FIRST: Read “Evangelicals and Science” at Tim Stafford’s blog. Niki is fictionalized, but not much. I am hoping this post will make one point: the Gospel combined with anything- a view of science, political opinions, convictions on gender, etc.- becomes a non-Gospel. Let the Gospel be what Paul describes in I Cor 15!
Her name is Niki. (Not her real name.) She’s a Japanese student who lived with an American family for a year and attended a Christian school. She took a year of Bible. She attended worship and heard lots of preaching. The Gospel was explained to her many times. She was well liked and sociable.
A very smart girl. A great student, much advanced over the average American student. She made A’s in everything, including Bible.
She left America after graduation and went back to Japan.
She came to America an atheist and she returned to Japan an atheist, and very aware that she had rejected Christianity.
Before she left, she talked with one of her teachers.
“I am an atheist because I believe in evolution. When people here explained to me what they must believe as Christians, I always ask them about evolution, and they say “You cannot be a Christian and believe in evolution.” So I cannot be a Christian, because I believe that evolution is true.”
No doubt, Niki has met many Christians who told her that she could not be a Christian and “believe” in evolution. No doubt, few, if any, of those Christians took the time to explain what they meant by evolution. Most probably meant that the Bible teaches that the earth is 10,000 years young, that no biological death of any kind happened before sin and the major Creationist ministries such as AIG have all the answers to the hard questions of physics, astronomy and science. (“Were you there?”)
No doubt, Niki was told that science is mostly an arrogant attempt to explain questions without reference to the Bible and should be approached with great caution. Christians, she was probably told, are quick to refuse to believe the phony “evidence” science is so good at making up.
No doubt, Niki was told that the same Bible that tells us Jesus is the one who saves a broken world and sinful people is also the Bible that tells us a completely scientific picture of the origin of the universe, the earth and human beings; a view that depends, ironically, on rejecting most of what science says about those origins. No doubt, Niki was told that since both these things- the Gospel and real scientific answers- are from the same Bible, we cannot reject one without rejecting the other.
So she heard it: you cannot be a Christian and “believe in” evolution.
Niki heard, as a matter of routine, that the phrase “big bang” means “there is no God and the universe is an accident. (I’ve been listening to that reaction to the term Bib Bang for almost 20 years, despite being able to recite the names of 25 evangelical Christians who accept the old universe and the Big Bang.)
Was Niki ever told about the the thousands of Christians in the sciences who believe the “Big Bang” is evidence for creation by God? No, she wasn’t. Was she told of the many conversions to Christianity among scientists who have been moved by the evidence for God as creator now available in astrophysics? No, because that would complicate the views of Creationism she was told were non-negotiable.
Was Niki ever told that the vast majority of Christians on planet earth don’t believe now and haven’t ever believed science and Christianity answer the same questions in the same way? No, she wasn’t.
Was Niki told that millions of Christians believe in some form of evolution? (For Catholics, it’s in the Catechism!) Some form of an old earth? That millions of Christians do not accept the claims of the Creationist ministries as representing the Bible accurately or correctly? No, she wasn’t.
Was Niki told that even atheists are largely agreed that evolution does not equal atheism, and atheists like Dawkins are wrong to claim that is the case?
So Niki, who heard the Gospel message of God’s love, life and forgiveness in Jesus, also heard that non-Christian science mostly can’t be believed, most scientists are atheistic conspirators in a plot to eliminate God from our culture and real Christians renounce any belief in the conclusions of secular scientists and embrace Creationism.
Niki, who heard about Jesus for weeks and weeks in her Bible class, could not bring herself to believe in creationism, so she cannot be a Christian.
Did Niki meet anyone who believes the Bible is true, but didn’t believe that science is a vast conspiracy? That the answers aren’t all to be found in the Creationist movement? That you are not forced into the “either/or” choices between Jesus and science that so many Christians insist on? No one knows, but if she did, they were few.
Did Niki receive any encouragement from someone who had managed to answer these questions and still survive as a scientist in the evangelical community? Did she meet anyone in the sciences who still believed in Jesus and the Gospel? Did she meet anyone who was a professing Christian and also a person who worked in mainstream scientific fields of research or academics?
So Niki has gone back to Japan as an atheist. The seeds were sown and perhaps they will take root and bear fruit. Perhaps one day Niki will write and say that she has placed her faith in Jesus and has abandoned her confidence in the usual scientific models of the origin of the earth and human beings. Perhaps Niki will tell us she found a church and has given up her beliefs in science so she could embrace believing in Jesus.
If Niki goes to MIT, or works for NASA or cures cancer or AIDS, will she remember her journey among evangelical Christians as an encouragement to be a great scientist?
Or perhaps Niki will go on being an atheist.
For many Christians, that will continue to be an acceptable outcome.