I begin with a prayer that this article be received in the spirit in which it was intended. I do not intend to attack or criticize anyone, or to tell you what to believe about the historical details of God’s generous act of creating the cosmos in wisdom and love. I only share my personal story with hope that it may prevent my fellow-believers from causing the little ones to stumble. (Luke 17:1-4).
I am using the term Young-Earth Creationism to encompass a spectrum of well-developed philosophical systems in which the Creation story of Genesis 1-3 is interpreted as a literal historical series of events that took place approximately 10,000 years ago – a belief based on a literal reading of the genealogies in Genesis.
I was introduced to Young-Earth Creationism at a critical point of my spiritual development, and the philosophy became a defining feature of my early faith. I was in fifth grade, and a man with a Ph.D. in biology did a week-long seminar at our church in which he expounded Young-Earth Creationism. I was especially captivated by these presentations because the man talked a lot about one of my favorite topics – dinosaurs (for example, how they were created on Day 6, lived alongside humans, and traveled on Noah’s Ark).
This scientist began his lectures by teaching we should accept the “law of rationality.” The lecturer explained that we should only believe the things that can be proven by reason and science. He then purported, through a series of engrossing lessons, to explain how the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ, the global flood of Noah, and the young age of the earth could all be proven by reason and science. This was my first exposure to the cosmological, teleological, ontological, and moral arguments for the existence of God. Because all these theological/historical propositions can be proven by reason and science, the man argued, we should therefore believe.
I devoured those lectures. Commander Spock from Star Trek was my childhood hero, and the idea that my religion was completely logical and provable resonated to the core of my nerdy being. The scientist ran a publishing company that printed a Young-Earth Creationist magazine and sold books that promoted the view that Genesis 1-3 records literal historical events that happened a few thousand years ago. Many of these magazine articles and books attacked other creationists whose views were different (for example, those who thought the “days” in Genesis were not 24 hours long). By the time I graduated high school, I had a shelf-full of this company’s materials. I was proud of my rational “faith,” and that I was better-informed than all those geologists and biologists who operated under the delusions of evolution and an ancient earth.
Then I went to a conservative Christian University and earned two degrees in biblical studies. During these years, I systematically challenged my belief by seeking out books that took contrary positions. At first, I read book challenging my church’s doctrines. Near the end of my graduate studies, I moved on to reading books that challenged theism and Creationism.
One book, written by a well-known professional skeptic, hit me particularly hard. In the space of a few short pages, the author (at least to my mind) knocked the legs out from under the traditional arguments for the existence of God. The next morning I woke up an atheist.
You see, because I made the “law of rationality” (not my existential relationship with God) the foundation of my belief system, when I discovered, with perfect clarity to me, that God could not be scientifically proven, I was obligated to jettison my faith in God and everything that went with it.
It happened. Just. Like. That. Although I had been training for five years to be an evangelist or Bible teacher, instead I joined a rock band and got a job selling vacuum cleaners at Sears.
I am not trying to change your beliefs about the biblical creation story. All I am trying to say is that if we make a literal interpretation of Genesis a central, credal, aspect of our faith, we could be setting people up for problems. The age of the earth is not part of the Gospel. I absolutely love Genesis 1-3. I believe these passages contain critical truths about the nature of God, the meaning of life, our relationship to the earth, and the essence of being human. But I think it’s quite possible that the author of Genesis revealed these truths through an elaborate, inspired poetic metaphor rather through an account that is historically accurate according to modern standards.
After three years of atheism, agnosticism, and spiritual experimentation, I returned to a faith in God and Christ that was more experiential and robust than the intellectual faith of my youth. I discovered that faith is about trust and relationship, and not about achieving scientific and rational certainty. I’m doing fine, but I know there are others like me who fled Christianity because their churches required them to believe ancient stories their minds simply couldn’t accept as literally true. Don’t be dogmatic about the details Noah’s ark, the age of the Earth, and other ancient stories whose best and highest purpose is to instruct us to be righteous or to instill in our hearts certain feelings about God and mankind. Be dogmatic instead about the love of God, salvation through the cross of Christ, and the healing and empowerment that flourish in true Christian communities.
And what about the scientist-lecturer who so profoundly shaped my young faith? Years later, he resigned in disgrace when people found out he was having sex with the teenage boys that worked as interns for his publishing company. All the Creationism and Correct Doctrine in the world won’t make you a righteous and holy person. Only God’s indwelling Spirit can do that.
I reiterate: I am not saying you should not believe in Young-Earth Creationism. I am suggesting that we should not make it a central aspect of the Christian message or a requirement for fellowship. I fear that if we do so, we will repulse people who would otherwise be interested in coming to know the love of God, the salvation of Christ, and the transforming power of the Spirit. I hope this post was a blessing to you. If it rubbed you the wrong way, I’m sorry. Please enjoy instead this tyrannosaurus hug:
Bren Hughes (M.A., M.Div., J.D.), is a lawyer and former minister who blogs at BrenHughes.com and recently authored Heaven’s Muscle: Unleashing the Power of the Spirit Within You. If this post was meaningful, share it!