Why Creationism Might Destroy Your Faith

11:00 AM

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
---- Aristotle, Metaphysics ----

"You don't have to be creationist to be saved," teenage-Bailey told her fundamental Baptist college student leader. "It's important, but it's not a gospel issue."

"No," he said. "You can't be a Christian and believe in evolution." 

He also told me that he wasn't sure I was a Christian either. Makes sense.

Of course, most creationists would never say something that bigoted and rude. Their correlation between salvation and creationism runs a little subtler: A literal six-day young earth interpretation of Genesis provides the only orthodox and obvious underpinnings for the gospel. As soon as a literal six-day young earth interpretation gets booted out in lieu of something else, we lose support for one man/one woman marriage, sin arising as a consequence of evil, a literal Adam and Eve, a literal fall, and the whole purpose of Christ's redemption. Even worse, a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11 opens up a slippery slope to interpreting the rest of the Bible non-literally, including the Resurrection.

A literal six-day young earth creationism is a fundamental, uncompromisable truth which abandonment results in liberalism, secularism, and no more Christianity. Narrowminded creationists come right and say what everyone's secretly thinking: "Evolutionists cannot be Christians." Kinder creationists say, "I can't judge anyone's heart" -- which in nice fundamentalist lingo means, "I'm pretty sure the majority of these people aren't saved, but I hope there are exceptions."

When did creationism become the litmus test for belief in Biblical infallibility, orthodoxy, and true salvation?

I'm making my intentions clear right now: I am not discussing whether creationism is true or scientific. I am not discussing whether evolution is true or scientific. I'm talking about the discussion surrounding the creation-evolution dialogue. I'm not sold on evolution myself. (Frankly, I just don't know anymore about the scientific evidence for either theory.) Since I grew up in a fundamental community, I'm preaching to that uncomfortable choir.

Creationists like to complain about the scientific community's hatred toward and discrimination against any opposing viewpoint to evolution. They indoctrinate our public schooled children with nothing but evolution, evolution, evolution. They brainwash society with billions of years. They crack down on scientists who support intelligent design. They don't want a discussion -- just dogma. "Just let the schools teach evolution and creationism side by side," creationists say. "That's all we ask."

All right, creationists. You first.

Let's be honest, Christian kids who grew up watching Ken Ham lectures in Sunday school and using Apologia science textbooks in class. Did evolution get a fair hearing in our education? Did we read evolutionists' own words? Do we know what a phylogeny is? Have we heard of the punctuated equilibrium theory? Did we study how integral what we like to call microevolution is to current day biology? Did we know that evolution is not actually a scientific discipline itself but instead a theory used across multiple disciplines for the innocuous purpose of observing what we see today?

We tried. We tried to be open-minded, but we weren't. Evolution and creationism were not taught side-by-side, allowing students to come to their own conclusions. Evolution was not an option to consider or investigate. Its main purpose served as a starting point to indoctrinate students -- an unfortunately appropriate word for both the Sunday school room and the secular classroom.

This is why creationism might destroy your faith.

As an inquisitive teenager who liked to buck the system once in a while, I sometimes got confused with things about the scientific aspects of creationism that just didn't fit together. But I never once sought out evolution on its own terms. I never read a book by a theistic evolutionist. I never googled alternative scientific theories to creationism. I searched in the Answers in Genesis homepage only. I was terrified of encountering evolution in any form other than quoted and dismissed. 

That terror climaxed in Biology 101. My school is not a fundamentalist school. My physics professor was an atheist and global warming advocate. A bumper sticker on a biology professor's door mocked those who disbelieved in evolution. And here I was in a biology class, being told by this normal-looking professor that the study of biology equaled the study of evolution.

I was going to lose my faith right then and there. That slippery slope momentum gathered behind me. I could see myself as a statistic in Already Gone -- yet another bright-eyed evangelical college student abandoning belief in the Bible's infallibility, mocking the Resurrection, and sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

Then we never talked about origins science. We never once questioned God. We never asked a philosophical why question. "Science asks how," my professor hammered into his humanities students' heads. "Leave the why questions to philosophy. They're important, but we're not talking about them in this class."

We didn't talk about origins science until I brought it up the second day of class. "We can't observe or repeat the origin of the universe," he said, "so technically it's not science. It's only half-science."

He said that evolution was an excellent theory of explaining life as we know it but was pretty bad at precisely predicting things -- prediction being a crucial part of science. He explained the different evolutionary types and mechanisms, showed us the phylogeny of how all life interrelates as a family tree, and never said anything that undermined Christianity, God, or the Bible. In fact, he got ridiculously excited about the beauty and complexity of life.

Instead of quieting my beating heart, this purely scientific approach freaked me out: What if evolution looks compelling to me? I'll have to give up everything I believe in! Genesis 1-11 would be out of touch with reality. The Bible would be fallible. If the Bible is fallible, I have no reason to believe the rest of it. This class will seal my spiritual fate. 

I learned that creationist all-or-nothing fallacy pretty well, didn't I?

Creationists don't realize that they're teaching their young people to place all their faith in a scientific theory. This next generation of fundamentalist students are growing up believing that one potentially fallible interpretation of Genesis 1-11 and pseudo-scientific guesswork are the basis for the gospel. That's why I never dared google an evolutionist viewpoint. That's why I broke into a cold sweat in Biology 101: I was not studying science. I was questioning everything I believed in.

That's not an acceptable way to view science, faith, or the gospel. In fact, that's just a recipe for destroying your faith.

And that's the problem creationists point out, isn't it? Bumbling together science and religion, ignoring worldview, putting our trust in man's interpretation instead of God's Word. Isn't that exactly what creationists do too when they refuse to recognize any other interpretation of Scripture that tries to be faithful to Scripture and science?

Many of my passionate, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving friends and professors do not believe in a literal six day young earth creationist interpretation of Genesis 1-11 -- and they hold to the absolute infallibility of God's Word. They accept evolution in its whole or in bits and pieces -- and they call God Creator. They recognize the need to iron out apparent incongruities between science and theology -- and they are confident that this can be done without compromising science or the correct interpretation of God's infallible Word.

How can they do that?

Because they hold fast to the same fundamentals creationists do -- the infallibility of God's Word. They see both layers of manmade interpretation -- man's interpretation of science and man's interpretation of the Bible. These sorts of theistic evolutionists are not compromising with the world when they accept evolution as a plausible scientific theory. They're just rejecting a certain potentially fallible interpretation (i.e. creationism) of both science and Genesis.

Most creationists are armchair scientists who read books, google things, and come to conclusions. Real Christian scientists work in a field distinct from theological territory. They seek God's truth in rocks, stars, and DNA -- a valid (but certainly limited) path to truth appreciated for most of church history. Some Christian scientists conclude that evolution is impossible and inaccurate. Some Christian scientists conclude it is plausible and accurate.

As a theologian and thinker, I respect these scientists' research and conclusions. I believe that the Biblical creation account transcends evolution and creationism altogether. Both (orthodox) theistic evolutionists and creationists believe that God is Creator, that man was formed in His image, that creation was a miracle, that man's sin requires the literal death and resurrection of Christ, and that science does not undermine Biblical infallibility. We all agree on this regardless of our interpretation of Genesis or our interpretation of the fossil record.

The question is how science and the witness of God's Word complement each other. We cannot address that question properly by teaching one interpretation of Scripture and science only. That's close-minded, intellectually dishonest, and dangerous for people's souls. I agree with creationists: let's rigorously instruct our Sunday school students in the common, fundamental truths all Christians hold, teach our biology students creationism, evolution, and every other valid scientific theory in a liberal-minded way, and see what happens. We might actually arrive at the truth.

I know you're itching to say something, friend. Go for it!

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4 impressions

  1. I like much of what you say here and I am glad you are thinking hard about these questions. I think you go astray with your last line: ". . . teach our biology students creationism, evolution, and every other valid scientific theory in a liberal-minded way, and see what happens. "

    Creationism is not a scientific theory. I'm not saying whether it is right or wrong, true or false, I am just stating what it empirically is not. A scientific theory starts by observing the world, comes up with a possible explanation for those observations - a theory - and then tests the theory. When evidence is found that cannot be explained by the theory, the theory must be modified or thrown out. That is science. Creationism starts with the Bible. Then it looks at the real world and tries to find evidence that supports the Biblical account. We can discuss whether that is a valid thing to do or not, and whether it has been done well or poorly in the past, but in the end, it doesn't really matter. Because doing that is not science and has no place in the science classroom. Science is by definition a secular thing. It is all about man's observations and understanding of the world. Religion - any religion - does not have to be in conflict with science, but it is not the same thing as science. No religious creation account is a scientific theory, including Christianity's.

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    1. I agree with you, Adele. I was going to say that creationism tries to make sense of observations such as the Grand Canyon by pairing it with Biblical history like the flood...but even where it does work with empirical evidence, creationism cannot by altered or thrown out like a scientific theory. It really does lie outside the scientific method.

      I'm glad you pointed that out. I'm totally comfortable with creationism and/or philosophical/religious reflections on origins staying out of the science classroom. I think everyone on all sides of the evolution-creation-intelligent design spectrum would benefit from a clearer separation of what science can and can't do and what religion/philosophy can and can't do.

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  2. I've always thought that there are many different kinds of creationism...from young earth to evolutionist. But other than that matter of mere terminology, I'm glad somebody other than me has been thinking some of the things you said here! Bravo.

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  3. I know it's kinda odd to reply just now, but I am just finishing John Lennox's book - Seven Days that Divide the World. It's amazing and as a fellow-struggler with the issue, this book has helped me a lot to see the big picture. I would gladly recommend it to anyone as a starting point.

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