Teaching Science and the Topic of Evolution
Science is a regular part of the program of studies in Maranatha/Emmanuel as it is in any school. For the past few years, the staff in Fergus, has been discussing the science curriculum and the teaching of science.
Our discussion of the science curriculum began for practical reasons. The science texts were outdated, and we were looking to purchase a new series. In addition to this, the Ontario government has been quite busy introducing new curricula in grades 1-11. We spent some time evaluating the new science curriculum for grades 1-8, and we liked the topics and skills within this curriculum. We had to consider, however, what makes the teaching of science different in our Christian school compared to that in the public school; the science curriculum is the same, and even the same textbooks may be used, but is there any difference? Why do we actually teach science?
As a result of a number of staff discussions and meetings, the following rationale was developed, stating why we teach science and what we hope our students will achieve as they follow the science curriculum throughout the years:
Science is in God’s hands; therefore, the students must believe that God created the natural world and that it operates under his providence. Since the fall, man has not been able to fully carry out our [sic] mandate to subdue and have dominion over the earth. Even though we see only a partial revelation of God’s glory, we can still see the orderliness of creation and man’s required response of obedience and praise. Man must not use his knowledge of the natural (living) and physical (matter and energy) world to establish his own glory but to confirm God’s majesty and grace. Our increased knowledge of science is then seen as a confirmation of the subservience of all things to God’s will, so that we can truly proclaim that “...the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
To that end, the teaching of science should strive to meet the following expectations:
show the student the richness, variety and uniformity of creation
present science as a cultural activity through which God is glorified
help the student understand daily occurrences through a structural study of creation
deepen the student’s knowledge of the general structure of science with its variety of concepts, laws, theories and methods
increase the student’s skill in communication and observation of the physical and biological world
develop the student’s sense of humility since science cannot reveal everything about God’s creation
develop increased understanding of the living and physical aspects of the world beyond the student’s local experience, through practical investigations
From the above statements, one can begin to understand that science is a wonderful subject to teach. It provides a marvellous opportunity to speak together as a class about the wonderful world created and upheld by our God. “By Him all things were created ... and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16, 17) expresses this very well.
In the end, we decided to adopt the topics as presented in the Ontario Curriculum. We found that these topics and skills easily fit within our rationale. A new textbook series was purchased which followed the new curriculum; however, given that the texts we use are secular, we are faced with the theory of evolution. How do we deal with this challenge within the classroom? Do we simply overlook these pages of the text? Do we simply dismiss the theory by telling the students that the world is not billions of year old? It is not that easy, nor should it be.
The theory of evolution cannot be ignored, as its implications and specific world view come through not only in science text books, but also in magazines, educational programs on television and video and in the newspaper. It is important that our children know how to confront this theory; they must learn how to question and discern the ‘wisdom’ of this world. Especially the students who enter the public high schools and secular colleges and universities will be faced with this theory. They’ll need to be able to oppose this theory and they can do this more effectively if they themselves are familiar with the theory and its implications. Some graduates from our school, who have completed their secondary years in the public high schools have mentioned that they are faced with the theory of evolution in their grade 11, 12 and OAC classes. There were a number of students that felt adequately prepared to defend creation over against evolution, but that they were glad that in Emmanuel the theory of evolution was discussed. They found it easier to confront the theory when they were familiar with it. Their responses remind us that we should not ignore the theory of evolution, but speak about it when it comes up in science and/or other subject areas.
Do we teach the students all the tenets about the theory of evolution? No. We also do not spend a lot of time disputing the details of the theory. We approach the theory of evolution and its implications using guided confrontation, depending, of course, upon the age of the class. We begin with what we read in God’s Word and compare it to what is stated in the text book. In doing so, hopefully the students begin to develop the knowledge and the confidence to recognize and challenge the theory of evolution.
So teaching science and especially dealing with the theory of evolution and its world view can be a challenge. It can be humbling. I do not know all the answers to the students’ questions, but it is rewarding to speak together about and explore God’s world. As we study the various topics within the text and within the curriculum, we can speak about the power and majesty of our Lord. He truly has created all things, and He also continues to uphold all things. All that we learn points back to Him. The laws of physics, the reactions of chemicals, the workings of the cell, the relationships within the ecosystems, the wonders of the universe, all point to Him. Through the study of science we explore his creation and come to know our God in all that He has done and continues to do within his providential care. This makes the study of science so important, so challenging and so wonderful!