Unbelief is personal
When I was younger (high school / early college), I considered the Bible’s creation account to be the single largest barrier to believing in the biblical God. In retrospect, I realize I mostly used this as a cover to hide my deeper, more personal troubles with Christianity and the church.
I witnessed pastors in disgrace, caught sexually abusing minors (yes, he’s in jail), constantly mocking gay people with full parental approval, and forcing boys to dress up like women (no, I’m not making that up). I saw hypocrisy, a Sunday facade of beautiful families, many if not most of those facades hiding physical and verbal abuse, substance abuse, food abuse, power grabbing, contentiousness, and marital infidelity. I saw singles treated as if they had a disability.
These were the same people frequently judging the community around them as something separate and lesser. I endured sermons that harped on what we should do and should not do with little emphasis on a God who appeases, cleans, and embraces his people.
Science was a less personal topic for me, and so I preferred it to my difficult emotions. I preferred my own detached façade of scientific disagreement to the uncomfortable belief that I needed saving in the first place. Unbelief is never detached and logical. It is visceral, dealing more with our desires than our thoughts. Beliefs are always personal.
Science is never the cause of unbelief
In a highly viewed debate, Ken Ham was asked (paraphrasing) if any evidence would sway his belief. He said (paraphrasing), “No, nothing would.” It was, in my opinion, the most impactful thing he said during the debate. It was beautiful.
It was beautiful because it evoked the same divide that the gospel evokes. The prideful pointed their fingers at Ken, and said, “What a fool!” The humble heard him say that, and said, “I’m glad I’m not the only one.” The gospel is foolish, and nothing will change that, no matter how consistent with scientific observation you might be. It’s best to get used to being called a fool.
Science is never, ever, the real reason for unbelief. Scripture is clear that our beliefs follow our desires, not dispassionate scientific inquiries.
I didn’t believe in Jesus (though I longed with tears for a benevolent God to exist) mostly because I was presented with a cold, distant God who loved rules and particularly hated gay people more than anyone for some strange reason. I know that isn’t the true God, but that’s what the church presented to me at the time.
I also didn’t believe because I found sin enjoyable, and I wasn’t willing to give it up at the time. It was encountering the real God through other peoples’ patience and endurance that changed my heart. I’ll tell you want it was not, though: it wasn’t science.
Don’t get me wrong, apologetics are great and helpful. But they are primarily beneficial for believers, not unbelievers. If you hear the gospel and respond with longing and desire, then science will not dissuade you from believing. If you hear the gospel and find it foolish or offensive, then science will not persuade you to believe. I’m not saying that consistency in beliefs isn’t important. I’m just saying that salvation doesn’t depend on your scientific viewpoint, and it never will.
Where apologetics are helpful for unbelievers, in my view, is in opening up candid conversations about the gospel. If someone doesn’t consider Christianity to be consistent with reality, they’re not likely to listen to the gospel in the first place. Talking about seeming contradictions between the Bible and science can lead to talking about God’s nature. It opens up a way for the lost to hear the gospel with fresh ears.
Also, I want to say that your view on biblical creation and science is not necessarily a show stopper for your life in general. Regardless of your view on this, we can all agree that sin separates us from God and that only His free-gift atonement through Jesus removes that separation. I do not believe that your status as a Christian is dependent on your views of the creation account.
However, for some believers, when it seems like science contradicts the Bible, it can introduce doubts. Doubts will weaken the depth of our trust in God, which can be damaging to our daily life.
Be careful with “contradictions”
Scientific observations very strongly suggest an older Earth, life, and universe. But the Bible, at least at first, seems to strongly suggest an Earth created in a matter of days. People will look at this and fear that the Bible contradicts reality.
The thing is, this evolves so strongly over time. 400 years ago, Galileo found strong evidence that the Earth was not the center of the Solar system, something we would never argue against today (but don’t get me started on flat Earth conspiracy theorists…ugh). This created a theological storm at the time because the mainstream church was teaching that the Earth was the center of the solar system (something we find nowhere in scripture, of course).
But imagine for a second that you’re a common person of the time. You have observations versus religious belief, and they seem to contradict. That’s a valid crisis for you in that day and age. It turns out that the seeming contradiction was solely because the mainstream church at the time placed tradition as a higher authority than scripture, something we all do even today to some extent (so don’t get judgy).
Fast forward to 200-ish years ago with Charles Darwin. He observed what appeared to be continuous evolution of species according to natural selection, something we now know is overly simplistic yet still accurate in many ways. Then, 100-ish years ago, we discover the universe is expanding and appears to be tens of billions of years old. Then, radiometric dating strongly indicates life is many millions of years old.
Again, we find ourselves in what feels like a crisis of contradictions. Can the Bible be trusted?
Forty years ago, Christians barely had anything to say at all in any mainstream sense. 20 years ago, we find young Earth theorists attempting to reconcile scripture and scientific observations. More recently, we find more reasonable old-Earth theories that still take scripture as true in a literal and authoritative sense.
What if you lived forty years ago, though, as an astrophysicist or a biologist? Do you throw away your faith because it seems to contradict what you observe? Or do you recognize you might not understand things well enough and trust that there is a reconciliation even if you don’t know it yet?
Remember the idea of “projection” from the last post? What we observe is an overly simplistic projection of a far more complex reality. Apparent contradictions often disappear when looking at the full picture.
I could tell you that two separate circles are, in fact, the same object. You look at them, and you think, of course they’re not. But later, you learn that the two circles are actually a 2-D slice through a 3-D donut. It turned out they were actually the same, but you couldn’t see it because you didn’t know about the third dimension.
It’s unreasonable to think you have to throw everything away because some things seem to contradict. I think an intimate and deep belief deserves more respect than that. The fact is we don’t know everything. Not all apparent contradictions are truly contradictory. Often times, the most biblical statement you can ever say is “I don’t know, and that’s OK.”
Listen to the gospel, respond with desperation and joy, and trust God that seeming contradictions have a reconciliation, even if you cannot see it yet.