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My life at Penn State (aka why I care about creationists)

November 26, 2013

College

A couple friends reminded me I should better explain my motivations for writing on this topic. Why does a random Jamaican-Indian-American* former space plasma physicist, former devout Hindu turned militant atheist turned tentative believer care so much about one class of American Christians**? Well the story goes back a long time ago in a place far, far away…

In my senior year at Penn State I was the academic mentor to incoming honors students. You have to be very smart to get accepted as an incoming freshman (probably why I had to wait until my junior year). At the time, the mean SAT score was around 1,400. Many if not all of these students could have gone to one of the Ivy-plus schools, but chose Penn State because they got a scholarship.

Penn State being where it is in central Pennsylvania, many of them were Christians. As I got to know them better, I realized many were Young-Earth Creationists (YEC). Almost all of my YEC mentees were science and engineering majors. And again, they were not your typical engineering majors. They were among the most talented.

I remember being quite jarred at this realization. Back then I was a Richard Dawkins worshipping rabid atheist (just one among many of my stupid phases). I viewed religious people as, well, kind of dumb. I had special contempt for those fools who rejected evolution. But right in front of me were some of the smartest people I knew, and they were all creationists. If they were considered stupid then the word had no meaning. I like to think I responded as a scientist should. I was confronted with data that contradicted my beliefs, and I began reconsidering. Those students were objectively brilliant. Any theory that concluded otherwise had to be wrong.

And so in fits and starts I started changing my world-view. I read, read, and read some more. I became friends with Christians of all stripes. I attended Bible studies. I began seeing how incomplete my understanding was. It took a very long time (my senior year was 2001-02), but I’ve finally figured why I care so much.

I have three main motivations, all of which I’ve alluded to. First, as a (former?) scientist, I’m horrified at our irrational, unscientific arguments. Where on Earth did we get the loony idea that believing in creationism will prevent someone from becoming a doctor? When did it become okay to have no supporting evidence?  Second is a sense of fairness. We degrade and dehumanize people for no reason. If scientists treated any other group like we treat creationists, we would rightly be considered bigots. Society can’t have different rules for different groups of people. Finally, I care about science outreach. I like to think that in my own small way, I contributed to public engagement with science. I know how much scientists care about it. And so I’m confused why we choose to push people away when we should be trying to reach them.  If you speak to enough scientists, you’ll realize we all experience science on our own terms. We all have different reasons for studying and appreciating science.  Why shouldn’t religious Christians be allowed to do the same?

These abstract motivations aside, it ultimately  comes down to the actual human beings I’ve gotten to know over the years. Many of them I now consider close friends, and it’s for them that I write.

*My brother likes to say we’re Jamindicans.
**Even though I tend to group all creationists together, they’re really not a distinct group. I’ll try to do better in the future. We should be aware of the meaningful differences between the Church of Christ, the United Church of Christ, and the International Church of Christ.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Victor permalink
    November 26, 2013 11:21 pm

    Hands down, your best post (that I’ve read). 🙂

  2. February 23, 2014 4:37 pm

    Hi Praj, did you ever discuss with them their ‘evidence’ for not accepting evolution? If so, what did you make of it?

    • February 26, 2014 7:15 am

      Hi. Thanks for your comment, and sorry for the slow reply. I’ve been traveling for work. I do remember discussing their evidence for not accepting evolution. I don’t quite remember the details…although I do remember that many of them were *very* knowledgeable about evolution, geology, etc, and did not approach their decision lightly.

      Thanks again for your comment, and I look forward to engaging more in the future.

  3. October 24, 2014 5:43 am

    Hi, Praj.

    I guess I am one of those strange doctors who does believe in creation. If creation didn’t occur, then evolution must really only be the other alternative. Now if there is some reason to clearly show that evolution couldn’t have occurred, then the only real choice is creation.

    I wrote an interesting little piece in my book blog on AMereChristian.com which gives a non-emotional, purely statistical analysis of the chances of an Amoeba arising by the purported evolutionary path. The only trouble with evolution for evolutionists is the statistics.

    Might be worth a read. The post is called Nudging The Evolutionary Argument, Never Mind The Statistics and is here: http://www.amerechristian.com/?p=391

    Warmest regards,

    Ron Smith, MD
    Pediatrics

    • November 2, 2014 1:37 pm

      Hi Ron. Thanks for your nice comment, and sorry for the slow reply. I appreciate your linking to your post and blog. I look forward to reading.

      Thanks again.

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