Christian School Causes Student to Abandon Creationism

How can parents make sure their children don’t lose their faiths? Enrolling them in religious school is not enough. As a recent story from the BioLogos Forum makes clear, education ranges far beyond schooling. Too many hasty critics, religious and secular alike, have assumed that we can control education by controlling schooling. It’s just not that simple.

This Christian learned to embrace evolution, but not in school...

This Christian learned to embrace evolution, but not in school…

In the pages of the BioLogos Forum, college sophomore Garrett Crawford shared his educational story. Crawford was raised in a conservative evangelical household. He went to a Christian school, one that presumably hoped to shield Crawford’s faith from secularism. While at that school, Crawford relates, he grew curious about the scientific evidence for evolution. After a lot of reading and study, Crawford concluded that he could no longer believe in young-earth creationism. After a lot more reading and study, Crawford concluded that Christian faith does not require a belief in a young earth. It is entirely theologically legitimate, he decided, to accept the science of evolution.

In Crawford’s case, his education took him in directions his school never intended.

Such stories shouldn’t surprise us. After all, with just a moment or two of reflection, we can all think of ways that our “education” has differed from our “schooling.” Yet in all of our tumultuous educational culture wars, pundits rush to make sweeping claims about education based on scanty evidence from schools.

We’ve seen this recently in the pages of the New York Times, when philosopher Justin McBrayer declared–based on data that was not just slim, but positively anorexic–that Our Schools Were Training Amoral Monsters.

Among conservative Christians, too, this tradition of school-bashing has a long history.  In the 1970s, for example, fundamentalist school leader A.A. “Buzz” Baker decried the tendency of many conservative Christians to rush into school-founding for the wrong reasons. In his book The Successful Christian School (1979) Baker warned that too many parents and pastors rushed to open new schools because they thought

Public education has failed! It is failing to provide a good academic education while exposing our children to a godless, secular-humanistic approach to life.

Leading young-earth creationists have long assumed that the best way to protect their children’s faith is by attending creationism-friendly schools. Ken Ham, for example, argued that Christian colleges and universities can lead students astray from true faith when they abandon young-earth thinking. As he put it,

the real issue concerns Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries that break away from the authority of Scripture in Genesis—held to by the majority of scholars up through the Reformation—and teach students that God’s Word doesn’t mean what it says. That’s what makes students doubt the truthfulness of the Bible as a whole, and can be a major reason many of them walk away from the Christian (not “creationist”) faith, as we see happening in our culture today.

From the other side, many secular or liberal critics insist that fundamentalist schools are nothing but indoctrination factories. As friend of ILYBYGTH (FOILYBYGTH) Jonny Scaramanga told the BBC, his fundamentalist schooling experiences were nothing short of “horrendous.” During his sojourn in a fundamentalist school, Scaramanga remembers, he did nothing but recite back theological nostrums. The school was so socially crippling, Scaramanga relates, for the rest of his life he was “always playing catch up.”

Scaramanga’s own case, however, shows that schooling of any sort is only one part of a person’s education. Scaramanga himself has now become a leading voice in the anti-fundamentalist education scene. Like Garrett Crawford, Scaramanga’s education took him in directions that his schooling never intended.

The take-away? Of course we should all care about the way schools operate. Better schools will help produce better educations for all students. At the same time, though, we all need to remind ourselves that formal schooling makes up only one slice—sometimes a small slice—of a person’s education.

How many of us, after all, can say that we came out the way our schools intended?

Leave a comment


  1. Agellius

     /  March 10, 2015

    The first thing that occurred to me as I read this is that evidently, neither the school Crawford attended nor his parents sought to stifle his curiosity, nor forbade him from learning from non-Christian sources. And then in the linked article, Crawford relates that his dad taught him to be openminded, and that he was able to disagree amicably with friends and family about “origins issues”.

    So, maybe conservative Christian families and schools are not brainwashing factories after all.

    • Great point. For people like me, it is all too easy to conflate conservative religion with the Dad from Footloose. In this student’s case, his father was not that way at all.

  2. This is why I have a hard time getting really worked up about children learning creationism from their families or churches or even in their schools. I was raised with creationism-only, k-12, taught all of the “fallacies” of evolution, and still realized it was silly after leaving home and ditched it. It’s really not that crippling to learn some things that are wrong as long as you’re capable of critical thinking. We all learn some falsehoods in our lives and most of us figure it out in the end.

  3. Religious conservatives don’t even understand this about themselves, but Evangelicals have grown more alarmed in recent years about many things, including “wayward youth” and “formers” who are routinely seen as dupes and victims of secular/liberal/humanistic/naturalistic/atheistic/postmodern culture and ideology. This is an easier duality to embrace than facing up to the fact that older generations are replaced by younger ones who inevitably disagree with them or do things differently in many areas. Christian education does dampen generational shifts, but it does so less by winning hearts and minds than it does by affiliating with the influential and moneyed structures of its base. These tend to be the conservatives among conservatives. Fear, guilt, shame (“think what it would do to your mother!”) goes a long way for a lot of people who may not grow past it until middle age, if they ever do at all.

  4. In my opinion, kids who actually think about their beliefs will eventually come around to the position held by many people I know: that, while Creationism isn’t the ONLY explanation for the beginning of the earth, that evolution has too many holes in it to really stand. My dad was raised in a completely secular school, and he questioned evolution before he even know about Jesus. Any observant, semi-intelligent, objective person will admit that evolution is not by any means a sound belief.
    That being said, I attended a “Christian” college where, irony of ironies, I heard more about evolution in the theology building than in the science building. I was a nursing major, and most of my science professors, while not promoting creationism, also admitted that evolution was NOT a sound theory. However, many never stood up for anything different because there are few alternatives to evolution the academic arena, if you care about what people think of you. 🙂

  5. crawfordgarrett

     /  May 5, 2015

    Hi Adam. I apologize, I just now found this blog (and I plan to read it more often since I am interested in the topic). I would like to clarify a couple things. Many of my ideas and views are developed on my own time. In my personal case, however, I was in both private schools and public schools. I ended up moving my senior year and graduating from a conservative Christian school. In my Christian worldview class, we were assigned a paper in which we were to defend our views on origins. As with everybody else, I defended a form of Intelligent Design/Creationism. It was actually through the research I did on this particular paper that I began to see many different flaws in the ID position. Over the course of the next 6-8 months, I slowly abandoned creationism entirely. I remember watching Kent Hovind in my junior high youth group and drinking up everything he said. I think part of the problem was for the longest time I was CONVINCED that evolution was a fairy tale and that Hovind was speaking facts that everybody already knew about. It took me getting out of my comfort zone a bit to recognize this is false. I now attend a Baptist college which, surprisingly, is not creationist-dominant. In my intro Biology class my professor unabashedly taught evolution and made man points that it need not conflict with the Christian faith. Likewise, in my Old Testament class we were taught many different interpretations of Genesis, many of which did not conflict with evolutionary theory. I am currently studying anthropology and it is just kind of assumed by most that evolution is true.

    In terms of my personal upbringing, my dad always encouraged me to read, learn, and think critically. He is very conservative, but his motives are a FAR stretch from fundamentalist. He still holds to a young earth creationist perspective and we have had many healthy discussions about the topic. I was never really exposed to the fundamentalist side of conservatism as many were.

    I hope my perspective helps!

  1. Thursday Religion and Atheism Report (03/12) | Evangelically Atheist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: