You’ve seen this before. Something good happens, and the recipient thanks god. This, despite the fact that the recipient has had nothing but bad luck up to that point.
I saw this yesterday in a front page article in my local paper. Leonard Wansley was killed back in 1994. He offered a ride to a man he didn’t know, and for the favor, he was stabbed forty times and left in a creek. Before he died, he struggled with his attacker, apparently causing the man to leave DNA evidence in his car. The case remained unsolved until this week.
In 1990, the FBI started a pilot program eventually known as the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, for short, a database in which resided DNA samples from unsolved crimes. The year Leonard was killed, Congress passed a law which expanded the pilot program nationwide, and the DNA evidence from Leonard’s murder was entered into it, and sat there until Rafael Jesus Rios Sr, a now 33 year old man from New York, was convicted of an unrelated crime, and, as mandated under the law, was required to give DNA samples for testing against the FBI database. He did, and they got a hit, and when confronted with the evidence, he confessed to the crime. Another unsolved mystery solved.
Leonard’s 91 year old mother was happy. She could now rest, knowing her son’s death would be avenged by the state criminal authorities.
Meanwhile, despite years of waiting for answers to her son’s murder, Annie Mae Wansley said she never lost hope.
“I said the Lord would take care of it,” she said. “And I guess he did.”
I’m sure Mrs. Wansley is a very nice woman, and she didn’t deserve to have her son taken from her in such a gruesome manner. She is obviously a religious woman, because she gives credit to her god for finally bringing some semblance of justice for her son. I certainly have no intention of taking that away from her, or the sense of happiness it engenders. I mention her case as an example, however, of the clear disconnect between religious thinking and critical, rational, scientific thinking.
It was the DNA evidence that broke the case. It was the efforts of intelligent, clear thinking individuals who recognized that compiling a database of DNA samples from unsolved crimes just might help move them into the solved column. It was science, going back to the discoveries of Watson and Crick, and the technological advances in DNA analysis that culminated in the authorities securing the computer generated match, yet who gets the credit from his mother? God.
Someone needs to explain to me where god was when Mr. Rios was plunging his knife forty times into Mrs. Wansley’s son . Perhaps they could explain to me why he didn’t show up then, and maybe deflect the knife a bit? Or how about when the police first started investigating the murder after his body was found? Why didn’t god make sure the murderer was just a little sloppier, perhaps by leaving his wallet with identification at the scene?
In short, why do humans, using science, do all the work, and god gets the credit? Is it because Mrs. Wansley prayed every day for them to find her son’s killer? Maybe, but, if so, why did she have to pray every day for 13 years, before god finally listened? Were the circuits to heaven’s Answer Line overloaded for 13 years? Or perhaps, as many Christians like to claim, the answer was a resounding “no” for 13 years, until, like a parent who finally gives in to a badgering child, god finally threw up his hands and said, “Alright, already. Here’s some DNA to match. Now leave me alone!”
It seems that many people are more inclined to attribute unexpected good fortune, not to the efforts of their fellow humans, but to their particular guardian angel, or whatever supernatural entity they look to to help them when they feel impotent in matters of the world. This is the same sense that drives beliefs in pseudoscience, such as homeopathy, astrology, ESP, etc. They may contract a relatively incurable disease, like cancer, which statistically will go into remission on its own on occasion, but if it does, it’s considered a “miracle”, personally delivered by god, to his faithful servant, rather than the more likely, yet rare, act of nature it clearly is.
This is known as confirmation bias. Religious thinking, where the existence of an all powerful, omni-benevolent god is presumed, expects that the good things we experience, especially the rare ones, are the result of supernatural intervention. It is the rarity of the event that allows people to expect that there is no rational, material explanation, and hence it must be an act of god. Good things that happen every day, like making a green light when you’re in a hurry, or finding the item you want to purchase is on sale, are not usually attributed to acts of god (though I’m sure some fervent believers are inclined to do so). Once indoctrinated, (or infected) with the religious presuppositions, one is biased to expect that good things only come from god, so when they do, their bias is confirmed.
Back to Mr. Wansley, human effort, not supernatural intervention, has brought a criminal to justice, one who would probably have escaped that justice otherwise. DNA testing has changed the face of law enforcement.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if god had thought to tell us about DNA when the Bible was written?