How has Liberty been affected by the Rise of Naturalism in Education?


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." These are aspects of the American Ideal expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, and confirmed by the French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835, after a visit to America. There have been several major challenges to the American Ideal, one of which has been the rise of naturalism. This challenge has had a significant impact upon the liberty of Christians in public education.

What meaning is included in the word "liberty"?

Let's examine a definition of liberty and its companion word freedom to extract a fuller meaning of this aspect:

liberty 1. a. The condition of being free from restriction or control.
b. The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one's own choosing.
2. Freedom from unjust or undue governmental control. 3. A right and power to engage in certain actions without control or interference: the liberties protected by the Bill of Rights.
[Middle English liberte from Old French from Latin lberts from lber free]

freedom 1. The condition of being free of restraints. 2. Liberty of the person from ... oppression. 3. a. Political independence. 5. The capacity to exercise choice; b. The right of enjoying all of the privileges of membership or citizenship .
[Middle English fredom from Old English]

Synonyms: freedom liberty. Liberty is often used interchangeably with freedom; often, however, it especially stresses the power of free choice: liberty of opinion; liberty of worship (American Heritage Dictionary)

Thus it is seen that liberty and freedom are synonyms: Liberty from French & Latin and freedom from Old English. Keep this in mind in reading the cited quotes.

Western Civilization Cultural Background or Elements of Reality

To understand how American Ideal was impacted by the rise of naturalism, it is important to know the cultural changes that occurred in America. The USA was formed in a late Renaissance culture when Human Reason (HR) was at the apex of a triangle representing Western Civilization elements of reality. Elements of the triangle base were Man (expressed in philosophy) and Nature (expressed in science), or HR -> M -> N. This way of thought prevailed until Science became increasingly prominent in the Industrial Revolution of the early 19thCentury. In this shift, called the Enlightenment, Science replaced HR, so the triangle became S -> M -> N. In all of history man had always occupied a unique place as a special creation from God, giving purpose and meaning to the American Ideal until this point. (Bower).

Cultural Shift, Loss of Values & American Ideals after Darwin

In 1859, Charles Darwin published Origin of Species. It held that all life species were the product of natural processes of evolution from common ancestors rather than through creative acts of God. God no longer had a function and could be ignored or eliminated. This produced another cultural shift, from the Enlightenment into the Modern period. Man was declared to be just another animal with no uniqueness. Thus Man was absorbed into Nature. As a result, the triangle of reality collapsed into just two elements, Science and Nature, or S -> N (Bower).

Friedrich Nietzsche quickly perceived the implications of the rise of naturalism. It saddened Nietzsche to declare that "God is dead" (Bower & Bloom). In explaining Nietzche's proclamation, Bloom writes "Man, who loved and needed God, has lost his Father and Savior without possibility of resurrection". The liberty atheists found [by being freed from religion] "turned into terror at man's unprotectedness" (Bloom p. 195).

Allan Bloom explains that values come from religion (pp.194-216). But atheism and naturalism, its expression in science, removes the whole idea of God; and most significantly that man is a special creation of God. If we are just animals and there is no God, then there is no meaning and purpose to man's existence. Naturalism offers no satisfying answers to the questions: Who are we? - What really matters and why? This killed much of the hope, excitement, fulfillment, optimism, and allure in the American Ideal. A crisis of meaning and identity in society resulted that persists today (Bower).

The Rise of Naturalism in Education after Darwin

Naturalism quickly infected higher education. Asa Gray, a Harvard professor of botany, encouraged Darwin in a series of letters during its writing (Taylor p.131). In 1860 "he became Darwin's promoter, ambassador and apostle in the United States," writes Ian Taylor (p. 367). James Dana, a Yale geologist, followed him by converting his university from orthodox Christian belief to evolution.  (Taylor p. 371)

Horace Mann was called the "father of the American public school" and John Dewey the "father of American progressive education" writes Henry Morris (1983 p. 22). Dewey was an evolutionary pantheistic humanist, (Morris 1983 p. 223) and helped steer education away from God as naturalism spread downward into public schools. However, school books continued to hold traditional Christian religious ideals and values for many decades.

The Liberty to present alternate view to Naturalism is shut out of public education

Robert Gentry comments on "An Affirmation of Freedom of Inquiry and Expression" adopted by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences on April 27, 1976: "the Academy adopted a magnificent resolution ... which aptly represents what America stands for -- the freedom to express minority views without fear of repression" (Gentry p.7). Unfortunately, the unquestioned acceptance of naturalism supercedes these principles, for Gentry lost his job as a consequence of testifying for creation in the 1981 Arkansas creation/evolution trial (McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education).

Socialist Jeremy Rifkin wrote: "Evolutionary theory has been enshrined as the centerpiece of our educational system, and elaborate walls have been erected around it to protect it from unnecessary abuse." (Morris 1989 p.45) The academic freedom or liberty of educators to present an alternate view to evolution has been denied as an "unnecessary abuse". These elaborate walls include policy, peer pressure, and withholding of tenure to creationist professors.

In The Criterion: Religious Discrimination in America, Jerry Bergman cites many instances of blatant threats, intimidation, refusal of admittance to graduate programs, refusal to award earned degree, denial of promotion, firings, terminations, and denial of tenure. In one case, an attempt was even made to rescind a Ph.D. biology degree, earned six years earlier, after it was discovered that the recipient was an active creationist (Bergman p.5).

Phillip Johnson writes "The educators have no doubt on this subject, right thinking involves a total rejection of creationism and an embrace of evolutionism, and they are determined that students will hear only the orthodox teaching." Creationists argue that students should have the liberty and opportunity to hear both sides of the issue. Then they can judge for themselves the merits and problems of both creation and evolution. This procedure could be used to teach clear thinking and judgment skills. Why isn't this being done in public education? Johnson explains tongue-in-cheek, "When it comes to important matters, the educators understand very well that immature minds cannot be trusted to come to correct answers" (Johnson p. 165). Bloom's statement in a different context, nevertheless, applies here, "Freedom of the mind requires ... the presence of alternative thoughts. The most successful tyranny is ... one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it inconceivable that other ways are viable," (Bloom p. 249).

Naturalism now rules, not only the natural sciences, but social sciences and humanities as well. Thus, the liberty to present the Bible as Truth has been removed from higher education. Bloom writes: "A teacher who treated the Bible naively, taking it at its word, or Word, would be accused of scientific incompetence and lack of sophistication. Moreover, he might rock the boat and start ... a quarrel within the university between reason and revelation, which would upset comfortable arrangements and wind up by being humiliating to the humanities ... The best that can be done, it appears, is to teach 'The Bible as Literature,' as opposed to 'as Revelation,' which it claims to be." (Bloom p. 374). Bloom adds, "On the portal of the humanities is written in many ways and many tongues, 'There is no truth -- at least here.'" (Bloom p. 372)

1960's and later Court Decisions removed religious liberty from the classroom

David Barton cites 1962 as the year the United States Supreme Court defined a new direction for America. "In 1962, the Supreme Court changed the definition of "church". No longer would 'church' mean 'a denomination'; instead 'church' now would mean a 'religious activity.' Therefore, 'separation of church and state' [which is not mentioned in the Constitution] suddenly meant the complete separation of any religious activity from public affairs. This new definition of 'church' immediately invited hundreds of lawsuits challenging any presence of religion in public life" (Barton p.19). Barton cites several important Supreme Court decisions (Barton p.20): Student prayer in public schools was barred (Engel v. Vitale, 1962). Also, school Bible readings were barred as potentially "psychologically harmful to the child" (Abington v. Schempp, 1963). Posting of the Ten Commandments was prohibited because they might "induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, .. and obey, the Commandments" (Stone v. Gramm, 1980). This is the precedent that Alabama judge Roy Moore is fighting today. He was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ordered to remove the Ten Commandments from his courtroom (Kennedy p.1). In addition, benediction and invocations were removed from school activities in three cases because such activity gives "endorsement to prayer and religion" (Graham v. Central, 1985) (Kay v. Douglas, 1986) (Jager v. Douglas, 1989).

Until the 1960's, public elementary and high school textbooks contained comparatively little about evolution. An aggressive movement to include evolution and exclude any alternative teaching, ultimately resulted in courtroom clashes, particularly in Arkansas (1981) and Louisiana (1982), where laws had been passed requiring balanced teaching of evolution and creation. Court precedents were set that evolution was science, creation was religion, and that the First Amendment prohibited teaching of creation, as if this would establish the Christian religion in schools. Thus liberty to teach anything religious, particularly Christian, in public schools was squashed. Now evolution is typically taught as fact from college down to the elementary school level.

To attempt to avoid any religious-sounding terminology, the high-school biology supplemental text, Of Pandas and People was written without even using the term "creation." But it was received with equally vigorous opposition, not because of its science content, but because it did not actively promote naturalism in science.

Court precedents were expanded to ridiculous extremes in the attempt to eliminate from all public schools and public locations, all traditional Christmas observances, such as manger scenes or religious Christmas carols. This humanist naturalistic movement is attempting to remove all liberty for public expression of Christianity. If successful this, ironically, would establish a state-sponsored religion of secular humanism based on a philosophy of naturalism. It is sad to see that, for the most part, this has already occurred.

These humanistic efforts to limit religious liberty have extended to attempts to force a curriculum of naturalism on private religious schools through the process of accreditation, specifically the threat of removal of accreditation to all schools not toeing the naturalist line. One infamous example was an attempt in 1989-90 by the California State Department of Education to close the graduate school of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). ICR finally won this case in court and thereby retained their liberty "to teach Science from a Christian perspective", a primary focus of their program. (Morris 1991)

Why are these issues so important?

Or, what is wrong with the trends cited above? Truth is important. The American Ideal is important. As a creationist, I believe naturalism in the sciences to be science-fiction. It is distorting and mis-directing education in many fields of both the natural sciences and the social sciences or humanities. Liberty and freedom are important to both teachers and students. Neither should be persecuted because of views at odds with naturalism. Freedom and liberty of inquiry in education sharpens learning and discernment skills. Christianity and the Bible and creation taught by the Bible are being excised from public expression. Christianity is defined to be out of the sphere of truth permitted to be taught in public education. This is wrong.

What can be done to restore Christian liberties in education?

Christians have formed legal societies to fight for Christian liberties. One prominent law firm is the American Center for Law and Justice led by Jay Sekulow. Student-led movements to regain liberties also are occurring. These activities include rallying around the school flagpole to pray before school, or trying to establish a student-led Bible club. These are typically opposed by school authorities, who fear lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or intimidation from People for the American Way (PAW). These two organizations in particular, despite their high-sounding names, appear to be totally committed to naturalism and the removal of liberties for Christians. Some legal battles are won, but workers are few and it is a huge task. It is not yet evident that liberties are being restored as fast as they are being lost.

Creationists have become more numerous and organized particularly since the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961. I have actively participated in this Creationist movement as an avocation since reading The Genesis Flood in 1969. I feel it is the Lord's will and my Christian duty to be involved in this struggle; but I am not confident of victory and restoration of these liberties until the Lord returns and sets the record straight.


Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind - How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students, Simon & Schuster, New York 1987

American Heritage Talking Dictionary Version 4.0 Softkey International, Inc.1995

David Barton, America: To Pray Or Not to Pray, WallBuilder Press 1991

Jerry Bergman, The Criterion: Religious Discrimination in America, Onesimus Publishing, Richfield, Minnesota, 1984

Keith Bower, Western Civilization - Class lectures, College of Biblical Studies, Spring 1997

Percival Davis & Dean H. Kenyon, Of Pandas and People - The Central Question of Biological Origins, Haughton Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas 1993

Robert V. Gentry, Creation's Tiny Mystery, Eusey Press, Leominster, Massachusetts, 1986

Phillip E. Johnson, Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1995

D. James Kennedy, Impact newsletter, Coral Ridge Ministries, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, April 1997

Henry M. Morris, Education for the Real World, Master Books, San Diego, California,, 1983

Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Minnesota, 1989

Henry M. Morris, monthly ICR letters, November 1989 and April 1991

Ian T. Taylor, In the Minds of Men - Darwin and the New World Order, TFE Publishing, Toronto, Canada, 1984

Note:  This was an April 1997 term paper in a course from the College of Biblical Studies
GE 506 Western Civilization 2 -  Instructor Keith Bower

Author: Thomas H. Henderson, Christian Answers Network.

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