How I Found a Deeper Faith Through Studying Evolution
When thinking about science and faith, it's important to understand the limits of the ability of scientific evidence to answer theological questions.
When I was sixteen, I started to ask the “big questions” about religion in general and Christianity in particular. I had begun attending a local church and had started reading the Bible for the first time. As part of my investigation into the claims of Christianity, I purchased several popular apologetics books that had a strong creationist, or Intelligent Design, perspective. I was initially very impressed with such books, and as an excited new believer, I wholeheartedly trusted their “investigation” and “objective inquiry.”
Several of these books were built on the premise that if evolution is true, then there is no God, at least no God worth following. These same authors contended that if the God of the Bible is indeed real, then logically one must believe in some version of creationism or Intelligent Design (ID). They were unequivocal and adamant—you must choose either evolution and atheism, or God and creationism. I had just become a Christ follower, so the choice was obvious! I wholeheartedly believed this false dichotomy, and for some time I became a vociferous critic of evolutionary theory.
When I entered college, I began studying biology. I held onto my ID convictions and even informally debated fellow students on the topic. In my senior year, I enrolled in an evolutionary biology course. Propelled by my extensive knowledge of ID and my passion to defend “the Biblical truth,” I wanted to disprove evolution by infiltrating the ranks of the “evolutionists” and exposing their secrets.
Though I had hopes of exposing and dismantling evolution, I found instead that this class laid bare many misconceptions I had harbored. As I studied more about evolution, I began to realize, through careful research on both sides, that creationist and ID arguments were filled with sizable holes, and that evolutionary theory and the claims of science had been severely distorted and misrepresented by all my favorite apologetics authors. By performing my own research into the theory of evolution, I started to realize that my “case” for creationism and ID was a house of cards built on a foundation of straw men and misquotes.
These misgivings drove me further into the study of evolution, hoping that I had missed something that could resolve the tension. I read hundreds of pages on evolution from a plethora of sources. I visited museums to see transitional fossils in person and engrossed myself in my upper level coursework in evolution. Increasingly though, I felt schizophrenic. I would read a journal article on evolution, then try to debunk it with my ID books, then I’d read my evolution textbook and rebut that with my creationist books. I poured back over my ID books and materials and spent late hours exhaustively researching rebuttals to what I was coming to realize was an extremely well-established theory. I’d go around and around trying to defend creationism or at least ID, but I came to a point where I had to be intellectually honest—I couldn’t prop up creationism or ID anymore.
Having done the research, I began to suffer from the cognitive dissonance it produced. I had been a Christian for seven years, had been baptized and married by my church, and had committed my life to following Jesus Christ. Now everything I thought I knew was falling apart. I was torn between wanting to continue to follow God and wanting to be intellectually fulfilled, to follow where the evidence had led.
For months I prayed earnestly for a reprieve from my crumbling worldview. I spent many nights discussing with my wife the conflicting feelings I had regarding my biblical worldview and my newfound scientific knowledge. I was having a crisis of faith, and I dearly wanted to hold on to both God and His revealed truth as discovered by science. This seemed impossible, however, as the creationist books that had been crucial to my conversion precluded this option.
Flipping through the television one night, disillusioned and disheartened, I stumbled across a “Science vs. God” debate. For the first time, I heard brilliant Christian intellectuals explain how things like the afterlife, beauty, morality, God, and purpose are outside the scope of science. Thus, there is no real conflict between science and faith—only the illusion of such, and I was thrilled by this possible resolution to my shattered reality. I proceeded to read books such as The Language of God and Finding Darwin’s God, which convincingly demonstrated that one can embrace both science and God.
As I prayed, read, and learned more about this other option that I had never known before, I breathed a sigh of relief and relished in my freedom to investigate God’s working in the world through science. I devoted myself to more research on evolution and faith, taking a graduate course in evolution and earning a Master of Science in Biology.
I have since taught biology as a professor, and am soon starting a PhD in biology with a focus in evolutionary ecology. In 2016, I published a book to encourage those in the faith who are struggling with the same cognitive dissonance I experienced when my worldview was eviscerated. It is a message of reconciliation between God’s revealed word and his revealed working in the world—without scientific or theological compromise. I explore the philosophical, psychological, theological, and scientific underpinnings of the debate and delve very deeply into the hard evidence for evolution.
I can honestly tell you that my faith has been strengthened during this journey. Instead of my faith being built on the “evidence” of creationism and ID, my faith is now built on nothing but Jesus Christ. Despite the prediction of many apologists, my acceptance of evolution did not propel me toward atheism or make me an enemy of the faith—God did not fall off of his throne when I gave up creationism. On the contrary, I feel that my faith has renewed energy and vibrancy, and that I have a more grand and awesome view of God and his hand in the universe.
I gave up creationism and Intelligent Design because they seek to “prove” God’s hand in the universe by means of “evidence”—something that I think misconceives and misunderstands the modest aims and limitations of science. I believe in purpose, but by faith. I believe in design, but by faith. I don’t make my science try to prove things it can’t, and I don’t try to make my faith say things it doesn’t. I follow the evidence where it leads, because truth will always lead to God. I love God, and I fully accept evolutionary theory. And I believe that when both are properly understood, there truly is no conflict between the two.
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