This just viral: a fourth grade science quiz.
Normally, grade school science quizzes are not that interesting. But when the correct answer to the true/false question “The earth is billions of years old” is “false,” that gets people’s attention.
As it turns out, the quiz in question was given at the Blue Ridge Christian Academy in the town of Landrum, S. Carolina, north of Greenville. The children had been shown the DVD presentation “Dinosaurs, Genesis, & the Gospel” by Ken Ham and Buddy Davis, published by an organization called Answers in Genesis. The DVD expounds a “young Earth creationism” view of the Bible, which holds that the Creation story in Genesis is to be taken literally, and that the earth is six to ten thousand years old. The quiz tested the children’s knowledge of what was taught in the video.
The moment a photo of the completed quiz hit the Internet on the r/atheist forum at reddit.com, the heated rhetoric began.
Creation vs. Evolution: heated rhetoric
Heated rhetoric between Creationists and Evolutionists is nothing new.
For example, back in February, Lawrence Krauss, a physicist and outspoken atheist, went on the David Pakman show to discuss his charge that teaching Creationism is a form of child abuse. Far from softening his earlier statement, during the interview he said that teaching Creationism “is like the Taliban at some level, which is an extreme form of child abuse.” His statement comes about four and a half minutes into this video:
The fundamentalist Christian publishers of the DVD on which the 4th grade science quiz was based is accusing atheists of “viciously attacking” the school that administered the quiz. “Over the past few years,” they say, “we have seen atheists becoming more aggressive and intolerant towards Christians.” They go on to say:
These secularists want to impose their anti-God religion on the culture. They are simply not content using legislatures and courts to protect the dogmatic teaching of their atheistic religion of evolution and millions of years in public schools.
Dogmatic teaching of atheistic religion?
Can we all just calm down, please?
Beliefs are important, but they’re not that important
Just for the record, I happen to believe that very literal interpretations of the Bible are mistaken.
But should we really be hurling insults at one another over our differing beliefs?
Even if we sincerely believe that someone else’s beliefs are utterly wrong, does that justify condemning them and subjecting them to invective and attack?
As important as beliefs are in directing our life, it is our actions that count the most. That’s what Jesus was talking about when he said:
You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. (Matthew 7:16–17)
Whether or not we happen to agree with others’ beliefs, the important thing is how they live. Do they care about others and serve their fellow human beings in constructive ways? If so, then no matter what kind of funny beliefs may be banging around in their heads, their actions show that they believe in love, compassion, and service. And according to Jesus, our actions—not our mere beliefs—will determine our ultimate place in heaven or hell (see Matthew 7:21-23; 25:31-46). That’s another way of saying that our actions display our true character as human beings.
People with wrong ideas can be good citizens and good neighbors
Lawrence Krauss and his fellow scientists are worried that if so many Americans are being taught so much bad science, our country is bound to fall behind in scientific and social advancement. Biology and physics, they say, are crucial to the technological innovation that keeps us at the forefront of human development.
However, not everyone has to be at the forefront of biology and physics for society to function and to advance. In addition to the scientific elites who push forward the boundaries of knowledge and technological capability, society needs many other types of people in order to function well. Where will all those scientists pulling all-nighters in the lab get their coffee and donuts if there aren’t people to run Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts? How will they invest their earnings if there aren’t money managers and investment bankers to manage their IRAs?
Even if, as some polls say, 1/5 of Americans still think the sun orbits the earth, how many people’s jobs actually depend on knowing that in fact, the earth orbits the sun? People can have many false and faulty ideas, and still serve necessary and useful functions in society.
To put it simply, people can have false beliefs and still be good citizens and good neighbors.
Love your neighbor, the beliefs will follow
The fundamental question of human worth is not whether people’s heads are on straight, but whether their hearts are in the right place.
Even people with enlightened scientific or religious beliefs can be intolerant, prejudiced, and downright nasty to those who disagree with them or get in their way.
And even people with crazy and laughable religious or scientific beliefs can be loving, kind, thoughtful, and useful to their fellow human beings.
For those whose hearts are small and intolerant, even the best beliefs in the world will not save them.
But for those with big hearts and concern for their fellow human beings, harsh beliefs will eventually soften and move in a more thoughtful and humane direction. Consider this: even controversial televangelist Pat Robertson has come out against the idea that the earth is 6,000 years old:
As for children who are brought up in fundamentalist Christian homes and communities, once they reach adulthood they will be able to evaluate their upbringing for themselves, and move on to less literalistic religious beliefs and more accurate scientific beliefs if they so choose.
There are many atheists who grew up in conservative Christian households. And many Christians who were conservative and fundamentalist in their younger years adopt broader and more thoughtful forms of Christianity as they move into their middle and older years.
Yes, lots of kids are being taught some rather unscientific and outlandish stuff. But it’s not the end of the world. If they’re at least taught to love their neighbor, they have the foundation for a good life. And if as adults their hearts are in the right place, and they are engaged in work that serves society, their heads will eventually follow.
Even if they do hold onto their false beliefs to their graves, their life of love toward the neighbor and service to the community will far outweigh the faulty ideas under which their minds labored.
Perhaps eventually our society will reach an enlightened consensus about the beginning of the world. Meanwhile, if we cling tenaciously to conflicting beliefs, it’s really not the end of the world!