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A Dispatch from outside the Bible Belt (but en-route thereto)

I was raised in a “Young Earth Creationist” church. That is, it was taught as a matter of faith that (a) the earth was much younger than the evolutionists and atheists said, say some 6,000 to 10,000 years old; (b) Earth and its inhabitants were created in six 24 hour days, complete with something like the diversity of species we now witness in the world around us; (c) while we might observe “micro-evolutionary” change (say, for example, the effects of antibiotics upon bacterial populations), there has not been “macro-evolutionary” change; and that (d) human kind was most definitely not somehow related to monkeys. I fell under the tutelage of my preacher and other folks with PhD’s who had given their careers to apologetics and arguments against evolutionists. Of course they took aim, understandably so, at atheistic evolutionists. But they also drummed the drum of fear against theistic evolutionists, too. The logic, as I recall, generally went like this: (a) The Bible clearly teaches that the world was created in six literal days—“An evening and a morning...” (b) If we abandon this truth-claim, then we undercut the whole authority of the Bible. (c) If we undercut the authority of the Bible, then we have nothing to stand on, and all is lost.

I began reading Henry Morris as an eighth grader, exegeting the Hebrew word yom (translated “day” in Genesis 1), delivering sermons in my church (yes, I know that that in itself is frightening, regardless of the content) in which I employed my eighth-grade understanding of entropy and altruism as evidence against the evolutionists. I drove my eighth grade science teacher nearly to madness (though, truth be told, she had a rather short fuse anyway, and we did all enjoy lighting that fuse).

One day she returned our exam on which I had given, in response to the essay question, the answers she wanted, but had felt, in good conscience, compelled to point her toward a literal reading of the Genesis account. That nausea, that oh-my-it’s-hit-the-fan-now sickness roiled in my stomach and ran up my esophagus, reading her long one and a half page diatribe written in an angry, sprawling hand with blue ball point pen. She was, umm, unhappy.

That was about thirty-three years ago or so. As I write this I am en-route from Boston to Nashville, returning from a BioLogos conference, held on the campus of Gordon College. The BioLogos crowd is a fascinating one. I cannot speak for all the BioLogos folks, and if you want to look at their official statement of beliefs, click here. BioLogos itself began following the wide-reading of Francis Collins’ best-seller The Language of God. For those of you unfamiliar with Collins’ work, he was the lead scientist on the federal government’s human genome project, and is currently the head of the National Institutes of Health. He was in his early years an atheist and an evolutionist; after becoming a Christian, partly by means of reading C.S. Lewis, he maintained his convictions regarding the plausibility of evolutionary theory.

Collins tells this tale in The Language of God, and believes the animosity that creationists have propagated against the theory of evolution is not only bad science, but also bad theology. More, Collins believes that the creationists, even worse—who believe that they are defending Christianity against the onslaught of the evolutionists—are in fact doing great damage to the Christian faith. Anecdotal evidence: the recurring tale of young people raised in creationist churches who go to university and encounter overwhelming evidence supporting the theory of evolution, and then they are left to decide: must I choose my faith (and thereby lose my intellectual integrity), or must I choose the science (and thereby lose my faith)?

One of the things I often playfully, but quite seriously, say about Tokens is that we are all about “breaking down false dichotomies.” A dichotomy—insisting that we must choose between one of two options—may be true or false. There are, in fact, plenty of “yes or no” questions in the world. Is one married, or not? Is this living thing a mammal, or not? Such branches of division are helpful, and often necessary.

But one of the tasks of a good teacher, it seems to me, is helping folks identify false dichotomies, because a false dichotomy can lead to alienation and hostility that is altogether unnecessary. On the “fundamentalist Christian” side there often surfaces what I believe to be a false dichotomy: does one take the Bible seriously, or does one believe in evolution? And on the “new atheist” side there often surfaces another false dichotomy: is one a Christian, or a scientist?

Both these false dichotomies broke down in the BioLogos gathering. At least they did if my impressions were accurate: on the theological spectrum, these were mostly conservatives. That is, most of the professors, both scientists and theologians (with representatives from Calvin College, Wheaton College, Oral Roberts University, a number of Nazarene schools, and so forth) hold to a so-called “high-view of scripture.” Such a position insists that scripture is authoritative for the life of the church, and that it must be taken seriously and accepted humbly. And, like Collins, all these scientists and theologians accept the theory of evolution, too.

In forth-coming posts I shall be sharing more of what I learned; and I shall also share some fun news about an upcoming Tokens show episode.

Would be pleased to hear you converse here; but given the high level of emotions aroused by this topic, please do so respectfully.

[Part 2 available here.]

Lee C. Camp, Professor of Theology & Ethics at Lipscomb University, in Nashville, Tennessee, is the host of and the Dispatches from the Buckle Podcast, and the author of Who Is My Enemy?

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