Ten years ago I knelt at the side of my bed and prayed, “Dear Jesus, please help Nana not to believe in evolution anymore.” Today, I can imagine my eight-year-old sister praying the same prayer for me: “Dear God, please help Jon not to believe in evolution.” I fondly remember how simple life was as a child.
I grew up in the Bible Belt South where to believe in evolution was to isolate yourself from the community. My parents homeschooled their children in order that we would receive a classical, Christian education. Indeed, I was blessed with a superior education – tutors in math; college professors for history; endless stacks of classics for literature; and even more papers for writing. In every field of study, we were surrounded by the best – except in science.
Science “class” was more of an apologetics class meant to prepare students for the day when evolution would attempt to seduce us. It was so simple back then: evolution is the result of atheism. Since we believe in God, evolution is wrong. From there we memorized arguments – philosophies against atheism and gaps in evolutionary theory. We were always encouraged to stand for truth, especially on this issue. In this respect, I was a model student – aggressive and zealous for the defense of our beliefs.
This was how I lived from my early childhood until I was seventeen. I pursued evolution as if it had a bounty on its head. As a child, I’d pick a fight with other children who were being taught evolution, aiming to “re-educate” them properly. When I was sixteen I enrolled in a community college as a dual-enrolled high school student. That fall semester I studied biology. After all those years of preparation, this was my moment to publicly stand for truth. And stand I did. Today I am ashamed for my behavior when my professor began the unit on evolution.
I was methodical about it – pointing out gaps in the geological record and the lack of transition states to more complex organisms; then connecting evolution to atheism. I isolated the professor from my classmates with appeals to emotion and religious background. My intent was to destroy the evolutionary theory but I ended up targeting her instead. Needless to say, evolution was not brought up in that class again. In addition, my professor remained frustrated with us the rest of the semester because of the wedge I had driven in. I thought I had won a great victory in shutting the mouth of the “serpent.” I was so conceited in my own knowledge and gleeful about how calculated and exact I had been in destroying her in argument. But I was entirely void of love and humility in the way I treated her.
There was something terribly wrong with how I was living. I claimed to practice love as a Christian yet I was far from it. After years of the striving with no end in sight, I became sick of this constant struggle –always debating, always destroying, always condemning, all in the name of truth; and for what? I hadn’t changed a single person, nor had I seen anyone been changed. The sides were only becoming more polarized and alienated. I became disenchanted, and so I stopped fighting and avoided the topic like the plague.
It was in this context that I came to Wheaton College. My experience at this institution has been a breath of fresh air in a world thick with the smoke of hostility and discord. I was amazed to discover that my science professors loved Jesus and believed that God created the universe, yet also accepted evolution. Even more astounding was the way they treated others despite the criticism they received from fellow scientists and Christians. In addition, they loved me regardless of what I believed. They didn’t try to shove their beliefs down my throat. They weren’t afraid to admit that they didn’t have it all figured out and that there are still issues with which they are wrestling. Slowly I opened up to the gentleness with which they approached issues of conflict.
In contrast to their humility, I was convicted of my arrogance and pride in how I expressed my beliefs. In contrast to their love and gentleness, I was convicted of my domineering nature and belligerence. In humility, they embraced the finiteness of their humanity, yet continued whole-heartedly in their pursuit of truth. “All truth is God’s truth,” they said and invited me to pursue with them, holding fast to the confidence that creation will and does glorify its Creator. Why should I fear if nature points me towards evolution? Is evolution too great for my God, that He should not be able to wield it in His hand? My God is mighty – and His creation will reveal His splendor.
I write this now as a junior in college. After spending the majority of my life feigning the image that I have all the answers concerning origins, I will be first to admit now that I don’t have these answers. While I firmly believe that there is absolute truth to be discovered on this issue, I realize that I will never completely know it and that I am severely limited by my own finiteness. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).
What matters immensely more than my beliefs about origins is how I live today. If I sacrifice love for the sake of truth, then I’ve lost Him who is the only Truth – Christ. This does not mean that I do not pursue truth. As a research scientist, it is essential that I believe that there is an objective reality that I can observe and understand. But as I search for truth, I must be tempered with love and humility. I must look to others in my need.
We are all together in this pursuit. Our humanity ought to bind us together; the finiteness of our minds and experiences ought to produce meekness, driving us to one another. As we struggle with the issues, tension and doubt will be commonplace. The internal struggle intrinsic to this journey towards truth has led many to fear and to domination of others. But we cannot allow hubris to rule us. Embracing our own limitations is never easy, but it is nevertheless of great importance. Only through humility and love can we hope to live a life that reflects the beauty and goodness of truth.
Every year I go home to the South – warm apple pie, ham, cold ice tea, and mosquitoes. While sitting around the table with family and friends, issues like origins inevitably come up in conversation. And so every year I am faced with people who do not understand why I believe in evolution. There is fear; there is anger; there is defensiveness; there is aggression. How am I to respond? As a scientist, should I inform them of their ignorance and attempt to educate them? As a Christian, should I condemn them? No. I am but man, and so are they. Thus, I must walk in the humility of my humanity. I must walk in the love of my Savior. I must walk with them. For we are all family, all human, all longing, all searching, and all in need.