When I was about sixteen, I remember laying in my backyard. It was early summer in Florida, and the heat was that balmy sort of pleasantness where you can enjoy it as long as you don’t move. Drowsiness took over that afternoon as I spread my hair out over a blanket and let the sunlight sink into my skin. A humid, warm wind caressed my arms and legs, and I remember staring deeply into the grass next to my face. I studied each blade of grass, watched the ants hauling one piece of sand at a time, saw a dragonfly land before it took off for the cherry tree, and I marveled.
Not for the first time, I remember thinking that the world was a miraculous place. Grass and tress can grow— it always seemed beyond me that living things have the ability to reproduce, to heal, to extend further into their piece of the universe. I wondered at the near-impossible intricacies that defined every moment, every breath. How rich and wide and wonderful the world was.
What always accompanied these thoughts was a bone-deep awareness of God’s handiwork. How can anyone think this is anything less than created? That a blade of grass or the color of my eyes is all because of chance?
I grew up believing in literal six-day young earth creationism. I’ve read every book they published on the subject, and spent two years in college regularly reading the new issues of Ex Nihilo (it’s been renamed as Journal of Creation). I fervently defended it any time I had the opportunity. To me, the “theory of macro-evolution,” as I always referred to it, made no sense. I had also been told by nearly everyone in my life that theistic evolution was a completely untenable point of view– if you believe in God, and you believe that God created things, it’s nonsensical to not accept the events of Genesis. Why do you need neo-Darwinian evolution if you believe in God? I had been taught that evolution was an intellectual outgrowing of atheism– if you don’t believe in God, well, you still need an explanation for how the world got here– hence The Theory.
For me, personally, I think I emotionally needed creationism. I was frequently and intensely overcome by awe when I viewed nature, and I somehow needed for it to be orderly and precise. In order for my universe to make sense, creationism was the only answer I had access to. I grew up being told to take the Bible supremely literally, to always assume that its statements were always completely fact-oriented. I heard arguments that the first chapter of Geneses was mythic poetry, and I was harshly commanded to ignore that lie. The Bible is not a myth, it is not a fairy tale, and everything about our faith depends on a literal interpretation of the first three chapters. If we can accept that these are not literal, what else in the Bible are we going to accept as non-literal? Not believing in creationism was a slippery slope that could only end in atheism and, horrendously, moral relativism.
When I was in graduate school, I abruptly encountered an impasse. At this point in my life, I had grown used to re-examining many of my deeply held and most cherished beliefs. But, I hadn’t gone anywhere near evaluating the validity of young earth creationism. It had been such an integral part of my faith system for as long as I could remember believing in God, and, at that moment, it seemed superfluous. Honestly, to me, it still is.
But what brought me to this place, what wrenched me from a staunchly-defended position to one of ambivalence, was a single scientific study. In all my previous internet forays, I had made an odd friend of sorts. We were each other’s opposition on a variety of forums, but we somehow formed a respectful bond. He sent me a study that linked endogenous retroviruses and common ancestry. I read it, and the evidence was powerfully compelling.
So, I did what any good creationist would do– I found a geneticist that works with Answers in Genesis, and I wrote him a letter. I included a link to the study and asked him to provide a counter-argument.
The reply I received was complete and utter BULL SHIT.
I cannot express that firmly enough. My letter had been articulate and had indicated that I had a passing, non-scholarly familiarity with biochemistry and genetics. His reply was dismissive, anti-intellectual, belittling, and insulting. He reacted childishly and implied that if I could accept any peer-reviewed study as “evidence for evolution,” that obviously I wasn’t educated in creationism enough, and he directed me to the AiG page on genetics. Which did not address my question at all.
I was so far beyond frustrated. And I decided that I wasn’t going to bother anymore. I wrote my friend back, told him what had happened, and that I would, eventually, re-think some things. Not right then– right then I was putting together a paper on Frankenstein, the birth of chemistry, and how scientific philosophy affects literature. I asked him a few questions about galvanism and moved on with my life.
Last Saturday, I was walking through the woods that line the Chesapeake Bay. At first my walk was energetic and brisk, but when I reached a deeper part of the woods where the houses disappear and all you can hear are the gentle lap of waves, I slowed down. I paid attention. I listened to the multi-layered symphony my footsteps caused. The gentle, gritty, sliding crunch of sand, the muted crack of pine cones and twigs, the crinkle-snapping of leaves, and the plush, muted compression of pine needles. Sunlight bounded off of barely-cresting waves, the wind murmured back and forth between the treeline and the shoreline. I stopped and closed my eyes. I heard the birdsong, felt the wind, absorbed the sun.
And as I listened, I felt a newness . . . a dawn, of sorts.
I don’t need literal six-day young earth creationism to be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of nature. I don’t need it for my world to make sense. I don’t need it in order to believe in balance, or provision.
For me, I can look at the artistry of Genesis and see the beauty and power of myth. I find it comforting, actually, that my religion began by deeply rooting itself in myth. That I have a creation story that emphasizes order instead of chaos, where the creation of the world was intentional instead of happenstance. I have a creation myth where the creator-god looks on the physical splendor of what he’s made at calls it morally perfect and absolutely beautiful.