The science of scripture class
Written by Laurel Moffatt
I recently read an article in the secular publication Sydney’s Child (“Believe it or Not”, March 2012) in which the author, Penny Drysdale, laments the education offered to her son in an SRE class at school. Her article raises an issue all parents will face, which is, what do we do when our children come home with things they’ve learned that we don’t believe?
We all know it’s bound to happen, regardless of our backgrounds - sooner or later our children will bring home things that we didn’t teach them, and perhaps we wish they’d never learned. In the case of Ms. Drysdale, her son came home singing a song about a big and mighty God. Some parents might not blink, but for Ms. Drysdale it’s a cause for concern, because, as she writes, she and her partner “don’t believe in God. We believe in science.”
Why is it that so often people think that the belief in science excludes a belief in God? Believing in science shouldn’t preclude other belief. I believe in God, but also believe in science. So why doesn’t it work the other way around? The problem is not the belief in science, the problem is not being scientific enough.
Although it may be tempting to pit science against God, it’s kind of a mid-20th century thing to do, and, if we do so absolutely, then we run the risk of becoming fearful and reductive fundamentalists, employing a rusty and heavy-handed deductive reasoning that prevents our children from coming to their own conclusions about anything … including God.
God and science certainly weren’t opposed at the beginnings of the modern scientific movement. And they aren’t opposed now. The disposition of true believers of science (particularly scientists) is one of curiosity and playfulness, displaying a willingness to constantly challenge all assumptions. The true believers in science are humble and open, and willing to assume their assumptions are wrong as they watch and listen and let things speak for themselves. True scientists will let anything speak for itself, even God.
What would it look like if we allowed our children to approach God (and Scripture classes) more scientifically? It would mean allowing our children to investigate for themselves the claims that God makes in Scripture, free from our heavy hands on their eyes and their minds. And it would mean being open to the possibility that our children may learn something that we don’t believe.
I agree with Ms. Drysdale that children are sponges, and that they will come to think for themselves. But the only way that they can ever learn how to think for themselves is not by teaching them just what to think, but how to think, rather than shielding them from what we disagree with. Let them soak up what they can, while they can, and let them learn from someone who actually believes what they are saying, rather than hold the world, and its God, at an arm’s length, countering every assertion of God’s existence with our dissent. After all, what are we afraid of? That our children may believe something different than what we believe? Or that our own minds may be changed or swayed?
Those who believe in science needn’t fear the belief in God, but rather, be free to investigate the books of Jewish and Christian poetry, history, laws, biographies and letters, testing them, analysing them, being open to a change of mind if that is what the evidence demands.
And what’s more, believers in science should welcome what children learn and bring home with them. If we are happy for them to learn the elements on the periodical table, push a slide under a microscope, and compare the shape of leaves, then why not let them turn the leaves in a book of Scripture as well? Let them sing a song about God, if that’s what they want to sing. And if they want to visit a church, why not take them? Let them investigate God, and while they’re at it, why not take part in their investigation as they come to their own conclusions about what they learn?
To repeatedly counter what our children learn with a static belief that doesn’t yield to any finding or any piece of evidence smacks of fearful superstition. And believers of science who attempt to arrange or determine what their children think and believe only signal new and creepy depths of helicopter parenting, which involve hovering ominously over the body and mind of a child.
If we let our children take part in an SRE class, and then take the time to ask them about it, we may find that they are enjoying their investigation of God, where they read books and follow maps, learn history, and sing songs. But, don’t take my word for it. Let children go and investigate for themselves. Otherwise, it’s just hearsay, and there’s nothing scientific about that.