Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.
I was hoping to get your advice on how to warm a parent up to the idea of evolution being true and readily observable. My mother seems to be wholly against evolution for reasons that even she doesn’t seem to understand. When ever I ask her what’s wrong with evolution, she says something to the extent of “I never paid much attention in science class, so I couldn’t tell you” or (her apparent favorite) “it’s just wrong.” And she seems to mean wrong as in evil, although the wrong as in incorrect is likely implied also.
So, my main question, is how best to get her to come around to the idea. Oddly, despite my own ever-rapidly growing sense of outspoken atheism, I couldn’t really picture my mother without her faith. Honestly, at this point I don’t think our family could survive it, and it’s already too late for her to really de-convert. Mostly, I just want her to have a better understanding of the world around her.
I doubt she would read Dawkins, and I hesitate to give something like “Thank God for Evolution” because people like Kent Ham have made me wary of anyone trying to marry science and religion. Have you heard anything about this book? Should I even consider this, or just try something relatively obscure, like “Why Evolution is True”? Again, I think anything fueled by someone such as Dawkins would simply put her off. So I’m looking either to meet her half way at religion, or find someone unknown or secular enough that she wouldn’t feel self- conscious reading the book.
Sorry if this sounded like something of a ramble. Thanks for any help you can offer.
You’re unquestionably a very intelligent and perceptive person. I think the first thing to do is to focus that perceptiveness on yourself. Before wondering what books to show her, ask yourself why is this so important to you.
When taking any kind of action, we should always be crystal-clearly aware of our motives. Far more important than knowing how we are going to do something is knowing why we are going to do it. In this, we must be scrupulously, arduously honest with ourselves. This is often where we gloss over, concentrating instead only on the execution of our actions. Not knowing the correct “how” can result in failure, but not knowing the correct “why” can be much worse, causing a lot of hurt to others and in the worst cases bringing us guilt, regret, humiliation, disgrace, and grief.
Some of the worst things are done by people who thought they had a good motive, but hadn’t really taken a long, close look at it. Succeeding at something that was done for the wrong reasons can end up being a sad outcome.
I have explained how evolution works in lay terms to lay people many times. It usually takes about fifteen minutes. But those people wanted to hear about it, talk about it and think about it. It is a waste of time and breath to try with those who don’t want it.
Both of your mother’s replies that you have quoted make it very plain that she does not want to hear about it, talk about it or think about it. But you think there is something more important that must override her desire to be left alone about it. What?
Is she a public school biology teacher pushing creationism on her students? Are you hoping for a loan from her to finance your college education in paleontology?
If she was curious but skeptical, or if she was interested but had misconceptions, or if she was expressing a desire to find a way to reconcile her faith with this scientific theory, then she would be supplying the reason why you should proceed. But she is clearly indicating the opposite of those things.
You say that you think your family could not survive without their faith. Then why are you pressing something that might begin to unravel their faith?
You say that it’s already too late for her to really de-convert. Do you wish you could de-convert her? Without her expressing any interest, curiosity or willingness for such a prospect? If yes, why?
You say that you just want her to have a better understanding of the world around her. Will she be better able to do what she does in the world around her if she understands genetic mutation, natural selection and deep time?
Consider carefully what she might gain and lose, and what you might gain and lose. Would this be more for her, or more for yourself?
I’m not going to offer my own guesses for the answers to these questions. I avidly avoid telling people about their inner selves. That’s their task. These questions are not rhetorical; I’m not saying don’t do it, I’m saying know intimately why you want to. I’m asking these questions because the answers are not obvious to me. If they are obvious to you, be sure that they are obvious because of careful introspection rather than “obvious” from having not given it much thought.
Mike, you or others might think that I’m being hard on you by asking these pointed questions, but please understand that my respect and caring for you are high. I look closely at my own motives too. My motive here is to help you balance your intelligence with wisdom. While intelligence is often about how we should do something, wisdom is often about whether or not we should do something. Understanding why we want to do it often answers the question of whether or not we should.
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