A few months ago, I told the story of my becoming a Christian. Today, I’ll begin the story of my departure.
If you know any home-schooling, church-going, large families who earnestly seek God in all they do, you have a good picture of my family in my faith-filled days. Ironically, the chain of events that culminated in my loss of faith began because I took my duties as a Christian father seriously.
It happened when my kids started to progress out of our home-school, and eventually out of the private, Christian high school most of them attended. It was time to think about college. My wife and I wanted to give good advice about colleges, and the question came up: should we endorse only creationist colleges, or a broader array of choices?
In our home-school, we taught that God created man; he did not evolve him. I had some questions about creationism, but my allegiance was still with it. I cheered when creationists scored points and pooh-poohed the arguments of evolutionists.
I realized that not all of my children would take readily to the idea of a creationist, and therefore hyper-conservative, school. If I were going to take a strong stand in favor of creationist institutions, I knew I had to resolve once and for all my lingering questions on the subject. It was my duty as a father. (You might well observe that it had always been my duty, and it should not have taken me so long. As you’ll see in my story, sometimes we need a wake-up call.) I decided to do some serious research.
It’s not like I was totally uninformed. I had been reading creationist books and literature for 20 years. We had subscribed to the monthly publication of the Institute for Creation Research (now available online), and I had devoured each issue.
I had also read a few books by the likes of Carl Sagan, but had been able to chalk up their conclusions to their atheistic assumptions. I had never read a scientific, comprehensive case for evolution by a non-Christian.
And why should I have? Evolutionists were generally non-believers, so they were biased against the truth. Creationists were Christians, so not only could I trust them to present their own case accurately, but they would tell me the real truth about evolution. Right?
Maybe, but with the serious question of college choices in front of me, I decided I should stop and listen to both sides. I browsed the shelves at Barnes & Noble and found a book that seemed germane: Scientists Confront Creationism. The book consisted of essays from scientists in various fields, each explaining how the evidence in his own discipline supported evolution and/or refuted young-earth creationism.
After decades of creationist input; after countless denunciations of evolution from conservative, Christian speakers; after knitting myself into a culture that was anti-evolution; after most of my close friends were creationists; and most of all after investing my entire adult life building a creationist family — with every motivation not to be convinced of evolution — that one book was all it took to convince me that evolution, including the evolution of humans from non-humans, was a reality. The interlocking, independent lines of evidence were that persuasive. It was not the conclusion I wanted, but it was inescapable. Either God was deceiving/testing us by planting mountains of evidence that were contrary to what had actually happened (that seemed unlikely), or evolution was a fact.
The truth of evolution was the least of my problems. Plenty of people manage to be both evangelical and evolutionist. Much more serious was the realization that the people I had trusted the most — the conservative, Christian leaders at the top of the young-earth creationist movement — had been lying to me. These men are not stupid, and they are well-read. Even now, about six years later, I cannot make up my mind as to whether they know they are lying, or whether they are just so committed to one point of view that they are beyond the reach of evidence. Either way, I had learned that I could not trust them.
I felt enormously betrayed. I had spent countless hours with my children in my lap, reading creationist books to them, and now I found out that the authors were more concerned with pushing an agenda than with honestly evaluating evidence.
Even more acute than my disappointment with the conservative Christian elite was my disappointment with myself. The evidence for evolution had been there the whole time, but I had chosen not to seek it out.
It was a real wake-up call.
I had managed to maintain an uneasy sleep through many of the questions that bother a lot of believers — why does God allow so much suffering; why doesn’t God grant seemingly worthy prayers; how do we know the Bible is inspired — but I could not sleep through this betrayal of my trust.
Long-dormant questions began to reassert themselves. In most cases, the answers I had been going on were based on the word of evangelical authorities and that was no longer good enough. I had learned that they could be just as untruthful as anyone else. I also realized that I was prone to believe the things I wanted to believe and ignore contrary evidence.
I resolved to do better.
Over a span of four years, I sought answers to my questions. I’ll tell you what they were, and what I discovered, in the next post.