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Friday, August 1, 2014

One reason a Young-Earth-Creationist Education Is Superior To Other Kinds of Science Education

Posted by jlwile on June 28, 2010

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In several other posts (here, here, here, here, here, and here) I have discussed the spectacular scientific success of students who were fortunate enough to have a young-earth-creationist science education in high school. Simply put, those who learn science from a young-earth-creationist perspective are way ahead of their peers when it comes to university-level science. There are many reasons for this, and a recent article in the journal Science discusses what is probably the most important one: A young-earth creationist science education teaches students how to analyze scientific claims critically. Unfortunately, most evolutionary-based science programs simply do not.

As the articles says:

Critique is not, therefore, some peripheral feature of science, but rather it is core to its practice, and without argument and evaluation, the construction of reliable knowledge would be impossible…Science education, in contrast, is notable for the absence of argument 1

The author of the article (Jonathan Osborne) marshals several lines of evidence to indicate that in order to achieve success in science education, teachers and textbooks must emphasize the argumentation involved in science. I couldn’t agree more.

As one of the figure captions in the article says:

Scientists routinely debate their theories, their data, and the implications. Research shows that argumentation in the classroom can improve conceptual learning. 2

Many of the studies that Osborne cites in defense of this statement were unfamiliar to me, but what he claims they show is quite fascinating. For example, he says that studies have shown that when students are separated into discussion groups that contain a diversity of opinions on an issue, the students make significant educational gains compared to when they are separated into discussion groups that contain roughly the same opinion on an issue. Interestingly enough, he cites one study that indicates these gains persist even when the students are exposed to incorrect ideas.

Another interesting study he cites is a meta-analysis of 18 other studies. It attempted to evaluate the relative effectiveness of three kinds of group learning activities: (1) activities that involved argumentation, (2) activities that involved the group working together to make a single product (like a lab report), and (3) activities involving experimentation. It found that the group projects involving argumentation produced the most learning gains, followed by activities that involved the group producing a single project, followed by experimental activities. This was particularly interesting to me, because I have always rejected the notion that students learn science best by doing experiments. The meta-analysis cited by Osborne seems to support my view. It indicates students learn science best by argumentation, not by experimentation.

This, of course, makes perfect sense to anyone who understands how science works. As Osborne makes clear, science is all about critical analysis. You won’t learn how to do critical analysis if you are just spoon-fed the “scientific consensus.” You need to be exposed to a broad range of scientific ideas, and you need to critically analyze and argue about them.

This, of course, is exactly what a young-earth-creationist science education does. In my books (and in most young-earth creationist books), significant time is spent critically examining and arguing with evolutionary notions about things like fossils, genetics, abiogenesis, age of the earth, etc. Is it any wonder, then, that when students are exposed to this kind of science education in high school, they go on to be superstar students in the university-level sciences? They have been given an advantage that most of their peers have not been given: the ability to critically examine scientific issues. This simply makes them better scientists.

So should every school start teaching young-earth creationism? Of course not! Should every teacher be forced to include young-earth-creationist materials in his or her science courses? Of course not! Indeed, I have stated previously that I do not support the mandated teaching of intelligent design or any other “flavor” of creationism in schools. In fact, I don’t support many mandates at all when it comes to how teachers should teach. Teachers know how to teach better than legislators and educrats. They should be allowed to do what they know best.

With that in mind, however, I do think that educators should look for ways to include scientific controversies in their courses, and more importantly, they should be allowed to include such material in their lesson plans. Unfortunately, evolutionists know full well that if people start critically examining evolution, it will be shown for the unconfirmed hypothesis that it really is. As a result, they fervently oppose any attempt to even allow teachers to include a critical analysis of evolution in their classrooms. Of course, this exposes such people for who they are: enemies of good science education.

Jonathan Osborne makes a very strong case for discussing scientific controversies in the classroom to improve the dismal level of science education that we have in the United States. Unfortunately, because many scientists fear opening the “scientific consensus” up to critical analysis, I seriously doubt his suggestion will be taken seriously.

Fortunately, parents have a choice. They can educate at home, or they can find private schools that value science education more than protecting the “scientific consensus.” The children of such parents will be the scientific leaders of the next generation.


1. Jonathan Osborne, “Arguing to Learn in Science: The Role of Collaborative, Critical Discourse,” Science 328:464, 2010 (article available online with subscription)
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2. Ibid., p. 465 (article available online with subscription)
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8 Responses to “One reason a Young-Earth-Creationist Education Is Superior To Other Kinds of Science Education”
  1. Josiah says:

    So the actual point isn’t that a YEC education is particularly good in and of itself, but that exposure to controversy helps build up students?

  2. jlwile says:

    That’s the point of the article I reference: the exposure to controversy that helps build up students. My point was this is ONE of the reasons a YEC education is superior to most other forms of science education. It has the controversy part built right in.

  3. Kevin N says:

    Dr. Wile:

    While YEC education may do a good job of teaching Christian students to think critically about evolution, it generally does not do a good job of enabling those same students to think critically about young-Earth creationism itself. Many ideas that were once in the mainstream among YECs—moon dust, Paluxy River dinosaur footprints, vapor canopy—are now on AiG’s “Arguments we don’t use” page, and most of the arguments they continue to use to support a young Earth and flood geology should be added to the list. This cannot be dismissed with “That’s how science works;” there is something fundamentally faulty in the system.

    I am glad that many students who have used Apologia material are excelling in their university studies. I am not convinced that they are succeeding because of their YEC background; there are doubtless a number of factors that have gone into this. My concern is for those students who were raised on YEC materials (often from the fringe of the YEC movement) who go off to university, discover that much of what they learned in their YEC schooling doesn’t work, and discard their Christianity along with their ICR/AiG/Dr. Dino DVDs.

    With Respect,
    Kevin N

  4. jlwile says:

    Hi Kevin. Thanks so much for the comment. I have to disagree with you on many points, however. First, science changes dramatically over the years. Arguments that evolutionists used 50 years ago are on the “do not use” list of evolutionists today, because they simply aren’t correct in light of new information. So this is, indeed, the way science works, and the very fact that YECs keep a list of “do not use” arguments is a sign that young-earth creationism is quite healthy scientifically.

    Of course you are wrong when it comes to flood geology. It is a robust paradigm that, in my opinion, offers a much more reasonable description of the major aspects of earth’s geological record.

    You are also quite wrong when you say a YEC education “generally does not do a good job of enabling those same students to think critically about young-Earth creationism itself.” In my courses, at least, I teach both sides of the age-of-the earth issue so that students can, indeed, think critically about it. For example, after teaching both the uniformitist approach and the catastrophist approach to geology, I spend a two-week module contrasting them. At the beginning, I say:

    Now that you have learned the basics of uniformitarianism and catastrophism, I want to spend some time contrasting these two views of earth’s history. The contrast will be very interesting, because you will see how these two hypotheses lead to dramatically different views of what happened in earth’s past. Hopefully, I will be as even-handed as possible, but please remember that all scientists are biased. It is impossible to be otherwise. Thus, I am biased as well. In my scientific opinion, the data leans heavily in favor of catastrophism. So I am sure my discussion will as well! Please remember that as you read.

    Critical thinking is paramount to any serious science education. Quite frankly, I think a YEC education promotes it better than any other science education that I have seen.

    I agree that there are many factors that end up causing students who use my curriculum to excel at the university-level sciences. The controversy aspect is only one of them. In fact, I think another critical reason YEC students do so well at university-level science is that they have learned REAL science, not the silly dogma that is so prevalent in uniformitarianism. As a result, they can sift through the nonsense and concentrate on the data, which makes them excellent scientists. This is also why, in my experience, most YEC students do not discard their Christianity when they study at the university level. Instead, I know many YEC scientists who became young-earthers at university, because they saw that uniformitarianism doesn’t work very well. I also know some YECs that changed to OECs or theistic evolutionists as well. I know only a couple of YECs who went to university and discarded their Christianity. I also know a couple of OECs and theistic evolutionists who went to university and discarded their Christianity. I see no evidence to support your idea that YECs tend to discard their Christianity any more often than Christians who have other ideas on creation.

    My concern is for those students who have never been exposed to real science. As a result, they carry dogma into the scientific classroom. This, of course, applies to the majority of students I had when I taught at the university level. Most of them had no idea what science was all about, because they were taught uniformitarianism as gospel rather than in light of the data, where it doesn’t fare very well.

  5. Kevin N says:

    Dr. Wile:

    Thank you for your gracious response.

    Like most Christian geologists (and most Christian geologists reject YEC), I don’t share your enthusiasm for flood geology. It is not a robust paradigm, but fails in many ways to account for the features of the lithosphere and landscape of Earth.

    I am curious as to what definition you give in your textbooks for “uniformitarianism.” Most YEC literature I have seen give something like Lyell’s version of uniformitarianism from the early 19th century, often with a one-grain-at-a-time over millions of years process of sedimentation. Most 19th century geologists rejected this strict definition, and I don’t know of any geologists today who are uniformitarianists in this strict sense.

    The way modern geologists define uniformitarianism—if they use the term at all—is that the present laws of nature apply at all times and should be used to decipher the rock record. This does not rule out catastrophic events, such as asteroid impacts or the Scabland Floods of Eastern Washington, as these events operate within the laws of nature.

    All sciences work within this framework, not just the historical sciences such as geology. I would even say that, for the most part, catastrophist flood geology works this way. The geologists at AiG, ICR, and other YEC organizations attempt to explain Earth history using known laws of stratigraphy (the laws of superposition, cross-cutting, original horizontality, etc.), hydrology, sedimentation, geochemistry, and other scientific disciplines to explain Earth history. Therefore, much of what YEC geologists advocate is actually in accord with the modern definition of uniformitarianism: using present laws and processes to explain the past.

    Because of this, the “uniformitarianism vs. catastrophism” approach to teaching geology may be presenting a false dichotomy to students. I disagree with teaching uniformitarianism as “silly dogma” and catastrophism as “real science” and then saying that you have taught both sides. This is especially true if using a 19th century version of uniformitarianism.

    For the Christian geologist, assuming that God’s laws of nature apply to the past as well as the present does not rule out God’s intervention in redemptive history, whether it be in the initial creation, the flood, or the life and resurrection of Christ. For example, I believe the flood really happened, but I don’t believe it was global. I have both Biblical and geological support for this position. The Bible does not say that the flood created the rock record, so I’m not going to try to find a way to force a fit.

    So the debate should not be between godless uniformitarianism (being that YECs for the most part work within modern uniformitarian assumptions) and Biblical catastrophism. For reasons I won’t outline here, I don’t think catastrophism is Biblically required, and I certainly don’t think it does a good job of explaining Earth history.

    On another topic from your comment: You state that you know many YEC scientists who became young-Earthers at university. Were any of them geologists? I would be especially interested to know of any MS/PhD-level geologists (those who know the Earth the best) who converted to YEC based on evidence from the Earth.

    My apologies for the long comment.

  6. jlwile says:

    Hi Kevin. Thanks for the reply. I agree that most Christian geologists reject YEC. However, most scientists reject ANY scientific idea that challenges the current paradigm. This is why the argument from authority means very little to me. The data support flood geology, so I will continue to be enthusiastic about it unless the data stop supporting it.

    Perhaps you should actually read some YEC literature before criticizing it. In my book, the definition of uniformitarianism is, “The view that most of earth’s geological features are the result of slow, gradual processes that have been at work for millions or even billions of years.” I certainly agree that catastrophic events play a role in mainstream geology today. However, as I point out in my book, the question is what forces are the result of MOST of the geological features we see today. The uniformitarian thinks MOST are the result of slow, gradual process. The catastrophist thinks that MOST are the result of catastrophic processes.

    The “uniformitarianism vs. catastrophism” approach is, indeed, the correct way to show the two differing views of geology, because it correctly characterizes them. When you look at the strata in the Grand Canyon, for example, you see most of them arising as a result of slow, gradual processes. I see them arising as a result of a large, single catastrophe. That’s the difference between your view and mine, and that’s how it should be taught. Of course, in the book I don’t use words like “silly dogma,” because the dogma comes from the scientists, not the science itself. Indeed, the most dogma-oriented people I know are among my scientific colleagues. Also, I do not characterize uniformitarianism (or even evolutionism) as godless, as it is not. Once again, reading things is helpful before you start criticizing them.

    I certainly agree that you should not find a way to “force” science to fit the Bible. However, you should also not “force” the data to fit a view simply because it is currently held by the majority of scientists. I could easily become an old-earth creationist or even a theistic evolutionist if science really pointed me that way. It does not. I also agree that the Bible doesn’t require catastrophism. However, in my view, science does.

    I did not hang around with geologists when I was at university, and while I taught at university, I spent most of my time with chemistry and physics students. However, there is a very good book called Persuaded by the Evidence that has the stories of several scientists and why they became YECs. Dr. Andrew Snelling is a PhD geologist whose story is in there. He discusses evidences from the earth that convinced him of YEC. Another book, In Six Days, details other scientists and why they are YECs. Dr. John Baumgardner (geophysicist), Dr. Elaine Kennedy (geology), and Dr. Kurt Wise (geology) are in that book.

  7. Kevin N says:

    Dr. Wile:

    Don’t worry, I don’t intend to get into a lengthy debate here on your blog. As a blogger myself, I know that can get frustrating.

    I’ve looked through your blog and would like to compliment you on having one of the most reasonable YEC blogs on the internet. I will add a link to your blog on my blog.

    I have read a considerable amount of YEC literature, and don’t think I have misrepresented the general flavor of what is out there. Please forgive me if you feel I misrepresented your position in any way.

    I am aware of the PhD Geologists who are YECs. As far as I know, none of them became YECs through their study of geology. Instead, either they were YECs from the beginning, or became convinced early on that the Bible required a YEC interpretation and their geological interpretation flows out of that.

    Christian geologists who reject YEC don’t do so because they are stuck in the majority paradigm, but because there are a number of reasons why the YEC flood geology scenario simply cannot explain most of the geologic record. Dr. Andrew Snelling recently had a series in AiG’s Answers magazine on “Six main geologic evidences for the Genesis Flood.” Not one of these arguments stands up well when closely examined, as I point out in my series Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis.

  8. jlwile says:

    Kevin, thank you for your kind words. However, I do think you mischaracterize both my work and the work of most YECs. For example, the article you linked from your “Six Bad Arguments” series makes the reader think that Snelling doesn’t know the uniformitarian explanation for folding. He does, and he states it in his article. He also indicates why it doesn’t work. You also don’t seem to understand how Flood geologists view the nature of the sedimentary layers at the time such folding takes place. They are partially lithified, but still pliant. Remember, they experienced the pressure of the upper layers for a while as the Flood water receded. Thus, the problems of intense localized folding, diapirs, sand pillows, and clastic dikes that you claim are “very serious” for Snelling’s argument don’t even apply.

    You also micharacterize YEC geologists as becoming “convinced early on that the Bible required a YEC interpretation and their geological interpretation flows out of that.” While someone like Dr. Wise might be rightly characterized that way, Snelling certainly isn’t. What you mischaracterize as forcing a YEC interpretation on the data is really just realizing that there is another possible interpretation and noticing that the data fit that interpretation better.

    Please don’t take this the wrong way. I am not trying to insult you or “call you on the carpet” for what you are doing. When a person has been forcing the data to conform to a certain view for a long time, he or she typically doesn’t read the other side very seriously. I expect that’s what you are doing when it comes to what YEC literature you have read. I encourage you to have an open mind. I was once an old-earther myself. However, in looking at the data with an open mind, I simply couldn’t continue to believe what the data indicate isn’t true.

    I will also add a link to your blog from mine. As you can see from my list of links to investigate, I strongly encourage people to look at all sides.

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