01 Introduction: Why We Have Written This Book

An “earth rise” above the moon, photographed by the Apollo 8 astronauts, who read from the Genesis creation account even as they carried out the most advanced in-person scientific exploration of space to that date.

The controversy between evolutionary and creationist accounts of world and human origins has erupted with dependable regularity over the past several decades in churches, classrooms, school boards and legislatures across North America. At the same time, this controversy has also raged, more quietly but perhaps with more lingering and agonizing effects, within individual hearts and minds.   Many believing Christians have experienced crises of faith and personal rejections when they have chosen to accept an account of origins that is based on reasoned interpretation of centuries of scientific observation, because this account does not coincide with a literal interpretation of Genesis.

These crises and rejections do not have to occur. The two approaches to knowledge characteristic of faith and reason (or religion and science) can be reconciled and used in a complementary way. But unnecessary conflicts nevertheless arise because outspoken proponents of both approaches deny their inherent limitations and extended their claims into the proper realm of the other source of knowledge. This creates an “either/or” or “forced choice” situation in which one must either accept an entirely naturalistic account of origins, or else effectively deny that what our eyes see and our instruments measure is anything more than illusion. Neither of these choices will ultimately satisfy an honest intellectual inquirer.

There is a middle position, however. Faith and reason are each qualified to make their own contributions to our understanding of our origins, purpose and destiny, and these contributions can be recognized as complementary. But the way to this middle position has been made perilous by the bitter polarization between proponents of “either/or” positions on both sides. The two authors of this book have traveled this way, and wish to share with their fellow travelers how they have struggled and what they have learned.

The authors were both taught a young-earth, “scientific creationist” position in the Christian communities in which they were raised. This position required that the opening chapters of Genesis be interpreted literally, and it would not admit as valid any scientific discovery that did not conform to such an interpretation. But in subsequent years, as the authors pursued their respective vocations, they found it necessary repeatedly to modify and ultimately to abandon this position. In its place they have embraced understandings that are more modest, tentative and nuanced, but ultimately also more satisfying, durable and empowering. This has been the result of a process that has required years of study and reflection, and which has included times of frustration and disillusionment as well as moments of liberating insight. This book tells the story of our two journeys.

In the first part of the book, Dr. Stephen Godfrey describes his field work as a descriptive paleontologist and the successive paradigm shifts that his discoveries led him through as he sought new ways to understand the evidence he was uncovering.  In the second part, the Rev. Dr. Christopher Smith describes how the integration of his background and training in literary studies with his work in biblical interpretation similarly led him to move past the creationist position of his youth. The book concludes by revisiting the Genesis creation account to allow readers to see it through new eyes. After demonstrating that this account’s cosmology is indeed phenomenological (it describes how things appear, rather than how they actually are), the authors explore the implications of this demonstration for scientists and for students of the Bible.

We hope that this book will be of interest and practical use those who have evangelical or fundamentalist backgrounds, who may be college students or college graduates, and who are seeking to understand how a desire to live a life of faith can be compatible with a commitment to academic inquiry. We hope that this book will also provide a useful resource within churches in such forums as adult Sunday School classes and midweek study groups, which have the time and the freedom to explore difficult and even controversial questions one piece at a time.

We are not aware of any similar books that have been published in the past. We are certain that this is not because of a lack of interest on the part of readers or publishers, but rather because of a lack of authors. It is unlikely that two people in complementary vocations such as ours have traced similar pilgrimages and have been in a position to write about them together. And so we wish to share our stories with all of you.

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