An unexpected journey: The ‘dangerous enterprise’ of learning about evolution

Bible photo by Dave Bullock, via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s note: What follows is the testimony of a reader from Maryland, who asked to remain anonymous but wanted to share his story of moving from fundamentalist young-earthism to an evolutionary view of creation, and the challenges the journey brought. His story has been divided into two posts; see here for part 2.

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” — Proverbs 18:17

The churches in which I was raised belong to the independent fundamental Baptist movement (IFBM). I am grateful for the many biblical things I learned and the godly men and women I met, whose examples helped to shape me. Having been led to Christ by my IFBM mother and baptized by an IFBM pastor, I will always have a place in my heart for those churches.

However, at some point during my college years, I began to slowly (I am cautious by nature!) rebel inwardly against the legalism and small-mindedness of both the IFBM and my own heart. I became more aware of, and disturbed by, the IFBM’s (and my!) tendency to look with a jaundiced eye on anyone outside of the IFBM movement, including otherwise very conservative evangelical Christians, many of whom were seen as “liberal” by the IFBM. In time, I came to understand that some of the shibboleths dear to the IFBM rested on sinking sand (none of which, I’m happy to say, were historic Christian “fundamentals” in the original sense of the word), and that many so-called “liberals” were just as serious about the gospel, holy living and scripture as the finest fundamentalist. The more traditions and doctrines of the IFBM I discovered to be scripturally unfounded, the more confident I became that I could (and even should!) examine others without becoming a “liberal” in the process. (Ultimately, the results of this examination led me to leave IFBM circles in my late 20s for greener pastures in the Reformed tradition.)

I provide this background to help you understand how I believe God prepared me intellectually and emotionally to examine another shibboleth, one that is hardly confined to the IFBM: creationism. I need to say here also that my father holds to a view (albeit privately) known as the gap theory, which allows for a very old earth; this was a view more popular in a bygone era of fundamentalism, but which has lost favor today (and rightly so, in my opinion). However, seeing an example in my own father of one who could hold a view that went against the IFBM’s young-earth creationist (YEC) grain while continuing to love Jesus and the Bible, was an immense help to me as I began exploring the topic in my college years.

I think that I became a convinced YEC after reading “Scientific Creationism” by Henry Morris, during my early college years. Having read nothing else on the subject, the book seemed rather convincing. I then read a few other books and articles by lesser lights within the YEC movement and viewed videos produced by Kent Hovind. Although I made an exception for my dad, I assumed that all genuine “biblical Christians” were YECs, since all the Christians I had met seemed to hold that view.

But my confidence soon began to waver. In the ensuing years, I remember browsing through the apologetics section in my local Christian bookstore and thumbing through a few books by Hugh Ross and Alan Hayward. I was troubled to discover that a so-called “Christian” store would offer books espousing old-earth creationist (OEC) views; yet, at the same time, I found my curiosity piqued. I eventually decided to read what these authors had to offer, digesting and thinking through several books in the process. After realizing the strength of the scientific case for an old earth and universe, I could no longer remain a YEC, and would have labeled myself as an OEC by my mid-20s.

For several years I contented myself with being an OEC. My “gut” instinct was still that evolution was absurd. I mean, really?!? Whales evolved from land animals?? Birds, repeat…BIRDS…evolved from…DINOSAURS!?! C’mon! But even in my quieter, more thoughtful moments, there was a whisper in the back of my mind: “Yes, it does seem ridiculous; so there must be some really good evidence for it, else entire disciplines of science would not be making such claims!”

My decision to explore the evidence for evolution came undramatically enough. My wife and I were discussing over dinner how we would educate our children, should God grant them to us, and the subject of evolution came up. We both agreed that we didn’t want our children to be sheltered from learning about it in school, but that we would just talk to them at home and help them to understand all the “holes” in the theory. It was at that moment that I realized that I was utterly unequipped to do so, and that I had never actually read a book defending evolution; I had only read books criticizing it! I vowed that I would educate myself so that I could better understand the enemy.

Sometimes I regret my decision to do so. Learning can sometimes be a very dangerous enterprise, especially when what you learn seems to completely overturn the worldview you have held to so dearly for so long, and when you realize the disruptive effect on your closest relationships that could result if it should be discovered that your worldview had changed. My eventual acceptance of evolution created far greater emotional, relational and spiritual trauma than the acceptance of an old earth or the rejection of the King James Only tradition ever did. But more about that later.

Readers, do you have a story like this author’s? If so, and you don’t mind sharing, email it to Tyler Francke for consideration on GOE’s Testimonies page. The American church needs to hear from you.