From Creationist to Atheist to Reasonable Faith

Guest Blog by Ryan Ferguson

At the age of 6, I loved my family, my dog, my Lord Jesus, awesome flying kicks and Ankylosaurus. At the age of 6, this was considered perfectly normal and no one batted an eyelid.

At the age of 12, I was told I could love four of those five things, but when it came to the God who loves me and amazing ancient creatures, I had to choose.

Why? Because Ankylosaurus lived approximately 60,000,000 years ago, while the Bible “clearly” states that God created the world 6,000 years ago.

And, as the fundamentalists’ claims went, the Bible is inerrant, so if any of it is wrong, it’s all wrong.

In other words, if I’m not

sure that the world and life was created 6,000 years ago without evolution, I shouldn’t believe in Jesus, either. For the next six years I continually wrestled with a young earth worldview in light of so much evidence for an older earth.

At the age of 18, I couldn’t do it anymore. The answers I got from the Christians around me were: “We don’t need evidence – we have faith!” and “Who are you going to believe – scientists or God?”

Well, when the reason to believe God is “we have faith,” while the reason to believe scientists is “we have a large body of facts and data that reasonably point in a certain direction,” it’s quite sensible to feel backed into a corner where a reasonable man just wouldn’t choose God.

And that’s where I lamented being. I didn’t want to reject belief in God, I was pushed – both by the antitheists and the fundamentalists around me – to think I had no reasonable alternative but to reject belief in God. For a short period, I begrudgingly became an atheist.

It was at this point that my grandmother – a creative type like me, and a skeptic of both theism and atheism – was reaching the end of a long battle with cancer.

She had been a humanities teacher when she was younger, and so it should come as no surprise that she had an encyclopedic knowledge of the world from ancient times until the present, and her house was an unofficial library.

At the end of her life my dad and his siblings inherited her house, while my generation inherited her books. After years of being told by antitheists that there is no evidence for God, and by fundamentalists that we don’t need evidence for God, one specific book in grandma’s collection stood out to me: “God: The Evidence” by Patrick Glynn.[1]

Now, I’m not about to say that Glynn’s book is without problems or that the evidence he brings to the table makes a bulletproof case for God. It doesn’t.

But the fact that he brings forth evidence out of Big Bang cosmology (supporting a 14 billion year old cosmos, and implicitly a 4.5 billion year old solar system with life being found more or less when and where scientists suggest) did a couple things.

Firstly, it showed me that evidence of an old earth and cosmos does not distinctly point away from creation, despite what many had told me.

In fact, there are many features of the cosmos that are explained quite well through a theistic framework, with the odds running heavily against them if the cosmos is not designed.

Secondly, it prompted me to investigate further. If the cosmos itself is very likely the product of design, then what about life? It strikes me that despite decades of trying, abiogenesis has not been demonstrated in the lab.

And if it is ever demonstrated, it will most likely be because someone designed an experiment that went just right, the irony of which should be clear.

From there, I encountered the “irreducible complexity” argument. That is, living organisms operate systemically. There are some malleability within the various bodily systems, but there are some very complex systems in the body that, once broken down to a certain point, simply crash.

Like the keystone in a bridge, if you remove anything from the system, the whole thing fails. It is plausible that some of these systems are the result of other systems merging together, but that only moves the problem so that the same questions are raised of the former systems.

It also stretches the limits of plausibility that every system that appears irreducibly complex is the result of multiple simpler systems clicking into place together at the right time and in the right way so as to transition from function to function without catastrophic dysfunction landing between these steps.

This is especially difficult to sustain as plausible when subscribing to the position that evolution happens as the result of tiny copying errors in DNA over time.

Again, none of this is bulletproof. Happy accidents and functional coincidences happen all the time, and at the very edge of a bell curve, the least probable things do happen.

But ultimately it became clear to me that the atheism I had been told was scientifically proven wasn’t anything close to demonstrably true. A worldview held together by all of the least probable things happening without any guiding cause raising their probability is, well, exceedingly improbable.

To me, theism became monumentally more plausible than atheism, and it wasn’t in spite of evolution or Big Bang cosmology, it was through these streams of scientific inquiry.

It was still two more years before I became a full-fledged Christian. After all, looking at evolution in an old earth and seeing signs of a creator doesn’t directly indicate that this creator is a hyper-personal being (as is the case in the Triune God that Christians worship).

Nature itself doesn’t testify to a God who entered into his creation to bear the burden of human iniquity (as Jesus did by becoming a man and suffering public shame and execution on a Roman cross) and was then resurrected from the dead, assuring his followers that they, too, would join him in a future resurrection.

That involved actually reading Scripture, asking honest questions and receiving honest answers, and interrogating the evidence for or against any of the unique Biblical claims about God being true. But having the groundwork that nature points to a creator meant that I was able to come to Scripture open to the possibility that its big claims could be true.

Meanwhile, if the fundamentalists around me had had their way, I’d be stuck stumbling over cosmology and evolution.

Since then, my philosophical positions have evolved 🙂 and my reasons for believing in God are numerous. Consequently, even though Glynn got me started in looking into evidence for God, it is unlikely to impair my belief if further scientific discoveries falsify what was contemporary science at the time of writing.

That’s not to say I’ve become a fideist (one who subscribes to blind faith). Far from it. Rather, the philosophical landscape on the subject of God’s existence goes well and truly beyond Glynn’s writing, and there are other lines of reasoning I personally find far more compelling, all of which are perfectly compatible with evolution.

I now take the stance that the early chapters of Genesis primarily involve God speaking to Ancient Israelites through a worldview that was familiar to them, rather than God upgrading their scientific knowledge.

I agree with John Dickson’s proposition that Genesis critiques various ideas from surrounding cultures, with the 7-day account being a polarized twist on the 7-act Babylonian creation account, Enuma Elish.[2] Likewise, I agree (more or less) with John Walton’s reading that the beginning of Genesis is a temple account, more interested in the consecration of the world as God’s holy space to dwell with people than in absolute material origins.[3]

Bearing in mind that the early church fathers were as divided on how to read Genesis as Christians are today,[4] it appears quite likely that the Bible does not have an official stance on the scientific implications of Genesis.

That being the case, I feel comfortable to let Christ be Christ and let science be science, while knowing that at an essential level everything is created and sustained by God, regardless of how old the world is.

Do you have a similar story? Tell us by posting a comment below.

References

[1] Glynn, P. (1997). God: The evidence: The reconciliation of faith and reasons in a postsecular world. Ann Arbor, MI: Forum

[2] Dickson, J.P. (2008). The genesis of everything: An historical account of the Bible’s first chapter. ISCAST, 4. Retrieved from http://www.iscast.org/journal/articles/Dickson_J_2008-03_Genesis_Of_Everything.pdf

[3] Walton, J. (2014, May 9). Origins today: Genesis through ancient eyes [Video File]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/fR82a-iueWw

[4] De Beer, V. (2010). Genesis, creation and evolution. Retrieved September 30, 2016, from http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/view/de-beer-genesis-creation-and-evolution

 

86 Responses

  1. Hector Campbell says:

    amen

  2. Perry you’ve outdone yourself with this post. I’ve enjoyed our few emails and very much enjoy the responses to this post. Good folks, I’m sure, but nary a one understands or wants to understand science, evolution, physics, or geology. Every one begins with a bedrock belief in one interpretation of one of earth’s sacred books and measures and bends everything else until it fits their interpretation of the book. It’s all a little sad. And a little frightening.

    • Your insults are misplaced. I think there are a LOT of people here who want to understand science, evolution, physics, or geology. I invite you to pay closer attention to what people are discussing on this blog.

      • Not an insult! i know that these are mostly god folks. But Perry – you are struggling to get them to acknowledge the most basic of physical laws. They can’t. Why? Because their interpretation of a few verse of one of earth’s sacred books won’t allow it. Good luck!

  3. Steve Maley says:

    I will try to be brief. My spiritual journey is much as the one you describe, without the atheism.

    I have been an engineer in the oil and gas industry for 38 years. I took about 15 hours of college-level geology courses. Exploring for oil and gas involves a deep understanding of earth history, and it sure seems that the earth as we observe and understand it conforms with the scientific explanation better than a literal interpretation of the Genesis account. Every well that is drilled represents a multi-million dollar bet that there is systematic knowledge that explains the earth as we observe, and that is best described with an old earth model. Many of the professionals I associate with have advanced degrees and more than a few of them follow fundamentalist religions. I don’t know anyone engaged in this business who pursues a young earth model where the entire sedimentary sequence we see — 40- to 50,000 feet thick in the Gulf of Mexico — happened in a single global flood event 5,000 years ago.

    Maybe it happened that way, and God left a lot of misleading clues behind — I don’t believe that, though.

    My other relevant experience was when my older daughter was born with a heart murmur 34 years ago. The docs thought she might have had a patent ductus, a serious condition requiring immediate surgery. The ductus is basically a bypass vessel so a baby’s lungs don’t fill with blood in utero. At birth, the ductus spontaneously closes, and the lungs begin to fill when the baby takes its first breath.

    The thought occurred to me: How did the ductus, and the mechanism that causes it to close, evolve?

    That’s a serious question; I’m not schooled enough in phylogeny to know at what point the ductus appeared. It’s an example of two things that would have had to evolve simultaneously and independently of each other, when neither of them by itself has a survival advantage.

    • Thanks for your excellent blog comment! I’ve always felt that outside professions that don’t have a “dog in the hunt” like oil and gas and their million dollar bets, provide excellent fact checking in regards to experts who are normally more interested in theory and less reliant on fact.

      A parallel to this would be a comment Eva Jablonka made to me at the London Royal Society Evolution conference. She has long advocated “neo-Lamarckian” views of evolution, ie parents passed learned traits to their offspring. People like Richard Dawkins have ferociously opposed such ideas because they pull the rug right out from Neo-Darwinism and require the whole theory to be rebuilt from the ground up. It has been a long hard slog for her, but her ideas are now being accepted and Lamarck is making a comeback.

      She said to me, “When it was just people like me saying it, they could ignore me, but when it’s people in nutrition, cancer research, exercise, immunology etc who are ALL discovering inherited evolutionary adaptations, nobody can ignore it anymore.” The nutrition and exercise people don’t care about theories they care about performance. This is why different fields need to critique the origins people from the outside. Thanks for your post.

      • Hi Steve,

        Thanks for the valuable insight. I definitely agree with Perry that it’s really helpful fact-checking.

        To be charitable to a young earth view, one could argue (from their perspective) that the facts aren’t misleading, just misinterpreted. Of course, if that is the case, more facts would be needed to correct the mistake, and those facts themselves would need to be correctly interpreted. Presuming that the body of evidence has been grossly misinterpreted thus far, a pretty high standard of evidence would be needed to confirm the correct interpretation, and such evidence doesn’t appear to have come forward.

        Merely asserting that reading the Great Flood into the evidence resolves the appearance of an old earth (as they so often do) isn’t all that helpful, although I would genuinely like to see that claim put to the scientific test. Likewise, a YEC could point out that if God created the world to begin operation in a state of functional maturity, then it would appear older than it is, just as if Adam and Eve were created as adults, they would appear to be 18+ years older than they really are. That’s very reasonable, but it’s as much a case for belief that the world is in fact 6 minutes old as it is a case for belief that the world is 6,000 years old. It’s easy to see why the most prominent YEC apologists are also presuppositional apologists, giving themselves licence to treat YEC as an axiom rather than the topic of debate.

        The ductus is a great example of irreducible complexity as addressed in the OP. While the individual organs can certainly be reduced in their complexity, as a system, there’s a huge leap between the heart and lungs functioning that way and them functioning another way. You raise a great question there. Like you, I’m not schooled enough on the matter to give an answer, but at a glance it doesn’t look promising for natural materialism.

  4. Michael Hallmark says:

    Forget the cosmic mumbo jumbo, here’s why you shouldn’t believe in God: “It was at this point that my grandmother…was reaching the end of a long battle with cancer”.

    The ultimate indignity of our desperate lives and unseemly deaths is all the evidence one needs to reject a creator.

    • The problem of evil and suffering is certainly a harsh emotional problem, but as intelligent, reasoning human beings, it is plain that this problem only logically applies to a kind of deity that is worshiped by literally no religion or person anywhere. Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus all worship deities that are compatible with the harsh realities of our existence. Part of what makes Christianity beautiful out of the other religions is that the deity we worship is not impartial or indifferent to those harsh realities, but out of love for us endures those harsh realities with us, even to the point of a slow, brutal, humiliating public death. And, having conquered death, he not only gives us assurance of our own resurrection from the dead, but he also continues to walk with us and comfort us in every facet of this life.

      I realise that’s not at all a proof that any of this is true. But that’s not the point. The point is that as an intellectual problem, the problem of evil only critiques the omnipotent, omniscient god of negative utilitarianism — and no one worships that god, least of all Christians.

  5. Richard Young says:

    Growing up, I never heard the good news about Jesus. The few times my mother took me to church, the priest never spoke about the Gospel. Even though I had no reason to believe in God, I called out to him in desperation one day. I couldn’t see any point to life and I struggled with a purpose to keep going on. After crying out something like: “God help me”, the weight of the whole world seemed to come of of my shoulders.
    I called my girlfriend, who I had left, and said,”something happened to me! I feel good for the first time in my life. I want to get married, have a house and kids”. She saw the change in my life and we were married.
    I never heard about salvation and never read the Bible; I had no idea what happened to me except it was something that had to do with God. There was a voice constantly talking to me that I didn’t hear with my ears. He said” I love you! I want to take care of you! Listen to me, and do what I say”! I finally had a life! I did what God told me to do, never wanting to go back.
    He never condemned me, even though he had a lot of reasons to do so. As I let him have his way with me, He began to perfect me; Smoking, drinking and cursing were gone in my life. He taught me how to forgive others. He showed me that I was forgiven. Then I was able to forgive myself. I had a strong desire to tell people all that God had done for me.
    The part I struggled with, was when he told me to sell everything and move to Florida. I was happy where I was! There was no reason to move! But I did move and was surprised when my family agreed to it.
    When I got to Florida, I met some people who understood my relationship with God. They ministered to to me for weeks. After reading some scriptures that they had recommended, the words seemed to jump out of the page. I realized that I was a born again Christian! I confessed Jesus as my Lord!
    I told my wife what had happened, she thought it was nonsense!
    When her Mother passed away she got depressed because they were very close. While I was at work, She prayed, “God either save me like you did my husband or take me away! I can’t take life any more. You show me where to read in the bible”. She opened the Bible and read, “knock and the door shall be opened”. Jesus rushed into her! When I came home from work, she had a strange look on her face. She told me that God saved her, Jesus was in her heart and that she had never seen such a beautiful day in all her life. My family and I started going to Church! My two sons got saved soon after.
    My spiritual life kept getting better, but the business I started, was a failure, nothing seemed to go right. I lost everything! With one months rent left in the bank, I laid on my bed and prayed; I said “God, I want nothing more to do with this life. I don’t care what you do with me. You have to take care of me now”. Since that day everything was OK.
    I didn’t like to be around people because of the way they treated me when I was younger with the depression I had. Not realizing that I was repenting, I said, “God, I don’t want to be like this anymore”.
    God soon filled me with his love, overflowing to the point where I loved everyone.
    I found out that if I told my story to my customers, most of them wanted what I have. I would tell my story, ask them if they ever had an experience with God. If their answer was no, I would reach for their hand and pray out loud, God save him/her. The Holy Spirit would take over! As I would ask them to repeat a prayer, some could not finish the prayer without crying. I could see the wrinkles leave their face. Thousands of people prayed with me during my last 10 years in my service business.

    During the first 15 years of my salvation, I was taught only by God There was no man to teach me! When I started going to church, their religious teaching was contradicting God. We finally found a church where their teaching agrees with the bible and what God had taught me.

  6. Given that the solar calendar did not exist until the fourth day of creation, and the word used for “day” in the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic is used for a twenty-hour period, a time frame, and an era, depending on context, as in “In Abraham’s day…” one would have to assume that the first three days, and likely the fourth day of creation were not confined to a simple twenty-four hour cycle. The Earth is, as science states, billions of years old. That is not in conflict with Genesis. The vast majority of believers are not aware of this.

  7. Barton Drake says:

    good article. As we come to know God through Jesus the Christ. We have a personal history of interrelationship which trumps any attack. Within the framework of Christian community we can overcome any obstacle to walking hand in hand with the Living God.

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