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Is it possible for public schools to be “neutral” in the origins debate? Roger Patterson, former biology teacher and content developer, tackles this issue.
Insofar as the Humanist Manifesto declares there is no God, public schools must not be humanist. But neither may they endorse any particular creed they must be deity neuter. Public schools, since they are supported by mandatory taxation, must not teach any religious viewpoint (including atheism) would you like it if your children were taught to reverence Vishnu?
You say you want Creationism taught along with Evolution? Fine, but whose Creation mythos Aztec, Greek, Norse, Hindu, etc?
Yes, science means knowledge but knowledge is achieved only through observation and reasoning never revelation. Revelation is not repeatable (on demand) and hence not subject to the scientific method. Even Scripture acknowledges that God is unknowable. The basis of scientific study is the presumed constancy of physical laws but since God is an entity and therefore capable of mercy, no analysis can predict His actions.
Insofar as the Humanist Manifesto declares there is no God, public schools must not be humanist. But neither may they endorse any particular creed they must be deity neuter.
I agree that humanism should not be promoted in the public school systems, but the fact remains that it is the dominant worldview presented to children. If science in the public schools is restricted to teaching only naturalistic explanations for the origin and history of life on earth, then this is biased against any deistic religion, and therefore is promoting the humanist religion above any other religion that does not hold this philosophy1 (more on this in a moment).
Humanist groups are accepted as “religious” institutions on college campuses and are granted tax-exempt status by the government in the same way that churches and traditional religious denominations are. If schools must be “deity neutral,” then the public school system fails to meet this standard. Man is the measure of all things and becomes the de facto deity in the religion of humanism. So, if humanism is promoted in the classrooms, then the classrooms are not deity neutral.
There are other religious worldviews that do not believe in a distinct deity—Buddhism and Taoism are two examples—but the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that these worldviews should be considered religions as is evident in the following statement:
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Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God, are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism (emphasis added), and others. (Torcaso vs Watkins, 81 S.Ct. 1681 (1961))
If we look at the Humanist Manifesto III, we see that three of the major tenets of the religion of humanism are:
- Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. Humanists find that science is the best method for determining this knowledge as well as for solving problems and developing beneficial technologies. We also recognize the value of new departures in thought, the arts, and inner experience—each subject to analysis by critical intelligence.
- Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.
- Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. Humanists ground values in human welfare shaped by human circumstances, interests, and concerns and extended to the global ecosystem and beyond. We are committed to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity, and to making informed choices in a context of freedom consonant with responsibility.1
If science in the public schools is based on the idea that “[k]nowledge is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational [read: “without supernaturalism”] analysis,” then, again, it is promoting the humanist religion above any other religion that does not hold this philosophy.1
If science teachers in the public schools are only allowed to teach that “humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change,” then it is promoting the humanist religion above any other religion that does not hold this philosophy.
If the public school system is teaching that “ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience” (as is evident in the teaching of situational ethics and the absence of any absolute truth), then it is promoting the humanist religion above any other religion that does not hold this philosophy (see a pattern?).
Since all of the above conditions can be shown to be true, then the public school systems are promoting the religion of secular humanism, an atheistic religion, above all other views, cleverly and deceptively worded as “science,” while other religions are relegated to “humanities” or “religious studies.”
The problem that we face is related to the myth of neutrality—every system of thought must begin with a set of assumptions and is, therefore, not neutral. The public school systems cannot be neutral on the issue of the origin and history of life on earth. They are choosing to teach one view at the exclusion of others, not exactly neutral.
Public schools, since they are supported by mandatory taxation, must not teach any religious viewpoint (including atheism)
But the fact is that they do promote atheistic, humanistic philosophies as I have detailed above!
The irony is that the most outspoken proponents of removing religion from the public schools are those who place their faith in the humanist religion. They claim that they are trying to achieve the “separation of church and state” (a phrase and concept absent from the U.S. Constitution or its amendments), while they are instilling their religious values in the students attending public schools.
would you like it if your children were taught to reverence Vishnu?
No, I would not like it if my children were taught that Vishnu, Brahman, autonomous human reasoning, Zeus, or any other false god should be reverenced. There is only one true God who has revealed Himself to mankind in the Bible. To teach my children to reverence any other false god would be to violate the first and second of the Ten Commandments. But if my children were in public schools, they would be taught to reverence autonomous man and human reasoning above God, and that is no different. Children in public schools are still being taught to worship “a god made in man’s image”—an idol in the eyes of the one, true living God.
Biblically, I am required to teach my children that some other people worship false gods, and that act of worship goes against the clear teaching of the Bible (Proverbs 22:6; Exodus 20:3–4; Psalm 40:4, 34:11). That is why I homeschool my children and why Ken Ham was encouraging Christian parents to think carefully and biblically about placing their children in a “temple of humanism.”
You say you want Creationism taught along with Evolution?
I am not sure where you got this idea, but Answers in Genesis does not promote the mandatory teaching of biblical creation in public schools. However, we do not agree that naturalistic evolution, a tenet of Secular Humanism, should be the only idea taught to explain the history of life on earth, particularly if even naturalistic inconsistencies with this position are also censored. For a more thorough discussion of this please see the article Misrepresented (Sigh) Time and Time Again, which explains our position in more detail.
It would be unwise for a Christian to expect a teacher trained by the humanistic, evolutionary university system to present creation in a respectable fashion anyway. As I was being trained to be a science teacher in two different state universities, I was taught everything from an antibiblical psychological, humanistic, and evolutionary perspective. At that time I was an atheist myself, and I embraced the philosophies. I believed that human reasoning was the absolute source of truth—and I was trained to teach my students that view. Now that I am a Christian, I rely on the Bible for authority in every area of my life, and as I look back, I realize that in an atheistic view, there was no such thing as absolute truth anyway.
The relatively new, purely naturalistic view is not the only view of the history of life on earth. As mentioned in the article you are responding to, there is no valid reason that science should be arbitrarily limited to only naturalistic explanations. If science is to be based solely on those things that can be observed, tested, and verified by repeating the event, then neither the evolutionary origin of life from non-living matter nor any supernatural creation account should be taught in the science classroom.2 If public school systems are not going to allow views that are not observable and repeatable, then why accept the unscientific humanistic view that has the same problem? The only answer is that there is a bias toward the humanist religion in the “neutral” public school systems.
Fine, but whose Creation mythos Aztec, Greek, Norse, Hindu, etc ?
As I recall from my public school days, the mythology and religious views of the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians were taught in great detail. In fact, one of the most memorable social studies units of my youth was a detailed description of the Egyptian culture and religious views. Why can public schools teach these religious ideas openly but may face the threat of lawsuits if the name of Christ is even mentioned with respect to a major religious holiday? But the question still remains: Why does the humanistic evolutionary myth get free reign in the classroom, particularly in the sciences? Religion is taught in schools—just not the Christian religion!
Yes, science means knowledge but knowledge is achieved only through observation and reasoning never revelation.
How can you be so emphatic? To say that a transcendent God cannot communicate with man (revelation) means you are claiming powers of transcendence (an attribute of God). To make this claim you are claiming to know every single thought and conversation, whether in thoughts, dreams, or aloud, of every single person who has ever lived to say God never communicated with them, which is omnipresence and omnipotence (attributes of God). This sort of statement reveals a humanistic reasoning: that people are seen as the final authority—“as gods” themselves.
Furthermore, you may make this claim, as was made in the Humanist Manifesto III mentioned above, but on what grounds do you make it? This is an arbitrary definition and is based on the religious beliefs of humanism at this point in history. What does it mean to reason if your brain is the product of random, unguided interactions of matter and energy? How can you trust such reasoning? If the universe exists as the result of random, unguided processes then why should we expect to find order in it? Why should natural laws be consistent if they are the result of random processes?
As I view the world from a biblical perspective, I have a reason to believe in reasoning. The God of the Bible is a God of order, and He has created the universe in a logical way. Even the great scientists of the past based their work on this belief. Kepler said that science was an act of “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” He obviously believed in a Creator that used logic and order in His creation. It is because God has made the world to operate in an orderly way that we can study the world and expect the natural laws to behave in a consistent way. Science is possible because of God, not in the absence of God.
On what basis do you make the claim that revelation never provides knowledge? With the Bible as my authority, I make the claim that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and that we could understand nothing if we had not been created in His image (Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 29, 2:5, 9:10, 15:33, etc.).
Revelation is not repeatable (on demand) and hence not subject to the scientific method.
Neither is the origin of life from unguided, evolutionary processes, nor rational thought, nor an emotion, nor the existence of logic, nor the origin of information, nor the formation of the first stars, nor Abraham Lincoln’s life, nor even your birth!
In order to be consistent in your thinking you must also claim that none of the items mentioned above are scientific. I think you fail to recognize the difference between operational science and historical science.
Even Scripture acknowledges that God is unknowable.
Where does the Bible say this? It says in Isaiah 55:8–9 that His ways are higher than our ways, but not that God is unknowable. In fact, Jesus, who is the Creator God says:
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me . . . .” (John 10:14)
“If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:7)
Romans 1:18–23 also make it clear that some attributes of the Creator can be known from His creation, so all are without excuse. Science can help us understand how the world works, but only when we look at the world from a biblical perspective. If you want to properly understand a 3-D picture, you have to look at it through the proper, colored lenses. If you want to understand the universe that was created by God, you have to look at it through the lens of Scripture.
The basis of scientific study is the presumed constancy of physical laws but since God is an entity and therefore capable of mercy, no analysis can predict His actions.
Once again I must ask how naturalistic science can explain the constancy of the laws of nature without using a circular argument. Yet there are many reasons to assume consistency with the God of the Bible (see God & Natural Law). We start with the Bible as our authority, so we have a basis for making our claim.
I am not sure how you conclude that because God is an entity that He must be capable of mercy. There is no logical reason that conclusion is necessary. I do agree with your conclusion, as it is consistent with the Bible, but you may not realize that you are borrowing from the Bible to make such a claim. God is described as a God of mercy, but He is also described as a God of wrath because He is a just God. How could we know mercy if we did not know wrath?
We can predict one future action of God because He has revealed it to us in the Bible. We can be certain that He will one day act as the just judge of everyone. This is because we are all guilty of sinning against our Creator by breaking His commandments—and because God is a just judge, He must punish sin. I know that I am guilty of sinning against a perfectly holy and eternal God and that I deserve to spend an eternity paying that fine. I recognize God’s wrath, but I also recognize His mercy—both described in the Bible.
In God’s mercy He has made a way that we can have our penalty for sin placed on the account of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus came to the earth and lived a perfect, sinless life, died on the Cross, was buried, and rose again on the third day. If anyone will receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through repentance and faith, God’s wrath will be turned away from them, and they can receive His mercy. If they do not, then God’s justice demands their punishment. So, the biggest question is not whether we should teach creation in public schools or if nature follows certain patterns, but where we will spend eternity.
How about you? If God judges you, as the Bible tells us He will, will you have the innocence that only Christ can give you or your own guilt? I would ask that you seriously consider that question above all of the other things mentioned. We can debate the merits of social systems and scientific understanding, but where we will spend eternity is much more important than any of those things.
Grace and Peace,