A couple of things have happened since I started thinking about writing this piece.
First came the announcement that Dr. Bruce K. Watke was resigning his position as a Professor of Theology at the Reformed Theological Seminary. In a video that was posted on the BioLogos Foundation website, Dr. Watke not only endorsed evolution but said that evangelical Christianity would face a crisis if it did not begin accepting science.
“If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.” (From “The Video That Ended a Career” – Inside Higher Ed)
Now, clearly this statement was at odds with the stated philosophy of the seminary and the resignation of Dr. Watke, though done and accepted reluctantly, was a foregone conclusion. No matter what the seminary may have wanted to do, there are too many others who would have wanted Dr. Watke’s head on a platter. But as I and others have noted before, the seminary was entirely correct in their actions. When you go to work for a particular organization, it is with an understanding that what you say and what you do are consistent with their viewpoint. (See “A Mind for Truth? (RJS)” for other comments on this issue)
If you go to work for an organization whose corporate culture or beliefs are counter to yours, you either sell out your soul or you bide your time until you can get another position. (I remember a friend who was opposed to the Viet Nam war but who ended up teaching in a military high school that required that he wear a uniform. I am not entirely sure how he dealt with that.)
But at the same time that Dr. Watke was announcing his resignation and the particular video was being pulled from the BioLogos web site, there was another announcement; one that brings into play the very idea that Dr. Watke warned the evangelical community about.
A new hominid fossil, Australopithecus sediba, was discovered in South Africa (see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/science/09fossil.html for details) and this drives home the point that we have to look at the world around us if we are to know who we are and where we are headed. As Dr. Watke pointed out, if we deny the reality of the physical world, we are denying the truth of God in this world and that ultimately means that we deny truth and we deny God.
If you believe as I do, you can see the Hand of God in the fossil records and the cosmology of the universe. The complexity of such geological history and the wonder of the stars demands an explanation, an explanation that goes beyond an equation where two protons are forced together under intense pressure and extremely high temperatures to form a helium atom and release an extremely large amount of energy. It is more than simply an explanation of the physical processes; it is an explanation of why we are here as well. What I see is a world in which God has challenged us to find Him and understand what He has done and is doing.
It seems to me that those who oppose the teaching of evolution do so out of fear. They fear that open thinking will lead to a loss of control, of being able to dictate what people can think and say. We have been created in God’s image; yet, it strikes me that those who seek to continue to control what is taught have made God in their image.
If we are to understand God and how we fit within the scheme of things, we must explore this world and this universe. We must ask questions, even if we are afraid of the answers. If we do not use our abilities to their fullest, as God would have us do, then we fail ourselves and God.
Yet, it seems to me that as we move into the 21st century, we are almost seeking to reverse the process begun in the Renaissance. I see people trying to reestablish the church as a dominant religious, moral and political authority while also trying to somehow deny the existence of both a Newtonian and Einsteinian view of the universe. I see people trying to form history and science in terms of their own views instead of letting the facts that are the very essence of history and science outline and shape their views. (See “Almost Spring”)
Education is supposed to be a learning process but we have turned it into a teaching process. Teaching is a one-way process, from the instructor to the student. Learning is an interactive process. If our students learn, they understand. We can teach them the right answer for a question on a test but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand what is being asked.
There is a natural desire to view the world from an Aristotelian viewpoint. If you ask any child if the sun moves or the earth moves, they will reply that it is the sun that is moving. There is nothing in their sphere of reference for them to suggest otherwise. The idea that the earth moves around the sun does not necessarily come from some statement in a text book but rather from an examination of the evidence that is offered.
The same can be said for the classical test of two objects falling from the same height. Even when shown the evidence that two objects fall at the same rate, many adults will tell you that the heavier object will fall faster than the lighter object (see “The Apollo 15 Hammer-Feather Drop”).
There is sufficient research information to tell us that our high school and our college graduates maintain this Aristotelian view of life, even when they can answer the questions on the test properly. And that is because we test for trivia, not understanding. If we introduce an idea as an item on a test but we do nothing to make sure that it is truly understood, then students can answer the question on the test but still not know anything about the question.
In the case of evolution, if we hold to a dogmatic interpretation of the world and we ignore the physical evidence, we run a greater risk than simply losing God in our lives. Now, it should not be the providence of the schools to teach ideas about God; I think that falls to the parents and the church. It is the providence of the schools to teach thinking. If in teaching thinking skills, a child comes to question the articles of faith, then the church must be able to offer reasonable and rational explanations, not merely demand compliance and obedience.
If we are to continue this journey into the 21st century, we have to be able to envision new things, not merely reinvent old ones. But our teaching process is more attuned to an assembly line process than a creative process.
We measure the success of our students, not in what they do later in life, but how they score on a standardized test one week after the material is presented. We are correct in demanding accountability in the schools but society’s fascination with the “sound bite” has corrupted the accountability that we demand. The only true measure of what a student has learned comes later in life and society is not willing to wait that long.
We have transformed what should be a creative and engaging experience into an assembly line where students are placed in molds and quality control is measured in terms of scores on countless standardized exams. Teachers are measured on their ability to deliver high scores, without concern for knowledge or ability to create new information.
In the end, we will have a generation of students (if we do not already) who know a lot of “things” but have little real knowledge. There is a world outside the walls of the classroom. Yet the rhetoric and actions of today tell us that our students (our children) have little knowledge about that world and that they have little interest in seeing what’s out there. In the end, we will have countered everything that has been done since the first Renaissance and possibly reversed a thousand years of development.