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How I Answered Science Questions When I was an IFB Pastor

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

As a Baptist pastor, how did I answer science questions? The short answer is . . . I didn’t.

I was five years old when my parents joined Tim LaHaye’s church, Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego, California. I would remain associated with the Evangelical church for the next forty-five years, pastoring churches in Texas, Ohio, and Michigan. Whether as a church member or as a pastor, I and the world I was a part of were insulated from secular science. As a pastor, I rarely had someone ask me a science question, and the reason for this is quite simple. I believed and taught others to believe:

  • The Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, Word of God.
  • The Bible, in most instances, is meant to be read literally.
  • Genesis 1-3 accurately and literally records HOW God made the universe and everything in it in six 24-hour days, 6,023 years ago
  • If science conflicts with what the Bible says, science is wrong and the Bible is right. Always, without exception.
  • Questions and doubts are the works of Satan.
  • Certainty of belief is a sign of faith and maturity.

Besides the Bible, we Fundamentalists had our own science books and scientists. My favorite Evangelical “scientists” were Henry Morris and John Whitcomb. Morris had a degree in engineering, Whitcomb a degree in theology. Even though their books contradicted accepted scientific facts, they had a high view of Scripture and accepted the Bible as the final answer to every question, so their books carried great weight in many Evangelical circles. I have no doubt that if I were still a pastor I would have taken church groups to the Creation Museum — Ken Ham’s monument to ignorance — so we could see the “proof” of our creationist beliefs.

The children in the churches I pastored were largely insulated from the world. Many of the children were homeschooled or attended private Christian schools. Children were not encouraged to go to college, especially wicked secular colleges. The highest calling for a woman was to marry a godly man and bear children, and the highest calling for a man was to become a preacher or a missionary. All other vocations were considered inferior.

From 1983-1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. For five of those years, we operated a tuition-free, church-member-only, Christian school. We used Rod and Staff science textbooks — books that emphasized the young earth creationist point of view. Rod and Staff is a Mennonite/Amish book publisher. My wife and I also homeschooled our children. We used Rod and Staff textbooks to teach science to our children.

I have very little science training. I took a general science class in 9th grade, biology in 10th grade, and biology in college. My college biology class was an absolute waste of time. No lab. No experimentation. The teacher, a local pastor, read to us from a biology book published by a Christian book publisher. The only thing I remember from my college biology class (the same class my wife took) was the teacher’s lecture on not marrying outside of your class, religion, or race. He was quite bigoted and racist.

The few times I was asked a science question that challenged my creationist beliefs I replied:

The BIBLE says . . .

This was the answer I gave for almost every challenge to what I taught.

The BIBLE says . . .

THE BIBLE SAYS really meant:

This is my interpretation of the Bible, my interpretation comes straight from God, my interpretation is final, so shut up and get back to serving Jesus.

There are thousands and thousands of American churches and pastors who hold similar views. The United States is one of the most scientifically advanced nations on earth, yet, at the same time, we are quite ignorant about basic scientific facts. We can thank religion for our collective ignorance.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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23 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Vol-E

    Bruce, I’m confident that you’re doing your best to make up for lost time and opportunities. It’s never too late to learn and science is so much fun. May I recommend The Stardust Revolution by Jacob Berkowitz.

  2. Avatar
    HeIsSailing

    I work with many Fundamentalist Christians. Most of them are machinists and engineers. By and large they are a good bunch of guys. Unfortunately they repeat stuff about Evolution that I remember from old Duane Gish audio cassettes from the 1970s. It is all mis-informed, straw man views of Evolution and crap science that was debunking long ago. But they continue to cite it as reasons they do not ‘believe in Evolution’. All I can do is plead with them not to learn science from church. Pick up an actual science book or watch a science video from an actual scientist! They would not appreciate me learning about the Christian religion from a science class.

  3. Avatar
    Erin

    I may have shared this before, but it came to mind. My father in law (a self-described expert on “evidences”, Christian for scientific proofs the bible is literally true) gave my teenage son a Christian textbook about the origins of the universe.

    It was written by ONE man with graduate credentials in mechanical engineering. That’s IT. (I don’t remember his name; it may have been one of the guys you mentioned.)

    I asked my son to read the author’s bio, and tell me whether he thought this person was qualified to teach astronomy, astrophysics, and/or cosmology. He said, “Of course not.” I was so proud.

    It’s like that meme that goes around that says “Creationism is the belief that Kirk Cameron knows more than Stephen Hawking.”

    • Avatar
      HeIsSailing

      Erin, books can barely mean jack squat in these days of internet self publishing. I work with a Fundamentalist Christian who has self published three books. You can buy them on the internet. One is a book on the history of religious freedom in Texas, one is a book on the history of Evolution (spoiler: it ultimately came from Hell). His credentials? B.A. in aeronautical engineering. Oh and he is indwelt by the Holy Ghost. I guess that is the only credential that counts with some people.

  4. Avatar
    marfin

    Bruce google latest scandal on global warming , it seems the scientist have been cooking the books, and adjusting the figures to give them the results they wanted. Bruce you of all people should know that whether its science or religion , if the people doing it are dishonest and out for self promotion and personal gain you cannot trust them or their conclusions.So if we stick to the actual data the actual evidence and not someone`s interpretation of said evidence we may just find the truth.

    • Avatar
      Becky Wiren

      I noticed it’s being reported by Breitbart and Alex Jones Inforwares. Those sites are crazed conspiracy theory sites. If you have links to reputable site, it would be helpful. In fact, it seems like all the web sites that are reporting it are relying on ONE blogger’s article. So more accurate information would be nice.

  5. Avatar
    marfin

    And no I dont believe in global warming or evolution conspiracies, what I do believe is that whether its science or religion people believe what they want to believe. So when the scientist who believes in global warming gets the data that does not fit whit what he believes he honestly fudges the figures because all he thinks he needs is more time and funding to prove the position he believes in ,so there must be something wrong with the figures so fudging them to give enough time to get to the truth of the matter is ok.The problem is putting on a lab coat or a police uniform or a judges frock, or a ministers whatever does not give the wearer more honesty or a higher moral standard.Now when dealing with a branch of knowledge like religion, evolution, or the universe`s beginning`s area`s where proof is in very very short supply we need the people involved to just give us the facts and let us interpret them for ourselves. So if the scientist through his scientific experimentation tells me , we need life to get life we have never made life from non life in a lab and never ever witnessed life arising from non life in nature, and the fact of the matter is scientific experimentation show life never comes from non life, I can then draw my own conclusions from this information, that either sometime in the past life must have arisen from non life or that there must have been an original life giver, neither position can be proven but which is more reasonable based on the science, that life came from non life which science shows does not happen or life comes from life which science shows does happen.Just give me the facts I can draw my own conclusions , I hope you can do the same Bruce

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I don’t think I said anything in this post about global warming.

      You are the one that needs to be honest, Marfin. No amount of data/evidence is going to change your mind about the Bible and what it says in Gen 1-3. Just be honest, admit this, and you’ll save everyone a lot of work.

      • Avatar
        marfin

        And is your mind open to change , i doubt it , but you blog your opinion and I believe you have every right to do so, as I have a right to disagree, whether either of our minds will change at the moment I doubt it, but to my mind there is nothing wrong with opposing views being expressed, but if you just what me to say , you are right Bruce to every post you write OK you are right Bruce

    • Avatar
      Troy

      Am I the only one who got cross-eyed trying to read that?
      Life coming from non-life is abiogenesis (as you point out hypothetical and speculative) not evolution (theoretical and a proven phenomenon).
      Glaciers are melting all over the world so yes climate change (global warming ) is occuring. I suppose some question if it is actually a result of human activity. While in the past fluctuations in the carbon dioxide have indeed occured from other natural processes in this case it is certainly a result of human activity. Unlike many liberals I see little point in cutting greenhouse emissions, I don’t think anything short of a heroic measures like giant orbital mirrors orpossibly widespread use of nuclear fusion reactors will reverse the trend.

  6. Avatar
    Angiep

    Marfin, please just go away. You obviously want to pick a fight and we are not interested. You have made up your mind, so you do not have any interest in honest discussion.

  7. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I used to get very cranky about creationists and conspiracy theorists telling lies. Then, for awhile, I ran out of energy for caring, especially since the creationists got their heads properly handed to them in the Kitzmiller v Dover decision. But the fictional Hydra organization from the Captain America series doesn’t have anything on creationists and anti-science conspiracy theorists: witness the prominence of the latter in the US, and our associated difficulties in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Constitution was written by careful thinkers who had far too high an opinion of their fellows, it seems, and didn’t account for Batshit Craziness among the citizens of the new nation.

  8. Avatar
    Matilda

    I’m the bear of little brain in a family of scientists, one an astrophysicist, one a biochemist and several more…and all devout fundy x-tians. Daughter’s FIL** teaches engineering at a good UK university, is doing groundbreaking research into the early detection of cancer. He’s also one of the UK’s leading creationists who goes to the USA to address creationist conferences. Intelligence can be,highly compartmentalised and directional apparently.
    **When the g/kids we share have birthdays, I take great delight in giving dinosaur or fossil themed gifts, as they see that g/dad weekly. Guess he’s praying his socks off for this wicked evil granny.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Now a 68 year old son of a Baptist preacher, I lam very thankful for your comments here, Matilda, you wonderful wicked evil granny. I too delight in dinosaurs for children!

  9. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    It’s disturbing that in fundamentalist and far right conservative circles there’s such a distrust of scientific pursuits. Look at the US federal government’s handling – mishandling – of a public health crisis.

    I worked at a low level in a university biochemistry lab for 8 years. The scientific method is great – I used to have to repeat the same experiment over and over so that the scientists could be confident in their results. Once they were satisfied that the results were consistently repeated, they would write a paper, submit it to a journal for peer review where it was examined by a 3 separate scientists before publication. After publication other labs would repeat the study before moving on to the next step. Once it gets out for other scientists to test, it doesn’t take long to discover fraud or flaws in design.

    I trust the scientific method much more than I trust theologians delivering a “divinely inspired ” message.

  10. Avatar
    Charles S. Oaxpatu

    Hi Bruce. As a professional scientist, I am wondering what prompted this science vs. Bible kick you have been on for the past several days? If you are really interested in learning some science and have a few dollars for education after Polly’s surgeries, I would like to suggest that you start with a freshman level course in geology—one of my favorite subjects—and then follow that up with a human paleontology class. You could probably do both on-line or at a local state college or state university. Both are extremely interesting subjects, and I think you would thoroughly enjoy them. These subjects have advanced far, far, far, far, far beyond where they were in the 1960s and 1970s. People like Ken Ham are still stuck way back in the simplicity of those days.

    • Avatar
      angiep

      Charles, excellent suggestion! I agree with those class recommendations, and would also add anthropology, as it explains so much about how humans and societies evolved as they have. For example, when I heard that the idea of the soul likely came from early man experiencing dreams and believing his/her “soul” left their body at night and engaged in all sorts of adventures, it blew my mind wide open.

      • Avatar
        Charles S. Oaxpatu

        Human paleontology is usually taught in the departments of anthropology at American colleges and universities. Therefore, if you take a human paleontology course, you will automatically be taking an anthropology course. Moreover, human paleontology does not just look at fossil man and human evolution alone. It looks at how fossil men were integrated with the natural environment and hominid/human culture, and how those things affected change in human ancestors and dead ends over time. Fascinating stuff!!!

  11. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    We live in a physical universe. I majored in Physics over 30 years ago in college but did not finish. I went on to get a Information Systems degree at night so I could get a job.

    Sometimes that universe can be difficult to understand. Recently I watched a NOVA television show about quantum entanglement. This is very interesting and I do not think even the most intelligent physicists have figured out all the ramifications of it yet. I am now reading HOW THE HIPPIES SAVED PHYSICS by David Kaiser. It is very interesting because some “hippies” who had studied physics were getting back to theory again (quantum mechanics). It is very difficult to understand it as it uses concepts which are very anti-intuitive and different from pre-(Einstein, Bohr) physics. I can read about 1/2 chapter a day.

    Science is a lot of work and does not always turn out the way anyone expects or wants.

    Thank you

    • Avatar
      angiep

      “Science is a lot of work and does not always turn out the way anyone expects or wants.” So true. This is why fundies mistrust it. They believe the universe centers around the creation of humans, so if there is something we don’t understand, the science must be wrong. There may be things humans will never understand even a million years from now. That’s ok if you are truly interested in facts, not just accepting simplistic explanations that make you feel secure.

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