April 19, 2014

Niki Made Her Choice and, Apparently, So Did We

IMG_1281FIRST: 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.

Comments

  1. that s/b each to “ITS” own kind. bad grammar.

  2. textjunkie says:

    This has been exercising my mind since the gangsta roundup on it a few weeks ago. I’ve got about four pages written now of arguments, working through the various attempts to figure out what the options are for a Christian who believes that evolution is a reasonable explanation of how it’s all come about and wants to be logical about their faith. As several people have pointed out, it’s a very Western logico-deductive approach, but that’s where I am with it. The answer? None yet, though I have hopes that the reminder that God works in infinity while we live in time, and the metaphors in Genesis are dealing with that intersection, holds some possibilities. :)

    But I wish I could have talked to Niki. I certainly had similar and very interesting conversations with my 5th grade Sunday School class when they were old enough to ask about Genesis and science, knowing I was an honest to God professional scientist. (It’s not so interesting taking on a fundamentalist atheist or YEC, I must admit.) These days no one asks me questions like that, because discussing religion or politics is impolite.

  3. I just woke up an hour ago, but it looks like the beginning of a Dark Night for me. Thanks go to Joel Hunter’s rational farce:

    67 times!

    tildeb’s excellent discernment of the question:

    In the face of what’s probably true, what’s probably accurate, what’s probably correct, Christianity – and any belief system that cannot fully endorse and absorb evolution into its basic tenets – is doomed with its tenacious hold on maintaining some belief in the necessity for creationism.

    and Jasonbaldguy’s test:

    “I cannot speak for self-certainty, I am absolutely not certain of myself on anything, But of one thing I am certain, I have witnessed unquestionable divine intervention in my life time and time again. I absolutely trust my creator to do what is best for me because in so many instances I have seen his hand do the impossible.”

    Well, I have not, and most people for most of history have not. Up until this point, I’ve believed because Lucy told me, and she’s more trustworthy than Edmund. Now I am beginning to suspect that was really foolish because Lucy has grown into a woman; saying “Narnia was just poetry to explain Revelation. The truth is that I was in the back of a closet…but it’s a much larger closet than Edmund said, I swear! I’m sure it was big enough for a lion.”

    I’ve avoided this “cultural battle” until now because I don’t like the choices. Now I see that it must be reconciled. Ironically, the hypothetical was proposed (I think) to spur a more inclusive view, but I’ve always known that it comes down to this: Either you’re a Young Earther, an empirical atheist, or (most common now) a “Big Closeter”. The last seems the most disingenuous to me.

    If you need me, I’ll be with Niki.

    • No, when Lucy grew up she found that, just as Narnia was so much bigger and so much more than the wardrobe, the stable held something so much more and so much bigger still. That’s what made Narnia seem like a fable- it turned out to be such a pale reflection of the Real Thing.

      If you had God in too small a box, don’t mourn the fact that box has been burst asunder. The real God is so much more and so much bigger still.

      • The church used to say that Jesus is who He says He is because he did this, said this, didn’t say this other, and meets these prophetic signs. Now it says, well, okay, maybe Adam was born of a pre-human (I’m not a scientist, you know what I mean), and since we can feel sure about that it seems silly to hang on to this idea of Eve from Adam’s rib. Honestly, in all likelihood Adam isn’t even one man; he’s a metaphor. Of course, serpents are an ancient literary device that is found all across the world and is poetry… Ultimately, you end up with a Jesus that is so big that it’s not actually necessary that the Word became flesh, died for my sins, and rose of His own power on the third day. Turns out He’s big enough to have become a pantheist Himself.

        At some point, some Scientific Christian will say, “No, no, no, you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Just because this one point….”

        AM I???

        Jenny, you’re taking my use of Narnia both too far into the time-line of the story, and not far enough into the analogy of the real world. I’m not saying what Lucy does in the future of the books, I’m using Lucy in place of the church, or people on the church. Lucy actually experiences Narnia in the books. I’m saying that, in real life, the church asks us all to be like Lucy, telling the other children about Narnia…with this one little difference: We’re not Lucy. I went into the wardrobe and I didn’t meet a faun, or see a lamppost. I haven’t even felt a chill. Jasonbaldguy obviously is a real Lucy. He says: “I don’t know much, but I know I’ve seen and felt God, and that’s why I believe.” And I’m telling you that for most of my days, I’ve believed that there is a God, but that my sin keeps me from experiencing Him, and except very brief special instances God is removed from us all…yet we are to follow Him…through the Lucies…who may or may not have personally seen Narnia.

        That leaves me with the idea of Calvin’s Elected–which I reject straight out. Even if it were true, then I should live as if there were no God. If this logic is successful, then you can mark this station as where I get off this train and hitch a ride with Nietzsche.

        YECians say: “I have the answers…you just wait and see.” Empirical Scientists say: “I don’t have the answers, but I can give you the tools to look for them. Given enough time, we’ll have enough answers for everyone.” Scientific Christians say: “I really like what this Book says, but whatever truth is revealed by science is actually how Big God is…bigger even!” You’ve introduced science as an authority to be appealed to. God didn’t “blow my box up”. You did.

    • “Ironically, the hypothetical was proposed (I think) to spur a more inclusive view, but I’ve always known that it comes down to this: Either you’re a Young Earther, an empirical atheist, or (most common now) a “Big Closeter”. The last seems the most disingenuous to me.”

      Humble, missionary Christianity, buried alive in scholasticism.

  4. Craig Higgins says:

    This is a terrible tragedy, repeated over and over again. Thanks so much for posting it. Lord, have mercy on your church.

  5. Joel Hunter has p0wned this comment thread. You rock, Joel.

    • joel hunter says:

      *bows*

      But I’d have to disagree RonH. I was hoping that those in this thread who in one form or another expressed suspicion or skepticism about the findings of mainstream “science” would rally to my arguments. Then together we’d refute iMonk’s pernicious point of view that we should somehow feel bad about Niki’s choice. I suppose I could conclude that “silence gives assent,” but alas, silent support of my arguments won’t help push back the lies and darkness of nonbiblical “science.”

      First, there’s Benji Ramsaur. He did warn us that he might not be able to rejoin the discussion, but I thought my affirmation might be returned in kind. Nevertheless, if Mr. Ramsaur represents the views of presuppositionalism, then I am confident that presuppositionalists will side with me. If we are going to see the world “through God’s revelation,” if we are going to always wear “God’s glasses,” then “scientific” consensus will mean nothing to us. If Copernicanism has been around for 4 days, it’s still as wrong 400 years later. We know that because God’s revelation trumps our sense experience and reason. A consistent presuppositionalist is also a geocentrist/geostatist.

      Second, there’s martha (of the lower case) and J. Rollen. Both expressed suspicion of science. J. Rollen relativizes scientific explanations by rightly noting their mutability and their basis in the contingencies of history. It is wrong to “bow to science” because scientific theories are capricious gods. Moreover, he rejects the chronological snobbery inherent in scientific theories. Just because a view is antiquated seems to be enough to reject it. But he rightly points out that if the antiquity of biblical cosmology and biology is bad, then it is also bad for “science,” which is always discarding antiquated scientific theories. Since theories are always getting overturned, today’s “scientific truth” is tomorrow’s false theory destined for the dustbin. This is such a healthy suspicion and relativism toward “science” that I had hoped it would be obvious that his argument is one of the strongest for my position on biblical cosmology. Alas, he departed from the conversation, expressing his personal incredulity about my position. But the fixity and position of the Earth is clearly taught by the Bible. If the Bible is God’s unchanging Word and absolutely true, why would we reject biblical cosmology in favor of “scientific” cosmology. After all, we reject “scientific” biology in favor of biblical biology. What principle do martha and J. Rollen apply that allows them do that? If I knew, it sure would make my job easier!

      Finally, there was Joe Blackmon. Perhaps more than any other contributor to this thread, I thought I had a certain ally in Mr. Blackmon. Alas, I may never know. He was clearest of all in rejecting iMonk’s insinuation that evangelicals have made a bad choice on the issue of science and evolution. With refreshing honesty, Mr. Blackmon makes the point that belief in the “scientific” consensus view of evolution (the mechanism of natural selection is responsible for speciation, and the pathway of common descent for all living things) morally obligates one to affirm atheism, and by extension reject Christianity. On this mutual exclusivity, he and many atheistic evolutionists like Dawkins are in agreement. But evolution is only a recent form of atheistic science. Before Darwin, there was Copernicus and Galileo. Since Mr. Blackmon rejects evolution on biblical grounds, it follows that he should reject heliocentrism and a moving Earth on biblical grounds, too. Belief in the “scientific” consensus of Copernicanism morally obligates one to affirm atheism, since one is rejecting the absolute truth of the Word of God. I do not know if he disagrees with me about that, but I can see no rational justification for doing so given the principles he set forth in his comments.

      • Hmm. I see your point. It is a bit odd that these folks, who obviously recognize the supremacy of the clear teaching of Scripture over mere human reason, don’t see the precarious nature of their own position. You have the text on your side… To reject it is to start down a very slippery slope. If “dome” doesn’t really mean “dome”, then how do we know that “cross” really means “cross”? If the sun didn’t really “stand still in the sky”, then how do we know that the Son “rose from the grave”?

        The more I think about what you’re saying, the more I feel compelled to believe it. I confess to having been raised a heliocentrist, but I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the exegetical gymnastics necessary to maintain my view. Everyone’s got a different explanation for what your 67 passages mean: “That’s poetry”, “God’s just speaking to us in terms we can understand”, “It’s a figure of speech”, etc. Simply taking the passages at face value is so much easier. And I’ve heard about the so-called “scientific” evidence for heliocentrism, but to be honest I’ve never really understood it. I mean, calculus and orbital mechanics and astronomy and relativity… Yeah, academics say these are all evidences for heliocentrism, but I can’t really assess that evidence for myself, can I? And why should I trust them over Almighty God?

        Besides, what a relief it would be to be able to agree with great Christians of the past like Calvin and Luther! I’ve learned so much from them that I’ve been ashamed of my disdain for their cosmological views. Embracing geocentrism sure does put me in a greater “cloud of witnesses” than the more “modern” perspective.

        Now, I realize that being a geocentrist won’t be easy in today’s world. It’s definitely a minority position… But then again, Scripture says we all must suffer persecution! I’ll get an extra crown for that, won’t I? Still, I’m already running across geocentrist communities on the internet who seem supportive and will no doubt take me in and make me feel like I belong.

        Thanks, Joel! For a while there I was starting to feel like atheism was my only alternative, but you’ve given me new hope. You are truly an instrument of God.

  6. This is interesting. Nikki is from a 3,000 year old non-christian culture with completely different cultural roots from evangelical christians.
    I lived in Japan and have been married to a Japanese woman for 25 years. In the larger scope of things the influence of all of western christianity in Japan is very small and tends to be personal and private. Christians in total are maybe 3% of the total population and that includes the full spectrum of
    denominations.
    The Christian concept of creationism is not well known by the general public in Japan . To the girl in question – the christain creation myth was an interesting story – and not much more. The key difference is that the creation stories are ALL myths to the Japanese and not considered to be anymore than that. Nobody takes the Japanese creation myth seroiusly. There is no creationist movement in Japan fighting the teaching of the scientific theory of evolution. To my wife the idea that there is a seroius creationist movement here is just one of many oddities of the US she has observed in 25 years.
    In Japan science is science – no conflict – the definition of physics roughly come out like “reality science.”

    My wife spent a year at a US Baptist college – enjoyed the whole experience but did not do anything more with the Baptists after that. It was a cultural experience – she went along with flow, went to chapel and took bible class – then returned home and never did anything else.

  7. This couldn’t have been more timely for me! I was recently having a conversation with one of the exchange students from China, it was on their National Day and so we were in the library watching the parade and just talking about random things, which kept going back to many cultural differences and such. We got onto the subject of religion and how it affects their beliefs and actions. This kid wears a red string bracelet on his right arm (for Buddhism. left arm is Kabbalah) and I asked him about it and he simply told me that his mother is Buddhist and gave it to him to wear, but that he “believes in science”.

    I mentioned that I didn’t think science and Buddhism were incompatable, but something else came up in the parade and we changed the subject (and then got into a conversation about how the only things that American students learn about China are bad… hahaha) But later that week we all met at a church for their traditional culture night (for international students and their host parents, my roomate’s host parents couldn’t make it so I went with her instead) which was a great time until we were leaving and we happened to walk past this fairly large anti-evolution poster board. And thinking about it more as I drove home I got rather angry, because it was quite possible that this brand of anti-scientific Christianity is all that many of these students have heard.

    I have a neighbor who is a hard-core Young Earth Creationist (I’m pretty sure she has purchased their entire gift-shop worth of books and movies from the Creation Museum) and in the past I’ve simply tried to overlook her insistance in YEC, especially when she berated me when I was still on the fence between YEC and “the evil other of evolution” (I have since moved towards that “evil other”… not quite 100% accepting, but I do outright reject YEC) (and then proceeded to have a series of questions/answers with her daughter to “show” me what the “right” answers look like). But more and more recently I’ve been thinking about what effect this sort of behavior can have on people outside of the Church. If we can’t even give them a place to ask questions, let alone to not agree with a scientific reading of Genesis, why does anyone think they would come flocking to us? I realize that many Christians are comforted by the thought that the Bible really does have “all the answers”… but I think that is just not true at all! It has some answers, yes. And important answers to important questions, but it does not have all the answers and I think some people really need to just get used to it. :/

    • …until we were leaving and we happened to walk past this fairly large anti-evolution poster board. And thinking about it more as I drove home I got rather angry, because it was quite possible that this brand of anti-scientific Christianity is all that many of these students have heard.

      To be fair, and speaking as a more conservative member of the clergy in a mainline/oldline tradition, I can say that this is as much a function of the failure of the old mainline as anything else. I’m convinced that a faithful mainline tradition is the natural home of many now-secular americans, and that it would balance against some of the elements exemplified in this post. Unfortunately, faithfulness is sometimes very hard to find.

    • Emily,
      You story leaves me feeling sad and frustrated. I would say the first thing to question is any church that discourages questioning. Prayerful questioning about anything may very well lead to strengthened faith.

  8. Gene Feagan says:

    Please see The GENESIS FLOOD. This book began my understanding of alternate ideas to evolution.