Wednesday, 15 April 2015

How science shook the faith of a YEC - for the better

Arguably the most pernicious aspect of young earth creationism is that it is one of the best ways to generate atheists. When you elevate denial of an ancient Earth and common descent to the status of inspired scripture, and demonise the reasoned, intelligent examination of the natural world by calling it the "wisdom of the world", you end up creating a generation of believers who when they enter the real world and discover the reality of evolution and an ancient Earth will take their faith tradition at its world when it says that one must choose between science or religion, and abandon their faith. As Jesus noted in Mark 9:42, anyone who causes a young one to stumble is placing themselves in a less than comfortable spot.

Thankfully, as I have noted previously, not every young person moves from indoctrinated YEC to embittered atheist as a result of discovering that YEC is poor science and even worse theology. A recent BioLogos blog post carries the deeply encouraging story of Connor Mooneyhan, a young man who grew up in a YEC world, but managed to survive the crisis of faith that inevitably comes when intelligent young people eventually confront the evidence that YEC reality denialists desperately try to hide from their flock. As similar crises of faith do occur in our community, these anecdotes show why ECACP and other similar Christadelphian sites serve a valuable role in our community, one that has been shamefully neglected by magazines such as The Christadelphian which as I have shown peddle science denialism and fundamentalism, and thereby contribute to such future crises of faith.

Mooneyhan writes:
I have always attended Christian schools. I went to preschool at a church in town and ever since then, I have been at the same Christian school. At this school, I was taught to affirm a young-earth creationist view. When my high school biology class covered the subject of evolution, we all did individual projects on different aspects of evolutionary theory. I researched sexual selection. As I was studying it, I realized that all of the mechanisms I was reading about made sense. But, I was determined that this only applied to microevolution, since I had been taught that the Bible said that the Earth was 6,000 years old and that the Bible is the ultimate authority.  
After we had done our projects, we watched the infamous Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate. We were asked by our teacher to take notes on what both sides were saying, as it was important that we know the arguments on both sides. As we were watching it, if Nye would say something about the “fact of evolution” or any other such claim, my class would vocalize their disagreement harshly, yelling things like “you idiot!” I couldn’t stand it! Although at that point I still agreed with Ham’s point of view, I was slowly being driven away from it —not because I agreed with Nye, but because I felt bad for the verbal abuse his side was receiving. So, as I continued to listen to him speak, I realized that Nye’s ideas were not as crazy as they originally seemed to me. But I had to remind myself that no matter what anyone says, evolution and the Big Bang did not happen because God says so. (Emphasis mine)
Two things stand out from Mooneyhan's comment. The first is that perceptive young people who really study the evidence for evolution will quickly realise how powerful it is. [1] The second is that the characteristic YEC tactic of substituting character assassination, abuse, and lies for reasoned discussion achieves the opposite effect of alienating the perceptive young person, and making them more receptive to the EC position. 

Mooneyhan continued by noting how after researching the Big Bang he was "overwhelmed by the strength of the evidence [and at] this point, I was convinced that the Big Bang theory must be true." Unsurprisingly, given that the YEC worldview posits a false dichotomy between science and Bible, Mooneyhan felt that he "had to choose between believing what God says in Genesis 1 and affirming the Big Bang", and after a classroom exchange on the Big Bang with his fundamentalist teacher, he felt that "this exchange made me realize that my faith was beginning to come apart at the seams."

This is unfortunately exactly how the bright young fundamentalist loses their faith: a completely unsustainable view of the universe driven by a fundamentalist perversion of the Biblical text meets the evidence that falsifies it, and because the young person has been told that the only permissible reading of the Bible is a literal one, the verification of scientific claims about origins translates automatically to a falsification of the Bible:
During that time, I had begun to wonder about the theory of evolution again. I realized that if the Big Bang really happened, it wouldn’t make sense for God to create the universe over a long stretch of time and then just plop all the animals and humans on the Earth afterwards. But I began to realize the theological difficulties associated with evolution. Didn’t the Bible say that there was no death before Adam? Weren’t Adam and Eve the first humans? Aren’t humans made in the image of God? These questions plagued my mind. I was convinced that the Bible was incompatible with science and therefore that the Bible was not completely true. And, if it wasn’t true in one part, how can I know if anything else in it is true? This drove me to disbelief in God. He just didn’t seem necessary anymore. (Emphasis mine)
Mooneyhan's story thankfully did not end in a collapse of faith, with BioLogos being pivotal in showing him that a rational reading of both nature and the Bible are not in conflict:
In the back of my mind, however, was a hope for some way to reconcile the Bible with science. I decided that I would search the Internet for answers, and if I couldn’t find any, I would be done with God forever. So I searched, and I found BioLogos. They addressed all of my questions, showing a respect for the Bible’s authority and the findings of science—even related to evolution. I was so excited that I didn’t have to choose between science and God that I devoured the site for weeks. Eventually, I recovered my faith in God, as well as being better educated about the science of evolution. The more I learn about evolution, the more I just wanted to praise God for his magnificent creation. Sometimes when I am studying evolution, I take a step back and worship my Lord because I am so in awe.
Amen to that.


1. Conversely, the YEC who proudly claims to have spent two years studying highly technical subjects such as paleoanthropology and population genetics but nonetheless maintains that evolution is false is merely shouting to an informed audience that he has spent two years failing to understand both subjects at their most elementary levels. Given the potential for humiliation when those more knowledgeable expose their profound ignorance, a discreet silence and the humility to listen to those who actually know something about the subject would be the more prudent option.