Old Earth, Young Minds: Evangelical Homeschoolers Embrace Evolution

More Christian parents are asking for mainstream science in their children's curricula. Will religious textbook companies deliver?

homeschool-top.jpg Jen Baird Seurkamp, a Kentucky evangelical who homeschools her children, avoids textbooks that discredit evolution. (Kate Mitchell Hisey)

For homeschooling parents who want to teach their children that the earth is only a few thousand years old, the theory of evolution is a lie, and dinosaurs coexisted with humans, there is no shortage of materials. Kids can start with the Answers in Genesis curriculum, which features books such as Dinosaurs of Eden, written by Creation Museum founder Ken Ham. As the publisher's description states, "This exciting book for the entire family uses the Bible as a 'time machine' to journey through the events of the past and future."

It's no secret that the majority of homeschooled children in America belong to evangelical Christian families. What's less known is that a growing number of their parents are dismayed by these textbooks.

Take Erinn Cameron Warton, an evangelical Christian who homeschools her children. Warton, a scientist, says she was horrified when she opened a homeschool science textbook and found a picture of Adam and Eve putting a saddle on a dinosaur. "I nearly choked," says the mother of three. "When researching homeschooling curricula, I found that the majority of Christian homeschool textbooks are written from this ridiculous perspective. Once I saw this, I vowed never to use them." Instead, Warton has pulled together a curriculum inspired partly by homeschool pioneer Susan Wise Bauer and partly by the Waldorf holistic educational movement.

For many evangelical families, the rationale for homeschooling has nothing to do with a belief in Young Earth Creationism or a rejection of evolutionary theory. Some parents choose to homeschool because they're disenchanted with the values taught in the public school system. Others want to incorporate more travel into their children's education. Still others want to implement specific learning techniques they believe are more suitable for their children.

But whatever their reason for homeschooling, evangelical families who embrace modern science are becoming more vocal about it -- and are facing the inevitable criticism that comes with that choice. "We get a lot of flak from others for not using Christian textbooks," Warton says.

Theologically conservative Christians were not always so polarized. "By the late 19th century," says David R. Montgomery author of The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood, "evangelical theologians generally accepted the compelling geological evidence for the reality of an old earth." However, Darwin's idea of natural selection scared away many fundamentalists, who saw "survival of the fittest" as an atheistic concept. Over time, those who insisted on a literal interpretation of the Bible's account of creation came to reject both geology and evolutionary biology.

This staunch rejection of modern science tends to characterize today's leading homeschool textbooks. For example, Science 4 Christian Schools, a homeschool textbook published by Bob Jones University Press, doesn't mince words when it comes to evolution and Christian faith. "People who accept the Bible believe that God made everything," the book states. "They call God's description of how things began the Creation Model. Those who disregard the Bible believe instead that everything got here by itself. They call this description of how things began the Evolution Model."

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David R. Wheeler is a freelance writer based in Lexington, Kentucky, and an assistant professor of journalism at Asbury University.

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