The Coming Classical Christian Downgrade

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A few years ago at the national ACCS convention, my son Nate was giving one of the plenary addresses, in the course of which he made a crack about creation and evolution. The response that remark got — enthusiasm on the one hand, and bleh on the other, not to mention the resultant crackle in the room — told me a lot about one of our great challenges in the classical Christian school movement. It is a challenge we are not doing so well on.

The Sitch

Novare Science is a science curriculum that is now commonly used in classical Christian schools. Published by Classical Academic Press, it is also carried by both Veritas Press and Memoria Press. That is a good chunk of the classical Christian publishing world, right there. So if you want to get a little more oriented, I would encourage you to check out their web site — in particular the FAQ about their biology text.

“Disclaimer: This book contains views on Theistic Evolution which are contrary to the Creationist view which Veritas teaches as true. However, it remains one of the best curricula on science for classical education.”

When I first published this article, I was unaware of this disclaimer on the Veritas website. I should have been aware of it, and I apologize to Veritas for missing it. I have already apologized to Marlin Detweiler directly, and am posting this notice here. I am very glad that Veritas remains opposed to theistic evolution. At the same time, I remain concerned that Veritas carries the text, even with the disclaimer, because the text is not one of the best. Or, if it is one of the best, we are in deep trouble.

Biologos is openly committed to theistic evolution, and they have touted Novare’s curriculum. Given that men like Tim Keller and Michael Horton are cool with Biologos, it is not surprising that this outlook is also making inroads in the classical Christian world of education. But this is not a Trojan horse. Nor is it a teeny little Trojan Eohippus. No, this is a Trojan Argentinosaurus. Lots of compromise can fit inside that thing.

For theological reasons, to be developed in a minute, I need to make a distinction between old earth cosmology and theistic evolution. I don’t agree with either one, but they are very different mistakes. All theistic evolutionists hold to an old earth, of necessity, but not all old-earthers believe in evolution. And we also have to factor in people like Milton who, never having heard of Darwin, apparently held to an older cosmos and a young earth. Church history has contained more than a few odd views on this general topic, but enough about Augustine. The real hazard in all this, post Darwin, is the idea of common descent, and the denial or downplaying of a historic Adam and Eve. And that particular compromise is establishing a foothold in many classical Christian schools.

If you read through the linked material, you will see young earth creation sharply distinguished from old earth creation, while old earth creation and theistic evolution are treated like they are more or less the same thing. This has the result confounding a couple of issues that must not be confounded. It is the difference between hard core creationism and/or intelligent design on one side, and methodological naturalism on the other. And you cannot prepare students to face down naturalism by teaching them how to surrender to it before the first battle.

I care a lot less about how old a particular asteroid might be than I do about whether Adam and Eve had great grandparents who were also great primates. Of course, because the authority of Scripture is at stake with both questions, I do care about both, but the former error is simply an error, while the latter error is a disaster on stilts. We cannot lose the first Adam without losing the last Adam, along with the gospel, and our salvation, and the meaning of life. It is not a trifle.

Papering Over What Can’t Be Papered Over

Jeffrey Mays, on the team at Classical Academic Press, seems to offer a safe academic space in which these tough questions can be asked and addressed. He laments the tendency to demonize those who differ with us on this issue. Classical Academic Press doesn’t take a stand on evolution, one way or the other, which is of course, just a subtle way of taking a surreptitious stand. But the olive branch does look inviting.

In many cases, they are taught from an early age to suspect the opposing side of treachery, irrationality and impiety.

Jeffrey Mays, link

But having praised the importance of extending intellectual charity in debates like this — as in, we shouldn’t accuse our opponents of things like “irrationality” — Mays goes on to tag young earth creationists with occupying the same intellectual space as do flat-earthers.

But in today’s world, it is not OK to just go on believing in a young earth any more than it is believing in a flat earth.

Jeffrey Mays, link

Okay, then. So why would intellectually sophisticated Christians, those who have not “checked their brains” at the church door, want to work together with us in our wattle and daub flat-earther schools? The answer is pretty plain, and it is the old, old story. Believers build things, and then skeptics join the team in order to oversee seminars that raise the vexed question of “hath God said?”

Giving Away the Store

Just recently I again went through Francis Schaeffer’s marvelous little book Escape From Reason, and was edified in all kinds of ways. Half a century later, it is clear exactly how prescient Schaeffer was. Without a historic space/time fall, a time when a historic Adam ate the fruit that was forbidden him, the entire Christian framework, worldview, and gospel, lie in shambles. And once that Christian framework, worldview and gospel are in shambles, it is not long before the Christian lives of our young people are down there with them.

The glory of classical Christian education is that, when it is done right, it equips the student to meet the intellectual challenges that will be thrown at him. When accommodation is made with evolution in any way, to any extent, that equipping vanishes. It is as though the school was created to fit out the student in the whole armor of God, but as a result of certain sophisticated compromises in the science department, we decided that we would rather send them out with a broken stick and a trash can lid. But that is not the sword of the Spirit, nor is it the shield of faith. It is the stick of the spirit of the age, and the trash can lid of urbane doubts.

There are numerous issues related to all of this, but I will just mention one. If there is one argumentative juggernaut that modern unbelief loves to deploy against believers, it is the problem of evil. And if there is one argument that Christians struggle to answer, it is the same one.

So let us see what theistic evolution does to the problem of natural evil. Take the first chapters of Genesis in whatever creative way the theistic evolutionist would have you take it. One thing is undeniable, and that is that God thought what he was doing was good and very good. (Gen. 1: 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). So whatever was actually happening down underneath all that creation narrative poetry, God thought it was splendid.

But what was happening? Well, it was nature down there, red in tooth and claw. It was aeon after aeon of a process that one thinker described as solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. We are forced to believe in the existence of these long ages — are we not?– because of the massive fossil bone yards that we find all over the world. You know, billions of carcasses. Cemeteries as far as the eye can see. Millions of years of struggle and pain and agonistic dying. And there is the God of your theistic evolutionary process, looking down on the whole bloody process, beaming. And behold, it was very good.

No sin either. Just massive amounts of pain and suffering. No, check that. Good pain and suffering. In this system, agonistic struggle is not the result of Adam’s fall. In the “simplistic” young earth creationist perspective, Adam’s sin introduced death into the world. In the theistic evolution scenario, death introduced Adam. In the biblical framework, the world is broken because we broke it. In the world of the methodological naturalist, there is no reason at all for supposing the world to be broken in any way.

The difference is stark, and when you follow it out to the end, the gospel itself is at stake. Either the suffering we see in this sorry world is the result of our rebellion and fall, or else it is simply one of God’s good instruments for bringing about His inscrutable will. And when terrible things happen, just realize that sometimes people get caught in the machinery. And the Christian God, the Father of Jesus Christ, is turned into an inscrutable power who mashes up sentient creatures just for fun.

Looking for an Exit

If you have your kids in a classical Christian school, good for you. But if they are going to be taught theistic evolution as a legitimate option for Christian worldview thinking, then you need to be looking for the first available exit ramp.

The issue is not who you will fellowship with. The issue is not whether you will come to the Lord’s Table with someone who thinks this way. Of course you should. The issue is whether you should hire that guy to teach your children how to think like a Christian. And on that subject, he is manifestly unqualified.

And of course, you should not just walk away from an otherwise good school. But you must raise the question about the science curriculum — and raise it wherever the decisions are made. It might be with the administrator, or it might be a curriculum committee, or it might be the board. But raise the question you must.

If you raise the question, and your concerns are heard and acted on, then well and good. But if they are dismissed, or somebody pats your poor little fundamentalist head, or you are patronized in some other way, then the battle is already lost.

And that means that the coming classical Christian downgrade is inevitable.