Battle on Teaching Evolution Sharpens

I first read about the Discovery Institute in a Wired magazine article last October. At the time, I considered the piece rather alarmist. Seeing this piece in the Post months later prompted me to consider the issue more fully. One quote from a minister in the story stands out:

A prominent effort is underway in Kansas, where the state Board of Education intends to revise teaching standards. That would be progress, Southern Baptist minister Terry Fox said, because “most people in Kansas don’t think we came from monkeys.”

This is entirely the wrong reason to revise teaching standards. Even though I’m a Christian, and have faith that God created everything, the idea that what gets taught in science class should be decided by majority rule is a disturbing one. The intent is not to create better students, or develop their critical thinking skills, but to use political power to impose beliefs. When Christians get into these battles over what should be taught, it seems to me that faith is left out of the equation. For all the doubts that Terry Fox and others have about evolution, the proposition that God created heaven and earth is even more difficult to prove. I’m not even sure that such a thing should be provable, otherwise, what need would we have for faith? People who pursue these kinds of curriculum changes seem not to understand that science and theology have fundamentally different goals.

This quote from a mother in Wichita, Kansas was interesting:

“If students only have one thing to consider, one option, that’s really more brainwashing,” said Duckett, who sent her children to Christian schools because of her frustration. Students should be exposed to the Big Bang, evolution, intelligent design “and, beyond that, any other belief that a kid in class has. It should all be okay.”

Beyond the feeling of some people who aren’t Christians that Christian schools are a form of brainwashing, there are other problems with her statement. Schools don’t have infinite amounts of time to teach any idea that comes down the pike about the origins of life. Our schools need to teach the things that will turn out thoughtful, functional individuals. Teaching a bunch of other stuff chosen by popular consensus (instead of validated through a process that imposes some objective standards) simply doesn’t accomplish that goal.

The passage I found most disturbing in the piece was this one:

Fox — pastor of the largest Southern Baptist church in the Midwest, drawing 6,000 worshipers a week to his Wichita church — said the compromise is an important tactic. “The strategy this time is not to go for the whole enchilada. We’re trying to be a little more subtle,” he said.

It disappointed me that a pastor with this kind of following would openly acknowledge the intellectual dishonesty of his approach. If he wants creationism to be taught in school, he should spend his efforts building and supporting private Christian schools that will do it. This stealth approach of trying to force it into public schools is wrong. Christianity should not be compulsory.

I appreciate the approach of the Christian schools my parents sent me to from elementary school through high school. In each one, my classmates and I learned evolution in our science classes. We had Bible classes for learning about God, creation, and other theological issues. Before we could graduate from high school, we all had to take a course in world religions, so we wouldn’t be ignorant of faith traditions outside our own. I think that sort of division is necessary and appropriate. Those classmates of mine who went on to graduate studies in biology and chemistry, medical school, and professional lab work or medical practice are great at what they do because of that division. It certainly hasn’t made them less Christian, or less sure of their faith.

When I went to a public university, this kind of upbringing made me better able to share what I believe with others, made others more comfortable sharing their beliefs with me and asking me more about them. I didn’t feel any pressure to compromise what I believed in (and still believe in). I wish more Christian schools would take that approach.