Sunday, 3 January 2016

From YEC to evolutionary creationist - Brad Kramer shows how a new generation accepts evolution

The ease with which people can access factual, authoritative material on evolution and the age of the Earth means that YEC will eventually die. Truth cannot be suppressed forever. Evidence of a generational shift reflecting this can be seen in the opinion polls that show a majority of young people in America now accepts evolution. Not only will our community have to accept the fact that any preaching campaign based on attacking evolution and promoting YEC is going to fall flat as the target audience will rightly dismiss such attacks as ignorant and uninformed, it will also need to recognise that this generational shift is, and will be reflected in our community. Attacking those who are the future of our community is not a smart move.

While the cynic would regard the heavy YEC indoctrination in conservative Christian denominations - including sadly our community - as too much to overcome, the evidence of YECs abandoning science denialism and embracing both faith and science, though anecdotal, is becoming hard to dismiss as an aberration. It would appear that positive change is coming. The example of Brad Kramer, managing editor at Biologos provides an excellent case study for how someone thoroughly inculcated in the YEC evangelical world can not only escape, but maintain a robust Christian faith while accepting evolution and work to ensure that this example becomes not a curiosity but normative.

Kramer's example is featured in a Slate article by editorial assistant Rachel Gross, "How an Evangelical Creationist Accepted Evolution". Kramer, a  home-schooled son of an evangelical pastor, grew up in a YEC world in which while he was unaware of the considerable evidence for evolution, nonetheless regarded evolution and Christianity as mutually exclusive.

Things began changing after a friend with whom he was debating evolution referred him to sources of information on evolution outside of the usual YEC world, evidence which he found both troubling and hard to refute:
Kramer felt sick. “That’s when things got kind of messy,” he says. For about six months, he left his church and began questioning his faith. While he never fully embraced atheism, he experimented with being agnostic, trying to reconcile the puzzle pieces in his head. But despite his doubts, in the end there were just too many compelling reasons to come back: He liked his faith, his community, and, OK, also a girl in his youth group. “I kind of hobbled back to my faith,” he says. “Evangelicals were my tribe. And it’s kind of hard to let go of something.”
Gross notes that Kramer's rejection of evolution was no longer unyielding, but soft. This rejection of the doctrinaire, absolutist position on evolution that characterises previous generations of fundamentalists is something that as Gross writes has been noted by a number of people such as Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS’ Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, and Aaron Smith former chair of theology at Colorado State University.  Of course, the old guard is hardly welcoming this change, as evidenced by Smith's removal from his position (despite his popularity with the students), but as Smith notes, change is inevitable:
Given his experience, “I’m reticent to say everything’s going to change,” says Smith, who is currently at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “But I do think change is coming. How could it not? As one generation supplants itself and trends keep going in the way they’re going.”
Critical in Kramer's eventual acceptance of evolution was Francis Collins' book The Language of God:
After reading The Language of God, “I had this epiphany moment,” Kramer says. “I realized that, as evangelicals, we love getting God out of the boxes he’s put in. We want a God that’s super big and powerful and sovereign and can’t be constrained by any human limits. And then I realized with kind of a shock that all the perspectives of my childhood were very much putting God inside of a box. I realized: Why couldn’t he have created through evolution? Isn’t that beautiful too? Who are we to say he can’t create in all these other ways?”
Kramer's example in my experience serves as a microcosm of what is happening across the Christian world - including our community - where a new generation, despite being heavily indoctrinated with fundamentalism and science denialism is now coming to accept both the fact of evolution, and the reality that it is simply not a theological issue. Given the incredible damage to faith that crass, poorly-informed attacks on evolution do to the image and reputation of Christianity, the sooner this change happens, and such attacks cease, the better. As Kramer puts it in a 2009 article for Patrol:
That creationists attack the science more fervently than the dogma is baffling. To borrow an analogy from Howard Van Till, a theistic evolutionist: when Copernicus suggested the earth revolved around the sun, pagan sun worship made a brief comeback in Europe. The religious establishment took this as further license to demonize the heliocentric theory, and support the silly, unscientific, and unbiblical idea that the earth is the center of the universe. But the real target should never have been heliocentrism, but instead heliotheism. By confusing these two, the church did great damage to Christianity’s reputation. I fear we are making the same mistake with evolution.
Given that 2015 was marked by such ill-considered anti-evolution attacks such as the recently completed series of articles in The Christadelphian and the Coventry Creation Day, this is alas very much a live issue for our community. The sooner our community sees more people like Brad Kramer the better.