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FIRST-PERSON: Too many of us shoulder disbelief rather than the weight of evidence

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–The widespread Muslim rejection of the embarrassing bin Laden tape illustrates a truth of human conduct, the same one shown by the O.J. Simpson acquittal. Will often trumps reason. We’re disinclined to believe what we don’t want to believe, however striking or weighty the evidence.

It’s odd that the Muslims count themselves the model of rationality. They’re proud that they don’t give in to such “silliness” as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation by faith alone. By their light, theirs is a much more reasonable religion. But it’s hard to see that clear thinking is their strong suit.

Consider the crash of EgyptAir 990 off Nantucket in October 1999. (The November issue of The Atlantic gives an excellent account.) Lacking the resources to do the job right, Egypt asked the FAA to take the lead in the investigation. When all the evidence pointed to the suicidal intervention of a reserve pilot, Gameel al-Batouti, they rejected the finding out of hand. It had to be the equipment. No way that their man would do such a thing.

A few more liberal arts colleges in the Middle East might help. Somebody needs to be teaching canons of logic and skills of critical thinking to balance the demands of cultural solidarity. Someone needs to walk them through alien perspectives to make their reflection more supple and circumspect.

We Americans are awash in second and third guessers, protected by both law and public sentiment, and they keep us honest. Would that the Arab-speaking world enjoyed the same level and tradition of respectable and respected dissent.

Yes, of course, it is remotely conceivable that a double played bin Laden or that some computer genius worked a simulation. But it’s very, very unlikely. The burden of proof rests upon those who would cast doubt on the tape. They need to know it’s not enough to throw sand in the air and call names. We need a responsible effort at proof. And in the meantime, they need to show humility, for it’s certainly warranted, given the implausibility of the fraud charge.

Is this a peculiarly Arab problem? I’m afraid not. It’s the problem of Adam’ s race. It’s the same problem that gave us John 12:37 — “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.”

Saturday before last, we were visiting newcomers to our community when I spied a man across the street putting sod around a big tree in front of his house. I hustled over to hand him a couple of items from our church, only to be rebuffed. He called Christianity nonsense and refused to take the handout.

Smiling, I asked him what he meant by “nonsense.” He began by saying that the Gospels were full of contradictions, and I asked him to give me one that bothered him. He said that the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew was different from the one in Luke. I noted that some prominent scholars found the former to be the line through Joseph, the latter through Mary.

At that point, he exclaimed, “My goodness. How silly of me. It never occurred to me that I could be leaning on such a flimsy prop in my resistance to Christianity. You know, if I was wrong about that, I could be wrong about other Bible difficulties. Have you got a minute? This is pretty important stuff. I’m not ready to buy what you’re selling, but I sure need to give it a second look.”

Just kidding.

You know how it went. He wasn’t interested in more evidence that the Gospels were harmonious. He’d made up his mind, and it was impervious to anything that would upset it. Yes, I suppose he’d had a liberal arts education in the current secular sense, but it was obvious he’d not enjoyed the richer sort that incorporates biblical perspectives at every turn.

Darwinians show the same blind obstinacy. For instance, give them “Darwin’s Black Box” by Michael Behe, the book which demonstrates that the evolutionary account just won’t work at the microbiological level. They won’t blink. Their faith that random mutation and procreative advantage, given enough time, could produce from primordial soup Harvard, Billy Graham, the Fox Network, the Rose Bowl and the Internet is unshakable.

No wonder it takes the Holy Spirit to save men. Whether Egyptian Muslim or Chicago atheist, we’re tough nuts to crack.
Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. Other reflections by Coppenger can be viewed at www.comeletusreason.com.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger