Thursday, August 10, 2006

You Can SO Be A Christian AND Believe In The Validity Of Science

If you get to know me much at all, you find out pretty soon that, as far as representatives of my faith go, I love me some Billy Graham. LOVE. HIM. I used to really worry about who would speak for Christians such as myself and the millions of others like me after he was gone...and then, thankfully, Rick Warren came along, and I feel a little better. No man, even among men of God, are perfect, but there are some real stinkers out there, in my opinion, and I'd hate for those voices to be all that were left to speak "for me."

So, moving along, hey! I DO, in fact, have a point! I have long been really disturbed by the idea that many people seem to have that, if you are a Christian, you are automatically someone who disavows evolution and, in fact, many of the scientific discoveries and advances of civilization. I have a whole different take than I'm supposed to on that "Darwin Fish." You know, the "Jesus Fish" with the legs on it? I know that it's supposed to be a slam against Christians who proclaim their faith (in what I personally feel is a pretty benign, peaceful manner) by the display of a long-accepted symbol of Christianity, the twin-arc fish, often on their personal vehicles. The "Darwin Fish" adds legs to the fish, and to me, that's a near-perfect illustration of my feelings about the interweaving of science and faith. Yes, I am a Christian. And no, the fact that life has evolved (fish got legs!) over millions of years threatens my faith NOT ONE BIT. And do I "believe" in evolution? To me, that's like asking if I "believe" in genetics, or biology, or physics, or mathematics. If you're not clear, YES. I DO.

So it was that I read Friday's local paper with much rejoicing at the "Billy Graham on Christianity" feature that appears daily in the Style section. I'll just give you the abridged version:

An 8-year-old girl writes in and asks Rev. Graham, "Did Noah's ark have dinosaurs on it? Or did they maybe die in the flood?"

Just the question made me happy, because I knew--KNEW--that Rev. Billy would handle the question with aplomb, kindness, and above all, common sense. He wrote a lot about the importance of the story of Noah, and the pertinent ideas that we, as Bible scholars, should take from it, but before that, he addresses the Burning Question that has driven so many to distraction (I actually once attended--quite accidentally--a presentation by an admittedly faith-driven man who was VERY convicted in the idea that there WERE dinosaurs on the ark. He had a huge visual aid consisting of an ark on a papier-mache background with disembarking animals AND dinosaurs of all types. What I mainly recall is that he was, in his visual-aid, unable to maintain any sort of spatial/perspective accuracy between species, so that a cow, an Apatosaurus and a giant tortoise might have all appeared approximately the same size.):

Rev. Graham: Dear M.S.: Noah lived many thousands of years ago, and the Bible doesn't give a detailed list of what birds and animals were included on the ark.

The Bible does say, however, that the reason God preserved the animals and birds on the ark was "to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth" after the flood was gone (Genesis 7:3). Since dinosaurs apparently were extinct a long time before Noah, and also didn't appear after the flood, it seems unlikely that his ark included such creatures.

Ahhhh. Now, I'm not trying to start, nor do I have ANY desire to entertain, any "Was so! Was not!" discussion on the fact/fiction, literalism, or figurativeness of the Noah and the ark story. So don't even start, please. But what I would like to point out, and what I am grateful to the Rev. Graham for, are his statements such as "Noah lived many thousands of years ago...", which flies in the face of the whole "The earth is only 4,000 (or whatever) years old" fundie argument that makes my teeth hurt. I also very much appreciated the absolute acceptance of the FACT of dinosaurs (I'm honestly stunned at how many seemingly reasonable people can deny their existence), and also of the FACT that they were EXTINCT "a long time before Noah."

It may seem like a small thing, but to someone like me (and there are MANY of us), a devout Christian who believes that God imbued us humans not only with free will, but with the wherewithal, intellect, motivation, and opportunity to figure out this world He created for us, and the conviction that what we discover is not only not threatening, but intrinsic, to our faith...well, it means a lot. Thanks for listening.


  1. Excellent stuff!

    Another version of your argument would be:

    Q. Were there dinosaurs on Noah's Ark?
    A. No, because Classic Rock hadn't been invented yet.


    And now I must tear myself away from your comment box to check out the links to the stinkers. ;)

  2. Actually Billy was wrong. Birds are descendents of dinosaurs as are lizards and reptiles. And they're still with us, so if you actualy believe that the ark saved the species of animals that survive on earth, then indeed dinoraurs of a type were on the arc.

    I'm big on evolution myself!

  3. Thank you.

    I grew up in a fundie religion, and my parents absolutely scoff at science.

    It's so frusterating that they can think that scientific studies of the earth's crust, or animals that are STILL EVOLVING TODAY, etc, are all just made up stories to promote evolution.


  4. Well, he was answering a little girl's VERY SPECIFIC question about actual dinosaurs, so I think he answered correctly. She wasn't asking if there were animals on the ark who had *evolved* from dinos. And I think we all agree that your classic "dinos" were extinct long before there were people around, regardless of what the Flintsones might have us believe.

  5. adena--I always wonder how people who think that way explain things like the differently-evolved species on the Galapagos Islands. Or even, if you want to get overly simplistic about it, "artificial evolution," such as is at play in the development, by man, of different breeds of domestic animals.

  6. Actually, dinosaurs didn't really exist. God planted fossils all over just to confuse us.


    I love Graham's response to that little girl. Very well thought out.

  7. Whenever discussing religion and evolution, I always have to bring up a story about my father. He works for the LDS Church Family History library. Prior to getting his MLS, he had recieved a BS in anthropolgy and archeology. A few years back they had a "dress like one of your ancestors" work day. He went out and rented a gorilla suit and wore it to work. He thought it was pretty funny, but I guess a couple his co-workers gave him dirty looks.

  8. I'm a scientist (geologist) and a Christian. I've had some pretty terrible reactions when I told people at two different churches (we were trying to find a church we both agreed on after we were married) what I did for a living. Their reaction was so extreme, you'd have thought I'd told them that I tortured puppies and kittens for a living! Needless to say, we didn't go back. I don't understand the rift between modern Christianity and science. At least I'm not alone! Great post.

  9. I just forwarded the St. Peterburg article to Paul yesterday, and it looks like I'm going to have to send him another one!!!

    Girl...I think you need a column in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette!!


  10. Thanks for sharing this post. I generally avoid writing about religion or my spirituality because I'm having a hard time right now reconciling a lot of things I've learned in and out of the Church. This post has helped me see that I can still consider myself a Christian even if I don't always agree with everything I've been taught or witnessed. And that I shouldn't be afraid to work things out in writing every now and then. Thanks again!

    And thanks for checking out my blog, even if you can't comment there.

  11. Oh my goodness, Belinda, first the "cow revelation" (all cows are female!), now you tell me that Billy Graham is okay with evolution?
    My parents were brought up Jewish and Episcopalian, but became atheist/agnostic before I was born, and the only religion I got, growing up, was from the camp I attended some weekends and in the summer that had horses. They also had fundamentalist religion, with daily chapel, etc. I remember being horrified to hear a councilor tell another camper that dinosaur bones were Planted by scientists to fool people (see, Karl, it was the Evil Scientists, not God). As the daughter of a marine biologist and retired biology teacher, I found this absurd accusation very upsetting, and, even after I became a Christian myself during my college years, I continued to disapprove of fundamentalist Christians for this "science is a conspiracy" attitude. More recently, as a homeschooler, I've become friends with some women who believe in Young Earth Creationism, and have mellowed a bit -- we don't agree on evolution, but we have plenty of other things in common.
    The thing is, though, that I've always thought Billy Graham was a fundamentalist. I'm not sure where I got the idea. I love his answer to that little girl with the dinosaur question. Without getting into the element of myth in the Noah story, that answer agrees with my view of the matter, which is that God's creation is vast, complex, and, ultimately, to great for our understanding, but that we have been given intelligence and rationale abilities for a reason. When I learn something about quarks or protons or photosynthesis or stars in unimaginably distant galaxies, it doesn't weaken my faith, but, rather, fills me with an even greater wonder for God's creation.
    Thanks, Belinda, for giving me a new author to try!

  12. Don't despair at Graham's mortality...there is a whole new breed of Christian evangelists, who in my opinion are thinking more intelligently and compassionately about WWJD and consequently not needing to wear it.

    Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistable Revolution, is great. I am also intreigued by Tony Campolo, although I side with his wife on the ability of same-gender relationships to be holy and right.

    My husband recently read, Seasons of a Life, by former pro football player Jeffrey Marx and was very inspired by it. I bet from what little of Alex I know, he would love it also.


  13. My parents are Christians, as am I. There are some things I don't agree with that scientists have said (not neccessarily proven), and some things I do agree with. I don't think that there is any dispute about dinasours being on the earth, but I do not agree with evolution as the reason they were here/we are here now. My father does a lot with indian artifacts and other artifacts, and there is stuff from 10's of thousands of years ago. I believe in creation and other things as the reason dinosaurs and other humans inhabited the earth eons ago.

  14. I figure that I'll find out the truth of things after I die.

    I'm in no rush to get there, so there's no reason to get all worked up about it. :)

    And if God created stuff, wouldn't it make sense there's a logic to it?

  15. As always, Belinda, well thought out post! I'm so glad to see that not all of our Christian representatives are anti-science nutjobs.

  16. The Bible has never claimed to be a scientific book but there are interesting nuggets to be found that are wholly accurate, such as Isaiah 40:22, "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in." These words were penned in 700BC centuries before people believed the earth was round.

    I am convinced as you are Belinda that we each have to use our marvelous brains and take responsibility for what we believe.

    Great post. Hugs,

  17. Yet another post that shows why I adore you.

    I have family members that getting into that "fundie" Noah's flood made the Grand Canyon thing. And I've kept my mouth shut. And YOU KNOW how hard it is for me to keep my mouth shut.

    If more Christians were like you. Really like YOU and your family, this world would be a much better place.

  18. I think the world of Big B.G. too. I remember a debate in my church in Atlanta about the best evangelism. I think we do Jesus and our faith poor service when we let one side of our internal dialogue claim itself to be the "Christian" voice. I remember saying that it helps no-one if non-Christians think that Jesus is the God of wing-nuts.

    Oh, and I was very proud of a funny I made when the word on my site was "mythology" and someone asked whether mythology was evolution or creationism. I asked her which one had the walking fish again.

    More importantly, how're you, Lady? And the little doll?

  19. Great post! You and I are definitely of the same mind when it comes to religion and evolution. I don't think spiritual faith and science have to be mutually exclusive.

  20. "...and opportunity to figure out this world He created for us, and the conviction that what we discover is not only not threatening, but intrinsic, to our faith..."

    I love that. You're the bomb, Belinda. Evolution has never been an easy subject for me, but I think at some point you allow yourself to rely on the faith of a thing, and ignore all the background noise.

  21. Hello Belinda

    I hope you are feeling well today! I love your web site and have been lurking here most days since I VOTED for your blog during the contest last year. I got poodles too.

    Interesting post... I have to read more about the marked persons, but I believe we are on the same page, with the baddies and goodies.

    I like the "first cause" cosmological argument. There has to be something that triggered all of the universe and beyond. There must have been a beginning and I am willing to believe it is God.

    I had to get to accepting Jesus and his place, though, by the "leap of faith". So much hatred exists in the name of Jesus. It has been difficult on that front.

    Best wishes for a return to good health


  22. That does seem to be a good answer to the little girl's question about Noah and the ark, Belinda.

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