A continuation from the previous post, Proverbs 4:7.
One of my medical school classmates was a Baylor graduate, and at one point I asked him what they taught about evolution. “They teach both,” he said. At the time, Baylor was still under control of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but in 1990 they modified their relationship to allow for more intellectual freedom. I do not know if the university still “teaches both.”
At the time I thought this ridiculous, and even came up with a snarky comment, “You don’t have a Darwinist’s chance at Baylor of succeeding.” I was incensed that fundamentalists were trying to shovel their religious views down people’s throats.
After that I began questioning religion, and much later I also began to question science and the scientific method. (I suppose I’m a recovering scientist.)
So here’s my question: What should we teach in our schools, Darwinism or creationism? Let me answer that question with another question (sometimes I am just rude to myself that way). What should we teach our children: What to think? Or how to think?
Because you can only have one.
When I was in grad school, the department would often combine upper level undergrad and graduate courses in one class; the grad students just had to do more work. In those classes, the graduate students would often sit in the back corner, and whenever the lecturer would go into controversial territory we would start firing off pickets, and an animated discussion frequently ensued.
After the class, undergrads would sometimes approach the professor and ask him which one was right. He would explain that it’s an area that’s still under exploration. They would persist: “Which one is right?” He would try to get them to understand the problem. Finally they would say, “Which one do we need to know for the test?”
This was probably the best university in its state, and most of these students were pre-meds, representing some of the best students from across that state.
Why should we expect them to approach knowledge any differently? What in our educational paradigms is designed to produce critical thinkers? In fact, isn’t the point of things like ‘Common Core’ and ‘workforce development’ precisely to insure that all students learn the same ‘facts’, that we all become generic workers, generic consumers, generic thinkers, and generic citizens?
Grad school gave me other things to think about. The dominant culture at that university was one of homogeneity, and perhaps as a direct consequence, of uncritical conformity. Most of the students were all about cars; not studying them, not working on them, not refurbishing them, they just wanted a Beamer. Same with clothes, they all wanted Brooks Brothers. They got their political news, and political views, from the same few news sources. Overwhelmingly they were stridently Christian, but not so Christian as to study Hebrew or Greek, to do missionary work, and certainly not to go out and preach the Gospel to the nations.
It was observing them that I came up with the insight, “If everyone’s thinking the same way, who’s thinking?”
But again, why should they, or any of us, be any different; different from the way we are, or different from each other? Except for the occasional essay in my English classes, I can’t think of any time in school that we were urged to question our books, question our government, and particularly, question our school boards, principals, or teachers. And I went to a pretty good high school, with classmates who are still some of the sharpest people I know.
It was very rare even in college or medical school to be urged to question what we were told. In medicine, of course, straying from accepted guidelines can be dangerous for the patient; but I can remember once going to the mattresses with my faculty over the ethics of animal use. They were completely unprepared for the discussion. It was common for students to object to sacrificing animals on emotional grounds, but ethical objections caught them flat-footed.
I occasionally get the chance to talk to incoming freshman here at UL, and when I do I tell them, “If, in the next four years you have not questioned everything you believe, about God, about democracy, about the free market, about yourselves, then we have not done our jobs. That does not mean that your opinions will change; but the reasons for your beliefs should definitely change.”
I omit what is strongly implied by my comment: “Because right now, you probably don’t have good reasons for what you believe.”
We live in a world with expanding complexity, and with increasingly complex problems. We are citizens in a democracy in which we desperately need voters who can analyze complex national and international problems, and who can study and debate them with open minds. If we can’t encourage our students to think for themselves, we shouldn’t be surprised that we end up with citizens who refuse to.
So it is with some chagrin that after 40 years of being a committed Darwinist that I admit that, I think we should “teach both.” But we are all products of a system that discourages independent thought. So here is a wicked question: If someone disagrees with me on this, does that mean that I’m wrong?
Or does it mean that they are closed to differing approaches, and by doing so, make my point?
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Up next: Intellectual Abuse
Picture: Auguste Rodin’s Thinker/The Poet from The Gates of Hell. Courtesy Wikimedia.org.