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.
In fact, over the past few months I’ve been criticized by both Ken Ham (the Baptist behind the Creation Museum) and Hemant Mehta (the atheist behind the Friendly Atheist blog) for urging the evangelical community to adopt a more nuanced approach to the evolution/creation debate. Both wanted me to give something up — Ham, my belief in evolution; Mehta, my belief in God.
That’s because when it comes to science, atheists and Baptists have remarkably similar worldviews: both have arrived at the conclusion that accepting the science behind evolutionary theory will inevitably render Christianity extinct. As a result, one group has essentially made a religion out of naturalism, while the other has avoided serious consideration of the scientific data.
While not all Baptists are young earth creationists, one of their most esteemed leaders recently took a strong stand on the issue. Responding to criticisms that he misrepresented Charles Darwin in a June 19 speech at the Ligonier Ministries conference, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, declared on his blog that “the theory of evolution is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ even as it is in direct conflict with any faithful reading of the Scriptures.”
Mohler’s words were all too familiar to me. Growing up in the apologetics-driven evangelical subculture of the 80s and 90s, I spent most of my life convinced that that the theory of evolution had been concocted by godless scientists intent on undermining the authority of Scripture. We were locked in a battle with these “enemies of the faith,” I learned. Only one side could win, and if it wasn’t ours, the Christian faith would be lost.
This idea was reinforced at my Christian college, where one of the science professors liked to tell the story of how, as a sophomore in high school, he had dreams of becoming a scientist but could not reconcile the theory of evolution with the creation account found in Genesis. So one night, he took a pair of scissors and a newly-purchased Bible and began cutting out every verse he believed would have to be removed to believe in evolution. By the time he was finished, he said he couldn’t even lift the Bible without it falling apart. That was when he decided, “Either Scripture was true and evolution was wrong, or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible.”
That story had such a profound effect on me that when I left the evangelical bubble and began studying evolution on my own, I nearly lost my faith. From the fossil record and DNA sequences, to ice rings and biodiversity, I found the evidence in support of evolutionary theory compelling and reasonable…which according to both the atheists and the Baptists meant I could no longer follow Jesus.
What leaders like Mohler fail to realize is that they are setting young Christians up for failure. They are inadvertently orchestrating the very exodus that they fear. In presenting faith and science as a choice, the Baptists have essentially conceded that the atheists are right after all, and as a result they are losing some of the brightest young minds in Christendom to a false dichotomy.
Mohler would be wise to consider the words of St. Augustine, who (centuries before anyone had heard of common descent) said this of his interpretation of Genesis: “In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.”
By the grace of God, I found this quote before my faith completely fell apart. However, many of my peers did not. They believed the Baptists and the atheists and made the choice that their intellectual integrity demanded. They left the faith.
If Mohler wants to see a new generation of evangelicals survive to carry on the tradition, he’s got to stop presenting evolution as incompatible with Christianity. He’s got to make room in his theology for both an old earth and a loving God.
He’s got to stop agreeing with the atheists.