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Science, Christianity, and Homeschooling

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September 18, 2012 Tags: Education

Today's entry was written by Abigail McFarthing. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Science, Christianity, and Homeschooling

Science and technology dominate the world of young people. Not only do teenagers seem to live their lives through their smart phones and Facebook pages, but our culture’s view of science has affected their understanding of truth. Often, “scientific truth” is more real to them than “religious truth”—and if the two should seem to conflict, more often than not, science wins. Perhaps turned off by the “conflict mentality” that they perceive in the church, and by the church's inability to relate Christianity to the world around them, many of those young people leave the faith.

Parents, youth leaders, teachers—all of us—need to encourage young people to have a passion for God’s world and God’s Word. We should help them learn to distinguish between primary issues of the faith, and secondary issues that Christians may in good conscience disagree on. And we must equip them to think critically and biblically through the many different issues of science and faith so that they can be effective citizens and witnesses in today’s society. Today I’d like to introduce a new resource for the Church in that equipping mission for today’s Christian young people; but first, let me give a bit of my own story.

Prepared for the conflict

My amazing parents homeschooled me through eighth grade. I loved the freedom to explore things that I enjoyed; the challenge of tackling subjects well beyond my “official” grade level; and the joy of forming deep relationships with my parents and brothers. We used many high-quality science texts, but in my memory, all of the resources on origins available to us promoted an often-combative Creation Science perspective.

In ninth grade, I went to public high school armed and ready for the fight I had been trained to expect. When my biology teacher taught evolution and required us to write an essay, I hi-jacked the essay topic and turned it into an apologetic for six-day creation. Because I was in “conflict mode,” I was not ready to consider the arguments for evolution, or the possibility that Christians could actually accept it. I stayed on guard for the next three years until I headed off to the less hostile territory of Wheaton College.

As a student in Wheaton’s explicitly Christian environment, I felt a new safety to explore different biblically faithful positions that Christians hold, while at the same time maintaining my commitment to my faith. I majored in English and Secondary Education, and as one of my science requirements I took a class called “Issues in Biology.” My professor’s Christian faith shone through her teaching, and her words have stayed with me to this day: “Jesus is not going to be standing at the gateway of heaven,” she said, “holding a clipboard in his hand and asking, ‘Did you believe in six-day creation? Did you believe in evolution?’ He’s going to be asking the one question that matters: ‘Did you believe in ME?’” Yes! I thought. I agree. My professor then proceeded to surprise me: she was the first person to clearly articulate for me how someone could both believe the Bible and accept evolution. I realized that this— alongside many others—was a secondary issue, and that whatever my position on origins might be, I could have fellowship with Christians who held different positions.

But this particular biology professor had more to say than, “we can all just get along.” I remember her bemoaning a phenomenon that she had observed as a teacher: Christian students, raised in a strict Young Earth Creationist background which only portrayed the weaknesses in evolution, would often lose their faith when confronted with evolutionary theory in its full strength. Having only ever heard one perspective, they hadn’t learned to think critically through different viewpoints. Furthermore, they identified their faith so strongly with Young Earth Creationism, that when science seemed to contradict their understanding of origins, they felt they had to jettison not only their Creationism, but the whole of their Christian faith.

During my training as a high school teacher, I learned another way to understand what was happening in the minds (and lives) of these students using Piaget’s theory of cognitive equilibrium. In simplified form, the theory says that students have a mental construct of how they see the world (called a schema by Piaget); with this schema, they are happy and peaceful—in a state of equilibrium. When they encounter new information, however, they get pushed into an uncomfortable state of disequilibrium. In order to return to equilibrium, they must either assimilate the new information into their existing worldview, or they must accommodate their worldview to fit the new information. Resilient learners and a robust faith can handle such challenges.

But the faith of the students my professor described was different— strong, but brittle; it did not have the resilience that comes through testing. Indeed, in 1644, John Milton described such untested conviction like this: “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for...” (from Areopagitica: A speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing to the Parliament of England). To use Piaget’s terms again, evolution threw these students into a disequilibrium from which they could not recover; they could not assimilate evolution into their Creationist worldview, and they could not or would not accommodate their worldview to fit the scientific evidence—so they floundered.

Training for resilience

In my own roles as a teacher and youth leader, I strive to introduce young people to new ideas that will stretch them—even cause them to lose their equilibrium at first. Too much new information conflicting with students’ pre-existing ideas will mean that they cannot assimilate the new information or accommodate to it. Too little new information will mean that they are not being challenged. Both extremes mean that the student is not learning. What I aim to do is to push them into disequilibrium, but also then provide them with the tools to assimilate/accommodate for themselves, and reach equilibrium again—with a deeper, enriched, and more nuanced worldview.

While this has been my strategy to personally help train up resilient young Christians in classrooms and youth groups, last year, Dr. Ruth Bancewicz (the Test of FAITH Project Leader, contributor to this blog, and fellow member of City Church Cambridge) brought me on board to work on another exciting project. Since then, I have been able to use my passion to provoke young people to think more deeply in my role as author of the Test of FAITH homeschool material.

As it was when I was a homeschooled student myself, the vast majority of homeschool science resources available today focus on the issue of origins, and from a Young Earth Creationist perspective. We have developed the Test of FAITH homeschool course to allow young people to learn about the different perspectives that Christians hold on a wide range of issues. In fact, let me emphasize that less than one-third of this material is about origins! For my part, I have loved the opportunity to delve into other issues of science and faith while developing this course; we think students will also appreciate seeing how a biblical worldview engages with such diverse topics as cosmology, the environment, neurology and the soul, free will and determinism, and bioethics.

Both the broad range of issues addressed in the Test of FAITH curriculum and the approach this curriculum takes to those topics will benefit students in several specific ways:

  • Learning about different viewpoints will encourage homeschoolers to think critically through ideas and their consequences.
  • Coming in contact with a variety of views will cause students to question why they believe what they believe, and will give them th tools to emerge from that questioning with an even deeper faith in God.
  • Showing that Christians can disagree on various secondary issues, yet still remain committed, Bible-based believers, will help diffuse the acrimony that often surrounds science-faith issues.

I still have many questions, and I feel that my journey in understanding how science relates to my faith has just begun. However, Test of FAITH has been a significant marker on my own path, and I hope it will be a milestone for many homeschoolers around the globe, as well.

Science and Christianity: An Introductory Course for Homeschoolers is available for free download at www.testoffaith.com/homeschool. The 3-8 week course is designed for use with the award-winning documentary Test of FAITH: Does science threaten belief in God?

Ten free Test of FAITH DVD’s are available to homeschooling Biologos supporters! Contact abigail@testoffaith.com to reserve your copy.


Abigail McFarthing is the author of the new Test of FAITH homeschool course and has worked in education in the US, South Africa, and the UK. A former homeschooler herself, she graduated with highest honors in English and Secondary Education from Wheaton College. She led church youth work for four years, and currently works with young people with learning difficulties. She is also a worship leader and songwriter; you can listen to her album at http://abigailmcfarthing.bandcamp.com


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Francis - #72915

September 18th 2012

Ms. McFarthing,

I scanned through the teaching material.

I appreciated that some time is given to epistemology and to the importance of acknowledging and understanding one’s worldview.

I saw a true/false statement to the effect of “Most scientists are atheists.” What answer does the teacher expect on this? (Wikipedia says most scientists are agnostic/atheistic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism)

The material appears to be emphasizing science’s support for evolution. However, you note that “Learning about different viewpoints will encourage homeschoolers to think critically through ideas and their consequences.”  Does your course give any consideration to the reputable scientists who are on record expressing their doubt on the very guts of evolutionary theory? http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/index.php


Darwin Guy Dan - #72945

September 20th 2012

Francis,

The link you provided and the one of Ms. McFarthing both look to be marvelous resources.  A couple of favorites of mine continue to be Robert Shapiro’s EVOLUTION: A VIEW FROM THE 21st CENTURY (2011) and Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd B. Muller’s EVOLUTION: THE EXTENDED SYNTHESIS (2010).

But from my perspective, a dissent regards the natural selection and causes of variations arguments of Darwin and modern Evolutionists, while highly relevant, misses the point.  In my view, Darwin’s primary assumption, common descent, (that which soon became labeled “evolution” by the likes of Spencer, Huxley, etc. and which I now identify uniquely as Evolution) is false. Evolutionists have consistently failed to recognize the underlying assumptions—- primarily that samenesses (homologies) equate to relationships—- that have lead to their acceptance of Evolution.  Instead, soon after Darwin posited his hypotheses regards Evolution and Natural Selection, etc., naturalists assumed that Darwin had so adequately demonstrated his case that Evolution became to them a truth certainty—- in their eyes what they then and have continued to label, a “fact.”  In my view, even if Evolution were true, it would not be properly categorized as a scientific fact. 

In my acceptance of Naturalistic Parallelism, I posit that common ancestry provides no naturalistic parsimony over naturalistic parallelism. 

To understand how quickly the debate became a contest between ideologies (naturalism verses supernaturalism) rather than a debate within natural science itself, I find George John Romanes’ THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE FOR ORGANIC EVOLUTION ([1877], 1882) enlightening. (The book is offered as a free e-book at Amazon and Gutenberg.)  Notice that Romanes sees only two possibilities, common descent or intelligent design / creationism.  Any other possibilities have consistently been placed in these two polarized categories over the decades.  Thus, academia has consistently failed to posit alternative naturalistic hypotheses outside of Evolution despite the recognition of inconsistencies with the assumption.  For example, the “Tree-of-Life” metaphor makes less sense now that origins of life researchers generally recognize a web of life prior to the Cambrian.  As I see it, these researchers have been falsely confined by the old paradigm, Evolution.

Keep up the good fight!

Dan, a.k.a. NaturalHistoryGuy / LocalTransportationGuy


Abigail Cooley McFarthing - #73477

October 9th 2012

Hello Francis and others,

Thanks to many of you for your comments and your interest in the free DVD.

In response to Francis’s particular questions:

1. The true/false questions are a preliminary exercise designed to get the students thinking about the general issues in the science-religion dialogue. There were no “right answers” given.

2. The course explains the main views on origins held by Christians, including the views which are opposed to Evolution. While the DVD emphasizes Theistic Evolution, the supporting course material gives air time to some of the other options as well (including Young Earth Creation, Progressisve Creation, and Intelligent Design). Less than one-third of the course deals with origins, so there was no way we could cover all of the arguments on all sides in such a short time. Rather, we hope that this material will provide a counter-balance to the majority of other science material available to Christian homeschoolers—thus promoting critical thinking and gracious dialogue.

The goal of the material is not to “change students’ minds” regarding evolution, but to help them to think through and evaluate the different viewpoints that they hear.

I would be happy to answer any other questions that people may have. You can also join the dialogue on our facebook page!

-Abigail


wesseldawn - #72927

September 19th 2012

All of the homeschooled children that I have personally met are socially awkward, and backward in much of their thinking…very often the parents are repressive and paranoid (again, the ones that I have met personally). Homeschooled children are usually somewhat reclusive. They only function well in a church setting, as the impetus behind much of homeschooling is religous, to “keep children from the world”, but they become strange. 

Granted the public school system is not a perfect one by any means (often elitist) but in it children get a more realistic grasp of the world itself.

If parents are determined to homeschool however, I think it’s a really good step to introduce critical thinking, as the shock to a creationist-believing student upon learning about evolution is too much for some of them to handle. In the best case scenario, a lot of counselling is still needed to get them back on track.

Of course there are exceptions to any rule but the only time that I would homeschool my child is if they were being badly bullied and unable to figure out how to deal with it (after first enrolling them in a martial arts class).


Dunemeister - #72942

September 19th 2012

I can only say to this that your personal experience is not the norm. Homeschooled children are far and a way better socially and academically adjusted than those who are traditionally schooled (public or private), statistically speaking. They tend to be more curious, outgoing and interested in people and the world. Indeed, universities tend to give high priority to homeschooled applicants because they are better able to handle the rigours of university education (although this may also constitute an indictment against how badly eroded those rigours have become in the last fifty years or so).

The only reason I won’t homeschool my child is because it involves a great deal of investment of time and money, neither of which my wife and I have in sufficient amounts.


wesseldawn - #73069

September 25th 2012

sorry, I don’t often get notifications of replies even though I’m signed up for them.

I have not read any actual stats on social and academic standing of homeschooled children compared to the public school system, is there a link where I could read that?

 Possibly homeschooled children do better in universities but again, I have never read any information in support of it and personal experience with homeschooled children would seem to contradict that!


Jim Jacobs - #72959

September 20th 2012

#wesseldawn: I am sorry for the unfortunate experience that have left you with this impression of homeschooling. I suspect that your sample size may be small and/or non-representative.

Most studies find quite the opposite: that home-schooling tends to produce healthier  adults with better socialization and more community involvement. Consider this recent research from the independent Academic Leadership Journal: http://www.academicleadership.org/392/academic_achievement_and_demographic_traits_of_homeschool_students_a_nationwide_study/

Additionally, the National Home Education Research Institute has rather substantial amount of studies from many sources over that past few decades of education research (http://www.nheri.org/).

I do believe it is true that within the conservative evangelical community a rather pernicious form of young earth creationism is spreading. This is beginning to threaten science education for many home-schools. I am delighted to find “Test of Faith”, and I applaud Ms. Farthing for her much needed work.  We’ve home-schooled two children through to successful acceptance in major universities, and currently have two still learning at home.

Regards,

Jim


wesseldawn - #73072

September 25th 2012

When 20  out of 20 students that I observe from homeschooled situations all exhibit the same kind of a social awkwardness then I must question the modus operandi.

Certainly a 1-1 kind of instruction is far better than 30-1 and social pressures can be hard on certain children. However, except for one person the other homeschoolers that I know were motivated to homeschool because of religious beliefs.

Certainly a homeschooled child would be used to studying solo and that would benefit them in university but then I’ve also observed that they attend Christian universities. When they venture outside of those norms they are unable to function.


Francis - #72953

September 20th 2012

DG Dan,

“Keep up the good fight!”

Aye, Aye, Lieutenant!

Let’s go “fishing”!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Jt-bxV1gW0

 

Anyone want to join us?


Darwin Guy Dan - #73373

October 6th 2012

Francis,

Sorry to read that you have been banned.  What happened? What did you do? I have enjoyed your input at the blogs.

I especially applaud your challenges to underlying assumptions.  Be sure to also be aware of your own and be able to enlighten others to what they are which, apparently, you have done by putting “fishing” in quotes.  I assume you assume that I assume you are being a metaphoricalist as opposed to a literalist.

My attraction to Darwin over the years goes back several decades now.  I have often seen Darwin as a model of good science.  Some have even placed Darwin above Newton in that regards.  Many of Darwin’s hypothesis, as you well know, have long been rejected or are at least being continually reevaluated. But in the end, at least as I see it, Darwin (and his philosopher William Whewell who I haven’t yet read) knew the difference between hypotheses, theory, and facts.  Darwin knew not to accept hypotheses as truth certainty. It is the notion of “scientific fact”  that has been particularly annoying over the years as I have long thought that the naturalists that took up Darwin’s cause were less (but not entirely) about science and more about marketing. Evolution became a paradigm and soon after Darwin inappropriately labeled a “fact.” While paradigms can be useful, they have the obvious downside of hampering the search for truth.  The discussion became one of dueling epistemologies as opposed to dueling naturalistic scientific hypotheses.

DarwinGuyDan at Gmail

P.S.  Hey Captain! Newton or ‘trial and error’ point and shoot thinking is no longer good enough.  We’ll be needing Einstein to get back to the moon so as not to waste so much fuel.  Also, be sure to keep an eye out for gravity waves and hypothesized black holes.  Dan, a.k.a. backseat driver.

P.P.S.  I understand the 4004 B.C. date. But where do the Biblicists come up with 10,000 B.C.?


Thea Kim - #73560

October 11th 2012

Thank you!

I am so thankful to be a fly on the wall of a community of scientists who are building bridges between faith and science.

I am not an upper level scientist. I homeschool my four children, and consider myself to be a foundational scientist who is laying the groundwork for scientific thinking in my four children. I have not found many other homeschool families who are willing to look at the strengths of science and work to integrate their faith with an intelligent understanding of science.

I am morally compelled to train my children in Christian thought while not shying away from the mainstream scientific thought— a powerful worldview which is shaping all sorts of public policy. 

I am thankful to be a part of this community as I develop and evaluate curriculum.

I found Tim Keller’s essay on Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople to be a breath of fresh air.


Janine - #76312

February 4th 2013

My teacher asked me to write how science technology afeects my life. Im just not too suree what she means by science technology… What classifys as Science tech. Please someone help ASAP! Moshen Zargar


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