Teaching science in faith schools

teaching classIt’s easy to think that the current attack on science in the USA is a peculiarly American phenomenon – that it doesn’t, or wouldn’t, occur here in New Zealand. After all, a poll (UMR Research Survey: Morality, Religion and Evolution) last year showed 75% of New Zealanders support evolution.

So one expects that we shouldn’t have the same problem teaching evolution in our schools as occurs in the USA. But what about the faith schools? The data in the UMR research Poll indicates that between 40 and 50% of New Zealand’s Christians actually reject evolutionary science. So how does this influence the teaching of evolution, and science in general, in New Zealand’s faith schools?

This issue has come up in Australia. Maralyn Parker, a journalist for the Sydney Daily Telegraph raises this issue in her blog article Teaching Science at Pacific Hills Christian School. This includes a letter to the NSW Board of Studies expressing concern at the way evolutionary science is taught in at least one Christian school. The letter arose from the depiction of a science lesson at this school in a documentary “In Good Faith” shown on SBS television on Tuesday May 19.

The writer, Chris Bonner, says in part:

‘In the video clip the teacher is referring to a chart “Origins – a spectrum of belief”. This spectrum includes:

Young Earth Creationist

Old earth Creationist

Theistic Evolutionist

Intelligent Design

And Atheistic Evolutionist

In the video clip the science teacher variously refers to evolution as “this view” and that we have “a whole range of positions” on where we come from. The “atheistic evolutionists” exist on the spectrum as just another belief. The teacher throws in Richard Dawkins as one of these types of “believers”.

“But”, the teacher goes on, “there is a whole range of other ways of considering the evidence”, going on to cite the bible, intelligent design and so on.

The teacher then throws to the students the idea that they can decide between these “beliefs”.

We want to “allow you to ask the right questions”, he says, to “allow you to think about what the world is showing you” and (more pointedly) “what God’s revelation through his scripture shows you, so that you can come to some clear understanding about your view”.

The viewer of this clip is left wondering what credence, in the classroom and in formal assessment, would be given to the views of students who do not take “God’s revelation” into account when developing their “clear understanding”.’

This sort of teaching is completely inappropriate for a science class. It presents an incorrect interpretation of evolutionary science and the scientific method in general. I can’t imagine that it conforms to the educational curriculum and it certainly denies students a proper preparation for further science education and a possible science-related career.

I wonder if this sort of teaching is occurring in New Zealand’s faith schools?

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See also:
I am a Christian who Believes in Theistic Evolution

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4 responses to “Teaching science in faith schools

  1. I think it comes down to a fundamental lack of understanding of what ‘science’ is and what kinds of things can be taught under the topic of science. There’s a place for discussing some of these alternative explanations for the origins and mechanisms of life but that would be in religious or social studies or some other as-yet-undefined curriculum.

    It’s only relatively recently that I’ve really learned for myself what the scientific method is and some of the ways in which we can use observational evidence to unlock the way the universe works. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t taught in science (but I didn’t listen very well so maybe they did) and am encouraged by the recent additions of critical thinking and a sense of cultural perspective to the NZ school curriculum.

    I don’t know how this will pan out in reality but on the face of it it seems encouraging and will hopefully help to inoculate future generations of children against bad ways of thinking. Are there any teachers reading this who know how this is going?

  2. Just did a post that could possibly relate to this :)

  3. Great minds and all that.

    Like your post (Christianity vs Evolution – A False Debate for those who want to follow the discussion there).

  4. Pingback: Your taxes, hard at work . . . « Five Public Opinions

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