CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.
Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons.
Many of my high-school days were spent reading books like Darwin’s Black Box and The Case for a Creator. My church and family were six-day Young-Earth Creationists, and defending this interpretation of Genesis 1-2 from Neo-Darwinian or Gap theory was central to my faith system at the time.
Without a literal understanding of those chapters, I believed, the Gospel fell apart.
For many years I made it my mission to stay current with all the creationist arguments—I’m fairly certain I’ve read any layman-accessible book on the subject that was published before 2005, and I read the Answers in Genesis blog and Ex Nihilo (now called Journal of Creation) fairly consistently up until 2009. Creationism was important enough to me that I defended it even when I struggled with the rest of Christian theology and the concept of a loving God in particular.
In college, I decided that it was pointless for me to keep reading only books written by creation scientists, so I started picking up other works like The God Delusion and A Brief History of Time. Dawkins’ book rattled me because he agrees with fundamentalists about the nature of God but is far starker and blatant in his descriptions, but nothing any of these books said about creation really shook me. I already had arguments that “disproved” their position.
During this time, I got involved in a fairly heavy internet debate on creationism that went on for weeks. Interestingly enough, even though the debate started out extremely antagonistic, it grew milder and eventually I became friends with a few people from the “opposition.”
Toward the end of that conversation, one of my fellow debaters brought up a point I’d never encountered before: endogeneous retroviruses. He sent me a few journal articles about it, and after reading them I was deeply disturbed. ERV insertion points in human and chimp genomes matched too closely for comfort, and I was sick and tired of the “common creator” defense. A common creator could explain a lot of things from an early 20th century phylogeny perspective but not with modern understandings of genome mapping—and most especially not ERV insertion points.
So, I did what any good creationism-defender would do: I wrote a letter to Answers in Genesis. I outlined the debate I was in, included links to the journal articles, explained all the research I’d already done (which included everything AiG had on genetics at the time), and asked if there was a creation scientist who’d studied ERVs and had a compelling argument against them as evidence for common ancestry.
The letter I got back was … infuriating would be putting it mildly.
They sent me a link to an AiG article on genetics that didn’t even mention ERVs (they’ve since updated a page to include it after I called them on it last year, but they only fall back on their position regarding “junk DNA” and don’t engage with the evidence satisfactorily), and then they went on to call into question my salvation, my faith, my relationship with Jesus, my intelligence, and my dedication to creationism.
They didn’t even bother answering my question.
They sent back an irrelevant blog post and then told me that my actual problem was not having enough unflinching, blind, unquestioning faith in the creationism model.
If I really believed in creationism, then my confidence should be unassailable and no amount of evidence for common ancestry should bother me, they said.
That was when the house of cards come crashing down. I’d spent the last few years struggling with other aspects of my faith, struggling to believe in God, struggling to believe that Christianity was true. I’d clung to creationism like a lifeline because if I could prove creationism, then Christianity was a fact no matter my doubts about the matter, and I didn’t have to go through the excruciating process of asking questions I didn’t want to think about.
I’d turned to AiG in a literal moment of desperation because they were my intellectual stronghold. AiG supposedly encouraged learning, thinking, engaging, criticizing, evaluating. They represented the last reserve I had in keeping my fundamentalist faith intact, of believing in Christianity as a literal, falsifiable, provable fact.
What I received from them was the opposite of everything I’d trusted them to be. I thought my question would be received warmly, my willingness to engage with evolutionary arguments praised.
Instead they shamed me for daring to do what I’d always believed was a central part of creation science: asking questions.
At that moment, I could no longer in good conscience defend creationism or any other part of my fundamentalist faith—the only faith system I believed had an ounce of integrity or truthfulness on its side. I was rudderless.
It’s been five years since then and I’ve managed to reclaim my identity as a Christian, although Ken Ham would probably condemn me and my progressive beliefs in the harshest language possible. In a way, I should probably thank him. Without such a colossal failure on his part, I might never have had the opportunity to really start questioning everything I believed.