When Atheists and Baptists Agree

I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and that the earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old. This position routinely puts me at odds with two groups of people—atheists and Baptists...

[Read the rest on my article on the Washington Post’s religion blog!]

Do you ever find yourself drawing fire from both sides of an argument after staking some middle ground?

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A Response to Ken Ham: Let’s Make Peace

Transient

Evolving in Monkey Town made national news last week when it was featured in a Nashville Tennessean story that was picked up by USA Today.  The story described various views regarding the evolution-creationism debate and included my perspective that young Christians long for a more nuanced, constructive approach to this issue.  

“My generation of evangelicals is ready to call a truce on the culture wars,” I said. “We are ready to move on."

This quote caught the attention of Ken Ham—president and CEO of Answers in Genesis, the organization behind the famous Creation Museum in Cincinnati.   In a blog post, Ham wrote:

“Well, Rachel, I have news for you.  Your generation is not ready to call a truce in this battle in the culture wars; in fact, we are finding more and more people are getting enthusiastically involved in fighting the culture war by standing uncompromisingly and unashamedly on God’s authoritative Word.” 

According to Ken, the fact that thousands of young people visit the creation museum each year proves that this army is growing. But if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, the numbers tell a different story. Young adults are leaving the church, with some studies suggesting that up to seventy percent of Protestants age 18-30 drop out of church before they turn 23. (In fact, Ken himself has observed this phenomenon.) 

While the factors behind the trend are complex, I think I speak for a lot of young Christians when I say that you can’t argue us back. We are tired of fighting. We are tired of drawing lines in the sand. We are tired of Christianity being cast as a position in a debate when it is supposed to be a way of life.  

What we are searching for is a community of faith in which it is safe to ask tough questions, to think critically, and to be honest with ourselves. Unfortunately, a lot of young evangelicals grew up with the assumption that Christianity and evolution cannot mix, that we have to choose between our faith in Jesus and accepted science. I’ve watched in growing frustration as this false dichotomy has convinced my friends to leave the faith altogether when they examine the science and find it incompatible with a 6,000-year-old earth.  Sensing that Christianity required abandoning their intellectual integrity, some of the best and brightest of the next generation made a choice they didn’t have to make.

The reason I speak out about this issue is not because I am passionately committed to the theory of evolution; it’s because I am passionately committed to the fact that it’s not worth leaving the faith over! And it's certainly not worth breaking fellowship over either. 

Ken likes to frame his position as an unwavering commitment to the authority of Scripture, but in reality his is an unwavering commitment to one interpretation of Scripture.  Young earth creationists seem unbothered by abandoning other elements of biblical cosmology— like a stationary earth (Ps. 93:1; Prov. 8:28; Job 38:4) and a solid firmament (Genesis 1:6; Job 38:22; Ezekiel 1:22; Daniel 8:10)—but they tend to cast a literal seven-day creation as such a fundamental element of the Christianity that one’s faith cannot survive without it. 

But I am a living breathing example of the fact that it can.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and I believe that the earth is old.

I am not asking Ken to change his interpretation of Genesis or even his devotion to it.  If he believes it is the best interpretation, then he should continue to commit his outstanding energy, creativity, and resourcefulness to promoting it. I respect his conviction and I count him as a brother in Christ because, at the end of the day, Ken and I agree on what’s most important —that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

All I am asking is that he honor this common bond and join me in making peace, in acknowledging that there is enough room in Christianity for both of us and that we can talk about this issue without our weapons drawn. We don’t need a Church in which everyone agrees on the age of the earth. We need a Church that is committed to the Apostle Paul’s instructions that “if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).

How are we ever going to be at peace with all men if we can’t even be at peace with one another? 

I am ready to call a truce, and I hope that Ken Ham will join me.

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Help me pass as an intellectual at the BioLogos Conference

Transient

On Wednesday I head to Boston to attend “A Dialog on Creation”—a workshop hosted by the BioLogos Foundation and Gordon College that explores questions at the intersection of science & faith.

Among those in attendance will be Peter Enns, (a biblical scholar and Harvard Ph.D. who has authored multiple books, including the controversial Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament), Karl Giberson, (a physicist and scholar who has published over a hundred articles, reviews, and essays and authored four books),  Darrel Falk, (author of Coming to Peace with Science, and according to Wikipedia, an expert on the molecular genetics of Drosophila melanogaster and the use of gene cloning technology to characterize damaged chromosomes at the molecular level and PCR and DNA sequencing to compare homologous gene sequences in different species of Drosophila), and me(a girl who wrote a memoir with the word “monkey” in the title.)

Transient

I can only assume that my name on the registration list is the result of some sort of clerical error on the part of the BioLogos foundation.  While I’m enthralled by the conversation surrounding the compatibility of evolution and Christianity, I feel a little over my head on this one.  I can’t help but wonder if they would have invited me had they overhead the recent conversation with Dan in which I casually mentioned that thunder is the sound of clouds bumping into one another.

Transient

I suppose the good people at the BioLogos Foundation just know that there are a lot of Christians out there like me—Christians who want to honor God and make sense of the universe he created, but who aren’t biblical scholars or biologists or physicists… or, apparently, meteorologists.  What I appreciate most about the foundation is its ability to speak to such people in a way that his helpful and gracious without being condescending.

But I still feel a little like a conference-crashing poser, so I need your help.

I want to ask some good, intelligent questions at this conference, and our little online community is usually pretty good at generating those.

So, what questions would you want to ask a group of biblical scholars and scientists about issues related to faith and science?

I’ll choose my favorite questions, do my best to pose them at the conference, and next week write a post about the responses. (Bonus points for big words that will make me look like the kind of person who knows where thunder comes from!)

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Students are the real victims of Waltke’s resignation

Transient

* See my first comment for updated information on this story.

As you may have heard, renowned Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltkeresigned from his position at Reformed Theological Seminary last week amidst controversy surrounding statements he made in support of evolutionary theory in a video posted by the BioLogos foundation. Conservatives are praising the decision as a firm stand against liberalism, while progressives are hailing Waltke as a martyr for the cause of truth and free thought.

Now, I know enough about university politics to know that there is probably more to this story than meets the eye and that we should be wary of casting Waltke’s resignation in sharp black-and-white terms. He did use some strong language in the video, so the fallout may have more to do with his choice of words than with his actual position. As a private institution, RTS is under no legal obligation to protect academic freedom, and if the administration there feels that its faculty must adhere to a single interpretation of Genesis, then that is their decision to make.

We can easily use this incident as an excuse to slip into our favorite combat positions and rally around our preferred positions as young earthers, intelligent designers, theistic evolutionists, and so on. But I think that misses the point, and I think it actually makes things worse for the true victims in this story—students.

Students are the true victims in this story for the incident (perhaps unintentionally) sends a clear message to young people at Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries around the country: "You have to choose - Christianity or evolution."

What’s worse is that the story reveals the fact that many academic institutions (or their supporters) seem unwilling to preserve a diversity of opinion within their faculties, which means the message is punctuated with this: "You have to choose before you attend our university, for only one perspective will be taught here." 

I hope that this is not an indication of a future in which each Christian academic institution adopts a single position on origins, forces out any faculty or staff member who does not hold to that position, and then exclusively recruits students whose parents/denominational backgrounds support that position. 

What this does is deprive young people of the chance to really wrestle with this difficult topic. It deprives us of the chance to think critically and weigh options. It deprives us of the chance to be exposed to a variety of ideas and perspectives and to struggle through this issue in the company of friends and Christian mentors. It deprives us of the opportunity to ask hard questions and engage in debate.  In short, it deprives us of a true education.

I know from firsthand experience that the message that one must choose between faith and accepted science is destructive. After graduating from a Christian college in which this was the prevailing attitude, I nearly lost my faith because I began to fear that being a Christian required checking my brain at the door and ignoring what this world has to teach us.

So on behalf of all the students who have yet to attend Christian colleges and seminaries, I urge administrators to think twice before creating monochromatic faculties and catering recruitment to one camp or the other.

Give young people the chance to wrestle with this issue. We want to talk about it. We want to hear a variety of perspectives. We want to ask questions. We don’t want to to choose between our faith and our intellectual integrity, but if we must, we want that decision to be ours—not yours, not our church’s, not our parent’s. We want an education, not indoctrination.

So, what kind of education did you receive regarding faith, science, Genesis, and evolutionary theory? What is your reaction to Bruce Waltke’s resignation?

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