In the movie Paul, Kristin Wiig plays Ruth Buggs, a young woman who lives in a trailer park and who was raised as an Evangelical Christian. She encounters Paul, an alien voiced by Seth Rogan, while she is wearing a t-shirt depicting Jesus shooting Charles Darwin and underscored with the tag-line “Evolve This!” In denial of what she has just seen and of the implications of meeting someone from another world, she steadfastly proclaims that the world is 4000 years old, that it can only be the product of an intelligent design, and that nothing can shake her faith that God made heaven and earth and created us all in his own image.
Paul, who is anti-religion, then communicates telepathically to Ruth, showing her the cosmos and the wonders of the universe. Upon discovering that the earth is in fact not 4000 years old, Ruth’s entire belief system is shaken. She concludes, since science is correct, that her faith must be incorrect. She then, quite humorously, realizes that she now can curse, fornicate, and drink. We are subsequently treated to Kristen Wiig’s comedic genius as her character attempts cursing for the first time.
Christians create a false dichotomy between faith and science when we insist that our faith depends on the earth being 4,000 years old and on Charles Darwin being wrong. By doing this, we unnecessarily draw a line in the sand between the realm of authentic faith and the realm of modern science. Young people like Ruth are therefore forced to step over that line and leave their faith when they eventually become convinced that the findings of modern science are indeed correct. It is my belief that this departure is a needless tragedy.
Ruth was correct: God did make heaven and earth and he did make us in his own image. The heavens themselves declare these glorious and profound truths. Rather than destroying her faith, Ruth’s encounter with the vastness of the cosmos could have, and should have, inspired wonder and strengthened her faith in our great Creator God. To link the truth of a Creator God, however, with the age of the earth and the manner at which diversity of species came about is not only unnecessary, but it also does great violence to the biblical text and the faith of countless of young adults like Ruth.
As a former youth pastor whose students are now in their 20s and 30s, I have witnessed firsthand the damage caused by an insistence on the notion that our faith depends on interpreting the creation account in Genesis as historical narrative. Like Ruth, many young people today are concluding that if science is true, then our faith must be false. The next logical step is to reason, as Ruth did, that the moral guidelines which are derived from our faith must therefore also be invalid.
To Christian parents, teachers, youth pastors, and any other people who have influence in the hearts and minds of our young people: I implore you, stop equating a belief about the age of the universe and diversity of species with orthodox faith. This does not protect our young people. Quite the contrary, it forces them to cross over the line you have drawn in the sand. Furthermore, and most tragically, it is absolutely unnecessary. It is my passionate belief that the great truths of our faith, such as the fact that we are made in God’s image, are even more powerful when we interpret the creation story in Genesis as we do Psalms: as scared poetry that reveal profound truth about God, humanity, and the universe!