Even though I now had many questions, I continued to believe that the opening account in Genesis was an exact description of the events of the first six days of the physical creation. If I’d had to account for light without the sun on the first three days, I would have appealed to some supernatural agency. But as I would later learn from Meredith Kline (about whom much more will be said in future posts), the Genesis text itself posits natural agencies at work during these days instead.
At the start of one year in college, another member of our Christian fellowship described to me her experience setting up a weekly Bible study for the summer that had just ended. She had gathered several interested students who were home from different colleges, and it appeared that she and another young man would take turns leading the study. But the first week, she told me, it turned out he wanted to explore such questions as, “Why are there two creation accounts in Genesis?” This approach struck her as too critical, almost skeptical, and she came home very distressed. She told me that it was an answer to prayer when he suddenly proved unable to attend any more of the meetings. Even though she had to lead them all herself, she had a much more comfortable experience than she had imagined she would after the first week. I was genuinely happy that her group had been free from tension and discomfort. But I also could not help wondering, “Why are there two creation accounts in Genesis?” I wouldn’t get an answer to that one for a long time.
I dealt with any difficulties in my literal reading of Genesis, in other words, by suspending judgment on questions it could not resolve. I was not in the habit of seeking explanations of difficult statements by careful attention to the surrounding context, and this shielded my position further. I therefore was able to go through Harvard College as an open-minded but pretty thoroughly convinced creationist.
In fact, when my grandfather gave me a gift to allow me to buy any books I’d been wanting, as his personal acknowledgment of the “Detur Prize” I’d received for being among those in our freshman class who’d achieved highest honors, I chose three creationist books, including Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood. Looking back, I can see that these books appealed to me particularly during this time when I was working so hard to integrate my faith within a new realm of intellectual activity because they represented an attempt to reconcile faith and reason. They didn’t reject science; instead, they claimed to present scientific evidence that validated a literal reading of the biblical accounts. I would find out later that both this “evidence” and that way of reading were problematic. But for the time being, these books helped reassure me that the two ways of knowing were compatible.
Still, the presence of these writings on my bookshelf at college sparked many interesting discussions with fellow students, especially other members of our Christian fellowship, some of whom turned out to be, to my astonishment, “evolutionists.” When I mentioned to one such Christian student, completely outside the context of discussions we’d had earlier about creation and evolution, that I admired the works of C.S. Lewis and hoped one day to write books myself defending the reasonableness of Christian faith, he replied, “Just don’t use anything from the Creation Research Society in your books.” This unexpected reference made quite an impression on me. I admired both the faith and the thoughtfulness of this student, who was a year ahead of me in school. His adamant opposition to what I considered good science and good biblical interpretation made me consider creationism with some suspicion, practically for the first time.
In my final year of college I roomed with a Christian biology major who wrote a creationist senior thesis. It was quite puzzling to me when my roommate’s extensive presentation of the best evidences creationism could muster did not seem to sway his faculty readers, who were surely in a position to appreciate these evidences. Was it really the case that these professors were willfully blind to physical facts because they wanted a moral carte blanche?
I didn’t know much about these particular readers, but I’d encountered many other Harvard professors in my own courses, and I had found them in general to be fair-minded and objective when it came to the strengths and weaknesses of positions they didn’t personally hold. Indeed, one of them, a history professor, had explained a troubling passage in the Bible for me better than any preacher ever had. “When Jesus said, ‘The poor you will always have with you,’” this historian had explained, “he meant orphans and widows, not victims of structural injustice.” So I had to entertain the possibility that the Harvard professors who had read my roommate’s thesis could have been, like their faculty colleagues whom I knew, objective people of good will. Was the problem therefore with what we considered evidences of a recent creation? The only other option was that the biology department had attracted most of the bad apples in the school.
I now find it significant that when I graduated from college and took my other possessions home, I left my creationist books behind. Officially I donated them to our Christian fellowship’s small, eclectic library. But I think symbolically I was leaving them for others to wrestle with, in the place where I had become much more disillusioned with their teaching than I realized at the time.