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Strange bedfellows

James Dechant | Thursday, August 24, 2006

Between their normal routines of praying, archery lessons, and flagpoled-underpants pranks, numerous Christian camps across the country are now incorporating “a science curriculum about God’s Creation” into their summertime activities, says a recent Newsweek article. One educational director says the aim is to give the kids enough of a background in the idea that, going back to school and learning about evolution, they will think, “Oh, that sounds goofy!”

Wild-eyed fanatics like these, spouting their subversive fundamentalist views, are going to destroy this country’s technological gravitas as our youth turn away from the study of sciences and revert back to ignorant, primitive religions. Or at least that’s what some left-wingers would have you believe.

The article also covered atheist-sponsored camps practicing the same indoctrination with the opposing goal. Some fundamentalist Christians would in turn argue that atheist scientists like these, bent on corrupting the moral character of our children, are hypnotizing them to reject God and luring them to revel in a libertine lifestyle of devilry and hedonism. Which is, of course, equally ridiculous.

Why all the fervor over educational content? Had parents always taken this strong an interest in their children’s education, we might see fewer high-school dropouts, decreased gang activity, and a mainstream spike in studiousness. The evolution debate is being played out largely by myopic adults, while the children too often resemble chess pieces in some larger conflict.

For some reason, many uncompromising believers cannot accept, or refuse to accept, over a century of rigorous scientific inquiry. Admittedly, scientific thought itself demands wild guesses, un-testable theories, and acceptance of certain tenets or laws – in short, it’s just another system of faith. Religion should recognize this affinity and not see science as a threat which undermines its own faith.

Heads are particularly hard in my home state of Kansas. At a Board of Education evolution hearing in 2005, board member Kathy Martin boldly declared: “Evolution has been proven false.” It has, Ms. Martin? Where was I when they announced this? She perceives evolution – “an unproven, often disproven” theory, she said in further comments – as an implicit attack on her beliefs, and she is not alone. Ergo the intense controversy and either/or choices thrust upon children.

The downside of this entire dispute, however, is not that children will be swayed one way or the other. When was the last time you contemplated the origins of the species? Really, how often does that come up? Now I know, personally, I like to start off my day with orange juice, cereal, and ruminations on the finer points of Darwinian survivalism, but I thought I was the only one. Honestly, this issue seldom arises as a tense conversation between high school students, or adults for that matter. It’s one of those three-in-the-morning questions, but not something that affects our daily lives.

Yes, this may come as a shock to some people: students who miss out on the study of evolution are not going to be rationally handicapped for the rest of their educational careers. They will not be socially stunted or unable to gain acceptance to the college of their dreams. Similarly, kids who learn about evolution are not going to have their spirituality stripped away and their faith annihilated by the unforgiving embrace of atheistic science. Too often the extremist enclaves in our country, a country still trying to define its moral nature, try to argue that one of these apocalyptic scenarios will be the long-term consequence of a high school biology class.

The danger, instead, lies in that children are being trained to think that religion and science cannot co-exist. The Religious and the Scientific realms become naturally repulsive of each other, allowing room for no crossover. The secular sphere is always afraid of encroachment by domineering religious forces, and vice-versa. Children are caught in the middle.

Why should we pass on to the next generation the rabid and uncompromising views of obsessed scientists or fanatical religious? The Pat Robertsons and the Felix Hoenikkers of this world should not be dictating what our children will learn. Evolution need not be seen as a threat to Christianity. Pursuing secular or scientific studies should not preclude anyone from fully practicing their religious faith.

The tension between these realms reverberates internally and externally. We are all familiar with this conflict, especially at this University. Yet here I find encouragement. Many of us have learned that our faiths and our scientific pursuits do not have to be mutually exclusive. I hesitate to say we have learned to “balance” science and religion, because neither should have to be compromised. Science can describe the how, but it cannot address the why. The why – this “ultimate concern” – is what believers ought to engage and affirm.

Then science could focus on the really important questions, such as, how do they get 1,000 chips in every bag?

James Dechant is a junior English and theology major. Questions, comments, and rude remarks can be sent to jdechant@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.