Why Some Christian Schools Are Teaching Evolution
One of the reasons Jim Klima sent his son to Front Range Christian School (FRCS) in Littleton, Colorado, is that he knew the school taught that God created the earth in six days. After his son attended a symposium offered by the school where a proponent of evolution explained his views to students, Klima attended a follow-up session later that evening. “We had an interesting discussion over dinner,” he laughed. Why would a Christian school that holds to a young-earth creationist point-of-view invite an evolutionist to address its students? “It’s foundational to who we are,” explained FRCS head of school, David Cooper. “Yes, we’re a young-earth creationist school, but if we’re going create Christian scholars who will be respected and heard, they’ve got to be able to engage in the scientific dialogue with meaningful knowledge. At the same time, we also want our students to learn how to discuss sensitive issues in a way that honors Christ.” To that end, FRCS partnered with us at The Colossian Forum and offered a day-long Symposium on Origins featuring two scientists: Dr. Todd Wood, a young-earth creationist and Dr. Darrel Falk, who believes God used evolution to create the earth. “We want our community to be able to speak their convictions with boldness and courage, but also be able to hold love as part of the process too,” Kevin Taylor, director of the school’s Veritas et Caritas Institute and a Spanish teacher said. “When the world looks at the church, I’d like them to see it appealing because we behave virtuously and civilly in a world so polarized.” Why Teach Evolution? Many Christian schools embrace young-earth creationism, likely for the same reason as Klima: they want an alternative to the evolution that is being taught in public schools. However, when those Christian-school students graduate and head off to college—even to some Christian colleges—they are expected to have at least a rudimentary understanding of evolution. Christian colleges such as Calvin College, Taylor University, Spring Arbor University, Seattle Pacific University, Point Loma Nazarene University, Samford University, and others generally teach from an evolutionary perspective in their science departments, as do virtually all non-religious affiliated colleges and universities. Introducing evolution to Christian-school students is not without its challenges. Head of school Cooper acknowledges resistance from some parents. “We ask them to be patient, to trust us, but I know it’s difficult for some,” he said. Teachers also approach it with mixed feelings. Leslie Bloomquist, who teaches advanced placement biology at FRCS, covers a large unit on evolution with her ninth-graders. “If I didn’t, my students would have a very hard time taking their standardized tests required by the state because there’s just so much evolution on those tests. But I don’t feel real comfortable teaching it.” Though not every state includes questions about evolution on their mandatory student assessments, an increasing number do. In a 2005 questionnaire sent by Education Week to twenty-two states, seventeen reported at least one question on their tests specifically mentioned evolution—some tests had as many as seven questions about evolution. How Do We Have This Conversation? At the FRCS symposium, approximately 250 middle and high-school students listened to Wood and Falk explain their views on origins and then question each other. Students also met in small groups to share their own thoughts on science and faith and interact with the scientists. “There’s definitely disagreement on this topic among the students here,” eleventh-grader Carissa Van Donselaar explained. “This event has helped us learn how to talk about our opinions without fighting each other, and that’s so important because the image that non-believers have of Christians is that we’re always fighting over something.” Both Wood and Falk have been meeting privately for the past three years with The Colossian Forum, putting to test the ministry’s belief that “all things hold together in Christ.” Both believe the other is not only wrong, but harming the church as they promote their respective views of origins. “Todd believes my views could lead students away from faith, while I believe the young-earth creationist view makes it easy for scientists to dismiss the Christian faith altogether, and we really need a Christian presence in the larger scientific community,” Falk explained. “It has not always been easy because, in a way, Darrel Falk is a mortal enemy of creationism,” noted Wood. “In fact, sometimes our discussion gets quite heated, but we’ve been able to have these difficult conversations and still remain friends.” Both credit TCF for providing a God-honoring process for dealing with conflict. “Our role is simply to remind them what they already believe, which is that the gospel is relevant and powerful—especially where there’s conflict,” Michael Gulker, president of TCF, said. “Rather than being a threat to the faith, conflict actually gives us an opportunity to let the gospel work in us and in our culture in ways the culture can no longer imagine. In doing so, we have the opportunity to witness to the reconciling power of the Prince of Peace. It’s great to be able to show the next generation of Christians that it’s possible to contend for what you believe in a way that honors Christ.” How Can We Utilize These Resources? teachFASTly.com is a faith and science teaching resource curated by TCF and Kuyers Institute. Faith and Science Teaching (FAST) helps equip high school teachers to engage big questions around faith and science with confidence and creativity. FAST aims to use the way young people consider these big questions as occasions to press into Christian virtue. The teachFASTly.com site is filled with a large collection of teaching activities, training materials, background essays, book reviews, and more. Where faith and science are so often seen as a source of conflict, FAST creates a space in which teachers and students are invited to engage them as a fruitful opportunity to learn and grow. FAST explores hard questions with integrity, encouraging the very best teaching practices within the context of Christian faithfulness. We hope teachFASTly is a great asset to teach science well in a Christian context.