This week, I have mostly been reading hogwash.
The downside of studying fundamentalism is that I have to wade through fundamentalist literature. And I know I make this sound like a riot of hilarity, but it really isn’t. Most of the Christian extremist writers are rubbish communicators, who make a point once every 15 pages. At best. To get Pat Robertson’s views on Freemasonry, for example, I had to digest hundreds of pages of his ill-informed views on the political situation in Nicaragua. This was dull.
This week, I have splashed out on Amazon and bought several books by Accelerated Christian Education‘s founder Donald R. Howard, which amount to several hundred pages of unmitigated drivel (I wonder if I could get that description into a peer-reviewed journal article… challenge accepted!). But these are nothing compared to When Science Fails, a book I have been re-reading because it is part of Accelerated Christian Education’s literature syllabus.
The literature syllabus is probably the single worst aspect of ACE. It is so catastrophically dreadful that my mum used to do my literature homework for me – the only time in my entire education when she even considered cheating on my behalf. She thought the whole syllabus was such a waste of time that she used to read the books and answer the questions for me so I wouldn’t have to.
The biggest problem with ACE’s literature course is that there is hardly any literature on it. David Berliner explains why fundamentalists aren’t much for the Great Books:
“Missing from high school reading lists is such literature as The Diary of Anne Frank and Romeo and Juliet (too sexual), Othello (promotes interracial marriage), and Catcher in the Rye (multiple issues, sexuality; profanity; self-indulgence; lying; defamation of women, people with disabilities, God, and minorities). Other books challenged frequently by the Christian Right include Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Hucklebeny Finn, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
“Christian Right censors also apparently believe that young children are in danger from Dr. Seuss books.”
Essentially, though, ACE believes that people who are not fundamental Christians cannot, by definition, have any wisdom. At best, they cannot have anything useful to say, and at worst they will simply corrupt the youth. So the great authors are out, and instead, the canon contains such classics as [These titles and their descriptions are taken directly from the Accelerated Christian Education Scope and Sequence]:
- Did Man Just Happen? By W .A . Criswell . The case for creation is presented in a way that ends the question.
- God’s Adventurer by Phyllis Thompson, a story about the life and adventures of missionary Hudson Taylor.
- Abraham Lincoln by David R . Collins, the story of our 16th president, his rise to the White House, and his dependence on Jesus.
- In His Stepsby Charles M . Sheldon . This selection is one of the great books for Christians today and will be a tremendous help to each student
- George Mueller by Faith Coxe Bailey . George Mueller provided for thousands of orphaned children. He never asked anyone except God for their needs, but all needs were miraculously met .
- D.L. Moody: Greatest Evangelist of the 19th Century by Faith Coxe Bailey, the life story of the great American Evangelist used by God to found Moody Bible Institute
There are three books on the literature syllabus you might have heard of: Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, and Pilgrim’s Progress.
But the book that worries me most is When Science Fails by John Hudson Tiner. In school, I loved this book. It was one of the only ACE literature tomes I actually bothered to read. In this exciting book, we learn how scientists are lying, conniving schemers who will cover up the truth in order to defend their own pride. Science has been wrong time and time again in history, so what else might it be wrong about?
The cover boasts that the book explodes the naïve assumption that science has all the answers. If the editors had more space, they might have continued, and replaces it with the equally naïve assumption that fundamental Christianity has all the answers. This profoundly confused book makes great hay, for example, describing how the scientist Rudolph Virchow refused to accept Louis Pasteur’s germ theory. What it doesn’t point out is that Louis Pasteur was also a scientist. That story describes a failure by Virchow, but a triumph of science. But the intention is to undermine the reader’s confidence in the scientific establishment. And why? The final page makes it clear.
“It is fitting that this book should end with the topic of evolution. Because here – and nowhere else – is the choice so clear cut. Biologists say that man is nothing more than an advanced animal who evolved from lesser animals. The Bible clearly teacher that man is created by God…
“Which is true? Which is false? If the choice is between the Bible and science, then which one can fail? Joshua said, ‘But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.’”
Of course, individual scientists might frequently be proud and unscientific, but that does not make the premise of this book any less flawed. The fact is that science itself hasexcellent processes for routing out errors. And in each case of scientific error identified in this book, it was science that discovered the problem and corrected it.
Of course, that’s not counting the outright untruths that are contained in When Science Fails. I’ve only got time for one example: Chapter 14, “Eighteen Hours in a Whale,” describes how James Bartley survived inside the stomach of a whale after being thrown overboard in 1888. This proves that the Bible story of Jonah and the Whale could have some scientific basis.
There’s just one problem with this story. It’s not true. None of the details of the story check out, and the wife of the ship’s captain wrote, “There is not one word of truth to the whale story. I was with my husband all the years he was in the Star of the East. There was never a man lost overboard while my husband was with her. The sailor has told a great sea yarn.”
But, you know, there’s no lead to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Now, obviously, there’s nothing surprising to you here. I’ve already given you plenty of examples of Creationist nonsense. But this is classified as literature. Which means this is what ACE students do instead of the great books. The opportunity cost here is phenomenal.
The makers of the International Certificate of Christian Education (ICCE) are acutely aware of this failing. That’s why the ICCE has incorporated additional, compulsory literature essays on real books onto its syllabus, in addition to the ACE course. I’ve seen the syllabus for this, and it’s comparatively good. They look at decent authors like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Shakespeare, and many of the essay questions are actually demanding.
Of course, it’s not all good news. On the ICCE Advanced Certificate, students may also complete an English language essay. And one of the essay briefs is this:
The Creation and Evolution Debate
- List the main arguments of the Evolution lobby for believing it is true
- Explain why they are not valid
- List their arguments against Creation
- Explain why they are flawed
- List arguments for Creation and support with evidence
When UK NARIC said that they were validating the ICCE, not ACE materials in isolation, it was these extra essays it was referring to. Seriously, NARIC: what the hell?