Local writer chronicles heated views on creation in new novel

  • Aug. 29, 2012 4:06 p.m.

A Red Deer man delves into a prairie community’s battle over the earth’s beginnings in a finely-crafted new novel.

Victor Ratzlaff, a retired paediatrician, released his first novel Creation Wars just last month. The book follows the experiences of a gifted teacher in a prairie town back in the 1950s. In spite of his strong Christian faith, Peter struggles with the church’s views of creation which argue for a relatively young earth, and the emerging scientific views supporting a much older universe.

When the principle’s son challenges him about his beliefs in class, Peter is essentially forced to come clean. Meanwhile, his daughter is becoming more frank about her Darwinian beliefs as her faith wavers. Adding to the tension is that the school’s principle, openly suspicious of Peter, is working to steer the school back to its reputation of being a ‘bastion of true Scriptural science’.

Eventually, a new librarian comes to town. Both Peter and his daughter are drawn to this woman for help in finding both answers and understanding. But her Roman Catholic faith doesn’t sit well with many in the predominantly protestant community.

What does all this mean for Peter and his family, who are finding themselves increasingly isolated from the community? Their questioning lands them in the middle of a building storm of controversy as they sincerely seek to hang onto their faith as well.

Ratzlaff first took up writing about 15 years ago, compiling historical accounts on family members and his own life. The inspiration to write a novel was sparked when he came across a book called Modern Science and Christian Faith which had been published back in the late 1940s.

“A group of Christian scientists held a forum, and they believed the scientific evidence of a very old universe. They didn’t have any difficulty with that, and they still had a very vibrant faith in Christianity. I started thinking maybe I could build a story around that.”

Ratzlaff also couldn’t help but wonder how the Modern Science and Christian Faith would have impacted him back in that period.

In the mid-1950s while attending university to study medicine, he went through a crisis of faith of his own. Having been raised in a Mennonite family, Ratzlaff’s faith was solid during his early years. He also attended a Baptist Bible school after graduating from high school. But it was while studying at the University of Alberta that he became disillusioned with his faith, being unable to reconcile what he had been taught with what was being presented in his studies.

“I thought wouldn’t it have been something if I would have had access to that book, and what a difference it would have made when I went through that time of becoming totally disillusioned with Christianity because of that issue.”

At the time, the view that the earth was created between 6,000 to 10,000 years ago was paramount in the Christian world. But that view was being vigorously challenged in university. He decided to set aside the issue in an effort to move on with his life, and essentially became an agnostic. Years later, while attending church with his young family in Red Deer in the early 1970s, he found himself drawn back to his faith.

A Bible study gave him a renewed sense of his Christian roots, and he also came to a place of peace in terms of his understanding of the earth’s beginnings. Further research over the years assured him there was reason to be comfortable with a Biblical faith and scientific views on the origins and age of the universe.

“I’ve also read dozens of books (on the topic), and some of them were profoundly moving to me. There are deep thinkers and very scientific people who were Christians but at the same time believed the scientific view in terms of the age of the universe.”

Unlike today, where even in Christian circles many topics aren’t so starkly black and white, Ratzlaff said such issues in the 1950s could be extremely divisive.

That’s partly why setting the story in the 1950s made sense, and Ratzlaff found himself easing into the formation of the narrative quite naturally. The novel offers a compelling, multi-layered story that really draws the reader in. Characters are well-rounded, accessible and authentic, and adding to the poignancy and realism is that there is much of Ratzlaff’s own experiences woven into the heart of the story as well.

Meanwhile, a book launch is set for Sept. 15 in the Snell Gallery at the Red Deer Public Library downtown. It runs from 1 to 5:30 p.m.

Books can be purchased from Victor Ratzlaff by emailing him at vratzlaff@gmail.com or on Amazon.ca.