I defend my parents’ decision; they did the best they could. It is not their fault that the people they trusted turned out to be liars.
To understand my struggle, let me explain a little bit about my upbringing. I grew up in small Texas towns, the sort of small towns people like to idealize as great places to raise a family. In many ways, they were: we knew lots of people, we had extended family nearby, we felt safe enough to play in nearby parks and explore our neighborhood unsupervised. But these towns aren’t usually known for academic achievement. The high schools in the towns I grew up in excelled in producing two things: teen pregnancy and teen alcoholism. My parents wanted my sister and me to get an education, so they opted to homeschool us.
Let me hasten to add, I am very glad I was homeschooled. I credit my parents with my love of learning, my independence in seeking answers for myself, and my devotion to reading. I don’t want to call any of that into question.
From a very young age, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. I loved them. I loved their difficult names, their strange bones, their gigantic sizes. When Jurassic Park came out, I was the happiest 11-year-old on the planet. This caused a problem. Dinosaurs were clearly in the realm of evolution, something my culture was very much opposed to. However, instead of squelching my interests, my parents researched until they found information about dinosaurs from a source they felt they could trust: the Institute for Creation Research. Keep in mind, this was before the Internet; it was harder to find out who was a reliable source of information, and even harder to find scientific or religious sources that didn’t immediately dismiss each other. A conservative Christian organization that offered dinosaur science? It seemed perfect.
We heard all the stories about how ICR speakers had won debates so often that evolutionists would no longer debate them. We learned about how carbon dating wasn’t reliable. We read all the ICR books and pamphlets we could get our hands on. I don’t know how much money my parents spent trying to feed my dinosaur habit, but it was a lot. We didn’t have much to spare in those days, and I appreciated every bit of it.
I went to a conservative college where this basic viewpoint was never really challenged, even though many on staff didn’t subscribe to young-earth creationism. My professors encouraged me to think about many questions and issues, but few if any were specifically scientific. I continued to assert that the Earth must be a fairly recent creation.
What began to change my mind in this regard? Space.
I had always been interested in space, in a general way. My family had a small telescope, and my mom always woke us up to go out and see meteor showers. Seeing comet Hale-Bopp, undimmed by city lights, was a truly life-changing moment for me. But I didn’t really pursue that knowledge actively until NASA joined Twitter. I discovered the Phoenix account in late 2008, just as the lander was shutting down. I followed every NASA account I could find. I went to the first NASA Tweetup at JPL. I started talking astronomy and space exploration with people of all backgrounds from around the world. And something began to change.
I began to see that the universe was incredibly large, and was expanding all the time. All of our instruments and methods of detection tell us that the light that reaches us from across the universe has been travelling for a very long time to reach us. And most of it has taken much, much longer than 6,000 years to reach us. This posed a problem. Either all of our instruments and methods are wrong about the size of the universe and the speed of light, or God created a world with an “appearance of age” so persuasive as to be downright deceptive, or the universe really was billions of years old.
I saw no reason for all of the methods and instruments to be wrong; it was possible, strictly speaking, but not likely. And I couldn’t believe that a God who was the source of truth would have created a world designed to trick us so thoroughly. I finally admitted to myself that I could no longer believe in the origins of the universe as they had been taught me.
Bit by bit, I began to learn uncomfortable things about the people I’d grown up reading. Their invitations to debates weren’t denied out of fear of their evidence, but because they refused to hold to honest debate techniques. Much of their scientific evidence was dubious, at best. Stories of dinosaurs living into relatively modern times were altered from their original sources, accepted uncritically from unreliable narratives, or simply made up. The science was not rigorous, and would not hold up to scrutiny. I had to discard either the views I had invested so much in, or my intellectual honesty.
It’s hard to explain the pain that came from that change. I know good, intelligent people who still believe the universe is very young. I respect them, and I want them to respect me. I had been told all my life that evolutionary theory was the first step in losing one’s faith. I don’t intend to lose my faith, unless I become completely convinced that it simply is not true. But the old fears still sneak up on me: what if I’ve changed my views just to fit in with my friends in the scientific community? What if I’m betraying my faith? These things can plague me in the dark hours of the night. I hear friends mock the views of the atheist and skeptic community, and I’m afraid to admit the areas in which I agree with them. I know many good people who eschew all religious belief; they are moral, generous, caring people.
But the other side of it pulls at me, too. I have many atheist friends, friends whose good opinion I treasure. When I hear some of them mock the intellectual capabilities of the people I used to agree with, it hurts. I know many of the people being ridiculed are intelligent, caring people, and do not deserve such mockery. I know they would find many of my current beliefs laughable, and I worry that I will make changes based on social acceptability rather than real thought.
One thing I do know: truth is more important than my concept of God. I must not sacrifice what I know to be true to what I think God might be. Whoever or whatever God is, He must be the source of truth or He is not worth following.
Regardless of the outcome, this struggle is well worth the effort. There is no greater quest in human history than the search to know. From our earliest days of hunting and gathering, to the dialogues of Plato, to the Industrial Revolution, we’ve sought to figure out how the world works, and what our place is in it. My struggle is just a tiny part of that bigger quest.
I’m still navigating through this maze. I hope I can retain my friendships with both of my communities. But if not, I hope I have the courage to follow the truth wherever it leads. I can forgive simple error, but I will have no part of any argument that is built on a conscious lie, or a refusal to examine evidence. I don’t know where this search will take me; if I did, it wouldn’t be honest inquiry. The things I previously accepted must be held up and examined; the same must be done for new arguments and ideas. It won’t be comfortable, but it will, at least, be honest.