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The Evolution of My Thinking

Posted by on February 14, 2014 | General | 3 Comments »

“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.”
– Aristotle

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?”
– Augustine

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.

  1. This is a crucial area where we need to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” I am always so afraid of damaging a student’s faith that I probably don’t push critical examination far enough. I think you are absolutely right that unexamined faith doesn’t withstand the battering of real life. We just have to be sure that our intellectual environment is safe and is supportive.

  2. In this discussion I wonder where my Christian beliefs exactly fit. I speak boldly in class through my devotions about my profound position that Jesus IS the only way to salvation and of His power to redeem and change lives as He has in my own life. Faith is a powerful thing as long as what/where the faith is directed aligns with His Word. I personally cannot see my self backing down in my presentation of Jesus as LORD regardless of who is present. Or maybe I have totally missed the direction of this discussion….let the Word do the examination. We cannot judge even ourselves.

  3. Student says:

    I don’t know exactly where I fall on the young earth debate. I have researched all theories on this but It hasn’t been and never will be something that defines my faith. I do not believe in evolution the way most scientist present it. Neither did Charles Darwin based on things that he said. I do believe that humans have evolved some because of technological advances. We have continued to grow bigger, stronger, and healthier throughout the last few hundred years. I think it is insane to say that we came from monkeys. Scientist say that DNA is similar and use this as a basis to say we did evolve from them. I do agree that we have similar DNA but we are made from the same creator so of course we do. If I create two different things then they will be similar and of course I will use the things I like from my first creations to make my final creation. As far as the pill thing goes. I agree with the girl that it does not matter because it is not biological. I myself have struggled with homosexual thoughts but it is a choice to act on those thoughts just like it is a choice to act on any lustful thought that any of us may have. I do realize that the Bible does say we are born into sin. Based on this I believe that there are things that Satan attacks us with from day one. These things will be struggles throughout our life and do create who we are. Maybe in some way that could show up in our DNA because it does affect us but I know that my God will not create someone who is homosexual and then condemn them to Hell if they act on those thoughts. I guess if predestination were true then that could be the case but there is plenty of Biblical evidence that says predestination is not true. The verse that Calvinist use says that God predestined those whom He foreknew to be with Him. Based on the Bible I read God foreknew everyone so no one will be in Hell. I don’t really understand how that scripture could even work to support Calvinist theory. What I would like to know is how you can honestly state that young earth theorist are embarrassingly wrong and ignorant when you yourself do not even know the truth behind it. I do not believe this is an issue any of us can ever know until we are actually standing before Christ Himself and cannot see how you can say these people are ignorant because you believe a certain way. It is not something you can personally deal with and there is nothing that tells us without a doubt which theory is true. Also I am a Pastoral and Psychology major. I deal with students all over campus and have lived with RA’s in freshmen dorms for the past 4 years. I have talked about this often with other students and know that the majority of students do, in fact, believe in the young earth theory. I do know that it is more common within the Psychology department to see more students lean toward evolution but that does not make that the majority of students throughout campus or even in the Psychology department. Can you provide some more solid fact to your “thinking”?

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