This is part three of a series (see Part 1 and Part 2) that recounts my experiences with holding firm to certain beliefs or propositions, and then realizing these were deeply flawed when placed under careful scrutiny. The aim of this series is to encourage us to admit we are fallible, can be wrong, and sometimes, we need to change our beliefs. I genuinely hope that we can learn to ask difficult questions and be unafraid of change.
Preachers know less than science teachers
I sat with my mouth wide open, soaking in wave after wave of fascinating stories and PowerPoint graphics. The speaker was a charismatic man with a bright white smile and nicely slicked hair. He motioned to a picture of a hyperbaric air chamber and began to tell us that dinosaurs are actually lizards, and if one of these small lizards were to be placed in the pictured air chambers, he would grow up to become giant tyrannosaurus rex. With enthusiasm the speaker continued to explain that the air quality had changed as a result of the flood, and therefore, this change in air explained everything, from why lizards no longer grow up to be dinosaurs and why humans no longer livet to be hundreds of years old.
I looked around at my friends, and saw that we were all awed by his great knowledge, and could rest comfortably knowing our views of the Bible were all true. Our eyes stayed glued to the fascinating slideshow for the rest of its duration, this was surely the best and most interesting church service we had ever attended! After the service, I went up to “Dr.Dino” and eagerly shook his hand. I was in awe of his majesty, at that moment I believed that Kent Hovind knew everything, although I would later learn, he didn’t know how to stay out of jail.
A few years later, after watching many of Hovinds video tapes (which were of course bootlegged copies that had become almost grainy and unwatchable because they were VHS copies of copies of copies) I eagerly and triumphantly forayed my way onto the internet, to prove to the world that young earth creationism (YEC) was indubitably true. At the very knowledgeable age of 16 I would be found in a dozen MSN chat rooms arguing with atheists and biologists that evolution was false. I would TYPE IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE BIGGER LETTER ARE MORE EMPHATIC, unaware of the fact that I was essentially shouting at some fairly bright and educated people. I once even tried to convince a PhD in biology on this online chat group that he was utterly wrong in everything he knew, and that I, the great 16 year old genius, had all the answers because I watched a few Kent Hovind videos. Yes, I really was that arrogant.
And yet, a part of me was afraid. I would lay in bed and think “is it possible the evolution is true? What if the facts one day proved it beyond a shadow of doubt, would I be able to accept it?” I shuddered at the frightening thought and tried to reassure myself “no, it can’t happen.”
At the same time, I started building a large creationism website that I aptly called “Darwins Deception.” Obviously I had never really read anything by Darwin, and had no idea who he really was or what prompted him to think the way he did, instead I simply said he was a liar and regurgitated the few things I had heard and read from young earth creationists (YEC’s). My site was to become a giant mega-portal of creationism resources and I spent hundreds of hours meticulously aggregating every article, journal, ebook, video, audio file, and link into one of the largest directories of it’s kind. I dug through every single creationism site that was on the internet at the time (probably fifty to a hundred?), went through all their out-of-context quote lists, and compiled it into one mega list sorted by category. This mega-quote-mining project probably took me a few months, working a few frantic hours every day. I spent about a year creating this site and then a year curating it.
As I continued to read the literature by opponents of evolution, I became aware if the fact that “weaker” creationists were embarrassed by “stronger” creationists. It was as if there was a staircase and each group of creationists was embarrassed by those who were a step lower. At the bottom step you had the iterant preachers like Kent Hovind and Carl Baugh, and virtually everyone was embarrassed by them. One step up you would find the established YEC’s like Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis organization, along with Henry Morris/ Duane Gish and the Institute of Creation Research, these had published a document shaming Kent Hovind for maligning creationist integrity for using sloppy arguments. One step up, you would find all the Old Earth/Progressive Creationists, including the front-man for the movement, Hugh Ross and his Reasons To Believe Ministry. One more step up on the the staircase of intellectual evolution were the Intelligent Design (ID) Theorists, Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Michael Behe, and David Berlinski, many of whom accepted some form of evolution, but argued that “it could not happen without an intelligent designer.” And finally a huge amount of liberal Catholics/Christians who accepted “theistic evolution” were the highest step on this ladder and they rejected all four of the groups below, while yet maintaining Christian views.
As I read immersed myself in books and articles from the bottom four movements, I saw that each group considered those beneath to be using the wrong arguments, and in many cases to be very untrustworthy. For example, Hugh Ross, who himself believed God created all things apart from evolution, frequently criticized YEC’s for using sloppy and erroneous science, because, according to him (and others in his movement) we had an undefeatable case from a dozen independent lines of evidence that the earth is billions of years old. The ID theorists, critized all forms of creationists and tried to distance themselves by arguing that their theory was scientific, not religious, and that all these religious creationists were not using science. And of course, from the bottom the more staunch YEC’s frequently fought back saying that these other movements were horrible compromises who were denying the Bible.
In the midst of this vast theological war, where at least five separate factions fought for control of orthodoxy, I began to “walk up the stairs.” Even though I started off loving Kent Hovind, I was forced to admit along with other creationists as well as atheists that Hovind was simply an uneducated embarrassment. After encountering more texts, lectures, books, I began to slowly agree with the Old Earth Creationists including famous Christian apologist Will Lane Craig that “young earth creationism is an embarrassment.”
I finally gave up any form of creationism and eagerly dived into Intelligent Design. My young earth creationism website quietly disappeared from the web and my internet bookmarks diminished by about 50 young/old earth creationism sites that I visited religiously. I secretly continued to wonder “will my journey stop here? Or will I one day accept evolution?” I shuddered at the frightening thought and tried to reassure myself “no, it can’t happen.”
I spent a couple of years in this intelligent design movement reading all the classic books from Johnsons ‘Darwin on Trial,’ to Behes ‘Darwins Black Box’ to Dentons Evolution – Theory in Crisis to Wells ‘Icons of Evolution’ to Meyers ‘Signature in the Cell.’ I sincerely don’t remember meeting someone my age who had read as voraciously on this topic as I did. I was further energized by the many predictions that ID advocates made, which urged us forward because “Darwinism is collapsing.” I believed the predictions and became convinced, there would be a sudden shift and finally the intelligent design movement would win out against evolution. My heroes wrote these kinds of things in 2004:
“In the next five years, molecular Darwinism — the idea that Darwinian processes can produce complex molecular structures at the subcellular level – will be dead. When that happens, evolutionary biology will experience a crisis of confidence because evolutionary biology hinges on the evolution of the right molecules. I therefore foresee a Taliban-style collapse of Darwinism in the next ten years.” (William Dembski, “The Measure of Design: A conversation about the past, present & future of Darwinism and Design.“ Touchstone, 17(6), pp. 60-65.p. 64. 2004.)
This never came about.
As of now, the movement is effectively dying if not dead. And the theory of evolution has not only been verified and accepted by virtually all scientists, but is making huge inroads into Christian education. In fact, Ken Ham, the famous YEC wrote in his new book that
“Today, most Bible colleges, seminaries, K-12 Christian schools, and now even parts of the homeschool movement do not accept the first eleven chapters of Genesis as literal history. They try to fit the supposed billions of years into Genesis, and some teach evolution as fact. Our churches are largely following suit.”
Even as all this was happening, I remained in the ID movement. Certainly I became curious as to why scientists were rejecting intelligent design and creationism, and that slight hint of open-mindedness made me ask difficult questions. I read some responses to the years of creationist knowledge I had accumulated, and found the evolutionist answers to be very robust and well attested. Yet, I still resisted accepting evolution. I simply could not entertain a fact that was against my biblical literalism. I could not! I would not! So I decided to stop thinking about the topic, and hid it under a mental rug.
Again, a part of me secretly wondered “why am I scared to deal with this? Will I one day compromise and accept evolution?” I shuddered at the frightening thought and tried to reassure myself “no, it won’t happen.”
I spent my time learning everything I could in the field of biblical studies. All was well, until I came across the fact that most Old Testament biblical scholars say the book of Genesis contains two separate creation stories, both of which do not really say the same thing, and that likely these two stories create a historiography of the Hebrew people in story form, they do not tell literal history. I was shocked and paralyzed by this fact, and spent a few days poring over my bible, drawing charts and graphs, comparing the different elements, reading commentaries and responses. I wanted to contest this fact, I really did, but at the end of these few exhausting days, I begin to see it, plain as day, there were indeed two separate creation stories! Genesis 1-2 was not written as a history, but a story or parable!
When the paralysis subsided, the realization hit me like a Mack Truck. If the creation story is a parable, it is possible that evolution may be right!
I felt as though I was seeing the world for the first time, I finally started to read the “other side” with an open mind, including dozens of articles and a couple of books that gave a great synthesis of scientific inquiry on the topic (Finding Darwin’s God and Saving Darwin were the most memorable). I began to re-watch a few of the former video debates between evolutionists and creationists. I listened to a couple dozen hours of lectures by leading evolutionist speakers. It was as if a floodgate had opened and everything finally made sense! I remember watching my first nature documentary after this upheaval, it spoke of evolution and instead of my usual method of inward chants “this is not true, this is not true, this is not true” my mind screamed “oh my gosh! this actually makes sense!” I was liberated!
Many different elements of our universe were beginning to make sense to me. Many things that I frequently was uncomfortable with, finally made sense. For example, when I was a young 16 year old crusader, I was very fond of “scientist lists” that contained the names of creationists or intelligent design theorists. My pride and joy was found in these, I would eagerly write “look at all these scientists, how could they all be wrong?” and attach a list of a hundred, or even few hundred, scientists. I had never considered the real statistics in the past, my biblical literalism blinded me from dealing with that. About 99.9% of relevant scientists accept the theory of evolution, but I was making arguments based on the fact that a few scientists did not. In retrospect, I realized how silly these lists are. The largest of its kind, called “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” contains over 900 signatures, from scientist in every field (physics, engineering, computers science, biology, etc) that don’t accept evolution. Yet, mostly as a joke, to give witness to the complete lunacy of such lists, evolutionists created Project Steve, a list of scientists, all of whom have the first name Steve and accept evolution. This list contains over 1,300 signatures! As a comparison, the largest Intelligent design/creationism list has a total of 12 people named Steve (a ratio of 12 to 1300, or less than 1%). To add insult to injury, the ID list of Steves only had one biologist, who later joined the evolutionist side and opted for Project Steve instead. And I no longer had to invent conspiracy theories to avoid the cognitive dissonance, I no longer had to pretend I was smarter or holier than 99% of all scientists. If evolution was really true, and the evidence was there, it would explain why virtually all scientists accepted it, without the need of really strange conspiracy theories. If evolution were true it would explain nearly everything about the biodiversity of life on this planet. It would explain why animals closely related to humans have so many anatomical and physiological similarities. It would explain why living beings are spread over their respective environments, it would explain everything!
And so my greatest fear had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But at the end of the day, I’m ashamed to say that it was not the cogent arguments, robust logic, empirical science, or evidence that changed my mind, for my biblical literalism forbid me to honestly review the evidence. It was a new interpretation of the Bible that enabled me to consider the facts. If not for this, I would still vehemently reject the evidence for evolution, no matter how potent, convincing, or accurate it was.
So where does that leave us? Am I dogmatic about science and evolution now? Have I only changed in one religion for another? Hardly. I only accept the theory of evolution the same way I accept other scientific theories, including the Germ Theory of Disease or Einstein’s Theory of Gravity/General Relativity. These things have oceans of evidence for them, and if we are to reject any of them, we must do so because of good evidence to do so, not because it makes us feel uncomfortable. That said, I will gladly follow the evidence wherever it leads. If all of our scientific evidence points to the fact that the earth is a flat disc suspended on the back of large turtle, I will believe it.
(to be continued)