Thursday, 14 August 2014

Former YECs show why science denialism is dangerous to your faith

It's true that the plural of anecdote is not data. However, string enough of them together, and you're likely to see a trend. When you gather together the witness of former YECs, what you do see is the utter folly of tying Christian orthodoxy to a position that is so easily falsified. Add to that the fact that some YECs insist that the only true Christian option is YEC, and it is not hard to see why many ex-YECs also desert Christianity completely.

Christians who study geology at university understandably are best placed both to comment on the science, and the struggle they faced when their YEC beliefs were destroyed by the hard evidence. The geochemist Steve Smith is representative of this group of believers, and while he retained his faith, the crisis he endured was no less dramatic:
I remember going to that first Geology class armed with every available Creation Science argument, ready to do battle for the faith. Yet despite my preparation, it was for naught. I found myself walking the same path as the earliest geologists, who, starting from a perspective of a Biblical Creation about 6,000-years in the past, saw evidence in the rocks for so many different events and environments, which convinced them the earth was much older than a few thousand years. I saw how rock layers could be grouped into larger “geologic ages” based on their depositional environment and fossil content with boundaries defined by major environmental changes or an extinction event. I was shocked to discover that these geologic ages had been identified and named, not by God-denying Evolutionists, but mostly by Christians and even ministers who saw their work as glorifying to God. Not only were the geologic ages real and the earth older than 6,000 years but the fossils within them told a story of change: starting in the oldest rocks with strange creatures unlike anything seen today, followed in order by the earliest appearances of fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammal-like reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and placental mammals and with the youngest rocks containing fossils of extinct animals that closely resemble those extant. Thus, the rocks even supported one of the lines of evidence used by Charles Darwin in his argument for descent by modification (now called evolution).

Although I was fascinated by geology and had found a scientific field that I loved, my faith was in shambles. Based on what I had believed and read in the Young Earth Creationist literature, if the geologic ages were real, if the earth was old, if evolution had happened then the Bible was false, Christianity wasn’t true, and Christ’s death on the cross was meaningless. So what was left? I felt betrayed and seriously considered leaving the church. In retrospect, two factors kept me from leaving: (1) the support of a strong Christian family (and a young lady soon to be my wife) that gave me the freedom to question without condemnation; and (2) the strong witness of my Olivet geology professor, who had not only faced all of the same scientific evidence but was one of the most Christ-like men I had ever met. But before I could move on, I had to recognize that I had been snared by a false dilemma and that the Bible didn’t need to be read as a scientific treatise on how to create a world. That was a time of turmoil and what I needed most was theological support that would allow me to reconcile what I read in the Bible with what I saw in the rocks. (Emphasis mine) [1]
Unfortunately, many Christians encountering the evidence against YEC do not have the theological support to allow them to reconcile the two books of divine revelation. Geologists Ken Wolgemuth, Gregory S Bennett, and Gregg Davidson, in a 2009 address to the Evangelical Theological society in New Orleans illustrate this tragic problem with a number of examples including the testimony of geophysicist Glenn Morton, who was driven to the point of atheism in his battle to reconcile the overwhelming evidence for an ancient earth he saw in his professional life with his YEC. 

Another example came from an anonymous layperson [2] and his testimony arguably is the more representative given that the majority of Christians are laypeople without any professional background in geology:
A friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) attended conservative churches his entire life – churches that openly push and teach a young-earth position. He has been a teacher and a leader in his local church. He is a strongly logical, thinking person who wants to know God’s truth. He told us recently that he is thinking about giving up on Christianity and becoming an agnostic. Why? As he became more knowledgeable about the scientific evidence regarding the age of the earth, he found increasingly that facts presented by young-earth organizations had been misrepresented. He no longer knows who to believe or who to rely on. He feels that he has believed lies his whole life(Emphasis mine) [3]
When you feel that your faith tradition has lied to you, one thing that you lose immediately is trust. If you cannot trust your faith tradition to tell the truth about the age of the Earth, then it is hardly surprising if you begin to question whether you can trust them about the Bible.

Hardline YECs will not protect their children by raising them in a fundamentalist bubble. The testimony of the atheist blogger Libby Anne, a former YEC shows not only the impotence of the YEC strategy, but the danger of making YEC - rather than Christ - the foundation of one's faith:
I was raised on the line between fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity. I was homeschooled, and nearly every subject was related to God and the Bible. History was His story and our science textbooks were all creationists. My parents were great fans of Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis and I was taught to use “creation apologetics.” In other words, when you evangelize someone you start by showing them the truth of young earth creationism, and after that they will have to concede the truth of the Bible and convert to Christianity. I read everything Ken Ham wrote, attended conferences put on by Answers in Genesis, and even visited the Creation Museum. I was taught that we know the Bible is true because young earth creationism is true. As Answers in Genesis so often trumpets, I learned that the foundation of the Bible was a literal Genesis.
And then I went to college, where my young earth creationist views were challenged. I responded by fighting back. I argued with both students and professors, sure that I had some sort of truth they were missing. I brought out every argument I had, and went back to my creationist resources for more. As time went by, though, I found my arguments effectively refuted by arguments and information I had never been exposed to before. To my utter shock, it seemed that the evidence actually fell on the side of evolution and against young earth creationism. After nearly a year of fighting, I conceded defeat. [4]
Libby Anne's example is hardly atypical. There are many former Christians whose loss of faith was predicated on the erosion of their YEC beliefs by the evidence, and based on the response of leading figures in the YEC world, this haemorrhage of believers is hardly likely to stop. AiG leader Ken Ham's response to her post, which Anne neatly eviscerates, reflects both their belief that isolation and indoctrination is what is needed to maintain the YEC faith, as well as their failure to realise that this approach will fail in the long run:
In his own blog post, Need More Than Just Exposure, Ken Ham quoted at length from Dr. Purdom’s post and added some observations of his own, many of which mirrored hers.
Dr. Georgia Purdom—AiG speaker, researcher, and writer—recently wrote a blog item I wanted to share with all of you. It is a warning—even to parents who bring their children up on AiG apologetics resources.

Is it just me or does Ken Ham sound like my testimony made him nervous?

As I read her blog post, I thought of these main points: 
1. We need to be reminded that we can do our best to bring children to the “door” of the “Ark,” but we can’t force them through—only God does that.

In other words, we can teach our children the Truth but can’t make them accept it. Because, apparently, that’s what happened to me? My parents did their best to bring me “to the door of the Ark” but I simply refused to go through? What a very strange interpretation. As if I hadn’t wanted creationism to be true. As if I didn’t fight tooth and nail for something that was at the foundation of my faith. As if it wasn’t hard to admit I had been wrong and to see my entire understanding of the world shift.

2. As we train our children, we need to do much more than just expose them to resources like those produced by AiG; we need to make sure they understand them correctly and are taught to be able to answer questions logically.

Here Ken Ham is echoing what Dr. Purdom wrote. And again, it’s insulting. I did understand and I was taught to answer questions logically.

3. We can undermine a lot of what we have done if we send our children to the wrong institution (e.g., a compromising Christian college or even a theologically conservative one that does not teach them why they believe what they do—and how to logically defend the Christian faith and so on).

Again, echoing Dr. Purdom. Because, apparently, if creationism is exposed to criticism it shrivels and dies. And for what it’s worth, when I left for college, I had taken more years of apologetics courses than I can count, had memorized more Bible verses than essentially anyone my age, and had read more AiG resources than I can even remember. I also had formal experience with debate and logic. If anyone knew how to logically defend the Christian faith, I did. [5] (Emphasis in the original)
Given this significant attrition rate of believers, and the ineffective YEC response, it is hardly surprising that scientifically literate believers are now increasing their efforts both to save those young believers whose YEC faith has been shattered by the evidence, as well as help drag Christianity away from its penchant for fideism and science denialism. The physicist Karl Giberson, co-author with Francis Collins of The Language of Science and Faith writes:
My personal passion for this topic derives from my long experience in Christian education, watching students struggle as they come to terms with modern science. Sadly, there is a history of many of them leaving the Christian faith over the topic of evolution. Having been raised to believe they must make a choice between evolution and their faith—the very choice you continue to promulgate—many of them, unfortunately, find that, when the rubber meets the road in their science classes, they have no choice at all. The scientific evidence compels them to accept evolution, and the logic of their faith tradition pushes aside their faith. 
When I spoke at a leading evangelical college in the Northwest about my book Saving Darwin, a young woman approached me, almost in tears. “I was taught in my Baptist church that I could not believe in evolution,” she said. “And now that I have learned in my biology classes that it is true, my faith has collapsed.” Her pleading eyes met mine: “I want my faith back,” she said, with powerful emotion. “I want to be able to believe as you do, that evolution and my faith can go together.” [6]
I can speak from personal experience that those Christians who have navigated the crisis of faith arising from seeing their YEC worldview destroyed by the evidence are driven to help others who are sharing similar experiences, and ensure that the current generation of YEC dogmatists are the last ones. It is a difficult challenge given that YEC has been aggressively promoted as normative, with even OEC, let alone evolutionary creationism, regarded as heretical. The geologist Steve Smith, cited earlier, notes:
Unlike my own youth, today many young people in our churches have been inculcated since birth with these either-or statements through Sunday School, VBS, homeschool textbooks, and church-sponsored schools. How much harder is it for these students to study sciences like geology, astronomy, anthropology, paleontology, or biology and still preserve a faith that has been supported by a false dilemma? I have seen students break down into tears as they stood on an outcrop of rock and saw evidence that contradicted what their church had taught them. I have comforted my own daughter when she was told by a Sunday School teacher that she couldn’t be a Christian if she accepted evidence for evolution. I have talked with scientists who were once raised in a church and are now bitter agnostics because the church “lied to them” about science. [7]
Any church that declares that accepting the fact of evolution precludes one from being a Christian can only blame itself when those who know that the evidence confirms evolution leave. Likewise those who insist young people accept YEC while simultaneously failing to teach them critical thinking, resulting in these students being utterly disillusioned when they see with their own eyes evidence that confirms an old Earth stand condemned for failing to minister to the flock of Christ. 

While the decision to believe or not believe is ultimately up to individuals, those who have imposed YEC upon their community, demonised mainstream science and declared that those who no not accept YEC are 'dangerous compromisers' share some of the culpability, and need to remember that as James implies, inept teachers will be held to a higher standard by God:

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. [8]
Christianity is based on the risen Christ, not a correct understanding of how old the universe is, or the exact mechanism employed by God to create. Our task is to bring the gospel to all people, and if we deliberately antagonise a large section of the world by declaring that evolution denialism must be normative for all believers, we are betraying the trust given to us to preach the gospel to all men. Ken Wilson, senior pastor of Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor reminds us of the need not to dogmatise on matters that are not essential to faith:
In order to deal with our feelings about matters of science like evolution or climate change—issues of science surrounded by controversy in our culture—we will have to do some soul searching. Where do these feelings come from? Are these feelings fueled by the pure Spirit of Jesus? Or could they be fueled at least partly by cultural assumptions that may have nothing to do with Jesus? 
I am not being facetious; I am dead earnest when I say: for the sake of the gospel, bring these feelings to God in prayer for examination under the penetrating light of the Spirit. 
A year after listening to my sermon series on science and faith, Susan approached me in the church lobby with tears in her eyes and the following story. After wrestling through the material, Susan gathered her adult children together. None of her children were active churchgoers, though they were raised in a strict fundamentalist Baptist setting. In prayer, Susan had discerned that her approach to evolution had unnecessarily alienated her children from the gospel. Susan apologized to her children for insisting that they had to accept her young earth creation views. Susan told them that she didn’t accept evolution herself, but she deeply regretted insisting that they accept her views as the only view a faithful Christian could accept. 
Susan was never more evangelical than when she engaged in this soul-searching work. [8]


1. Smith S.M. "Breaking Away from a False Dilemma" Science and the Sacred June 11 2013

2. That people such as this Christian who speak out about this subject elect to remain anonymous hints at the persecutory zeal of YEC church elders who think nothing of intimidating, censuring, and excommunicating those who reject YEC. It reflects poorly on their claims to be followers of Christ.

3. Wolgenmuth K., Bennett G.S., Davidson G., “Theologians Need to Hear From Christian Geologists About Noah’s Flood” Lecture given to the Evangelical Theological Society, New Orleans, Louisiana November 18th 2009. Solid Rock Lectures

4. Anne L "Why I am an Atheist - Libby Anne" Pharyngula 29th April 2012

5. Anne L "Rebutting Ken Ham's Response" Love, Joy, Feminism May 7 2012

6. Giberson K "Darwin and Dr. Mohler: The Truth Comes Out" Science and the Sacred Aug 26 2010

7.  See ref. 1

8. James 3:1 (NRSV)

9. Wilson K. "Science and the Evangelical Mission in America, Part 3" Science and the Sacred June 4 2010