Sarah Ellwood

Leaving My Fear Behind to Embrace the Wonder of God

on January 29, 2020

“Six literal days,” said an Abraham Lincoln lookalike with an Australian accent. I can clearly remember the day in my childhood when Ken Ham came to my Southern Baptist church to debate a NASA scientist. Science was anathema to my church; creationism the one true science and the Bible its textbook. I remember watching that debate thinking, “That poor scientist.” Afterwards, I ran right to the booth at the back of the church and signed up for the Answers in Genesis mailing list. Years later, I again watched Ken Ham debate yet another scientist: Bill Nye. I remember watching that debate, rooting for the “poor scientist” all the while shaking my head at the man whose beliefs I once accepted as truth. What had happened to me in that time for me to do a 180 degree turn in my beliefs?

The majority of my formative years had been an internal war trying to reconcile the evidence of science with the ideas of Young Earth Creationism. Growing up a Southern Baptist, it was drilled into me that the Bible was the infallible word of God. It was treated like both a history book and science text. This was true in school as well. I attended a Christian school from kindergarten through 12th grade. In science classes, we would skip over any sections of a textbook which mentioned an old earth or evolution. Instead of confronting it or having a conversation about it, it was simply ignored as if it wasn’t there. Anything that challenged something the Bible said was immediately discounted and dismissed as heresy. Because of this, I assumed anyone who believed in evolution had to be a heretic, or secretly an atheist. This was problematic for me as I began my journey of self-discovery. I found myself believing in science more and questioning the Bible’s account of creation. My questioning was met with judgment and dismissiveness by leaders in my church. The answer was always, “the Bible is the Absolute Truth.” After repeatedly being shut down and my desire for dialogue discouraged, I further internalized my doubts and felt isolated in my struggles.

That all began to change once I started attending a tiny, conservative, Christian liberal arts college where I majored in Theology and minored in Ancient Languages. There I met a professor of Old Testament and Ancient Hebrew. In his classes, he not only spoke of Christ to us, but also of science. I entered his class condemning him a heretic and left lauding him a genius. I found myself taking every single class he offered, regardless of whether it was required for my major. I was starving for truth. It was in his classes and many subsequent office hours conversations that I first encountered the term “theistic evolution.” It was surprising to meet a man of God on this conservative, Christian campus in the south who was not only unafraid of science and evolution but openly embraced them.

people in a classroom

In one of his classes, we dove into Genesis 1 and read it in its original written language. By reading it in ancient Hebrew, we saw its poetic writing style in contrast with other portions of Genesis’ narrative style. We read the second account of creation in Genesis 2 and compared it to the Genesis 1 creation account, noting its incongruence. I didn’t know how to reconcile the fact that there were inconsistencies in the Bible. I was taught that to question the account of Genesis 1 is to call into question the entirety of the Bible’s authority. In the world I grew up in, the creation story was viewed as the foundation of all Biblical truth. As such, if one were to remove the doctrine of a young earth, it would cause the rest of the Bible and its truths to crumble: a snowball effect of disbelief.

To further complicate things, I was going through another shift in my beliefs. During college and shortly before our marriage, my husband and I made the decision to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. I said goodbye to the version of Christianity from my childhood and embarked on a new spiritual journey. This was the other key contributor to my Damascene conversion. In Orthodoxy, I met a priest who encouraged my quest for knowledge and truth and who did not condemn science.  Aside from my professor, he was the only other person I had met who encouraged the pursuit of both science and religion. It gave me hope that there were more pro-science Christians out there, people who believed science and religion could not only coexist, but go hand-in-hand. This hope renewed my faith and pulled me out of the abyss of doubts I had been in for so many years. I could believe in science without sacrificing my belief in Jesus. It was a life-changing realization.

In the years since, I have continued to formulate my beliefs and not only discover, but accept who I am as a pro-science Christian. At first, I treated it like my dirty little secret around other Christians. I’d sit quietly listening to them spout Young Earth theories as they scoffed at the latest breakthroughs in science. Slowly, I started testing the waters. I began letting little bits of my newfound beliefs slip out. I began sharing articles from science websites on social media, which was met with some backlash. I even had a family member unfriend me due to what I was sharing. However, I was finally at the point in my life where I was proud of my journey and confident in my beliefs. I became passionate about showing how faith and science can not only coexist, but do so in harmony with one another.

I think the hesitation for many Christians about being pro-science is based in fear. Fear that if science is able to explain away some the supernatural side of events in the Bible such as the creation account, it somehow takes away from God’s omnipotence. For me, I’ve found it to be the opposite. The more I learn and embrace science, the more I stand in awe of God. He is more than just the genie in the bottle who “poofs” things into existence. Instead, he is the architect of these intricate and complicated scientific processes revealed to humans through his creation. He’s the first anatomist, biologist, physicist…the ultimate Scientist.

In the end, I believe that views on science and the literal versus figurative interpretation conversation play no role in salvation. However, science and the Bible can share the common purpose to reveal the truths of Christ. In the words of physicist and Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne: “If we are seeking to serve the God of truth then we should really welcome truth from whatever source it comes. We shouldn’t fear the truth.” I have embraced this view especially when it comes to science. If given the choice to seek God or seek truth, I would choose to seek truth believing that it would lead me to him. In the same way, science seeks the truth of the natural world and creation reveals its Creator. I am thankful for my renewed faith in both God and science, and grateful for the opportunity to explore God’s world and Word, without fear and in harmony.


Sarah Ellwood
About the Author

Sarah Ellwood

Sarah works in the exciting world of government IT solutions, clearly utilizing her Theology degree as she adamantly argued she would to her parents when they suggested she get a more practical degree. When she is not being a corporate drone, she enjoys cooking, travel, reading, and exploring her creative side. Her favorite pastime is having game nights with her husband, three children, and two cats (even though the cats cheat).

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