Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation


Robert D. Knudsen, Ph.D.

From: JASA Vol. 12 (March 1960); 26-27.

In this issue we continue the column which was begun by Professor Vivian Dow. Discussing the topic, "The Christian Faith and the Public School," Miss Dow investigated various sources of unfriendliness to the Christian religion in the public schools. Her conclusion was that our public schools are unfriendly to anything but the vaguest kind of religion and that the pupil could hardly avoid gaining the impression that if there is a God at all he is not of vital importance. Her article dosed with the question, "What is the Christian answer to the situation?" In this second installment she gives her provisional answers.

The first and most obvious answer, of course, is the Christian school. Possibly it is the best answer. A great number of Christian schools are now in operation and they undoubtedly deserve more whole-hearted support than they receive from the majority of Christians. But loyalty to the cause of Christian education and the Christian school should not blind us to the problems and flaws that exist.

One of the worst problems is the financial one. Not every family can afford a private school; nor can the Christian school. operating within a limited budget, always provide adequate facilities and a salary designed to attract topnotch teachers. Another problem is a satisfactory Christian philosophy of education. Several well-known Christian philosophers have attempted to meet this need, but the results are somewhat disappointing; most of them are "too heavenly minded to be any earthly good" with reference to such practical matters as educational methods and curriculum. The result is that the Christian school is in danger of being merely a secular institution baptized into Christianity with Bible reading and prayer before class. The curriculum, the textbooks, and the teaching procedures are identical with those of the secular school, and the teachers, while they are dedicated Christians, are nevertheless, as graduates of secular schools of education, unwittingly indoctrinated with an educational philosophy and psychology which is incompatible with the Christian view of nature and man.

Space will permit only a bare mention of other problems, such as the psychological and social effect on the student of being separated from his neighborhood associates to attend a private religious school, and the effect on his scientific, social, and theological concepts of an obscurantism that often characterizes the evangelical elementary and secondary school teacher. I believe the Christian school is performing an important function and should be supported; but it needs strengthening and improvement if it is to counteract the paganism of our modern world.

A second answer to irreligion in the schools is denominational religious instruction. In some areas there is a program of released-time instruction. Even in areas where released-time classes are not feasible, the church could provide a program of instruction if the Christian community were sufficiently interested. If the instruction is to be successful in the released-time program or in the church program, however, the church must see to it that it is of topnotch quality and the parents must support the program by attitude, example· and precept. Slipshod teaching about God and parental indifference to religious instruction can only foster the impression in the mind of the child that God is not important enough to command the quality of effort devoted to secular matters by the public school. Too often this is the situation.1

There are many other answers to the problem, no doubt. One of the best is a home environment and home instruction that is distinctively Christian. The family that gives God top priority in the affairs of daily life is counteracting the godless effect of the public school. Mere Christian environment, however, is not enough; it needs the addition of specific instruction in Christian doctrine and ethics. Speaking from my own experience as a professor in a college drawing most of its students from the evangelical group, I would say that the religious knowledge of the average Christian young person would hardly fill a peanut shell. Juniors in college who are ardently evangelical but who can read Swedenborg with unruffled approval and who cannot name the writers of the four gospels can hardly be considered religiously educated. Few students entering the college from Christian homes had read even the New Testament completely through at least once, to say nothing of the entire Bible. Such ignorance on the pan of Christians of the fundamentals of the faith is inexcusable. Why are the home and the church not doing a better job of instructing the child?  We need to read again the injunction of Deuteronomy 6:7 concerning the instruction of our children in the Word of God.

My final point is that the real answer to irreligion in the public schools of America is an evangelical Christianity that is making a vital impact on our society. We

need a clear and modern enunciation of our faith; and by this I do not mean a modernistic or a modernized enunciation, an enunciation of something other than the
faith once and for all delivered to the saints. Neo-orthodoxy has given us that. I mean instead that we need the kind of informed, doctrinally educated, positive,
and vital New Testament Christianity that can and will make a difference in civic and educational affairs. We need laymen who are awake to the real enemies of the Christian faith, not Don Quixotes making Christianity ridiculous by fighting the windmills of movies, makeup, and modern translations of a Bible they fail to read in the Authorized Version.

We need to develop a clear philosophy of science, offering a satisfactory alternative not only to atheistic evolutionism but also to the egregious misinformation
that plagues the Christian community, the complex of misconceptions derived largely from the writings of certain self -styled scientific experts of a generation
gone, whose Christian zeal was more laudable than their competence.

We need to encourage Christian young people to enter the teaching profession. The public schools of America would be more godless than they are were it not for the Christian teachers whose example and attitudes in the classroom speak in defense of religion even when their are silent. 'lYe need also to strengthen the education departments of our Christian colleges in order to provide these young people with the kind of education that will enable them to evaluate critically the psychology, philosophy, and education theory underlying the methods and materials they use in the schools. We need in addition to develop more Christian graduate schools so that our young people can prepare in a Christian atmosphere for careers in science, in government, in education, and in all phases of human endeavor.

We need to open the eyes of Christians to the possibility of writing textbooks for the schools, both public and parochial. and to opportunities in school administration on national. state, and local levels, We need also to encourage Christian parents to interest themselves in their local Parent-Teacher Associations and school boards. This is a nation whose first and greatest schools and colleges were established for the purpose of training students for the Christian ministry because its society was liberally flavored with the "salt of the earth." If our public schools are irreligious, we Christians are partly at fault, and we ought to do something about it.

1. Cf. Waterhouse, Howard A. "Is Re1eased Time Worthwhile?" The Christian Century, LXXIV, 40 (October 2, 1957), pp. 116-118.