A few years back, I found myself in the midst of a conversation about the troubles with a Christian education. Specifically, the person was noting how much harm Christians are causing their children by teaching them things such as the earth being only 6,000 years old. The item to be inferred from these statements was that these kids are going to be set back from the rest of the world because of being taught such things.
As someone who was brought up in a fundamentalist Christian environment and didn’t attend a public institution until I was 23, I found myself getting a little riled up by this concept.
Not because of the idea that these kids might be being taught the wrong thing. I’m not willing to debate whether science or religion have it right. Mostly, because I don’t really care.
No, my issue was with the idea that I was any less prepared for the world because of what I was taught regarding its inception.
I’ll admit that I may not have a strong grasp on which period came first between the Jurassic and the Cretaceous. I’m pretty sure alligators and sharks have been around since before there were amoebas climbing out of the primordial ooze. And although I understand the concept of survival of the fittest bringing us to the species we have today, I really haven’t been able to grasp what causes the genetic changes which are required for an evolutionary change to come into place.
But has it set me back in any way?
Okay, so, maybe this isn’t being entirely fair. I don’t work within any sort of scientific field, so its relation to my day to day is going to be incredibly minimal. Jesus didn’t say anything about Excel spreadsheets, so my introduction to them was pretty much the same as anyone else’s.
Perhaps the idea in this person’s head was simply that there would be a huge knowledge gap for someone coming out of a private Christian-education institution who wanted to go into the fields of science. To make the case even stronger, I’ll focus on the biological sciences.
And as I sit here today and write this, I can’t help but wonder how much catch up would come into play here. Biology is primarily concerned with current biology, , unless they are specifically in the fields which look toward the history and future of biology.
Which means that, yes, I think that if a person were to go into the fields in which they were going to specifically study things such as the inception of the universe (which does cross many sciences lines, including geology, biology, and even physics), they could find themselves not having all of the information their non-fundamentalist Christian educated counterparts might have. Well, you know, until they get into college anyways.
But there’s a piece to consider here as well. Should someone be interested in going into those specific fields of study, they would have an interest in that specific field of study, meaning that they should probably have done some additional research outside of whatever might have been taught in their middle school or high school courses on the matter.
But of course, I’m not involved in the sciences at all, so I could be missing something really important. If someone were involved in studying DNA, there is a great likelihood that they would need to understand the history of DNA, instead of just knowing how it exists today. I’m not in the field, so I can’t say. (There were some very unintentional rhymes going on there…)
So, when musing on this today, I had to bring to my internal conversation the idea that there may be pieces of evolutionary science or other pieces of knowledge regarding the inception of the universe, which would directly play into the efforts of any person who works in the scientific fields.
(I’m going to take a second here to note that there are sects within Christianity which may ignore other scientific discoveries, such as climate change, or even, when talking about groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, medical science. Heck, you could even take the Amish to this conversation if you really wanted. I’m going to focus on discussions regarding universe inception and evolution here, but I think following my next line of thinking may be allowed to apply to all such debates.)
So, is it possible that coming from a fundamentalist Christian education background that a person going into the scientific fields may be lacking knowledge that their classmates may hold. Certainly. I can’t debate that. I could go on to debate that there are other folks who may have similar struggles because of the quality of education in their public school system. But instead, I have a different question.
Could it actually be considered better for science, should someone with this background, who firmly holds these beliefs, decide to join the fields in which this information directly applies?
Looking through history, some of the greatest scientific achievements completely changed what we thought we knew as fact. What if Nicolaus Copernicus simply accepted current scientific fact as truth? How much longer would it have taken for the scientific community to accept heliocentrism? As it was, it still took quite a while. Until the 1700s there were still scientists who believed in the concept of spontaneous generation, that, if given enough sunlight, life could come from the mud or other inanimate objects, simply because they saw maggots suddenly appear in things like meat. Einstein’s theory of relativity itself has the concept of a static universe calculated into it. However, most scientists today believe the universe to be ever expanding.
Heck, when I was a kid, dinosaurs looked more like lizards. Now they look like birds.
Here’s my point. Scientific discovery, at its very core, requires an understanding that every single thing we know about the universe could be wrong. It’s why so many of our scientific explanations of the universe are still considered theories, as opposed to natural law (such as those developed by Newton). Einstein theorized nothing can go faster than the speed of light. This is something we hold true. And will hold true until the moment we find something that can go faster.
Can anyone definitively state there is absolutely no possible way we will ever find anything in this whole universe which will go faster than the speed of light? Until we’ve logged and cataloged everything in the universe, no, we can’t. There’s still some possibility of something being out there which could go faster.
The Theory of General Relativity is a model for how the universe works. It’s a way of explaining things based on the way we see them today. Models are intended to be tweaked, to be changed. And they are, quite often.
Of course, we use pieces of Einstein’s theory today for things like our GPS units (or so I’ve been told), so obviously pieces of it works. So did the models of the solar system before heliocentrism…although they were quite complex, comparatively speaking.
Science needs opposing viewpoints. If everyone accepts every single theory as scientific fact, we become stagnant. That’s a big part of what made the Dark Ages so dark. There were few attempts to move forward, even fewer attempts to validate knowledge.
Now, would it be difficult for a person who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old to make it in the field of research which includes the history of the earth? Certainly. Heck, although I may have stated that a knowledge of the history of the earth may not play into many sciences, the reality is that most sciences have played into our current understanding of the history of the earth.
But here’s my final thought. Whether you were taught at an early age that the earth was created by some supernatural being or that it developed because of order coming out of chaos, or even if you were taught that we were all sneezed out of some cosmic being’s nose, the one thing all scientists require, is an open mind.
They need to be able to recognize that they might be wrong.
That, at least in something, they ARE wrong.
And I think that’s the struggle anyone going into the scientific fields is going to have a hard time battling. Especially if they are led to believe that anyone who thinks differently is further behind them intellectually.
Alright…that last bit might be a little rough. The point here is that science is constantly shifting. We’ve got theories out there as wild as that the universe doesn’t even actually exist but that all of this is just a construct of a combination of our minds in some sort of ether cloud of life energy.
And at some point, one of those wild theories will be the next best model to utilize to explain our universe.
You can’t be prepared for science with anything but an open mind to what science might teach us next.
So, in summation, could a Christian education set back future scientists at the very least when it comes to their higher education? Quite probable. But I pose a new question. Could it actually be better for science to have people brought up with opposing viewpoints to the standard accepted model of the universe? People who, when brought to their higher education, are forced to recognize that not everyone sees the world the same way they do?
I think the answer may be yes.
But then again, perhaps it’s all because I just don’t like thinking my early education holds me back from being the smartest man alive…