Confessions of a Failed Young-Earth Creationist
I once nodded vigorously when Ken Ham said that even if science was completely against him, he would still believe in Genesis as it was written by God.
I am currently studying for the ordained ministry in the Church of England at Ripon College and the University of Oxford in England. However, from a very early age I wanted to be a scientist. When other kids were playing soccer I was out in the country bird-watching or viewing bugs that I had caught under a microscope. Mine was not a religious home, but my love of the natural world gave my childhood a winsomeness and sense of awe. I remember the first book on evolution my mum gave me when I was about nine, and how excited I became talking to her about australopithecus and Cro-Magnon man. I remember something else too, something more sinister. Whatever beliefs I held about God were switched off. It wasn’t the science itself, but somehow during the late 1980’s I was encouraged to interpret human origins as not needing a creator. It is too long ago to remember who taught me this exactly, but I do remember one scientist who was important to me at the time: Richard Dawkins.
Dawkins is a man with a deep sense of awe. Even today I resonate with his words when he explains “the greatest show on earth” (Dawkins 2010).1 When I finally became a Christian in my mid-teens, there were scientists in my churches, but they never talked about their work with me, and never helped me make theological sense of this awe I felt.
When I got to university in the late 1990’s, I began to hear some of my Christian friends saying that they believed God had created the universe under 10,000 years ago, and our world in just six days. Frankly I found all this a bit silly to begin with, but when a young-earth creationist scientist from a local university came to speak to us, he gave my awe a new theological language. He showed us comic-strip pictures of a cow with a serpent tongue, wolf ears, and birds wings, asking if this was evolution. He asked us how evolution (which required death to create new life) could be true if death was the consequence of the fall. He asked us where the new genetic information required for one species to evolve into another came from. He challenged any view of inerrancy that saw Genesis as containing scientific errors. He was not a manipulator or a firebrand, just a soft-spoken, genuine man of good faith. To a young person like me trying to be a faithful Christian, his lecture turned on a light in my mind.
There are two things I was taught as a new young-earth creationist: Firstly, that there is a vast conspiracy within the global scientific community against young-earth creation science. It is not the lack of evidence that leaves young-earth creationism outside the walls of the scientific academy, but the fallen nature of the evolutionary scientists themselves who sinfully reject God. The second thing I learned is that the reason churches are failing and the culture is secularising is that Christians have accepted unbiblical “theories” of evolution into their theology. Apparently, this corrupted society (which felt free to leave God and his moral requirements behind) and destroyed religious faith and moral life within the church.
For me, young-earth creationism was a happy experience. In the UK where I live, there are very few young-earth creationists, so it was exciting to feel that my friends and I were God’s most faithful followers. Ken Ham’s lectures kept me laughing when I was happy, and when life went wrong he had a pastor’s heart that could make the fall of humanity so real and God’s love so near that hope could be found again.
My degree was not in science and I had left my science-driven sense of awe behind years before. In the young-earth creation movement, however, there were vast amounts of “creation science” literature to consume. It brought my sense of awe front and centre into my faith again. But there was a downside to all this enthusiasm. Firstly; it made me very intolerant of contemporary Christians who “compromised” God’s word in Genesis through their unbelief. Secondly, my evangelism no longer started with Jesus but with Genesis, and my literalistic interpretation of its first two chapters devastated my ability to evangelise effectively. I became such an expert in young-earth creationist theology and science that it turned into a wrecking ball for my faith. Not only did I have to persuade people of God’s existence and what Jesus had done for them, but I now had to throw images of triceratops with riding saddles into the mix too.
When my new brother in law, who was a theistic evolutionist and a science major, nailed me in a discussion on the origins of DNA, the hollowness of my position was suddenly clear. My experience of losing a discussion that I felt I should have won began the process of rethinking what I really believed. Gradually I accepted that there was no global conspiracy against “creation science”. Young-earth creationism had simply failed every empirical test that mainstream science demands. This is why there are no serious peer-reviewed creationist papers, and no scientists studying young-earth creationism in any secular research centre in the world.
The same can be said for its theology. In young-earth circles, any theologian who disagreed with young-earth creationism was written off pejoratively as “liberal.” But this is a category mistake. In fact, a literalistic understanding of biblical cosmology is impossible, by young-earth creationists’ own standards of interpretation. Now that I’m being taught by some of the best biblical scholars in Oxford, I have learned that every ancient near-eastern civilisation believed that the waters of the earth were separated from waters in the sky by a solid dome called a “firmament” (hebrew: raqiya). Some young-earth creationists teach that the “waters above” (Gen. 1:6-7) refers to a water canopy that once surrounded the earth until it was dropped like an atomic bomb by God, causing the global flood of Noah. The raqiya therefore could not be solid, but must simply refer to the atmosphere. Yet the cosmology of a solid dome was a common phenomenological belief shared by all ancient near-eastern people, not just the Israelites. Moreover, its solid state is described by other prophets, not just the writer of Genesis such as Job who describes the firmament as a dome made of lead (37:18), and Ezekiel who had a vision of the firmament being made of sapphire stone (10:1).
I once nodded vigorously when Ken Ham said that even if science was completely against him, he would still believe in Genesis as it was written by God. Yet we can put rockets into space and there is no raqiya made of lead or sapphire to be found. If a literalistic view is to be applied consistently, then young-earth creationists must still believe in the existence of the dome as part of God’s creation.
Legendary cosmologist Paul Davies once pointed out how so many people “…searching for a deeper meaning behind their lives, find their beliefs about the world very much in tune with the new physics…fundamental physics is pointing the way to an appreciation of man and his place in the universe” (Davies 1984 p.vvii).2 He is saying that modern science is making us all ask the metaphysical questions of life again. When I was a child reading books on evolution, this was also true for me, but there was no theological channel for my questions or my sense of awe. Later the only channel offered to me was creationism. Two-thousand years ago St. Paul wrote that the universe points beyond itself to God leaving us without excuse in our unbelief (Rom. 1:20). If he is right, then we cannot afford to surrender our awe of the universe to atheists like Richard Dawkins who want to explain it by leaving God out. Thankfully today, with BioLogos, Christians like me have a place for our awe and faith to meet, without sacrificing good science or good theology in the process.
Unlike young-earth creationist organizations, every time I read resources from BioLogos, my Christian witness is elevated to the frontiers of science. It gives me confidence that I can bring my children up with a Christian worldview that excites their scientific possibilities, rather than one that alienates them from the science classroom. BioLogos unites my sense of awe with the biblical truths about God’s creation, whether I am looking at the night sky or peering into a microscope. Because of this, BioLogos shall be a close companion in the ministry into which God is leading me.
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