Evolution – I/II

The following is written primarily for readers who do not (yet) believe in the theory of evolution. But it is also written for anyone else. I have written this in a simpler and more personal tone than usual. I am not trying to be condescending or patronizing; I am only trying to be accessible and clear.

I have started by telling a story about my experience with this issue, and have briefly discussed some evidence in the second section. Most readers will wonder why I have bothered discussing this stuff at all. But I have written it for more general purposes; not just for a blog, and that’s why it reads the way it does.

Why do I not simply provide a link to some anti-creationist sources that will lay out all the information? Because I think this is an incredibly rude and impersonal approach to the issue. Anyone can search for the evidence for evolution on the Internet, and thousands of people (who are better studied than I am) have carefully compiled it better than I have. My purpose is to provide a personal appeal to Christians based on my own experience.

I – My Story, in Short

Every so often, a conversation with a colleague or an acquaintance will wander, and he (it’s usually a he) will find himself in want of an example to prove some point of his. Perhaps it has to do with human gullibility, psychological motivation, scientific inquiry, or something of the sort. He will look up at me and say, blithely as anything:

“Well, you know there are people who think the earth is 6000 years old.”

Sometimes there are denigrating adjectives for the “people.” They may be “religious people,” or “whackos,” or “those crazies in the States.” On none of these occasions, however, does my acquaintance realize the critical fact: I used to be one of those people.

This is an understandable mistake. I have done nothing (over the past 6 or so years) to give off the impression that I ever was such a person. My demeanour, profession, educational background, and most importantly, the types of comments that come out of my mouth, strongly indicate that I belong to the same line of thinking as my acquaintance. I do not want to embarrass him, so I don’t reveal the critical facts about myself. Sometimes, however, I do try to probe his assumptions.

“There’s a reason for that,” I might say. This usually gets a puzzled look. What am I talking about? Of course there’s a reason. They’re crazy.

“People have reasons for the things they believe,” I might continue. This never gets me very far, and it usually ends with my acquaintance going back to his work, or his food, thinking to himself that the world’s just full of crazy people (and that’s all there is to it). He never considers that he might be the crazy person in someone else’s conversation, somewhere across town. And he never considers that this lack of consideration is a key piece of the puzzle.

I was raised believing in the Genesis creation story. The world was created in six days, and on the seventh day God rested. We were formed from the dust of the earth, and God breathed the breath of life into our nostrils. He saw that it was good. He created all the animals, and man gave them their names, but there was no suitable helper found for him. When man sinned in the eyes of God by taking from the tree of good and evil, sin and death entered the world, and man was cast out from the Garden. That is how it all began. My mother told me that there were, admittedly, scientists and unbelievers who proposed alternatives: that the universe burst from nothing with a “Big Bang,” and that we were descended from monkeys. I laughed, just as I was meant to. This was sensational! Who could be so desperate to deny the living God that it had come to this? The world exists, and so there must have been a really BIG BANG! We look like monkeys, so they must have turned into us! Throughout my childhood, and throughout the years prior to my entering university, I never saw any reason to examine such views. It seemed that some embittered souls had done everything possible to deny the Biblical truth, and this was the best they could come up with.

I showed an affinity for math, chess, language, and logic in those years, but I did not show much interest in the practice of science. The grainy educational videos on CRT televisions, the unimpressed voices of the old men, and the talk of the earth’s “natural history” were disenchanting. It seemed that many of them were looking for certain answers about the world and its origin—but why look so hard for these answers, when we already have them? Was this whole enterprise dedicated to finding alternatives to God’s revelation? What could be the purpose of stitching together such a picture of the world? So I did not, initially, pay much attention to these disciplines. I was much more interested in solving puzzles, drawing perfectly straight lines, writing stories, and knowing the mind of God.

The story of creation was reinforced primarily by my mother. My father, who might aptly be described as a scholarly, eccentric man, was silent on these types of things. He speaks almost entirely in parables, and it is rare to get direct statements out of him. So it was surprising, one day, when he answered a question of mine by describing Genesis as a “Creation Myth.” He did not put a special emphasis on the words. He just said it. My mother turned towards him questioningly, and asked: “What? What do you mean, a Creation Myth?” I realized, then, that they simply didn’t talk about these things. My father did not necessarily care what, exactly, had happened at the beginning of the world. Perhaps he did not think that much could be known about it. But I had seen him reading the Bible every day, and I never imagined that he would have married my mother if they had not been in full agreement upon it. For a time, however, I brushed this memory aside.

When I think back to the beginning of university, these memories seem to bunch up. In high school I had vaguely begun to mix some old-earth views into the Genesis story. I had heard many people discuss scientific conclusions that depended on the earth being old, and I reasoned that perhaps the initial chapters were meant to denote longer periods of time. Perhaps a “day” was really something quite longer, or the periods of time were completely irrelevant to the point of the story.

During a geology course in first year, I asked the instructor briefly whether it was necessary to make a certain assumption about how much daughter product was in the rock at its formation. “Yes,” he said. For a moment, I felt content; he had admitted that the method was based on certain unproven assumptions, and this was enough for me. “You have to make that assumption,” he continued. And minutes later I realized that it was a perfectly reasonable assumption.

I had read some small anecdotes about fresh rocks being dated to 10,000,000 years old, and of live elephants being carbon-dated to 10,000 years old. When I followed up on these, however, I discovered that they were mere misreporting of some mistake or another, and that this could not account for the millions of rocks, in thousands of laboratories all over the world, that were consistently dated correctly, with methods that agreed with each other. I read the website for “Answers in Genesis,” which had an essay written by an intelligent man who had a PhD in chemistry. He discussed the problems with radiometric dating, and he seemed quite convincing. Many months later, I saw an old book on the family bookshelf from the 70’s. It was a bit dusty, but it discussed questions about radiometric dating. I was interested to read another essay on the topic, but after a few sentences, I pulled back in shock. It was the same essay! Over 30 years later, this essay from a random Christian book had received only minor edits, and had been posted on a completely different website to discredit radiometric dating! Was there only one of them out there?

I decided to read what other people, who were not Christian, said about the age of the earth. One of the most obvious questions is: if the earth is only 6000 years old, why can we see the light from the distant stars? For even such simple questions as these, they did not have an answer. Some of them suggested that God had created the light “on the way.” Answers in Genesis simply admitted that this was difficult to explain, but claimed that they did not need to explain it, because there were also some hard-to-explain problems with modern cosmological theories. I could not survive on explanations like this, and after considering the other evidence for the age of the earth, I accepted that it had to be as old as they said it was. I knew that there must be other Christians who had had this conclusion forced upon them, and I discovered that they called themselves “Old-Earth Creationists.”

Initially, this was exciting. The gates of interpretation had been opened, and it was now possible to speculate at the meaning of many small passages in the book of Genesis. When had life been created? What were the hominid fossils that evolutionists believed in? Were they another race that had failed God, prior to the creation of mankind? Who were the Nephilim? DNA testing of hominids had shown that we were not descended from any of them! With so many possibilities, I imagined there was an endless supply of interesting discussion to be had.

This phase did not last very long, however. Most of the Old-Earth Creationists had some background in geology or earth science, and they rejected evolution (as did I). When they spoke about the age of the earth, their expertise shined through, and they made the old ideas about a young earth seem ridiculous as they typed out the mountains of facts. But when it came to evolution, they sounded almost exactly the same as the young earth creationists who were confronted with an old earth. They dismissed and cast doubt on the theory without really explaining why. And their explanations for when and how God created life were quite strange. One Old-Earth believer propounded a view called “Ruin- Reconstruction,” suggesting that all life on the earth had been wiped out, and that new life had been created after a cataclysmic event that had displeased the Lord. This explained why prehistoric life forms were so different from present-day life forms. On his website, however, he listed his responses to some questions that readers had asked him. One reader had confronted him with the true story of a fisherman who had caught a prehistoric fish—one long-thought to be extinct. To my astonishment, he wrote that God, in all his wisdom, must have decided to reintroduce the mighty [fish species] into the second round of creation! He called this unusual, because most other creatures were not given such a privilege! It became more and more difficult to deny what I suspected from the beginning. The Old-Earth Creationists were just Christians, born and raised, who had studied the earth sciences and discovered that the earth was old. They had changed their minds about this because they had no choice. But they would not change their minds about anything else.

My program had nothing to do with biology, and hence, I was taught nothing about evolution. Biology was the only science I had not studied since grade 10, because I found it boring, lacking in mathematics, and full of memorization. But everyone who worked in the sciences seemed to talk about evolution as if it was true. I still did not believe this, of course. I read a book by Lee Strobel called “The Case for Faith,” which dealt with 10 major objections to Christianity, and I nearly skipped the chapter on evolution because I did not think it was a dangerous objection. Evolution seemed so impossible that I recall saying to myself, quite adamantly, that if evolution truly occurred I would only believe in God more strongly, because it would take a miracle for such a thing to happen.

Quite soon afterwards, however, I began to research evolution on my own. If I were confronted with an argument about it, I wanted to be able to participate. But the more I looked, the fewer Christian answers I found. I would find a claim made by some atheists, and then I would find a Christian answer. I would then search for the atheist’s response to the Christian’s answer. When I searched for the response to the response, however, there was never anything there. The Christian arguments never lasted more than one round. After some time, I began to accept that perhaps humanity, and indeed all life on the planet, had really evolved from a common ancestry. Unlike many enthusiastic scientists, I thought this was a terrible discovery. There was nothing grand or uplifting about this. For many months I could not bring myself to accept evolution, because I perceived that it did away with core aspects of Christian doctrine. Not just the uniqueness and immutability of man, but of a world that was once perfect, and of original sin. I was not yet sure how I would fix this.

It took me perhaps an entire year to get used to believing in evolution. I knew that there must be other Christians who had had this conclusion forced upon them, and I discovered that they were called “Theistic Evolutionists.” I then convinced my mother that evolution was true, though she decided that God must have gotten directly involved in it, and that it could not be too clear how it happened. My sister independently came to the conclusion that it was true. My father just sat there, and continued to read his Greek New Testament in silence.

I began a quest to reconcile these facts with the Christian worldview, and God’s plan for the world. After a few months, and reading all of the 2 books that had been written on the subject I began to fear that the reason nobody talked about this was because it might not actually be possible. But there were Christians who had done it (though they never talked about how they did it), and I placed my stock with them. I even joined an association of Christians in scientific disciplines and attended one of their annual meetings. I received their quarterly journal. On all my evenings and weekends, I made time to study the facts, hoping that I might turn up something new. I knew that I had a long ordeal ahead of me. At church, I enjoyed the feeling that I knew something that my fellow Christians did not know. But I considered that perhaps my calling was to strengthen these people by helping them come to terms with the facts, just as I had.

Atheists were always suggesting that Christianity was incompatible with evolution. But I was now a living counterexample to this, and I resolved that some time, when I got around to it, I would create more living counterexamples. I would explain to other Christians that these two things could be rendered compatible. I just needed more time to figure out what to say when they asked me how. Somewhere in between, I would find and marry a nice girl who had accepted these conclusions, but had not decided to go ahead and become an atheist. Deep down, I feared that this may not be possible either.

Years passed.

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