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How should the creationist student behave when being taught evolution?
This pertains to a problem that should be addressed by AIG if it hasn't been already: How high school students can respond to science questions that necessitate an answer based on evolution.
In high school science courses such as biology and earth science, whether classroom assignments, tests, or even school assessment tests, the students are taught and must respond to questions such as; how does natural selection play a role in the evolution of species, or why one extinct species of an animal such as a dinosaur can be found on two continents. The evolutionists demand answers such as a discussion of the peppered moth, Darwin's finches, giraffes and turtles growing long necks to reach high food; and how Pangea explains the fossil finds. Only answers based on evolution are acceptable. The (small) percentage of students who brave a creationist based answer cannot be given credit even though they are correct.
These students need to be given guidance on how to pass these “science” courses while still keeping their faith and expressing their beliefs too. It would be a tremendous benefit to students if AIG would see that the proper material was made available in this area along with all their other books and media.
Thank you for writing in. Yours is an interesting question that many Christians have no doubt faced: how should the creationist student behave when being taught evolution?
One example of how not to respond is the way I handled such teaching as a junior high student. In one class, we were taught about anthropology and the archaeology of the area—dating back tens of thousands of years ago. As a way of “taking a stand” for God’s Word, my best friend and I both intentionally answered such questions “incorrectly” on our next test, earning us grades well below what we normally received.
Looking back, I realize there were two main problems with my approach. First, answering test questions incorrectly did nothing to show my peers that I did not accept millions of years—I did not actually “give a defense” of Christianity (1 Peter 3:15). Second, I did not demonstrate to my teacher that I was actually educated about the issue. While he perhaps guessed (based on my coursework the rest of the year) that my poor performance was intentional, I never bothered discussing the issue with him.
Another example came years later, in college, when I took a course on evolution. This time I only committed one of my two earlier mistakes. The good news is that I was vocal in my course, doing my best to challenge the one-sided, Darwinian interpretations of the facts given and arguing as a creationist when our class debated the history of life. The bad news is that I became frustrated with the course as a whole (convinced that I was hearing only biased dogma, not real science), and consequently stopped attending midway through the term. My grades suffered appropriately, and I barely passed the course.
In this case, my peers and teachers (the course had three) certainly knew I was a creationist. But my guess is that in their eyes (based on my performance on tests), I really did not understand the science underlying evolutionary views. Perhaps I helped further stereotypes they may have held about creationists not understanding science or being poor thinkers.
These two examples suggest what creationists should not do in class: intentionally answering questions incorrectly without explaining why, or vocally defending creation but failing to demonstrate understanding of a topic. This brings us back to the question of what creationist students should do.
The first point of education is for students to learn. Although that sounds obvious, it can be an important reminder for creationists in a science class. If the student fails to understand what he has been taught—or if he fails to demonstrate that he knows and understands the course material—then the teacher as well as other students are less likely to listen closely to the creationist’s views, and the creationist is more likely to lose credibility by making comments that show a mistaken understanding of evolution. Furthermore, learning is, in a sense, a student’s temporary vocation, and as such Christians students should seek to do their best (Colossians 3:23–24).
Something else I wish I understood earlier is that answering test questions in accordance with what you have been taught is not necessarily a case of bearing false witness. As Dr. Jason Lisle writes in Surviving Secular College:
Tests and homework assignments are also not the appropriate forum for discussion of origins. Students should put the answer that they have been taught in class. So, for example, if the question is on the age of the earth and the professor has taught that this is 4.5 billion years, then this is how the student should answer on the test. Tests and homework assignments are about showing that the student understands what has been taught; they are not about testing what the student believes to be true.
Such an approach will demonstrate to the teacher (and perhaps other students) that the student understands the course material, regardless of whether the student ever has an opportunity to express a belief in creation. Furthermore, if the student aims to continue studying science (such as seeking a PhD in biology), it is necessary that the student performs adequately and understands widely held scientific ideas, even if they are ultimately unbiblical.
In addition to the key responsibility of a student (i.e., learning and understanding), a Christian student has two more additional responsibilities. First, he should be prepared to give a defense of the faith to anyone who should ask, and with the right attitude—gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15). (Note that this verse only requires a defense of the faith when the individual is asked.)
Thus, the student—while remaining ready—need not, for example, attack evolutionary concepts every time they are mentioned in class, or bring up creation models at irrelevant points in class lectures.
On the other hand, if the teacher asks if any student can defend the creation account or the biblical worldview, the Christian student should be prepared to give an honest, appropriate answer (and let the Holy Spirit do the actual “convincing”).
The second responsibility is complementary: the Christian student should never lie his way into avoiding controversy over evolution (Proverbs 12:22). While tests and assignments are usually simply exercises to demonstrate understanding of course material, suppose a teacher asks students to write an essay on their personal belief about the origin of life (i.e., not a report on what others believe). In this case, a (creationist) Christian would be lying by writing an essay on “Why I Am an Evolutionist,” desecrating the evangelistic opportunity he has to stand on God’s Word.
Of course, these two complementary goals, taken together with goal #1 above, cannot constitute a perfect guide to every possible situation in science class. Students may frequently have to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit for discernment when it comes to whether to (for instance) respond to a particular pro-evolution point made by the teacher. Similarly, parents and even youth pastors can be consulted if the student is struggling with how to respond to an open-ended essay question, what topic to choose for a report on origins, etc.
One strategy toward harmonizing the goals presented above is to remember Christ’s command in Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” While remaining innocent (i.e., not failing to defend the faith or bearing false witness), creationists should yet be shrewd, realizing that being a creationist can lead one to be expelled from a PhD program, for instance. Dr. Lisle writes:
I would recommend that students of science use discretion when talking about creation. Specifically, they should not (in most circumstances) let their professors know that they believe in creation if at all possible. This does not mean that they should lie; rather, it means that they should not volunteer that information.
The reason for this is that some science professors are so emotionally against creation that they will not be fair with a creationist student: not assigning a fair grade, not giving them a good letter of recommendation, etc., no matter how deserving the student may be. There are documented cases of people being expelled for expressing a belief in biblical creation. This is particularly the case for students studying for a PhD in biology, geology, or astronomy.
Again, this does not mean a student should lie or resist a genuine opportunity for evangelism (i.e., if a teacher or peer sincerely asks questions about Christianity). Regarding university-level education, Lisle adds, citing Ecclesiastes 3:1, “In most situations, the classroom just isn’t the right time and place for origins discussions; rather it is a time for the students to learn. There are plenty of opportunities for students to share their faith off campus—or even on campus (with discretion).”
To avoid any shadow of lying, when answering open-ended questions in class, on assignments, or on tests, the student may consider couching the answer, as in, “The textbook describes the earth as being 4.5 billion years old.” This allows the student to demonstrate that he has mastered the material without agreeing with the false information presented.
That all said, sometimes there are legitimate opportunities for creationist students to speak up, and students should make the most of those opportunities (Colossians 4:5). For example, in the course on evolution I mentioned above, the professors actively asked us to debate origins among ourselves (with limited intervention on their part). And in primary and secondary schooling (by contrast with college education) the risk of being failed for expressing belief in creation is not applicable; students have much greater leeway to speak out boldly for what they believe.
In such cases, I recommend variations on the “don’t answer/answer” strategy, taught by Proverbs 26:4–5 and explained by Ken Ham in “Don’t Answer—Do Answer!” Ham writes:
[F]irst you show the non-Christian [according to verse 4] that you will not argue according to someone else’s presuppositions. Rather, you use the biblical foundation of history to interpret evidence, confirming this with real science.
Then you need to proceed by applying verse 5—i.e., answering an opponent by showing the logical consequences of his “folly” (non-biblical presuppositions).
Thus, the Bible teaches that the Christian can provide two answers: the true answer (based on biblical presuppositions) and a false answer (based on unbiblical presuppositions). In this way, the student can demonstrate to the teacher and to fellow students that he does, indeed, understand the unbiblical position and the correct answer within that worldview. But he does not relinquish the truth nor waste a legitimate opportunity to present and defend the faith, including the creation model. (Again, I emphasize that this technique may only be appropriate in certain contexts.)
At all times, Christians must remember that we can never save others or convict them of the reality of God’s Word through arguments. Those responsibilities are the Holy Spirit’s (John 16:8). We should also remember that, within the specific instructions and constraints given in Scripture, there is a gray area where individual discernment comes into play. The goals and strategies presented above should be seen (except for the verses) as rough, general guidelines.
Additionally, remember that the origins debate is not, by itself, a form of evangelism, even though showing how the truth of creation offers the foundation for the gospel can be a powerful evangelism technique. For students, the classroom is first and foremost an opportunity to glorify God by being a good student: doing one’s best to learn and to demonstrate learning honestly, even while abiding by God’s commands. If a student follows that principle, the opportunities for evangelism will come. Asking good questions at the appropriate times may lead to opportunities to share Christ with others.
To ensure that students have access to biblical understandings of origins, we offer a range of materials on this site and through books designed just for students. For junior high and high schoolers in particular, I strongly recommend our two editions of Evolution Exposed, which responds to the most popular secular origins textbooks point-by-point. See the biology edition (also available online) and the earth science edition. Plus, the introductions to these books deal with specific strategies for responding to different classroom situations in a Christ-honoring manner.
Adults can be a big help, too, by purchasing and distributing heavily discounted copies of these books to students they know (for example, to members of the youth group at their church and other local churches).
We also have an entire section devoted to education on our website. It includes many helpful articles, such as one on writing a report on the creation/evolution controversy. Also, our expansive Answers section links to a whole range of creation- and Bible-upholding articles. (Younger students may be most interested in material from Kids Answers, older students—especially those pursuing a college degree in a scientific field—will want to review articles from Answers in Depth and the Answers Research Journal.)
As a final reminder, parents should be involved in their children’s education—even if they are attending a Christian school. Parents can prayerfully advise their children on how to handle science classes—especially if a teacher is particularly dismissive of Genesis or unprofessional toward creationists. It is important that students do not violate their conscience as they seek to glorify God in the classroom. (For more on this topic, see also “School: A Battleground?” and “Do Christian students have any rights in public schools?”)
A. P. Galling
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.