By JESSE POWELL/Montana State News
When you walk in the Museum of the Rockies and turn right, into the hall of bone and horn, there are answers. Life evolved billions of years ago in ancient seas. For the question, “should you forgive someone for doing you wrong?”
there are only display cases containing skulls both deaf and mute. Do economics and statistics sway our judgment in rescuing a priceless work of art or a common stranger if a fire broke out?
“I preach being right with the Lord and on being right in relationships,” Senior Pastor Bryan Hughes of Grace Bible Church speaks from an office packed with books, “like how to be a good husband. That is the focus of the ministry. [Origins] is interesting but not a fixation.”
With so much media hype, protests, angry debates, Pastor Hughes is deflationary of any melodramatic hopes. On the question of what should be taught in public schools, evolution or creation, Orlando Runs Above, a Native American educated within the tribal school system stated, “Openness and respect for all points of view which bring a rich view of education.”
“There are many voices on all sides of the issue.”
Paul Bimonds, a middle-aged African-American believes both sides: religion and science, are “too sensitive” and that both worldviews should be taught and the individual free to decide. Paul is also a Christian.
Hilary Robinson, 40, of Bozeman thinks creationism has no place in science classes but schools could “offer a religious beliefs elective class, that’s another matter.”
Intellectual honesty is what Pastor Hughes states as the reason for his drive in clearing up the versions of Creationism that have crept into Christianity under the guise of compromise with scientific evolution. Hughes fervently admits that without God, the universe would take billions of years to produce Earth. After that, it would take billions more for humans to arrive. Christians exploring origins research are not ignorant or “baffled” by science. Hughes asserts that he spent 60 credit hours during the pursuit of his undergraduate degree in courses like anthropology and geology.
“I took those classes on purpose so I wouldn’t be ignorant,” Hughes said.
He received a master’s degree from the Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland, Ore., and then Hughes completed his doctorate of ministry. Often there seems to be a battle of academic qualifiers, or authority. Hughes has studied the Bible and its scriptures in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek. Hughes is far from the blithely interpretive pulpit pounder image in stereotypes. In fact, he believes it is scientists that are often the armchair experts on the Bible.
“The two views are so far apart, there has to be intellectual cross-training,” Hughes said.
The intellectual honesty that Hughes focuses on begins with scientists admitting the limits of scientific knowledge. His view appears complementary to the people randomly chosen at MSU’s recent Pow Wow. In addressing hypotheticals, like the opening questions, Hughes quotes the National Academy of Science: “[Science] is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes. Science can say nothing of the supernatural.” Then Hughes explains, “Many scientists are delighted with this limitation. However, in the issue of origins, when God is the correct answer, then science has limited itself to not give the right answer. The best they can do is to provide the best wrong answer.”
One of the stereotypes leveled at advocates of Christian teaching is that they are racially motivated. The process of peer-review is also a method that the scientific community claims to weed out bias that religion lacks. Hughes counters by stating that there are Christian groups trying to show the historical connection between Darwinian Evolution and racism. That Hitler felt “completely justified in destroying what he considered inferior races.”
On the peer process Hughes states, “Our church is a protection against intellectual manipulation, a community that looks out for each other.” Within the congregation he cites that there are scientists, chemists, engineers and medical professionals that are ever ready to call him out.
In no way can he be considered a “yogi” or pariah in possession of some fundamental truth inaccessible without his “prophecy.” He quickly admits that both sides have had to “eat crow.”
Creationism has suffered its Cardiff Giants (a hoax statue of a fossilized pre-flood giant) and science has had its Piltdown Man (fake missing link made from parts of an orangutan and a human). Hughes, laughing, states, “I always tell my congregation: ‘By the way, don’t believe me. Search it out for yourself!’”
On the contention raised between the camps, Hughes says, “The issue of origins will always be a controversial issue. The Bible is very clear in what it teaches and naturalistic science is very opposed to that. Many Christians look for ways to compromise and make both true. However, those compromises inevitably change either the Bible or science or both.”
Hughes wrote a sermon following the Montana Origins Research Effort convention about the compromising views of creation. In it he works, step-by-step, on why theistic evolution, progressive evolution, day-age theory and others are simply not supported by the Bible. Hughes concludes that the only creation described by the Bible is by “an omnipotent, eternal God creating and making the universe and everything in it in six days.” Any other mutation is to suggest that Jesus, Moses[BW1] and others, when they referred to Genesis either didn’t know what they were talking about or were purposefully deceptive.
Near the end of the sermon, Hughes states that Christians are responsible for examining and investigate the book of Genesis. That it is “not an issue of the view of science but an issue of the view of the word of God and our view of the son of God.” Because there cannot be compromise, Hughes recognizes that origins has become a significantly divisive issue in our culture with parents home-schooling or paying for private schooling.
Creationism, Christianity and religious people in general are often cast as anti-science. On the question of Jack Horner’s “Dino-chicken” project, Pastor Hughes packed in one more surprise. “DNA is God’s instruction set for life,” Hughes responded.
“Just like any other set of instructions, it can be changed. If you change the instructions, you will get changes in organism. Genetic engineers have isolated instructions and have been able to copy them to other organisms with interesting results. If Jack has good researchers, they should be able to modify chicken DNA and come up with creatures that are not quite chickens. His goal may be to prove that birds evolved from dinosaurs. However, changing chicken DNA to make them more like dinosaurs just does not show that they evolved from dinosaurs.”
He reaffirms that there are many fields in science and technology that are not conflicting with religious views, computer, medical, and software industries for example.
Hughes remains open, and invites, intellectual debates not only within the church but into his community. He asks for intellectual honesty, but be prepared to not have a compromise. On origins, be forewarned, it may be controversial but not as scandalous as it would seem. He only preaches one sermon on it a year, the rest of the time is spent on other answers.
Edited by Tristan Abbott.