Christian educators, including homeschoolers, frequently ask me whether they should avoid using secular biology textbooks because of the evolutionary content. Here are five reasons why I think a sound biology education must include the use of mainstream (secular) textbooks.1
- Students will likely be required to know a certain amount of evolution on standardized tests. In addition, the University of California (UC) system has already expressed concern about science textbooks published by Bob Jones (BJU Press) and A Beka Book that contain inaccurate scientific data and don’t expose students to enough information about evolution. (Here’s a summary of events and the legal motion.) UC officials have considered not granting credit to (and requiring proficiency exams of) students who used these textbooks in high school. Using a secular text, however, bypasses this issue.
- Assigning a mainstream science textbook will help students gain respect for the great body of knowledge we enjoy as a result of scientists’ research, as well as grow in their appreciation of the discoveries scientists have made that support the accuracy of the Bible.
- Students will eventually leave the safety of their Christian “bubble.” If they attend a secular university, possibly even a Christian one, they will encounter evolution. And chances are, it won’t be a friendly meeting. How will they respond? Using a secular textbook in high school will expose students to the standard arguments for evolution ahead of time. Isn’t it better to help Christian young people think through the thorny issue of evolution before they leave home than do damage control after the fact? In my experience, a “restoration of faith” is usually the exception and not the rule.
- Personal observation has revealed that creation science textbooks almost never characterize arguments for evolution accurately. They often use a condescending tone and conceal the best arguments for evolution. When educators allow those who actually believe in evolution to marshal their most potent arguments, however, we equip students with the best opportunity to evaluate the evidence in a fair and balanced way.
- High school students love to debate. They are in a developmental period of life that lends itself to arguing, largely because they are trying to figure out their value system.2 What could be better than having them research both sides of the evolution controversy? This assignment provides a good platform for teaching sound debating techniques and forces students to dig into both sides of the question. I have found that the best way to determine what I truly believe is to research enough of the opposing position that I could defend it in a debate. Using a mainstream biology text provides a good jumping-off point for the discussion because it presents the typical evidences for evolution.
In general, students need to be taught more evolution, not less. They need to understand the best arguments––on both sides––so they can evaluate the evidence in an informed and sophisticated way. Isn’t the development of critical thinking skills part of what science is all about? We expect teenagers to make complex decisions about sex, drugs, and religion. Surely, we shouldn’t shy away from discussing the complexities of evolution with them as well.
- I recommend using mainstream science textbooks starting in middle school, but definitely by high school. Creation science textbooks usually introduce flood geology and age-of-the-earth issues in the sixth grade. This is also the time when secular biology texts generally include a chapter on neo-Darwinism.
- Educators refer to this period as the rhetoric stage of learning––the third, and final, stage of the classical education model. Students are encouraged to take the information they have learned in the previous stages of education and begin to assimilate it into their own worldview. See Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning (1947), and Douglas Wilson, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (Crossway Books, 1991).