Ignorance is not blissful

By Stephanie Youssef

As part of being a practicing Christian, I attend religious discussions at a weekly program at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. This week’s conversation started like any other until a new attendee entered our discussion about religious virtues. For the sake of privacy, I will refer to this person as Frank. In the midst of the discussion, Frank said something along the lines of “people who believe in evolution and think that it’s OK to just kill all the handicapped people are bad, that’s such a wrong opinion to have.”

What I gathered from this statement was that Frank was assuming all evolutionists, or those who believe in natural change over time support a very extreme idea. As a molecular and cellular biology major, I felt this statement was misinformed.

But despite how misinformed I felt his statement was, I didn’t say anything. I shrugged it off as mere ignorance on his part, everyone nodded their heads and discussion ensued as usual.

Keeping quiet was a decision I now regret.

Regardless of what major, religion or political party people identify with, in being attendees of an esteemed research institution that is nationally and internationally ranked, we should never keep from engaging in stimulating academic discussion, especially if the subject matter is of value to us.

Frank’s comment was in reaction to a film we watched about an individual with a physical disability who overcame adversity and found his place in society. The film didn’t mention anything about evolution, but at that point, Frank thought it prudent that we all know exactly how he feels about the subject. I am not trying to argue that Frank should accept the theory of evolution, but from his comment, it seemed as though his perception of evolution was misconstrued. In hindsight, engaging in the topic further could have led to a more mutually understanding endpoint.

Now don’t get me wrong, none of what I am arguing is part of any legislative agenda; people have the constitutional rights to freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and I am all for that jazz. Frank has the constitutional right to hold his own perceived knowledge and opinions.

But even with our constitutional protections, there, unfortunately, exists a social convention that we should refrain from engaging in educational discussions about controversial topics from fear of backlash.

Ignorance goes beyond a subject as controversial as evolution — it holds with any mistaken beliefs people see as truth. Thus, any and all topics, controversial or not, need to be engaged in conversation so that ignorance is not perpetuated.

Even Bill Nye warns against the dangers of “raising a generation of kids who are discouraged from thinking.” The importance of advocating for engaging in academic discussions is not necessarily to change everyone’s opinions, but to raise a smarter generation that can base opinions off facts rather than assumptions and misinformation.

As a free speech advocate myself, the assumption that Frank was comfortable in his ignorance kept me from letting him know that murdering those who have physical disabilities is definitely not something evolutionists advocate for.

Frank and I are both students here. As attendees of an institute for higher education and learning, we shouldn’t let the assumption of ignorance keep us from pursuing honest educational discussions.

An individual who knows the real facts about a subject and then makes an informed decision is more convincing than an individual who holds a certain belief without knowing all the facts. My letting Frank call out “people who believe in evolution” without letting him know what evolution really is robbed him of the opportunity to engage in a conversation about the subject. Engaging in a calm and informative academic discussion that harbors the freedom to respectfully disagree would have helped Frank make a more informed comment.

What it comes down to is that discussion and debate can be daunting, especially when our opinions and assumptions are challenged. But having these discussions is necessary to help us come to a better understanding of the topic at hand.

Stephanie is a junior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]