Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Letter to the Teacher

I'd like to share a letter a wrote to my daughter's science teacher. My daughter is a Junior at a private Christian school near Atlanta, Georgia. I believe she is receiving a good education at this school. But I had serious reservations about a particular book that was required reading. The book is "The Chemistry of the Blood" by Dr. M.R. De Haan.

Mr. ————— :

I wanted to write and offer my thoughts about a book that is required reading in your course. I offered to help my daughter Ashley write an essay covering the 5th and 6th chapters of “The Chemistry of the Blood.” I read the chapters and I don’t take any issue with Chapter Six. It seems to reflect the traditional understanding of the Biblical doctrines concerning prayer. But there are several points in Chapter Five that I find very inaccurate and outdated.

First of all, I want to say that I have no formal scientific training but science is a subject that fascinates me and I spend a lot of my free time reading books and listening to audio books and podcasts on a wide range of scientific subjects. I’m a big fan of such writers as Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, E.O. Wilson and Brian Greene, among others.

It’s my opinion that “The Chemistry of the Blood” may have some usefulness in terms of spiritual teaching. But in Chapter Five Dr. De Haan wanders into the areas of cosmology, anthropology and evolutionary biology and it becomes very apparent that he is out of his element. On page 69 he describes — or attempts to describe — Big Bang Theory. The description he gives is an oversimplification of the cosmological model that this theory represents. In 1943 when “The Chemistry of the Blood” was published some of the finer points of the theory were still being worked out, however, even at that stage of its development, the theory predicted the existence of cosmic microwave background radiation. Using satellite technology this radiation was detected and confirmed in 1964. This, along with other lines of evidence, solidified this theory as the best scientific explanation of the origin of the universe. Today this is an uncontroversial theory that is widely accepted even by Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig.

Dr. De Haan then goes on to give a caricature of the theory of evolution. It is very clear from his description that he doesn’t understand the theory and he lampoons it in a attempt to make it seem silly and implausible. In some circles this is a controversial theory and many people reject it on religious grounds which is their right. But if the theory is to be presented it should be presented accurately and comprehensively so that the students can fully grasp it and examine it on its own merits. However one may feel about the implications of the theory it cannot be denied that it is almost universally accepted by scientists around the world and it is supported by many lines of evidence including the fossil record, genetics, homology, paleo-anthropology, etc. The geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky said “Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution.” Students who intend to pursue careers in science or medicine will be required to learn the theory very thoroughly at the college level. It would be a disservice to those students to deprive them of a fair and accurate introduction to the established facts that undergird the theory. The theory can be taught within the framework of a Christian worldview. Many professional scientists who are also religious have no difficultly finding compatibility between evolution and their faith traditions. A good example of this is Kenneth Miller, Professor of Biology at Brown University — an outspoken defender of evolution and a devout Catholic. Another good example is Francis Collins, one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project. He is an evangelical Christian and he wrote “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.”

But back to the was what I read on page 70 that really gave me pause and caused me to be seriously skeptical of Dr. De Haan’s scientific credentials (After a quick Google search I found that, outside of his medical degree, he had none). He writes “ not speculative or theoretical. True science deals with proved facts...Any theory which is later proved to be false proves that it was unscientific. True science rests on unalterable and eternally established facts.” This is absolutely laughable and it betrays a complete ignorance of the scientific method. The very essence of the scientific endeavor is curious speculation — asking “why?” and “how?” and “what if?” with no commitment to a preordained conclusion and an openness to follow the evidence where ever it may lead. Were Newton’s laws of gravity considered “unscientific” once they were superseded by Einstein’s theory of general relativity? Will Einstein’s achievement be considered “unscientific” now that physicists are developing string theory in order to resolve general relativity’s incompatibility with quantum mechanics? Of course not. Every finding in science is provisional and tentative. Every theory is falsifiable and can be improved and refined with better evidence. Science isn’t about establishing ultimate or absolute truth. That falls within the domain of philosophy and religion. True “proofs” are only found in mathematics.

In short, it is my feeling that this book has no place in a science class.

I also want to quickly touch on a few passages from pages 79 & 80. Dr. De Haan writes “Anything which draws the woman away from the an abomination of the Lord.” And “The current custom of women’s dress is a greater menace to the welfare of America than invasion from a foreign power (He is referring here to women wearing pants)...The modern dress of our women is an invitation to moral decay...and the judgment of the Lord.” He goes on “To see men, even preachers, running about in public with only a pair of shorts is a disgrace to civilization.” And finally “The woman’s place is in the home and there is nothing more Godlike than MOTHERHOOD.” Even if this book continues to be used as a part of a Bible class I would hope that the parts of the book which follow in the same vein as the quotes above would be critically analyzed and held up as artifacts of obsolete and antiquated thinking that was typical in the early part of the last century but from which we have advanced. It would be an interesting sociological study in the progression of cultural norms. As a father of two girls I would hope that they would be exposed to more up-to-date and relevant books that affirm and empower them as women and instill in them the confidence to pursue any goal they choose whether inside the home or in the professional world.

Thank you.


  1. This well-written with insight and respect. Props for taking such an action. As Ghandi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world."


  2. Very well-written, respectful-yet-firm letter.

    My question is: what the heck is your daughter doing in a private Christian school? I would advise, provided you have control over the matter, that you get her the heck out of there. Get her into a school system where she can have exposure to scientific inquiry without the ridiculous and often primitive religious filters applied.