No other topic raises the eye brows of my students more than the idea that the world is only thousands of years old. Most of my students are not evangelical Christians, and they don’t know that about forty percent of the US population are young-earth creationists. Why would they? No public school teacher has taken the time to teach them this information! Needless to say, many of them are shocked to learn that some of their peers reject the science they have been taught since first grade, a science that says dinosaurs are millions of years old, not thousands of years old.
To explain this, and to illustrate to my students how some Christians view human history, I show them an intricate timeline of history that begins with Adam and Eve, a timeline used by a large number of evangelical churches and colleges. In the below photo some of my students are holding the timeline.
Nearly all of my students are aware of the Adam and Eve story. And my students who do not read the Bible literally are aware that some do read it as actual history. However, what they do not know is how Biblical literalists arrive at a creation date of 4004 B.C.
At this point in the discussion I tell them about Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656). Ussher calculated that the first day of creation was on Sunday October 23, 4004 B.C. He also concluded that Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden on Monday November 10, 4004 B.C. Usually at this point in the conversation many of my students become horribly confused and want to know why people subscribe to this kind of thinking. They want to know why so many people totally reject some of the most basic principles in science in favor of a Biblical interpretation of history and the origin of life.
And, at this point, the conversation becomes… well, interesting to say the least. But, in the end, my students come away with a better understanding of the issues. If nothing else, they better understand how religion is playing into the modern day “culture war,” a war I want my students to understand. True, this can be a tough topic to cover in a public school. But as long as a teacher can keep emotion and his or her own bias out of the discussion, and objectively guide students through the arguments (on BOTH sides), it can be done. And, I would argue, it should be done!