Let me preface this post by saying I am not a historian, a scientist, or theologian. I have only my own experience to lean on. My prayer is that I can speak from a place of humility on a sensitive subject; a divisive subject that I nearly lost my faith over.
Most of you are probably familiar with Galileo. In the 1600’s he made the bold claim that the earth was round, not flat as was the common understanding of the day. This bold assertion was met with strong opposition from the church. The earth could not possibly be round. Clearly this notion was contrary to Scripture. There is more to Galileo’s story, but that is not point of this post.
In the 1859, Charles Darwin published the book “On the Origin of Species” in which he made the bold claim that life on earth came through a process called evolution. This bold assertion was met with strong opposition from the church. All life was created by God in the span of a week approximately 6000 years ago. Clearly the idea that species evolved into new species over billions of years was contrary to Scripture. There is more to this debate that pits science against faith, but I should probably get to my own story.
I was raised in a Christian home and attended Christian schools all my life. In high school, I was an active member of the youth group. I still remember my youth pastors warning before heading to college. “When you get to college, watch out. There will be professors/students who will challenge your faith. Check everything against Scripture.” These weren’t his exact words, but he strongly cautioned me about the faith challenges academia might bring.
This was a man who I hold a great deal of respect for even to this day. Perhaps I misunderstood his advice, but in general I shied away from anything that seemed to conflict with my understanding of Scripture. So this was true for the duration of my college career. It was a Mennonite college, so it wasn’t too difficult to avoid subjects that would have challenged the authority of Scripture (or at least how I understood it). So I made my way through college with my mainstream conservative Christian theology intact.
In regards to creation of the earth, I believed in a fairly literal interpretation of Genesis. God made the earth. I probably suspected the earth was older than 6000 years, but I was buying the creationist explanation that the flood was the answer to most challenging fossil records. In my mind, I was fairly certain that the earth was not billions of years old, and macro evolution (the idea that species evolved into new species) was invented by atheists trying to cut God out of the picture. In general, I avoided any evolutionist theories because they didn’t make sense in my Scriptural worldview.
It wasn’t till I was two years out of college that I seriously dealt with the evolution question. I was with a group of young adults biking across the United States. While all of us were on the trip for different reasons, one common thread was that we had questions. Questions about what it meant to be a young adult in the context of the church and what it meant to be followers of Christ in this day and age. An environment was created in our group where it was safe and actually encouraged to question some of our preconceived notions and to reexamine what we had grown up learning.
Five days into the bike trip, I stopped at a museum in Oregon to inquire about a camping site. At one of the exhibits, they described their discovery in that area of layers after layers of dinosaur bones separated by millions of years with completely different dinosaur species, plant life, and climate zones. Suddenly the creationist flood theory didn’t make sense. And I was forced to wrestle with what I really believed about how the earth was formed.
Several weeks after my encounter with this dinosaur exhibit, we had made it to Iowa, and I interviewed a college friend who is an evolution biologist and also a Christian. For the first time in my life I realized that the being a Christian and believing in evolution was not mutually exclusive.
After the trip ended, I continued to dive into the topic of evolution. I went to a local college’s series on Genesis. I watched a creationist video series to balance out what I was learning about evolution. The deeper I looked, the more this evolution idea seemed plausible and the sillier the creationist sounded trying to use Genesis as a science textbook.
By this time my faith felt like it was falling apart. If God didn’t make the world 6000 years ago in six 24 hour days, then Genesis had it wrong! If Genesis was wrong, what about the rest of the Bible? My faith built upon this literal interpretation of all Scripture was crumbling.
Fortunately the moderator at the local college that was hosting the series on Genesis pointed me to “The Language of God” by Francis Collins. Collins was the lead scientist on the human genome project. He is scientist who became a Christian later in life, and believes that God made his creation through an evolutionary process. In his book, he frequently referenced C.S. Lewis’s writing because Lewis was of a similar persuasion on the topic of evolution.
Wow. Here were two very smart dudes saying that it was possible to be a Christian and understand Genesis in a new light. My faith didn’t have to die! But it did need rebuilt.
Suddenly I had more questions than ever before. How do I understand Genesis? How do I interpret scripture? If God created the world through an evolutionary process, then physical death had to exist before the fall of man. But that seems to change some of the assumed theology that I grew up with! So was the fall of man all about man’s spiritual death? What is the soul? What separates us from an ape? What was the ensoulment process? How did we become human and how was God involved in the process? Did Noah really build an ark if there is no evidence of a worldwide flood?
The hardest part for me when I felt my faith crumbling was that suddenly God felt very distant. What happened to my personal God whose hands molded the earth? It seems like 14 billion years ago, in a great burst of energy, God started everything in motion, and left things go on its own. Does God really care about me? Is there really an afterlife?
What followed this meltdown of faith was a period of rediscovering faith. I still don’t have answers for all my questions, but today I cling to the hope that God does care. And this faith is now centered squarely on this Jesus fellow. He is real right? He came to earth claiming to be God’s son. By making this claim, he was either insane, lying, or really was God (a C.S. Lewis argument). I believe that he is God and that he will follow through on his promises for those who choose to follow his narrow way. And he cares for ME. He is a personal God, not a distant God, and my relationship will last long after my physical body quits on me and in ways I can not begin to comprehend now. This is what gives me hope, and what I am pinning my faith on.
So what is the point of my post? For those of you out there who are not followers of Christ, I want to say this. To become a Christian does not mean you have to say the world is still flat. Jesus called us to live in ways that didn’t make sense to this world, but he wasn’t asking us to abandon reason. The Pharisees were the religious leaders that lived when Jesus was on earth, and they had all sort of rules about what to believe. Don’t let Christians who insist the earth is flat get in your way of following Jesus.
To fellow followers of Christ, I offer this. Whatever your beliefs are about the origins of the earth, I’m not trying to change them. We should be able to agree that God made us. How he did it is open for debate, but it should not get in the way of allowing others to be followers of Christ. And don’t be afraid of the questions that may challenge what you believe. Questions have the power to refine your faith, and center it on what truly maters.
When I start to get preachy on this subject, my wife reminds me that my approach is no different then a right wing Christian who is pushing an extremely literal interpretation. So I apologize if I came across this way. No matter how well I think I have something figured out, I’m still learning to be humble and open to God’s teaching.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. I welcome any feedback and would love to hear your own wrestling with this topic and what faith and theological implications it may bring.