“I’m a Geologist,” said my friend, Dan, “I’ve been studying rocks and soils my whole life, and there is absolutely no chance the earth is only ten thousand or ten million or even one hundred million years old.”
I froze—the barely eaten burger in my hand sadly forgotten—as I tried to process the puzzling, heretical words that had just spilled from the mouth of my friend. I asked for clarification, thinking that I must have heard him incorrectly. But he just repeated his statement. I was distressed. My friend was a Christian and a fellow musician. My first thought was that he was confused in his understanding of the Bible. My friend quickly changed topics after he saw my distress. But I heard no more of the conversation as I wrestled with panic that swirled inside me for the balance of the night. And the next night.
That short exchange stayed with me for weeks.
Only a few days later, a coworker named Jack, an atheist, asked me how old I thought the earth was. He knew I was a Christian. I opened my mouth to answer him with timelines I had recited dozens of times in the past. But I stopped short, not convinced that my stock evangelical answers would placate Jack. For people who know me, this is not usually the way I work.
As a preacher’s kid who’d grown up in evangelical circles (and didn’t rebel) I was very well versed in young-earth creationism and intelligent design theory. I had never been shy to trumpet my alternative scientific chronology at times like these. But instead of reciting the party line about seven twenty-four hour days, a few thousand years in the rear view mirror, I held my tongue.
“Jack deserves the best answer you can give him,” I said to myself as I remembered my earlier nervous chat with my musician/geologist/heretic friend. “Say nothing.”
These two conversations led me on a life altering journey. I decided to dive into the origins debate and discover some fresh, more nuanced answers to Jack’s questions. I would erase all the lines in the sand and start with a clean slate. “Relax!” I told my young-earth creationist friends. “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
I also decided that writing a book about my journey would be a great way to track my findings. I was hopeful that once I could articulate why young-earth creationism was the only sane Christian way to process the topic of science and origins, my job would be done. I was totally convinced that evolution was a theory in crisis waiting for its inevitable breakdown.
However, once the investigatory muscles start flexing, and curiosity kicked into high gear, I found myself reading and researching as though my life depended on it. From Augustine to Francis Collins, Karl Giberson to John Walton, Richard Dawkins to Jerry Coyne, and other authors, I began devouring books, determined to understand how evolutionary theory had maintained its favoured place in mainstream science for a century and a half. I wandered into flat earth theory, modern genetics, and ancient flood myths. I dabbled in ancient Hebrew, and even jumped a flight out of town so I could experience the exhilaration of working on a dinosaur dig. It felt like my mind was being slowly and mercilessly pried open. All this new information was unsettling.
In the Christian circles I had grown up in, we were taught (or at least it was implied) that we should be skeptical of the claims of science. The scientific community, after all, was hell-bent on destroying our faith and stealing our kids.
However, as my journey continued, I began to see that science was, by its own admission, limited. Science, as the experts well knew, only worked on things that we could taste, touch, smell, weigh, measure or leave under the bed until they turned blue. And since God is spirit, meaning we couldn’t proceed with any of the aforementioned tests to determine his existence, I came to the startling conclusion that science “doesn’t work on God.” This was very good news and one of the first of several “aha!” moments on my journey.
And then the worst thing happened—or was it the best thing?
What started as a tremor, with a few unnerving moments of doubt, turned into a landslide. The theological blocks in my personal wall of faith, built over a lifetime in the church, began to tumble. After being a Christian for almost forty years, I suddenly found myself in a place where I didn’t have all of the answers.
At the beginning of this trek, I had been so sure of the destination that I wasn’t ready for the plot twists that would assault my theological senses. And yet, in the muddle of not knowing, I was at peace, convinced that my decision to investigate was not a mistake.
While this state of ‘not-knowingness’ could have pinned me to the wall like a small town newspaper in a strong wind, I was relieved to discover I could still breathe in spite of the uncertainty. Doubt, once a foreign concept, settled in as a nervous reality and eventually became a familiar friend as I continued to re-evaluate my theological beliefs. What I learned during that nervous time was that doubt isn’t actually the enemy of faith. Fear is the enemy. And that “loving the Lord with all my mind” was the most honest way – the only way forward as I came face to face with scientific explanations that I had always considered “off limits” to Bible believing Christians like myself.
Now that I have finally completed my research and finished writing my book, I understand that this is only the beginning of the story.
Today, fortified with my own experience of a God that doesn’t abandon us when we follow the evidence wherever it leads, I can say that my faith in God is stronger than ever. I have made peace with the term theory, become a passionate fan of the scientific method, and even managed to embrace the word evolution without feeling the need to qualify it. When someone asks if I am into theistic evolution, I reply with an enthusiastic “No! Not anymore than I am into theistic dermatology.”
I am now also able to engage with atheists and skeptics who would have otherwise “passed” on the opportunity to talk about faith and God. And I have been privileged to introduce them to the story of Jesus, knowing that the young-earth interpretation of Genesis doesn’t need to keep them from discovering they are loved by the savior and creator of the world.