he invited a guest speaker named Jon Buell to one of his lecture classes. Buell’s topic was creationism vs. evolution, and Voss was mesmerized. “I had always accepted the Biblical version, but this was the first time I had heard so many facts to support it. I remember coming home at lunch that day and telling my wife to stop whatever she was doing because she needed to come back to LSU with me right away and hear this speaker. That’s when it started for me. I wanted to learn and know as much as I could.”
Voss helped form a group of like-minded Christian professionals, and for more than 20 years, the group spoke with local churches and organizations about their cause. He was also involved in Louisiana’s education politics for nearly 15 years, as governors, legislators and educators battled it out.
As a professor, it made sense to share his beliefs with his adult students in Bible studies and Sunday school, which he also did for many years. And at one point, he combed through a number of high school biology textbooks, providing information he felt was missing, calling it “text add-ons” and making it available to educators. He got mixed reviews, but wasn’t surprised. “Not long ago, several friends and I sent a DVD to every science teacher in the state of Louisiana,” he said, “and only two responded. Even so, I have had many people come up to me through the years to thank me for the ideas I’ve taught and for making them really think about what they believe and why.” If he never wins another convert, it doesn’t worry him. “I’ve lived a rich, full life … a Christian life,” he said. “I’ve been married for 63 years to my wife Betty Ann. I don’t feel as though I’ve missed out on anything. I always knew there would be bumps in the road, but I’ve always had my faith. I know what’s required of me.”
And he’s never once doubted what he believes. As he talks about the 50year “ministry” he’s practiced, it’s clear that Voss is respectful of all opinions, whether or not they conform to his own. But it doesn’t look like that will slow down his mission.
To order a copy of Voss’ booklet, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In very general terms …
Creationism: The literal reading in the book of Genesis that God created the universe, as well as man, in 7 days, and that this occurred thousands of years ago.
Evolution: The world developed over a much longer period of time than the Biblical account, and that the life forms we see today arose from prior, extinct life forms … that through natural selection, complex creatures evolved from more simplistic ancestors.
Intelligent Design: Some structures found in nature are too complex to be explained by natural selection, and are best explained by some intelligent cause or being.
“I understand why the subject is so controversial … and we will probably never agree on it. but I think if we’re going to present one side, we should be able to present the other.”
– Dr. Charles Henry Voss, Jr.