“The teacher is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing his/her subject, but he/she should be careful not to introduce into his/her teaching controversial concepts which have no relation to his/her subject.”
– Lee University Faculty Handbook
It is easier to avoid controversies in our classes. It is just not worth the effort, particularly if we are not passionately against a prevailing opinion. I have even less energy to take on such issues if I mostly agree with the position. Like Pat Robertson, I agree that young Earth creationists are embarrassingly wrong, but since I agree with them that we are created by God, it is easier to let them live with their ignorance. After all, I am a psychology professor. I am neither a theology professor nor a geology professor. It is not my problem.
“We are too much accustomed to attribute to a single cause that which is the product of several, and the majority of our controversies come from that.”
– Marcus Aurelius
But life is not so simple or compartmentalized. The dominant perspective within my discipline is now driven by our understanding of evolution. It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand the most recent psychological research and theories apart from having a solid understanding of natural selection. Even the introductory psychology texts are quickly being redesigned around this foundational concept. It is now my problem.
“With regard to matters requiring thought: the less people know and understand about them, the more positively they attempt to argue concerning them.”
– Galileo Galilei
Interestingly, the majority of our students are not young Earth creationists, but you would not know this from the typical classroom conversations. Using the same logic that has kept me from spending energy on the issue, the students representing the majority opinion stay mostly quiet, allowing the other students to have the loudest voices on this issue, reflecting the same phenomenon that is happening in the larger Evangelical community. Ken Ham is willing to dedicate his life around this one issue. I am not.
“In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.”
– Mark Twain
However, not only am I willing, I have actually devoted my professional life to getting students to think. That is ultimately our calling as Christian professors in a liberal arts university. I have no desire to create a group of students that believe exactly what I believe. I just want them to think. This is how they make our faith their own instead of just believing some unquestioned ideas inherited from the previous generation.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
A few weeks ago, I asked students a group of hypothetical questions to help them examine their presuppositions. I asked if they could take a pill that would guarantee that their future offspring would be cancer free, would they take it? If they could take a pill that would guarantee that their children would not have same-sex attraction, would they take it? One student immediately raised her hand and said that she did not believe that same-sex attraction was biological. I said, “Okay, but if it were, would you take the pill?” Her response was that it is not, so there is no need for her to consider her response to the hypothetical. This reminds me of the moment in the Nye-Ham debate when Ham was asked by an audience member if he would still believe in Jesus if it were proved that the Earth was older than 6000 years. He refused to answer the hypothetical question because he said that the hypothetical question could not be true.
“If they find a Christian mistaken in a field in which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?”
It is my experience that students that hold rigid unquestioned religious beliefs go from a position of complete devotion to those beliefs to complete abandonment of those beliefs. Ken Ham refused to imagine what would remain of his faith if the world was actually billions of years old instead of thousands. While I do not have a need to change the mind of my young Earth creationist students, I do have a need to convince them that there are options for them to keep their faith if that rigid belief is ever lost.
And I can only do that by getting them to think.