It’s nice to be surprised every once in a while

Cats are good at being surprised (photo by mate2code, via Wikimedia Commons).

It’s a sad but true fact of writing about all this Christianity/evolution stuff that you don’t get surprised very often. I’ve learned that more than three-quarters of the people I encounter through my work on this site — both on article comment threads and through email — will hail from one of two camps: They will either be fundamentalist Christians who disagree with me on evolution, the age of the earth and my interpretation of the Bible, or they will be atheists or agnostics who disagree with me about my belief in God and faith in Christ.

And I don’t feel this from everyone, but in general, I do get the impression that these two groups are in agreement on at least one point: They think I’m sort of fooling myself, and I should just give up and admit that I’m an atheist. And I think both of them are secretly hoping that happens; the atheists are hopeful because it would mean one more person joining them in the “ranks of reason,” and the fundies are hopeful because it would mean one less person out there confusing the battle lines between the strict, “atheists vs. Christians” construct that makes them more comfortable.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve had some great conversations with plenty of people through this site, and I’ve learned a lot, even — probably, especially — from those who have disagreed with me the most. But the conversations with those who seem to think I’m not honest or sincere in my beliefs can be a bit frustrating, particularly because I’ve learned to never, ever expect them to change their minds — regardless of what I say, or how well I thought I had answered their questions or addressed their concerns.

Oh well, right? Boo hoo — grab a Kleenex and get over it. Honestly, though, I didn’t write this to complain. I’m just setting the stage for a very cool email exchange — one that did the rarest of things within the modern controversy between Christianity and evolution: It surprised me.

Here’s a sample from one of the first emails I received from Mr. Paul Foland. This isn’t what surprised me. I get lots of emails like this:

You are fooled.

The mechanism that drives micro-evolution, which is natural selection, is scientifically demonstrable and not at all counter to what the Bible teaches about God’s creative power. Micro-evolution always involves a loss of information, in one form or another, not a gain of new information. If I am wrong then do your own research and point to one example of a beneficial mutation that involves the GAIN of new information.

The mechanism that drives macro-evolution is called faith. Faith that, given enough time, rocks become butterflies.

You have presuppositions that are not allowing you to interpret the evidence correctly. You have a presupposition that the Bible is untrue and that man’s interpretation is more reliable. Tyler, I see that you claim to be a Christian. By what authority can you justify this? The Bible? You reject the truth claims of the Bible. So by who’s authority, and by what presupposition can you claim, that justifies the labeling of yourself as a Christian?

Fun stuff. I led off my reply by telling Paul, “The theory of evolution doesn’t say rocks become butterflies. It says living species change over time.” I explained, briefly, how mutations can create new information simply by genes being copied, and then later mutations acting upon the replicated genes. Then I said this:

I do not at all think that the Bible is untrue. I believe it is the Holy Spirit-inspired word of the living God, and thus, is completely infallible on all matters on which it was intended to teach. Just because I think Genesis 1-3 was intended to be read metaphorically, rather than as a history textbook, doesn’t mean I think it isn’t “true.” I’m guessing you don’t read most of Psalms literally, or the books of the Prophets, or the parables of Christ, or the book of Revelation. All of these texts are deeply symbolic and metaphorical. Does that mean you think they aren’t “true”?

I reject none of the truth claims of the Bible. I identify as a Christian because I confess that Jesus is my God and my Lord. He died for my sin and was raised three days later. He lives in me and is redeeming me and remaking me into his image and likeness.

Thinking my evangelical credentials had been firmly established, I was disappointed — though not surprised — when Paul replied with this:

How much of the fossil record do you attribute to Noah’s flood?
In your worldview, death came before sin, which is contrary to God’s word.
Do you believe Christ resurrected? Do you believe His miracles were figurative or literal? Do you believe He had the power to turn water into wine, to walk on water, to part the Red Sea, to raise the dead, to forgive sins, to heal the deaf, the blind, the mute, etc. etc.

If you don’t, then how can you be sure He has the power to save you?
If you do, then why is it so hard for you to believe He could form man from the dust and breathe life into his body, all in one day?

What did Jesus teach us about Genesis 1-3? Did he tell us to take it figuratively?

And your welcome for my concern for your walk with the Lord.

So I decided to be done with Paul at that point, and I sent him a brief message letting him know that — since my previous answers to his questions had been neither responded to nor even acknowledged — I had neither the time nor interest in further attempts to demonstrate the validity or sincerity of my faith. My response was fairly sarcastic, and made a couple not-so-subtle jabs at Paul’s intelligence, manners and overall disposition.

I fully expected that to be the end of my relationship with Paul, and in all of my previous interactions with young-earthers, I’m confident that such a response would have been. But this is where I was surprised. Paul’s next message appears below:

Tyler,

I regret the way I communicated with you in past emails, and sincerely ask that you forgive your brother in Christ. I’m ashamed to admit that I had not read enough of what you had posted on your site, and was therefore not entitled to make assumptions on your views of certain doctrinal areas.

In all honesty I simply lumped you in the same category of many others I’ve debated who have had no other purpose but to disparage Christians. You are quite honestly a different breed and I am taking the time to read your posts and your interactions with visitors to your site.

I pledge to be more informed of your views, the reasons you believe what you believe, the presuppositions you hold, and more importantly, the justification you give for those presuppositions.

I admire your writing style and have enjoyed your correspondence, which may seem a contrary statement in light of the tone of my previous email. I hope to become engaged in the discussions on your site and I hope you will welcome my dialogue. You obviously are aware (somewhat) of my views and I promise, if and when I share them, to do so in a respectful way.

On a lighter note, I’ve seen some of your comments to others which scrutinized their usage of grammar, so I just wanted to apologize if I use the wrong sentence structure, tense, etc., (who, who’s and whom always mess me up), or if my commas show up in too many, or not enough places. I see you’ve written a book so literature is obviously up your alley, and like I said, I admire your style. However, I’m a Mathematics major, so you should understand. I don’t git me too much practice.

Blessings on your day.

Pretty cool, eh? I thought so. I, of course, accepted Paul’s apology, and asked for his forgiveness as well. He later agreed to let me share his name and some of our correspondence, in the hopes that it might be encouraging — and maybe even instructive — regardless of where you stand on these issues.

I know as well as anyone that it is far easier (and, let’s be honest, usually a lot more fun) to disagree with and criticize someone than to find common ground and build them up. But, for Christians, the latter is exactly what God has commanded us to do. I think we who participate in discussions on these kinds of divisive topics could and should make much more concerted efforts toward this end — myself very much included.

And if we do — who knows? We just might be surprised by what happens.

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Tyler Francke