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As a 17-year-old who had trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior a few years earlier, I faced a crisis of faith. Even though I was attending a Christian high school, I was not being taught to give a thorough defense of the Bible. Meanwhile, I was being “evolutionized” by powerful forces all around me.
I grew up in the Los Angeles area. In a city of that size, many impressive museums confidently proclaimed the evolutionary worldview. In addition, nature documentaries on television and articles in the Los Angeles Times were heavy with evolutionary content. They all caused me to wonder: could I really trust the Bible in its very first pages? And if God didn’t get it right there, what about the rest of the Bible?
My Christian school taught that God was the Creator of the universe, but only in a very general way. I don’t recall hearing an active defense of the historicity of Genesis and refutation of evolutionary teaching. It was a difficult time for me as a young Christian.
“His books speak for themselves. But I also saw a humble, godly, Christian man whom God used to put a spark into the lives of many young people. [Dr. Gish told them] God created them … and we are accountable to Him. Praise God for the memories of this man.”
—Dr. Tim LaHaye, co-founder, Institute for Creation Research; remarks at the April 6, 2013, memorial service for Dr. Gish
In 1971, our high school announced that in a few weeks, several Christian speakers would be giving a variety of talks throughout the school day. On the list I saw the name of Dr. Duane Gish, a scientist with the newly formed Institute for Creation Research in San Diego. He would be at our school to conduct an optional one-hour workshop on the topic of creation vs. evolution.
Dr. Gish’s talk caught my eye not only because evolution was challenging my faith but because I noticed that he held an earned doctorate in biochemistry from one of the finest colleges in America, U.C. Berkeley. I noticed, too, that his upcoming presentation was to be on the fossil record and—to my surprise—how it supported creation and refuted evolution.
As someone who believed Neanderthals were a link between modern humans and an apelike ancestor, I wanted to hear what this highly credentialed scientist and Christian said about the fossil evidence for evolution. After all, it seemed ironclad and was causing me to doubt my fledgling faith. Looking back, I see that I was on the verge of becoming another sad statistic in the youth exodus from the church (a phenomenon explored by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer almost forty years later in their book Already Gone).
I was a little embarrassed for Dr. Gish when he entered our workshop. You see, students had the opportunity to choose from a variety of workshops that day, and I don’t recall seeing more than a handful of students in that spacious classroom. I thought to myself, “This man drove all the way from San Diego, two hours each way, to speak to just a few students?”
I thank God for the faithfulness of a godly, scholarly man whom He used.
I found Dr. Gish’s one-hour talk to be positively mesmerizing. He went through many of the supposed evolutionary transitional fossils from fish to amphibian, amphibian to reptile, and reptile to mammal and humans. For example, Dr. Gish easily debunked claims that Archaeopteryx was the evolutionary transition between reptiles and birds. Later, he went through some of the former “ape-men,” such as Nebraska Man, which had been revealed as frauds. Then Dr. Gish dealt with the evidence that supposedly showed Neanderthals were primitive and brutish. Dr. Gish revealed that they were fully human. Neanderthals, declared Dr. Gish, were fully erect. Today, almost all evolutionists agree with Dr. Gish that the Neanderthals were fully human.
The lecture by Dr. Gish, which showcased his wonderful sense of humor, absolutely revolutionized my thinking about the Bible. The Scriptures I had doubted in Genesis were at last becoming trustworthy. Inwardly, I exclaimed, “Hallelujah.”
When Dr. Gish returned to San Diego later that day, he may have wondered why a full day was taken up in his busy schedule to speak to a mere handful of students. But God had used him to change the direction of my life.
The following year, I was pleased to tell Dr. Gish that I had decided to study creation apologetics under him, along with Drs. Henry Morris and John Morris of ICR. These were pioneers in the modern creationist movement and in the fight for the Bible’s authority. In a few years I would be hosting and producing ICR’s weekly radio program, and for the past 25 years I have been blessed to serve full-time in creationist ministry.
Duane (it took me many years to stop calling him “Dr. Gish,” but we became good friends as well as colleagues) would become internationally famous for the three hundred-plus debates he conducted with evolutionists. He was so successful (as even his opponents grudgingly admitted) that debates became rarer since potential debaters feared that he was too formidable.
Dr. Gish embodied the term “creation evangelism,” popularized by Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis. These two words describe how Christians can use the book of Genesis to share our faith—after all, it’s where the gospel is first mentioned. But they also describe what Dr. Gish did in that high school classroom so many years ago—using Genesis as a lifeline to rescue young Christians like me, who might be thinking of checking out of church because of nagging doubts and subtle attacks on the Bible.
Over the decades, I was saddened to hear that many of my high school classmates turned their backs on the Christian faith. Perhaps if they had attended the talk by Dr. Gish they would have taken the Bible more seriously—and then received Christ as Savior. I don’t know.
But as I attended Dr. Gish’s memorial service in a San Diego church several weeks ago (he was 92), I thanked God for the faithfulness of a godly, scholarly man whom He used on that eventful day in 1971 to rescue me from doubt.