Understanding Genesis and Science: Why educators should give students the freedom to question

(system) #1
What students truly desire, when it comes to God and science, is the freedom to acquire new knowledge and ask tough questions.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/chris-stump-equipping-educators/understanding-genesis-and-science-why-educators-should-give-students-the-freedom-to-question

(Dr. Ted Davis) #2

Many churches don’t present multiple biblical options to their congregation. Indeed, many simply avoid the origins topic entirely, since it can be divisive. Those that do teach about it often adopt the standard YEC attitude,which is to indoctrinate everyone into the one TRUE view. Usually other views are mentioned, but only as examples of what “apostate” or “compromising” Christians believe. YECs believe in a multiple models approach, in which there is just one correct model and everything else, including OEC views, is labeled “evolution” and is therefore either atheistic already or rapidly headed there. The cartoon here shows this attitude well.

(Image from http://www.truthontheweb.org/gap-bible.jpg)

At BL, and in all of my teaching and lecturing at my college and in other settings, I adopt a much more genuine multiple models approach—exactly the same approach Lyndsay takes. My BL series on Science and the Bible is the best example of what it looks like in my case.

Ultimately, Ken Ham and company are deathly afraid of doubt. They don’t want fellow Christians to ask hard questions–at least the questions for which they don’t have ready answers that match a YEC view–b/c they are afraid that faith and doubt are contradictory. I find this deeply troubling.

I’ll close with an irony. Robert Boyle, like most other scientists of the 1600s, believed that the universe was about 6000 years old. He was also a very serious, pious Christian known for his charity and humility. He makes a great model for Christian scientists today, and for all of these reasons he’s often featured in YEC materials, both electronic and print. Here’s just one pertinent example: http://creation.com/the-man-who-turned-chemistry-into-a-science (incidentally the claim that Boyle met Galileo is simply wrong). The irony is that Boyle himself confronted religious doubt his whole life, and that encounter led him to write so much thoughtful material, in which he allowed himself to question many of his basic beliefs, finding in the process solid reasons for them. For more on this, see http://biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/faith-and-doubt-two-sides-of-the-same-coin

I have no problem with Ham or anyone else believing the YEC view: they should believe what makes the most intellectual and spiritual sense to them. My problem is with Ham’s view that it’s his way or the highway, and the accompanying attitude that anyone who seriously explores an alternative view, as an open-minded inquirer, has taken the first few steps toward apostasy.

(Chris Stump) #3

I’m curious to hear from other educators about how your faith background has affected your teaching. Or were there college professors or other teachers whose examples (either positively or negatively) have influenced how you approach these topics with students? And how has the larger academic community around you responded to your approach?

(Christy Hemphill) #4

The pastor of my church growing up often presented multiple interpretations of Bible passages in his sermons. He would usually pick one he thought was best and explain why, but sometimes he would insist we just didn’t know the “right answer” and tell us to hold it all in tension. The consistent idea was that Christians haven’t figured everything out and sincere Christians come to different positions.

My parents came from very different faith traditions (Dutch Reformed and Salvation Army) and we attended a Baptist church. They didn’t agree with the pastor or each other on everything, and that was always okay. I think the idea that it was more important to be a seeker of truth than a knower of truth was what made my college experience less traumatic than it was for some of my classmates. It did not shock me at all that there was more than one way to approach an issue, or that life and faith did not need to come crashing down if none of the available options perfectly resolved all the questions. I hope I can pass along a similar attitude to my kids, even though I think the tolerance toward ambiguity in the Evangelical subculture seems like it has gone down, maybe in a reactionary response to pluralism and postmodernity.

The kind of lesson described by the English teacher in this blog post is great. It encourages personal inquiry and investigation.

(Larry Bunce) #5

I have always felt that an education, even in public schools, should include study of the Bible. It is too important to the development of western civilization, and the KJV to the development of modern English, to be left out of school just because it is the basis of three religious traditions. Lindsey is teaching the course the only possible way in a public school, as literature, and she sounds like a wonderful teacher. In a larger, more diverse community, a Bible course would be under attack from atheists as “teaching religion,” and by Fundamentalists for not teaching it from their viewpoint.
That is why most school systems avoid mention of religion. I have read that a certain American history textbook did not mention that the Pilgrims came to America for religious reasons, just to avoid possible controversy.

(Henry Stoddard) #6


I must concur. Children need to learn older forms of English too. I was raised in a public school system that taught both Bible and various views of science. I believe it should be that way again. Our educational system is not what it used to be when I was growing up. I taught school for a time too and must admit that our children’s reading and writing skills are poor. One can study religion and Bible or pre-seminary courses in public universities. Why not also in public school? There should be freedom of mind and thought. Doesn’t our constitution give us freedom of speech? I believe our Supreme Court has forgotten that. My grandfather, Duncan Miller, studied Bible and evolution in school and he was born in 1887. Nothing hurt him. Does anyone else agree with me?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #7

Quoting Lindsay: “… allowing myself to question and challenge my understanding of the Bible…”

The three words in that phrase that so many hard-core YECs can’t abide (and either can’t see or refuse to acknowledge) are the words “my understanding of”. But they will read that exact same phrase as if those three words did not exist in it. And maybe that is their reaction against post-modernism which is understandable and which I share concerns about. It is unfortunate, though.

The writing about a local football rivalry is genius. Thanks for that – it reminds me of Enns’ insights on some of that too. Shedding those western glasses to the extent that we even can makes things (especially in the old testament) make more sense.

As an educator myself, I do note that there are so many things beyond a teacher’s control (which may be quite a good thing!) We don’t control the peer culture, familial values, larger media culture, … even things in our own classrooms where we have some limited control! So you can push for all the “openness” or “closedness” you want, but in the end it’s like planting seeds that may be deprived of water for a while. If a student feels they will be ostracized by their best friends or family for questioning something, that will powerfully influence, for better or worse how a student responds. We just have a responsibility to make sure the seeds we are planting are good for God’s kingdom.

(Patrick ) #8

Can you comment on how teaching children in 2016 about things that are not supported by modern science can cause these children great educational and psychological harm. We live in a secular scientific society. How are these children going to be educated in modern science?

(Henry Stoddard) #9

That is what is important, Mervin.

(Henry Stoddard) #10

I will try to make a reply perhaps tomorrow or the next day. Oh, I will say this. You have never really seen a secular society until you have been to Germany. This is secular. I do not find that completely so in the US. America is a different animal than Europe. If what you say were true, why do clergymen pray at the inauguration of the president of the United States? Why is there prayer in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives every day that Congress meets? Why does our money say “In God we trust?” The pledge of the Allegiance: One Nation under God, Indivisible. Even our Supreme Court has prayer too. No my friend. The only atheistic nation is North Korea. **Would you want to live there or live in a country that allows the freedoms we have? :**laughing: I hope you will respond to my question.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #11

potentially harmful messages not supported by science … so that would include, then, the promotion of the belief that science displaces all traditional religious dogma, right? Or the long-debunked warfare thesis about science and religion, or the conjecture that it is not God at work if it can be described using natural terms … all those things are non-scientific assertions, and so have no support from science whatsoever.

Do you then also advocate for the discontinuation of all the arts, humanities, …language arts classes, history … since all of those things are non-scientific? That would make for quite the sterile education, if education it could be called.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #12

It’s ironic that European nations with all their state churches (does Germany have a state church like Britain does?) are perceived to be more secular, while the U.S. with its shunning of any church/state relationship is perceived as so religious. I wonder if there are general lessons in there somewhere.

(Christy Hemphill) #13

My public high school lit classes (in the nineties) studied selections from the Bible. We did Psalm 23, the creation account, David and Goliath, and selected Proverbs. We also did very religious texts like John Donne’s and Anne Bradstreet’s poetry, a Jonathan Edwards sermon, selections from Dante and Milton. I lived in a liberal Chicago suburb, not the Bible belt. These selections were included in Prentice Hall text books. My senior contemporary lit teacher, who was not a Christian, recommended we read a comic version of the Bible as part of our summer reading list if we were not already familiar with the Bible because she said a basic familiarity with the biblical narratives was necessary to understand a huge percentage of literary allusions. The only book I remember anyone’s parents getting upset about was the Autobiography of Malcolm X.

(Lindsay Hudkins) #14

Many of the comments reflect my constant frustration as an English teacher; many students are extremely ignorant of the Bible, which keeps them from understanding 1) literary allusions 2) politics 3) human behavior 4) and Judaism/Islam to name a few. I was thrilled when my school introduced this class as an option for students. I agree with @Larry_Bunce and others who said Biblical literature should be taught in every school. From my experience, both Christian students and non-Christian students appreciate learning about different perspectives and different religions as long as the class environment allows it. I have had many people tell me students can’t handle talking about religion due to their level of immaturity, but the truth is that in eight years of teaching (middle school and high school), I have yet to have a student get overtly angry or offended about whatever is being discussed - no matter how controversial the issue. In fact, they usually seem relieved and ready to have an open space for discourse.

(Henry Stoddard) #15

Germans do allow various denominations in their country; however, German tend not to be faithful to the church. Many are atheists. The Lutherans-liberals and Roman Catholics are the main ones; however, Germans are not like the ones of the time of Martin Luther. Are there exceptions? Yes, but these are few. Helmut Schmidt would say every time he became Chancellor “so help me God.” Was he a Christian? No! I must go. My wife is home. I see that your name appears to be German. Are you living in Germany now or are you an American of German descent?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #16

The latter. --or closer to it anyway. My ancestry is probably more Swiss than German, given the number of Bitikofers (of ‘similarish’ spelling) that are in Switzerland. That’s a lot of generations back, though.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #17


Do you think it beneficial to have it taught even if the teacher can only bring it up in a mocking or condescending sense? Or would you rather that such a teacher stayed away and didn’t teach it then at all?

(Henry Stoddard) #18

Talking about families, perhaps I am pushing the envelope, my mother was a member of the Felts (Feltz) family of Virginia. This is biology. :laughing: If you know German and want to use it with me, we might could go on a personal (one to one) BioLogos Blog. I do not believe they would mind. In any case, I should have realized that when I saw you name. I agree that a teacher should not make fun of religious teaching in school; however, I feel that a course that discusses religion with science too without negativity. I should let my poor eyes rest now.

(Patrick ) #19

No, I am just talking about known scientific truths in basic science education - things like dinosaurs didn’t live with people, the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and the Universe is 13.8 billion. And that medical science can help extend your life. Telling children things that are blatantly false is morally reprehensible. As is keeping the myth/falsehoods going as they get older.

(Lindsay Hudkins) #20

Thank you for your question! I don’t think that would be beneficial, though most teachers from my experience attempt to teach sensitive topics objectively.