On a Letter

Long-time readers know about my interest in the religion and science interchange. To newcomers, seeing the Categories > Religion and Science in the sidebar reinforces my point.

Recently, I was purging files from my classroom days. Some of the things I rediscovered were interesting enough to save for possible incorporation into posts – so here is one.

Context: Students had just informally (and individually) answered questions about common misconceptions in science. Next, they discussed answers in a small group, thus free to change any answers. I concluded the activity by leading short discussion of each answer. Two of the 33 questions were about evolution, but this post focuses only on one of them.

Lesson Goal: Misconceptions exist and they come from a variety of sources.

A question: (True/False) Humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time.

Answer: False – Research indicates 60 million years separated dinosaurs and humans.

Later that day, this note (below) appeared on my classroom desk.

September 9, 1994

Today you made the statement that there is scientific evidence that dinosaurs and men did not live at the same time. There is none. On the contrary, there is only evidence against it. There is not even any evidence that Earth was around 20 million years ago.

Your argument might be that scientists have dated the footprints of animals in mud, which has turned to stone at billions of year ago. It is virtually impossible to do so unless you compare the footprints to that of a species and have the guess of the time of this species. But there is nothing to date. There is the absence of rock.

As for evolution itself, it cannot stand the question of life in the equation X times Y equals Z. We are trying to find X. Y is filled in with how we interpret physical evidence found. Z is filled with God, so for X, I get from the Bible.

You (Atheists) have decided that you don’t want to follow the Bible, so you fill in Z with your own philosophy. Your X is based on your Y. Your Y is based on your X. Since your equation never equals out, your Y is dynamic.

Unless you repent your sins and become a Christian, you will find out on the Judgement Day that I and right and you are wrong. When God asks you why he should let you into heaven, what will you say? I know what I will say.

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82 thoughts on “On a Letter

  1. I believe Evolution is at work, and it is but one of God’s tools. One of the Popes said this, and I read about the philosophic-scientific connection first in an autobiograrphy of Carl Jung. This subject area on your blog is my favorite since it carries on that legacy. I bet you did not know that your inquiry has such roots. I take that back, you would.

    Have not been around much due to illness and lots of work at work.

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    • Randel,
      The philosophical-science connection goes way-way back in time, but good to know that you first encountered it from Carl Jung …. and nope, I didn’t know he made the connection – but I’m not surprised. Meanwhile, hope you are feeling better!

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  2. Hi Frank. Interesting letter. Those who believe that man was created in one day, would suppose that if a doctor examined him on the day after, he would see all the signs that that man had lived for forty years. No doubt, he had milk teeth when he was a child, and had cut his hair so and so many times… but in fact, was just one day old. In the same way, the world when created might have looked in the eyes of scientists as if it was million of years old… and yet was only one day old. Aside from that, there are some scholars among us, whoc understand the creation of the world to mean that world which we now know. And that there were previous worlds before this world of ours. And who knows… (certainly the scientists, other would say), perhaps there were dinosaurs in those previous worlds.

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    • Shimon,
      I always appreciate your wisdom. After all, science can’t answer certain theological questions, just as theology can’t answer certain scientific questions. …. yet there are some who believe each of these disciplines answer all.

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    • Rosie,
      When I got it, like anyone else, I wonder who wrote it. Even though I had an idea, yep – handwriting samples confirmed the identity. On the other hand, not only did I not mention it to any class, I didn’t acknowledge it to the writer. After all, I found it more amusing than insulting.

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  3. Oh dear. I too do not believe the earth has been around for as long as scientists say it has been but there is that saying, you attract more bees with honey than you do with vinegar and for anyone wanting to share their view, there is clearly an approach that’s less attacking and vindictive.

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    • Spiced,
      It was easy to determine its author. However, I never mentioned it to the student and didn’t treat them any differently the rest of the year … and to that student’s credit, nothing was ever said (or written to me) again. … and all these years later, I recall that the student was a pleasant person!

      Like

  4. I am curious, had you announced at the beginning of class, “I am an Atheist!” Had you written this on the board along with your name or just stood in front of the room and announced it. I never had a professor announce their religious affiliation before, well except in religious class and then it was pretty hard to miss.

    Did you incorporate this bit of irrational circular logic into your lesson plan? Just curious.

    Like

    • Val,
      I kept religion and my personal beliefs out of my classroom – after all, it’s about science. Besides, by intentionally keeping it out also allowed me to also keep out the loonies.

      Like

  5. I have no trouble believing in both. Somehow we equate ‘magic’ with God and ‘science’ with man. If man can figure out evolution, isn’t it possible that God deemed it so? Perhaps the spirit of man is the God particular and the body a mere ‘housing’ designed for evolution. Just a thought. I can’t imagine a kid – even a highshcooler – coming up with such a response. Do you suppose he or she had been coached?

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    • Renee,
      In past posts I mention that there groups (usually at the each end of the spectrum on this issue) what say “one must make a choice.” …. but I contend one doesn’t have to make a choice.

      Meanwhile, this is a good example of how churches at one end of the spectrum are spending time educating their flock on their point of view … because certainly the majority of the more accepting churches are not educating their people.

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      • I must have been luckier than even I realize at times. Brought up a Methodist with respect for all – other religions, science, etc. – I have been shocked at times by the total unwillingness by other sects within Christianity to even accept one another, much less any point of view that threatens their narrow-minded view. I believe that is why Christianity is declining.

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        • Renee,
          Interestingly, the United Methodists are polar opposite from this letter! (Cheers to them) Meanwhile, you may be onto something for one of the reasons of the decline of Christianity in North America. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Oh dear, an equation?
    Students can get so confused. I teach Spanish Language and Spanish Literature. I remember early in my career, I had taught the days of the week and then a bit later I taught simple verb conjugation of -ar verbs. On a test that included vocab and verb conjugation I asked for the days of the week: lunes, martes, etc. One dear confused student wrote for the days of the week (semana in Spanish) “semano, semanas, semana, semanamos, semanan” = I week, you week, he/she/you weeks…He had conjugated the noun “week”…well, you get the picture. Always wondered if he thought there was no Saturday or Sunday in the Spanish speaking world.

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    • Georgette,
      Not only can they get confused, but they are also impressionable. In this case, the young person seemingly took what was told to me by the people he/she values the most. … and yes …. students can also be easily confused as you described.

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  7. While I respect that the student had obviously put time and thought into his convictions, he loses my respect by condemning those who disagree. I hate to say it, but I think he’s actually one of the better ones…. at least he had the decency to deliver his message in private.

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    • Twixt,
      Well, on the delivery issue, keep in mind that it was unsigned and place on my desk when I wasn’t looking. Otherwise, I also find it interesting that author also assumed I was an atheist, which is not the case. Then again, their world probably is to damn everyone not like them.

      Like

  8. That’s a lovely letter!
    It’s very interesting how deeply rooted some believes are, I went to a catholic school, come from a catholic family, but I’ve never believe in a “god”, I have too many doubts that nobody can answer, as a matter of fact thanks to a debate I had with my father’s uncle who happens to be a priest, about religion and science, that priest stopped talking to my dad, under the argument that he was bringing up atheists and blasphemous kids, then he found that I was kid he told my father’s aunt that it was god punishing out family.
    After that episode I learned that I cannot have a healthy argument about religion with anyone.

    Like

    • Doggy,

      Sadly, your story is another example of religion dividing people … so thanks for sharing.

      No matter the subject, people deal with issues differently; but, I wish more people would
      1) concentrate on listening to what is said instead of thinking about what to say next.

      2) learn the difference between right/wrong (correct/incorrect) and agree/disagree.

      Like

  9. I guess you stir up a lot of stuff when you face the public on a regular basis. I would discuss the letter, if I could understand it, but sadly it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

    I didn’t know about your “interest in the religion and science interchange.” I’ll be back to read more about it when I get at least one of these projects, that are covering my desk, done.

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    • Christine,

      You will notice over 40 posts in that category, so there’s plenty to dive into.

      Facing the public is interesting. In this case, I carefully watched my words because as a science teacher, I kept religion out of the discussion because I didn’t want to provide a crack for the loud objectors to enter.

      Like

  10. Wow, I have no ides how to respond to reading this. I have my faith that I believe in, and I also believe in some findings of science. I guess I’m thinking after reading that was why didn’t that student talk to you about what they felt instead of writing it. Everyone has their own opinions on religion vs. science and I think we all need to just accept and respect each other’s stance. Respect is a wonderful word some people don’t know the meaning of.

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    • Kay,
      This letter is representative to a segment of Christians .. but not all … and not even the majority. And yes, respect is a wonderful word.

      Interestingly, in a church discussion around this time, a person said to me that “I was wrong.” … to which I kindly, calmly, and sternly responded, “We may disagree, but I am not wrong.” … Later, my pastor told me he loved the line so much that he would steal it for future use.

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  11. Frank, if you’re trying to find X, and Y is based on X, and Z is X times Y, Z can’t exist without the existence of X which is being searched for. X can be obtained by finding the root of P, multiplying that by Q and then dividing that by R; or as an alternative subtract Q from Y, but you need to know what X is to start off with, which kind of cancels out the equation anyway.
    I’m lost. Sorry, Frank. I may also have made some of this up… I’d also like to add that I think humans and dinosaurs did exist together – I’m sure I’ve seen recorded footage.

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  12. Just remember that science changes. One minute we have 11 dimensions, the next we are a 2 D hologram. Science doesn’t know what the hell this universe is, how it was made and where ultimately the “big bang” or “small bang” came from. There is a multitude of amazing pictographs of “dinosaurs” all over the world. “Dinosaur” wasn’t a form of science until the mid 1800’s. Yet the book of Job perfectly describes one. And the word “Dragon” is in every language and every culture. “Dinosaurs”–the 19th century designation–were very well known in ancient times, just differently named.

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    • Lorene,
      I very well know and recognize how science works and changes (and I’ve written about it here). However, the scientific community does not place humans and dinosaurs on Earth together. Besides, the majority of Christianity does not interpret the Job passage in question as dinosaurs – however, I would think the author of this letter would support that statement.

      Like

  13. I’ve told you before that I was raised in a very Conservative Christian environment and so the letter doesn’t particularly shock me. It makes me sad, but to many, to NOT give you that letter would be equal to not defending their faith, which is a serious lapse. Did you have a good sense of which student left the note?

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    • Debra,
      Although I wasn’t raised as a conservative Christian, the letter didn’t surprise me … thus I rolled with it, but kept it for posterity. (Must have been a premonition if a future blog post.)

      I think most people would wonder the source. Although I was somewhat amused, I had some ideas …. and comparing handwriting samples made it easy to confirm. But I never brought it up.

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  14. Too often an open mouth is attached to a closed mind. The more “fundamentalist” a religious person is, the less likely they are to see the distribution curve, and regard things as Yes/No. If you agree with their every word, you’re good. If not, you’re evil. My good blog-friend (who hasn’t visited you) is a good man, and regards himself as a “good Catholic”, yet allows contraception and divorce. To his all-or-nothing church, he’s not a good Catholic. In fact, he’s not a Catholic. For expessing these views, he’s been excommunicated. They just haven’t told him yet that he’s going to Hell. 😦

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  15. Wow …. that is both funny and depressing … plus absurd. Religions make people think and act strange at times … at least somebody spoke his/her mind. *smile

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  16. Wowzers, that’s a whopper, Frank! I was told once by a friend how worried she was that I was going to hell. I think I replied that I was worried she was deprived as a child. We’re no longer friends.

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  17. He/she might benefit from reading René Descartes’s Meditations? I’m reading that for the 1st time (at my age!) and am so fascinated by the ruthless examination of doubt. (What do I mean….how do I know…..) I also wonder about Kathleen Norris’s musing in her book, “The Cloister Walk” regarding despair. (Somehow I sense despair behind the words of your student.) “Can despair be in fact included in the sin of pride, as it precludes the possibility of forgiveness.” I don’t know that this relates to your post very well, but, it came to mind.

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    • Tina,
      Thanks for sharing your good thoughts. People like this have no interest in readings as Descartes or anything else that challenges their mindset … well, unless they are interested in challenging themselves for whatever reason.

      Interesting connection between despair, pride, and forgiveness.

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  18. This post and all the responses to it have caused me to think and, as you know, thinking makes my head hurt.

    The note from your unidentified student is so filled with illogical gibberish that I understand why you chose not to respond and just tucked it away. It does, however, raise a larger issue of how to engage in civil discourse on any topic that causes widely divergent and deeply held views.

    I, as an ex-scientist, have no issue with the co-existence of science and religious belief. Part of the joy of a liberal arts education is the ability to question any principle or belief without fear of the consequences.

    But how do you engage someone on a controversial topic – science and religion, global warming, choice versus right-to-life, gun control, square dancing (just kidding) – when one side in unwilling to listen or reason?

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    • Mudge,
      Your concluding statement about engagement is the key point … and there is no doubt in my mind, that this segment of Christianity is (as a whole) very unwilling to do so. Besides, they do a good job at educating their own flock with their ideology, which (in my opinion), the student was repeating.

      About a year ago I listened to a recording from a conservative preacher regarding evolution. It was interesting to follow the dots to see how they got to their point. I imagine that after a while, I stopped listening.

      Thanks for your thoughtful response!

      Like

  19. Pingback: “Science Doesn’t Benefit Us” | Black Atheists

  20. Wow. Did you recognise the handwriting at all? That’s quite a lot of response over a lesson. Must have really floored you!

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    • Eyes,
      I think I was more amused than floored, but I did keep it! I had a hunch who wrote it, and checking handwriting samples made the identification easy … but I never acknowledge it.

      Like

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