A Graduate of Yale University, and author of "Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American politics," in a recent Op-Ed on Science and Religion Today, contributed views on "Why Evangelicals believe weird things."
Author Jonathan Dudley's views are based on his experience of growing up an Evangelical.
Dudley, writing on Science and Religion, says he was raised in the Evangelical community and grew up listening to James Dobson on radio and reading books by young-Earth creationist Ken Ham. With such influences, he grew up believing the environmental movement was left-wing conspiracy. Dudley says:
"I was shocked, then, when upon going off to study biology at an evangelical college, I discovered that the vast majority of professors at such colleges accept evolution and support the environmental movement."
Dudley attempts to explain the disconnect between the lay Evangelical community and Evangelical scholars in matters of science.
Dudley argues that one of the major reasons Evangelicals believe "weird things" is that they evaluate expert arguments and opinions in a manner very different from the way most non-Evangelicals do. Non-Evangelicals, according to Dudley, tend to ask questions such as:
"How prestigious is her academic pedigree? Is she representing the consensus of similarly credentialed experts? Insofar as I can understand her arguments, do they convince me?"
Lay Evangelicals, on the other hand, tend to ask:
"How good of a Christian is this guy? (Or, in evangelical parlance, 'How is his walk with the LORD?') How closely do his arguments line up with my understanding of the Bible? Is this guy one of us?"
Dudley makes an observation on the question: whose arguments tend to win in the evangelical community? Those with the biggest microphones, he says, and not those with the best arguments. Dudley says Evangelicals scholars who have better arguments than those of Evangelical leaders who control the airwaves tend to be more interested in pursuing their academic profession than competing with populist leaders of the Evangelical community.
Evangelical scholars, according to Dudley, often experience restrictions in the Evangelical community, being minority in the midst of a throng of lay Evangelists under the influence of their populist leaders. Dudley points to his experience at his Alma mater Calvin College. He says some of the scholars at Calvin college had attempted to canvass support for Evolution in the community, but were silenced by the "powers that be."
Dudley points out another major influence in Evangelical community which explains whey they tend to, in his words, "believe weird things." Evangelicals tend to believe, or are made to believe by their leaders that every piece of knowledge and information worth having is available in the Bible. According to Dudley, this belief fosters the impression among Evangelicals that experts are not needed in the search for truth. And this, of course, only further widens the gap between the lay Evangelical community and scholars, both Evangelical and non-Evangelical.
For the reason that lay Evangelicals are the majority in the Evangelical community, only what they believe is of political significance, Dudley argues, and politicians do best in their interest to pander to lay Evangelical tastes. And what is even more ironical, in Dudley's analysis, is the observation that popular lay Evangelical beliefs also dictate what populist preachers teach on the pulpit.
Dudley, in his analysis, concludes that secularists' equation of the Evangelical movement with anti-intellectualism is not inherent. In his view:
"...as the community’s scholars demonstrate, it doesn’t have to be this way[i.e. anti-intellectualism of Evangelical Christianity]. The real question is how to replace the James Dobsons and Ken Hams of the world with their more qualified evangelical counterparts."