But it is taught as science to millions of children and teenagers all over the country. Worse yet, many overtly religious homeschool organizations are empowered by their state governments to grant high school diplomas to students who have completed the required courses, with more attention paid to the title of a given course than the content. How can the education of a student instructed in creationism possibly be considered equivalent to that of one taught legitimate science?
One such diploma-granting homeschool organization is the Mason Dixon Homeschoolers Association (MDHSA), headquartered in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, not far from where I live. The MDHSA is an overtly fundamentalist Christian organization that uses the creationist Apologia Biology curriculum in its science courses. Its website contains a “Statement of Purpose” and excerpts from its bylaws, with which all members must agree if they wish to have full voting and office-holding privileges within the group. Among the bylaws excerpted on the website:
The Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God and constitutes completed and final revelation. The Bible, in its original autograph, is without error in whole and in part, including theological concepts as well as geographical and historical details.
God has existed from all eternity in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ is God come in human flesh, being fully God and fully man except without sin.
Knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Bible is essential to proper spiritual, mental, social, and physical growth.
Moral standards and a value system consistent with the Bible best prepare a student for fulfilling his responsibilities as a citizen of our nation.
“Biblical literalists” would be putting it mildly.
Also on the website, as a downloadable .pdf file, is a list of course descriptions for MDHSA’s Assisted Learning Program Service, which provides lesson plans for high school-level homeschool students. The description for the Biology course, with Apologia Biology as its source text, naturally, reads in part:
The course will include an introduction to the philosophy and history of biological science, introductory biochemistry, and a review of evolutionary theory and creation theory.
Other materials offered by Apologia include the book Unlocking the Mysteries of Creation: The Explorer's Guide to the Awesome Works of God, and the DVD Icons of Evolution, described as “a hard-hitting examination of the major errors and omissions in evolutionary theory that are presented as ‘facts’ in today’s high school and college textbooks.” Something tells me the biology class’s review of evolutionary theory won’t be worth much.
There is also an ALPS course entitled Physical Science, again using an Apologia textbook, whose course description promises to “especially concentrate on the myths generated by the hysterical environmentalist movement.” Clearly, there are axes to grind here; clearly, the education of the students is not a paramount concern.
The description of the Physical Science course also claims “It is an excellent course for preparing the student to take a college prep high school science curriculum.” I can tell you as a firsthand eyewitness that this is total bullshit. When I took a basic college-level general biology course last year, one of my classmates was a girl who had attended a Christian private school. Instead of legitimate science, she had been taught creationism, and thus didn’t know the first thing about what actual biological theory tells us regarding the origins of the universe and the development of life on Earth. She was not a stupid person, but her religious fundamentalist teachers had prevented her from learning some of the most rudimentary scientific knowledge. She may have been prepared to continue her academic career at Liberty University, but a first-year community college course in real science was utterly beyond her grasp.
Parents who homeschool their children in this way might respond by invoking their constitutionally guaranteed religious liberties. I’m not suggesting their right to worship be infringed upon in the slightest. Freedom of religion is an elementary human right, as much as freedom of speech or the right to due process of law, and it must always be protected. I’m not nuts about homeschooling, be it religious or secular, but as long as it’s legal, I say parents should be allowed to teach their children whatever they see fit to teach them.
But here’s the catch—and I’m afraid I must insist: if a homeschool organization, such as the MDHSA, wants to be recognized by its state government as a diploma-granting institution, it must teach legitimate science, including evolutionary biology.
The religious beliefs of Christian parents are irrelevant to the issue. Creationism is not science, and neither is its gussied-up twin intelligent design. There is no serious scientific debate on this question. There has never been a single paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal demonstrating that creationism/intelligent design has the tiniest shred of credibility. It is the very definition of an exploded hypothesis. Biblical literalists are free to believe that the world came into being exactly as Genesis tells it, but their belief does not disprove the impartially observed, irrefutable facts.
To give this a bit more proportion, imagine that you have a student attending public school and you learn that he or she is being taught in history class that American Indians are the descendants of a lost tribe of Israelites migrating to the continent thousands of years ago, or that the Holocaust is a Zionist myth, or in math class that the precise value of π is 3. Would your judgment be that your child was receiving a suitable historical or mathematical education? I think most reasonable parents would say no. The same standards should apply to science as to history and math.
The education of children is essential to the survival and positive progress of human society. Children should be taught (ideally by qualified, credentialed instructors) to read and write, to understand the basic principles of mathematics, and to understand and appreciate the beauty and complexity of the natural world through science. If you also want to teach your child about salvation through Jesus Christ, or the flood of Noah, go for it. You have, and should always have, that freedom. It’s the birthright of every human being.
A high school diploma, on the other hand, isn’t a birthright. It’s something that must be earned. The states have the right and the responsibility to award those diplomas only to students who have adequately completed their education. That group should not include anyone whose science studies omit evolutionary biology and include a credulous literal reading of the Bible. Those students—be they homeschoolers or attendees of religious private schools—have been cheated, and before they get to graduate, their misguided teachers should have to make good.