My Faith Shouldn’t Be Alive (But It Is, and Here’s Why)

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June 23, 2010 Tags: Lives of Faith

Today's entry was written by Rachel Held Evans. 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.

My Faith Shouldn’t Be Alive (But It Is, and Here’s Why)

There’s a great little show on the Discovery Channel that never fails to undo my best laid plans for Saturday afternoons. It’s called “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” When the title alone isn’t enough to draw me in, it’s only a matter of time before the survivor of a plane crash (or rock slide or shark attack or hiking misadventure) begins recounting in excruciating detail his decision to cut off his own arm with a pocket knife (or eat his dog or drink his urine), rendering me completely useless on the living room couch until I’ve seen that the rescue helicopters have arrived.

We all love survival stories, which is perhaps why I like to compare my own faith journey to one--though with considerably less blood and suspense.

You see, my faith shouldn’t be alive. By all accounts, it should have perished the moment I started asking questions about faith and science. All my life I’d been taught that I had to choose—between believing the Bible and believing my science book, between honoring God and embracing evolution. To accept one was to effectively kill the other, I learned. They couldn’t both survive. They were incompatible.

And yet here I am—a girl who loves Jesus and accepts evolution, alive to tell the tale.

Survival stories usually begin in a dramatic setting, and mine is no different. For most of my life I’ve lived in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Located in the buckle of the Bible Belt, Dayton is not the most convenient place to question a literal interpretation of Genesis. Most people here believe that evolution is part of an anti-Christian worldview, and the wounds from getting called “yokels” and “ignorants” by the press during the trial are still being nursed today.

I attended a small Christian college in town named after William Jennings Bryan, where one of the most popular professors at the time was a leading young earth creationist. This professor often told the story of how, as a sophomore in high school, he had dreams of becoming a scientist, but could not reconcile the theory of evolution with the creation account found in the Bible. So one night, he took a pair of scissors and a newly-purchased Bible and began cutting out every verse he believed would have to be removed to believe in evolution. By the time he was finished, he said he couldn’t even lift the Bible without it falling apart. That was when he decided, “Either Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible.”

Having operated within this paradigm for so much of my life, I experienced a major crisis of faith when I encountered the overwhelming scientific evidence in support of evolutionary theory soon after graduating from college.

On the one hand, I felt betrayed. Pastors and teachers had assured me that science supported a 6,000-year-old earth and that only atheists with an agenda against Christianity believed it was older. And yet everything from the fossil record to biodiversity to starlight to DNA seemed to confirm evolutionary theory as sound, with the overwhelming majority scientists affirming it.

On the other hand, I was afraid to accept undeniable truth I’d encountered. I didn’t want to walk away from my faith. I didn’t want to throw out the Bible. I didn’t want to reject God. But everything I’d been told up to that point led me to believe I had to choose. Doubt is difficult to describe to those who have never experienced it. What’s most frightening about it is how one question leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to another, creating a sort of domino effect out of your skepticism and fear. I lay awake for hours at night, struggling with this conflict between my intellectual integrity and my faith. I begged God to “help me in my unbelief,” but His presence seemed to drift farther and farther away with every seemingly irreconcilable conflict between reason and faith.

I thought for sure my faith was a goner.

The first rescue helicopter came in the form of Francis Collins’ “The Language of God.” A friend recommended it, and it was the first time I’d ever read the work of a scientist so passionately committed to both his Christian faith and accepted science. The fact that it was even possible to be a Christian and believe in evolution gave me hope.

In the third chapter, Collins includes a quote from St. Augustine, who—centuries before Darwin made his landmark observations—warned Christians against interpreting the first two chapters of Genesis too strictly. Said Augustine, “In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”1

That was when I realized that my hyper-literalist interpretation of Genesis 1-2 was going down, and it was taking my faith with it.

I couldn’t let that happen.

So like a survivor cutting off his arm to escape from beneath a boulder, I severed my fundamentalist approach to Scripture. (Okay, so it wasn’t really that dramatic. Let’s just say I spent some time on the BioLogos site, ordered “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John Walton, and managed to survive the faith crisis with my love for God and for the Bible intact.)

So why tell my story?

Because I wasn’t alone out there in the wilderness of doubt, and not everyone’s faith survived. I have friends who walked away from their Christian faith right when their gifts and talents could have served it best. They walked away because they thought being a Christian demanded willful ignorance and fear of truth. They walked away because they felt betrayed by their pastors, parents, and professors. They walked away because they believed the lie that they had to choose.

And that makes me angry sometimes.

It seems like for every survival story, there is a story of loss…which is why I believe the BioLogos Foundation is so important. We’ve got to work together to reverse this trend. We’ve got to send out more rescue helicopters to young people around the country who are desperately holding on to what remains of their faith. These are unnecessary casualties of an unnecessary war, and the simple knowledge that faith and science can coexist can be enough to bring a lost soul back from the brink.

My faith shouldn’t be alive.

But it is, and not a day goes by that I am not grateful for the gift of a second chance.

Rachel's book Evolving in Monkey Town is available on Amazon. To hear about Rachel's journey, see our video conversation with her (below).


Rachel Held Evans is a self-described "writer, skeptic, and Christ-follower" from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. Her first book is a spiritual memoir entitled Evolving in Monkey Town. She enjoys speaking, blogging, traveling, playing poker, and talking theology over coffee.


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Mike - #19190

June 26th 2010

Martin,

I appreciate your comments and I have given them plenty of thought over the past year, probably much more than I should. Having said that, one of the reasons why I began to rethink my YEC position began after I watched a short video clip by Francis Collins. His core argument was “all truth is God’s truth whether from the Bible, science, or whatever…” In a nutshell, these basic arguments are why I give TE’s merit:

1)Genesis states, “God created the Heavens and the Earth”.
2)Because God created the universe and all which is in it, we should not be afraid to investigate creation both from a rational perspective AND Biblical
3)Because we see these observations within God’s creation, we should be able to trust they are accurate and true Broad ex: We see the fossil record go from microscopic life-forms (simple) to more complex life-forms and diversity as creation progresses. (continued)


Mike - #19191

June 26th 2010

Again, I don’t really know where I stand completely on this issue, but arguments like these are some of why I take a lighter stance than I had once before. Quick note, a lot of people say well where is God in science? By the very nature of its practice, it does not invoke God. Initially, this may be a bit unsettling and this is why I initially rejected ideas similar to Francis Collins. (cont)


Mike - #19192

June 26th 2010

However, God is not readily found in science for the same reasons he is not found in math, art, music, etc. Also, critics say people like FC do not allow for the possibilities of miracles as creation unfolds. I would say they are wide open to the idea, so long as there is a trail of evidence which God has left behind to give us reason to believe they did actually happen that way. Now, God does not NEED to leave that trail but the trail would have had to been erased somewhere along the way, because the study of our Earth has not supported some conclusions. This is why people use the idea of God as a deceiver to defend why they don’t hold to such a position. I went longer than it needed it to be (sorry), but thanks for answering my initial question. I just thought I would flesh out some of the details of why I currently tread lightly on this issue and am wary of people who have absolute truth in this area.


Martin Rizley - #19200

June 26th 2010

Mike,  I agree with #1 and 2 above, but I believe #3 involves an oversimplification.  It is true that simpler life forms are found lower in the fossil record and there is a gradual progression in complexity the higher up you go.  But there are surprising exceptions to the rule.  For example, the trilobite is found very low in the Cambrian strata, yet it has what some regard as the most complex eye of any creature that has every lived.  Moreover, trilobites appear suddenly in the fossil record, with no predecessors.  That could hardly be seen as “supporting” for the theory of evolution.  I have also read that a huge percentage of fossils are of marine creatures, and many of these are of single cell or simple invertebrate species like sponges, etc.  Now, I don’t see it as impossible that at least SOME of the strata bearing marine fossils date from the third day of creation (whose duration is not explicitly defined in Scripture), when God separated the seas from the dry land.  (continued)


Martin Rizley - #19202

June 26th 2010

The fact that it was only on the fifth day that God said, “Let the waters TEAM with living creatures” and filled the earth with sea creatures of all sorts, does not preclude (in my mind, at least) the possibility that some simple, plant-like creatures inhabited the waters at an earlier date—precisely the type you find in the lower strata.  E. J. Young, who was a very conservative OT scholar, acknowledged this possibility.  Where I believe TE goes wrong is in its a priori commitment to strict naturalism in science, which I see as frankly inconsistent with a biblical world view.  If we are going to believe in the God of the Bible, we cannot rule out in principle from the very beginning of our research (a priori)  the very POSSIBILITY of miraculous divine intervention playing a role in the creation of ANY of the features of earth’s geomorphology.  I believe it is disingenuous to say mainline science doesn’t do that.  Of course they do that!  They rule out in an a priori manner, for example, the very POSSIBILITY that God may have supernaturally accelerated the cooling of lavas between sedimentary layers. (CONTINUED)


Martin Rizley - #19203

June 26th 2010

As a Christian, I ask, how can any believer possibly rule out that possibly?  Do we not believe in a miracle-working, intervening God? I certainly do!  For that reason, I cannot take the view that if something CAN be explained in terms of natural processes then it MUST be explained in that way.  On that basis, scientists could easily have ‘explained away’ the wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (had they been present to look at it under a microscope) by saying, “This wine looks no different than other wine.  It can be explained in terms of natural processes—so no miracle took place here!”  The fact that something CAN be explained in terms of natural processes does not eliminate the possibility that a miracle MAY have occurred instead.  Scientists don’t like to hear that—in fact, it drives them crazy—-  but I see no way to avoid the logic of that statement from a biblical standpoint.  That’s why I firmly believe that Scripture must serve as the “lens” through which we view the natural world.  Like Calvin, I believe that the Bible serves as the ‘glasses’ we put on to study His works in creation, providence, and redemption.


Mike - #19215

June 26th 2010

Martin,

It seems like you are misunderstanding my point a little bit. Simply put, I cannot rule out the possibility that God supernaturally interacts within creation and DON’T want to. Ok, so now that I have firmly established this point, the second point is the reason why I believe TE have some valid arguments to bring forth. I don’t want to put words into people’s mouth, but I believe this group is open to the idea that God could work within creation throughout certain points or at least they should be IMO, but when looking at the data they do not find any evidence for an increased cooling rate of cooling lava’s, etc. Also, you referenced the water to wine miracle. I don’t have any issue with accepting this whatsoever and I presume most TE don’t either (again I don’t want to misrepresent people by throwing a blanket statement out there but I will for the sake of this post). I have no problem accepting this miracle because there is no direct evidence against it happening, same goes for Jesus’ resurrection. It may be scientifically improbable or impossible from a pure naturalistic perspective but I guess this is where faith enters the picture. (continued)


Mike - #19216

June 26th 2010

All this to say, I still don’t know if I accept the views I just presented but I want to present the argument from this point of view in its strongest form. Also, I do not consider myself an expert in the field of biology or any other recognized scientific discipline but I find it hard to believe such a large number of scientists could be so wrong on so many fronts while the theory has been around for 150 years. Revisions will be made about the specifics along the way, but the theory seems to be gaining strength as time goes on. Take this with a grain of salt because I am not a scientist, but when I research the situation from as unbiased a view that I can this is the outcome. I say this from a pro YEC perspective until not so long ago, wanting everything in my power for science to be wrong. Anyhow, I do appreciate reading your posts though Martin. Your objections are valid and I appreciate the manner in which you represent them, gracious yet bold. Have a good night!


Mike - #19217

June 26th 2010

Small mistake but it is bugging me, *present* in the second to last line. There, now I can rest easy!


Martin Rizley - #19220

June 27th 2010

Mike,
I have enjoyed our interchange.  Pray for my continued growth in understanding God’s Word and works, and I’ll do the same for you.


Mike - #19222

June 27th 2010

Thanks Martin, I will be praying about it.


Gregory - #19227

June 27th 2010

Don’t worry, Mike. The word ‘represent’ most probably works too.

You wrote:
“wanting everything in my power for science to be wrong”

What is the want behind this power? Why do you ‘want’ science to be wrong if science is supposed to be for the benefit of humanity? Do you not want humanity to benefit/improve?

Do you want to resort back to a YEC perspective that seemingly blinders itself from a majority of scientists and their scientific work?

It doesn’t seem to make much sense to sympathize with Martin if you think he is actually quite deluded in his view of ‘science’ due mainly to the way he interprets the Bible.

This doesn’t have to be as black and white as one makes it, still, it makes a difference if and when you can finally put your feet down somewhere.

Appeasing Martin for honestly trying is one thing; placating his persistence, given that he is a non-scientist, rather an English specialist and theology student, in doubting the results of physical science and (*any* non-Christian or *non-Baptist* Christian) scientists is something else.


Scanman - #19237

June 27th 2010

Rachel,

Thank you for your blog….it fully embodies my concern for young believers who encounter the realities of the scientific world once they reach the halls of higher learning. The lack of being offered an alternative Christian viewpoint (i.e. Theistic Evolution) in their earlier upbringing is indeed disheartening.  Thank God for websites like Biologos.

Because I am somewhat outspoken, it is very difficult to find places of Christian fellowship…it is either ‘keep my mouth shut’ or move along.

Peace


Mike - #19239

June 27th 2010

Gregory,

I guess “wanting everything in my power for science to be wrong” was a testament to my previous thinking when I WAS a YEC, not necessarily now. I wanted to paint a picture as fully I could to clearly illustrate my “bias” against science, yet finding science does have merit in the end. Using the stark contrast highlighted the undeniable fact that there are many independent lines of evidence that support the theory of an old universe with evolution.  With a time of transition like this, I seem to be in no man’s land at the moment trying to figure out where I stand on these issues. This is OK with me because I need time to clearly think through these issues and their implications and don’t feel the need to decide immediately or even in the near future. The only decision which requires an immediate decision IMO is accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Having done this already, I am trying to calmly assess everyone’s position on creation and go from there.


Rich - #19266

June 28th 2010

Martin Rizley (19200-3):

I don’t rule out divine interventions, either, but I don’t believe in inventing them just for the sake of rescuing the Biblical narrative from charges of scientific or historical error (which is essentially your procedure, and the procedure of many inerrantists). 

My fundamental exegetical principle is respect for the text as it presents itself to us, not some external principle, such as making the text conform to Calvinism or some other theology, or showing that the events narrated in the text all conform to the results of history or science. 

I don’t explain water into wine in scientific terms because that is against the plain meaning of the text.  And I don’t add post-Flood miracles to rescue the Noah story from criticism by modern geneticists, because such miracles don’t accord with the plain meaning of the text.  It’s a question of respecting the text.

Toying with the length of the “days” in Genesis 1 (suggesting that they might not all be equal in length, for concordist purposes, even though that violates the clear literary intentions of the writer), speculating about plant-like creatures in the ocean, etc., all show disrespect for the text.  I’ll have no part of that.


Martin Rizley - #19270

June 28th 2010

Gregory,  I think it is wrong to imply that if someone does not have a background in science, he cannot arrive at a competent understanding of the proper relationship between modern science and the apostolic faith.  That’s because the defining of that relationship is not a scientific question primarily, but a theological one, as the following illustration makes clear.  Let’s imagine that a group of ten scientists who are expert wine connoisseurs show up a the wedding in Cana of Galilee just after Jesus performed the miracle of changing water into wine.  They are asked to examine the wine and tell something about its history, without being informed of the miracle that just occurred.  They study it carefully and deduce the type of grapes from which the wine was made,and the amount of time it would likely have taken for the wine to reach its present degree of fermentation.  Just before giving their report, they are told the truth about how this wine was formed.  Immediately, the group is divided.  Two of the scientists say, “Well, we were about to give a report on this wine based on our expect knowledge of how wine is naturally produced (continued)


Martin Rizley - #19271

June 28th 2010

but in light of the news we have just received,  our report must be revised, because THIS wine is unique; it was produced supernaturally, and not according to the usual method—we have THAT on Jesus‘ own authority.”  The remaining eight respond differently.  They say, “This news we received about the origin of this wine is utterly absurd!  We have examined it carefully, and in light of our expert scientific knowledge, we have concluded that this wine is no different than countless other samples of wine we have examined in the past.  Its origin is easily explained in terms of natural processes—in fact, we can even identify the types of grapes it was made from.  So, as men of science, we cannot be expectd to entertain for a moment the absurd notion that it was created instantaneously from water!  The fundamental principle of science is this—when something CAN be explained in terms of natural processes, it MUST be explained that way!  To deviate from that principle would mean the end of science!  It would make God a Deceiver!” 
Now, what is the factor that causes these scientists to differ in their view of the wine? (continued)


Martin Rizley - #19272

June 28th 2010

Is it a difference in their degree of scientific knowledge, or is it a difference in their theology?  Clearly, the difference is not that some are more knowledgeable of science than others;  the difference is purely theological.  Some are willing to take Jesus’ word for things, and allow the finality of His word to overrule their autonomous judgement of the situation; the others are flatly unwilling to do that, because they lack confidence in the word that was spoken to them, confidence in its authority or clarity or sufficiency.  Moreover, they insist as a matter of principe that if God acts in the natural world, He must always proscribe His actions in a way that will be “traceable” by men in terms of naturalistic principles.  That is, He must always act in a way that conforms to their previous human experience and the expectations derived from their expert knowledge of natural processes.  So the difference between these scientists is theological.  Superior scientific knowledge of one over the other is not the issue. 
(continued)


Martin Rizley - #19273

June 28th 2010

Likewise, the question of whether theoretical science should be allowed to alter fundamental teachings of the apostolic faith which has been “once for all delivered to the saints,” is essentially a theological, not a scientific, issue.  A person’s scientific expertise gives them no advantage in resolving this question.  If the apostles taught dogmatically certain truths to the early church, should their teaching be passed on without alteration to all subsequent generations of Christians, or should theoretical science be given “veto power” over certain doctrines they taught?    If the apostles taught that all human beings on earth today are descended from one man, Adam, and that all have been ’constituted sinners’ through the one sin of that one man, so that all are now “conceived in sin” as the result of an historical fall that took place in the past, are we obliged to uphold that teaching, or may we allow theoretical science to alter, modify, or cancel that teaching?  The proper relationship between theoretical science and the apostolic faith is a theological question, and a degree in science is by no means required to answer it competently.


Martin Rizley - #19276

June 28th 2010

Mike,
One book you might want to check out as you think through these issues is the book, “Sciences’ Blind Spot” by Cornelius Hunter.  In that book, he points out how many in the scientific community who are theists labor under a mistaken view of how God’s perfection requires Him to act in the natural world.  They believe that if He is “perfect in orderliness,” He must not allow deviations from natural law in the world that would violate His perfection as God.  Hunter shows why this concept is based on a non-biblical and rationalistic concept of what constitutes ‘perfection,’ and how it gravely restricts God’s freedom of action in the world.  This is science’s blind spot, and as believers, we mustn’t (as one writer puts it) allow anyone, on the basis of their superior knowledge of science,  “bind God in a straight-jacket designed by the feeble mind of man.”


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