Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Evolution and the Gospel: From Enemy to Harmony

I never get tired of reading anecdotes from ex-YECs who escape fundamentalism but manage to avoid sliding into atheism as they show that contrary to what YECs allege, rejecting fundamentalism does not result in loss of faith. For a community as thoroughly enmeshed in fundamentalism as ours is, this is good news indeed. Plant physiologist Keith Furman, writing at BioLogos notes how he managed to travel from YEC to OEC and then EC; he now maintains a website The Gospel and Evolution where he aims to show that faith in Christ and acceptance of the fact of evolution are not mutually exclusive.

Furman's story resonates with me as we both passed through similar phases: YEC to OEC, and then eventually to EC. In particular, his comment about "closer similarities in protein amino acid sequences between closely related species" could be explained "by God reusing certain features in each act of creation" being how he explained away non-palaeontological evidence for evolution is pretty much the same one I used when first encountering the evidence.

Whereas I was convinced by shared genomic 'mistakes' such as ERV elements and pseudogenes, Furman, while teaching a home-school science class, found that he could see how the allegedly irreducibly complex Venus flytrap could evolve:
It wasn’t until 2009 that I first questioned ID theory. I was teaching a unit on evolution and ID theory in my son's homeschool co-op class at the high school level, and we were watching the course’s video on typical examples of irreducible complexity. But, as I considered each example, I unnervingly began to imagine one or more ways that each could have evolved through gradual adaptive steps.

 Image of Venus Flytrap: By I, KaiMartin, CC BY-SA 3.0
“Okay, what about the Venus flytrap—that one bothered Darwin,” I reassured myself. A quick internet search turned up a logical sequence for the gradual evolution of the Venus flytrap, backed by new molecular genetic evidence (here and here). Now I really was unnerved.
Furman's Damascus Road experience came when he read Francis Collins' "The Language of God" and in one weekend rejected evolution denialism:
Despite the initial shock, the agony of defeat, and the torrent of conflicting pain, thoughts, fears, joys, wonder, and questions, I was still utterly convinced that nothing in life makes sense except in the light of the Gospel. I was confident that both the Gospel and evolution must, therefore, be true. I was on the threshold of far better perspectives.
Unsurprisingly, his fellow Christians - those whom one would expect would be his greatest source of support and help were less than helpful:
Unfortunately, my friends at church didn’t share my enthusiasm. He showed pastoral concern, but I think the dean of our church-run pastor’s college must have almost had an aneurism when I told him I now accepted evolution. I was sternly warned that I was on the edge of theological compromise. Another pastor (not from our church) told my wife that I would probably end up an atheist and leave her. Even though my wife and children have been supportive throughout this journey, these comments and conversations have been hurtful and unhelpful—to say the least. 
The good news is of course that Furman remains a committed Christian who has the intellectual honesty to accept this ancient, evolving world as it is, not as dogma insists it should be, and is motivated enough to spread that message.


For the two or three people that still read this blog, I have taken a leave of absence for a few months due to major depression (as Schiller said, mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergeben, but it eventually grinds you down), the realisation that as I have refuted every single creationist argument repeatedly, further posting is redundant, and the welcome digression into far more interesting subjects such as early Israelite religion, ancient Near Eastern studies, and Second Temple Judaism. I've recently returned to the Facebook page, but posts here will be sporadic, unless a new class of special creationist argument emerges, a contingency which I suspect for which I suspect I will never need to prepare.