A vote on whether to introduce a science textbook to Ventura County seventh graders has been postponed over one board of education member’s objections to its framing of evolution as a proven fact.
Ron Matthews, a self-described born-again Christian, complained at a public board meeting Feb. 26 that the language of Focus on California Life Science takes evolution “out of the realm of theory” and presents it as scientific law. He also protested the book’s lack of discussion about creationism as another idea on how life began.
“Evolution is a theory proliferated all over the world,” Matthews said later in a phone interview. “Students have to have an understanding of what’s being perpetrated on an unsuspecting, unknowing world, but [schools] also have to present the truth — the truth being Biblical creation.”
Focus on California Life Science would be used by seventh graders attending Gateway School in Camarillo and at its satellite campus in Ventura. While it refers to evolution as a theory, it also implies that certain aspects of evolution are accepted facts, Matthews said.
But for Matthews, whose father served on the Oxnard Union High School District Board of Trustees for 19 years, the larger issue here is the decline of Christian values in America overall. Because their parents went through “the Godless public school system,” children today are not attending church like they used to, he said. Consequently, kids are not learning about creationism away from school and are instead “being taught they are nothing but animals with animal instincts and are not accountable to a possible creator that created them for a purpose,” Matthews said.
California law forbids the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in science classrooms, said Charles Weis, the Ventura County superintendent of schools. By definition, science is about hypotheses that can be tested through physical evidence, he said, leaving creationism to be discussed in philosophy or comparative religion courses.
“Belief requires no evidence,” he said.
But according to Matthews, there are academics who insist creationism can be proven scientifically. Some subscribe to the theory that the earth is only a few thousand years old, he said, and some agree with the concept of theistic evolution, which argues that science and religion can coexist in explaining the origin of man.
Matthews said he would welcome the teaching of all theories, not just the Christian perspective.
“We need to at least mention in our textbooks that there are alternatives, and that there is academia that does not believe this gobbledygook,” he said.
At the Feb. 26 meeting, Matthews requested to review the four other state-approved books rejected by the local committee of teachers and school administrators responsible for recommending texts to the board, to see if any offer a “more balanced” overview of origin theories and do not “teach dogmatically the theory of evolution.” Should he find one, he plans on bringing it to the board for a vote, he said.
“Every one of us [on the board] has a personal relationship with Christ,” he added.
Only one other board member, Mary Louise Peterson, responded to requests for comment. While she describes herself as a “liberal Christian,” Peterson said she disagrees with Matthews’ assertion that public schools should be a forum for promoting the beliefs of a particular religion.
“Once you combine the secular and the sacred, you sully the sacred,” she said.
Peterson does, however, feel there should be some sort of dialogue within school walls regarding the issues separating those who believe in what she calls “transcendent values” and those who do not.
“There are numerous ways of pursuing it,” she said. “We should be able to talk about it without resulting to proselytizing. School is not the place to promote religion, but it should not be a place to silence those that have beliefs.”
Despite being restricted by the law, Matthews said he will continue to challenge the state and the education institution, and try to change the system from the inside.
“It’s why I ran [for the board of education] in the first place, to be light and salt,” Matthews said. “That’s what Christians are called to be: light reveals the filth, salt preserves. In scripture, that’s what every born-again believer is called to do. Some are afraid of their own shadow. That’s why this country is in the fix that it is.”