INTRO BY TED: For many years I’ve taught a senior-level capstone seminar for science majors. As part of that course, students articulate their own understanding of Christianity and science in a formal academic paper that includes some self-reflection. Messiah College alumna Lyndsay Feather has graciously agreed to share that part of her paper with our readers. As her story shows, when Christian students are properly guided through their encounter with evolution, their faith can be strengthened rather than ruined by the challenge.
"He whose faith never doubted, may justly doubt of his faith." -Robert Boyle
My story begins similar to that of many students at Messiah College: I grew up in a fairly conservative evangelical Christian home, and after my parents served as missionaries in Thailand for four years when I was very young, my family moved to Ohio where my father was to pastor a small church. I "accepted Jesus into my heart" at a very early age and was raised to love him and do what he said in the Bible. If there was one main emphasis in my faith growing up, it was unquestionably the importance and authority of the Bible. My parents love the Bible more than any other people I have met, and they instilled in me that it contains everything I need to know about life and godliness.
Growing up, I was certain that evolution was contrary to the Bible and I was indirectly urged to be skeptical of science. I was taught that the words of the Bible were nearly always to be taken literally, and that anything that seemed to challenge Scripture should be considered a false teaching. I believed that the wider community was out to get Christians, and that I needed to either stand my ground or be washed away by the current of secularism. Things started to change in high school when my freshman biology teacher, who was an incredibly sweet woman and a strong Christian, sparked my interest in science. When we came to the origins unit, she graciously presented evolution as simply one theory of how the world began, but said that her own opinion was based on the creation account found in the Bible. She made science feel "safe" to me for the first time, and my interest in it continued to grow.
I took Advanced Placement biology my senior year in preparation to pursue science after graduation. In this course we spent quite a bit of time exploring evolution and natural selection. This teacher framed the discussion with the understanding that there are other ideas out there to explain the beginning of the world, but that evolution is the one supported by science and the one that we would talk about in class. I did not say anything about my personal beliefs because the stance I held was so different than the one everyone else seemed to readily accept, but I definitely had questions. The evidence for evolution made a lot of sense to me, and I had a hard time seeing how it could be untrue. However, I trusted my parents and the way they taught me to interpret the Bible instead of what my textbook said. I made it through, but not without some serious inner turmoil.
I entered Messiah College the following year as a biology major under the assumption that science would be more than "safe" at a Christian institution. In the introductory biology class, I heard for the first time the major opinions regarding the origins of the world formally laid out. Evolutionary Creationism, as it was first introduced to me through Francis Collins' book The Language of God, completely revolutionized how I thought about faith in relation to science. It speaks volumes to a young, confused college freshman; and I believe that God used that book to meet me in my time of need.
Specifically, Collins’ criticism of a “god of the gaps” faith really struck me. I previously had believed that the holes in our modern understanding of the natural world were somehow proof of God’s creative fingerprints; that the things we couldn’t explain with science were undeniably the mark of the Genesis Creator. However, Collins expressed a fear that I had had no words for: since science is by nature a forward-moving, truth-revealing, answers-seeking discipline, any one of those “gaps” could be filled in at any moment by a new scientific discovery. This is a shaky faith, and not one that seemed worthy of my life’s commitment, even though I never would had said so out loud. Evolutionary Creationism, though, while not a scientific theory, was a bridge to connect these schools of thought. Its framework holds together questions of both science and faith with honesty and without fear. It will not crumble with a new scientific discovery, yet it simultaneously upholds the authority and accuracy of Scripture through a proper understanding of both. Collins’ book did not answer all of my questions, but I had finally received a sense of peace — science and faith no longer had to be at war within me.
I began to share some of the things I was learning with my parents, which was quite intimidating at first. They took what I said very graciously, especially when I explained to them how my faith was now significantly stronger since I no longer had this internal tug-of-war. I explained how science and faith ask and answer different questions, that the Bible is not a science textbook, and how the natural world that God created and designed for us to explore would not conflict with his word. My parents explained that it was unnecessary for them to consider a perspective other than young-earth creationism because of the nature of their ministry. Yet, they said it was understandable if I needed to work through these issues for my own vocation. This was a great relief for me; I knew that going into the sciences meant that I needed to have a greater grasp on these issues, and having that conversation with my Scripture-fearing parents released me to do so. I was and still am so grateful for their understanding.
My quest in exploring issues regarding faith and science is far from over. On the contrary, the questions that I have wrestled with thus far have sparked a desire to know more, to find ways to relate the two in even more intimate ways. I know that these questions are not to fear, for I know that God's truth in the Bible and his truth in the natural world ultimately align, although using different languages, and that science in no way threatens my faith in God or salvation through Jesus. The new frameworks that I have come to develop are not the result of being casually persuaded, but of deep inner searching and a thirst for truth. They have helped me to sincerely hold my faith, to lay claim to it as my own. I can now look forward to the future with a great hope, for I know that the purpose of the work that I do in both science and ministry is to point to the ultimate restoration that God will bring to this earth and the people that inhabit it. There is no greater hope than this, and I am so thankful to play a small part in the incredibly beautiful plan God is bringing about.