My first semester astrophysics professor lectured in front of 25 of my fellow students.
“What wavelength of solar radiation reaches Earth’s surface with the least amount of attenuation? What wavelength is the least scattered or absorbed by the atmosphere?”
“About 550 nanometers,” answered one of the students.
“That is right! 550 nanometers corresponds to the green portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The light that we perceive as green is the light that is most efficiently transmitted to Earth’s surface. That is why leaves appear green. And the human eye also has its peak sensitivity at 550 nanometers! Our eyes are more sensitive to green than any other color. Coincidence? Not at all. This is evidence of …”
I had heard this before. Chuck Missler used to stand in front of a crowd of hundreds in Calvary Chapel and give endless peculiar examples like this as evidence of obvious design by our loving Creator. How is it that possible that our eyes could possess peak sensitivity at the optimal wavelength of solar irradiation? How could the human eye possibly know where the sun would shine brightest? Chuck Missler would say, “This is evidence of God’s handiwork”.
“This is evidence of Evolution by Natural Selection,” said my professor. “The mechanism is amazing.”
I have mentioned several times in this story that I have always accepted Evolution as the best and most accurate explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. I never told anybody in Calvary Chapel about my belief in the Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection. Evolution, as I understood it, made perfect sense to me. Evolution was intuitive to me, as the logic of it was gleaned from all the hikes and exploring of my youth, and witnessing firsthand the geology and climate of the vast desert. It made more sense to me than the literal belief in a first man named Adam, and him naming all of God’s creatures. True, I did believe the Genesis story because I had to as part of my Christian belief, but I always assumed that there was some non-literal or allegorical explanation behind the Biblical account, and I left it at that. I did not explore the problem further, not because I feared the story would be debunked, but because it just seemed like an unsolvable problem, and I did not want to waste time wrestling with Christian issues that were peripheral to the central Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also worried that becoming sidetracked by angels that danced on pinheads would become unnecessarily divisive within my Christian community.
Yet my belief in Evolution, as much as I accepted it, was immature before I enrolled in college. Enrolling in a science and engineering university forced me to think about these scientific issues in a way that intruded uncomfortably on my religious beliefs. I could not simply ignore Evolution like I had in the past. Being confined in a science and engineering university forced me to confront it in a way that was sometimes a little too uncomfortable. The implications of the Theory of Evolution via natural selection are earth-shattering to any person who believes that humans are special creations of God, and distinct and separate from the animal kingdom. Many Christians who accept Evolution, like I did, have to sidestep or even ignore these implications in order, I now believe, to cling to their beloved Faith. I just accepted Evolution without fully understanding it, and did not dissect it fully enough to discover the problems that it would give to my Faith.
Christians have every reason to either dismiss Evolution as a fraud, claim it is without scientific support, or tentatively and grudgingly accept it only to brush it and its uncomfortable ramifications under the rug. When my professor fiendishly told us students that the human eye is most sensitive at the same wavelength as the peak solar irradiance, I could just as easily have claimed that it was not due to Evolution, but was instead evidence of the exquisite design of our loving creator. God made our eyes sensitive in the green portion of the solar spectrum because God made the Earth’s atmosphere transparent to that part of the solar spectrum. How else could we explain the interlocking serendipity of the otherwise unrelated human eye and a sphere of plasma 93 million miles away?
Despite my belief in the Theory of Evolution, and despite living in a university environment that stressed methodology over certainty, my brain still protested with echoes of Evangelical Christian propaganda. To think that Evolution could produce us, in our complexity, out of nothing but a stew of chemicals, and with nothing but blind chance, was seemingly impossible. Pastor Skip, who just repeated to us clichés that he had heard, said that it was like assembling a 747 jet airliner with a tornado rampaging through a junkyard. The eye, I was told, was too complex to assemble by chance and out of multiple inter-dependent parts. I still have an old sermon on cassette by Henry Morris, father of Flood Geology and author of The Genesis Flood, in which he claims that something as complex as the eye could not form by random mutations. Each of perhaps hundreds of mutations would have to be independently directed to the benefit of eyesight. The mutations could not form gradually from these random mutations over millions of years, so I was told by Henry Morris. What good is half an eye?
Out on one of my multiple geological field trips in the desert, rock hammer in hand, I asked one of my friends about some of the problems that I had understanding Evolution. More precisely, I asked him about problems that Evangelical Christianity told me I should have with Evolution.
“Like what?” he asked. I gave him the problem of the existence of the eye that Henry Morris told me was unsolvable through the blind chance of Evolution. After my friend solved the problem of the eye after about one minute of explanation, and after he scanned the harsh desert that we hiked through and reminded me about the natural, environmental pressures that drive natural selection, I never again thought of Henry Morris, young earth creationism, or flood geology as viable or believable scientific theories about our natural world.
Pastors Skip and Chuck, indeed nearly everybody I knew in Calvary Chapel was convinced that Evolution was not only wrong, but also a willful deception. A lie. Evolution was an unproven theory, they said, that people who hated God clung to in their desperation to deny His existence. ‘Evolutionism’ was viewed as an alternate religion to Christianity. Most of my friends back in Calvary Chapel did not think that heathens were deluded by the faulty evidence for Evolution, rather they believed that these heathens used Evolution as a smokescreen to outwardly deny what they inwardly knew to be true – that Jesus was Lord, and would be their ultimate judge. Heathen Evolutionists were deluding themselves because of their hatred toward God.
This was emphasized when a special guest visited the New Mexico Tech campus for a free lecture. Phillip Johnson, widely regarded as the father of the Intelligent Design movement, visited our campus and spoke to a packed auditorium. I have to give him credit for his courage. He spoke to an auditorium full of students, professors and scientists about the myopia of their methodological naturalism. Surely, we must supplement our instruction of Evolution with at least the possibility of a Designer. Since Evolution alone cannot possibly explain the complexity of the biological cell, or the self-aware mind in the human brain, we need to consider that there is some Purposeful Mind at work behind the biology. I had never heard of Phillip Johnson before, but I had seen his book Darwin on Trail in the church bookstore, and I knew that he was an Evangelical Christian. Although he purposefully never mentioned God, Jesus or the Bible in his public lecture, he otherwise spoke just as Chuck Missler would speak to a Sunday morning congregation. I knew damn well that ‘Designer’ was just a euphemism purposefully chosen for a secular audience.
After the lecture, Johnson took questions. One of the biology professors came absolutely unglued. She stood and pointed at him, doing her best to control her anger. “How dare you come here and accuse us of intentionally hiding data! I do this for a living! I devote my life to this!” With that notable exception, most of the professors stayed quiet until they walked into the foyer. From there, I heard plenty of snickers from the Geology department. “I can’t believe that guy. He thinks we are in a conspiracy to hide damning evidence against Evolution.”
One by one, the stories from the Bible that I had been taught, since childhood, to take as literal truth, were crumbling into mere fables. Adam and Eve? I had always taken that as some sort of metaphor, but pondering Evolution proved it to be nothing but myth. Noah’s Ark? Geology and physics demonstrated this story to be impossible if taken literally. I especially remember the insight I felt thinking about the origin of the rainbow. Rainbows are formed due to the natural refraction of light through the natural prism of water vapor. Did the refractive properties and the laws of optics not exist before God formed a rainbow for Noah as a sign of His promise? Absurd. The deconstruction of my literal belief continued. There was no ice canopy that covered Earth to give it a universally ideal climate. A comet did not shatter the ice canopy, did not create the Deluge, and did not cause the first rain and thus the first rainbow. This was all ad-hoc speculation that had no scientific basis.
On and on it went during my years in University. Diverse languages did not originate at the Tower of Babel. People did not live in excess of 900 years. Evolution via Natural Selection was only a controversy within Christianity. The controversy did not exist outside the walls of the Church. Men did not escape death by being escorted to Heaven in a flying chariot. For that matter, Heaven was not in the sky or anywhere ‘up there’.
The Red Sea did not part at the stroke of Moses’ staff, and the Israelites did not escape the Egyptians on dry ground. There were no supernatural plagues to strike the Egyptians. I supposed that the fantastic numbers of Israelites were exaggerated a bit, and that there were natural causes to all the ‘miracles’ of the Exodus. However I figured that God was the moving force behind all these events. The Egyptian chariots may have merely gotten stuck in the marshy mud in their pursuit of their Israelite slaves, but God was the one responsible for placing the mud there in the first place.
Nearly all of the miraculous elements of the Bible were debunked in my mind. But somehow, I still believed. I just downgraded the miraculous to something more like the natural world that we observed. Unbelievers claim that they never see the miraculous hand of God in the modern world, scientific, naturalistic world. But, I figured, they did not understand that the hand of God was actually everywhere at work in the world, we just had trouble recognizing it because it was not the fireball from heaven that we were expecting. The mundane world only operates through the Will of God, and every event occurs only through His providence. In that sense, everything is a miracle. It is only in hindsight that we look back, and we can link the events together that brought us into this special place. How was I fortunate enough, I of all people, to find myself in a University? Well, I could look back at the various events that happened previously in my life, not all of them pleasant, which brought me to the enviable position that I was currently in. How can that be explained away? How can all those people and events come into my life, to place me in this position today, except by the divine Grace of God?
My criticism of the miraculous in the Bible stopped at Jesus. This is where the Bible remained untouched. Jesus was God on Earth. He had ultimate faith in His Father, more Faith than any mere human could muster, so He was able to perform His miracles, as evidenced by the eyewitnesses who wrote the Gospels. Jesus was, so to speak, too hot for me to touch. How could we have a redeemer of mankind who was not able to also perform miracles? I was able to demystify almost the entire Bible as stories or legends or products of their time, but not the Gospels. That was hitting too close to home. Instead, my growing non-literal belief in Scripture assured me that I was not actually losing my Faith. Far from it. I was just growing more mature as a believer. I was becoming educated and my beliefs more, I believed, sophisticated. I no longer needed the strict literalism required for childish belief.
Somehow all disciplines, whether scientific, historical, or religious, like my Christian belief, converged and harmonized into some ultimate Truth. My professors were not lying when they said they had evidence for Evolution. The Theory of Evolution was the best model that they knew of to explain the evidence that they collected. Where did this leave Pastor Skip back in Calvary Chapel? The conspiracy theories of Chuck Missler or the flood geology of Henry Morris? The pastors and teachers of my youth in Cape Baptist Christian School? Pastor Jack of New Hope Church? Even my boyhood religious instruction from the fire-breathing Grandpa Wagner? None of them were lying either. They were all presenting truth as best as they understood it, but all in different ways. They all loved Jesus, and they all accepted the Gospel in ways that they understood. Jesus met them where they were at their own unique perspectives.
Most of my friends at New Mexico Tech were international students. During my years in university, I had more friends from Asia and Europe than I did American friends, and I loved learning about their differences in food, music and culture. But in order to do this, I had to become inclusive in this new environment of vast cultural and religious ideas. I had to accept scientific evidence, and somehow incorporate it into my religious beliefs. I no longer preached or witnessed to my friends, and I no longer felt any pressure or guilt for not witnessing. I can only think of one exception to this. I remember one evening in the first year of university career, while discussing religion with my girlfriend B----, I decided to use the C.S. Lewis Lord Liar Lunatic argument that I had learned so well from Pastor Skip. I was not trying to convert her, since she always claimed to be a Christian, but I just wanted to get her reaction to an apologetic argument that I knew her mainline church had never exposed her to. I recited to B---- most of the words of Jesus from John chapter 10. From memory:
…My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.
“Does a normal human say things like this?” I asked B----. “Are these the words of a merely good man, or a sane human?” B---- gave me a look that I was used to seeing after giving apologetic arguments. She probably wondered if mine were the words of a normal or sane human.
I confess this inclusiveness was sometimes a little uncomfortable for me. I occasionally attended a United Methodist church across from campus. I knew nothing of this particular Christian denomination, but I knew it was some form of Christianity, even though I knew it was a form of Christianity that the likes of Calvary Chapel despised. I did, however go because the options were slim. New Mexico Tech is in the tiny town of Socorro, NM and there were few churches to choose from. There was no Calvary Chapel, but I figured that was just as well. I did not want to go there anyway, or to the town’s only Baptist church. I had my fill of literalism and the guilt that came with it. I was not about to go to a Catholic church. This pretty much left the United Methodist as the only option left to me. But I could not attend regularly. It was most difficult for me because of the female pastor at this United Methodist Church. I could downgrade the miraculous to legend. I could be inclusive as far as I felt the Bible would allow me. But accepting a female pastor was ultimately too difficult. Couldn’t these supposed Christians see that allowing a female to pastor a church was in direct contradiction to the Bible, for instance 1 Corinthians 14:34-35?
Despite these reservations, I had to admit that I had left Christianity as I knew it. I was still a Christian who had to accept the physical world that I was learning so much about. I could not accept that people who did not believe exactly as I did were lying about their convictions, or that anybody was being deceitful. I became a generic, liberal Christian. And again, I believe that I found myself in a place that many Christians find themselves stuck in when they are forced to leave some kind of religious fundamentalism. I did not criticize my beliefs to the point where it cut too deep. Of course I was still a Christian. Jesus was my still Savior and I believed the Bible to be the Word of God. But I admitted that there was much that I did not know, but somehow, someway I knew it was still all true. And I left it at that.