Some time ago, an excellent article appeared online reminding us that “pixels are people.” Behind every podcast, blog, and book we consume, there is a living, breathing human being made in the image and likeness of God.
Including those with whom we disagree.
Perhaps nowhere is this point easier to forget than in the origins debate. For some, this is a clear dividing line—if you subscribe to evolution in any form, you’re selling out the gospel. Others would rather stick their fingers in their ears and run away than engage the conversation. The debate gets too heated too quickly, and, when we’re not careful, people get burned.
This is what happened to Tim Stafford’s son, Silas. “Silas got burned by the fight over Genesis,” he writes in his latest book, The Adam Quest. Silas loved geology and chose to major in it in college, but his love for this scientific field began to cause friction with friends who insisted the earth is young.
If Silas wanted to be a serious Christian, he had to get out of geology. Whatever geologists believed about the age of the earth was completely wrong. . . . They could not let the subject alone. I imagine that they felt they were courageous Christians, speaking up for scriptural truth and refusing to let a friend go down the path of ungodliness. In practice, though, they drove Silas away from faith. (2)
Silas is by no means alone; many—on both side of the debate—have felt alienated from Christian fellowship over this matter. Their love of science and their faith seem at odds, and they’re unsure how to reconcile the two. But Stafford, senior writer for Christianity Today, wants to show them that science and sincere faith aren’t diametrically opposed. And he does so by humanizing the debate—introducing readers to 11 scientists, each of whom professes faith in Christ, and each of whom holds differing views on origins.
This approach—which is the most compelling reason to read The Adam Quest—will surely frustrate many of its readers, even as it elates others. As long as a position remains an abstract concept, it’s easy to ignore the “human” factor. That is, we can quickly forget that our rhetoric in debating various views really does affect people. Like Silas’s friends, we don’t notice the effect of our words. We’re too busy trying to win an argument to realize we’re losing the person.
But humanizing doesn’t just remind us of the people affected; it rounds out the perspectives on each view. Although Kurt Wise, Todd Wood, and Georgia Purdom espouse young earth creationism, by reading each’s story you begin to see their nuances to the position. You realize it’s built on something more than a literalistic approach to Scripture. These are not foolish, naïve men and women. They are extremely thoughtful, winsome, intelligent, and most importantly, humble. Nowhere does this characteristic shine more clearly than in Stafford’s profile of Wood:
Ending the war will involve repentance on all sides, [Wood] thinks. “I can’t make somebody else repent of what he is doing wrong. I can only repent of what I am doing wrong. If I do that publicly enough, maybe I will inspire others. The quest stops being about saving the church and exposing heresy. It starts being about serving the Creator, which is what it was always supposed to be.” (45)
Conversely, one can’t help but notice more than a hint of triumphalism in the attitudes of the advocates of intelligent design (ID), particularly Michael Behe. “I’m very optimistic ID will prevail. . . . Biology is getting more complex, not less, to levels we didn’t even know about when I wrote Darwin’s Black Box. Darwinism is toast, clearly.” (84) But where Behe is confident, ID proponent Fazale Rana’s optimism is far more tempered. “I don’t know that the ID community has ever really delivered on [a viable model].” Because many ID proponents prematurely went on the offensive, though, the scientific community reacted violently. “If they had kept the discussion at the academic level, it might be different” (101).
And then there are the adherents to what Stafford calls “evolutionary creationism,” or more traditionally, theistic evolution. Again, much like the young earth creationists, these scientists profiled by Stafford speak with humility. A kind of wide-eyed excitement comes through in much of what they’re saying. Like their opposite numbers, they rightly marvel at the complexity of the world God has made, and they joyfully see scientific discovery as a means of discovering more about it.
But what’s striking—and perhaps troubling—is how evolutionary creationists tend to approach the Bible. Mary Schweitzer, for example, whose claim to fame is discovering red blood cells in fossils (and whose work is regularly used in attempts to debunk evolution, much to her consternation), prefers to “let God be God,” believing there’s room in the Bible for an old Earth and a world populated by dinosaurs (115).
Moreover, Darrell Falk, author of Coming to Peace with Science, states: “The sudden creation view is not compatible with scientific data. . . . It is contrary to almost all of science . . . it is something different, namely a particular view of Scripture. It is religion” (131). Falk can be read as having an almost subjective view of truth when it comes to Scripture. Because we’re not all going to agree, we should agree to disagree for the good of the church:
We must be patient with each other and allow each other to follow truth as we see it in Scripture. . . . When there is division in the church it will be difficult for the thirsty to find their way to Jesus. (136)
This point exposes the most significant problem with evolutionary creationism as a whole—the Bible. By requiring pain and death in the beginning, evolution tells a different story of the world than the Bible does. And only recently have “evolutionary creationists . . . begun to take this challenge with full seriousness” (205). Whether their alternative readings of Genesis merit serious consideration is another matter.
Stafford firmly believes in the authority of Scripture, but he isn’t convinced the young earth creationist (YEC) view is the right one. If he had nothing else to go on, he says, he “would accept a YEC interpretation of Genesis” (206). Instead, he believes evolutionary creationism offers the greatest opportunity to bridge the gap and effectively end the culture war between faith and science—if it can begin taking the Bible seriously enough.
But again, the problem is the Bible itself. The fact that scholars are devising alternate readings reveals the problem, to say nothing of the implications of such reinterpretations. It’s helpful for us to remember that no portion of Scripture exists in a vacuum. Each is part of a larger whole. When you begin to consider how much of the Bible lays its foundation on Genesis 1–3—the absolute sovereignty of God over all creation; marriage as one man and one woman; our rhythm of work and rest; the gospel itself—Christians are rightly skeptical of approaches that risk undermining essential truths.
Which takes us back to the beginning of this review. The Adam Quest will not change anyone’s mind on how the earth and everything in it came to be. But it’s not meant to accomplish that goal. Instead, we need to consider the human factor in the argument. We are going to disagree with one another on origins. But by remembering our views on this matter don’t exist in abstract—behind them are flesh-and-blood image bearers—we’re far more likely to pursue earnest debate in a spirit of humility, seeking to win the person, not simply the argument. And if you take away nothing else from The Adam Quest, I’m fairly certain its author—and maybe his son—will be thrilled.
Title: The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held on to a Strong Faith While Wrestling with the Mystery of Human Origins
Author: Tim Stafford
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2013)
Buy it at: Amazon