Three Types of Bias in Secular Science Textbooks

(system) #1

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Mervin Bitikofer) #2

Thanks for this article, Christy, and its wealth of links to other resources.

At the end of the section “Bias #2” you wrote:

This is a great moment for talking about the need for reading with discernment.

This is a major needed theme not only in the sciences, but even much more generally. I’ve had many a conversation in which there was a potentially good source of information (whether a speaker, or a web site, or other published writings) that was considered compromised because of some view or some particular bit of content that they were found to have. The knee-jerk reaction is then to dismiss everything from that source, as if all sources are either totally pure or totally defiled. (One can imagine them keeping James’ rhetorical question in the back of their mind: “can fresh water come from a salt water source?”) So they may use that to impose a hard line between sides and a call to spiritual battle – a truth that needs careful consideration. I try hard to model for my students how to be a critical appraiser able to benefit from much grain even when there is chaff present too; because we live in a real world - God’s world. And we can benefit from studying it and sharing our findings with each other, even fallen as all of us are. My main poke-back at the “pure-sources vs. defiled sources” mentality is not to try to get Christian students to lower their guard (quite the contrary actually); it is to get them to realize that just because they declare their allegiance to an ostensibly biblical view of the world, they are not then automatically guaranteed that everything developed within their specific Christian cohort will turn out to be true.

Your warnings about the “ghettoized Christian” ring so true right now and are (or should be) a big concern for Christian schools right now.

(Christy Hemphill) #3

I have run into the same attitude. There is this idea that you shouldn’t read a book, or hand a book to a teenager, unless the person is a completely “trustworthy teacher” and you can endorse everything they say and believe. I want my kids to figure out that is not how people who actually want to learn things read books. Some people even take it further and if the author ever quotes someone who has any suspect views, the author is disqualified by guilt by association for reading tainted sources. So no Phillip Yancey because he quotes Kierkegaard. A really good article I posted on Facebook was entirely dismissed by one of my friends because it opened with a quote attributed to Mao Zedong that the author found thought provoking. Learning to “eat the fish and spit out the bones” is an important intellectual life skill. I also think we tend to underestimate the potential discernment skills of teenagers. Maybe it’s just a symptom of helicopter parenting applied to the Christian context. Some people still want to metaphorically cut and pre-chew their fifteen year old’s meat for them.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

It must be distressing to “spiritual germaphobes” everywhere that we are right now breathing the same air that Hitler and Stalin both breathed. And while that is a tongue-in-cheek metaphorical poke, it is not at all metaphorical that we are breathing the same intellectual air as both saints and sinners everywhere today. One does not enjoy any robust, healthy (much less gospel-sharing) interaction with the world if their digestive system has never had a chance to stretch its wings, and recognize the value of nutrients delivered by roughage even as the fiber itself ends up just passing through. 1 Corinthians 3:2 about spiritual milk and meat comes to mind.

I suppose that the protectionists might reply that an immune system does a person no good if they are dead. And yes, death (spiritual or otherwise) is always a risk whenever we live life. But it’s guaranteed (and probably even hastened) for those living behind fortified walls of fear. I’ll take my chances, knowing it’s in God’s hands.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #5

One thing I had meant to add before and forgot, is that overcoming fears of tainted sources cuts both ways. While I don’t prefer most of the Christian science curricula in circulation, nor do I object to making use of one if that’s what’s available. [I have used both]. Because I think there is good cross-exposure fodder for discussion that way as well. There is something healthy about students seeing and evaluating (if the teacher allows for or even models such criticism) the obvious biases of some Christian texts, that it may help prepare students to be aware of (often more subtle) biases of secular books.

(Laura) #6

That sounds a lot healthier than the “they’re biased but we’re not” attitude that I’ve sensed in some Christian education materials. :expressionless:

(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Yeah… well at least the possibility of bias is being discussed! (even if only to say that it’s the other guy’s problem). It might be even more worrisome when there is nothing but silence when it comes to biases. It’s the mosquito you don’t hear that bites, I’ve heard. [not convinced that mosquito thing is true actually, but it fits my point here.]

(Doug B) #8

I wouldn’t leave it at “bias detection” but advance to: is that idea right; is it true? Is it right that a firestorm of protest erupted at the time. As Christy correctly points out, no it isn’t correct to characterize it as such. In fact there is more controversy now regarding the veracity of evolution and Earth-age than there was back then. However, there were some misunderstandings. Which leads us to Is science at war with faith? There are many ways to combat this assertion. However, part of the truth is admitting that a large portion of the Christian faith community (large part of national opinion) rejects the essential portions of a foundational scientific understanding of the world. So in that empirical sense, we do have conflict.

Christians need to take scientific discovery and make it fruitful for theology. A sermon reflecting on Newton’s _creation at rest until put into motion by God_was just completed as a bright 14 year old Albert Einstein daydreamed that that this “rest” wasn’t really correct (daydream described in Einstein’s autobiography not any specific sermon). The pastor should feel no shame but take up relativity, praising God and making it fruitful for teaching and relating the faith to the world. (I am not defending rigid concord-ism here.)

But–is a thing right; is it true–is not just for scientific concepts.

(Christy Hemphill) #9

True. I guess the question need to discuss with students is whether that conflict is inherent or manufactured.


I read a graphic novel title 'Last of the Sand Walkers’ By Jay Hosler who a biologist that studies bugs. While the story is completely fiction, there a lot of facts on bugs and evolution. The bug facts are interesting and I don’t mind the evolution.

However the whole book fall under both bias #1 and #2. There added facts in the back of the book alone with blaming Christians as a road block for sciences. I remainder it stating that Christians believe fossils are just rocks.

My point is it not just non-fiction but, fictional books that has either entertainment, educational, or a mix of both, you has be careful.

(Christy Hemphill) #11

Yep, I think fiction writers sometimes might have even more of an agenda. The whole point of the popular His Dark Materials books was to promote atheism and undermine the Catholic church. But, way to be a discerning reader!