I have some good news and some bad news.
(That reminds me of a something my father used to say:
Dad: Jerry, I have some good news and some bad news. Which would you like to hear first?
Jerry: The bad news. [I’m Jewish.]
Dad: The bad news is that there isn’t any good news.
Jerry: Well, then, what’s the good news?
Dad: The good news is that that’s the only bad news there is.
Depending on what the other person requests, you can also do the reverse, saying that the good news is that there isn’t any bad news, but the bad news is that that’s the only good news there is. I’ll be here all week, folks.)
At any rate, the good news today is that, according to an article in the latest Atlantic by David Wheeler, evangelical Christians who homeschool their kids are getting fed up with the blatantly creationist biology textbooks that, until recently, were all they could find for their kids.
It’s no secret that the majority of homeschooled children in America belong to evangelical Christian families. What’s less known is that a growing number of their parents are dismayed by these textbooks.
Take Erinn Cameron Warton, an evangelical Christian who homeschools her children. Warton, a scientist, says she was horrified when she opened a homeschool science textbook and found a picture of Adam and Eve putting a saddle on a dinosaur. “I nearly choked,” says the mother of three. “When researching homeschooling curricula, I found that the majority of Christian homeschool textbooks are written from this ridiculous perspective. Once I saw this, I vowed never to use them.” Instead, Warton has pulled together a curriculum inspired partly by homeschool pioneer Susan Wise Bauer and partly by the Waldorf holistic educational movement.
. . .This staunch rejection of modern science tends to characterize today’s leading homeschool textbooks. For example, Science 4 Christian Schools, a homeschool textbook published by Bob Jones University Press, doesn’t mince words when it comes to evolution and Christian faith. “People who accept the Bible believe that God made everything,” the book states. “They call God’s description of how things began the Creation Model. Those who disregard the Bible believe instead that everything got here by itself. They call this description of how things began the Evolution Model.”
The assertion that anyone who believes in evolution “disregards” the Bible offends many evangelicals who want their children to be well-versed in modern science. Jen Baird Seurkamp, an evangelical who homeschools her children, avoids textbooks that discredit evolution. “Our science curriculum is one currently used in public schools,” she says. “We want our children to be educated, not sheltered from things we are afraid of them learning.”
For those homeschooling parents who are science-friendly and read this website, the piece lists several publishers who present evolution from a largely scientific—as opposed to a completely creationst—viewpoint.
That’s the good news. It’s time that homeschooling parents had biology textbooks that didn’t show humans riding dinosaurs. (Seriously, the article mentions one book that does this.)
The bad news is that the books that are available always try to comport evolution with God.
The rising number of homeschool families striving to reconcile belief in God with today’s scientific consensus has attracted the attention of at least one publisher — Christian Schools International in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Most science textbooks that attempt to present the content from a Christian perspective also attempt to discredit the theory of evolution,” says Ken Bergwerff, a science curriculum specialist at Christian Schools International. “Some do it discreetly; others are quite blatant. The CSI science curriculum clearly presents science from a Christian perspective, but does not attempt to discredit the theory of evolution. The content presents God as the author of all of creation, no matter how he did it or when he did it.”
Dorothy Boorse, a biology professor at Gordon College, a Christian college in Massachusetts, applauds these underdog homeschool textbooks. “I believe that the best evidence is that the earth is very old and that God used and continues to use the biological process of evolution,” she says. “Many Christians in the sciences believe such a position is consistent with several possible interpretations of Scripture, including some that go way back in Christian history, and several from the Jewish tradition.”
So they’ll learn evolution, butit comes with the obligatory dose of apologetics, showing how evolution doesn’t conflict with their faith. This will almost always involve theistic evolution: either God set up the process to create his creatures (especially humans), or he sticks his finger into the process from time to time to make desired mutations, plants, and animals (especially humans). Both interpretations are unscientific. After all, do homeschool chemistry textbooks say that God guides every molecule? Why not say in the history textbooks that God created human history as well, knowing that it would produce a Hitler?
Do apologetics really belong in any science textbooks? If homeschooled kids are disturbed by scientific truths, let them go to their parents for the obligatory theological brainwashing.
And guess who’s getting their sticky fingers into the accommodationist-textbook business?
Other Christian organizations that believe in evolution are beginning to put money and resources into their efforts to reframe the conversation. In 2012, the BioLogos organization received a multimillion-dollar grant from the John Templeton Foundation to fund its Evolution and Christian Faith project, which disburses money to Christians who reconcile theology with evolutionary biology.
For example, grant recipients Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, and Scot McKnight, a New Testament scholar at Northern Seminary, will “write a book on the evidence for evolution and population genetics, with informed theological reflection on how these issues interact with orthodox Christianity,” the BioLogos website states. [JAC: see the book proposal here.]
Go here if you want to see how dreadful the Templeton/BioLogos “Evolution and Christian Faith” program is. One of them is the development of an accomodationist college textbook, which, after teaching evolution, will do this:
Tensions perceived by readers between scientific and biblical accounts of origins are defused when the purviews of science and theology are properly defined and their historical engagement is reviewed, a robust doctrine of creation is explored, and the cultural-historical contexts of scriptural accounts are understood.
The key word here is “properly defined”, and it’s a weasel term that is the basis of Steve Gould’s NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) approach. That was an approach that didn’t work because religion obstinately refuses to remain “proper”. (Gould, for example, didn’t see fundamentalism as a “proper” faith simply because it encroached on science. His argument thus devolved into circularity.)
Scientists as divergent as Francis Collins (in The Language of God) and E. O. Wilson (in Atoms and Eden) also argue that Gould’s accommodationism is a non-starter because both agree that the epistemic claims of faith intrude into science, and (on Wilson’s part), religion is a human-created phenomenon that doesn’t have the corner on morality and meaning.
The Templeton/BioLogos project pushes a specific theology: that there is a “proper understanding” of scripture—a metaphorical one, of course (with the exception of the Virgin Birth and Resurrection, both of which Collins accepts as truths)—that makes evolution okay. Where this approach always fails is in convincing anti-evolution theists that the new theology is “proper.” You can lead a creationist Christian to evolution, but you can’t make him think.
The inevitable failure of accomodationism will be the subject of a second post later today, when we’ll see why an ex-fundamentalist preacher sees even moderate Christian dogma and evolution as thoroughly incompatible.