What Happens When Christian Schools use Secular Science Texts?

(system) #1
Really allowing students to engage with science can strengthen and deepen their faith.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/chris-stump-equipping-educators/what-happens-when-christian-schools-use-secular-science-texts

(Wookin Panub) #2

That is a bait and switch. In the title you refer to it as “secular science” but in the statement above you refer to it as just “science” Secular science is primarily evolution or evolution related, which runs contrary to what the bible teaches.


Perhaps that’s because ‘Greek’ science, ‘Islamic’ science, ‘Buddhist’ science, ‘Orthodox Judaism’ science and ‘Christian’ science all come out pretty much the same. It’s natural science. This has largely been the case for well over half a millennium.

These days, what comes under the guise of Young Earth Creation science is really Young Earth apologetics or dogma, not a science. The notion of a young earth may have been a viable scientific hypothesis at one time (much like the notion of the four bodily humors being involved in health), but it has since been examined and rejected in favor of much stronger data for an ancient Earth and universe.

(Wookin Panub) #4

Nothing you said negated anything I just stated?

(Brad Kramer) #5

Just as a reminder of our rules, comments on blog posts should reflect clear evidence that the commenter has read the entire post, not just the one-line teaser.

(Wookin Panub) #6

I know that’s a value that BioLogos shares as well. Of course, that’s why my research article is entitled—tongue-in-cheek—“No Slippery Slope?”

There is a slippery slope. The science of evolution when pitted against a correct, proper reading of scripture creates conflicts and causes students to question God’s word. I have also seen a shift among Christian students, who tend to be more pro abortion, more pro homosexual etc…Once you question one part of the bible. It’s only a matter of time before you question all of the bible. Satan knew this, (Genesis 3:1) "Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

(James McKay) #8

Actually, if I understand the article correctly, that is not what the author found. On the contrary, the students’ faith was actually strengthened by being taught from the secular science textbooks.

There’s a good reason why this should be the case: it confronts the evidence honestly, without shying away from awkward questions. The fact remains that both a young earth and independent human ancestry are resoundingly contradicted by the scientific evidence, and as Christians we need to deal with this. If you can show that you can do so without compromising your faith, then you will actually encourage and strengthen faith in your students.

On the other hand, if you are shying away from these issues, you will be leaving your students ill-equipped to handle them when they are confronted with the evidence. And if you are teaching them demonstrable untruths (e.g. that there is a scientific basis for a young earth), you will be setting them up for a fall.


Except the part about it being ‘bait and switch’. There is no uniquely ‘Christian science’. There is no uniquely ‘Jewish science’. There is no uniquely ‘Buddhist science’. A helium atom has the same measured rest mass independent of whether the measurements are made by a rabbi, a cardinal or a yogi*.

*But if they all walk into a bar, the joke may vary.

(Phil) #10

Indeed. It is a different world. This mindset may have had some validity in the 1950’s, but the false dichotomy presented by many in the YEC camp.to our largely post-modern and post-Christian society tends to drive young people away from Christianity.


Very interesting article. It would be great to expand on this study. There is so much fear about what so-called secular science or learning will do to kids that it is important be able to respond to these understandable parental concerns by pointing out studies which clearly show that it is not the information itself, but how we help them to navigate and integrate the information as Christians. Add to that a good discussion on how often the overprotective approach backfires, and I think many Christian parents would end up being far more comfortable letting their kids learn science from reliable sources and under faithful guidance now instead of from hostile sources with very little guidance later.

Are there other studies that have been published in this vein?

(Mervin Bitikofer) #12

Part of the resistance of some Christian schools to secular curricula may stem from a general attitude they wish to cultivate towards authority. There remains something special about the written word that causes us to feel a twinge of scandal when something written is untrue. We give lip service to our ample skepticism against just accepting everything we see in print, but I think we are still offended at the notion of codified and endorsed untruths on the written page. So to protect young children, and to give them a sense of the trustworthiness of authority (which is what we hope they will accept about God after all!) we surround them with our specially vetted glossy publications that are supposed to reliably steer them down the straight and narrow.

But what we are increasingly seeing is that these practices are ironically not cultivating the critical thought habits that we want to nurture and encourage – especially among the older students. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it is more in the upper grade levels that Christian schools are using more secular curricula. I do in my own science classes, but the elementary and even junior high students still are fed the “safe diet”. But with either kind of curriculum, the teacher still has ample opportunity to model healthy critical thought – whether it be to look for all the rest of the story not mentioned in a young-earth claim, or to exercise healthy skepticism towards philosophical over-reaches from secular texts. In either case, the teacher makes it work … or not work.

…one other thought to add here: A recent title “50 things you should let your kids play with” apparently included things like sharp edged things and fire. If kids are always protected from danger, they never learn how to coexist less dangerously with it. Result: they are in more danger than ever when finally exposed.

(Larry Bunce) #13

The fact that public funds can be used to purchase standard science texts would seem to be a strong motive for Christian schools to use them. I have read that Catholic schools have long used standard science texts. Comments made by teachers can be much more effective in helping with students’ faith than anything they may see in a textbook. I have read that there was a US history textbook, that to avoid controversy, didn’t mention anything about the Pilgrim’s religious beliefs that inspired them to come to America.

Students who have grown up getting only one side of the science/faith debate can easily become disillusioned or extremely cynical when they run into the other side of the issue in college or the world outside of school. I worked with a woman who had grown up in the USSR. Her parents came to the with her when they felt they were getting too old to live by themselves. Her father had grown up believing everything he had been taught about how bad life was in America under capitalism. When he got here, and saw how well people lived in suburban America, he became completely disillusioned, and felt his life had been wasted living under communism.

We all have grown up with the adage, “honesty is the best policy.” That should apply to Christian education as well.


Dr Reichard: Too many of our alumni from the distant past have returned dissatisfied, having felt indoctrinated and maliciously censored in their science classes. When they got to college, they expressed that they were not prepared to take an apologetic stand; instead, their faith was eroded because they felt undereducated.

It is a sad commentary that something like this even needs to be stated. It should be obvious to all that withholding (or distorting) mainstream scientific information from our children and using ‘fear’ to try to keep them from it will likely backfire and do great harm. Then what? We all can do better.

Dr Reichard: In my experience, students are leaving our school more prepared for college, living a healthy Christian life, and serving as a vibrant witness of God’s love to the world.

And on this we can ALL celebrate. Spread the news!

(Herbert Kutscha) #15

Science has rules. Hypotheses receive experimental or observational verification, are published, may or may not achieve “theory” status, and after long use, may rise to the status of a “Law”. Students need to understand this, along with the histories of Science’s core theories.

I spent way too many years away from Christ, trying to resolve my science knowledge and the Bible. It turns out that there are good and rational believers who have been down this road, and have developed the YEC and OEC positions, along with various hybrids. These apologetics should be taught too. Using them later in life, I have been able to resolve the “differences” between science and religion (scripture in particular). Paul starts down the Romans road by stating that what may be known of God is revealed through his Creation, and I see that now, everywhere. The advances of science, ever accelerating, now reveal even more insight into God’s majesty and character to me.

So teach them religion, teach them science, and prepare them with apologetics.

(Christy Hemphill) #16

You run into problems when a good bit of what is peddled under the title “Christian apologetics” are attempts to undermine and discredit entire fields of science and foster the attitude that scientists cannot be trusted.

(Herbert Kutscha) #17

I’ve got a BS degree (obviously), and I don’t think that trust is even a minor goal for scientists. It shouldn’t have an agenda, or it would be engineering (I’m one of those, too). As I stated, science is a formal process.

But yes, let’s not teach kids bad apologetics. I think we all agree on that. I think it was Peter who said that we need to be prepared to defend our faith (and “blind” faith is indefensible and non-Chrstian - and very popular in practice and as an atheist misconception).

The problem is that God as Creator is at the very root of Christianity, we have a text written by a people living with a poorly advanced science, and it doesn’t appear that God ever pulled anyone aside and gave them lesson in advanced biology, astrophysics, etc. Resolving the two takes a bit of insight and study. There are people who have studied a great deal and evangelize their positions, who do present the case that current science is badly flawed because their interpretation of the Bible, as God’s Word, must be correct, and there are lots of people who see inaccuracies in the Bible based on an agenda or simplistic reading. Lots of these people are good folks with positive agendas doing great harm. Stating a clear position on these murky issues to a youngster is bad. Pointing out and discussing the debate’s theological and scientific issues, and noting the debate is helpful. For example, unless God made the universe with a history (which I think is required for the YEC position), we can see from science that organisms evolved, but the jump to Homo Sapians is a bit murky, and we really don’t have a clue for how that whole complex DNA thing started happening.

Figuring out what to present on both sides of the debate" is tricky. The solution is to present both sides. For example, the YEC and OEC crowd are divided within themselves and with each other over whether God could create something (a universe, life, whatever) with a history - “Last Thursdayism”. Feeding young people a “clear” answer would be wrong, but pointing out the impact of the topic would be useful. Another example is whether “yom”, the word in Genesis translated as “day” can also mean a long period of time. This isn’t first grade stuff, but Christian high schoolers should probably be instructed in it with material that presents both sides. On the up side, most science isn’t at the center of theological controversy.

Should we do it? The Bible says we must be prepared to defend our faith, so it is a responsibility for Christian schools and parents, who generally also need help.

(Christy Hemphill) #18

Today I read a chapter of Joy Hakim’s Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way to my sixth grader. It contained origin myths from several different cultures and discussed how they are different from science, but how both are human pursuits of truth and answers. I can just picture many Christians’ reaction to a chapter like this. They would take issue with the idea that the Genesis creation account is “just a myth” comparable to the Popul Vuh or the Rig-Veda. But I think this is where we start to do a disservice to kids as Christians. In our attempt to honor the Bible and set it apart on a higher plane than other religions’ claims, we try to make it this objective, scientific, factual thing that it isn’t. The Genesis account is an origin myth. As Christians, it’s our origin myth. We believe it is the true one. It shapes our people as it has since ancient times. It’s like as modern people we want to distance ourselves completely from the idea that a shared mythology is important and a vital part of our identity as a faith community. Maybe because in our modern world, we can’t conceive of mythology as anything other than a backwards, ignorant, incorrect worldview. Or we don’t have a category for “true myth.” But becoming a Christian is more than just assenting to certain true facts. It is joining a story. It’s claiming a people and a heritage and a metanarrative (mythology) that goes back to ancient times. Believing the Bible is becoming part of God’s story and uniting ourselves with an ancient wisdom that transcends science and objective history. I think our apologetics need to be honest about this and reclaim the emotional, imaginative, intuitive, awe-inspiring impact of our faith’s stories instead of trying to recast them in some kind of rational, logical, science-serving light.

I honestly think this is a dead end and don’t understand the attention it gets. Yom means day, the normal kind. This is an example where linguistics can’t get you where you want to go. No amount of word study is going to tell you whether the normal word for a literal day is used literally or figuratively, that is a hermeneutics question. When Jesus said “I am the good Shepherd,” he wasn’t using a figurative sense of the word “shepherd” (there is one incidentally, there is a figurative extension sense that means ‘pastor’), he was talking about the normal word for someone who takes care of sheep. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t using the literal meaning of the word shepherd in a figurative, metaphorical context. We don’t need the word yom to mean anything other than a normal day to claim it is being used in a figurative, metaphorical way.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #19

If I could ‘like’ that post more than once, I would!