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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Evolution or Creation... Which belongs in our Public School Systems?

Bill Nye vs Ken Ham Debate Photo 2/4/14
A week back, I watched the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.  While the debate barely touched on
the subject of public school text books, but that was the driving force behind - and the reason for - the debate in the first place.  As it stands right now, MOST Public School systems teach Evolution as a part of their Biology and Science classes.  However, there has been a fight from Conservative Christians to remove Evolution and instead, teach Creation in these classes. While they are making a lot of noise, for the most part they are not getting their way.

Ken Ham, who is the curator of the Creation Museum, made the statement that by teaching Evolution schools are indoctrinating our students to an Atheistic world view and denying them the benefits of religion. And while I don't agree, I do understand his way of thinking.  There are things I see taught in our schools that I am totally against, things which I do NOT want my children taught - because I don't want my children lied to.  As someone who doesn't believe there is ANY validity to Evolution, he does not want it taught to children as fact.  I can understand and even sympathize with that stance.

However, I am not a pure Creationist.  If you have read my creation story, you will see that I AM a Creationist, but I am ALSO an Evolutionist.  I do NOT believe the two need to be exclusive, and personally do not understand why scientists, especially those who have a belief in God, are so hardened against the idea of Theistic Evolution.

But the question that I am pondering at the moment is not what I believe, but what would be the best option for Public Schools.  Now, before I go further please let me note here that I am NOT discussing Private Schools or Homeschool programs! I am SOLELY focused on Public Schools!

So what is right for schools and why? Should we be presenting Evolution or Creation to students? And why?

Well, I think this is honestly a much easier answer than we want to make it.  Public Schools are NOT religious institutions. They have students which are Christian, Atheists, Hindu, Pagan, Muslim and every other faith out there. To teach creation myths, as if they are scientific fact is both improper and a violation of those children's (and their parents') freedom of Religion.

I think we can all agree - whether you are Christian, Pagan or otherwise - that we don't want our children going in to school being taught another faith as if it were fact.  If that was what we wanted we would send our children to a religious private school.  I think most people think, well, if they were teaching Creation they would teach the Judeo-Christian version.  And frankly, if your Judeo-Christian I'm sure that wouldn't really be that much of an issue.  BUT, as a Non-Christian, I know I don't want my children being taught mythology as scientific or historical fact.   And I would fair a guess that the Judeo-Christians out there wouldn't want their children being taught MY creation story as if it were scientific or historical fact.

Now, all that said, what about Evolution?  There are a great many who disagree with Evolution and feel that teaching it violates the same religious freedoms that I talked about above.  I suppose you could even go so far (as Ken Ham did) to see the teaching of Evolution as the teaching of Humanist or Atheist beliefs or "religion."  In a way, it is the "Atheistic Creation Story."  The difference here though is this - the purpose of Science classes is to introduce students to the current understandings of the scientific community.  And while there ARE those scientists who are firm Creationists, they are vastly the minority.

So how do I propose this issue be solved?  As you all know, I am a firm believer in teaching children HOW to think, not teaching them WHAT to think.  I would say that science as a whole should fall in to this category. I mean, what is Science? Here is how the World English Dictionary defines it:
1. The systematic study of the nature & behavior of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.   
2. The knowledge so obtained or the practice of obtaining it.   
3.  Any particular branch of this knowledge: the pure and applied sciences 
 4. Any body of knowledge organized in a systematic manner 
5. Skill or technique   
6. archaic  Knowledge
 So, in lay-mens terms, it means to gain knowledge (or the knowledge gained) through exploration and experimentation.  However, I would argue that this also means that the opposite of Science is blind belief, or to simply accept something that we have been taught without ever actually thinking about other options.  IF our goal is to teach science, then our goal should be to teach children to take what others have done and take the evidence they have and decide what makes the most sense. Our goal should be to teach them how to observe, how to experiment and how to measure the evidences they have.

If we are simply teaching Evolution as fact, leaving out the possibility of other options (namely Creation) we are NOT encouraging the students to weigh the evidence for themselves. We are, instead, simply telling them - "this is what it is, take it, accept it and don't think for yourself."  That's not science! Frankly, that's religion.  The same can be said for solely teaching Creation.  But how do we teach how the Earth came about without teaching Evolution or Creation?  We can't.

I was very lucky on this subject, and I am going to base much of my answer here on my experience.  I was raised in a very strict Christian household, as I've talked about before. So I was already taught creation mythology.  In fact I was taught that Evolution was created by Satan to "draw men away from God."  I also had a very Christian teacher for my HS Biology 102 class.  Although he was a Biology teacher, he did not believe in Evolution.  BUT, he taught it to the best of his abilities, as he was supposed to.  However, my Biology 102 class included a portion on Evolution, the Big Bang, Dinosaur Extinction, etc...

Now, here is where I think we need to start when it comes to presenting things in schools...  My Biology teacher did not simply teach Evolution and that was that.  At the same time, he did not teach Religion, as that was not his job.  Instead, he prefaced the Evolution portion of our course with a lecture on the options available to us when it came to this subject.  He took a single class period and made a statement that while he did not believe it was his place to preach religion to us, and that while he respected our choices to or not to practice whatever religion we choose, he felt it was important for us all to understand that Evolution was simply the "Conventional Science" view on this subject.  He did not discuss any particular myth. He did not weigh in on HOW he believed Creation took place. He simply presented us with the idea that we should explore these other ideas on our own.  He spoke about how a belief in God, or a non-belief in God, does not limit one to being or not being a scientists, and how there are those in the scientific community who stood on both sides of this issue.

Although he did NOT discuss the idea of Theistic Evolution, he made it clear to us all that there were other options beyond that of Evolution.  It was his job to teach the modern views of conventional science, and he did that without compromise.  In fact, looking back, and knowing what I now know on the subject, he was very well educated on it and did a good job at teaching it.

So where do I stand on what should be taught?  Well, I think we, as a nation, should be taking a page from my Biology teacher's book.  Since science classes are meant to teach modern conventional science, that is what they should do.  However, included in those lessons need to be the note that there are alternative ideas and an encouragement for students to explore these on their own.  I would even go so far as to include a small section in text books which briefly explains the basics of what Creationism is.  While I don't believe we should teach the mythology, for reasons above, I see a small explanation of "Creationism is the idea that a Divine being or God created the Universe, the Earth and all things, living and non which are upon it."  I would love to see a further explanation of Theistic Evolution stating simply that "The idea of Theistic Evolution suggests that a Divine Being, or God(s) have used Evolution as their tool for creating the Universe, the Earth and all things on it."  To further encourage students to independently explore Creation myths and/or Theistic Evolution outside of the school could only benefit the student.

As with most things, there IS a middle road to this subject. And encouraging free thought and exploration can only benefit all involved.  If we start removing any subject from school which is in any way questioned, we wouldn't be able to teach science, history, literature or numerous other subjects. After 4th grade children would know all there is to be taught in schools. It's just not feasible.  Are there things I think we should be changing about our education system? YES!  We need to be correcting the history books on subjects like the formation of our nation, Native Americans and numerous other things which we KNOW are wrong.  And more than that we need to be correcting how we feed our students.  BUT, where there is an issue, such as this one, where both sides of the issue are possibly valid, it's only right that we give students the tools to find their own answers.  That is what education is- or should be -about. If it's not, then THAT is our issue number one, not whether our science classes teach Evolution or not...

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