Confessions Of An Evolving Baptist – By Nathan Hale

evolvingbaptist(H/T)

I will never forget the shock and confusion in my wife’s voice when I told her that I believed in evolution. I wasn’t ready to come out of the closet quite yet, but secret conversations about my belief in evolution were on the verge of being exposed and I knew I had to confess before she found out from someone else.

I could tell implications of such a statement passed like a whirlwind through her mind. She knew I had been struggling with the church and my faith for quite some time – but this?

I had not talked to her about it before. I was embarrassed and scared. How did I explain that it took embracing evolution before I found a faith that was real and meaningful?

I’m not interested in debating the specifics on why I’ve come to believe in evolution. I’m happy to talk about it, but it’s really not that important actually. The more important question is how I found my footing in the aftermath.

A year of honest inquiry left me with an overwhelming certainty about evolution and an overwhelming uncertainty about my faith. I was miserable. Everything I thought I knew was turned upside down.

I suddenly found myself dangling on the edge of the cliff holding on with one hand that was slipping. I could feel the crossroad quickly approaching – do I choose science or my faith?

Many Christians would point to my example as evidence of the damaging influence of secular science on the faith of believers. I don’t think so – at all.

In the midst of the chaos I stopped and asked myself a simple question – who said I had to choose and why?

That simple question sent me on a quest to understand the relationships between science and religion. I found myself wandering around in this magical place full of undiscovered treasures – the library. Four racks of books all devoted to various aspects of the larger dialogue between science and religion. Treasures left sitting on the racks untouched for 30-40 years.

I was surprised at some things I learned but it didn’t take long to uncover one truth – I do not have to choose.

I’ve been presented with (or perhaps internalized) a false dichotomy.

There has always been some level of tension. In the past however, this tension served to advance dialogue and promote thinking among both scientists and theologians.

What surprised me the most was learning the conflict between these seemingly opposing worldviews is a relatively recent one – the unholy progeny of the more recent culture war between Atheists and Christians.

Evolution has become a philosophical sword wielded by Atheists to strike at the heart of Christian truth claims. Christians on the other hand, have launched a counter offensive by emphasizing a literal reading of the scripture and developing their own scientific explanations for the biblical accounts of creation.

A long, complex, and mutually beneficial dialogue between science and religion reduced to an overly simplistic philosophical choice – a false dichotomy perpetuated.

I’m not buying it.

Being confronted with evolution may have been the catalyst for asking the difficult questions, but the real problem for me was not evolution – it was biblical literalism.

It was the attempts to read science back into the Bible and the ultimatum of believing the Bible is either entirely true or entirely false. That’s a damaging position I contend and has created as many Atheists/Agnostics as it has converts.

I have hurt some feelings with this statement in the past but I think my comments are largely misunderstood.

I’m not attempting to cast doubt on the authority of scripture – it’s simply a plea to better understand the complexity and richness of the text.

I believe the Bible is truth in what is teaches and is the primary authority for guiding the Christian life. In that sense I believe scripture is inerrant.

At the same time I also appreciate the complexity and origins of the text. The Bible is a complex library of history, law, poetry, wisdom, gospel, epistles, and apocalyptic literature – but it was written in a time, place, culture, and language that is not ours.

Those realities should be considered when reading the text.

Does that make it less relevant? No.

To appreciate the complexities of the text is not an insult to God or the Bible – quite the contrary. For me it fosters a deeper desire to understand and appreciate both.

I’ve come to realize there is another path on the crossroads of having to choose between science and faith. The path is less traveled and overgrown. It’s a path full of briars and thistles growing outward from the two more clear paths. It’s a difficult path to pass but an important one. A path that attempts to reconcile these seemingly opposing worldviews – the path I had to travel.

Reconciling evolution with my faith and gaining a better understanding of the Bible allowed me to grab the cliff’s edge with my second hand and pull myself to the top.

For reasons most will never understand that’s what it took for me to find a real, meaningful faith.

For the most part I’ve been content to keep my journey to myself. However, I recently had a moment of clarity during a very spirit filled communion service.

Even by conservative standards – the issue is not central to salvation.

It certainly poses some challenges and requires a thorough reading of the scriptures and some deep thought. But shouldn’t we be doing that anyway?

Why then, are we continually perpetuating the notion of having to choose between science and religion? Why is the utterance of the “E” word in Christian circles immediately met with condemnation and judgment? Why am I scared and embarrassed to talk openly about it?

I’ve come to realize that if I’m not open about my journey then I’m perpetuating a problem that almost caused me to let go of the cliff’s edge – and for no good reason.

 

Nathan is the husband to a beautiful wife, father to three wonderful children, researcher, teacher, and occasional writer/blogger. He can be found on Twitter at @evolvingbaptist.

 

  • michaelredmond

    “I will never forget the shock and confusion in my wife’s voice when I told her that I believed in evolution.” Evolution is not a matter of “belief.” It’s a matter of fact, a matter of evidence. Do we “believe” in gravity? That’s a theory, too, in the strict sense, that is, the sense in which scientists use it — a paradigm for understanding a complex range of phenomena. I do not believe in evolution. I accept that evolution is the best scientific explanation we have for the origin of species. That’s an intellectual proposition, not a faith proposition. This confusion of categories bedevils the thinking of many Christians.

    • Justin Mitchell

      You can still choose whether or not to believe that the evidence points to the proposed conclusion (or whether the evidence even exists!). In fact, if you don’t do the actual experiments and make the actual observations yourself then you are forced to either believe what you’ve read or not.

      I choose to “believe” in most of what is referred to as evolution, or natural selection, because there is such a large consensus among people with a lot more knowledge on the subject than me, just the same way I “believe” that all matter is made of tiny molecules, which are made of atoms, which are made of even smaller objects. I’ve never observed a single molecule before, or split an atom, but I’ve read that others have, and about what they saw and the conclusions they’ve drawn from that, so I believe them.

      Just because it’s a fact does not mean you have to believe it. It is still a choice to believe. Just ask Galileo…

      • michaelredmond

        “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” ~ Philip K. Dick. The fossil record, incomplete as it is, doesn’t go away. The findings of molecular biology do not go away. Etc. It seems to me, Justin, that if we pursue the line of epistemology you propose to its logical conclusion, we shall arrive at the proposition that the world doesn’t exist unless I believe it does. I’m just sayin’. Peace out.

        • Justin Mitchell

          What?
          I don’t think you read what I said at all.
          I didn’t say our beliefs alters reality. I said reality does not determine what we believe. Just because natural selection is an observed scientific fact does not mean people MUST believe it. If they are to believe it is a fact, they must choose to do so.

          Therefore it’s a valid statement to say “I believe in evolution.” It’s the same thing as saying “I have become convinced by the evidence presented to me about evolution that the conclusions are true.”. It’s especially valid in a society where this fact has been adamantly opposed for decades by a large, influential group. Many people have been raised since childhood being indoctrinated with the (usually sincere) belief that evolution is not a fact and oh by the way if you believe it is then you’re denying the whole Bible.

          • michaelredmond

            OK, Justin. You & I are just looking at different ends of the elephant. But I always challenge the word “belief” when used in conjunction with scientific findings. I’ve opened a lot of doors by replying, “No, I absolutely do not believe in evolution, anymore than I believe the theory of gravity.” All of a sudden the conversation gets serious.

  • Nathan Hale

    A bit of semantics perhaps but by “belief” I simply mean I allowed myself to embrace evolution as my prevailing paradigm for human origins – which wasn’t the case before.

    • William Brummett

      The only issue I have with evolutionist is origin. No matter how much “evidence”, I only use quotation marks because the scientific community only operates on the premise that evolution is fact without opening itself to any other possibility, is found to discuss how species developed into their current complexities; it never answers the question of origin. To answer the question of origin all operate on faith. My faith is in the Christian God and his Bible. I believe that all that all scientific fact is merely an observation of the universe that he set in motion. I don’t have a problem with us developing from a single organism over time, but I believe that the origin of that organism and the material of which it was made came about from God. So I am there with you on not having to choose between the faith and science. I don’t believe that science disproves the existence of God, but brings about an amazement of the world he has created for us.

      • michaelredmond

        Well, it has been said that the primary task of science is the “how” questions, not the “why” questions, e.g., Why is there something and not nothing? There’s an enormous range of “why” questions of paramount importance to human beings that science does not and probably cannot answer. Religion errs when it claims authority over scientific questions. Science errs when it claims authority over religious questions.

      • David

        Just because there is a gap in our scientific knowledge doesn’t mean that we (collective humanity) wont one day find the answer. There are quite a few scientists working on how life originated and yes as it stands they do not have an answer yet, but one day they might find that answer. I agree that scientists shouldn’t offer conjecture when they talk of origins (This is mainly done by TV documentaries), they should simply say that they don’t yet know. Not knowing how life originated doesn’t affect the validity of evolution however, so unfortunately I think for now anyway it is just one of those we will have to wait and see things.

    • Rick

      There is much confusion on this page about scientific theory. A theory has been demonstrated, challenged, and proven many times. A hypothesis is an untested idea. Theory means proven scientific fact, not wishy washy vague idea you can ignore because it’s uncomfortable. It can be overturned by a better theory (the true strength of science — it can admit it was wrong), but religious creationism isn’t capable if that. There are too many holes in that approach.

      Creationism is a religious hypothesis, not a scientific theory like gravity, antibiotic medicine, or DNA. If you’re going to reject the foundational theory of all modern biology, yet accept medical science, you’re cherry picking.

      • Glenn

        Speaking of holes note the statement by one Dr. A. H. Clark, a recognized scholar of the Smithsonian Institution, stated in ‘The New Evolution. Zoogenesis (jBaltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1930 Pg 539 . (yes I know that is some years back, but its true today) “No matter how far back we go in the fossil records of previous animal life upon the earth we find no trace of any animal for4ms which are intermediate between the varioous major groups of phyla—–The greatest groups of animal life do not merge into one another. They are and havfe been fixed from the beginning….No animals are known even from the earliest rocks which cannot at once be assigned to their proper phylum or major group.”
        “So we see that the fossil record, the actual history of the animal life on the earth, bears out the assumption that at its very first appearance animal life in its broader features was essentially the same as that in which we now know it….Thus, so far as concernsthe major groups of animals, the creationists deem to have the better of the argument. There is not the slightest evidence that any of the major groups arose from any other:”
        Mr. Clark is not alone. One might look up a statement by none other than Julian Huxley, a strong chamption of evolution. I’ll let the seeker look his statement up then gasp!!!! Look up ‘Evolution in Action, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953, pgs 41,42.
        There is no natural selection by the fact there is no fossils to show there were an untold number of changes to bring us to what is living today. If one would read Mr. Husley article one can see evolution is just a faith with scant evidence.
        One might also note the Lord Jesus Christ statement in Matthew 19:3-6. Jesus said to the Pharises “Have you not read” Wow!!! Jesus just gives His ok on something that was written. Surly it wasn’t something that some man thought up and wrote!!!! Also how was the women ‘made’?? And does the writting give a certain ‘DAY’ she was made??? Enough for now.

  • Sheep75

    This may not be the right question in this discussion, but I’ll ask it anyway. Maybe someone can point me in the right direction or to a website where this is discussed.

    My brain just can’t grasp what the implications of “believing in evolution” are when it comes to the concept of The Fall and original sin. I’m not sure anymore what exactly I think original sin is, but The Fall seems, to me, to be rather fundamental in the story of God and humanity and redemption.

    The idea behind The Fall is that the first humans sinned (and therefore we all etc.). I understand evolution to mean that everything evolved from one tiny organism. That means that it’s basically impossible to say when exactly humans came into existence. That means that it is impossible to say “these are the first humans, they sinned, and therefore we all etc.” I suppose it means we have different sets of “Adams and Eves”.

    Can someone please explain to me how you reconcile these concepts? If there is no “The Fall”, then how do we see original sin or even explain the fact that creation was good to begin with but isn’t anymore (I would say that’s a consequence of The Fall, but that doesn’t work if there is no Fall)? Maybe the question is: What went wrong?

    • Nathan Hale

      Those are great questions and are certainly one I grappled with for quite some time. For me it really came down to how I approached reading Genesis. I tend to focus on the theological truths embedded in the narrative – particularly in the context other creation stories of the time. A single God who created and sustains his creation, man reflecting God’s image, a broken relationship between God and man, and the need for reconciliation of that relationship. I understand that may not be a sufficient answer for everyone, but that how I approach the issue.
      This site has an abundant of material written by folks more qualified that I to address the specifics of those questions.

      http://biologos.org/
      A pretty approachable book on the subject “Creation or Evolution: Do we have to chose? by Dennis Alexander.

    • michaelredmond

      “The Bible was written to show how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go,” wrote St. Augustine of Hippo circa AD 500. In other words, early on thoughtful Christians understood that Genesis was not a science textbook. It does not address scientific issues — it teaches spiritual truths via literary modes that ancient people could grasp. Such as: God created the universe, the creation is good (it does not say “perfect”), human beings are special and endowed with moral agency, God has a special relationship with human beings, this relationship ruptures when human beings choose their own will over God’s, God seeks to repair this rupture, etc. Also, be aware that it was Augustine who thought up the doctrine of “original sin,” it’s one man’s theological interpretation, not crystal-clear apostolic teaching. For instance, the entire Eastern church — the Orthodox church, the “Greek” church, which dates back in unbroken continuity to apostolic times and has 300 million adherents worldwide today — has never accepted Augustine’s doctrine, which they view as a Roman teaching that got handed on to Protestantism. The point is, there’s divine mystery at work in the Genesis story. We see in part, we understand in part.

    • Rick

      Good question. Ultimately, if youre taking Genesis as history instead if myth, I think you have to ask why it’s just to curse an entire species for the act of two people. (It’s not. Even the Old Testament doesn’t make children pay for their parents’ crimes.) So, either God set us up for failure (why put the tree there to begin with?), or he’s unfathomably unfair, or… It’s a creation myth, told by primitive people to explain human nature. The only sensible perspective I can see is to take it as a myth, just like every other.

    • Mike

      So what happens if we remove The Fall? Does Genesis 3 really speak of a specific incident that I introduced sin and left all of us as sinners from conception? Or is that St Augustine’s interpretation? Irenaeus didn’t interpret it as a universal fall. Even in Romans 5, Paul says, “In the same way”. So what if we didn’t all Fall in Genesis 3, but rather the “experience” of this mythical couple is the same as all our experience, we all go down the same path. So Jesus death can be understood as substitutionary atonement, or as as a victorious example that we can overcome. See the Christus Victor theory on why Jesus died.

  • Robinson Mitchell

    Thanks for writing this eloquent description of your journey. You are not alone – many others, myself included, have had a similar journey of thought, faith, and experience.

  • Rick

    Very good stuff. Next thought: How can you recognize that the Bible is a complex document from other times and languages, yet still claim it inerrant? If you can’t fully understand it, calling it perfect is not sensible. You can call it beautiful, inspiring, maddening… but not inerrant. That assumes an understanding which, as you admitted, you don’t have.

  • Zed Pi

    Well done, Nathan, except one phrase that is really bothering: believing in evolution. Please, theory of evolution is a matter of facts and conclusions, not of belief. A better phrase could be: “accepting evolution”, or “advocating evolution” etc. Thanks, and no hard feelings.

  • theidiot

    As a Christian who also accepts evolution, I can see the problem here, with believing it’s merely questioning who said we have to decide.

    Accepting Evolution, requires a reimagining of the fundamental aspects of conservative and primarily evangelical Christianity, in regards to why did Jesus die?

    What does Atonement mean here?

    When I ask this of other Christians who do accept evolution, the response comes off as a haze, a sort of I haven’t thought that far into it.

    I understand that most theistic evolutionist will treat the Genesis account as poetic rather than literal, but it still begs the meaning of the whole thing.

    It requires a great deal of rethinking, and the result in most cases is an uncomfortable sense of ambiguity, which I think is an unbearable weight to carry, if you come from traditions that rested on theologies that appear more certain.

  • http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/ Russ Slater

    Welcome to the brotherhood! Went through the same thing about 2.5 years ago and glad for the changes. Have found a richer, more vibrant faith, and a God that is amazing. I too have been writing about my journey and have steadily been working through all kinds of theological issues connected with this faith change. Am reposting your story at the link below (with your permission!) to get the word out to other conflicted faith believers. All the best. – Russ – http://relevancy22.blogspot.com/2014/01/confessions-of-evolving-baptist.html

  • profX

    Nathan, thanks for putting into words what I and many others have gone through as we faced the false dichotomy that you described.

  • Ken Hamrick

    As a Baptist who holds to a literal interpretation, I wonder why both sides assume that evolution cannot be reconciled with a recent creation by fiat. God is just as capable of miraculously creating an “old” earth as a new one. God created Adam and Eve as physically mature adults and not as infants. He created mature, fruit-bearing trees for immediate food. “He made the stars also”—and made a universe with mature light-trails already existing so that the stars were already visible. All of these imply a time-consuming natural process that was well under way at the first moment of creation. God chose to create not at the beginning of these natural processes, but (seemingly) somewhere in the middle—as if these processes had been going on long before the moment of creation.

    Let’s say we accept for the sake of argument that the evolutionary hypothesis is true, as far as it goes. It still remains consonant with a recent fiat creation that God would supernaturally create (without a trace of evidence) a world already in process—even if that process is evolution. Just as the immediate visibility of the stars at creation can be seen as evidence of a natural process already in progress, the existence of evolutionary processes that were apparently in progress at the moment of creation provides no threat to the literal creationist view. That man evolved as the crowning achievement of a billions-of-years-long natural process, and that he was supernaturally created out of nothing around 6000 years ago, are perfectly compatible… if God “stepped into” that process right at the point where modern man would have evolved had God allowed everything to develop over billions of years, and created everything out of nothing at that point in the virtual chronology. In short, this proposes that God in creating the world also created a virtual past full of scientific processes that in themselves are capable of explaining all that exists—that indeed would have resulted in all that exists had God not chosen a recent creation by fiat.

    Ken Hamrick