Searching for [Your Own] Answers

One of the best things my father ever did was to do nothing.

I grew up one of those kids who was always asking questions. Instead of continually answering, “Why can some birds fly and others can’t?” and “Why don’t earthworms have a face?” he invested in a set of encyclopedias. This was long before the Internet existed, and my parents, both blue-collar, had to do some horse-trading to get the expensive set of books.

But Mom and Dad saw it as a wise investment. Whenever I would ask a question, Dad would gesture toward the encyclopedia and I would go data diving. Most of the time, I would get sidetracked in my search and, a hour later, forget what it was I had been looking for originally.

At some point, I graduated from encyclopedias to libraries, and spent every non-school hour in the Campbell Public Library, which happened to be on my way home from school. My reading interests varied from science to history to philosophy to biography, depending on what day of the week it was. I don’t think I ever became an expert in any given field, but I became very good at trivia.

Now, half a century later, I am teaching in a Christian university, where one of our basic tenets is the encouragement of what is called “critical thinking.” We attract students from all walks of life, many of them from conservative families who worry about their children learning too much about the world. The problem comes when they eventually go out on their own and are suddenly faced with the realization that not everyone in the world thinks the way they do, and in fact, most of them don’t. What surprises many high schoolers when they come to college is that the time for memorization is basically over. They often want to have us tell them what the right answer is, or even what to think. And that mentality is reflective of much of society.

College isn’t about memorization and recitation. It’s about thinking for yourself. The higher up you go–specifically graduate school–the more you are expected to research for yourself and be able to present and defend what you have learned. It’s called “rigor,” a word I came to hate during my doctoral studies.

Science tends to think of religion as dogma: belief that is based on past traditions that refuses to be challenged. Believers often think of science as closed-minded: not everything can be proved in a laboratory, yet we should still have the perogative to believe that which can’t be proven. Either school of thought brings with it the danger of believing you have all the answers and that the only people who believe otherwise are fools.

One book I was assigned to read in my doctoral studies stated: “Let’s face it: no thinking person in America today would believe that God truly exists.”

That’s the gap that I have chosen to stand it: between those who follow faith and those who follow science. I believe there is room for both, and in fact believe that each needs the other. It’s a funny place to be, yet it’s exciting. I’ve gotten used to both sides rolling their eyes at me, thinking that I am wasting my time, or worse, thinking I’m wasting THEIR time. But it raises questions of logic and belief that I think are worth discussing.

Care to discuss them with me?