How Adventist Fundamentalists Think Academy (High School) Biology Courses Should Be Taught
by Ervin Taylor, October 1, 2017: Please Note: Part 2 of the series of this writer commenting on the book God Is Here to Stay: Science, Evolution and Belief in God will be posted on the AT website at a later time
Warning: The theme for this commentary was inspired by a Doonesbury cartoon and several comments of an Adventist General Conference official. A few names have been changed to protect the innocent. The name of a non-innocent individual has not been changed.
Scene: An Adventist academy* teacher, Mr. John Smith, is lecturing to his biology class. Mr. Smith is leaving teaching at this Adventist academy at the end of this semester and going to graduate school.
John Smith, Academy Biology Teacher: “So the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence supports a theory that the world and life on our planet are very old − in the billions of years − and that some type of biological evolution explains, scientifically, much of everything we know about why living things have come to have their current form. However, as students at this faith-based school, I need to tell you about a belief called ‘the truth’ around here supported by somewhere, at best, between 1 and 2% of the scientific evidence and then tell you that it is the truth.”
Academy Biology Teacher continues: “‘The truth’ goes something like this: About 6,000 years ago, the heavens and the earth and all life upon it were created in six days. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out so well. There was a talking snake and a tree and, well . . . anyway, a world-wide flood drowned almost everything on earth except the family of a 600-year-old man who was charged with saving animals. So this man took two of everything, including mosquitoes, but forgot the dinosaurs, and put them all in this boat. Then. . . .”
Joe Jones, Intelligent Senior: “Mr. Smith?”
Teacher: “Yes, Joe?”
Intelligent Senior: “Are you serious?”
Biology Teacher: “Of course. This is a faith-based school. We are required to teach you the faith of those who founded this school and that of their inspired prophet. The President of the General Conference of the organized religion which gives its name to this school says this is how biology should be taught. I’ve been told his name is Ted something.”
Intelligent Senior: “But do you, Mr. Smith, believe what you just said is the truth and even an ‘alternative theory’? And how much does the president of a church body know about biology?”
Biology Teacher: “In my personal opinion, this so-called ‘truth’ and purported ‘alternative theory’ are both bad theology and bad science. And as far as I know, Ted something knows nothing about biology. He was, I think, a theology major many years ago. However, apparently he thinks he knows the thoughts of God when he reads the Bible.”
Intelligent Senior: “So why do you teach what you don’t think is true?”
Biology Teacher: “I believe I already said why. This is a faith-based school. We are required to teach you the faith of those who founded this school. Besides that, your parents are paying a lot of tuition money to make sure you are not exposed to ‘Satanic science’ and stay with the faith that sponsors this school. So anyone who teaches here has to pretend that he believes the things that those who founded this school believed and that Ted something currently believes. However, if you ask me directly, I will tell you about the weight of the scientific evidence because I’m not going to be teaching at an Adventist academy anymore.”
Intelligent Senior: “So you are here teaching us a lie?”
Biology Teacher: “Well, ‘lie’ is a little strong. Let us say rather that I am teaching you what those who founded this school and the prophet whose beliefs they follow believed is truth — unless, of course, you ask me directly about my own beliefs.”
Intelligent Senior: “Don’t you find what you are doing a little intellectually dishonest?” (This academy student has been reading his older brother’s university-level philosophy textbook.)
Biology Teacher: “A little bit. However, Joe, when you grow up and have children (after, I hope, you are married), you might see this whole thing in a different light.”
Intelligent Senior: “I hope not, Mr. Smith.”
Biology Teacher: “I hope so too, Joe.”
* Concerned Adventist fundamentalists may wish to examine calling Adventist high schools “academies.” The name comes from the name of Plato‘s school of philosophy in ancient Athens which was located at the Akademia, located in an area sacred to the Greek god Athena. Do we want our precious youth exposed to schools associated with pagan gods?
Ervin Taylor is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology and Past Director of the Radiocarbon Laboratory at the University of California, Riverside. He is also currently a Visiting Professor at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA and Visiting Scientist at the Keck Carbon Cycle Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at the University of California, Irvine. He has served as the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.