My faith community
I come from a conservative, evangelical, (most-likely) fundamentalist church background where we’re taught that the Bible is 100% accurate both historically and scientifically. I was born and raised in a small town in Ukraine and then immigrated to the States at the age of 7 (along with a lot of other families in the late ‘90s). We were a simple people and biblical scholarship was not the strongest amongst our church leaders. My parents and grandparents lived under strict anti-religious Soviet rule where religious propaganda was illegal and religious establishments, especially non-Russian Orthodox ones, were heavily regulated. Hymnals, Christian literature, and even portions of Scripture were painstakingly hand-copied to replace any confiscated by authorities, families were fined for taking their children to church services, and in the case of my parents and their believer peers, they were ridiculed in school by both teachers and students for being in a Baptist “sect.” Being a believer was hard back then. They did the best they could to survive in that environment, mainly by sticking together and spending as much time in fellowship with each other as possible, unfortunately resulting in an us-versus-them mentality.
This isolation from the outside world became even more pronounced when my family moved to the States and found not only similarly-minded people, but also people who spoke our language. Church became our everything. Friendships and social events outside of the church body were seen as unnecessary or even harmful, and anything (even homework) that could take me away from a regular church activity was usually met with some kind of suspicion and a dissatisfaction that I was putting earthly things above God. This attitude wasn’t very strong, but it was enough to consistently remind me that to live is Christ; secular music, movies, education, and friendships with non-believers would only serve to take me away from him. While they weren’t all inherently bad, they weren’t all worth it. Best to stay away.
It was in this world that I was introduced to Young Earth Creationism. I was in 4th grade when I first listened to Kent Hovind’s lecture titled “The Age of the Earth.” Unbeknownst to me then, his method was presenting the false dichotomy of “you can’t be a Christian and believe the Big Bang or evolution.” However, these ideas left quite the impression on me and many people in my Slavic-Baptist-immigrant community, and took deep roots.
Instead of being encouraged by those around me, I was under the impression that science couldn’t be pursued as a profession, or even just with my own curiosity. After all, I had been taught that you can ask questions if it makes you feel better, but it’s the answers you need to be wary of, as they will lead you down a slippery slope. Thus ended my love of scientific inquiry. I was curious, but I was more afraid of my curiosity leading me away from Jesus, so I memorized the rebuttals, the bad scientific jargon, and went through school with a certainty that I knew all the answers, that my faith was secure being built on these truths, and that everyone else was wrong.
Dealing with science in school
In fifth grade, I caught myself being swayed by my textbook making too much sense about geology. The evidence was so clear that I almost believed the Big Bang, but I quickly remembered that Adam and Eve would appear on Day 6 and they needed a fully grown, lush garden in a snap, not a hostile rocky Earth that wouldn’t see its first plants until almost 4 billion years after “poofing” into existence. So again, I watched my YEC DVDs and remembered the YEC advice to learn enough to pass the tests, but not enough to fall into the trap.
In ninth grade, I was thrilled to learn that my science teacher was a Christian! My happiness was short-lived when Mr. Hall started showing us all the pictures he took of the rocks at the Grand Canyon and dared to say that it took millions of years to form the rock layers, and just as much time for the Colorado River to carve out the canyon itself. Didn’t he know that the Flood laid down all of those layers? I wasn’t sure of his salvation status or his credentials after this, so I decided to call him out. Part of me felt so proud, because I would have a story to share with my family and youth group about how I stood up to my teacher and shared my faith, just like in the Christian movies.
I fired all of my rebuttals and bad science at him while he patiently listened and graciously answered my arguments with real science. I asked Mr. Hall how he could possibly be a Christian while knowingly going against the Bible and then spreading those lies as a teacher. He should be using his position to fight for truth, not compromising! Again, in humility and grace, Mr. Hall told me that there are Christians who think differently, and even understand the Bible differently, but are still believers, because the age of the Earth was not a salvation issue—it wasn’t actually an issue at all. Admittedly, I was confused by his words and his reaction. I tried to dismiss the whole thing, but his kindness was something I could never forget. He even sent me an Easter card in the mail a few years later. I really need to track him down and apologize.
All my life I was taught that the world is black and white, but here I saw that it’s a spectrum of vibrant color.
After high school, I didn’t go to university because of the cost and time needed to study. Besides, I was still scared of learning something that could potentially turn me into an “Evolutionist,” which would mean that I couldn’t be a Christian. Even more than that, if the Big Bang and evolutionary theory were true, then God is a liar and the Bible cannot be trusted.
Reigniting my curiosity
Fast forward to 2017, when I became a mom, or “Mimi” as my son calls me. Given the mistrust and misunderstanding of science in my community, the question of vaccines came up. Being ignorant and misinformed, I was against vaccines—more specifically, I was terrified of them. This fear was driven by personal testimonies of friends of friends whose kids developed something or other after the shots and then were cured when they stopped vaccinating. Though most of these conditions were never evaluated by a doctor or officially diagnosed, what mattered is that the moms knew what their child suffered from, they knew it was the vaccine—despite any research stating otherwise, and they knew that stopping the vaccines is what healed the child. End of story. And honestly, it was good enough for me—until my sister-in-law graciously explained how science works. She explained that claims of harm are taken very seriously by public health officials and vaccine developers alike, prompting extensive, exhaustive research and re-testing to make sure the benefits still far outweighed the risks. She quieted my fear, and made me understand that by vaccinating, I am actually loving my neighbor and contributing to the overall health of my community, my child included.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7
My curiosity was piqued. I started consuming scholarly articles about vaccines, and even tried my hand at reading medical papers, attempting to learn how these things worked. Limited to the topic of vaccines, I became science-obsessed. I joined Facebook science groups, shared my discoveries with family and friends, and even attempted to test my knowledge by joining in “discussions” in the comment section of vaccine posts (never a good idea). I loved how systematic and unbiased data was. Even more, I loved how it made me feel smart, not in an arrogant way like before (when I memorized all of the facts of YEC just to spew them out onto my unsuspecting opponent), but smart in a way that I actually understood how scientists got their information, their methodology, and that I could even replicate these same experiments at home and get the same results as Einstein and the like. This was science. I felt like I’d been given a key to the mall with no spending limit and free churros.
The meaning of the results and most of the concepts went over my head, but I finally grasped the fact that much of the world is written in a language that we can decipher by using math and physics. No guesswork, no memorization of elusive facts only found on creationist DVDs, but a systematic approach toward a world just waiting to be discovered. Around this time, my husband (a believer who never subscribed to YEC) found some very interesting documentaries about great thinkers of our era. Nietzche, Einstein, Marx, along with others, were featured for their lives, their thoughts, their work and influence on our world. We went on a science binge, spending our late evenings taking turns rocking the baby to sleep and watching videos on YouTube on topics about all things science and philosophy. Some of the new information I encountered made me uncomfortable at first. All my life I was taught that the world is black and white, but here I saw that it’s a spectrum of vibrant color. For the first time I wasn’t nervous or scared about what I might learn, because scientists weren’t out to disprove God and make people atheists, they’re just curious minds who, like me, enjoy learning about what stuff is and how it got here.
A simple search on YouTube landed me on plenty of videos debunking many YEC arguments, but a debate Kent Hovind had with Dr. Hugh Ross, an astrophysicist and a believer, caught my eye. The first thing that jumped out at me was Dr. Ross’ humility and kindness in the way he spoke and handled very unfair insults thrown at him by Hovind. I immediately recognized my 9th grade self in Hovind, and Mr. Hall in Dr. Ross. After watching a few more videos of Ross I was convinced that if he, an expert in his field, saw no contradiction between the Bible and science in regards to the Big Bang, then there was nothing holding me back from accepting the evidence myself. Ross and his organization, Reasons to Believe, do not accept the theory of evolution, but I was fine with that. Besides, I had almost 14 billion years of cosmology I needed to catch up on.
The BioLogos position
I had heard to be careful of the “compromisers” over at BioLogos. A science and faith organization started by Francis Collins, BioLogos seemed like a decent enough place. Remembering that the term “compromiser” is usually used when fearmongering, I decided that I had nothing to lose if I listened to a few of their podcast episodes. Again, I heard humility, grace, and more of that science that I had come to know and love. One episode that appealed to me particularly featured John Walton, an Old Testament scholar. Walton makes the point that if the Bible and science seem to be in contradiction with each other, it’s only because they tell two different stories and answer different questions. The Bible tells us how God made us part of his family, while science tells us how God made the house in which his family lives. And in the words of another podcast guest, Oliver Crisp: if there seem to be incongruences between the Bible and science, they will ultimately be reconciled, because all truth is God’s truth.
Having grasped the basics of the Big Bang theory, I found myself dabbling in evolution. “A change in allele frequencies of a population,” is the basic underlying force of evolution. These genetic changes accumulate in a population so that, over time, the organisms in question will have changed enough that they may not even be able to breed with other members of their species. Let’s take walking for an example, say that you can walk from your room to the kitchen in 20 steps. Given enough time and resources, there is nothing stopping you from walking to the park, across town, or even across the country. This is how simple evolution is. It’s not a religion that’s trying to kill God, it is a theory borne out of observing changes in populations, and noting that once enough changes have accumulated, the offspring can be considered as a completely different species. That’s it. Evolution doesn’t deal with non-living becoming living, it doesn’t claim that an ape birthed a human, and it doesn’t rule out God.
So, there I was again, realizing that if Francis Collins, John Walton, and many other experts in their respective fields, understood that the Bible doesn’t say anything for or against evolution: the overwhelming evidence is clear. I had no reasonable objection to accepting evolutionary theory as fact.
Realizing that I’m finally seeing the world as it is for the first time at 28 years old brings out a lot of mixed feelings. Feelings of wonder and awe at the grandness of the universe and the beauty of the life that it holds. Feelings of frustration, disappointment, and feelings of missing out on all of the things I could have learned and possibly pursued career-wise had I accepted Evolutionary Creation sooner. But also, I have feelings of hope, because everything that happens to us—good or bad—makes us into the people who we are.
This journey has not been entirely easy. Accepting scientific consensus has opened a lot of information for me to sift through, and not only that: it’s challenging my literal interpretation of the Bible. I have had to do a lot of re-learning and re-studying of everything that I have known about religion for the past 28 years. What is it that I really believe? Do I believe at all? The very fact that everything is far more ambiguous than I’m used to has caused some doubts and many questions. Still being a part of the same conservative cultural community, it can feel quite isolating and lonely at times, not being able to share my journey. Very few people understand the tremendous amount of work involved in making such changes, while others will say that “doubting is from the devil, away with him!” But having come so far, I cannot not pursue the truth. Surprisingly, there have been many moments of affirmation and encouragement as well. I find that the more I share and admit that I was wrong or too harsh in my thinking on a particular topic, there is always at least one person who messages me and says, “hey! I’m kind of going through this as well, I’m glad to know that I’m not alone.” This has inspired me to keep searching, keep learning, and to be honest with those around me. Because of where I am in my community, I could start a whole reformation—a very, very small reformation, but a reformation—in thought and action, to examine what we believe and why we believe it. Do our beliefs and positions help or hurt the image that we carry? And how can we learn to graciously disagree, without losing family and friends in the process?
But before that happens, my husband and a few close friends are rallying around me, creating a safe space to ask questions and arrive at whatever conclusions pop up. Moreover, I also have the beautiful community, created by the wide platform provided by BioLogos, of people just like me, trying to find their footing, learning real science, and deciding if the two can work in harmony in their lives, all without judgment. In my journey thus far, I have found that I’m not alone.
It’s been said that the most well-known Christian quality is forgiveness, and it is the quality I’m learning to embody throughout this process. Instead of dwelling on the fact that I trusted in YEC for so long, I’d rather use my time and energy to learn from the past, move on, and become better for it. This whole experience has given me an exercise in critical thinking and being accepting of people who think differently, just like Mr. Hall was towards me when I pelted him with my “right answers.” It’s the grace and patience that I remember most, not the exact words that he said, I could be like that for someone as well. Doing my best to show love, compassion, and grace towards everyone has proven to be a far more peaceful way to live than constantly trying to prove that I’m right. It is for this lesson that I am most thankful.