I have written about why I am writing this series as well as my history within the LCMS. Now, it is time to turn to what I’m calling points of fracture. For several posts, I will be writing about specific things that came up while I was within the LCMS–that is, at its schools, churches, and university–that made me start to think that the LCMS way of things didn’t align with some aspect of reality, something I learned in the Bible, or something else.
Points of Fracture: Science as a Child
Here, I’ll be sharing the points of fracture that I experienced related to science at a young age. At the outset, I want to point out that much of these points of fracture were discovered by me over time. So, for example, when I talk about my young childhood, it’s not as though I was immediately aware that something was off about what I was learning. Instead, it was a realization that came over time, and the memory of when I was young was something that I recall as an important stepping stone to get to where I am now.
Some of my first memories of conflict between what I believed and what others believed was as a child getting library books. I don’t remember how far we had to go to drive to the library from our tiny town, but I remember it seemed like forever, and that I would consume books on the way home, often falling asleep in the car before arriving at home. I, like many kids, was obsessed with dinosaurs. That meant I raided the library’s section on dinosaurs. I’d memorize the names and facts about them, pore over images of them, and imagine what life would have been like alongside them. If the cover of a library book had a T-Rex ripping apart its prey, that was the book I was going for. But those dinosaur books talked about when dinosaurs lived. Those dates were given as the best scientific approximations based on various dating techniques, ranging from about 66 million years ago to 200 million or more for dinosaurs’ first appearance on Earth.
Those dates, I was told, were wrong. Whenever I saw “millions,” I was told to ignore it. As a young kid, I didn’t press back very hard on that. After all, I had no reason to do so. I knew that I could get facts wrong about all sorts of things, so the notion that basically every book I read about dinosaurs was wrong about how long ago dinosaurs lived wasn’t terribly mind-bending for me. I learned to just run my eyes over any time it said “millions of years,” because that was wrong. The rest of the facts, though, were basically unquestioned. I didn’t have the capacity at the time to put those two things into disharmony. That is, I didn’t realize how odd it was that the books and scientists seemed to be right about, say the ecosystem the dinosaurs lived in, or their diets, or debates about coloration while simultaneously being totally wrong and even untruthful about how long ago they lived.
That last bit is important. I used the word “untruthful” because part of what I was taught, whether directly or through creationist literature I would be exposed to a year or so later, was that scientists weren’t just wrong about the age of the Earth or when dinosaurs lived. No, instead, they were actively lying about it. I want to sit with this for a moment because it is an extremely important distinction. There’s a huge difference between someone being wrong while reporting something they think is factual and someone deliberately deceiving you about something they say is factual. That I came to believe that scientists were actively lying about the age of the Earth would temper my interest in science for more than a decade once it became fully engrained in me. Sometimes I genuinely think I would have ended up in geology or paleontology as a field of study and employment if I hadn’t come to be taught that, because of my deep interest in these topics. But I didn’t, at least in part because I thought scientists were liars.
No small part of that belief came from some of the approved dinosaur books I was gifted during my dinosaur obsession. These dinosaurs books portrayed a different history of the world, with humans walking alongside long-necked dinosaurs and feeding them fruits by hand. I distinctly remember a photograph of an alleged plesiosaur (see below) that had been caught by a fishing boat in one of them. These books didn’t have the same exciting illustrations of T-Rex or Deinonychus (my personal favorite) shredding their prey. Instead, I was taught that they had something more precious–the truth about dinosaurs. These books confronted head on topics like evolution and the age of the Earth, saying in no uncertain terms that evolution was a lie and scientists who taught millions of years were liars as well. I didn’t even understand what evolution was supposed to be at this point, but I knew it was a lie. Again, this disjunction between being mistaken and being liars was something that sucked away my enjoyment of science over time, and also would make it extremely difficult for me to fairly examine evidence.
Later, I remember talking to a child a few grades above me at my LCMS grade school. When I mentioned that I liked dinosaurs, she told me quite sincerely that dinosaurs had never existed. I was incredulous, asking “What about all the bones!?” Her answer surprised me: she said something to the effect of “Those bones were put there by God to test people’s faith.” The total somberness with which she expressed this sentiment took me off guard, but I do remember laughing at her because I thought it was so ridiculous to think that (I wasn’t the kid with the best manners). I would later recall the incident when I was studying more about these topics because it specifically showed me I could see beliefs about science that seemed obviously false and reject them, and that was okay. Even more importantly, it was a time my younger self was given an idea about God that did not seem to align with what I believed about God. Even as a child, the notion that God would be actively trying to deceive people seemed obviously, even hilariously wrong. That God doesn’t deceive us with nature, but that nature rather declares the glory of God (Psalm 19) would be hugely important to me as an adult.
Another topic I remember was about Adam and Eve. I specifically remember learning that all boys and men had one fewer rib than women. This was seen as evidence for the biblical account of Adam having been formed from Eve’s rib. I don’t remember my first source of hearing of this, but I do remember I heard it from more than one adult in my life. It wasn’t actually until college as I was searching online for various science-related things that I learned this was false. To this day, even typing that it’s false has me second-guessing myself, so firm was my belief that men had fewer ribs than women. It’s one of those things that is incredibly easy to disprove, to the point that when passed along, no one thinks to question it. It was honestly a shocking revelation to me when I discovered it wasn’t true, and it spurred me on to search for other things I could disprove or couldn’t confirm.
I believe it was in 6th grade, again at an LCMS school, that I had a single day in which we talked about plate tectonics. It was in a geography class, and we were learning quite briefly about how the map was formed. I recalled some of the maps I’d seen in dinosaur books of Pangaea and asked about that, noticing it appeared as though Africa and South America fit together. I don’t remember the exact answer, but what I got was enough for me to excitedly talk about plate tectonics later, only to be told by a pastor that they don’t exist. How did earthquakes happen, then? I asked. The answer was that God made them happen. I was disturbed even then by this answer. More, I was confused in getting entirely different answers about what caused earthquakes and how continents moved–or whether they moved at all–from two approved sources. Which should I believe? In the moment, I just bracketed it and stopped thinking about it. That was largely my answer for when things like this happened. I assumed others knew more than me, and it would become clear later.
One year in middle school at an LCMS school (I think it was 8th grade), we were super excited to be taking part in a science curriculum that would be shared by schools all over the country. The curriculum used the Hawaiian islands as a touch point for learning all sorts of things about science–whether geology by learning about volcanoes, biology by learning about ecosystems, and the like. I distinctly recall opening the binders we received and flipping through to see the contents. In among the thrilling sections on volcanoes and wildlife, I saw that there was a section about evolution on the islands. I had only the vaguest idea of what evolution meant. I knew it meant something like animals turned into other animals because of seeing it in some dinosaur books I’d read years before. I recalled learning that evolution was a lie, but seeing it show up in a text in my LCMS school made it feel safe… but only for a moment. When I turned to the pages indicated to see what might be said about this intriguing topic, I discovered the pages had been removed. I opened to the page, and found I was flipping from page 55 to page 75. It’s hard to fully capture my feelings at that moment. It was a truly disturbing incident for me. I believe I mentioned it to the teacher and was told that we wouldn’t be covering that topic. I remember flipping back and forth a few times, stunned. It was one of the clearest moments as a kid that I realized something was genuinely being covered up. It wasn’t just that scientists were wrong or lying. That, I could, in my childlike trust, accept. This was a revelation: what scientists taught was being actively covered up or suppressed, as if it would be dangerous to even know about it.
Earlier, I said this was one of the points of fracture that led me to think that maybe the LCMS way of things wasn’t accurate. I want to briefly address a possible objection here. I say “the LCMS view of things,” not necessarily to mean that they have specific teachings on everything I touch upon here or in other posts. For example, it is very clear that the LCMS holds that young earth creationism in some form is the view that ought to be taught to and held by its members. This view, however, is not codified in LCMS official positions. Indeed, according to the LCMS’s official web site about their views, they do not have an official position on the age of the earth. Thus, one could technically take issue with my pointing out that the LCMS’s view of things is a young earth creationist perspective.
However, this would indeed be nothing but a technicality, because in application and practice, no other views are allowed broadly in the LCMS. As one example, one pastor confidentially told me about how some of their peers attempted to introduce a resolution at a pastor’s conference to simply discuss the possibility of views apart from young earth creationism. This pastor approvingly told me that those pastors were literally shouted down by the rest of the pastors at this conference for their attempt. From my own experience, I know of at least 3 different LCMS pastors who questioned the faith of LCMS members who did not hold to a young earth creationist view. Additionally, tying belief in a young earth together with trust in the Bible is ubiquitous in LCMS leadership. In preparing this post, one classmate of mine pointed out that an LCMS professor who was a pastor explicitly taught an old Earth in a class we shared. This experience was perhaps the lone exception to an otherwise uniform experience that I and others have shared related to the LCMS’s views on the age of the Earth.
All of these final points are to say, just because something isn’t explicitly codified on the LCMS web site, for example, doesn’t mean that it’s not part of the DNA of the LCMS. Young Earth Creationism is absolutely integral to the overwhelmingly vast majority of LCMS belief and practice related to any questions about science and faith.
See also my post, The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod and Creationism: An unnecessary match, in which I go over the 2019 convention’s affirmation of Young Earth Creationism, including a link to the official LCMS blog.
Next: Points of Fracture, Part 2
 I debated internally a bit about how to organize my thoughts related to the specific fracture points that led me to see that my views did not align with those of the LCMS. Should I organize them topically, chronologically, or in some other order? I ultimately settled on doing them topically, because it allowed me to arrange each topic chronologically and show how some of these built on themselves over time. I thought it would be less disjointed to present it this way, rather than skipping around.
 I say “was obsessed” but I truly remain obsessed with dinosaurs, and find learning about them is still one of my greatest joys.
Formerly Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) or Wisconsin Synod (WELS)– A Facebook group I’ve created for people who are former members of either of these church bodies to share stories, support each other, and try to bring change. Note: Anything you post on the internet has the potential to be public and shared anywhere, so if you join and post, be aware of that.
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What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I take a look at some of the issues I’ve found to be broadly true in apologetics-related circles.
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This is great stuff, JW. I didn’t really come around to any recognition of just how indoctrinated I was until I graduated college. Not a comfortable experience at that age, I can tell you.
I agree with you that God is not deceptive with us, but I do think he creates this world to be seen in different ways, atheistic or God created for the purposes of testing our hearts. If we want to believe a lie, he’s made it so it’s plausible enough to believe it. If our heart wants the truth, you can find the truth.
I think it’s important not to take that one little girl’s response to dinosaurs never having existed to be the only answer there could be. Hers is probably wrong. But does that make the entire premise wrong? Perhaps the giant bones were the bones of giants from the bible? Perhaps they were other animals. There’s even one dinosaur find that has flesh on it. Do we rethink how long flesh can survive or rethink how old dinosaurs really lived? See how the same facts can let you go in two different directions. They always will pick the option where flesh really survived longer than we thought. Earth can never be the center of the universe because of philosophy no matter how much proof there is.
Likewise, with young earth, it’s the same idea. Every scientist is not lying. When they find a new bone, they look at their little chart and say, “Oh, it matches up here” then they see that that means it’s… drum roll please… 500 million years old! The real question is – is the chart right. We’re interpreting all things that look a certain way to be so many millions of years old. But perhaps something having certain data attached to it really means it should be categorized as 3,000 years old instead of 300,000,000 years old. The switch over would be very simple from old earth to young earth. It’s just a different chart. And do we REALLY know that chart is right?
I think we can underestimate the human factor. Humans are not perfect truth seeking robots. Humans have philosophies and desires to fit all facts into a desired worldview. Exactly what they accuse Christians of doing – they do the same. Unfortunately, in their philosophical pseudo quest for truth as long as it begins and ends with atheism, they have constructed a whole fictional reality that works just enough for it to be believable. As you know about the new testament – it’s all about belief.
No one ever goes back to the fundamentals and questions if we’re standing on a solid rock of truth or not. Changing a paradigm is against human nature. You can come up with a model after building and building that requires that 95% of universe is something we can’t see and can’t detect, but scientists will NEVER back down and say they were wrong at a very fundamental level. No, the truth must be that 95% of the universe is something we can’t see and can’t detect.
So while you may have been brainwashed with lies, we ALL are! The answer is not the total opposite. I see too many Christians do a knee jerk reaction. The truth is actually harder to find then just the opposite of what you’ve been taught. Time to do the work to find the real truth!
Thank you for stopping by, and for your comment. I appreciate the tone and sincerity of it.
My goal is not to get into an argument about each of the issues I raised. What I will point out is that the way you’re describing how scientists determine the age of a bone is entirely mistaken. Do you have evidence and observation of scientists truly using a “little chart” that tells them in advance how old a bone is? Rigorous testing is done to determine the age, though place in the geological record is a baseline to help with initial determination.
I am not sure if this came out in my post, but I remain Christian. I fully believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Resurrected Lord. I just do not affirm a young earth, and I do believe evolution is true. The damage done to people’s faith by young earth creationism alone, I believe, is enough to reject it.