Faith & Physics, Part II

ILYBYGTH is happy to continue our series of guest posts from Anna.  In her first post, Anna described her shift from creation science to mainstream science.  Today she tells us a little bit about the way she learned her creationist science as a kid.  Anna blogs about her experiences leaving the fundamentalist subculture at Signs You Are a Sheltered Evangelical.  She holds an M.Sc. degree in Astroparticle Physics and currently lives in Virginia with her fiance Chelsey and a cat named Cat.

Creationist Curriculum

I am a conservative, anti-government-educator’s dream.  Because I was homeschooled, my family had the unique opportunity to control every aspect of my education completely.  Part of this included being taught with a Christian science curriculum that supported Biblical 6-day creation, denied Evolution, described scientific evidence for a global flood, and opposed modern environmental policies.  When I tell my secular peers this, the reactions of shock, horror, and amazement are often rather comical.  Very often, I am told that I must be remarkably resilient or intelligent to be able to make a successful science career for myself after being handicapped by my early education.  As much as I’d love to accept the accolades, I simply don’t see it that way.  My seemingly-bizarre education did not hamper me much at all, and in some ways, I must credit it for inspiring me to become a scientist in the first place.  Although I cannot defend the inaccuracies in the curriculum, I still have fond memories of it, and I can highlight both the shortcomings and successes of the book series.

My formal science education, I believe, started around age 10 or 11 (since I was homeschooled, I did not progress through formal grades, so it is sometimes very difficult for me to track the passage of time without these milestones to help.)  I was started on an A-beka book, which I remember little of besides loathing.  It was spiral bound with wire and the pages were made of cheap paper, meaning that they were constantly tearing out, scattering across the floor, and getting lost.  Besides that, the text itself was dry, the pages were cluttered with illustrations that illustrated nothing, and the quizzes (aptly named “brain drains”) never seemed to pertain to the actual text and would often quiz you in facts only found in the illustration captions.

For the rest of my pre-college education, I used Apologia‘s Christian-centered curriculum by Dr. Wile, and I loved it.  Over the years, I worked through Exploring Creation with General Science, Exploring Creation with Physical ScienceExploring Creation with Biology, Exploring Creation with Chemistry, Exploring Creation with Physics, and Advanced Physics in Creation.  I wish that I had a copy of some of these books still with me… especially the 1st edition of General Science and Physical Science (if anyone feels like getting me an early Christmas present… I won’t say no) because I recall those two books having the most absurdities in them.  Obviously, I cannot cover all of the curriculum in detail, but I can shed some light on the divergences from science that I recall.

Image Source: Apologia

Image Source: Apologia

I have to laugh now recalling that one of the books (General Science, I think) had an entire chapter devoted to attempting to validate the Bible as an accurate scientific and historical record.  This would seem grossly out of place in any standard science text.  For a creationist, however, it is perfectly reasonable and, indeed, necessary to discuss this in depth.  I recall in my early years of college, seeing my peers and professors laugh at the absurdity of creationism.  “Scientists start with evidence and draw a conclusion from it.  Creationists start with a conclusion and draw evidence for it,” was posted on my professor’s office door.  I felt a little defensive.  “We all tend to accept conclusions that come from reputable, repeatedly-tested sources,” I thought.  “If the Bible were not reputable and repeatedly-tested, then obviously accepting claims from it would be absurd, but that is not the case.”  Much of my conviction on the validity of the Bible originated from the early Apologia texts.  It’s important to remember that Creationists do not see themselves as anti-science… they want to find compelling evidence for their claims.  As a result, I waded through a chapter discussing the accuracy of Bible translations, similarities between different Biblical manuscripts, refutations of Biblical contradictions, etc.  The purpose of this was to prove that the Bible could be reliably used as a basis for scientific theory.  To exclude this chapter would be grossly negligent if claims in the Bible are indeed the basis of your theory.  Even so, the whole conversation bored me; I wanted to learn science.

The Physical Science textbook spent an inordinate amount of time condemning modern environmental policies as fraudulent.  I recall the book passionately opposing the ban on CFC’s, claiming that the ozone hole was a scare tactic used by politicians to promote a hysterical agenda, and predicting that people would suffer from increased rates of infection now that medical tools could no longer be sterilized by the chemical.  These political discussions now irritate me more than any of the other inaccuracies in the books.  I had been raised when I was young in a very rural area and had developed a great love of nature.  I was fiercely protective of the environment, and all of the flora and fauna in it.  I wrote an article to my local newspaper about reducing litter when I was 11 years old or so which I was very proud to see published.  As such, it angers me in retrospect that I was taught so many lies about proper stewardship of the environment and that I believed them for so long.  I have never fully understood why Christian Fundamentalism is so opposed to environmental protection, and yet it seems to be a common theme.  Apologia science chose to start kids on that path early.

The Biology text book focused on disproving Evolution.  Of course.  In all honesty, as silly as 6-day-creation seems to me now, my Bible-based text book really did not deprive me of a decent education on evolutionary biology.  Because of the sheer amount of information I was provided with to refute Evolution I came away with a pretty darned good understanding of it.  I disbelieved it, of course, but once I came around to accepting true science, I was no further behind in understanding than any of my secular peers.  This is why the shock-and-horror response to my anti-evolution education makes me chuckle a little.  If one truly wants to argue effectively against an opponent, one must know his position at least as well as he does.  Thus, I truly believe that my anti-evolution text served me surprisingly well.

Now that I’ve discussed all of these lies, distortions, and absurdities, you might wonder how I can have a favorable memory of Apologia at all.  Well, for one, the books were very well written.  Their style was conversational, without sacrificing content.  The illustrations were meaningful and placed sparingly to complement the text, rather than cluttering the book.  Learning felt like learning… like you were truly on a road to discovery, rather than simply memorizing information for a test.  And, perhaps most awesome of all, if you emailed the author, he would email you back within 24 hours.  If I ever found myself confused by a concept or curious about some theory, I would write to him and eagerly await his response.  He was always friendly and informative with his replies.  Perhaps my enthusiasm over this simple email contact seems exaggerated but, remember, I was homeschooled.  I was almost entirely in charge of my own education by the time I reached higher sciences.  My mother did not have the education to help me in science or math, and none of the other homeschooling moms in my group were any better.  Whenever I was uncertain about something, I would have to figure it out myself.  Thus, having an authority figure to direct my questions to was amazing.  I felt like I was talking to a celebrity.  My childish enthusiasm aside, I think that it also highlights Dr. Wile’s admirable dedication to education.  It meant a lot to me at the time, and I still think back on it fondly.

Dr. Wile was one of my inspirations to become a scientist.  I loved his enthusiasm for the subject, I loved his dedication to the students using his books, and I wanted to emulate that.  Honestly, I still do.  As an instructor, I strive to let my enthusiasm show, to infect others with it, and to always make myself available to my students for questions and assistance.  But what about the science-denial?  It is still a bit difficult for me to look back on authority figures and members of my community that I looked up to and respected and wonder: are they just ignorant, or are they purposely deceptive?  How can a scientist be completely honest with him- or herself and still make the claim that ALL evidence points to a 6-day creation, without question or doubt?  I give myself a lot of grace for my early ignorance because I was young and had little access to any information outside of the pre-approved worldview that I was being fed.  But creationists like Ken Ham, Dr. Wile, and others have no such excuse.  So, without being able to see inside their minds, can I offer them the grace of assuming that they are truly honest in their seeking and have just been misled?  I think the answer is both yes and no, and it is greatly complicated by a wide array of cultural factors involved in the creation/evolution debate.  In order to begin to tackle this, I need to first discuss the factors and pressures that surround a creationist belief in the first place.  For that, however, you will have to wait for the next installment.