This was Wolfsburg in the summer of 1995, and I was at the Operation Mobilisation Love Europe conference, before we went off to our short-term mission teams.
Nipping out I came across another guy I had chatted with briefly beforehand, and he was clearly troubled about something, so I asked him what it was. He explained that he was unsure about creation-evolution issues. I mentioned that there are a wide range of views among Christians, and that there were a few hardline recent creationists there for whom it was a salvation issue (I had already been informed by one of them that I was not a Christian) but that these people were a minority.
And as I got up to go, he shared with me that he could no longer believe in the Resurrection. Now, my own conversion sprang from me realising that Jesus rising from the grave was the logical explanation of the events of the first Easter Sunday (sorry, I cannot give an exciting conversion story- it was just scientific and logical). He would think about what I said, and as my toothache had gone, I went back in to join the worship.
Before the last day, he went home as he no longer considered himself a Christian. And for some, there was not the sadness that I felt for him, but the gloating. They knew from the first time they met him that he wasn't really a Christian. And the thing that stood out for me was that the big deal was that he didn't believe in recent creationism, not that he didn't believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
When I was back in England I did write to assure him I was praying for him and to tell him to contact me (the days before email) if he needed to discuss anything. Never heard back.
As a coda to this, these are the days of social media. Go to Facebook, put in his first name (I couldn't remember his surname), search, then narrow it down by location and then appears someone who has the same first name and what I am now sure is his surname. Contact or no contact? And if so, what do I say?
A few years later I was given the chance to do a PhD in Astronomy at St Andrews University. And if people know you are a Christian and a scientist then the questions follow.
In particular you will be presented with the little faith-strengthening arguments from science that people learned at Sunday school- which are often along the lines of "Science cannot explain X, therefore God" and are quite frequently "scientific mysteries" which had already been solved by then yet were still presented as things scientists couldn't explain.
Then there would be creationist magazines passed to me to look at....
Can I just say, if you wish to use a half-life as proof the Earth is young, please understand what a half-life is. Yes, after one half-life, half of a radioactive material will have changed into something else and only half of it left. After two half-lifes, half of what is left has changed, so a quarter of the original material is left. It isn't that after one half-life, half the material changes and that after the second half-life the other half changes.
And please try to understand what the Second Law of Thermodynamics actually says.
And I have never come across any example of a simple Christian with the Book of Genesis in their hand reduce an "evolutionist scientist" to sobbing "I don't know! I don't know!"
So, what things do I want to note?
1- Put the matter in perspective
Take the example above. Yes, recent creationism is a viewpoint held by some Christians. But as well as what you believe being important, is how you believe it.
I don't mean what your reasons are for recent creationism, but what your emphasis is on it. Is it something you believe but accept others differ on? Is it something that should take its place alongside the Trinity etc. as part of doctrinal creeds and statements of faith? Or has it gone further and reached the stage of being the be-all-and-end-all of Christian doctrine? If your idea of a Christian Union mission would be getting someone in to give a series of talks about the universe being only a few thousand years old, then yes, maybe such a missioner would be speaking truth but he or she would not be presenting Christ crucified. Even if the universe young, which is the Gospel message that needs to be proclaimed- Jesus's death or a young Earth?
There is something I sometimes say- one man's hardliner is another man's heretic. Yes, you might make a young Earth a salvation issue, but other Christians would have an issue that you feel you were "done as a baby". On almost any secondary issue there will be Christians who put too high an emphasis on it and who, in the old phrase "major on minors", and you cannot keep all of them happy all the time.
Recent creationists I have encounter vary from those who happily recognise ancient creationist and theistic evolutionists who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour to be their brothers and sisters in Christ to those for whom a young Earth is a salvation issue.
2- Science develops by surprises
By the end of the nineteenth century, physics was seen as complete. Then came relativity and quantum mechanics.
When I've had creationist magazines shoved into my hand, sometimes a song-and-dance routine is made of scientists being surprised by a discovery. There are two paths you can take.
The first is to look again, to ask other scientists to examine the case, to do some detective work, to re-analyse, to move the science on, and maybe a new theory will arise or an explanation as to why there is an anomaly. That is exactly how science develops.
The second, worse, path is to jump up and down and declare that "evolutionist scientists" were surprised and interpret this as The Discovery that brings that part of science crashing to its foundations and in bringing part of science crashing down, somehow PROVES that the universe is young.
Oh, and if you wish to take something that only applies to Main Sequence stars and apply it to an Asymtopic Giant Branch star, don't be surprised when astronomers have a giggle at your "proof" that the universe is a few thousand years old.
3- Defend the Gospel, not the apologetic
This is where the Cross has scaffold added to it, to keep it upright. Don't develop a mentality that it is worth going to the stake to defend an apologetic argument.
If an apologetic argument is shown to be wrong, ditch it. Pure and simple. Don't waste time and energy arguing it any more.
Apologetics points towards the Cross. It is not a case that if one apologetic argument is shown wrong then the whole scaffolding around the Cross collapses and we have a worthless Cross lying on the ground of no use to anyone.
If your favourite apologetic is the "god-of-the-gaps" then when the gap is filled, stop saying that scientists can't explain it.
If I point out a gap is filled or that your favourite PROOF of the Bible is based a creationist magazine misinterpreting something, I'm just trying to stop you making a fool of yourself (and of Christ) when you give godless scientists a good laugh the moment you present your "scientific proof" of the Bible to them. All you've done is reinforced the stereotype that "religious people" believe despite evidence to the contrary. What do you want to share with them- Christ or your ignorance of science?
4- Scientists Are Busy People
Yes, your favourite magazine might have published a scientific PROOF of the Bible last month and not a single scientist has written in to respond. Ah-ha, scientists can't come up woth an argument against it.
Actually, it's hard enough to keep up with bona fide scientific journals without spending time going through creationist ones.
5- The End Doesn't Justify The Means
And this is my big worry about parts of the recent creationist movement.
No, not just getting facts wrong, which can be forgiven. But the continual relying on "proofs" and "evidence" that have been discredited.
Even if recent creationism is true, why does the movement itself have to rely on lies and deception to spread its message?
Does that honour Christ at all? Is sending young Christians to share the Gospel to scientists using "scientific evidence" that is untrue actually bring one scientist nearer to God?
Pastorally, what happens when your new convert who was convinced by the "scientific proof" learns that his or her pastor- perhaps through ignorance- misled them? Aren't they then going to be suspicious of the genuine arguments for Christianity that were also presented to them?
You never get the recent creationist movement hold its hands up and say "oops, that argument was flawed. Don't use it". Instead, if you try and engage with them you quickly find that their response is to lash out and question whether you are really a Christian if you dare to point out flaws im their "scientific proof".