For most people, life during college is drastically different than it was prior. University life lacks the rigidity of high school, and often students live away from their parents for the first time. Pre-college shelters were comfortable buffers from the harsh climate of the real world. But they are now in the past, and though college is still in some ways sheltered, the burden of fending for oneself is being shifted onto each of our shoulders.
During this process, previous acceptances, beliefs, convictions and habits are tested as the cultural, ethnic and social diversity of college exposes us to new ideas and customs. With all of this novelty comes challenge: challenges about deciding what we believe, what is most important in life and what we want to accomplish. Within this tension lies the battlegrounds upon which progress is made.
During my college tenure, I feel I have found some of the most important topics of discussion to be those concerning who we are and where we’ve come from, because they inevitably affect our feelings about ethics, morality and politics — all of which influence decision-making. And decisions, of course, affect everyone and everything else.
The way each of us answers questions about existence or nature depends on beliefs concerning religious and scientific matters. Regardless of background, we have all been indoctrinated. However, this does not mean we can’t reason.
Reasoning is necessary to form conclusions as to what is accepted as truth in reality, and acceptance of truth is synonymous with belief. Therefore, reason can and should change belief. Especially here in college, my hope is that we all give an honest effort to critically analyze our values and beliefs and to let them be formed from the basis of good reason.
Feelings about abortion, stem cell research, foreign policy, economics and conservation, for example, all depend on belief, the affect on others and should not be taken lightly. Either the earth has been around for billions of years and we have evolved, or we haven’t. Either Jesus is coming back to save those of us that believe he is God, or he isn’t. Beliefs about topics such as these matter because they are manifested in action.
A major impetus for writing this article was a video shown about a month ago by the Campus Crusade for Christ. The video was part of a series produced to discuss scientific evidence for the existence of God. Whether or not it did so is debatable, but in any case, I was struck by the seemingly intentional, deceptive portrayal of pertinent scientific claims. Dishonesty and intentional bias are unscientific. Science, by its very nature, does not have an agenda. It is simply a tool, a process or, perhaps most of all, a commitment to allowing evidence shape belief.
Picking through evidence, or using bits and pieces to support a preconception, is unacceptable, and it’s no way to filter truth from rubbish. While scientists may be individually biased like everyone else, hypotheses and theories that lack support from evidence will assuredly fade into the past as they are replaced by more parsimonious, sensible explanations. This dynamic nature of science is virtuous because it is humble. Sometimes we are wrong and failure to admit when we are only impedes intellectual and social progress.
Traditional religious doctrines and scientific explanations are similar in that they both attempt to explain reality. They differ, however, in that there is a process of modification to science that aims to improve the quality of those explanations. If evidence contradicts prior notions, maybe those notions are inaccurate. We have been wrong a lot. The earth isn’t flat, nor is the solar system geocentric. But make no mistake, contrary evidence is what forced us to modify these beliefs. As always, the tension yields resolution.
So, my request is for everyone to form and defend your beliefs for good reasons, not just because they are what your family, church, friends or professors think. What is most important in life and what you want to accomplish will consequently fall into place, and the foundation for these ideals will be much stronger as a result.