While I was attending a small Baptist college in my home state of Kentucky, I remember having deep discussions about life with my closest friends. We discussed the usual topics of politics and religion; love and marriage; homework and professors; our futures and girls. On college campuses, there is a freedom of thought that comes with the separation from parents and the natural early adulthood yearning to explore. I still consider my college experience as one of the best times of my life. However, there were times when the religious discussions would create a panic inside of me that resulted in questioning God and myself.
I grew up a preacher’s kid. My father was a Baptist minister, and my mother was active with and supportive of the church’s ministry. They lived their lives in service to the people around them. They were both college educated and smart. When I was young, my mother and I would read a chapter of the Bible every night at bedtime. She shielded me from a lot of the external pressures that go along with being a preacher’s son, but she always pointed me towards Jesus.
As I grew older, I began to ask questions. I discovered that I was good at mathematics and science. I loved to understand the reasons for things. Even today, I find joy in solving a logical puzzle or understanding a new concept. I inevitably began to ask my parents questions about evolution. Evolution can be a sensitive subject in a preacher’s house. However, my parents would say, “I don’t know how God made it, but I know God made it.” They were skeptical of parts of evolution, but they gave me intellectual space to believe that God could have created by the process of evolution. They gave me freedom to explore, but kept me pointed towards Jesus. I was recently going through some old papers and found one that I had written as a sophomore in high school. The premise was that it was possible to believe both the Bible and science. Even as a teenager, I was aware of the supposed conflict between science and religion, but I wasn’t convinced that the conflict was necessary.
By the time I went to college, I still hadn’t fully accepted evolution. I remember having discussions with two friends in particular. Although their environments were different, they both grew up in Christian surroundings and attended the same Baptist college. One friend decided that if you reject the literal creation story, you also reject the virgin birth and resurrection for the same logical reasons that you rejected literal creation. He chose to reject evolution. The other friend ended up rejecting the Christian faith and accepting science because the two were seemingly incompatible. Ironically, while my friends were on opposite ends of this discussion, their perspectives were consistent on one important point. They both believed that evolution and biblical creation are incompatible.
I don’t know what my decision would have been if I had accepted the premise that the Bible and evolution can’t be reconciled. At times, I felt anxious and panicked at the thought that my belief might be based on a myth. At other times, I felt pressure to reject the faith that was truly meaningful to me in favor of something that was objective but lacking in meaning. I was torn between the objective and the subjective, reason and faith, accuracy and meaning, grace and truth. Instead of peace and satisfaction, science and religion were producing anxiety and dissatisfaction. Thankfully, I had some other friends and professors that kept me on the right track.
Along the way, I received some wise advice and good reading recommendations. I started reading C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and other authors that strengthened my mind and faith. However, at the time of my early adulthood, there weren’t as many resources for Christians who affirmed evolution. I read a few of the Young Earth Creationist and Intelligent Design books and essays, but wasn’t satisfied nor settled.
Eventually, I came across The Language of God by Francis Collins. Here was a world-class scientist who was a committed Christian. His story and his reasoning opened my mind to something new: I didn’t have to build a wall around my faith to keep science from tearing it down. In fact, science opened a new understanding of my faith and strengthened it. After reading the book, I came across the organization that Francis Collins founded—BioLogos. On the BioLogos website, I found many more people with whom I had a common cause. I read essays and watched videos from religious and scientific leaders who found harmony between God’s Word and God’s works. I was able to read and hear the thoughts of N. T. Wright, John Polkinghorne, Ard Louis, John Walton, and others. While the website supports faithfulness to Scripture and nature, the discussions are invariably handled with gentleness and respect.
In the same way I asked my parents questions, my own children ask me questions. I tell them that I have decided that evolution is the process that God used to develop life including humanity. I try to convey this to my kids with humble confidence. Hopefully, they will find peace in faith and science as I have. My further hope is that religious and scientific leaders can give today’s youth intellectual space and meaningful grace. It worked for me. In The Reason for God, Timothy Keller says, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it.”1 Well, I have been inoculated…but not against any new thought. I no longer have fear and anxiety with every new scientific advance, and I am able to find true meaning beyond a simply materialistic world. I am thankful to those that came before me.
Concluding note by Brad Kramer: As a "preacher's kid" myself, I resonate with so much of this story. Len's journey is a great reminder of why it is so important for churches to equip students with helpful and accurate approaches to faith and science. Just like Len, I found the work of Francis Collins at a key time in my life, and I'm excited to see that the ministry of BioLogos has also played a key role in reshaping his thinking about how faith and science go together. If you want to share your own story about coming to understand how evolutionary science and Christian faith can co-exist, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.