Two of those preconceptions had to do with homeschooling, that refuge of super-conservative evangelicals, and a system of belief that often goes along with it--that God created the earth in a literal six days. I must confess that my sister and I chuckled privately--OK, maybe we even traded a sneer or two--when some relatives of ours chose to homeschool their three kids.
I don't know if their parents looked at us, products of the public schools, and screamed "Nuh-uh!" or what, but they quickly transformed their home into a tiny private school, complete with uncomfortable wooden desks, a chalkboard, video presentations, all that stuff.
One day it caught my eye that they were using science textbooks based on creationist beliefs. Me, I've never been one to get exercised about creation. Sure, I believe God created man; never doubted it for a second. But whether he did it through evolution or as the culmination of a six-day spree, and whether the six days were literal or metaphorical, I didn't particularly care. I did think it a bit odd--well, maybe even a tad embarrassing--to cling so tenaciously to the young-earth view, based on the genealogies in the Bible, that our planet is a mere 6,000 years old.
Oh yeah, back to the humility thing. Today, those kids are stellar individuals. I don't know any parent in the world who wouldn't be proud to call them their own. The two girls are in a huge public high school now, and lest you think they're somehow deficient in science, one just got a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT, and the other placed in a statewide chemistry exam. The boy is still being homeschooled, but at the age of 12 he owns his own skateboard company--Kick Devil Skateboards (you know, kick the devil--because you can). Hmm...kind of wiped that sneer right off my face.
Even so, many of us evangelicals would prefer to politely sidestep the whole creationism thing. We do respect the advances of science. Plus, folks already think we're crazy.
I made sure I toted along some humility on Tuesday when I interviewed Dennis Lindsay, president of Christ for the Nations Institute, a mission-oriented Bible school in southern Dallas with a Pentecostal-charismatic flavor. Turns out Lindsay plans to open a creation museum on the Oak Cliff campus--in fact, he hung three giant pterodactyl models in the entryway of the school's brand-new missions building earlier this week, the first of some $1 million in planned exhibits illustrating the creationist view.
Now I confess that I've given little thought to the origins of life. I'm sure I missed many avenues of skeptical inquiry during our conversation. So if you feel a need to brand me an ignoramus, hey, I've been called worse things recently. Have at it.
Turns out Lindsay--son of CFNI's founders, Gordon and Freda Lindsay--was always a science buff, but he started more or less where I did on the subject of creationism. He recalls picking up a book on it in Copenhagen as a young college graduate and "laughing out loud." His attitude only began changing on a mission trip to Mexico in the early 1970s, where he ended up spending two weeks under the tutelage of a Canadian archaeologist in Puebla who happened to be a creationist. One thing in particular so struck Lindsay that it would become the pivot point in his transformation from a believer in creation who nonetheless tried to reconcile his understanding of the Bible with the conventional view that the earth is some 4.6 billion years old, to a young-earth creationist who's so avid in his convictions that he's written some 15 volumes on the subject, with five more on the way. Some of the volumes have been translated into Spanish, Russian, Japanese and German.
"If it's true that the earth is millions of years of age and that death has always been a part of creation," Lindsay says, "then death is just a natural cycle. Therefore the Bible is false, because the Bible says that death came as a result of man's sin. That caught my attention."
Lindsay is referring to a familiar passage in the book of Romans: "When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned." From this passage and others like it, Lindsay concluded that death and decay resulted from the fall of man. How, then, could whole swaths of creation, such as the dinosaurs, have been wiped out millions of years before man appeared on the scene?
"The whole earth is a tremendous graveyard of death and decay and destruction," Lindsay says. "They can study the bones of these ancient creatures that are millions of years old, according to evolution--they can look at the diseases, the decay on it, tiny microorganisms--and they're the same kinds of diseases that we have today...Therefore, what was the purpose of Christ dying? He came to do away with sin, death [through the resurrection of man], decay and the curse associated with man's sin. It doesn't make sense why he came to die if death is just a natural cycle."
It still took several years before Lindsay was persuaded about the young-earth view. His father, like many other evangelicals, had tried to painstakingly mesh the words of the Bible--which he accepted as truth--with science. Gordon Lindsay, who died in 1973, taught a version of the "gap theory," which hypothesizes that there was a lengthy interval between God's creation of earth and of man. It allows that the dinosaurs were created millions of years ago, then wiped out by some sort of cataclysmic event.
Though Lindsay spent years weighing the young-earth and old-earth views, struggling especially with the testimony of radiometric dating, his mind settled on the question of the truth of Scripture. Either the passages in Genesis and Romans about the origins of life and death are true, he says, or they aren't.
"The whole issue goes back to Genesis 3--is that really what God said? And that's what we've been taught--that Genesis does not really mean what it says. It's a metaphor. It's not accurate historical information.
"Therefore," Lindsay asks, "when does the Bible start telling the truth?"
Lindsay acknowledges that his views are utterly unprovable by the scientific method.
"The argument is a God issue. It's not an evidence issue, because you'll interpret the evidence according to your worldview."
That said, Lindsay believes the evidence points to a young earth. "There are like 100 circumstantial clocks in nature that testify to the age of the earth," he says. "Overwhelmingly, they testify to a young creation--10,000 years or less."
One, he says, is the absence of "space dust," which he says can be distinguished from earth matter and continually falls on the planet. "There isn't enough on the earth to support an age of a billion years old," he says. Furthermore, he claims, the astronauts found relatively little on the moon--barely enough to plant their flag in.
Now I haven't checked out any of these statements for myself. Like I said, I'm a complete novice. But I suspect that the issue will ultimately hinge on one's view of Scripture. Either you accept it as the true Word of God, or you don't. Not unlike the difference between theologically conservative Christians and adherents of the other branches of the faith.
Lindsay's "Museum of Earth History" will provide a learning experience for those who seek to reconcile science with Scripture--if it's even possible to reconcile systems of belief with such oppositional assumptions. It'll take up 20,000 square feet of the missions building, which should get its certificate of occupancy in the next couple of months. Six months to a year after that, Lindsay expects to open the museum. His feasibility study says it should draw a "minimum" of 40,000 people a year, with its location in the Bible Belt and with so much interest in the subject of intelligent design.
Five rooms--plus a 500-seat auditorium to show movies on creation--will "give explanations that harmonize beautifully with what we know about science from a biblical perspective of creation," Lindsay says. Room One will explain the Genesis account of creation; Room Two will depict the Garden of Eden. "Hopefully we'll have a 25-foot T. Rex in there," Lindsay says. "It'll be a lush garden showing that man and dinosaur lived together."
Lindsay has to know he's lost a huge chunk of the populace right there. He believes in the authenticity of dinosaur and humans footprints supposedly found mingled together in Glen Rose. (For a highly critical account of the man who's done the most to publicize these prints, click here.) He theorizes that the prints were found beside each other because man and beast gathered there on high ground in a futile attempt to escape the Noahic floodwaters. In the biblical book of Job, he adds, which was written post-flood, the description of "behemoth" perfectly matches a dinosaur. Lindsay's museum will feature 30 to 40 life-size dinosaur models, as well as casts made from dinosaur fossils.
Room Three will be devoted to the flood of Noah, which the Bible says covered the entire earth. It "will explain how the strata, layers of rock and cave formations were all formed" as a result of it, Lindsay says. Room 4 is devoted to the Ice Age, which Lindsay believes was a consequence of the Great Flood.
The museum will conclude with a fifth room that centers on the Tower of Babel "and the dispersion of the people groups into the world."
Why so much emphasis on creation? Lindsay says it's an essential part of missions--his school's reason for being. Americans are so lacking in a biblical foundation these days--let alone people from pagan cultures--that one has to start from start with the gospel message. Diluting the creation account, Lindsay says, "gives young people an excuse to say, 'God didn't really mean what he said.'"
As for me, I confess I'll probably continue tiptoeing around creationism for a while. But I just might slip into the museum one day with my 7-year-old son. What kid doesn't love dinosaurs? --Julie Lyons