subscribe to the RSS Feed

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Homeschooling and Creationism: A Recipe for Stellar Students

Posted by jlwile on June 1, 2011

I saw this story on The GeoChristian some time ago, but then I got distracted (probably by something shiny) and forgot to post about it. However, I had occasion to remember it because I got an E-MAIL from a homeschooled student regarding his first year at college. I hope to turn that E-MAIL into a separate blog post. For right now, however, I want to concentrate on the story that was originally posted at The GeoChristian.

The story is based on the most recent results of the ETS Proficiency Profile. It is a test given on 261 college campuses nationwide, and it supposedly measures the abilities of students when it comes to critical thinking, writing, reading, the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and mathematics. Colleges and universities participate in the test strictly on a volunteer basis. The elite schools don’t see themselves as benefiting from the test, so Harvard, Yale, etc., do not participate. Other less rigorous schools are concerned about what the results might be, so they don’t participate, either. Nevertheless, there are enough colleges and universities participating that it allows for some reasonable gauge of the academic prowess of students on any participating campus.

I haven’t seriously looked at ETS Proficiency Profile results for quite some time, having left my university faculty position in 1996. Nevertheless, my recollection is that in general, an institution whose students have the highest overall score on the test rarely captures first place in every subcategory. Thus, a college’s students might score well enough in math, the natural sciences, and critical thinking to get first overall, but other colleges will take first prize when it comes to their students’ abilities in writing, the humanities, or the social sciences.

This year’s results, however, were a clean sweep. One college received the highest score in all categories. That college was Patrick Henry College.

The college was rather happy with the results, so the provost posted a report about it. Obviously, he has every right to be proud. When your students can outperform the students from 260 other colleges and universities in the U.S., you are probably doing something right. The GeoChristian wondered how this is possible, especially in the natural sciences category. After all, Patrick Henry College is a young-earth creationist college. It specifically states in its catalog that all biology and Bible courses at the college will be taught from the standpoint that the creation of the universe occurred in six 24-hour days. The GeoChristian is under the severely mistaken impression that the young-earth creationist position is not consistent with the scientific data. How, then, could these students possibly do well on the natural sciences section of the ETS Proficiency Profile?

The GeoChristian offers several possible explanations, but in my view, they are all off the mark. There are two main reasons the students at Patrick Henry College do so well compared to their peers, and I will list them in order of importance:

1. The majority of the students are homeschool graduates.

2. A young-earth creationist education is, by far, the best science education a student can have.

As to the first point, there is simply no question that on average, homeschooled students are academically superior to their peers. Indeed, I got involved in the homeschooling movement specifically because while I was on the faculty at Ball State University, my very best students were the homeschool graduates. When I searched the academic literature to see if my experience was representative of the norm, I found that it was. Thus, any college that has a lot of homeschool graduates will definitely score well on any measure of academic prowess.

I have written about the second point before. A young-earth creationist science education not only helps students learn science better, but it also helps them develop strong critical thinking skills, which aid in every other area of academic inquiry. One reason, of course, is that the young-earth creationist position is the most scientifically-reasonable position to take when looking at the earth. As I have discussed before, it doesn’t require any scientifically-irresponsible extrapolation, and it allows you to look at all the data, not just the data that support the “scientific consensus.” As a result, the student gets a much better view of what nature actually looks like.

More importantly, since young-earth creationism goes so strongly against the scientific mainstream, it requires the student to critically analyze scientific positions in a way that most students never get a chance to do. For example, while most students (even at the college level) think that the geological column as presented in textbooks (with its full complement of layers and fossils) is an actual physical reality, a young-earth creationist education forces the student to understand what the geological column really is: a theoretical construct based on multiple assumptions. As a result, even if the young-earth creationist position is incorrect (I don’t think it is, but even if it is), a student educated in that framework will actually know more about the details of the scientific consensus than other students who are taught within the framework of the consensus.

It is not surprising to me, then, that a group of homeschool graduates who have been taught from a young-earth creationist perspective scored so well on the natural science and critical thinking sections of the ETS Proficiency Profile. In fact, I would be surprised if they had not.

Comments

64 Responses to “Homeschooling and Creationism: A Recipe for Stellar Students”
  1. Mark says:

    “Thus, whether a particular idea is currently accepted by various institutions has little bearing on its validity.” First – “thus” I do not think it means what you think it means. Second – let’s try a verbal Venn diagram. Draw a large circle for “all ideas science has ever come up with”. Then draw a very small circle tangent but within that large circle for “currently accepted by various institutions”. Now we’re left with “validity”. This circle will cover almost every part of the small circle, a tiny bit of the big circle, and some amount outside the large circle. Do you agree?

    “Institutions have often fought scientific advancements, so institutions are a notoriously poor judge of good science.” No, your logic is not sound. Let’s take the reverse: “Institutions have often gladly embraced scientific advancements, so institutions are a marvelous judge of good science”. Is that good logic? That’s rhetorical. Real question: What are some scientific institutions which have had a notoriously poor judge of good science?

    “Once again, the key is that eventually, good science prevails. However, you are trying to make the case that because there are no institutions that offer a major in YEC, then it must be bad science.” YEC has been around for a long time. There are zero colleges or universities that offer a degree in YEC. How long will it be until YEC even gains a toehold on a single higher education institution? Let’s say one course, in a biology department, titled “Young Earth Creationism”. When should we expect that?

    “However, it also sometimes takes quite a while for a true idea to win the fight. Thus, whether or not an idea is currently accepted by institutions has little to do with whether or not it is good science.” Again, it does not follow thus. Science has been around for a long time, too. From a long run perspective, valid science and currently accepted science are almost coincident. You are taking the fact of arguments at the leading edge of research taking time to sort out, and applying it to YEC. It doesn’t fit in that box.

    “I also agree that there are many scientists who are seeking to go beyond the scientific dogma of the day. Indeed, YEC scientists are one subset of those scientists. Thus, by your own admission, YECs are scientists.” Okay, fine, I’ll link the definition for you: thus. #3

  2. jlwile says:

    Thanks for your comment, Jake. I certainly agree that critical thinking is hard without all the information, but that’s why I propose a YEC education is superior. It generally gives the student more information, because the student learns evolution but also some data that contradict it. That’s generally more than a student gets in a secular education.

    Your point about propaganda is quite good. I do think the students at PHC learned less propaganda and more science.

  3. jlwile says:

    Mark, your description of the Venn diagram is correct. However, it does not support your point. Yes, the amount of valid science that universities do not accept is small. However, regardless of how small it is, it is possible that any given idea fits in that small area. Thus, to say that a lack of university support means an idea isn’t valid does not work.

    My logic is quote sound. You claim that since no university offers a YEC major, YEC must not be sound. However, as you described in your verbal Venn diagram, there is some valid science that universities do not accept. Thus, you cannot claim that if it is not accepted by a university, it is not valid. Universities do accept a great deal of valid science, but they do not accept it all. Thus, they are not a good indicator of whether or not a scientific concept is valid. Only the data are a good judge of that, and the data support the YEC view.

    I have no idea when we should expect universities to start offering courses in YEC. I agree that it has been around for a long time, but some ideas take a very long time to be accepted in science, especially when they challenge the prevailing dogma of the day. Thus, it might be a very long time before universities start recognizing its significance. However, I think the fact that YEC is such a superior form of education will help speed up that timetable.

    YEC most certainly fits in the “leading edge” box when it comes to science. Some of the best YEC data are very new. This is one reason YEC doesn’t die away like bad science typically does. The more we learn about nature, the more the data support the YEC position. This is also one reason why a YEC education produces such stellar students.

    Thanks for the definition of “thus.” It shows quite well that I am using the term correctly. I appreciate it when you support my position like that!

  4. josiah says:

    Or in other words, the number of institutions and indeed people who accept an idea doesn’t have any bearing on whether or not it is a valid theory. Saying otherwise is to subscribe to a bandwagon or appeal to authority fallacy.

    Clearly few institutions would teach that earth was planned by Deep Thought and overseen by White mice, and that doesn’t make it true. At the same time no institution is presently teaching the correct unifying theory between quantum and relativistic physics, but that doesn’t prevent that theory (whatever it is) from being true.

  5. Mark says:

    “Universities do accept a great deal of valid science, but they do not accept it all. Thus, they are not a good indicator of whether or not a scientific concept is valid. Only the data are a good judge of that, and the data support the YEC view.”

    Again, the second sentence does not follow from the first. An example: “Harvard accepts a great many excellent students, but they do not accept all of them. Thus, Harvard is not a good judge of excellent students.” Can you say that makes logical sense?

    But I am much more interested in the third sentence. The data do not judge anything, people judge the data. Thus, it is your opinion that the data support the YEC view. Besides a few cranks, every biologist in the world think the data support common decent with modification and natural selection. Are you saying that your judgment is better than the collective judgment of the world’s biologists?

    I’m going to respond to the “very new” data post you link to. It certainly is not new, and that Norwegian fellow seems to have some very good points.

  6. jlwile says:

    Mark, the second sentence does follow directly from the first. If you do not recognize good science, then you are not a good judge of science. Harvard does, indeed, accept a lot of excellent students, but because it does not recognize many excellent students, it is not a good judge of them. If it were a good judge of excellent students, it would accept all excellent students. The very fact that it misses a few demonstrates that it is not a good judge of them.

    I agree with you that people judge the data. Also, people judge whether or not someone else is a “crank.” You say, “Besides a few cranks, every biologist in the world think [sic] the data support common decent with modification and natural selection.” I say, “While most biologists think the data support common decent with modification and natural selection, a few biologists have been able to separate their preconceived notions from the data and are able to see that this is not the case.” Thus, the people you call “cranks” are, in my opinion, those who actually look at the data honestly. Also, you had better be very careful with who you are calling a “crank.” I think JC Sanford knows quite a bit more genetics than you do. He also has a stellar academic publication record and several genetic patents to his name. If you are calling him a “crank,” I think that says more about you than it does about biology and evolution!

    Obviously I do think that the judgment of people like JC Sanford is better than the judgment of the majority of biologists. That’s because rather than just accepting what the majority says, I am willing to look at the data myself and actually think for myself. You definitely need to read Josiah’s comment carefully. The bandwagon mentality is no way to do science.

  7. josiah says:

    Just saying, the “new” data linked is certainly new if you consider its age relative to Marie Curie’s initial work on radiation.
    If you read through a lot of Norwegian Shooter’s posts, it becomes clear that he doesn’t really understand many of his own points (which often aren’t really his but are instead plagiarized), let alone the responses. Instead of looking at his arguments, or even Dr. Wile who is a secondary source, it would be better to go back to the original research.

    http://www.trueorigin.org/helium02.asp
    http://creation.com/helium-evidence-for-a-young-world-continues-to-confound-critics

  8. jlwile says:

    Great point, Josiah. Norwegian Shooter obviously had little interest in following the science. You can see that clearly from several of his comments, not only on that post but on many other posts. Also, I strongly agree that people should look at primary sources. Thanks for putting those out there for Mark to read.

  9. Mark says:

    Dr. Wile, what is the difference between the bandwagon mentality and scientific consensus? How do you tell the difference between the two?

  10. jlwile says:

    Good question, Mark. I think the bandwagon mentality is something that affects individuals. An individual sees that lots of other people believe something, and then that individual jumps on the bandwagon, really not caring to investigate the matter to see if all these people have reasonable arguments to support their claim. When someone argues, “Most scientists believe X, therefore you and I should believe it as well,” that’s the bandwagon mentality. Compare that to someone saying, “The data say A, B, and C, which means you and I should believe X.” Now that’s a scientific argument, and it is easily distinguishable from the bandwagon mentality.

    The scientific consensus is simply what a large majority of scientists believe at any given time, and that often leads to the bandwagon mentality. People see that a large majority of scientists have agreed upon something, and they just believe that it must be the right view, so they hop on board the bandwagon. However, the scientific consensus is not the best indicator of what is right, because it has often been wrong throughout the history of science. Thus, it is best to weigh the data yourself and evaluate the scientific consensus. Indeed, most of the greatest scientific advancements in history have come from challenging the scientific consensus. As a result, challenging the scientific consensus is, in fact, a very scientific thing to do!

  11. Mark says:

    “However, the scientific consensus is not the best indicator of what is right, because it has often been wrong throughout the history of science.” Back to this poor logic again? The beauty of science as a human endeavor is that it contains within itself the ability to correct itself. So that the current scientific consensus is the best guess at what is real at the time. Of course there were mistakes along the way. That says nothing about the overall veracity of science. If scientific consensus is not the best indicator of what is right, what is?

    “most of the greatest scientific advancements in history have come from challenging the scientific consensus” That is a truism. They are scientific advancements because they are right and they are called great because they challenge scientific consensus. But this fact does not sully science’s enormous achievement of expanding our knowledge of reality.

  12. jlwile says:

    Mark, you are really misunderstanding what I am saying. I am not attacking the veracity of science. I am a scientist. I have been trained as a scientist, I have published as a scientist, and I have been funded by the National Science Foundation to perform original research. There is no reason for me to attack the veracity of science. In fact, I have contributed to the veracity of science with my original research that has been published in the peer-reviewed literature. What I am attacking is the non-scientific idea that the scientific consensus indicates what is right. That is most certainly not true, as has been demonstrated again and again throughout the history of science. I agree that science contains within itself the ability to correct itself. That’s exactly what young-earth creationists are working towards. We are trying to correct the scientific consensus, because in this case (like in many other cases throughout history), the scientific consensus is wrong.

    You ask, “If scientific consensus is not the best indicator of what is right, what is?” The answer to that is simple. The data are the best indicator of what is right. As I said before, if you say “The majority of scientists believe X, therefore you and I should believe it as well,” that is not a scientific argument. That is an example of jumping on the bandwagon. If, instead, you say, “The data indicate A, B, and C, therefore you and I should believe X,” that is a scientific statement. It also indicates that you are thinking for yourself!

    I absolutely agree that the many times the scientific consensus has been demonstrated to be wrong do not, in any way, sully science’s enormous achievements. However, they do clearly demonstrate that relying on the scientific consensus instead of addressing the data yourself is definitely not the scientific thing to do. Indeed, that very action has hindered science through the years!

  13. Mark says:

    “What I am attacking is the non-scientific idea that the scientific consensus indicates what is right. That is most certainly not true, as has been demonstrated again and again throughout the history of science.”

    If you ignore the fact that all scientific findings are temporary and contingent, you are attacking the veracity of science. By stating that you know the correct interpretation of the data (ignoring the fact that you can’t possibly have examined all of the raw data for all of the scientific evidence for evolution and an old earth), you are placing yourself above science as the enterprise of a community of humans.

    When the scientific consensus, a constantly moving target, is wrong, it is overturned not by one person just asserting that they have the right interpretation of the data and everybody else is wrong. It is improved by the community of scientists (experts in the field) testing and probing the new hypothesis until they agree or disagree. There is often years of fierce wrangling over the details. But eventually, if the evidence is strong enough, a large majority of experts will settle on calling the new hypothesis a theory and using it to expand further research.

    This is not the model that you are suggesting. You are suggesting that everyone should examine the raw data themselves and decide for themselves whether the data indicate A, B, and C. Then you say that everyone should conclude for themselves whether A, B, and C support theory X. I wonder how you would implement this method for cancer research. Or whether the Higgs boson exists and if it does, what is its mass. Or what are the Neuronal Correlates of Consciousness.

  14. jlwile says:

    Mark, I am not ignoring the fact that all scientific findings are temporary and contingent. In fact, by stating that the YEC position is wrong simply because it goes against the scientific consensus, you are the one who is ignoring the fact that all scientific findings are temporary and contingent!

    I am also not placing myself “above science as the enterprise of a community of humans.” I am simply saying that the scientific consensus is not always correct, a fact that is amply demonstrated by the history of science. Thus, rather than relying on the scientific consensus, rational people should actually confront the data themselves to determine what is correct. Would you say that Galileo, Bohr, and Einstein placed themselves “above science as the enterprise of a community of humans?” Of course not. They just realized that the scientific consensus is not always right, and they interpreted the data in a different way. As a result, great scientific advancements took place!

    I most certainly agree that the scientific consensus is a constantly moving target. Once again, that shows you it is not a reliable means by which to determine what is correct. In addition, I also agree that the scientific consensus is not overturned by a single person. It is overturned by a group of individuals, each of which realizes that the majority of scientists are interpreting the data in the wrong way. These individuals are not putting themselves “above science as the enterprise of a community of humans.” They are simply recognizing that the majority of scientists are sometimes wrong, and they are endeavoring to correct that problem.

    In fact, this is exactly what YECs are doing. There are YECs who are experts in many fields related to biology and earth science. They test and probe new hypotheses, do original research, wrangle over the data, and produce evidence for their position. For some reason, you are trying to argue that this is a valid approach in most areas of science, but not when it comes to evolution or the concept of an ancient earth. To me, that says quite a lot about why you are so opposed to the YEC view!

    I am most certainly suggesting “that everyone should examine the raw data themselves and decide for themselves whether the data indicate A, B, and C,” because I encourage people to think for themselves. I know it is easier to simply let the majority of scientists make such decisions for you. However, I don’t find that very intellectually rewarding, and it is most certainly not the scientific approach.

    I am not sure why you are confused about how this model would apply to cancer research, the Higgs boson, or the neuronal correlates of consciousness. In fact, it is the model that is already used in most areas of science. Individual scientists (or groups of individuals) examine the data themselves, try to determine what the data indicate, and then use their own interpretation of the data to guide their original research. This is exactly what I did when I was an NSF-funded scientist, and it is what my colleagues did as well. Rather than simply assuming that the scientific consensus was true, we constantly challenged the scientific consensus. Sometimes, our original research ended up supporting the consensus, and sometimes it ended up eroding the consensus.

    This is exactly what YEC scientists do today, and it is why so much solid evidence is being produced to support the YEC position. As the original post discusses, it is also why a YEC education produces such stellar science students!

home | top