"I Do not Want to Be a Fool"
|by||Bert Thompson, Ph.D.|
Through our mail box in a year’s time come hundreds of letters. Some are from evolutionists or those sympathetic to them, boldly objecting to our work. Some are from friends, offering a word of encouragement. Some are from students, writing to ask for materials they can use in the preparation of a term paper, speech, or debate. And some are from people whose faith is faltering because it has been attacked by unbelief and is in danger of being destroyed.
This article concerns a letter from the latter category. A Christian student’s graduate program in the sciences at a state university led him to study under a man he termed “a giant in his field...rocket-scientist intelligent...and a devout evolutionist.” In his letter, the student said:
...working this closely with one who thinks as he does is beginning to cause not a small amount of cognitive dissonance in my own mind with regards evolution v. special creation. I really need your help, both as a Christian and a scientist, to clearly see what it is. Hundreds of thousands of scientists can’t be wrong, can they? Consensual validation cannot be pushed aside in science. How can that many people be following a flag with no carrier, and someone not find out? The number of creation scientists pales in comparison.... I do not want to be a fool.”
This young writer expressed what many people experience, yet are unable to enunciate so eloquently. It is not uncommon to encounter those who once knew what they believed and why they believed it, yet who now are terribly confused. “Cognitive dissonance” is the internal struggle one experiences when presented with new information that contradicts what he believes to be true. As he struggles for consistency, he must change what he believes or disregard the new information. This young Christian who once knew what he believed, and why he believed it, no longer knows either. He stated: “I am a confused young man with some serious questions about my mind, my faith, and my God. Please help me sort through these questions....”
There were two things he did know, however. First, he recognized that the beliefs he once held were inconsistent with those he was being taught. Second, he recognized that if he accepted these new teachings, then not only his beliefs but his actions would be inconsistent with his Christianity. His plea—“help me sort through these questions”—has been echoed countless times through the centuries by those who languish in the “cognitive dissonance” which results from replacing the wisdom of God with the wisdom of man. What answer could we give the young querist?
It is true that “most scientists” accept organic evolution. The co-discoverer of the DNA molecule, James Watson, once stated: “Today the theory of evolution is an accepted fact for everyone but a fundamentalist minority” (1987, p. 2). One university textbook widely used for almost two decades began with these words: “Organic evolution is the greatest principle in biology. Its implications extend far beyond the confines of that science, ramifying into all phases of human life and activity. Accordingly, understanding of evolution should be part of the intellectual equipment of all educated persons” (Moody, 1962, p. 1x). In the March 1987 issue of Natural History, evolutionist Douglas J. Futuyma noted:
That evolution has occurred—that diverse organisms have descended from common ancestors by a history of modification and divergence—is accepted as fact by virtually all biologists.... The historical reality of evolution is doubted chiefly by creationists, mostly on doctrinaire religious grounds (96:34).
This kind of diatribe—that evolution is a “fact” accepted by “all educated persons” except a “fundamentalist minority”—has a devastating impact on impressionable young minds. Two questions are therefore in order. First, why do so many scientists believe in evolution? Second, are they correctin doing so; that is to say, is “consensual validation” reason enough to acquiesce in favor of organic evolution?
Why Do So Many Scientists Believe in Evolution?
There are a number of reasons that could be offered to explain why belief in evolution is popular, but two seem especially apropos here. First, for those who do not believe in a Creator, evolution is their only escape. Henry Fairfield Osborn, renowned evolutionist of the early twentieth century, suggested: “In truth, from the earliest stages of Greek thought man has been eager to discover some natural cause of evolution, and to abandon the idea of supernatural intervention in the order of nature” (1918, p. ix). British evolutionist Sir Arthur Keith once remarked that “Evolution is unproved and unprovable. We believe it because the only alternative is special creation, and that is unthinkable!” (as quoted in Criswell, 1972, p. 73). D.M.S. Watson, who held the position of the Chair of Evolution at the University of London for more than twenty years, echoed the same sentiments when he stated that “Evolution itself is accepted by zoologists, not because it has been observed to occur or can be proven by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is incredible” (1929, p. 233). As Henry Morris has noted: “Evolution is the natural way to explain the origin of things for those who do not know and acknowledge the true God of creation. In fact, some kind of evolution is absolutely necessary for those who would reject God” (1966, p. 98).
Second, it may be that “The main reason most educated people believe in evolution is simply because they have been told that most educated people believe in evolution” (Morris, 1974, p. 26). Many people, including scientists, fall into this category. For the past century, evolution has been taught from kindergarten to graduate school as a fact that “all reputable scientists believe.” As a result, people often believe that if they, too, wish to be “educated,” it is a prerequisite that they believe in evolution. Where, in all likelihood, did the graduate student’s professor receive his education? At the feet of evolutionists, no doubt. And where did they, in turn, receive their education? At the feet of evolutionists. Thus, the vicious circle continues unabated.
Are “Hundreds of Thousands of Scientists” Correct?
The graduate student asked: “Hundreds of thousands of scientists can’t be wrong, can they?” This question may be addressed as follows. First, any argument based on “counting heads” is fallacious. Philosophy professors instruct their students on various fallacies of human thought, one of which is the “fallacy of consensus.” In his book, Fundamentals of Critical Thinking, atheistic philosopher Paul Ricci discussed the “argument from consensus,” and explained its erroneous nature (1986, p. 175). Interestingly, however, in the pages prior to his discussion, Mr. Ricci offered the following as proof of evolution: “The reliability of evolution not only as a theory but as a principle of understanding is not contested by the vast majority of biologists, geologists, astronomers, and other scientists” (1986, p. 172, emp. added).
Mr. Ricci fell victim to the very fallacy about which he tried to warn his readers—truth is not determined by popular opinion or majority vote. A thing may be, and often is, true even when accepted only by a small minority. The history of science is replete with such examples. British medical doctor, Edward Jenner (1749-1823), was scorned when he suggested that he had produced a smallpox vaccine by infecting people with a less-virulent strain of the disease-causing organism. Afterwards, he lived as a man whose reputation had been sullied. Yet his vaccine helped the World Health Organization eradicate smallpox. Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-1865) of Austria is another interesting case study. He noticed the high mortality rate among surgical patients, and suggested that the deaths resulted from surgeons washing neither their hands nor their instruments between patients. Dr. Semmelweis asked them to do so, but they ridiculed him. Today, the solutions posed by this gentle doctor are the basis of antiseptic techniques in life-saving surgery.
Often, scientific successes have occurred because researchers rebelled against the status quo. Sometimes consensual validation must be set aside for the sake of truth. If it is not, those of us who work in science shall become little more than cookie-cutter scientists rushing to fit into a predetermined mold.
Darrell Huff correctly observed: “People can be wrong in the mass, just as they can individually” (1959, p. 122). If something is true, stating it a million times does not make it any truer. Similarly, if something is false, stating it a million times does not make it true. And the prestige of a position’s advocates has nothing to do with whether or not the fact is true or false. It is incorrect (to use one example) to suggest that because a Nobel laureate states something it is true by definition. Were that the case, when Nobel laureate W.B. Shockley suggested that highly intelligent women be artificially inseminated using spermatozoa from Nobel Prize winners to produce superintelligent offspring, we should have taken him up on his suggestion. Of course, such an idea was based on nothing more than the narcissistic dreamings of an over-inflated ego. As Taylor has commented: “Status in the field of science is no guarantee of the truth” (1984, p. 226). Factual knowledge is not based on: (a) the number of people supporting the claim; or (b) the importance of the one(s) making that claim.
Second, the idea of strict objectivity in science is a myth. While scientists like to think of themselves as broad-minded, unprejudiced paragons of virtue, the fact is that they, too, on occasion, suffer from bouts of bias, bigotry, and presuppositionalism. Another Nobel laureate, James Watson, remarked rather bluntly: “In contrast to the popular conception supported by newspapers and mothers of scientists, a goodly number of scientists are not only narrow-minded and dull, but also just stupid” (1968, p. 14).
History provides a sad but instructive example of how scientists sometimes treat their colleagues when “consensual validation” is threatened. Immanuel Velikovsky was a medical doctor, and a scholar in his own right. He was also an “evolutionary catastrophist” (a rarity in the evolutionary community). Dr. Velikovsky believed, among other things, that the miracles described in the Bible actually occurred, but that they had purely natural explanations. His books (Earth in Upheaval, Worlds in Collision, Ages in Chaos, and others) challenged much evolutionary thought, and caused ripples of global proportions in the scientific community. The ensuing controversy was not a pretty sight (see de Grazia, 1966; Talbott, 1976). In their book, Velikovsky Reconsidered, the editors of Pensée magazine offered the following assessment of what occurred in this instance:
The professional scientists’ campaign against Worlds in Collision began well before the book appeared. Harlow Shapley, probably the best-known American astronomer alive today, led an energetic attempt to stop the publisher, Macmillan, from publishing the book. He arranged for denunciations of the book, still before its appearance, by an astronomer, a geologist, and an archaeologist in a learned journal. None of them had read the book. When it did appear, denunciatory reviews were arranged, again, in several instances, by professors who boasted of never having read the book.Velikovsky was rigorously excluded from access to learned journals for his replies. Then Shapley and others really got busy on the old-boy circuit. They forced the sacking of the senior editor of Macmillan responsible for accepting the Velikovsky manuscript. (He had been with the firm twenty-five years.) They forced the sacking of the director of the famous Hayden Planetarium in New York, because he proposed to take Velikovsky seriously enough to mount a display about the theory....The process thus begun did not stop. ...a great many “refutations” of Velikovsky’s theory have appeared in print, some by very famous people.... Some of them are chiefly remarkable for dishonesty or incompetence. They misquote the text they are criticizing. They willfully misrepresent the theory Velikovsky advanced. And they are replete with errors of fact and theory (Talbott, 1976, pp. 38,39).
Eventually, Macmillan was forced to transfer Velikovsky’s works to its competitor, Doubleday, which had no textbook division and thus was not subject to the blackmail that Shapley and his evolutionary colleagues were perpetrating. The whole sordid affair was made public in Dr. Velikovsky’s last book,Stargazers and Gravediggers (1984), published posthumously at his request.
Dr. Velikovsky’s treatment was scandalous, and remains a source of embarrassment to every scientist. Science is alleged to be self-testing and self-correcting. Even unorthodox views supposedly are welcome, since once put to the test, they will be weeded out if incorrect. But to deny someone the right to set forward a theory is not science—it is bigotry. While I as a scientist certainly do not share most of Velikovsky’s views, I delight in the fact that science has room in its investigative method and procedures for even the most unlikely candidate of a theory.
Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hurst, Jr. once wrote about pressures from “fashionable ideas...which are advanced with such force that common sense itself becomes the victim.” He observed that a person under such pressure may then act “with an irrationality which is almost beyond belief ” (1971, p. A-4). This is exactly what happened in the cases of Jenner, Semmelweis, and Velikovsky—and the list could be extended with ease. Common sense became the victim, and people acted irrationally. Were “the scientists” in the majority? Indeed. Were they wrong? Yes. Just because “hundreds of thousands of scientists” believe something does not make it right.
“THOU SHALT NOT FOLLOW A MULTITUDE TO DO EVIL”
Christ, in His “Sermon on the Mount,” warned that “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14). The majority ultimately will abandon God’s wisdom in favor of their own. Moses commanded the Israelites: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2). Regarding this passage, Guy N. Woods has observed that this divine injunction
...was designed to guard the Lord’s people from the corrupting influences of an evil environment, as well as from the powerful appeals of mob psychology to which so many in every generation succumb....
Man, by nature, is a social and gregarious being, tending to flock or gather together with others of his kind.... Man may, and often does, imbibe the evil characteristics of those about him as readily, and often more so, than the good ones (1982, 124:2).
Yes, there are “hundreds of thousands of scientists” who reject the biblical account of creation. But, as Woods noted, “It is dangerous to follow the multitude because the majority is almost always on the wrong side in this world” (1982, 124:2, emp. added). The “wisdom” with which we are impressed is not always the wisdom with which we should be impressed. Paul told the Corinthian Christians:
For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning will I bring to naught. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (1 Corinthians 1:19-21).
It should not be surprising that so many “intelligent” people view creation, and Christianity, as the fool’s way out. Paul himself commented that “not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise; and God chose the weak things of the world, that he might put to shame the things that are strong” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27). Those highly intelligent are often the least interested in spiritual matters because “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4) has blinded their minds so that they cannot, or will not, see the truth. They ignore the fact that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7).
We must not fall prey to mob psychology—the idea which suggests because “everyone is doing it” that somehow makes it right. Nor should we believe that “science” provides the answer to every conceivable question.
To treat science as a secular substitute for God is not only naive, it is idolatry.... Science and technology are the activities of imperfect people. The tendencies to misuse and exploit for personal gain operate here as in every other department of life. But the answer to abuse is not disuse, but responsible use (Poole, 1990, p. 126).
The graduate student said, “I do not want to be a fool.” It was a joy to tell him that he does not have to bear that stigma. The Scriptures are clear: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God” (Psalm 14:1). We need not be intimidated by the pseudo-intellectualism of those who esteem themselves with higher regard than they do their Creator. The cartoon character Lucy was correct when she told Charlie Brown, “You’re not right; you just sound right!”
At times, we need to focus on these issues and remember that it is far more important to study, and submit to, the Word of God than it is to be able to explain the ins and outs of quantum physics. One of those will “abide forever” (Isaiah 40:8); the other will perish. One of the graduate student’s final questions was: “How, then, may we compete?” Frankly, there may be times when we cannot. We run a different race, operated by different rules. While the world may esteem us not at all, the One Who will eventually judge us shall esteem us as “sons by adoption,” and “heirs of the kingdom.” Who, then, shall have played the fool?
de Grazia, Alfred, R. Juergens and L. Stecchini, eds. (1966), The Velikovsky Affair (Hyde Park, NY: University Books).
Futuyma, Douglas J. (1987), “World Without Design,” Natural History, 96:34, March.
Huff, Darrell (1959), How to Take a Chance (New York: W.W. Norton).
Hurst, Jr., William Randolph (1971), “Editor’s Report,” in The [Los Angeles] Herald-Examiner, November 14.
Criswell, W.A. (1972), Did Man Just Happen? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Moody, Paul A. (1962), Introduction to Evolution (New York: Harper & Row).
Morris, Henry M. (1966), Studies in the Bible and Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Morris, Henry M. (1974), The Twilight of Evolution (San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers).
Osborn, Henry Fairfield (1918), The Origin and Evolution of Life (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons).
Poole, Michael (1990), A Guide to Science and Belief (Oxford, England: Lion).
Ricci, Paul (1986), Fundamentals of Critical Thinking (Lexington, MA: Ginn Press).
Talbott, Stephen L., ed. (1976), Velikovsky Reconsidered (New York: Warner).
Taylor, Ian (1984), In the Minds of Men (Toronto, Canada: TFE Publishing).
Velikovsky, Immanuel (1984), Stargazers and Gravediggers (New York: Quill).
Watson, D.M.S. (1929), “Adaptation,” Nature, Vol. 123.
Watson, James D. (1968), The Double Helix (New York: Atheneum).
Watson, James D. (1987), Molecular Biology of the Gene (New York: W.A. Benjamin).
Woods, Guy N. (1982), “ ‘And be not Conformed to this World,’ ” Gospel Advocate, 124:2, January 7.