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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Greg Myers - #20057

July 2nd 2010

But do I believe that it is possible to know if a particular religion is true?  This is a pretty much a rabbit hole, in my experience.  Setting aside for the moment what we mean by “true” and “know,” if you ask me how I could know a particular religion is true, I would “I expect it to make specific, measurable claims that a wide range of reasonable, unbiased people would accept as accurate.”

People are able to convince themselves that all sorts of things are true (just take a look at all the conspiracy theories, political polarization, and deep splits on economic models, immigration, privacy, etc).  There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that many of our decisions are not reached by a rational process, but rationalized, to justify our beliefs.  Personal testimony only attests to strong conviction - which is no beacon to truth.

Some suggest that religion is “another way of knowing.”  I am not sure what it is claiming to know, and how religious claims are more than personal certainty.  Any claim that impinges on the world you and I inhabit can be subjected to scientific scrutiny or to philosophical debate.  Any claim that does not impinge on the world we live in can only remain a mater of private opinion.


Greg Myers - #20071

July 2nd 2010

Perhaps I should refine my expectation on how to know that a religion is true:

“I expect it to make specific, measurable claims that a wide range of reasonable, unbiased people, knowledgeable in the subject the claim addresses,  would accept as accurate.”

I am not meaning to suggest that truth is a matter of consensus, but that through independent observation, repeatable experiments and a robust peer review process, we come to a better and better understanding of the truth of a thing. If a thing is not amenable to such a course of confirmation and correction, then I would say we can not know it, we can only hold a belief about it.


BenYachov - #20187

July 2nd 2010

From a Thomist perspective arguing with an New Atheist about God is like arguing with someone who says they disbelieve in the existence of the Andromeda Galaxy because they can’t see it under their microscope.  Now, no matter how many times you try to point out to them a galaxy is a macro object not a micro one & requires a telescope they either respond by referring to the undeniable success of microscopes in studying micro objects or accuse you of denying the validity of using a microscope or they say if a galaxy really existed it would be a micro object & thus detectable to a microscope.

For the Classic Theist empiricism is the microscope & philosophical inference, metaphysics & logic are the telescope.

Of course in this analogy an Old Atheist would simply argue the galaxy he sees in the telescope isn’t really a galaxy.  But that is another analogy all together.  At least the Old Atheist will use a telescope.


Greg Myers - #20213

July 3rd 2010

Ben, I expect that if God acts in the universe, we would be able to observe and measure his impact.  In terms of your analogy, using a telescope, we see no galaxy.

If he is so submerged in the physics and chemistry of the natural world that he is indistinguishable from his creation, then he would be invisible to science, but not, I think, the actual god of any of the major religions.


Greg Myers - #20238

July 3rd 2010

As far as ” metaphysics & logic” being the “telescope” by which we see God in the world… I have a few concerns.  First, there seems to be no assurance that the things deduced via metaphysics and logic are actually god (unless you simply define the product of metaphysics as god).  For example, there may be a uncaused cause for the universe that is outside what we think of as space and time, but is still not in nay sense a being or volitional agency.

Second, I would expect there to be a correspondence between the results of metaphysics & logic and the observations of science.  If metaphysics & logic point us at the same god as described in traditional religions, there is no evidence of the actions they claim he undertakes.  I think this lack of potency in the natural world is a real problem for religion.

Finally, such claims about the natural world as religions do make have been demonstrated to be mostly wrong.  Of course, those wrong statements are simply explained away as metaphor or allegory - but this represents a reinventing of these religions (in that these representations were originally accepted as revealed truth).


Martin Rizley - #20411

July 3rd 2010

Greg,  I am truly sorry that you insist that there is no compelling evidence to prove the truth of the Christian worldview as opposed to other worldviews that are embraced by people around the world.  I believe you are simply wrong about a “lack of proof.”  I believe the evidence confirming the truth of the Christian gospel is so compelling, that whoever refuses to bow the knee to Jesus Christ as Lord after hearing of His marvelous words and works can do so only by suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.  That is because Jesus is the Light of the World, as He Himself claimed to be—His words and works prove beyond question His identity—so those who reject Him by clinging to non-Christian religions and philosophies can do so only by preferring darkness to the light.  As the apostle John put it, “This is the condemnation; that light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.”  To reject the atonement of Christ is to reject the only thing that can deliver us from the just wrath of God that we deserve for our sins (continued)


Martin Rizley - #20412

July 3rd 2010

Consequently, it is to reject the most precious gift that God can give to men—the gift of His only begotten Son.  I sincerely hope, Greg, that someday you will come to see your need of Christ and the forgiveness of sins that He alone can give you.  You say that you do not believe truth has to be established by consensus, but then you talk about ‘robust peer review’ of individual investigation and repeated experiments—in other words, a consensus of the “experts. “  I fear that, like doubting Thomas, you are establishing your own criteria of “proof” and are demanding that God prove the gospel to you by those criteria before you will believe.  But God refuses to jump through our hoops.  He gives us ‘many infallible proofs’ in His Word to confirm the truth of the gospel, then He tells us in His Word that those proofs are sufficient.  Jesus says that only “a wicked and adulterous generation” keeps asking for more signs and refuses to believe on the basis of the signs that are already available.  We can so easily try to cover up our unwillingness to believe by saying, “I don’t have enough proof to believe the message of the gospel.”  (continued)


BenYachov - #20414

July 3rd 2010

>I expect that if God acts in the universe, we would be able to observe and measure his impact.

I reply: Otherwise known as “if a galaxy really existed it would be a micro object & thus detectable to a microscope.”

>In terms of your analogy, using a telescope, we see no galaxy.

I reply: otherwise known as “an Old Atheist would simply argue the galaxy he sees in the telescope isn’t really a galaxy.”

Wow, I called that one.  It’s kind of eerie…...

As to the rest see the following & have a nice weekend Greg Myers.

Blinded by Scientism
by Edward Feser
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1174

Part 2-Recovering Sight after Scientism
http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2010/03/1184

Apendix
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/12/rosenberg-on-naturalism.html
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/12/rosenberg-responds-to-his-critics.html

Peace be with you.


Martin Rizley - #20415

July 3rd 2010

Moreover, were God to provide the type of proof you require, He would be denying the very message He wants you to accept, for according to Christianity there is no such thing as an ’unbiased witness.’  All people are either ’for’ Christ or ’against’ him.  All make judgments on the basis of a worldview to which they are already religiously committed.  To say, “I’ll believe when many ’unbiased’ witnesses agree on the evidence” is like saying, “I’ll accept Marxism when Marxism affirms the principles of free market capitalism.”  If Marxism did that, it would self-destruct!  Christianity needs no ‘unbiased witnesses’ to confirm its truth it has the best possible witnesses—the apostles, the prophets, Paul, and the best witness of all, the Holy Spirit of God.  We must believe in Christ on the basis of those evidences that God says are ’sufficient proof’ or we won’t believe at all.  That is why I said in an earlier post that we can have all the PROOF we need to become Christians and still not be PERSUADED; unless we are ’willing’ to do God‘s will, we remain blind to the compelling force of the proofs that He has already provided to confirm the good news concerning His Son


Greg Myers - #20481

July 4th 2010

No Ben.  This would only be true if the fruit of If logic and metaphysics had no impact on the natural world.  In your analogy, you’ve picked two non-overlapping magisteria.  I suppose if you limit your logic and metaphysicis to the existence of the soul, or to a god who does not act in the real world, then you would have a problem.  Your analogy breaks down, however, in that in the world we live in, there is an expectation that God’s actions do indeed impact us.

You seem to be making the assumption that a discussion about the meaning of words (your logic and metaphysics discussions) proves things about reality.


Greg Myers - #20482

July 4th 2010

Martin, you are once again offering an apologetic for the lack of God’s measurable presence.  This is not the same thing as demonstrating that God does indeed act in the world.  But I’d just as soon let this go.  It seems that your response to anything I say is a little sermon, but you may notice that I am not debating your theology. 

My original challenge involved the observation that faith is attached to a variety of content.  You keep explaining that while that may be true, your faith is actually the real truth.  Your explain away the lack of objective proof for your claims by reference to free will.  Not only is this not a persuasive argument, it is also the argument offered for many of the other non-demonstrable belief systems (which servers to underscore my point).  I think after so may recapitulations that I understand your faith claims.  So if possible, I am interested in an actual response to my point.


Martin Rizley - #20553

July 5th 2010

Greg,  I have answered your point, although you fail to recognize it as the type of answer you are seeking; but I am not willing to play by your ‘rules’ as to what constitutes “objective proof.”  If you want ‘reasons to believe,’ pick up a good book on Christian evidences which outlines the evidence for Christ’s resurrection and the many OT prophecies for that were fulfilled in the life of Christ.  Read Isaiah 53 and examine the passion narratives in that light.  Best of all, read the gospels themselves.  Let the words of Jesus penetrate your heart and speak to your soul.  But know this—that unless there is within you a willingness to DO the will of God, to ABANDON your intellectual and moral autonomy and self-sufficiency by bowing to a wisdom superior to your own wisdom, you wil remain blind to the compelling force of the evidences you read. You see, God not only gives us proof of His existence; by pentetrating our hearts with His word, convicting us of sin, opening our spiritual eyes to see the beauty of Christ, He strips us of the very ‘criteria of proof’ that we had previously set up for Him to meet.  He changes our whole way of thinking, not merely a few thoughts here and there.


BenYachov - #20559

July 5th 2010

I’m convinced at this point Greg either doesn’t read my links or merely skims them for possible quote mining.  Because nothing in his response even remotely has anything to do with the price of tea in China.

Martin Rizley you may want to read them because I think you would profit from them greatly.


BenYachov - #20560

July 5th 2010

“There have been largely two types of critics of the `New Atheism.’ One type grants the empiricism of the atheists and then tries to show that belief in God is consistent with it. This approach gives away the store by removing God from the realm of the knowable. The second also grants the atheists’ empiricism, but argues that it leads to the detection of design[i.e. Paley’s false version] in the universe and thus the existence of God. This approach gives away the store as well, by limiting knowledge to the empirically detectable. Professor Feser offers us a third approach, one that is far more effective in defeating the New Atheism. He provides persuasive arguments that show that God is knowable and that what is knowable is larger than the set of that which is empirically detectable. This is a tour de force that should be in the library of every thinking citizen, believer or unbeliever.”—Francis J. Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University review of Edward Feser’s book THE LAST SUPERSTITION


BenYachov - #20649

July 6th 2010

>In your analogy, you’ve picked two non-overlapping magisteria.

I reply: Only if we confuse theology with philosophy & metaphysics with the supernatural.  Classic New Atheist mistake.  Thus they are not “non-overlapping magisteria.” that idea still presupposes Scientism which is still false or at best trivially true as shown by Feser’s solid logical argument. 
Plus one needs to know the difference between Philosophical Mechanism in modern science vs Final Causality in the philosophy of Aristotle and know that Aristotle’s metaphysics are in fact true and mere common sense.


Greg Myers - #20732

July 6th 2010

Martin, I am quite familiar both with the Bible and apologetic literature, and I have had quite a robust faith, spanning decades.  I’m sure in the past I’ve said or written words very close to yours. 

I am not playing games with you, quite the contrary - the lack of God’s effective activity in the world is both the subject of many stories in the Bible, and significant devotional literature.  Mother Teresa’s letters reveal that for over 50 years, she did not feel the presence of God.  These days, we have even more problems, in that many of the stories we assumed were historical have been shown to be at best myths.  I think faith matters, community matters, our choices matter.  So the content of religious belief - what we believe and how and why we believe it is very important indeed.  But the matter is not settled by your repeated calls to agree with you.

But that’s OK - you’ve made it clear that you don’t want to talk about it.


Greg Myers - #20735

July 6th 2010

Ben - You sound very frustrated.  I’ll just focus on one simple point.  If we can’t manage to have a volley on the narrow issue below, I’ll be happy for you to give up on me!

Your analogy of the microscope and telescope stated that, when looking for a galaxy, you could not see it through a microscope.  This certainly sounds like non-overlapping magisteria to me.

If we agree that they are not overlapping, then you would expect the observations in one arena to have an impact on the other.  And this is just what we find.  When we look through the telescope and see galaxies, we reach certain conclusions that we can then verify with our microscope - for example, in the makeup of a comet we have the opportunity to examine.

This is my point about science - not that I think we can run an experiment and prove God - I’ve never said anything remotely like that - but that we could expect things we believe about God’s interactions in the world to have impacts in this physical world.  This is not scientism, nor is it a misuse of science, or a denial of the existence of metaphysics.

We do not see any evidence of the kind of things that metaphysics claims about God’s interactions with the world.  Seems like we ought to.


Greg Myers - #20738

July 6th 2010

Ben, “If we agree that they are not overlapping” above should have been “If we agree that they do overlap”


BenYachov - #20797

July 7th 2010

NOMA was a concept invented by Stephen Jay Gould that “science and religion do not glower at each other” also “the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty).“END QUOTE from the wiki

Thus NOMA clearly refers solely to religion[i.e at least Gould’s limited generic understanding of religion]and not philosophy which is broader than religion even if it has religious implications.  Plus NOMA is an non-developed philosophical concept about the relation between empirical science & religion invented by a non-philosopher(i.e. Gould).  It is not a concept that has ever been defended by philosophical argument in any peer reviewed philosophical journal.  It is clearly a practical policy of “live & let live” and it has nothing to do with the philosophical criticism of Scientism or philosophy in general.


BenYachov - #20798

July 7th 2010

Also an obvious problem with Gould’s NOMA concept is, if you insist on applying it to philosophy is when we ask the question “Why doesn’t NOMA extend to other branches of science outside of empirical sciences?  So there is a “Non-overlapping magisteria” between empirical science and theoretical physics?  Psychology? history? Mathimatics?  Philosophy of Science?  That makes no sense.  Also if you had read Feser’s articles you would see that philosophy like all rational inquiery is in itself a science.


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