Many Christian geologists I know began their undergraduate geological training as young-Earth creationists (YECs). They entered their studies having been equipped by reading YEC classics such as The Genesis Flood and Scientific Creationism, had a whole stack of Institute for Creation Research Acts & Facts “Impact” articles, and were certain that they would set the geological world straight.
None of the Christian geologists I know personally were still YECs when they graduated. For some (such as for myself), there was no serious crisis of faith along the way. For others, there were times of severe trial, as everything they believed about the Bible and the Earth was challenged. I get emails from time to time from geology undergraduates who thank me for helping them during that time of testing of their faith, and for this I am very grateful.
Sadly, many Christians who enter geological studies with a YEC background end up as spiritual shipwrecks and leave the faith altogether. They have been taught that if YEC is not true, then the Bible is not true either, and all of Christianity is false as well. When they start learning about how the Earth really works, they are devastated This is the bitter fruit of years of YEC indoctrination through a barrage of books, DVDs, educational curricula, Sunday school, and youth groups. It doesn’t have to be so.
Steve Smith is a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. I had the privilege of meeting Steve a few years ago. We had moved back to the United States after six years of service as missionaries with the Evangelical Free Church, and we were living in Denver while I looked for employment. Steve gave my wife and I a wonderful geological tour of Red Rocks Park. I ended up finding employment in Missouri, so we were not able to get together again.
Steve has done a fantastic job of writing about his experiences as a Christian geologist, from his YEC undergraduate beginnings to his current interactions with young people struggling with science and faith issues. The article is Breaking Away from a False Dilemma, and is posted at Nazarenes Exploring Evolution.
Here are a few clips, but you really should read the whole article:
With a high-school level understanding of science and theology, I was convinced by this “either-or” argument and, to my knowledge, became the first Young Earth Creationist in my local Nazarene church. I knew the enemy and the enemy had a name. It was Evolution.
Although I was fascinated by geology and had found a scientific field that I loved, my faith was in shambles. Based on what I had believed and read in the Young Earth Creationist literature, if the geologic ages were real, if the earth was old, if evolution had happened then the Bible was false, Christianity wasn’t true, and Christ’s death on the cross was meaningless. So what was left? I felt betrayed and seriously considered leaving the church. In retrospect, two factors kept me from leaving: (1) the support of a strong Christian family (and a young lady soon to be my wife) that gave me the freedom to question without condemnation; and (2) the strong witness of my Olivet geology professor, who had not only faced all of the same scientific evidence but was one of the most Christ-like men I had ever met. But before I could move on, I had to recognize that I had been snared by a false dilemma and that the Bible didn’t need to be read as a scientific treatise on how to create a world. That was a time of turmoil and what I needed most was theological support that would allowed me to reconcile what I read in the Bible with what I saw in the rocks.
I have seen students break down into tears as they stood on an outcrop of rock and saw evidence that contradicted what their church had taught them. I have comforted my own daughter when she was told by a Sunday School teacher that she couldn’t be a Christian if she accepted evidence for evolution. I have talked with scientists who were once raised in a church and are now bitter agnostics because the church “lied to them” about science.
Thanks, Steve, for sharing your story.
Grace and Peace