In episode 19 of the Roundtable, Michael and I interviewed Dr. Anthony Silvestro, co-author of On the Origin of Kinds, By Means of Creator God And The Preservation of Souls in the Struggle for Eternity. A portion of the discussion mentioned how I had once drifted on my biblical creation doctrine. I’d like to take this chance to tell my own story in some more depth.
Catholic Kid, Kind Of
In 1997 at the age of twelve, I was basically an unbaptized Roman Catholic, being raised in the church but otherwise still needing to go through RCIA. To this end, I wasn’t technically a Roman Catholic yet — you’re not an actual “Catholic” until you’re baptized — but I held to the doctrines as best as I knew them, including denying salvation by faith alone. Of course, I didn’t really understand it either, as I thought “faith alone” entailed the ability to live whatever kind of life one desires after initial conversion, and Romans 6:1 denies that outright. And of course, mainstream Roman Catholicism contains no denial of Darwinian evolution.
As a military kid, I was living in Hawaii, where the public schools were notoriously sub-par. The decision was made to send me to Hanalani Schools, a Protestant school within the same city where I lived. The idea was that I would attend CCD (also called “catechism”) on some evenings while also attending Hanalani, and that should have sufficiently shielded me from becoming a Protestant. The plan failed quickly. I would never tell anyone in an evangelistic context to “pray to become Protestant,” but that’s actually what I did at my bedside after what was probably a couple of months. Nobody was leading me through a scripted prayer, but this prayer was basically my repentance and confession of sola fide.
We moved to Arizona the following school year, and I was mostly unchurched for the rest of my time in grade school. You would be right to surmise that being unchurched meant that I was unprepared in several respects. No one had really taught me how to confess an orthodox formulation of the Trinity. The arguments for evolution presented in a single year of high school biology class only managed to convince me not to pursue a medical career. The class didn’t faze my faith at all. Oddly enough, many of my friends who were churched in high school appeared to have left the faith. God Himself graciously preserved me, and I got baptized a couple of months after entering the university.
So when I entered the university, I found myself sitting there in Philosophy 150, and the professor tells us to realize what every sophomore already knows, take a sheet of paper out, and write “God is dead.” Then I got up and dared the professor to debate. He then pulled a small rock out of his pocket, held it in front of him with his arm extended, and said that he would believe in God if the rock hits his foot. So I spun around and did this epic roundhouse kick half an inch above his hand. Startled, he jumped and let go of the rock at just the right trajectory, and it landed on his foot. “HA! I win!,” I exclaimed victoriously. “I told you the Earth is only six thousand years old!” Then the Newsboys suddenly stood up from among the seats, and we had this awesome concert right in the middle of class. I later learned that the professor got hit by a car and confessed the Gospel moments before he died on the street.
Okay, none of that ever happened. What actually did happen is stranger: the most influential challenges I received to my belief in a six-literal-day creation came from other professing Christians.
More than any place else, academia appears to be a place where we somehow feel the greatest need for the unbelieving world to like us. How can we possibly be taken seriously in an academic environment when we believe — or even insist — that the Earth is “only” six thousand years old?
Most of the churches I attended regularly or visited — there were many indeed — scarcely mentioned the issue. If they did, they may not have argued it strongly from the standpoint of biblical authority. The parachurch student ministry I was part of didn’t mention it. Certainly, the student body within it was wishy-washy on the issue. Believing in such weird things like a six-day creation and word-for-word Bible translation seemingly made me an outlier. Like most major universities, we had our fair share of open-air evangelists, not all of whom were orthodox such as Jed Smock. The more prominent one who was at least orthodox, Cliffe Knechtle, was okay with evolution. So his reasoning went, the Bible is not a scientific book. If I want science, I go to scientists such as the ones at this university. If I want theology, I go to the Bible.
Towards “Intellectual Honesty”
Indeed, seeking to compatibilize what I was hearing from others and to have a faith that was more attractive to unbelievers, I began to drift. At one point, I was halfway between the two extremes of six literal days and Darwinian evolution. I thought I had finally found the answer to my problems when I found The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins, who led the Human Genome Project (no small feat), founded BioLogos, and later became director of the National Institutes of Health. That swung me all the way to the BioLogos position, which entails Darwinian evolution and even denies the Intelligent Design argument as being (1) a “god of the gaps” argument that could later fail with future scientific discoveries, and (2) fails to account for purported flaws in creation such as the human coccyx (tailbone).
Was I thinking clearly? I remember processing through the book’s implications while sitting in my stateroom aboard USS Juneau. Suddenly, I realized that this must mean Adam didn’t exist. This was chilling; I even physically felt the tension in my chest. But I was determined to press on through this. After all, I reckoned, it’s important to be intellectually honest if my shipmates are going to respect me and hear what I have to say about Christ.
It was also around this time when I began to digest the writings of Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk. I found Spencer’s “post-evangelicalism” to be an appealing alternative to the seeming legalism of my past. Sure, I thought, Hanalani had taught me the Gospel, and I was thankful for that, but boy, it came with some serious Bob Jones legalism such as six-day literalism, not attending rock concerts, and no co-ed dancing. Oh, the horror.
So how exactly did I return to a six literal day position? It wasn’t instantaneous, to say the least. I’ll explain that in part 2.