Among many evangelicals (or whatever they should be called these days), the tension between science and faith is real. Today, many are dismissive of ‘silly’ young earth creationists, but human history has long demonstrated the significance of this strain between faith and science. In a U.S. context, I am puzzled and intrigued by the lack of tension between faith and science among conservative Jews, Muslims, and Catholics. It is the protestant Christians on the conservative side of the spectrum that struggle the most to reconcile faith and science, while other religious conservatives have, for the most part, managed to reconcile the two with relative ease.

Dinosaur Exhibit – Creation Museum

I recently had the pleasure of listening to a scholar discuss his research on the Creation Museum. William Trollinger and Susan Trollinger, both of the University of Dayton, described the rooms, displays, and evidence presented at the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum. According to the Trollingers, both museums emphasize the importance of agreeing on the literal 6 day creation and that the earth is 6,000 years old. If one cannot agree on that, according to the museums, than one cannot believe the scriptures to be true and trustworthy. The museums also frame the oppositional binary: God’s word as literal truth, or human reason, that abandons God’s word. Bill and Susan pointed to the totalizing rhetoric of the cultural wars in the museums, which served to create, promote, and encourage visitors to become warriors against secularism.

I have always found that all or nothing logic to be overly simplistic. If faith were absolutely logical and rational, than it wouldn’t quite be faith, would it? But this all or nothing assertion troubles me because I have a view of humanity that is both optimistic and skeptical. Frankly, I don’t trust humans to get it right all the time with absolute certainty. After all, if we can admit that we are not God, than we are bound to be wrong some or much of the time. I realize that nuance, complexity, and thoughtfulness is exhausting. All or nothing is much simpler to follow. Yet wholly unsatisfying. Is anything else in life clear cut and simple? Why would I want my faith to be overly simplistic and unthoughtful?

The Tollingers concluded their presentation with this assertion: “in the effort to fuse evangelical theology and culture war politics, Christian Right Institutions such as the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter may actually be accelerating the advance of secularization by driving evangelicals into the category of the religiously nonaffiliated.” I find this assertion particularly interesting and troubling. As someone who is intrigued by the ways that people, particularly in faith communities, work to pass on their faith to their children, it seems that most young people find the literal arguments unsatisfying and simplistic. As a result, some throw out their faith like the baby with the bathwater.

On the other hand, both museums had millions of visitors last year alone. Clearly the museums strike a chord.

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.

3 Comments

  • Dave Tanis says:

    Over 50 years ago I had a personal encounter with a flood geologist who said that he didn’t think I could believe in Christ as my personal Savior if I didn’t believe that the Noahic flood was responsible for all the geologic formations we observe in our world. I was young. That discussion was soul shaking. I’ve long ago come to grips with issue and don’t have a problem with it any more but I agree with you that views espoused by creationists and flood geologists can drive young thinking evangelicals from organized religion.

  • Tom Ackerman says:

    As a practicing scientist (climate science) and Christian, I have been dealing with this issue for a long time. Please let me make a few observations. The definition of museum (Oxford) is “a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited”. It is doubtful that either the ark encounter or the creation museum should be called museums. The are a form of propaganda rather than a serious attempt to engage with science or history.

    I grew up in the Christian Reformed Church during a period in which there was very little conflict between faith and science. I think the same was true in general in other Reformed and Presbyterian churches at that time. I majored in physics at Calvin College and was taught by professors who were deeply committed to their faith and to the practice of good science. They saw no conflict between the two. Unfortunately, these denominations became infected with “young earth” disease (and yes I use that word deliberately) in the late 70’s and 80’s, leading to the tensions that we now see. The “young earth” disease is part of a much larger anti-intellectual movement in American evangelicalism that creates real problems for academics and students in higher education. We are collectively leaving conservative evangelical churches because there is no home for us there. As one young student put it, “I think it is easier to be a Christian in academia, than an academic in the church”. Much of the anti-intellectual problem can be traced to an unwillingness to deal with complex issues and to grapple with tough questions. If the church is not willing to do that, it has little to say to society around it.

  • RLG says:

    It seems that the young earth creationists do their science with an ulterior motive, that of preserving a historic Biblical creation theology. Whereas secular scientists are simply doing science. As Christians, especially conservative Christians, we think the secular scientific community has an axe to grind with Christianity. The reality is that all (or most) religions have beliefs as to how the world came about that conflict with science. If secular science was concerned with disproving Christianity, they would have to also disprove every other religion’s creation dogma. Their concern is not with religion at all, but simply doing science.

    In contrast, young earth creationists do science to preserve a literal or factual understanding of the Genesis account. Their real goal is not to do science, but to preserve the historic Biblical creation theology. The feeling, by young earth creationists, is that if you prove, or if there is too much evidence for, an old earth (millions, even billions of years) this will detract from a literal seven day creation account. If evolution is factored in, then a literal Adam and Eve goes out the window, as well. How can you compare a figurative or mythical Adam with an actual Christ? So the agenda for the young earth creatonist is to manipulate science to fit a literal Genesis account.

    Too many Christians (evangelicals) have a difficult time dismissing secular science when so much good has come from such science today. God given logic (and even common sense) dictates that something is faulty with young earth creation science.

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