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‘Being Ready’ for School: Part 1

By Ian Murray

It is a fact that today our children and youth, perhaps more than ever before, ought to be on guard against intellectual atrocities and unfounded academic presumptions. What will your child or teen learn this year in class, or the proverbial school-yard? How are they to respond to propositions offered that are false or run counter to what they have been taught as fact?

This article is the first in a three part series entitled, ‘Being Ready’ for School, which aims to help Christian students stand firm against claims that are proposed as fact, but which may turn out not to be. This series is also aiming to help parents train their children so that they will be strong in the face of falsities and on the path of truth.

There are five important facets of reality that our children and youth ought to keep in mind when working through ideas that are hostile to their beliefs.

1.     Respecting the Teacher’s Role

Every teacher is there to help students become well rounded individuals, both personally and intellectually. It’s important that students learn that God is sovereign over all creation, (cf. Colossians 1:17) and that He has placed various people (teachers, parents, government officials, etc.) in their lives for a reason. As such, our young people need to remember that they are to respect the position that their teachers and parents are in.

2.     Respecting that Other People Have Differing Worldviews

Everyone needs to remember that personal views will not necessarily coincide with the views held by the rest of the world. However, it is equally important to realize that respecting someone for having their own understanding is not equivalent to agreeing with the tenets of their worldview. There are academic teachings that are wrong, and there are worldviews that are wrong. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but one’s entitlement doesn’t make an opinion true, and this applies to Christians as well. Therefore, whether one is a student or not, the Christian  needs to respect the rights of others to hold to a different view but, simultaneously, always be ready to offer reasons for Christian convictions (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), and to teach the truth of Christ.

3.     Argumentum Ad Populum & Hidden Academics

Today more than ever before our children need to acquaint themselves with critical thinking skills. Neither they nor their teachers are omniscient, and as such they need to learn that something is not true just because their teachers say it is, or because the majority of people say it is. Students needs to be on guard against Argumentum Ad Populum. Students also need to be aware of unwritten educational assumptions. An unwritten assumption is not necessarily wrong, but it should not go unchallenged. In the 2012/2013 curriculum for grade 12 biology students, the Carleton Board of Education states:

Students will study theory and conduct investigations in the areas of biochemistry, metabolic processes, molecular genetics, homeostasis, and population dynamics.[i]

The word ‘theory’ is not denoting any particular theory; rather, it’s alluding to the theoretical side of the biological sciences. However one can logically infer that one theory that will be discussed will be the Darwinian Theory of Evolution; it is this inference that highlights the ‘hidden academic,’ namely Darwinian theory. One ploy used by many Darwinists is to suggest that all educational institutions agree with this theory and, therefore, it must be true. This is a case of argumentum ad populum. If Darwinian theory is a fact, is it so because it is popular or taught by educators? No. Therefore, its factuality or fictitiousness should be assessed on its own merits. All students, children and youth alike, need to be trained in the ability to find the fine-line between respecting their education and criticizing its validity. 

4.     Political Correctness

The skill of critical thinking is relevant to assessing the truth of propositions. However, there is an overarching policy in society as a whole, including in schools, to ‘live and let live.’ Many students have been met with ridicule because they questioned accepted theories, like Darwinian theory, and proposed that someone’s personal worldview is wrong. Everyone carries a worldview, and interprets aspects of reality from the perspective of this worldview. As such, it is absolutely certain that there will be people who disagree with the views of others because of differences in worldview.

18-year-old William Swinimer from Nova Scotia, in 2012, was suspended from school for aggressively and relentlessly preaching his Christian faith, in both word and wardrobe. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a bright yellow t-shirt that he wore to school which proclaimed: “Life is wasted without Jesus” (Philippians 3:8)

One of his fellow students lamented:

He’s been preaching to all of the students about his religion, whether they want to hear it or not–like, exchange students from all over the world. [ii]

Perhaps Swinimer needed a lesson in tact, but the question is: Is his message true? He may have been offensive in his behavior, but that doesn’t mean that the propositions that he is espousing are wrong. Today, the method that is used to deal with individuals like Swinimer is as old as Scripture itself: “cry and muzzle” (cf. Acts 4:1-22). Instead of tackling the proposition head on, simply tell the teacher and have the problem removed. A student identifying himself as an atheist stated:

…I am kind of offended because he’s basically stating that my life is wasted without Jesus. Its just not a fair statement at all and I think the reason for him getting suspended is reasonable. [iii]

Moreover, the high-school’s super-intendant, Nancy Pynch-Worthylake, didn’t help matters, as she stated:

…to say, ‘Without Jesus, your life is a complete waste,’…[is] an opinion aimed at somebody else’s belief. [iv]

Pynch-Worthylake is correct, but she should reacquaint herself with the definition of truth: The state of being the case: fact.[v]

Swinimer’s message is either correct or incorrect and, if someone is offended by it, that doesn’t negate the fact of the message’s being true or false. The offended party should learn to confront the ‘offensive message’ head on in an attempt to show its invalidity, instead of attempting to quell the message altogether.

5.     How to Think Critically: Establishing a Foundation

How then can our children learn to think critically this year at school? There are several ways through which one can determine the truth of something. Here are two examples:
A) Establish an axiom. [vi]

How does one determine whether a proposition is true or false? The answer is to measure it against a rod that stands independently of the proposition itself, preferably one accepted as obviously true.  A 2009 Macleans article states:

Religion has long been a “source of stability,” [Canadian sociologist, Reginald Bibby] says, not to mention a moral compass of sorts. …  “We may well find Canadian society doesn’t need belief in God to hold onto our values. But right now, it appears to be a source,” he says. “The question is, do we have any functional alternatives in place?”[vii]

Is the essence of preaching one’s religion to another wrong and thus immoral? If so how can it be determined to be so? One argument proposed by theists is that to establish objective morality (morality that transcends time, culture and individual worldviews), one has to posit God. As Bibby states in the above excerpt, if there is no God, what alternative foundation is there in establishing objective moral values? Opinion? Okay, whose opinion? And why theirs and not someone else’s?

Something cannot be classified as right or wrong, good or bad, unless there is something to determine its rightness or wrongness, its goodness or badness. If this axiom does not exist, then someone’s message of honoring basic human rights and equality would be just as morally neutral as a White Supremacists’ racist bigotry. So preaching one’s beliefs is either right or wrong, and there have to be objective reasons for why the answer is what it is. The student needs to learn why it is right or wrong, and stand up against the opposition with gentleness and respect. 

B) Does the proposition coincide with reality?

When being critical of an educational or worldview proposition, one has to ask if the proposition is consistent with reality. Darwinian theory proposes that by an accumulation of mutations in the DNA of a species, an organism (e.g. a fish), over a long period of time, can morph into an organic species that walks (e.g. a lizard). Is this theory consistent with reality?

I.    Mutations in the DNA, whether they are beneficial[viii], neutral [ix], or harmful[x] only subtract information from the gene-pool.

II.  For an accumulation of mutations to convert a species of animal into a more complicated species[xi], information needs to be added to the gene pool, not taken away.

III. Therefore, Darwinian Evolution cannot account for the conversion of a species of animal into one that is more complex.

IV.              Therefore, Darwinian Evolution does not coincide with reality.

In conclusion, whether the education is academic in nature, or regarding a worldview, our young people need to learn to accept or reject it on its own merits; however, they are to be just as careful not to reject the person. Everyone is imperfect; therefore, there is no human opinion that is adequate enough to replace God, thus leaving Him as the only viable alternative. It stands to reason that if God is perfect, His proclamations should be the interpretative paradigm for the world around us. Therefore, students need to represent God in their lives by trusting in him as they live in their society, but be on guard against its ungodly and untruthful ways and teachings. Students can do this by interpreting what they learn at school, and throughout life, in light of God’s perfect word.

[iii] Ibid. Accessed August 10, 2012.
[iv] Ibid. Accessed August 10, 2012.
[vi] “A statement accepted as true as the basis for argument or inference.” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/axiom. Accessed August 10, 2012.
[viii] The term beneficial mutation is a misnomer, as a mutation in the DNA is not ‘beneficial.’ A loss of information disables the organism; e.g. an organism that looses the information in their DNA which enables it to see, loses the capacity to see, thus making it blind. However, sometimes the loss of information does have an effect that benefits the organism’s ability to survive. Wikipedia writes about the cave dwelling fish, the Mexican tetra, or the blind cave fish, which are, as is clear from their name, fish that have no eyesight.
…what advantages are obtained by cave-dwelling tetras by losing their eyes? Possible explanations include:
  not developing eyes allows the individual more energy for growth and reproduction.
  there remains less chance of accidental damage and infection, since the previously useless and exposed organ is sealed with a flap of protective skin.
…selective neutrality and genetic drift: in the dark environment of the cave, the eyes are neither advantageous nor disadvantageous… Because there is no selection pressure for sight in this environment, any number of genetic abnormalities that give rise to the damage or loss of eyes could proliferate among the population with no effect on the fitness of the population. (*) 
In summary, the fish species’ disability to see has enabled to it to survive by avoiding infection because of damaged eyes. Wikipedia also asserts:
The blind form of the Mexican tetra is different from the surface-dwelling form in a number of ways, including … having a better olfactory sense by having taste buds all over its head,… (**)
One can assert that with their eyesight being disabled other sensory facets are enhanced.
[ix] A neutral mutation is again a misnomer; however, unlike a harmful or beneficial mutation, this type of mutation causes no harm to the organic species. For example, Science Daily writes:
The blind Mexican cavefish (Astyanax mexicanus) have not only lost their sight but have adapted to perpetual darkness by also losing their pigment… *
The loss of pigment is a loss of information in their DNA; however, the lack of pigment has no effect on the survivability of the fish.
[x] A harmful DNA mutation causes harm to the species.
[xi] E.g. from a fish with gills, fins, and a two chambered heart, to a lizard: with a three chambered heart, lungs, and legs.