Tales of a Recovering Answer Addict: From Young-Earth Apologist to Evolutionary Creationist
The more Mario Russo studied and learned, the less he needed “answers” to every possible question.
I was sixteen years old when I became an apologist for young-earth creationism. My passion for defending young earth creationism (YEC) began in high school, when Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis visited our town and gave a creation seminar. Growing up as a homeschooled student, I was told that the theory of evolution was not based on real scientific evidence and that it contradicted the Bible. However, I never had any biblical or scientific answers to defend creationism other than saying, “the Bible says so.” From the first session of the AiG seminar, I was hooked. Ken Ham was giving me both biblical and scientific arguments against evolution. I devoured as many YEC books I could get my hands on. I would memorize their arguments against evolution. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had answers to some of the “big questions,” and I wanted everyone to know. “Creation apologetics” became my life mission.
In high school, I was the host of a live radio talk show and a newspaper columnist. At the time, my station manager told me I was the youngest radio personality in the history of the station; I was just seventeen years old. I also produced 60 second radio spots that had a creation apologetics theme, which aired on multiple stations. I talked and wrote extensively in defense of young-earth creationism and attacked the theory of evolution. I loved the thrill of giving someone an answer to an objection they had against creationism. I lived for the chance to make an “irrefutable” argument for young-earth creation to an evolutionist.
In my seventeen-year-old mind, it was a clear black-and-white issue: the Bible said God created all things in six, literal, 24-hour days six thousand years ago, and there wasn’t room for any “theory” that said otherwise. This was an undeniable truth that the world needed to accept. If God was Creator, evolution could not be true. If evolution was true, then there was no Creator. The two were mutually exclusive. My task was simple: argue and dismantle the theory of evolution, so that the only option left would be that God was Creator.
During this time, I took regular trips to Kentucky to volunteer at Answers in Genesis for several weeks at a time. I had access to some of the best minds in the YEC movement. I recorded several interviews with Ken Ham while I was there and would play them on my radio show. As I learned, part of Ken Ham’s testimony is growing up when Christians didn’t have many answers for the culture’s questions of the Bible in general, and Genesis in particular. I can recall a story he told me about how, as a young man, he loved Henry Morris’ book The Genesis Flood because it provided answers to so many questions. Ken Ham’s passion for providing answers eventually led him to found an organization dedicated to providing an answer to any and every possible question the world might have about God, the Bible, and creation.
Providing answers is what YEC apologetics is all about. I’ve heard Ken say several times in his seminars: “Every question can be answered either directly or indirectly in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Why do we wear clothes? Genesis 1-11. Where did Cain get his wife? Genesis 1-11. Why are there so many species in the world? Genesis 1-11. Why did Jesus die on the cross? Genesis 1-11.” These answers were like a drug that fed my addiction. The more answers I got, the more I needed. I couldn’t entertain any alternate interpretation of Genesis because if I did, my “answers” would evaporate. Any challenge to the YEC framework would ultimately undermine the source of all of my answers. If I didn’t have answers, I didn’t have any faith. Or so I thought.
After high school, I attended a public state university and majored in biology and psychology. My goal as a YEC apologist was to teach biology in a public high school and secretly preach creationism to my students. I was passionate about providing answers, and I wanted to reach the next generation of kids with the “truth.” As I began to take my biology courses, I knew I was going to be met with evolutionary theory. My parents were concerned that my professors would sway me to deny my faith and disregard the Bible. However, the exact opposite happened to me. I graduated from my secular, public university even more convinced of young-earth creationism than when I entered. I was now armed with scientific credentials, and I could navigate any debate with “scientific evidence” against evolution.
In 2009, I entered seminary. At this point my passion was subsiding, and I realized that my dream of making a living as a YEC apologist was coming to an end. Most of the people I engaged with seemed less and less interested in young-earth creationism, and the overall “buzz” of the moment was dying down—at least in my part of the country. At this point, my wife and I were feeling called to be missionaries, and I wanted more theological training. Once I began to study in seminary, my world began to open up. I took courses on biblical exegesis. I learned how to look at a passage of Scripture and understand what it means.
I had no idea that what I was about to learn would radically alter my interpretation of Genesis. Some of the key principles of sound exegesis include looking at who the author was, why he was writing his book, who he was writing it to, and what he was trying to say. Armed with my new tools for biblical interpretation, I felt compelled to re-examine my views on the opening chapters of Genesis. After all, it had been a while since I had a chance to use those apologetic skills and, while I was certain there was no “scientific” evidence for evolution, now would be a great time to put the matter to rest once and for all by showing that the biblical evidence fully supported my YEC position. What I found shocked me.
Through the tools of biblical exegesis, I discovered in the opening chapters of Genesis an entire world of meaning I had never seen before. Understanding the literary genre and the historical-cultural context of Genesis dramatically shifted my interpretation of the creation events in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. I was hoping to find biblical evidence against evolution, but instead I found no evidence that Genesis was concerned with any modern scientific view of origins.
The opening chapters of Genesis were offering a story far greater and more majestic than I had ever realized. God wasn’t trying to discredit a scientific theory that didn’t even exist at the time Genesis was written. God was trying to show his people how incredible and powerful he was. He was giving his people a national identity and identifying himself as their God and King—not even a hint of anything to do with evolution.
The more I studied and learned, the less I needed “answers” to every possible question. The less dependent I became on giving the right answers to any objection, and the more comfortable I became with the phrase “I don’t know.” I remembered the invigorating wonder of science as it investigates the unknown. The fewer answers I had, the more wondrous God became.
But there was still one other obstacle that I needed to overcome. How could God be Creator, and evolution be true? Didn’t the theory of evolution dispel any need for God? Robert Asher’s book Evolution and Belief and Alister McGrath’s book Surprised by Meaning were both crucial in helping me reconcile God and evolution. Asher so aptly points out that when we speak of the evolutionary process, we are speaking of the cause by which new species arise. When we speak of God as creator, we are speaking about the agency behind the cause. In other words, science gives us the mechanism by which life develops, and religion gives us the agency behind the mechanism. Science and religion are not in opposition to each other, but complement each other.
Just recently a friend of mine asked me how I could believe in evolution. “What about the lack of evidence in the fossil record? What about the lack of evidence from genetic mutations? Evolution has no answers for this.” Of course, now I know that there are indeed good answers for these questions, based on solid scientific research. But I know from my own background that these aren’t the “answers” he really wanted. His point was that because the theory of evolution cannot provide all the “reasonable” answers (in his mind) to every possible question, it cannot be true.
I now realize that this is dangerous and poor logic. Can Christianity provide satisfactory answers explaining exactly how Jesus can be both fully God and fully man? Can Christianity provide a truly satisfactory answer for explaining the Trinity, one God in three persons? Yet, Christians hold both of these doctrines to be unnegotiably true. There are many mysteries in Christian doctrine, but this does not mean Christianity is false. I trust in God because he has shown himself faithful, not because I have all the answers and understand all the mysteries of the faith. Of course, science has a much narrower focus than faith, but the metaphor still works. As an evolutionary creationist, the lack of answers to every single scientific question does not dissuade me from believing in a well-substantiated scientific theory. Rather, it encourages me to pursue the answers, with the expectation that no matter what science discovers, it’s all part of God’s good world.
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