Friday, 31 March 2017

How Fundamentalism and YEC fails the next generation - notes from the BioLogos 2017 Conference

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the 2017 BioLogos Conference in Houston, so Heather Goodman's live blog feed will have to do instead. Certainly, with scholars of the calibre of Tom Wright, John Walton, and Scott McKnight, one hopes that a video or print record of the conference will eventually see the light of the day.

While the live blog gives a taste of some of the highlights of the conference, sadly, it has provided a few reminders of the corrosive effect evolution denialism, virulent opposition to science and a "our way or the highway" approach from fundamentalists / YECs has on the next generation.

First the good points. From the much-maligned Millennial generation comes the good news that despite the opposition and obstacles placed in their way by an older generation, not all of them have left the faith, and are well on the way to showing how one can both accept the fact of evolution and maintain a sincere Christian faith. (All quotes are from Heather Goodman's live blog feed):

David - program manager - planned this conference.  New Biologos staff member (early october)  Used to work at the AAAS - largest science organization in the USA.   Did his undergrad at Bob Jones University!  Grew up in a conservative family.     He said that his fellow christians encouraged him to become a scientist to argue against evolution.   Shares about a friend of his who grew up with him and then became an atheist - his friend said he was asking skeptical questions and was discouraged in the church, but being curious and skeptical was encouraged in the science world.   Says the church sometimes labels topics as nonsense and not worth pursuing.
Brad Kramer - managing editor at Biologos - homeschooled preacher's kid. His narrative: Grew up near Philly, would go to science museums, his aunt did fun things with DNA - he says he's always been terrible at science even though he loved it.  His family thought science was a great thing, but saw everything through the lens of a conflict between "science and secularism."   When they would go to a museum his mom would follow them around saying, "now remember, this isn't what the Bible says..."  They believed the secularists were trying to attack Christianity, and the christian culture warriors were trying to defend Christianity.
Then he went to a public high school and met friends that weren't Christians and thought evolution was cool - and kept them in unbelief and skepticism.   He assumed he could convince them things about fossils and irreducible complexity but it didn't work out that way.  He realized that evolution was not, "obviously false" and he had been taught that common sense dictated evolution was obviously stupid and false - this was a shock to him and he looked back at his childhood and saw the framework of "Christianity vs. Evolution" and saw that it didn't make sense.  He went through a crisis of realizing he couldn't trust his religious community to tell him the truth about things.  
In college he met Francis Collins and the "sun broke through the clouds" and things started making sense.  He also met Tim Keller and appreciated the gift he gave him about how Christians should relate to secular society (what he calls a more nuanced viewpoint.)  
He went to his church and asked to teach a Sunday school class about various perspectives on origins and said he wasn't trying to convince anyone of anything, just share different perspectives.   And elder asked him, "if you died tonight would you know where you would go?"  He said it's an example of how far we have to go that his entire salvation was questioned over this.  
He says Francis Collins shattered the paradigm of the "cultural universe" that only skeptics and nonbelievers accept evolution.   He says isolation from other perspectives caused him a lot of turmoil growing up.
Kathryn Applegate:  Grew up in a Christian home.  Her grandfather was an oceanographer.   It was always clear to her she would go into science.  But as a young person she was really interested in the Bible, but she sensed "something in the air" - tension - areas of science that you're not supposed to go into.   She got a math degree.   She put in a pitch for girls to go into math and science.   She took a Bible survey course her freshman year of college and had 1000 questions - nature of biblical authority, inspiration, etc and had nowhere to go with those questions.   She avoided upper level biology courses so she wouldn't have to deal with evolution - believed evolution was a ploy of the devil that would draw her away from her faith. 
She ended up finding mentors that helped her - but people in church would seem weird to her when they would find out she was a scientist.   Someone in her church pulled her aside when she posted an article about evolution - told her she's not her sister in Christ if she believes that.  She said, "We need to get coffee - I need to understand where you're coming from" and while their positions didn't change, she believes they found common ground. 
That's the good news from the live blog. Now for the not so good news. Sociologist Elaine Howard Eckley comments on the perception that science is a major cause of unbelief:
Myth: Science is the major cause of unbelief
61% of scientists say that science has had no effect on their religious beliefs.   Some have said it has made them MORE religious.  
A narrative that comes out most often among scientists who were Christians and become nonreligious is that they say that religion has let them down.  An example is a scientist who had a lot of hard questions as a child and was told by her youth leaders she should just accept things on faith and not ask these hard questions.  Being told not to ask questions was what turned her away from faith - she said that religion was a way to judge people who ask hard questions. (Bold italic emphasis mine)
This comment touched a nerve with me as I have seen exactly this behaviour in our community, where those who ask hard questions about science and the Bible are told to 'have faith' or are less than subtly attacked for asking those questions by being by authority figures who claim that they are willing to listen to concerns that those questions 'don't particularly interest' them. If you want to drive away a young person with questions who can see through the less than convincing fundamentalist responses. then sadly this is exactly how it is done.

Finally, this distressing comment from a young biologist who found that when she was finally honest about her profession, she was verbally attacked:
From the Q&A session:
April - says the church has not been a pleasant place for her as a biologist.  For a while she hid her acceptance of evolution and biology.   She went to two nondenominational churches and hid her beliefs.   When she did start talking, a woman told her she was promoting satan's agenda and yelled at her.   She says she has experienced faith communities as mean and unloving so she doesn't currently have a faith community.   (sympathetic clapping) (Bold italic emphasis mine)
Any community that forces professional people - I stress we are talking about educated professional people who know what they are talking about and are not 'deluded by the world' - to remain silent or face abuse and expulsion not only is failing miserably to show the love of Christ to its fellow believers, let alone the world, but will only have itself to blame if it loses the next generation and collapses into an ageing irrelevancy.