On the spectrum of Christians who believe that God put dinosaur fossils in the Earth to test our faith, and Theistic Evolutionists, my parents are somewhere in the middle. They were also my science teachers for the first 12 years of my life.
Ken Ham’s books were part of our homeschool curriculum. In Answers in Genesis he goes to extreme lengths to show that the laws of science and the literal Bible can coexist, and even that one proves the other. My Dad taught me that there had been room for all of the creatures on the arc because Noah took one of each genus, not one of each species. The “evolution” that Darwin had observed in finches was in fact simply the display of the diverse genome that God had created them with. As a 10 year old, all of this made sense, especially when combined with a semester of learning apologetics in Sunday School.
In 7th grade I went to a Christian school where the science education was even more laughably abysmal. Basically, any questions that were raised were silenced with “God created it like that.” When they didn’t answer my questions, I lost respect for my teachers and I got in trouble frequently (mostly for doodling during class, which I’m certain has served me better in the long run than actually paying attention to our “history lessons” about the Tower of Babel). Thankfully my parents didn’t send me back, and I went to public high school a few years later.
There was a good side to learning this, and that was that I learned to question everything. Kids who are taught the prevailing wisdom of science never have their beliefs challenged. In fact, in High School I was surprised to find many atheists who were as dogmatic and wonderless as their fundamentalist religious counterparts. I’m glad that I was reminded over and over again that evolution was “only” a theory, because this has put all of human scientific discovery into perspective for me.
Religion gave us the frameworks for the science that we have today. In fact, much of the science that we do now is done in the name of humanism – a direct descendant of Western religion. Scientists who think they can achieve objectivity are like people who have never travelled and don’t realize they have an accent. For all of the trash talking that faith gets, you can’t have science without faith in constants. It can be absurd when fundamentalist Science battles fundamentalist religion, because the two end up sounding similar.
But I don’t want to say that Ken Ham isn’t an idiot (albeit a wealthy one) or that it’s fine to teach Creationism as fact and the Bible as science.
For me, one of the worst effects of growing up with creationism was the loss of wonder. I lost interest in the life sciences because there was nothing new to be discovered. Jesus had to come back in the next few thousand years, before the Earth could go through any drastic changes that would prevent human life and cause us to seek refuge on the nearest habitable planet. My textbooks mocked scientists who searched for other forms of life in the cosmos. How dare they waste their money searching for something that God had decreed couldn’t exist?
By far the worst thing about growing up with Creationism is the fear. I became afraid of insulting a vindictive God by imagining that there were life beyond His perfect Earth, or that life had originated in any other way than the 7 day process described in a 4,000 year old book. To deny creation would be to deny God’s perfection. How could evolution have happened if God had created a world without death? The main reason for clinging to Creationism is to prove that we humans caused death. Our collective sin, of which we are all guilty, caused all of the pain and suffering in the world.
Things have evolved slightly since the day of Copernicus and Galileo. Baptists and Presbyterians won’t pull out your fingernails or use a thumb screw on you if you believe that the Earth wasn’t created in seven days. Many do, however, have the power to excommunicate or “discipline” members if they don’t believe that: “The Bible is the revelation of God’s truth and is infallible and authoritative in all matters of life and practice.*”
The Good (again)
I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, so I’ll revisit the positive. The good is the fact that I don’t believe Creationism anymore. When I stopped believing it was less like the disillusionment of realizing that Santa isn’t real and more like being let out of a dark closet for the first time. Clearly, some worldviews are better for my sanity than others, and I’m glad that the one that is backed by science isn’t the one where a bunch of old men decide who is and who isn’t allowed to speak in church.
Giving up creationism means that my sense of wonder has been restored with a vengeance. All of the things that I wasn’t supposed to wonder as a 10 year old I now wonder about in full force. Is there life in the stars? Is the universe infinite? Are there infinite versions of myself? If I can imagine God, does that make God possible? And if she is possible, in an infinite universe must she exist?
I don’t know the answers. I don’t expect to ever know the answers. But I can search and imagine and wonder, and this is beautiful.