by Al Cornell
A while back, I worked with a young woman who had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin Wildlife Ecology department. In driving to and between work sites, we had opportunities to discuss her atheism. I suspected she had developed that concept while at the university, but she informed me that she was an atheist before attending UW-Madison. Though from a church membership family, other things had caused her to gravitate toward unbelief. However, she did reference friends who appear to have constituted an atheist support group at the university.
I reminded her that Aldo Leopold, the respected initiator of Wildlife Management as a college curriculum, had a section on the relationship of wildlife to morals and religion in his famous A Sand County Almanac. Leopold taught at UW-Madison from 1928 until his death in 1948. He started that section in the book by referencing a young man who was raised an atheist but changed his mind when he saw that “there were a hundred-odd species of warblers, each bedecked like to the rainbow, and each performing yearly, sundry thousands of miles of migration.”
A Sand County Almanac retains a prominent place in the wildlife ecology curriculum. However, I wonder if that portion of the book has been mentioned since I did a presentation in Russell Labs and quoted a portion of it many years ago. Though this young woman had not become an atheist while at the university, she undoubtedly found a niche in which the atheist concept was frequently watered. I know from my college years that unbelieving professors sprinkle in comments to undermine faith. In fact, the brazen comments of one instructor motivated me to comment on faith when it seemed appropriate.
Most youth will assume the well from which they drink is pure and life-sustaining. A majority will have determined their theological concept at least by the time they graduate from college, and they will never second guess it. For many, it will be shallow, but never questioned. Of course, this does more than just help perpetuate atheism. Since a considerable portion of homeschooling curriculums teach young-earth creationism, many youth end up believing that is sound doctrine or even a salvation matter. They retain that view as adults.
I have noticed that various blogs can get turned into sites where people vent about God and the Bible. It does not constitute a debate because the setting often dictates one-line answers that primarily just amount to a vote on the subject. People add their comments based on statements from their instructors, books, or friends without having considered the issues for themselves.
The line used most frequently by atheists reads something like, “You've been duped by a bunch of ancient fairy tales.” I often wonder if that represents the totality of the poster's theology. Somebody told them, they repeat it, and that is all they need to know about the existence or non-existence of God. What is annoying is that their posts often portray an intellectual aloofness. Of course, some have a grasp on why they are atheists, but others just parrot a catchy phrase to cast their vote.
I am impressed when I come across material that demonstrates that an unbeliever has some insight into Jesus' character. Many just jump on the Richard Dawkins' bandwagon and relate all religion with war. They have failed to learn that with the advent of modern atheism, atheists have exceeded their share of atrocities.
In contrast, the agnostic Loren Eiseley, writing in the 1960s, spoke of a characteristic of Jesus Christ precisely as it is expressed in the four gospels. He wrote, “… that great impulse — love, compassion, call it what one will — which, however discounted in our time, moved the dying Christ on Golgotha with a power that has reached across two thousand weary years.”
In every age, there are those who twist Christianity to fit cultural, social, and political agendas. Eiseley, unlike many, did not let those taint his vision of Christ. He must have read the gospels for himself and caught a glimpse of Jesus. That bit of theology exceeds what Dawkins and his followers bother to learn. They want to debase theology, but, at the same time, are determined to perpetuate their theological perception.
The power of being able to change ones' viewpoint beyond the concept that was adopted during youthfulness is exemplified in Antony Flew. Flew, who had been the leading spokesperson for atheism for decades, changed his viewpoint in his late years. His explanation for being able to do so was that he had always maintained a determination to go where the evidence led.
The following quote from Francis Collins, who led the human genome project, occurs on the front of the dust jacket on Flew's book, There Is a God, “Flew's colleagues in the church of fundamentalist atheists will be scandalized.” Of course those colleagues resorted to comments about old age and senility. They were not willing to accept the idea that Flew could have changed his mind based on evidence.
We all need to test the water we drink. We cannot just send in a sample and have it tested. To do so would result in relying on someone else's values and biases to determine our own course of life. We must learn testing skills and apply them ourselves.
Church folks need to hold several popular doctrines up to the light of God's Word and of scientific facts to grasp reasonable and spiritual concepts. Denying human-influenced global warming has no scriptural support. A proclamation that radioactive dating methods are bogus rings hollow in the mind of one trained in science. Resisting scientific evidence for continental drift, soil formation, glaciation, universe expansion, and dozens of other things adds to the concept that Christians have been drinking the wrong water. Biblical interpretations that oppose scientific discoveries undermine the foundation of Christianity's validity. Pure Christianity endorses the harmony of Scripture and Creation.
For each person who adopts Flew's principle of going where the evidence leads, life will become more intricate. It is much easier to determine just to stay on whatever path you were pointed toward at an early stage in your life. If you are an atheist, read the gospels, not just from a perspective of trying to find fault, but attempt to harmonize the person you find there with your perception of reality. If you are a Christian, delve into some science field and harmonize your concept of reality with the physical universe of which we are a part. Fear no truth.
Take time to develop a concept of the fundamental reason we exist. Hurrying to get through your faith decisions may have undesirable consequences for you or those you influence.
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