Thursday, June 25, 2009


When Young Earth Creationist Christians discover the overwhelming evidence for evolution, it can result in a crisis of faith. This sad reality is not the fault of good science. It is the fault of an illusion of reality fostered by YEC teaching. 

Merrium-Webster defines Disillusion as "to free from illusion; also, to cause to lose naive faith and trust." Such disillusionment is the experience of many believers as they come to accept evolution. YEC teachers emphatically claim their teaching to be absolutely essential and foundational to Christianity; thus it is not surprising that stepping away from it can feel so perilous. 
Earlier this week, a former Young Earth Creationist (whom I've never met) sent an email briefly describing his faith struggle. Because I thought other readers may deal with similar issues, I asked for and he granted permission for me to post our email exchange, which follows:

Hi Cliff, 

I was young earth creationist and I had couple questions about how you deal with certain issues. If nature can prove everything, morality, existence, and things like religion are we just being delusional believing in God?  We could just be lucky SOB's.  I hope not because frankly belief in God is the only thing keeping me from nihilism.  I want desperately to believe in God, but if nature doesn't point to God then I'm having a hard time believing.


Anyway, thanks for your time



I am with you ... without God in my reality, nihilism is the only alternative. But God is very much at the center of my worldview. My view of reality would take way too much time and space for an email response. But I'll try to give you a taste. You can find fuller explanations in the various articles on my blog. 

I do believe that nature can explain most of our reality. I believe that God is generally non-interventionist, because his purposes are being fulfilled as nature plays out its course. His intervention in the affairs of men are in response to people of faith, who invite it. That is the essence of the prayer Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. 

While I agree that there are evidences that altruism and some morality have developed through evolution, Dawkins is far too overreaching in his optimism that evolution will explain all. You mentioned nature explaining existence. In my view, it does not. I see no way that evolution will ever answer the ultimate question of why anything exists at all. "Why is there something instead of nothing?" is a question that for me only has one answer: a Creator God! 

On my blog you can find a post entitled "Reasons for My Belief (full essay)" (Scroll down to "OTHER POSTS OF INTEREST" and you will find the link about midway in the list.) I offer five of the most compelling reasons for my faith in God. Perhaps you will find them helpful.

Nate, I must tell you that since I accepted the findings of science in regard to cosmic and biological evolution, I have found many answers to difficult questions about God and reality. The truths revealed in the cosmos, the fossil record, and our own DNA may at first be jarring to Christian faith. But when we stop resisting these truths, and begin the work of combining them with the revealed truths in the Bible, the exciting journey toward a fuller understanding of truth begins. And I am jazzed about that journey. Life and reality have never made more sense to me than they do now! I encourage you to keep asking questions, keep searching for truth, and do not abandon you belief in God! You will be rewarded!

Stay in touch!



Thanks for your time. I will read your more of your stuff.  I just needed some encouragement to keep going in my faith. 



Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“Two Categories” Revisited

... A follow-up to my earlier post on the Two Categories of Beliefs and Opinions. First, I want to thank you who responded with comments and suggestions. You were all very helpful to me.

You may recall my thesis: some opinions and beliefs are based upon choice, while others are based upon evidence and reason; and that it is easier to adjust or alter those beliefs based upon evidence than those beliefs which are merely chosen sans evidence. This realization was somewhat counter-intuitive for me; and on a practical level, it has helped me to better understand my own struggle to influence the opinions of many friends.

Several of my readers confirmed the thesis in their comments:

I must agree with your position: to the extent that beliefs are credos not resulting from rational inquiry, to that same extent rational arguments will fail to dissuade. (Steve Douglas)

Yes you are demonstrably spot on. Evidence based beliefs change with the evidence. (Psiloiordinay)

Regarding the types of belief, when an opinion is choice and really not built on evidence at all, it is no wonder that evidence-based arguments are ignored or poorly received.  (Tom)

 And finally, this observation from Vance:

I struggle with the same issues and have come to the same conclusion—that this is a belief-based issue for the vast majority of the people that hold to YEC or anti-evolution beliefs

As I have continued to reflect upon these ideas, I was led to a corollary observation. Perhaps for some of you, this has been obvious all along. Be patient with me! I’m still a little slow on the uptake. Here is the observation:

Evangelical Christians who have made the shift from Creationism to Evolution are, in almost all cases, people who were deeply into "creation science", so-called. That is to say that these individuals (of whom I am one) were once upon a time convinced of creationism, and their opinion was not merely driven by choice. They placed a high value upon what they considered to be the evidence for a young earth, a young cosmos, and the special creation of species. This is true of my internet friends including Steve Martin, Gordon Glover, Chris Tilling, Mike Beidler, Steve Douglas, and no doubt many others. 

We were all Young Earth Creationists. Early on, our opinions may have been founded upon a choice to believe what we then understood the Bible to teach. But we went beyond mere chosen belief, and sought evidence to support our convictions. Thus, we came to base our Young Earth Creationism upon what we considered to be good evidence and reasoning. We understood the case for YEC quite well, in most cases far better than our Christian friends. And so, when we discovered the superiority of evidence supporting an ancient cosmos, and the evolutionary rise of life on earth, we found the shift relatively easy. As Psi points out, “Evidence based beliefs change with the evidence.”

This process, common to many of us, is documented well in Mike Beidler's excellent personal history, "The Creation of an Evolutionist" which begins with his first post.

But our friends, who may not understand the science supporting YEC nearly so well, will find it much more difficult to accept the notion of evolution. As Tom put it, “when an opinion is choice and really not built on evidence at all, it is no wonder that evidence-based arguments are ignored or poorly received.”

And if Vance is correct, that the "vast majority" of those who still cling to YEC do so on the basis of choice, then we may be in for a very long wait, as Vance goes on to suggest: “Regarding the inevitable paradigm shift, I think this will almost be a generational style transition, way slower than I would like.”

Indeed, a high percentage of my Christian friends who are finding evolution compatible with their faith are under 30.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The False Dilemma

Calvin's unique beverage stand will succeed only to the degree that folks buy into the false dilemma: Either you drink my brew, or you pay me $1.00. Of course, there is a third choice: just walk away. "The informal fallacy of false dilemma (also called false dichotomy, the either-or fallacy)," says Wikipedia, "involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are other options. Closely related are failing to consider a range of options and the tendency to think in extremes, called black-and-white thinking."

It seems just such a false dilemma has firmly entrenched itself in American Conservative Christianity. Only two choices are presented from many pulpits: Either we evolved and there is no God, or God created each species.

People who sat under my teaching over the years know that I did not always subscribe to evolutionary theory.  For most of my life, I was convinced that the earth was young, and that God created each species of life by direct fiat. I was a subscriber to ICR publications, and read everything supporting Young Earth theory I could find. And, I taught Young  Earth Creationism in our church fellowship. Many of the young people who came through our fellowship have since gone on to university. There they encounter evidence that overwhelmingly supports the widely accepted theories of evolution. Hopefully these young people are not caught up in the irresolvable and false dilemma that Vance referred to in the comment thread of my previous post, in which he wrote,
“... kids being brought up in the church get the message that they need to choose God or choose science. Even if they are exposed to YEC 'science' they are still going to get massive exposure to the alternate view. It’s great that people have worked hard to create stuff like Gordon Glover’s series, but until the parents come around it is going to be an uphill climb to get exposure to these resources.”
Once such young person emailed me this week, recalling the days of my YEC misadventures:
I have read a little of your blog off and on, and find your discussions very interesting and challenging.   I am delighted to see you delving into the topic of creation/evolution/biology from a scientific standpoint as these thoughts have been on my mind since freshman year Biology class when a professor announced her belief in evolution and God.  As I continued my studies and work in research science, I found I could no longer equate the creation "science" I had grown up believing with the evolutionary-based cutting edge science I was being exposed to in college.  That, and a few other things pushed me to start reading different books on various viewpoints on the topic.   I haven't read as much as I'd like to...maybe you can give me some more good book titles to get me started again!   The Language of God was definitely a wonderful book that gave voice to a lot of the thoughts I'd had over the years. 

“I'm humored by the memory that I have discussing this topic with you as a kid.  I remember you describing in great detail how Young Earth Creationism was the absolute truth for many reasons.  For years, throughout college, whenever I thought about Creationism I thought of you. Imagine my surprise when I heard that you'd changed your stance!”
She may have been "humored" by those memories. I find them troubling, and slightly embarrassing! But I am relieved that my earlier teachings did not cause a crisis in her faith.

Today, when I make my views known among friends who still cling to YEC, I gently inform them that their children will likely confront the well-supported claims of science in college. And when they do, perhaps they will avoid the false dilemma trap when they recall that Cliff accepts evolutionary science, and has not abandoned his Christian faith.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Two Categories of Beliefs/Opinions

I am writing today from outside Chicago where Ginger and I, along with two of our daughters, are enjoying a business/family trip. We're visiting Ginger's folks and some of her childhood stomping grounds. It has been several weeks since I last posted ... I apologize! With today's post, I am genuinely seeking advice, so please comment.

Observe with me two distinct types of opinions:

1) Chosen Beliefs/Opinions. Some beliefs and opinions are the product of choice. Such opinions are held primarily because the believer chooses to believe them. There may exist little or no evidence for what is believed. Logic and deduction are not essential to this kind of opinion. The believer believes what he/she believes, or holds to their opinion because they wish to believe it.

2) Evidence-based Beliefs/Opinions. This second type of opinion entails such things as data, reasoning, verification. The believer has been persuaded by certain facts, empirical evidences, and rational thought processes. The thing believed, or the opinion held, may not at all represent the believer’s preference or inclination. In fact, he/she may have been persuaded against their predilection.


Which type of belief/opinion is the more easily dislodged? that is, from which type of opinion is a person more easily persuaded to accept an alternate view? Support your answer.

o Chosen beliefs/opinions

o Evidence-based beliefs/opinions

Now it is true that most opinions actually fit into a continuum spanning these two extremes; our convictions and beliefs are often a combination of choices and evidences. To be honest, my own belief in God is partly a choice, and partly evidence-based. Honest skeptics may admit to choice playing a role in their atheism. While it would be interesting to go down that trail sometime, that is not the purpose of today’s post. Rather, I have been thinking lately about what I consider a very entrenched opposition to evolution (both cosmic and biological) among American evangelical Christians, including, it seems, the majority of my friends.

Over the past 15 years, my studies have changed my opinions about origins. Until the early 90’s, I believed in Young Earth Creationism. As a Bible-believing Christian, that was my natural inclination. It was my choice. Oh yes, I had “evidence” as well. But when it occurred to me that 95% of my reading on the subject was from other Young Earth Creationists, and that the vast majority of scientists rejected Young Earth Creationism, I thought it wise to consider the other side of the argument. This process led to the persuasions I now hold: the universe is billions of years old, our earth is likewise billions of years old, life on this planet rose slowly over billions of years through natural processes now well understood, and all living things on earth share a common descent. These views were not the product of choice. Though some of my friends respond to me as though I chose to become an evolutionist, nothing could be farther from the truth. I simply found the evidence for slow evolution of the cosmos, and of life on our planet to be overwhelming and undeniable. My acceptance of Big Bang cosmology and of evolution falls entirely into category number 2: Evidence-based.

Having arrived at these conclusions, I have found that the realities of an ancient universe and common-descent evolution are not only compatible with my faith, but actually help to provide satisfying answers to many difficulties and enigmas. And when factored into theology proper, eschatology, bibliology, and Christian living, they 1) compel us to rethink many traditional theological assumptions and 2) lead us to understandings that are both fascinating and practical. I long for a community of believers who can share with me the excitement of discovery, and who can help in the process of re-evaluating traditionally held Christian concepts.

For these reasons, over the last two years or so I have been attempting to open minds of Christian friends to these possibilities. I have had almost no success. Instead of opening minds to possibilities, I have been viewed as attacking their opinions. The questions I ask, and the ensuing discussions usually lead to boredom, disdain, or anger. My opinions often fly in the face of the way they have chosen to think.

It is far easier to dislodge evidence-based beliefs than it is to dislodge chosen beliefs. You might have thought otherwise. I did. I might have thought that evidence-based opinions would be more firm, less flexible than beliefs not founded upon evidence. My experience has shown the opposite to be the case.

It has recently dawned upon me (I’m a bit slow!) that the intransigence typical of Young Earth Creationists is due to the fact that theirs is a category 1 belief/opinion. People are not persuaded of Young Earth Creationism by a balanced review of the evidence. No one is. (No one believes in Young Earth Creationism unless they are predisposed to such an opinion by their religious convictions. I do not know of a single person anywhere who arrived at Young Earth Creationism by merely looking at evidence. Rather, it is an opinion born of choice.) And category 1 opinions are extremely difficult to dislodge. People will sometimes become defensive and enraged when you try.

So I am facing a conundrum. I am motivated to prepare my friends for what I consider an inevitable paradigm shift, and to develop a community of believers who will study the Bible with me from an evolutionary perspective. But I am having no success. And I risk alienating my own friends if I continue. So I am asking my readers to weigh in. Should I continue to prod, to provoke, to challenge? Or should I lay it down, and look instead for a community already open to such discussions? And how might I find other evangelical Christians who understand evolution, and care about its implications? Where would I look? Any ideas?