Who do you believe?


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Who do you believe?

By Bobby Neal Winters

We in the state of Kansas are getting a bit of national attention now that we are not accustomed to. We Kansans are the folks in the middle. We’re flat and we’re boring, but we don’t mind that. Being flat and boring is good because it means we don’t have to fight a lot of traffic.

But lately we are being painted as backward, and we do mind that. This is because the Kansas State Board of Education has pitted itself against the Theory of Evolution. They say the theory is a “flawed theory,” and this has raised hackles in the educational community the state over and the eyebrows of people throughout the rest of the country.

There is an intense fear in the state of Kansas that soon people will no longer pray “thank God for Mississippi” but “thank God for Kansas.” (Note that it is God that is thanked and not evolution.)

In the circles where I travel at the university everyone believes in evolution—or they keep quiet—so I don’t hear much from the other side of the debate. The folks I hear believe it is all cut-and-dried. The theory is true. This is not to say they are godless, but, rather, they have room to believe in both God and evolution.

With Kansas in the news because of this issue and since many of my peers teach classes at the university where the issue arises, we discuss it more than random probability would account for. The question that comes up among this crew regarding the theory is “Why don’t folks believe?”
It seems to make sense and to fit the evidence nicely, so it seems that reasonable people would believe. However, I had an experience a few years back that really opened my eyes.

The church I belong to sponsors a lecture series which brings in theologians and philosophers. One year, we invited a philosopher to speak who had written on evolution extensively. The thrust of his talk was in understanding the nature of God in the light of evolution.

The popular stereotype is that those who believe in evolution are the thinkers while those who don’t simply accept their beliefs on blind faith, but when the time came for questions, it became clear there were people in the crowd who (a) believed in evolution intensely and (b) didn’t understand it at all. They had seen something to which there were sides and had taken a side. The side they had taken was that of evolution.

Thinking about this over the years has led me to ask what makes us believe anything. There are the great discoverers, who go out and find evidence, and there are the theorists who look at the evidence others have gathered and put it into a pattern to tell a story and create a theory, but most of us don’t do that. Most of us come into the world ignorant and naked, and pick up our beliefs from our parents and our teachers. On any particular issue, we will have an opinion (or not) and it will be because we are on a particular side. To a large degree what we believe is a product of where we came from, the random chance of whom we ran into, what they believed, and how charismatic they are.

There are those who test their beliefs, who modify them in a rational manner, and who will change what they believe when they see themselves to be wrong. These people are relatively rare. More often people proceed by denial, ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit their particular set of beliefs, the beliefs of their side. This is true for “evolutionist” and “creationist,” theist and atheist alike.

While there are those who would strip from religion the mantle of rationality, it was the Apostle Paul who said, “Test all things. Cling to that which is true.” A scientist could not have put it better.

The errors of the anti-evolutionists are not in providing a critique of evolution and pointing out it is a flawed theory. It is flawed, but so is Newton’s Theory of Gravity. Their errors are in having the Bible as their only way of knowing and of interpreting it in a way it was never intended to be interpreted.
Christians are called to be seekers of the truth and to search by any Godly means. When Jesus taught, he said, “Consider the lilies of the field.” Implied in that is the listener is to look at the world around him and to think about it.

Evolution is a harsh lens through which to view the world. In absence of any sort of an independent moral buffer, it brings up some difficult questions such as should we spend our resources on the handicapped? Should we save premature babies? Should we take any actions to weaken the gene pool?
While my religion tells me we should value all human life because everyone whether healthy or not is made in the image of God, evolution has—by some—been interpreted as “survival of the fittest.” The devil is to be found in what one means by “fit.”

My religion tells me that God is love, and that “no greater love has a man than to give his life for a friend.” Some of those who study evolution have come to the opinion that love and self-sacrifice are just adaptations for survival and are not to be strived for any more than anything else.

I personally believe evolution is compelling as a scientific theory (whatever flaws it might have) but it is lousy as a God. On the other hand, putting God into a scientific theory is like putting a hippopotamus into the bathtub, that is to say he pushes everything else out.

So perhaps the place for us Kansans is where we are most comfortable in the middle rendering unto evolution its due and God his.

(Bobby Winters is a professor of mathematics, writer, and lay speaker. You may contact him at bobby@okieinexile.com or visit his website at www.okieinexile.com.)