The battle of the books rages on, and we’re losing

The battle of the books rages on, and we're losing (image source: tressugar.com).

As I’ve noted before, I believe young-earth creationism’s stranglehold on the American church is weakening. We see signs of it everywhere, from the United Methodist Church’s stonewalling of three anti-evolution petitions during its annual meeting last month to the recent or planned conferences promoting mainstream science hosted by Baptist and Assemblies of God congregations (neither of which are exactly considered bastions of liberal theology by anyone outside the likes of Answers in Genesis and Westboro). Speaking of AiG, even our friends there have seen their Noah’s ark fundraising campaign stall and their other support dry up to such an extent that they were forced to install a zip line course in a desperate effort to attract new visitors (we imagine they strictly prohibit zip line riders from pretending to be jungle apes).

So yes, the tide is turning. But I’ll be darned if it isn’t turning slower than…well, than genetic drift.

Back in April, I wrote about encouraging reports in The Atlantic and Christianity Today on the increasing requests Christian publishers are receiving from homeschooling evangelical families for materials that teach evolution and other mainstream scientific concepts (and when I say “teach,” I don’t mean “cast as a pathetic straw man that can then be immediately steamrollered by THE TRUTH OF GOD’S WORD.”)

I thought the stories were cool, because they showed that even the populations that were once the YEC groups’ bread and butter are beginning to sour to their unique brand of scientific falsehoods and passive aggressive attacks on anyone who disagrees with them. But, I’ll be honest: I personally didn’t really see the need for such materials. In my mind, it seemed like Christian educators who have no problem teaching evolution should also have no problem with mainstream biology textbooks.

That was before I received the following letter from one of our readers, who wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons:

This may be a bit grandiose, but I thank God for your website (along with BioLogos and a few others). I am a Ph.D. holder in biology, a parent and a science professor at the university level. There are times when I feel like my head might explode when I hear over and over the same, tired arguments from friends, family and total strangers (fortunately, not from my fellow faculty).

Even worse are the truly horrible comments my daughter gets from people at school (we live in an overwhelmingly conservative area) — even from the parents of her friends (one of whom sent her home in tears after she told her that “believing in evolution is a one-way ticket to hell”).

I have a long-ranging and far-reaching request. I long for excellent Christian education resource material, for different age groups and different settings (both school and church), that teaches excellent science without neglecting a Christian message. Currently (with the exception of Kenneth Miller’s text that I’ve used before), there are few books that do both. They are either from a YEC perspective or they have some mocking reference to religion buried somewhere (and believe me, students zero in on that one reference and reject the entire text based on it).

Now, I don’t know that all secular science textbooks really contain a mocking reference of religion as described by this reader, but I have to admit she has more experience in the matter than I do. And even if the prevalence of the issue is exaggerated here, it’s not hard to see why even one such reference would make a Christian parent and educator uncomfortable.

Hearing this reader’s perspective, and revisiting the write-ups by The Atlantic and CT, made me ask, “Why?” If these types of resources are something more parents are asking for, and something that well-funded organizations like BioLogos and well-connected groups like the American Scientific Affiliation all seem to agree is needed, then why don’t they exist?

I reached out to Douglas Hayworth, the ASA’s coordinator of homeschool science resources, for some answers. Hayworth is a homeschooling parent himself, and he was quoted in the aforementioned Christianity Today piece.

Hayworth’s response? Money talks. Yes, the market is there, he said, but it’s still not all that big, and publishing an entire science curriculum is a huge and expensive undertaking.

“I think there is agreement among all ASA/BioLogos-minded people that such a curriculum should exist and that there would eventually be market for it,” he wrote in an email. “It’s just that neither organization is really in the curriculum publication business; that kind of project and commitment goes beyond what either organization is about.”

I get where he’s coming from. It makes perfect sense. Then again, despite its own funding issues, AiG continues to release new resources that are often aimed directly at children — all of which are slick, colorful, attractive and underlain by shallow, misleading or just-plain-wrong scientific precepts that teach them nothing about God’s created world.

Even the good folks over at the Disco Tute haven’t let the perceived challenges stand in their way; they published a new textbook in May that they still haven’t shut up about. The book has already been criticized for quote-mining and scientific inaccuracy, but I have no doubt it will sell. It will be readily consumed by the hardcore anti-evolutionist crowd, of course (its target audience), but unfortunately, it will also be bought and used by even those homeschooling parents, private-school teachers and religious leaders who might otherwise be open to the scientific theory of evolution, because there simply aren’t good alternatives.

If we Christians who are uncowed by the findings of modern science are serious about winning the war against misinformation and fear-mongering, then we need to show it. Projects like this are good, but they’re not enough. The battle of the books is an important one, and we’re losing badly. We need to do better. And I believe we can.

Update: Douglas Hayworth recently wrote about this topic more in-depth on his blog. You can check out his thoughts here.

Tyler Francke

  • Race Hochdorf

    Christian Schools International is starting to produce science books that are in accordance with mainstream science, if there are any parents on here that are interested. So far they are the only company I know of. http://www.csionline.org/home

  • Nick Gotts

    Now, I don’t know that all secular science textbooks really contain a
    mocking reference of religion as described by this reader, but I have to
    admit she has more experience in the matter than I do

    Assuming your correspondent is right, surely the sensible course of action is to contact the authors, editors and publishers of such scientific textbooks and point out the offending references, which certainly shouldn’t be there in a science textbook, particularly one aimed at children? If necessary organize a letter-writing campaign. Textbooks tend to be revised frequently, and neither authors nor publishers have an interest in alienating parts of a potential market, so there would be a good chance of success. The whole idea of a Christian series of science textbooks for children (or an atheist one, a Hindu one, a pagan one, etc.) is appalling.

    • Hey Nick, good to hear from you! Personally, I mostly agree with you. Even as a Christian, I can’t say that I think the mention of God (either his existence or nonexistence) belongs in a science textbook aimed at children, regardless of who’s writing the thing or what their beliefs are. I would hope that any textbook produced by the organizations mentioned here would simply teach honest science, explained as plainly and thoroughly as is appropriate for the intended audience, with the only additional benefit for Christian parents being that they can trust it does not also contain disparaging remarks toward religion or any other philosophy or worldview.

  • “In my mind, it seemed like Christian educators who have no problem teaching evolution should also have no problem with mainstream biology textbooks.”

    I have no problem with teaching science from a mainstream source. The challenge is that these books are generally geared for use in a school setting and are not always easy to use in a homeschool setting.