At BioLogos, we are passionate about helping young people realize that they don’t need to choose between evolutionary science and Christian faith. Today, recent high-school graduate Jacob shares his journey of wrestling with his questions and doubts about evolution and the Bible, and how he left young-earth creationism in search of a better option.
As a child, I was particularly fascinated with dinosaurs. I remember watching all sorts of scientific programs about dinosaurs, although at the mention of evolution my parents would point out that it was not biblical, and I learned to selectively block out any mention of it. Although I agreed with my parents at the time, I didn't consider the subject in detail until mid 2011, when I really started to grow in my faith. I began to hunger for a greater understanding of the God I served, and I would look at online sermons from all sorts of preachers.
One day, I came across a video of a Catholic priest arguing how science should be understood from the perspective of Genesis. He claimed that various scientific evidences, such as soft tissue samples found in the bone of a T rex, were overwhelmingly against the theory of evolution and instead pointed to a recent creation.
He went on to say that his argument was not one of science vs religion, but of religion vs religion. “Evolution is a pagan religion,” he stated, and though much of his exact words are lost to me, I remember the basic outline: Evolution was not science, it undermined our understanding of the world, and of our own self worth. It made man out to be as nothing more than an animal, and granted him an excuse to behave as one.
As I listened to this lecture, I became at that moment a convinced young-earth creationist. I began to accept the arguments of science from my young earth peers as fact, and often felt no need to critically consider or test what they said. If it matched what my interpretation of the Bible was, it was a fact. I zealously defended this doctrine of Creationism, and sought to show evolutionists the error of their ways both in their scientific data and its immoral implications.
My shift away from young-earth creationism began not due to convincing answers from the evolutionist crowd, but because of the unconvincing and confusing answers of the young earth crowd.
Once, during a conversation with a friend, the topic of evolution and creation came up. Somewhere along the line, I asked her why there weren't dinosaurs on the ark. The answer I received was that there were dinosaurs on the ark, but they died out shortly after exiting it because the amount of oxygen in the air was not sufficient to sustain them. This led me to think, why did God save them at all if they were just going to die out anyway? If the answer was simply because he loved them, then why did he not preserve them afterwards? And how would we know the oxygen level changed (and why would it have)?
Although this wasn't a huge issue to me, it was the starting point of what had brought me to the point I am now. I began trying to see how the dinosaurs may have played into the Ark story. Some young-earth creationists that I read claimed that the “dragons” mentioned in the Bible referred to the dinosaurs, and that it was possible they breathed fire. They said that many cultures had made pots and decorations that resembled dinosaurs, and that many remote villages had claimed seeing such animals. Their conclusion from this was that dinosaurs had lived after the flood. But things still weren't making sense. If dinosaurs were alive, we should have more evidence of their existence than just pots and stories from villagers in remote countries. Why have no researchers found any trace of these animals, let alone the animals themselves?
These were only questions referring to the dinosaurs alone, and I had a host of others on various other holes in the creationist view. If the flood had happened the way that young-earth creationists say it did, then how do we explain the worldwide dispersion of animals? I wondered how animals originating in the Middle East migrated to places so geographically isolated as the Americas and Australia in such little time. Furthermore, if the flood explains many extinction events, why did certain marine animals go extinct but other marine animals lived? It seems that, of all animals, they should have thrived in this new aquatic world that would have been brought on by the flood.
As I began to grow in my curiosity, I also noticed that my church had attitudes towards science that seemed unreasonable. A deacon at my church once said: “They can tell me all they want that the earth is old, or tell me about carbon dating. I have the book of Genesis, which tells me both are wrong.” As I pondered this statement, I realized how truly hollow this argument was. It wasn’t based on an in-depth study of the text, nor a careful consideration of the scientific evidence. It was based only on a shallow interpretation of the biblical text.
The data was faulty, and it was beginning to show. And yet I was still scared that I was in danger of sliding down a slippery slope if I accepted evolution and an old earth. I remember a video that spoke of this exact scenario, and the message was clear: To question the “literal” understanding of Genesis was to imply that the Bible was flawed, and that implied that the very Gospel I claimed to believe was called into question. And at this I began to question how to reconcile the God of the Bible with the mounting evidence of an old earth. If I were to attempt doing so, then would I undermine the entire Bible and ultimately the authority of Jesus himself?
This led to the most difficult question of all: If someone proved to me that evolution was true, and that the world was old, what would this do to my faith? I thought about this for a long time, and eventually I came to realize that I had made the book of Genesis into an idol. I had been focusing so much on trying to defend a specific view of the Bible that I never truly asked who the Bible said to place our faith in. Instead of trusting in God, I was pridefully trusting in myself and my own abilities. I forgot who it was that truly made my faith matter in the first place—Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for me. A line from one of my favorite hymn says it most eloquently:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I realized that God created the world however he wanted, and for me to limit how he could or couldn't have done it actually degraded and dishonored him. I was humbled as God showed me I still had much to learn about his word and his world. He showed me that there was more to being a faithful Christian than adopting a literal translation of Genesis.
Although I accepted evolution in animals, I was slower to accept evolution as a mechanism for human appearance, as I did not see a way to reconcile Adam and Eve with this process. A few key individuals, however, aided me in this area, namely Francis Collins and C.S. Lewis. I learned of Francis Collins around the same time I heard that C.S. Lewis was actually a theistic evolutionist, and proceeded to buy up every work of Lewis I could find, along with borrowing Francis Collins’ book “The Language of God” from the local library.
I was intrigued with Francis Collins’ discovery of the genetic evidence for evolution and how, rather than weakening his faith, it strengthened it. Through his book I saw a genuine passion for Christ and for scientific discovery, and this in turn has led me to BioLogos, which has been an immensely helpful resource on everything from the days of Genesis 1, to the genealogies of Genesis 5, and much more. I began to see the science for evolution as a viable model for human emergence.
If Dr. Collins was who convinced my head on the matter, then it was C.S. Lewis, a man who inspired Collins as well, who convinced my heart. He showed his wisdom as I read his interpretation of the Genesis text as a form of “true myth”. With absolute eloquence, Lewis demonstrated how the “fall” might not be a literal historical event, and yet still be theologically sound in its concept of how sin came about. That Genesis was conveying a much deeper truth than simple history, and yet remained true, had never occurred to me. With this new knowledge, scientific and theological, I found peace with the thought of God using evolution as his tool of creation.
I'm still working out the kinks, and I will not lie and say that finding the scriptural answers to the new questions has been (or will be) easy, but that's okay. I have also been humbled enough to know that being truly “biblical” means I shouldn't be looking for answers that are easy anyway—It means I should look for the answers that are there.