Faith-based attacks on religious schools

Secularists bash Christian education as being ‘faith-based’, but their attacks are just that, i.e. grounded in their own ‘faith’—atheism.



‘So what is a faith-based education and what happens if religion collides with the curriculum?’ This question was the subject of the May 27th broadcast of Insight (see online transcript). One might be happy that independent faith-based education is thriving as an alternative to public education. But both the interviewer and participants on this program were suspicious and even hostile towards the success of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic private schools.

Evolution v Christian curriculum

Unsurprisingly, evolution surfaced nearly immediately as the major point of conflict between secular and religious education. The program featured a video clip of a teacher at a Christian school telling his students about the whole spectrum of views from those of Richard Dawkins to young-earth creationism, teaching tolerance toward other views and encouraging his students to ask questions and look for answers in the world around them as well as in the Bible. The principle of that same school said, ‘Our students need to know about the theory of evolution because it is the predominant viewpoint in society as far as academics is concerned.’

When students in religious schools were asked to comment, a Muslim student said that while creationism was taught in religion classes, it was absent from science classes. One Jewish student remarked that though she believed in creationism, she was confused about the conflicts between the Bible and evolution, and said, ‘There’s no actual proof that God created the earth.’

The way the ‘experts’ for each side were portrayed and the airtime they were given was significant. The main ‘expert’ for the religious schools was principal Ted Boyce, who argued quite reasonably for letting students know all the viewpoints and make up their own minds based on the evidence. He said of his school: ‘We believe that God needs to be considered by our students in everything, for He is their creator, their sustainer, the one who gave them their intellect and the one that we believe, as a Christian school, that they are to serve.’ The interviewer went on to ask one student how she included God in maths, which led to laughter across the room when the student admitted being confused as to how God fit in maths. The point was clear, especially in the video version: The principle of including God in every subject was ludicrous. Stephen O’Doherty, the head of Christian Schools Australia, was also prominently featured in the show, where he unfortunately interrupted the interviewer several times, understandably annoyed at the way his comments were being spun by the interviewer. Those on the side of religious education, especially Christian education, were portrayed as being anti-intellectual.

The ‘experts’ for the secular education system played to the stereotype that religious education is in some way sub-standard. But later in the program, the accreditation process for religious schools was discussed, and those representing religious schools were as against sub-standard religious education as the secular education advocates were. When asked, ‘If kids at faith-based schools are studying evolution as part of the curriculum, what’s wrong with including their religious beliefs about creation as well, what’s wrong with emphasising those religious beliefs?’ Professor Stephen Law replied:

Well, emphasising religious beliefs in a science class is fundamentally wrong because it’s bad science. Really, all of the evolutionary point—sorry, all of the creationist point of views [sic], from our young earth creationism through to intelligent design, really start with the answer. The answer for them is always—comes back to God and comes back to a creator and a special act of creation that adds meaning to life.
Whereas evolutionary biology is a scientific process and it’s about finding out how the world works. And in science we try to find out how the world works without knowing what the answer is beforehand. We wouldn’t want students in class choosing their theory of how the atom works or the chemistry of water or all sorts of really important things. Medicine, how medicines work, for instance, and it’s the same thing with biology.

Getting rid of religion, or replacing one with another?

However, both creation and evolution are built on fundamental assumptions. Young-earth creationists do not deny having a starting point of Scripture and interpreting any scientific evidence in that framework. But evolutionists have a starting point too; their materialist assumption that miracles are impossible and that all phenomena must be explainable through natural processes forces them to interpret facts in a certain way. So both sides have biases; evolutionists just normally fail to acknowledge theirs. Origins science, trying to figure out how things happened in the past, is completely different from operational science, which is testable and repeatable. No one can test fish turning into tetrapods, or duplicate the big bang to see if these evolutionary hypotheses hold true.

In fact, although these attacks are ostensibly against bringing ‘religion’ into public schools, evolutionary philosopher Michael Ruse agrees that evolution is a religion, so shouldn’t we be excluding this from government schools too? It’s notable that Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman (1912–2006), despite being agnostic himself, stated in What’s Wrong with Our Schools?:

‘Public schools teach religion too, not a formal, theistic religion, but a set of values and beliefs that constitute a religion in all but name. The present arrangements abridge the religious freedom of parents who do not accept the religion taught by the public schools yet are forced to pay to have their children indoctrinated with it, and to pay still more to have their children escape indoctrination.’

High quality Christian and homeschools

Also, Law’s argument is disingenuous. Science-savvy and biblically-based Christian schools (and Christian homeschoolers) teach real (operational) science like chemistry and physics; they merely object to a materialistic philosophy of history masquerading as science.

Indeed, Emmanuel College in Gateshead, Britain, has an outstanding academic record and glowing reports from education standards inspectors. Yet leading misotheist Richard Dawkins still criticizes it—but not really because it teaches science badly, but doesn’t teach atheism or its pseudo-intellectual crutch, goo-to-you evolution.

Similarly, the average American homeschooled student outperformed his public school peers by 30 to 37 percentile points across all subjects, and scored higher on the standard ACT and SAT tests. So likewise, the objections to homeschooling on the grounds of poor education are specious; the real reason is that Christian homeschooled children can escape the atheistic indoctrination.

Stephen Law sought to clarify:

‘Well, I’d like to make it clear right at the beginning that I’m not an objector to faith schools as such, I don’t have a problem with religious schools. I do have a concern about the kind of teaching that goes on in at least some of them. … Intelligent design is not a theory which is taken seriously in mainstream scientific circles, and young earth creationism—the view that the entire universe is just 6,000 years old—is frankly ridiculous. And for a science teacher to be presenting that theory in a science class as something which merits their respect and indeed merits serious scientific scrutiny and attention is very much a concern.’

In other words, he has no objection to religious schools as long as they teach just like their secular counterparts! A Rabbi representing a Jewish school identified the issue as ‘the right of parents to choose a school which conveys the values that those parents want conveyed to their children with the opportunity for children to accept or to reject, but at least to have those values presented to them … ’

However, an opponent of faith-based schools argued that ‘[a]ll of us have an investment in these children’. He apparently meant that society’s investment in the children of the next generation overrides the parents’ right to choose an education that is in line with their beliefs.

A comment coming from a Hindu woman whose son is in public school was revealing; she would have preferred any value system being taught in the public schools ‘whether it was basic philosophy or a spirituality or a discipline, something that should be inculcated in our young minds while we have that window of opportunity … and it is a concern as a parent that our public school education doesn’t inculcate some of those fundamental moral issues.’

Government schools v parental authority

There have been attacks internationally on the rights of parents to choose an education for their children that is in line with their beliefs. One example is Germany, where authorities took five homeschooled children away from their family for over eight months. (In Germany, homeschooling is illegal—it was one of Hitler’s first policies when he came to power, which has not been overturned.) Another example is a California decision, recently overturned, which barred parents without teaching credentials from homeschooling their children. Also, many activists in the United States oppose school vouchers, promoted by Friedman, which would give parents the ability to put their tax dollars towards the school of their choice, in most cases even a Christian school or homeschool, rather than subject them to the religion of the government schools.

As far back as 1925, G.K. Chesterton called compulsory education ‘the great paradox of the modern world. It is the fact that at the very time when the world decided that people should not be coerced about their form of religion, it also decided that they should be coerced about their education.’ The ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ mentality means that the child belongs not to the parents and the family, but to the community. Even the mentality behind the California ruling does not affirm the absolute right of the parents to oversee their own child’s education.

With secular schools becoming more and more hostile to traditional Christian belief, and Richard Dawkins even equating religious instruction of children with child abuse, Christian parents would be well-advised to consider Ron Gleason’s warning: ‘If you’re going to send your kids to Caesar, you’re going to get Romans back.’ Indeed, some evolutionists even justify teaching falsehoods to students as long as it convinces them that evolution is true, since they believe, ‘Education is a subversive activity that is implicitly in place in order to counter the prevailing … deeply conservative religious culture.’

What Christian parents should do

Christian parents who do send their children to public schools must be especially vigilant to prepare them to face the evolutionary propaganda they will receive at school, beginning almost as soon as they first enter the school doors. Creation magazine’s ‘Creation for kids’ section is a great way to begin to teach young children about creationism, as well as the children’s books that CMI offers. For older students, CMI’s books and web articles covering a vast range of topics are invaluable for refuting the evolutionary arguments they hear at school. See also our Homeschool Corner, which is for all parents not just homeschoolers.

Published: 17 September 2008