Monday, 15 March 2010
Growing up Science-Literate in the Japanese Church and encountering YEC in the American Church: A Paleontologist’s Personal Perspective.
We attended church at the local university church, which was not the liveliest house of worship. The ceiling was a good seventy feet overhead to make room for the gigantic pipe organ in the front. Voices were, subsequently, quite amplified and the general tone was quite solemn. This was probably a contributing factor in the lack of spiritual growth during my preteens.
Early Scientific Education
My school experience at the American School in Japan (ASIJ) based in Tokyo was comparable to that of a very good college prep school, with a considerable number of offerings in literature, history and science. I took biology in the ninth grade from a man very passionate about science and I came to love it as well. Along with a generous amount of comparative anatomy, there was a smattering of evolution, taking the form of systematics rather than actual instruction in the basic tenets of the theory, itself. Eldredge and Gould had produced their seminal works on punctuated equilibrium a few years before so the science world was still abuzz with the possibility that evolution as espoused by George Gaylord Simpson and Sewall Wright, names I did not know at the time but later became quite familiar with, was not the be all and end all that it appeared to be. No, Punk-eek was in. Notably lacking in my science education and in the educational climate of the high school was recent earth creationism. I simply never encountered it. Not from any of the faculty nor from my peers. There simply was no controversy.
Personal Spiritual Growth
As my walk with Christ became more serious, I left the campus church and began to go to a Tokyo branch of the Union Theological Seminary (TUTS). It became clear, after a few more years of high school, however, that this church had a somewhat liberal bent and that elements of New Age thought were quite prevalent. When one is in high school, one does not initially challenge these things and I was no exception. Especially since TUTS was where most of the attractive girls went. Nevertheless, challenge them I did.
I eventually left this church as well and began to attend house churches, based all over the city that ranged from Pentecostal to Lutheran to your good old fashioned non-denominational service. What is remarkable about these gatherings in hind sight is how little discussion there was on science. The focus was on the Lordship of Christ and even when apologetics was studied, it was only in the context of defending one’s faith in the larger sense. Science simply never entered the picture, almost as if it were a taboo subject. It may very well have been but I was none the wiser.
My senior year was spent with my academic interests neatly split between history and palaeontology but, at this stage, history won out and that is what I decided to pursue as an undergraduate once I left the confines of ASIJ. One of the papers I wrote in my senior year of high school, however, dealt heavily with paleontological material and early hominids. Although the human palaeontology bug did not bite me then, delving into that literature for the first time was exhilarating—especially since there was nobody to tell me that I shouldn’t. Even my friends at school who knew of my interests and were Christians did not seem to have any qualms about it. I am convinced that learning about this evidence at a comparatively early age deeply affected my ability to accept it in light of my Christianity.
Moving to America and Encountering YEC Ideas
I graduated from high school in 1980 and, in one of the more traumatic moments in my life, moved from the safe confines of Tokyo, Japan to the unknown wilderness that was the United States of America. Fortunately, I made friends with a growing group of Christians on campus and this mitigated the jarring experience somewhat. Two of these new friends invited me to go to church with them in the nearby town of Knoxville. A few weeks later, I walked into the sanctuary and peered at a bulletin board, on which local job adverts and news items were posted. One in particular caught my eye. It was for the East Tennessee Creation Science Association and they were advertising a meeting at a local church. The bulk of the flyer was, however, composed of several quotes from people that I have since become familiar with—Henry Morris, Duane Gish and Gary Bauer, about how bad the fossil record was, how good the evidence was for the world-wide flood of Noah, how the earth was only a few thousand years old and how evil evolution was.
I just stared…dumbfounded.
In my years of growing into my Christian faith in Japan, I had never encountered this mindset. I remember thinking “people really believe this??”
It had never occurred to me that what I came to know as the primeval history of Genesis was to be taken literally. I soon found that a great many people, including some of my newfound Christian friends, did read Genesis 1 as history and believed that God created the world in 7 literal 24-hour days. This began a lifelong interest in the different approaches to interpreting the early chapters of Genesis, the geological record, and evolution.
Reflecting on the Absence of YEC ideas in the Japanese Christian Community
In hindsight, I still find it puzzling that a movement that is so prevalent in evangelical circles in the United States, and has had such a profound political impact here, was virtually irrelevant in the Japanese Christian church. That Japan is a Christian mission field is probably a factor here. While Japan has a vast history of both Buddhist and Shinto thought, Christianity was a comparative newcomer to the stage and was not accepted in any way until after the early 1900s. Up until that point, Christians had been persecuted in the best Roman fashion. Nowadays the vast majority of Japanese are areligious. Consequently, there is so much focus on evangelizing Japanese with the basic sinner’s prayer that there is little time for other things. Even among the Christian foreign community, however, there is little emphasis on science and how it should be viewed. I have recently become aware that Creation Ministries International has a chapter in Japan but I never heard about it while I was there.
Today, I view myself as an evolutionary creationist (EC) / theistic evolutionist (TE). My experiences in Japan are largely responsible for this. To be sure, as with most people that take an EC perspective, I have many unanswered questions about the historicity of Adam, the place of the “pre-Adamites,” and how the fall can be reconciled with the scientific data. I trust that those questions will be answered in due time.
Sadly, I have had very little experience with Christians who grew up in other countries where these questions were asked. I know that, recently, there have been many groups that are “evangelizing” the Old World (Ken Ham just recently went to Japan) and that, as in the United States, the YEC perspective is more prevalent than it was even twenty years ago. I would love to hear some perspectives of those who grew up as Christians in other nations and how their churches addressed these origins questions. Was my experience in Japan unique?