Evolution and Faith: My Journey Thus Far
Note: Today’s post comes to us from Nazarenes Exploring Evolution, a project from BioLogos’ Evolution and Christian Faith grants program. The website, exploringevolution.com, and the post below, is one of the first products from the ECF program.
Update: This post was mentioned in a recent post by Ken Ham on his blog. See our response here.
Christianity is a lie and I've been duped.
This conclusion seemed inescapable. I had just finished reading about the genetic evidence that humans and primates were related and shared a common ancestor. After months of studying and reading about evolution and common descent, the weight of the evidence was overwhelming. Multiple lines of evidence in disparate fields of science, such as Geology, Biology, and Genetics, all supported the basic idea that life on earth had developed over a long period of time and all organisms were modifications of a previously existing common ancestor. To deny the reality of evolution would be like denying the reality of gravity. However, echoing in the back recesses of my mind were the voices of dominant leaders in the Christian community. For years they had been proclaiming the lack of evidence for evolution and its incompatibility with Christianity. Now, faced with the evidence supporting evolution, I had no choice but to conclude that since these leaders had misled me about evolution they had also lied to me about Christianity. My faith was in crisis.
The crisis began in March 2006. The previous December a judge had ruled in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District case. The ruling sparked discussion in a local newspaper's online comment section. Desiring to defend creationism, as I had done in seventh grade biology many years before, I joined in the discussion and cited popular creationist literature as evidence against evolution. After several back-and-forth exchanges with individuals, I quickly realized that not only was the evidence I was using erroneous but I was also ignorant of evolution, the evidence supporting it, and the basic principles of science. To overcome these weaknesses I decided to study evolution and common descent. After months of reading and studying numerous books, online articles and scientific journals, I realized that the Theory of Evolution accurately described the development of life on earth. Now, with the ingrained dichotomy between faith and science, I was forced to choose one over the other. Since the evidence was overwhelming, I chose science and for a time questioned the existence of God.
Thus began some of the darkest months of my life. I felt as though I had been deceived by Christian leaders regarding evolution, and by extension, Christianity. I could not deny the science behind evolution, but neither could I deny the existence of God and the miracles I witnessed him perform throughout my life. The cognitive dissonance produced by the combination of evolution and Christianity was challenging to my faith. Thankfully, God had given me an "Ebenezer" several years prior to this crisis, and it was this monument to his faithfulness that helped me pick up the pieces of my faith and rebuild.
As I rebuilt my faith, I had many questions that needed answered, one of the most important and fundamental concerned the Bible. What is the Bible? What is its purpose and in what areas is it authoritative? What impact did the writers' worldviews have on what was written? I had to carefully balance the extremes of bibliolatry and the secular view that the Bible is simply a collection of ancient literature. As I studied the culture of the Ancient Near East it became apparent that the writers of Genesis were writing from within their own worldview. The words and concepts used to describe various aspects of creation were similar to those of the surrounding cultures and revealed that the authors shared the same primitive understanding of how the universe functioned. At first this new knowledge was troubling. After all, if the Bible described the sky as a solid firmament how could I trust it to accurately describe anything else?
I resolved these issues by looking at the life of Christ. As Christians we believe by faith that Christ was both human and divine, and although this paradox can be difficult to comprehend, it is not a stumbling block to our faith nor does it hinder us from having a relationship with him. Similarly, the Bible is both human and divine. The original authors recorded God's self-revelation as he interacted with humanity and the people of Israel. As these interactions were recorded, they were written within the worldview of the author and in terms that the original audience could understand. Because of this, parts of scripture contain evidence of an ancient understanding of the world. However, God accommodated this understanding so that his story could be told, his message understood, and his love displayed. This accommodation continued during Jesus' ministry with his use of parables that were familiar to his first-century audience. Though our understanding of the physical world is significantly different than what is recorded in Scripture, we can be confident that the message we have today is the message God intended for us to have and by faith believe that Scripture "inerrantly reveals the will of God concerning us in all things necessary for our salvation."
Even though I have resolved my concerns about the Bible, there are still unanswerable questions, difficult doctrinal issues, and at times doubts. However, my faith does not rest in being able to answer every question and resolve every tension; I already know The Answer. I can say with the father in Mark 9:24, "I believe; help my unbelief." Recently, a cousin who holds an old-earth creationist viewpoint learned of my position as an evolutionary creationist and wanted to discuss the issue. Knowing that discussing creation can be divisive, I was somewhat apprehensive. However, as we sat down to talk, he prefaced our conversation by saying, "It doesn't matter what we believe about creation or the Bible; what matters is what we believe about Christ." With that understanding setting the tone of our conversation we were able to discuss a controversial subject in a God-honoring way. My hope and prayer is that the Christian community can focus on the Christ who unites us, instead of spending time and energy on non-essential issues that divide us.
Daniel Hamlin is a network administrator at a midwest university, and a blogger for Nazarenes Exploring Evolution.