Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Evolution, Pt.2: Our Fears

What seems to be fueling the war between educators/scientists and Christian conservatives here in Kansas is not simply disagreement, it is fear, and it is prevalent in both camps. Let's meet two people, one from each side, and see if we can't understand them a little better.

First, meet Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones is an evangelical Christian, and a young-earth creationist. He is the father of four, the oldest of which is in junior high (public school). He is afraid that what his son Joshua will hear in science class will contradict what he has been hearing at church and at home. No parent wants to be contradicted in front of their child. What kind of message does this send to Joshua? Who is he to believe? His parents & pastor, who tell him that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that the fossil record does not support evolution, or his science teacher, who tells quite a different story? Is it really the place of the public schools, and by implication, the government, to contradict what a child is taught at home? Surely you see the tension here.

Mr. Jones is also concerned that stirring up such confusion in a child will not only undermine parental respect, but faith as well. If Joshua is forced to choose between his Christianity (to which young-earth creationism seems inexorably linked) and modern science, he just might go for the latter, or he might even be thrown into a tail-spin of full-blown skepticism. To Mr Jones, teaching evolution in the classroom is the equivalent of a scene from the movie “Red Dawn” where American school children are being instructed by their new, communist teachers that there is no god, reinforced by a piece of candy. These associations are powerful, and if you can’t empathize with Mr. Jones’ fear, then you will never be able to communicate with him.

Next, meet Mrs. Smith. Mrs. Smith is an 8th grade science teacher at Famous President Jr. High. She graduated from State U. with a degree in Biology, and later earned her master’s degree in science education. She is an agnostic, but is not hostile to Christianity, having been raised in a good Catholic home. She is afraid that religious institutions are invading her classroom to say what she can and cannot teach. Doesn’t this sound a little like 1984 or the Taliban? She feels that when religious leaders and parents tell her how to do her job, it means that she isn’t competent or that she is somehow a bad person. She doesn’t want to undermine her student’s faith – she loves “her kids.”

Mrs. Smith is also afraid that if evolution is removed from the curriculum, it will degrade the quality of the children’s education. She is a scientist at heart, and she really believes that evolutionary theory is good science, and that these children shouldn’t be robbed of it. What if the school wasn’t allowed to teach cell theory, or planetary motion, or atomic theory? The idea of teaching creationism in school is troubling to her, since it necessarily involves teaching Judeo-Christian theology. How can we teach theology in a government-operated school, even if it is the “majority view?” What if the majority believed in a flat-earth or a geo-centric planetary system? Should we teach those? How should science curriculum be determined, if not by science?! If we really want to have a constructive dialogue, we must try to undertand her concerns and emotions.


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