I mentioned in part 1 that my son’s loss of faith was a very upsetting event, but it did encourage me to be more open minded. I realized during this journey that I had intentionally closed my mind to any idea or thought that wasn’t in perfect harmony with my current beliefs.
Whenever we encounter information that conflicts with existing beliefs, our first reaction is to ignore it or disregard it. I came to realize that our psyche can’t stand internal inconsistency. It makes us incredibly uncomfortable. The mental stress we feel from holding contradictory beliefs can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, science and faith are often in a clash.
At this point (2010 – 2012), my faith was on shaky ground. But I decided that if God was truly the gracious and forgiving deity that the New Testament described, I could continue a sincere journey of doubt that would ultimately either renew my faith, or prove it to be pointless. I believed from my study of scripture that true faith could withstand anything. And as I shared before, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed”. So I ventured on.
Science vs. Religion
Science and Christianity have stayed in a battle. Curiously, there’s a typical pattern here. The Christian church eventually accepts scientific truths after enough time has passed. I was discovering how church leaders have regularly ridiculed and condemned scientists due to fear — fear that their religious beliefs were being contradicted. I learned about men like Galileo, Copernicus, Newton and Einstein who were either deeply ridiculed or condemned by the Christian church. Today however, their scientific advancements are taken for granted.
I asked myself: “Has science always been right?” Of course not, but I saw that their approach was to propose an idea; test it; analyze it; put it under peer review, and then discard what doesn’t pass the test and build on those ideas that do, regardless of any religious implication. Science teaches skepticism and it encourages curiosity. An important rule of scientific research is that “correlation is not causation”. When someone finds anecdotal evidence that might support a conclusion, the scientific method says to keep digging; keep searching. Don’t be satisfied with a simple early conclusion as it’s often utterly wrong.
I’d never stopped to consider how many fields of science we have developed over the years, which include: Thermodynamics, Electricity, Chemistry, Plate Tectonics, Cosmology, Astronomy,Microbiology, Virology, Germ Theory and Psychiatry (just to name a few). In contrast, religion takes the position that “it has all the answers” but as time has passed, I had to admit that most of humanity has abandoned some of the earlier religious beliefs such as: stoning (killing) a son for being rebellious; stoning a person for working on the Sabbath day or for committing adultery; banning women from speaking in church; the endorsement of slavery; killing those who engage in homosexuality; forcing a girl to marry her rapist, etc.
Regarding the past, it was fascinating to learn that people previously believed that the earth was a thick flat circle and that the heavens and stars were above us, but they also believed there was a layer (canopy) of water suspended overhead. It was believed that God lived on the outside of this dome-like-lid that covered the earth, much like a glass dome lid would cover a plate of food. Men also believed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that everything we could see in the night sky circled our planet. I learned that Copernicus was a scientist who declared that this wasn’t so. He postulated that the earth actually circled around the sun which the church considered a heresy. It was also believed that the earth was the only planet in the universe and any notion to the contrary was also considered heresy. The realizations of Copernicus came 1,500 years after Christ died, and the church denied it for still some 90 years later.
I learned that mankind used to believe that thunder and lightning came from the gods. Earthquakes occurred because God was angry. Rainbows were viewed as profoundly spiritual. Now we know, thanks to science, that a build up of electrical energy in the clouds is the source of lightning, which heats the air when it strikes, which is followed by the rapid contraction of air cooling back down. This movement of air makes the sound we call thunder. Our children now learn this basic teaching in elementary school. We also know that, thanks to the Hubble telescope, that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies which contain many many planets in each. We also know that rainbows are the result of light that splits into a beautiful spectrum of colors because different wavelengths of light travel at slightly different speeds when light passes through different mediums, such as water or thick prisms of glass.
In the field of medical treatment, I read how men used to practice bloodletting because they believed it would release evil spirits which they thought were the cause for illness. Early Christians believed that people who went into convulsions and foamed at the mouth were believed to be demon possessed, not realizing until medical science advanced that this was a disease called Epilepsy that is treatable. It’s only been a little over a 100 years ago that disease and germ theory was realized. In earlier days, people scoffed at the notion that invisible germs were invaders of the human body and thus were a common cause of illness. Today, we take these facts for granted and we treat many illnesses by combating those invisible germs with antibiotics and vaccines.
While pondering it all, it was sad to read stories of people refusing medical treatment because they believed it would be a sin against God to receive medical care. They saw it as a refusal to exercise their faith. But repeatedly, individuals who refused critical medical treatment remained ill or died. It is a heart-breaking refusal to accept science and common sense. It is especially awful when young children are the victims. [Edit: a news story broke in May 2014 of an 11 year old girl who, for mainly religious reasons, didn’t receive chemotherapy that is 90% effective in cases like hers’. In January 2015, we learned that she passed away. Equally troubling was a recent case (Nov 2014) involving parents found guilty of negligently causing the death of their 12-year-old daughter Syble who died from diabetic ketoacidosis. The parents believed it was a sin to see a doctor.]
The Big Bang
I didn’t struggle with the science of medical care or with astronomy per-say but I did struggle to accept the scientific conclusion about the vast age of our planet because it contradicted the Bible. It was time for me to stop thinking that God was an invisible trickster who had planted dinosaur bones to fool us, or that he had deceptively sped up the light from faraway stars in order to make us think that the universe was older. In other words, it was truly absurd for someone to believe that the earth and universe was young (< 10,000 years) while knowing that there are stars whose light took 8 million years to reach us. So after I reviewed the overwhelming scientific evidence about our cosmos, it was clear. Our universe is over 13.5 billion years old. It is universally accepted thanks to multiple lines of evidence which includes redshift, stellar evolution, cosmic background radiation and the convergence of several dating methods that put the age around 13.77 billion years. Another recent finding in 2014, named cosmic inflation, has even added to the validation, much like underlining a sentence.
During this research, I saw and appreciated how science worked in a peer review structure where scientists are in a constant hunt for truth. They are very willing to reject a previous view when the evidence is compelling. Truth matters. And the truth is that the age of the cosmos is measured in billions of years.
To put this incredibly long age into perspective (with thanks to Carl Sagan & Neil deGrasse Tyson), if we laid that long time span out over a simple 12 month calendar, the Big Bang would be January 1 on the calendar with each month representing about 1.1 billion years. Each day represents nearly 40 million years. With that scale, the earth formed around August 31. In this vast calendar of time, humans didn’t evolve until the last hour of the last day (December 31). Continuing the time scale, human beings only occupy the very last hour, and only in the last 30 seconds have cave-drawings by humans appeared. Our recorded human history occupies just the last 14 seconds of the last hour of December 31 (or 6,000 years ago). Moses was only born 7 seconds ago, and Jesus only 5 seconds ago. And only in the last second, has science unraveled the mysteries that allowed us to build telescopes, computers and rocket ships that took us to the moon.
The fossil record also made it clear to me that there have been many different lengthy ages (Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic) on our planet, spanning millions of years. There have been an immense number of species on earth during that enormous span of time. And sadly, I learned that well over 90% of species of life that once existed on our planet, no longer exist. It’s also incredibly telling to realize that we have fossilized remains for a vast majority of life forms on earth but we have not ever found any fossilized remains for homo sapiens. In other words, humans have simply just not existed long enough to become fossilized. But dinosaurs, beetles, and aquatic life have been around for millions of years.
The implications of all of this for me were enormous. The Bible teaches that God created the heavens and the earth in 6 literal days, which included all of the life forms on our planet. A clear study of the Hebrew text shows it cannot be interpreted in some other way other than 6 literal days. Thus the Bible teaches, as Ken Ham from “Answers from Genesis” steadfastly proclaims, that the earth is only 6,300 or so years old.
Science clearly contradicts this.
The Bible’s order of creation also fails to match with scientific evidence. It’s also illogical. Even the last book of the Bible, Revelation, makes a profound mistake by stating, “I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind.” (Rev 6:12-13).
From mankind’s primitive perspective long ago, the stars were considered to be these small twinkling lights, and thus it would have made sense to think of tiny stars being able to fall from the sky and land on earth. But today, science has revealed just how massive stars are – – they are far larger than our own planet. Stars are in their own fixed orbits of gravity, and the thought of enormous stars falling to the earth is a horribly ignorant thought.
So I wondered if Genesis should be read merely in a figurative or symbolic way? Many have tried to propose this but important parts of New Testament theology are based on the original sin of Adam and on the fall of mankind, which are key teachings in Genesis. Obviously, this was a significant problem. Belief in the Bible would be easier if God had written something more like: “In the beginning, a REALLY long time ago, God created matter of infinite density and caused it to explode, which eventually formed the galaxies, and eventually many planets, which includes the earth. He then set into motion the processes from which life eventually sprung…”, etc. But as we know, Genesis doesn’t read that way at all. Also troubling is that the account of creation in Genesis 1 vs. Genesis 2 is contradictory.
Nonetheless, I was willing to set those enormous issues aside while I continued my journey. But another controversial science was deeply connected.
I had personally opposed the theory of evolution for most of my life. I opposed it, not because the science was faulty, but because the religious implications were profound and I assumed that the theory of Evolution came from the pit of hell. Thus I didn’t want to believe it. I clearly had a bias. So I held to the usual Christian arguments against evolution and I ridiculed it with phrases like “from goo, to you, by way of the zoo!” and I questioned its validity due to what I thought were a lack of transitional species. I accused the theory of being “all about chance” (which it is not). But I really didn’t truly understand Natural Selection or the science behind evolution. I had to study it. And I was deeply disappointed to find that my Christian church leaders had deliberately hid the truth about the science of evolution. They routinely built straw man arguments to condemn it rather than be honest about the validity of the science. They felt that the ends justified the means even if it was dishonest.
Several years ago, I made a trip to the Smithsonian Natural History museum with Renee. The visit was rather overwhelming because I wanted to believe that the displays of evidence presented at the history museum were fabricated or exaggerated (e.g., faulty carbon dating methods). I still remember the emotions of that visit because it was one of the few times I had a strong disagreement with Renee because of evolutionary thought. But during that visit, I reached a point where my mouth was shut. Hard. The ancient human fossil record was so abundant as to be overwhelming. Later, when I studied the science, I learned that DNA sequencing of ancient human fossils has helped confirm our slow, gradual evolution. After learning about natural selection, I concluded that I’d have to be a stubborn ignorant fool to continue and reject it, just like those who thought the earth was flat, or like those who rejected germ theory as silly, or like those who thought bloodletting was a sound medical practice.
I wanted to deny the science, but oddly, my own tail bone that often hurts was a painful prod to my beliefs. I learned that the human vestigial tail (the coccyx) is prominently present for a period of 4 weeks during the embryonic growth of a baby in the womb, and then it shrinks but doesn’t go away completely. For some of us, our tail bone can be a source of pain or discomfort in life. We have other vestiges of body organs that are evolutionary remnants from the past too like our wisdom teeth and appendix. I grew up believing that “we are fearfully and wonderfully made” by God, except we have some strange remnant parts that aren’t needed and there seems to have been a mistake in the placement of a recreational area that is too closely located to a waste management facility.
During my research, I also considered our canine friends: dogs. In a relatively short time, (< 15,000 years), we have played part in our own artificial selection process that turned wolves into the incredible variety of dogs that we now have. This too spoke of the power of evolutionary change.
Another fascinating discovery was also rather amusing. I stumbled on an interesting study about Vervet monkeys who had gotten transplanted to a tropical Caribbean island 300 years ago, and these Vervets demonstrated quite a taste for alcoholic beverages which they would steal from tourists who were napping on the beach. The study found that a certain percentage of monkeys (like humans), would do anything to get some alcohol. Others were teetotalers who rejected alcohol in favor of soda and fruity drinks. And then there were those who indulged just some (the moderate monkey drinkers). The kicker? The various percentages lined up with humans in that 12% were steady drinkers, and 5% would drink to the last drop (hiccup!). The human parallels were fascinating, and pointed clearly to an evolutionary connection.
At this point of my life, I realized that there were multiple lines of scientific investigation which corroborated and arrived at harmonious conclusions. Biology, geology, anthropology, paleontology, epidemiology, anatomy, physiology, astronomy, physics, and chemistry — there is amazing harmony in what each field of science reveals, and even the study of the human genome reads like a diary of the origins of life on our planet. As a result of my studies, I finally accepted that we are the product of very slow, gradual, evolutionary changes which began a very, very long time ago.
Admittedly, these and many other realizations put me in cognitive dissonance. I felt incredibly unsettled! The anxiety was overwhelming at times. I had been rationalizing troubling aspects of the Bible for a long time. My faith had always been so strong. Now it felt like a frayed string at the end of a tapestry that I started to pull. My former beautiful tapestry was turning into a big pile of string. One of my coping methods was a document I created that had two columns in it. In my first column, I listed reasons why I believed in God. In the second column, I listed reasons why I didn’t believe. I tried hard to add to the first column but instead, the second column grew longer and longer.
I decided to return focus to my love of the Bible and theology. I was going to tackle the tough questions regarding Christianity.
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