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Joanna’s Story

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December 23, 2010 Tags: Lives of Faith

Today's entry was written by Darrel Falk. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Joanna’s Story

I first received the letter below from a young scientist who we will call Joanna, a graduate student in psychology, almost a year ago. It was a very articulate and deeply moving letter. We sought permission and almost posted it at that time. However, Joanna was still very much in transition from her creationist past into her evolutionary creation present. This is not an easy transition to manage and far too many lose their personal relationship with God in the process. Partly with that in mind, I decided to wait before posting. Recently, I contacted Joanna again. I was relieved to find that my greatest fear had not been realized; instead she had clearly grown closer to God.

Immanuel—God is with us. God is with us all—the entire Body of Christ. May we all join hands together, regardless of what we think about the age of the earth and regardless of whether we accept that God has created through an evolutionary process. You’ll sense that Spirit of unity as you read Joanna’s testimony and our prayer is that each of you will sense God’s Presence (Introduction and Epilogue by Darrel Falk)

I grew up in a charismatic, believing, and Creationist family. My dad used to be a vicar of a church in Germany. I grew up believing the earth is no older than 10,000 years, and that it was created in seven days, and all that goes with that. As I was growing up, I never met a ‘born again’ Christian who believed otherwise. (Hence I am often slightly frustrated when I hear time and again that Creationism is at its core an American problem – but, as Ron Numbers pointed out correctly in Galileo Goes To Jail this ceased to be the case a very long time ago).

As a child and teenager, I always had a lot of questions about Creation. I started reading the Bible as soon as I could and I made my decision for Jesus wholeheartedly at the age of nine. Nurtured in an “all Christian environment,” I knew little else. But certain questions tended to nag at me. Where did Cain’s wife come from? Why, if we’ve evolved from apes, do they still exist? Clearly, as I saw it, evolution had to be wrong. (It is disturbing to think how little the average Creationist knows about biology and the theory of evolution as a whole to answer this question – at least in the circles I grew up in. It is often assumed, for example, that evolution proposes we’ve evolved from the current species of primates). Why do we have different skin colors and facial shapes? Surely if the world is only 6,000-10,000 years old, people may have observed the change and perhaps written about it. It just did not make any sense to me. I was troubled by the fact that the world, and all those biologists, could be so wrong. Why would they spend all this time and money researching a completely false theory—can’t they see that it’s all a lie?

When I turned 16, I left my native country, all by myself making my way to England. After A-levels, I studied Psychology, and due to a biological psychology lecturer who used to work with chimpanzees I was confronted with some very compelling genetic evidence regarding the genetic similarities between chimps and humans. I had already travelled that road further than I had imagined – surely they cannot all be wrong?

I am now working towards the completion of my PhD thesis, but I am a very different person to where I started. I have switched camps, one might say, and wholeheartedly so. I came to accept evolution for the truth, and best explanation of how we came about, who we are today, and the world around us. The moment I made that decision, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. All of a sudden, the whole world made sense to me – everything in it seemed to fit. All the questions that had been troubling me could be answered and it all made sense. The more I read, the more I discovered about the beauty and the coherence within evolutionary theory. Many fantastic books, including yours, from both Christian and non-Christian authors have enabled me to catch up on so much of the knowledge I feel was withheld from me all these years. When I now think of the way I grew up, I have to accept it for what it was, and that my family hold those beliefs for reasons that seem right to them. The fact that evolution is true is now so obvious to me, that it is sometimes difficult for me to understand how so many people can hold on to Creationist beliefs. My family know nothing of my journey; and I personally don’t know how to and whether I should raise and approach the subject.

I am now faced with a very different journey. How do I reinterpret my faith? I do believe that as you come to accept evolution, you move away from a generic literal interpretation of the Bible (I grew up within a culture of complete literal interpretation of the Bible), which is not necessarily confined to the first chapters of Genesis. No matter how one tries to confine it to this minute section of such a vastly diverse book, it does unmercifully take over ones’ entire interpretation of the Bible and Christianity as a whole. To begin with, I had days where I struggled to make sense of the whole “God thing.” On other days I marveled at his love, and the beauty of the world, the consistency within it. It was not easy, and this journey can be tough at times when you’re trying to reinterpret your faith without losing it. Despite all this, I never wish to turn back. I have gained so much, and feel I am part of this world more than ever before – because of the theory of evolution. Never in my dreams would I have imagined that one day I’d think this way.

Now some time has passed, and I know deep within that God exists, in his fullness in Jesus, his knowledge superseding all human knowledge. I have truly experienced his love, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and I read the Bible in a different way – trying to make sense of the deeper meaning, discovering His love for this world.

As I said above, when growing up I never met any Christian who truly believed that Jesus is the Son of God, and who also believed in evolution, and only in the past year I have come to know a few. I think this is a great shame. I now find it more difficult to watch children being raised in Creationist beliefs – they may struggle to reconcile their faith with scientific facts and may find it easier after “switching camps,” to turn their back on faith, branding it ill-equipped for reality. I’ve had such moments myself.

I truly believe that being in a loving community of people, who trust and believe in Jesus, is one of the loveliest and safest environments to be in. At a recent church weekend, what you wrote in your book resounded in my mind. That you also wanted your children to grow up in a similar environment as you did when you were a child. I can truly empathize with this desire.

I meet a lot of atheists at work – some are very proud of the fact they don’t believe in God – and I sometimes find it difficult to cope in this environment. Having always been the ‘vicar’s daughter’ at school, I did not tell anyone for a long time that I am a Christian and have found that it does not make life any easier at all. The only difference is that people are far less careful about what they say about people who believe. They are, one might say, more honest (that is to say more openly negative). However, I have found a lot of people no happier for not believing in God. In spite of the “all encompassing” knowledge of science, they sometimes seem to be on a journey for meaning and peace as well.

I am very much at peace now – I know I am in God’s loving hands. I truly believe that the world needs Jesus, and that he is the only one who can provide real meaning and true hope. In recent months I have come to think that his coming into this world does make a lot more sense in light of evolution than it does if we were the result of a special act of Creation. I don’t quite know how to explain this yet.

I regularly follow the BioLogos blog and I would like to thank you for all the work you are doing. I know that it is not always easy, and it is a shame that Christian scientists have to argue with and against notions put forward by other (often well-meaning) Christians. Rather we need to unite in what Jesus wants us to do – to bring his light to those who are lost, to bring his hope, his joy and peace to a broken world. We are not doing ourselves any favors by fighting scientific truths simply because they don’t fit well into our theology. Yet we need, one could say, must, establish a new theology (not a new faith though) that leaves room for and is unshaken by new scientific discoveries. I did not grow up with such an understanding of God and faith, and thus find myself on this journey now. It is reassuring that I can now wholeheartedly embrace my work, resting assured in the knowledge that God is at the center of it all. Someone said (I have unfortunately forgotten who) that when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything. We live in a world where people are searching for truth, and as those who know Jesus, we also know that it is to be found in him. I hope that the work of BioLogos will continue to contribute so that people won’t feel they have to make a choice between the truth found in Jesus, and the truth found in scientific discoveries. May the day come when both can live together in harmony.

Epilogue

There are thousands of Joannas. Unlike her, many don’t make it with their personal relationship with Jesus Christ intact. BioLogos exists to help show that need not—yea, must not—be the case anymore. Click here if you feel led to help.


Darrel Falk is former president of BioLogos and currently serves as BioLogos' Senior Advisor for Dialog. He is Professor of Biology, Emeritus at Point Loma Nazarene University and serves as Senior Fellow at The Colossian Forum. Falk is the author of Coming to Peace with Science.


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Cal - #45477

December 31st 2010

Ronnie:

As I and other posters said, Evolution does not mean atheism. In fact, as Christians we believe it was God’s way of “unrolling” life and CREATING everything that does exist. Evolution does not take glory away from God unless you posit an atheistic setting. Genesis is so much more than a mundane account of how God made the world (how were there day/night cycles if there wasn’t a sun before Day 4?). Respecting the beauty and trying to understand it is a task we undertake, growing in Wisdom everyday, but to say you have to choose evolutionism or creationism is a false dichotomy. I choose neither, I see both evolution and creation to be true.

Nedbrek:

I believe Jon was referring to the miracle of God creating in 6 days and I believe the Apostle John was referencing miracles done by Jesus of Nazareth, when God as in flesh, not just His miraculous doings as Spirit and Lord of all Creation. And Happy New year to you as well Brother, God bless and strengthen us to stand our ground against the princes and powers of this world!


beaglelady - #45492

December 31st 2010

As Christians, we believe the Bible to be Gods authoritative Word, and a plain reading of Genesis has no room for any evolutionary explanation at all.

Do you accept as literal Genesis 6, where the renegade randy divine beings (“sons of God”) mated with human females and produced baby giants and heroes?


Ronnie - #45503

December 31st 2010

beaglelady:

I know some translate “sons of God” to fallen angelic beings, or renegade randy divine beings as you put it. However, I don’t believe they are, since angelic beings don’t marry nor can they reproduce. Regardless, they perished in the flood that followed.


Rich - #45508

December 31st 2010

beaglelady (45492):

Do you accept as literal that every last Israelite was saved crossing the Red Sea, and that every last Egyptian soldier was drowned when the waters crashed back together?  Do you accept as literal the translation of Elijah?  Do you accept as literal the story of Balaam’s ass?  Do you accept as literal that Jesus walked upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee, and did not sink?  Do you accept as literal that Jesus took seven small items of food and fed 5,000 people with them?  Do you accept as literal that Jesus was born of a Virgin?  That he raised Lazarus from the dead?  Do you accept as literal that Jesus got up from the dead and walked around, and spoke to his disciples and showed them the wounds on his body?  And finally, in light of the upcoming Feast of the Epiphany, that the Magi were guided to baby Jesus by a star?

Merry Christmas and joyous Epiphany, beaglelady.


beaglelady - #45520

December 31st 2010

Well hello there Rich. Why don’t you answer my question first?


Rich - #45522

December 31st 2010

beaglelady:

Your question wasn’t addressed to me, it was addressed to Ronnie.  My question was addressed to you. 

Your question to Ronnie (like so many of your questions) was rhetorical, and you were implying that a sensible person would answer, “No.”

I wanted to know what you thought a sensible person would say about a man being born from a virgin or a man walking on water, or the violation of the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy in the feeding of 5,000 individuals from a few loaves and fishes.  And I wanted to know how you thought such things differed from angels impregnating human beings, if you accept the former group of events literally but not the latter event.


Jon Garvey - #45550

January 1st 2011

@Cal - #45477

“I believe Jon was referring to the miracle of God creating in 6 days”

Slight correction (in cheerful 2011 humour!) - I have no problem with people believing in a 6-day literal creation on the grounds it is in the Bible, though I believe their understanding is wrong.

What I take issue with is miraculously altered geological data, miraculously reset radioactive clocks, miraculous post-fall or post-flood superevolution of “kinds”, miraculously created light waves sending us information about supernovae that never happened, etc, etc.

I *HOPE* Nedbrek, in referencing John 21, wasn’t meaning the unrecorded miracle of the quern-stones and baking ovens created to test the faith of the 5000 who were fed…


Paul D. - #45665

January 2nd 2011

@Ronnie #45442

Ronnie, your confusion seems to stem from a misconception of what science is. Also, for the record, creation and Creationism are different. I believe God is the Creator, and evolution the process.

“The truth is, creation and evolution are both theories that try to explain the history of our world and life. Both use scientific data to support their respective theories.”

Only evolution is a scientific theory. It explains the available evidence perfectly, makes accurate predictions, and can potentially be falsified through experiments. None of this is true for Creationism.

“If evolution is true, there are millions or billions of years of unobserved history that also cannot be repeated or tested scientifically.”

This is untrue. Evolution is tested scientifically every day. Just look at human chromosome #2 or the discovery of the transitional species Tiktaalik right in the location and sediment layer where evolution predicted it would be.


beaglelady - #45694

January 2nd 2011

Rich,

For the most part,  I have no problem with miracles, especially those in the NT. Note that the story in Genesis 6 about angels mating with humans and producing giant offspring is NOT presented as a miraculous event brought about by God.  IIRC,  it’s about rebellious angels breaching barriers established by God. And I don’t take the story literally, anyway.


beaglelady - #45695

January 2nd 2011

I know some translate “sons of God” to fallen angelic beings, or renegade randy divine beings as you put it. However, I don’t believe they are, since angelic beings don’t marry nor can they reproduce.

So much for a plain reading.


Rich - #45715

January 3rd 2011

beaglelady (45694):

“For the most part,  I have no problem with miracles, especially those in the NT.”

Well, I’ve said repeatedly here that I “have no problem” with common descent, but that apparently isn’t enough.  Apparently I am required (by both atheists and TEs here) to sign a statement of faith endorsing common descent as the absolute and unchallengeable historical truth about the origin of all species, or I will be regarded as a closet YEC.  So should I return the favor, and demand that you give us a list of exactly which miracles of Jesus, Moses and Elijah you endorse as literal historical descriptions, before I acknowledge you as having truly Christian beliefs?

“Note that the story in Genesis 6 about angels mating with humans and producing giant offspring is NOT presented as a miraculous event brought about by God.”

Whether it’s presented as a miraculous event has nothing to do with my point.  You referred to it in tones of ridicule, as if no rational person would take such a story literally.  But why is the mating of angels with humans any more incredible than a man walking on water or getting up from the dead?  It’s arbitrary to mock the former while swallowing the latter whole.


Paul D. - #45726

January 3rd 2011

Actually, the mating of deities or other divine beings with humans would not have seemed miraculous at all to the Hebrews and other ANE cultures. We see this all the time in ancient myths and legends. That by itself suggests to me that we should categorize this story in Genesis as a worldview-related myth rather than a historical miracle.

In contrast, the resurrection of Jesus would very much have been a surprise to anyone who heard about it — i.e. a miracle, which cannot simply be chalked up to cultural expectations and primitive worldviews.


beaglelady - #45756

January 3rd 2011

Whether it’s presented as a miraculous event has nothing to do with my point.  You referred to it in tones of ridicule, as if no rational person would take such a story literally.  But why is the mating of angels with humans any more incredible than a man walking on water or getting up from the dead?  It’s arbitrary to mock the former while swallowing the latter whole.

I take it that you take the angel/human mating literally?  Ronnie doesn’t. Neither does Martin Rizley.  Denis Lamoureux wrote a long paper on this passage, and was surprised at the variety of interpretations on this passage.

Paul D., I agree with you.  In light of the one-seed theory in the ancient near east it wouldn’t be unusual for this mating to occur.  On the other hand, at the time of Jesus (and even long, long, long before that), everyone knew what being dead meant.  People mourned their dead and buried them.  Even many of the disciples were skeptical at the first reports of the resurrection.


Rich - #45774

January 3rd 2011

beaglelady (45756):

Like most TEs, you dance around the question when the subject of supernatural activity is brought up.  And once again you are trying to answer a question with a question, a rhetorical trick which I am too old and wise to fall for.

Whether I personally believe that human beings mated with angels is irrelevant.  I was raising the issue of “comparative credibility.”  I’ve stated it twice here now, and I’ll state it yet a third time:

Why is it more difficult to believe that angels could mate with human beings and produce offspring than that a man could walk on water, violate the mass/energy conservation laws in feeding 5,000 people, or rise from the dead?

If it’s no more difficult, then why do you dispense ridicule to those who take the Genesis episode literally?

And if it *is* more difficult, what principle are you invoking in order to establish that other strange events are more believable than this one?

(By the way, I am *not* endorsing the interpretation that the “sons of God” are angels.  The passage is obscure and in all likelihood fragmentary.  But if they *are* angels, and if the passage *is* meant literally, why would it be more difficult to believe than the Gospels?)


beaglelady - #45776

January 3rd 2011

Like most TEs, you dance around the question when the subject of supernatural activity is brought up.

Again, this passage is NOT about supernatural activity!  We are not comparing miracles here.  Please tell me if you can understand that.


beaglelady - #45777

January 3rd 2011

What I mean is that angels mating with humans is not about God’s miraculous intervention.


Rich - #45783

January 3rd 2011

beaglelady (45777):

You seem to be having trouble with basic terminology in theology.  As I have some background in both philosophical and Biblical theology, perhaps I can help you out.
 
Angels are supernatural beings.  They are not bound by the physical restrictions of matter and space.  Therefore, *all* angelic activity is by definition supernatural activity.

If angels impregnated human beings, that was a supernatural act.  The offspring of such unions would be the product of a supernatural act.  (In normal parlance, as opposed to the quasi-Biblical pedantry that prevails around here, supernatural acts are called miracles, but I’ll refrain from that term.)

In rejecting the story of the “angels” in Genesis 6, you are rejecting the Biblical testimony for a supernatural act.  Yet you accept (maybe) the Biblical testimony for walking on water, rising from the dead, and so on.  How do you distinguish between the supernatural acts which you accept, and those which you don’t accept?  What criteria do you apply?  Merely your own personal taste? 

Is my question that hard to understand?  How many different ways do I have to formulate it before you will give me an answer?


beaglelady - #45799

January 3rd 2011

Angels are supernatural beings.  They are not bound by the physical restrictions of matter and space.

So this is business as usual then?  God just made angels with testicles, hormones, 23 pairs of chromosomes and everything? 

As for my own criteria, this passage has to be read in light of Ancient Near Eastern mythology. 
I also reject a 3-tier universe, with a hard dome over the earth with stars stuck in it and heavenly waters above.

Also, it’s not important in any church teaching or creed, and is certainly not a deal breaker.  I don’t know of anyone except for you who takes it literally.  Interpretations of this passage have varied greatly through the ages. 

Finally, there is common sense.  If humans can’t mate with gorillas and produce viable offspring, why should angels be able to, unless they are shape shifters?

I’m going to go make sure my doors are locked.


Rich - #45811

January 3rd 2011

beaglelady (45799):

Your snappy, answer-a-question-with-a-question style wears thin after a short while.  (Especially when the return questions seem laced with sarcasm.)  Do you think you could adjust to the normal conversational pattern of answering interrogative sentences with declarative ones?

You imply that angels would need human sexual apparatus to impregnate human females.  You apparently haven’t noticed that a key Biblical supernatural act that you *do* (I think) accept—the Virgin Birth—involves a supernatural being (“the Holy Spirit”) impregnating a human female.  Does that imply that the Holy Spirit has “testicles, hormones, 23 pairs of chromosomes and everything”?  Somehow I don’t think you will say that.  So why are you saying it regarding the “angels” of Genesis 6?  Did you just not notice the inconsistency in your reasoning, or are you arguing purely to “yank my chains”?

I did not say that I took the passage literally.  I gave no interpretation of the passage at all.  Why do you put words in my mouth?  I was pointing out the inconsistency in your interpretive principles, nothing more.


Rich - #45816

January 3rd 2011

beaglelady (continued):

Why does the passage “have to” be read in light of Ancient Near Eastern mythology?  I don’t discount the value of Near Eastern parallels, but where do you get the “has to”?  How do you know the passage isn’t trying to straightforwardly narrate a past event?  And even if you are right, why doesn’t it follow that the Gospel stories “have to” be read in terms of Hellenistic ideas about dying and rising gods?  Why do you scrap the literal interpretation in one case, but insist on the literal interpretation in the other?  We have no non-partisan eye-witnesses in either the Genesis or the Gospel case, so why would you make a distinction?

As for your question: 

“Finally, there is common sense.  If humans can’t mate with gorillas and produce viable offspring, why should angels be able to, unless they are shape shifters?”

The answer is of course that “common sense” is entirely irrelevant, since *angels are supernatural beings*.  But you don’t like “supernatural” things, do you?  You were horrified when I mentioned that Catholics still acknowledge exorcism; you mocked the translation of Elijah with a wisecrack about parasites; and now this.  Your Christianity is heavily Deistic.


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