A little about my faith...

Call unto me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not. Jeremiah 33:3

One Christian's journey from belief to doubt and back again...

The Christian experience has a way of permeating every aspect of a person's life, no matter who you are or what you do. As a geologist, my spiritual journey took two significant turns. During a crucial period in my life, I rejected the biblical account of Creation and the Flood and became a theistic evolutionist.

My parents raised me as a Southern Baptist. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour when I was 7. At that time my faith included a childlike belief in the Genesis account of Creation. Unfortunately, my parents encountered some unpleasant politics common to many churches, and they stopped attending church when I was 10.

They decided that my brother and I should attend the largest Baptist church in town so that as children we would be unaware of any squabbles that might occur. Mom told Daddy, "The first Sunday morning Elaine gets up and says, `I don't want to go to church today,' it's all over, and we won't have to take them to church anymore." For the next six years they spent more time driving me to the church than they had ever spent at church before they quit attending. We went Sunday morning to Sunday School and Church, Sunday afternoon for choir practice, Sunday night for bible study and church, Tuesday night for visitation with my Sunday School teacher, and Wednesday night for the children’s programs and prayer meeting.

As soon as I turned 16 they got me a car, and my brother and I were on our own. My church attendance increased. I started going on Friday night to youth vespers and Saturday morning to help publish a youth newsletter. Revivals came along once a year and were always scheduled during final exam week at school. I went every night anyway. Revivals have a lot of hymn singing, and I'd sing along as I did homework. During the sermon I'd close my books and listen, then return to my books and singing during the lengthy altar call.

During this period of my life, I spent considerable time memorizing Scripture passages. I came to know God as a truly loving Father.

My academic interests began to shift in high school. During those four years I discovered that I loved science — any science, all science. That first year in biology, however, brought me face-to-face with a serious problem. My teacher was a young fellow just out of college who was very energetic and wanted us to experience real biology. He insisted we read Darwin's Origin of Species. I don't remember what that book said or what I wrote about it in my paper, but I remember my teacher's comment on the paper when he returned it: "Elaine, don't let one man's opinions upset you so much." I translated that comment into: “Elaine, you're as smart as anyone else; think for yourself.”

A new pastor arrived at our church during my high school years and one of his early sermons was on the creation account in Genesis. He didn't tell us that we had misinterpreted the text, nor did he claim that science had refuted the text. He simply explained that we had "misunderstood" the text. Science had such a tremendous influence on my thinking that I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of relief during that sermon. The solution was so simple I whole heartedly adopted his views regarding theistic evolution. By the time I was a freshman in college, I no longer believed in the God of my youth. My new god was an artistic, creative being who used competition and predation to mold and guide the development of his creatures.

And then one spring, my new god turned ugly. During my second year of geology coursework I traveled to eastern Oklahoma on a field trip, where I climbed a small hill, crawling over layers of snails, corals, clams, and other fossils. Sitting on the hilltop, I began to study the little pieces of gravel sticking to my hand. This wasn't gravel at all, but fossils — foraminifera, one-celled animals that lived in the ocean and built shells that looked like wheat seeds. I lifted my hands and let the forams run through my fingers like sand on a beach and thought, “What kind of a god do I serve?  How can he allow such catastrophic destruction of life?”   The loving Creator of my youth had been replaced by a destroyer in my eyes.

I spent the next three years spiritually torn apart. Genesis had become a myth to me. I had no concept of a loving God whose every effort in the biblical flood was a desperate attempt to save life. At that time, the geologic record taught me that organisms had lived and died 600 million years before man even existed. Death for me was a natural part of the life cycle created by my new god, which made him the author of death. I didn't like him very much.

I wondered if my church attendance, Bible study and prayer life were all a farce. If science was right and the Bible was wrong, maybe, just maybe, there wasn't any God at all. I refused to think about it. Science now dictated my theology and was a gross contradiction of my personal experience. I had reinterpreted God's character outside of Scripture. The Bible repeatedly presents God as the author of life, and clearly states that "the wages of sin is death" but I did not connect the death of animals to human sin (Romans 6:23).

During this spiritual turmoil, I married a wonderful man. We met at the Baptist church on Sunday night. (If he's there on Sunday night, you know he's a real believer!) He was a student pilot at the air base. In the middle of his pilot training program, we married and when he finished his training we spent about 3 months waiting for his next assignment.

While we were waiting, a prophecy crusade came to town. My husband and I were fascinated by end-time events, having read Hal Lindsey's book The Late Great Planet Earth. We accepted Lindsey's interpretation as correct, even though he frequently made statements without any scriptural support. We believed that Jesus was coming soon and that there must be more to know on the subject.

We went to the meetings. Each night the evangelist handed out an outline of his lecture, containing all the Bible texts he used. We would take the outline home and compare it to Hal Lindsey's book. Since they didn't agree, we would go down front after the service each evening and ask questions about the previous night's lesson.

Being the talker of the family, I usually began with "Hal Lindsey says..." And the evangelist would always respond with "Let's see what the Bible has to say about that." He couldn't have used a better response. The Bible was supreme with us. He would share four or five texts with us and then ask if we understood. If not, he had more. I told him we weren't stupid, just stubborn or skeptical (or something like that).

Then one night he preached on "Adam's mother's birthday." We went down immediately after the service, and I said, "You're crazy. You don't know what you're talking about. I'm a geologist, and I know that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and that life on earth is at least 600 million years old."

The evangelist didn't reach for his Bible this time. He knew my ears were closed to God's Word on this issue. Instead he asked, "Will you come back tomorrow night? I have a book I'd like you to read."

I replied something like "What's the point? You don't have a book that can explain this to me."

He said, "If you come back, I'll give you the book."

Now, I was raised a 'greedy capitalist', so if he wanted to give me a free book, I would come back and listen to one more lecture. The book he gave me was Creation: Accident or Design? by Harold Coffin. This has since been published under the title Origin by Design.  I never did read the whole thing, but as I skimmed through the book that night I realized that he was using the same data and evidence that any geologist uses. His interpretations were very different.

When I got to the information on glaciation, the author simply asked a question: "Could these three (or four) glacial periods represent merely retreats and advances of one major ice sheet?" What a question! It was one that should have been asked by a roomful of freshman geology students, and yet that question had not been raised. I realized that by the time we got to glaciation in our class work, we were so immersed in the doctrine of long ages for everything that it didn't occur to us that anything could occur in a short time frame.

Coffin believed in a short history for life and that "Noah's flood" could account for the deposits of rocks and fossils we see today. I was stunned. I could believe the Bible again. Data wasn't the problem; it was a matter of interpretation, and that interpretation depended largely on an individual's personal view of God.

Today I believe that Creation week was very recent, but the material used to form the earth may have been created at some earlier time. Genesis 1:1 & 2 could mean that there was something here covered by water at the beginning of Creation week. However, the understanding that the earth materials are also recently created is equally valid, so I tend to waffle over the age of the rock.

The text clearly indicates to me that the record for life on earth is very recent and I take the account of Creation week very seriously. I believe the days were consecutive rotations. This means that I also accept the biblical account of a worldwide flood that was responsible for preserving most of the fossil record.

Three aspects of God's character have convinced me, as a Christian geologist, that the biblical account of the six-days of creation and the worldwide flood is true. First, Genesis 1:1 testifies that God is the Creator. Second, Genesis 1:11-27 identifies God as the author of life. And third, Genesis 2:1-3 proclaims that God is love through His gift of the Sabbath as a memorial of Creation. These 3 aspects of God's nature are reaffirmed for me throughout the Old Testament and in the life of Christ.

I believe my Christian experience has expanded and enhanced my scientific perspective. I ask questions in my research that others might never think to ask. I believe I am a better geologist today because of my commitment to Christian values and faith in the validity of God's Word.