God in the Classroom

 
 

God in the Classroom

Two weeks into my sophomore year in university I decided to meet up with an old friend from freshman year. She was a Muslim from Kuwait and a very interesting person to talk to considering her background. We were discussing various topics and came across the theory of evolution since she was now taking the same biology class as the one I had taken during my freshman year. She is very much into science so I decided to ask her opinion on the theory of evolution. Her response wasn’t very positive. I first I was surprised, but then I remembered I had learned the previous year that the Muslim world frowns upon the idea of evolution. I also learned that teaching evolution in the Middle East varies by state and is usually combined with creationist beliefs for the explanation of the origin of the universe. I am fan of evolution, but the conversation reminded me just how the Arab world is similar to the USA since there is a problem here with teaching evolution and God in public schools. Questions arise asking whether God should be taught alongside evolution, should we even teach evolution to our children, or does God even belong inside the classroom? I have heard these questions debated while I was growing up and coming from a family where one side believes in evolution and God and the other being in just the Almighty, and I have been able to understand both views to a certain extent. I find it puzzling why this must be such a controversial topic, but at least it is one, unlike my previous take on abortion, that I can stand firmly with one side.

Many religious people in the USA, generally Christians, have argued against evolution being taught in the classroom because it is offensive to their religious beliefs. My first problem is the growing idea that if you are Christian you can only believe in God and not in evolution. Why not both? Going back to when I told my Arab friend that I liked the idea of evolution she gave me a concerned look, knowing that the previous year I was a believer in creationism. She then asked “Don’t you believe in God?” To which I responded, “Of course I do”, but at that moment it felt as if she thought over the summer I had become an atheist. Connecting this to my question, why must I believe in one thing and not the other? If I believe that we as a race are an end result of billions of years of genetic mutations and this is the truth and that all correct knowledge the human race has is God’s truth why can’t evolution be part of that truth? It bothers me when people say that I cannot consider both creationism and evolution to be the truth and even more when religious people claim that evolution will send me to eternal damnation. I am also troubled with secular communities who believe that creationism is only for fools and the ignorant and evolution is the only pathway to the truth of our origin. The world was created in seven days, say the creationists. Since time has no meaning to God, as what we believers understand, could not there be the possibility that in those seven days, which can be interpreted as just God creating order from chaos, the big bang and all those genetic mutations occurred within that time frame?. At this moment the point I would like to make is that both sides should not see the other side’s beliefs as offensive considering they both believe in different truths. If one doesn’t accept the other’s position as the truth then that is their free will, but one should not feel offended by the other’s efforts to determine what the truth is to them.

As we finally enter the classroom, most of us remember the anger that arose when Bill Nye the Science Guy stated that creationism is not appropriate for children and that evolution will help children more with learning about the world. He is entitled to his opinion and I highly respect him, but I must protest by saying it is best that students are able to know creationism and evolution to fully understand the origin of man. Students should be exposed to all ideas and should be left with the decision to interpret which ones they want to see as the truth or not, why else would God give us free will? Even though I may support the teachings of both creationism and evolution in the classroom I find it bizarre to combine both ideas in one science class. When I took my biology course last year before we touched evolution we briefly went over creationism and the intelligent design theory. From my perspective I don’t find it appropriate to incorporate religion into a biology class. If anything religion should be combined with philosophy classes, but keep in mind, would it make sense to have a class on the religions of the world but begin the semester talking about evolution? For high school students, it seems best to have these subjects separate in their own class and not crossover.

With this knowledge it seems I should still claim that it is best for only evolution to be included in the public school’s curriculum. The reason for this is because in order to solve many heated political topics, especially when it comes to taxpayers and the public sector, one must refer to the Constitution to see if there is an answer. The answer is in the First Amendment, which is the government shall not promote nor prohibit any type of religion exercised in the USA. The law is neutral when it comes to whether one practices religion or not so it would not be justified to have religion taught as part of a curriculum. Despite the law, however, public schools in the past and to the present still teach creationism to students. This seems unconstitutional at first glance, but then a lot depends on the type of class that is being taught. Arguably, a public school that teaches creationism and all major religions of the world in a single semester or year may have more support than a school where only one course with one religion is taught and required for graduation. Then I learned that seven years ago the public schools in Modesto, California required ninth graders to take a class on world religions starting with understanding the First Amendment of the Constitution and freedom of religion. The result: higher tolerance towards different beliefs. Parts of the United States are still plagued with racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and other forms of discrimination so the idea of teaching world religions to our students may in fact help them learn to accept the differences in each other. So, as long as the classes on religions cover all beliefs to prevent a bias for one in favor of another, then this can be seen as constitutionally acceptable and recommendable as a required course for graduation.

In the end, connecting this with Bill Nye’s statement on creationism and the conversation with my Kuwaiti friend, I find it essential that both evolution and creationism should be taught to growing children and adolescents. When discussing creationism, the topics must include the major religions of the world, their history, and significance along with the understanding of the freedom to promote the acceptance of one’s belief system. I find that taking a class that can help students accept each other is no more valuable than taking a class on evolution as an explanation for the origin of the universe. Learning the truth by God and science in public schools is constitutional and to deny the opportunity for a student to learn either one of them is unjustifiable and dare I say it, prejudice.

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