Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Problem (As I See It)

This is a follow up to my previous post on the controversy surrounding “The Louisiana Science Education Act.”

As a Christian, the problem is not the fact that evolution is being taught to school children. That must be done.

I realize that my saying this may be a bit of a surprise, especially to those of you who know me to be an unapologetic young earth six day creationist.

Still, it’s true. I insist that evolution must be taught to school children. Because I think it’s true? No, but because it’s the reigning theory. We simply cannot ignore what the vast majority of the scientific community believes (not to mention a significant minority of the general population). That’s why during the next school year my students and I will read On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. . . Yeah, that book—the one by Charles Darwin. It’s a vitally important read. It’s without question the most influential book written in the last two hundred years. No book has done more to move Western culture away from its Christian foundations.

But that’s not the only thing we are going to read on the subject. We’re also going to read Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Michael Behe, the book that launched the intelligent design movement. It seems to me simply a matter of good pedagogy to present both sides of a controversial topic.

Unfortunately, that’s what Barry Lynn and Americans United for Separation of Church and State wish to deny to the children in the public schools of Louisiana, which brings us to the real problem, as I see it: tax-funded schools.

The problem with tax-funded schools is the same problem as with tax-funded churches. The U.S. Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion. The original intent of this provision was to prevent the federal government from preferring one particular Christian denomination from being favored above the rest by being chosen as the official church of the United States and being supported with tax dollars.

The rationale was expressed by Thomas Jefferson when he said, “To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.” Hear! Hear!

To compel, say, a Roman Catholic to pay for the support a Protestant church with his tax dollars is unjust. He ends up paying twice: he is forced to pay for the support of a Protestant church (whose theology he disbelieves and abhors) and then must pay for his own church with voluntary contributions.

The same is true, of course, if matters are moving in the other direction.

The framers of our Constitution wisely prevented this from happening by writing the First Amendment. But the same problem—the same injustice—is inherent in tax-supported schools because education is not a religiously neutral undertaking. Every subject in every school is taught from the perspective of the worldview—the religious presuppositions—of the teacher (and the textbook authors).

Roman Catholics understood this very early. They developed the parochial school system because in the early days America’s public schools were too Protestant—the teachers, the curriculum, everything. There were Bible readings (inappropriate for Catholics, at the time), Bible instruction (from a Protestant perspective), Protestant catechisms, and Protestant prayers. This meant that Roman Catholic parents were forced to pay for the Protestantizing of their children. They decided it was better to pull their kids out of the public schools and start their own. The problem was…they had to pay for both. They paid for the public school system with their tax dollars and their own schools through tuition—the same injustice as a tax-supported church.

Someone will say, “We no longer have Bible readings in the public schools. Nor any catechisms or prayers. So we have overcome the problem, right?”

Not at all. We’ve just exchanged one form of religious instruction for another. School children are no longer being instructed in a kind of watered-down, generic Protestantism, but in an anti-Christian secularism. It’s not that schools openly declare the non-existence of God. They just ignore Him. But the very omission of any consideration of God in the educational process teaches children to think that He is irrelevant to life and learning. And this is a far more subtle—and therefore a far more effective—form of indoctrination. Just begin with the assumption. Never identify it. Never call attention to it. Just leave God out of the discussion and the kids will get the hint.

The upshot of it all is that instead of the public school system being unjust only toward Roman Catholics, it’s unjust toward all Christians equally.

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