Let me tell you the story of Tiago, a young evangelical Christian from the southernmost state of Brazil.
He was born in the early 80s, when being an evangelical Christian in this huge South American country—still the biggest Catholic nation in the world—meant you were a rare species: only 6.6% of the population was considered Protestant or evangelical then, compared to 89% Catholic. Tiago was raised in church, very much like American youngsters. He went to Youth Group, Sunday School, youth retreats, mission trips, learned how to play an instrument (the bass guitar), and even formed a Christian band at some point. Tiago loved science—especially dinosaurs!—which eventually led him to go to college to study biology and to pursue a doctorate in paleontology.
But even before college, he was exposed to knowledge that seemed to contradict much of what he had learned in church. He was told that to be a true Christian, he had to commit himself to accepting that the Earth was only about 6000 years old, that Noah had put all animal species into an ark and that the Flood was globally catastrophic. And, of course, that evolution was a fictional tale. That wasn’t much of a problem before college, but the deeper he got into studying biology and paleontology, the harder it was to continue accepting such ideas.
Sadly, Tiago couldn’t ignore the evidence he was beginning to see with his own eyes. And Christianity itself, which was sold to him as a full package of beliefs that necessarily included those ideas, started to not make sense anymore. He couldn’t reconcile his science with his faith, and gradually drifted away from the fellowship he once had. Church became an irrelevant detail of his life, an old and dull reminder of the vivid and active faith he once had. I can’t say for sure if he denies his faith, but I can positively affirm that the scientific career he chose played a huge part in his “cooling down” process.
Now, let me tell you the story of Tiago’s friend. Funny enough, it’s another Tiago. Yep, same name. But hold tight: he’s from the same location (southern Brazil), the same age, and had the same upbringing (evangelical Christian families). Keep holding: both studied biology, and both play the bass guitar (that’s how they met, in fact).
Okay, maybe you guessed it: I am the second Tiago. And all you read above is true. Tiago and I have very, very similar life stories. But there’s one very important difference. I enjoy, and always have, a committed and fruitful Christian life. I play the bass in church, use my gifts for God’s Kingdom through teaching and preaching, and take my kids to church every Sunday. I never drifted away from Christian fellowship, an utmost important part of my life. Professionally, I didn’t pursue a research career in biology like my friend Tiago did, but decided instead to become a science teacher for middle and high school.
How and why has my life become so different from my doppelgänger? The answer is both simple and complex: In my journey, I was able to come to terms with evolution, and my faith has not only survived, but also was strengthened in the process.
But how? Why hasn’t the other Tiago been able to do the same? To answer this, I will have to unpack some issues regarding the state of affairs of science and Christian faith in Brazil.
Science and Faith in Brazil
Unfortunately, I am a rare exception when it comes to evangelicalism in this country.
After centuries of Catholic colonization and some Protestant immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries, American missionaries brought evangelical Christianity to Brazil. This gained momentum especially after the 1960s following Billy Graham’s crusades, when many Christian organizations set foot here, including many Southern Baptist missionaries. Together with their passion to “win souls for Christ” came their creationist theologies, and this has deeply influenced Brazilian evangelicalism.
In short, whatever you know to be true about American evangelicalism in regards to its relationship with science and evolution is generally true for Brazil also. Henry M. Morris—the “Father” of the modern YEC movement—was translated and widely read here. His Institute for Creation Research (ICR) had a branch here. The late Duane Gish, Morris’ successor, came to Brazil many times for lectures in many Brazilian cities (with some of my family members deeply involved in bringing and hosting him). We have our own YEC leaders, touring churches making creation science evangelism and writing books.
Whatever you know to be true to American evangelicalism in regards to its relationship with science and evolution, it is generally true for Brazil also.
Young Earth Creationism seems to be the standard position for an evangelical in Brazil. And, as in the US, warnings are constantly made by the YEC propaganda that it is the only position for a true Christian.
What we see here is the unmistaken rhetoric of the famous “either/or” dichotomy that is pervasive in the minds of many Christians and non-Christians alike, beautifully pointed out by Denis Lamoureux in his book, I Love Jesus and I Accept Evolution: one must choose between science—which includes evolution, atheism and humanist ethics—or religion—which implies God, creation and biblical ethics.
This tragic perception explains why so few of my church friends and acquaintances end up choosing scientific careers. The few that do, usually do not choose anything biology related. The rare specimens that do go for biology, normally end up like my friend Tiago, or worse: positively denying their faith, abandoning God, church and Christianity altogether.
This either/or choice was clear in my evangelical upbringing, but it became explicit when I went to a Christian summer retreat as a teenager whose theme was Creation vs. Evolution. It was a life changing experience for me, in which I decided to go to college to study biology. But the idea was to get behind enemy lines—I wanted to expose to the public that evolution was a big fat lie, a global conspiracy to hide the true evidence that science pointed to a special young creation.
But while in college, I realized that the amount of science that had to be dismissed or denied to sustain the YEC position was just too great. This caused me to question many things, but luckily, never to a point where my faith in Christ or in the truthfulness of the Bible were hanging. I somehow knew that “all truth is God’s truth” and that I had to keep searching for the best ways to interpret both of God’s books: the Bible and Nature.
Seeking More Knowledge
Then, there came the turning point of my life, that is probably why my friend Tiago the paleontologist and I are in such different places in our faith journey: in my second year of college, I took a break from it and went to live for one and a half years in the USA and Canada. There, I became proficient in English. But what has English got to do with all this? Everything.
English gave me access to resources that were not found in my native language. You see, until not so long ago, the only resources found in Portuguese—online and in printed books—were YEC material. Suddenly, I could search the web in English. And there, I found sites of Christians who accepted evolution, and who exposed to me the myth that you have to choose between God or evolution. So I read, read, and read.
Then BioLogos came. I read it all, and it changed my life. It was made for me, exactly what I needed. I needed to tell the world—my evangelical world—that it is possible to love Jesus and accept evolution. To trust the Bible and accept evolution. I needed to tell everybody—it was a clear calling from God.
To make a long story short, I decided to pursue a degree that would allow me to fulfill this calling, so I studied Theology in my Master’s and Doctorate. In the course of this time, I found other people in Brazil with similar callings, and today I am a contributor to the Brazilian Association of Christians in Science, which was founded in 2016. This association is responsible for translating and making accessible to the public some of the great works in the area of science and religion. We have translated and published some important titles about the compatibility of evangelical Christianity with evolution, such as Denis Alexander’s Creation or Evolution: Do we Have to Choose?, Alister McGrath’s Darwinism and the Divine, and John Walton’s The Lost World of Adam and Eve, among others.
I am also the project leader of an initiative called TheoLab, hosted in an evangelical para-ecclesial organization called TeachBeyond. With TheoLab, we organize youth retreats that have science and Christian faith as their theme, and also equip seminarians and Christian leaders with basic training in the dialogue between science and faith.
I feel honored to be able to work full time now in an initiative that—much like BioLogos—aims at deconstructing this false dichotomy that has been set up in our culture. But a lot of work needs to be done. There are too many Tiagos out there that need to have access to quality material and resources so that they are not lost in the waves of secularism for believing the unfounded idea that evolution and evangelical Christian faith cannot coexist. I am overseas proof that this is definitely not true.