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Embracing our mission and purpose

About drop-down menuFrom the project leader, Douglas Hayworth, to home school parents and bloggers, curriculum publishers, Christian watchdogs, ASA volunteers and anyone else taking an early interest in the development of this website. Thank you for your participation.

I believe that this website can be a tremendous help to thousands of home educators, but this will be possible only if both organizers and participants keep to a well-defined structure, style of presentation and spirit of exchange. We each hold particular views and strong beliefs about the topics concerned, and we must keep our passions in check if we are to provide genuine assistance and avoid adding to the noise.

I recognize that until a significant body of content is added to the site, many will have doubts as to what might be our true agenda. No amount of reassurance in advance by me or the ASA council will entirely alleviate concerns about these matters. Nor will everyone be satisfied with our agenda even if we communicate it clearly and abide by it in practice. Nevertheless, I believe it is important that our mission be clearly stated for our audience and fully supported by our volunteers.

Therefore, I want to provide this opportunity for everyone to critique and discuss the project mission as stated in the About this Project page, as well as to consider several operational guidelines that I suggest we adopt. Although these specific guidelines are not absolute or final, they do represent more than a year of personal study and reflect the general position articulated in the project proposal which was approved by the ASA council. I certainly welcome questions and suggestions for refinement and clarification of details; however, I do believe that the general approach is sound, and I expect that our volunteers will embrace the spirit of it.

1. The “About” pages will clearly and accurately state the goals and mission of the HSR project and the values of the ASA.

  • Put yourself in the position of a non-scientist homeschooling parent and carefully read the About the ASA and About this Project pages. Is the message understandable, clear and positive?
  • If you are an ASA member, are you comfortable with the characterization it gives of our organization?
  • Finally, after reading the remainder of this post (i.e., the guidelines that follow), do you feel that the About pages accurately summarize these guidelines?

2. Established (i.e., consensus) science will be the standard and benchmark for evaluation of science materials.

  • Established consensus science means the body of scientific theory and knowledge that is generally accepted by the scientific community at large.
  • Standard for evaluation means that we will promote established science and encourage our audience to learn it and adopt it as a foundation for scientific inquiry. National science standards (e.g., see here and here) will be our guide for what science content ought to be learned in grades K-12. We will hold in highest regard those materials that explain and commend established science while also acknowledging points of contemporary scientific debate. However, we will not concern ourselves with defending it against the objections of naysayers or the new and untested claims of scientific “visionaries”.
  • Benchmark for evaluation means that we will review textbooks and other materials for their conformity to established science. A primary objective of our reviews will be to identify omissions, additions, deficiencies and deviations relative to established science. The purpose is neither to disparage nor to advocate particular views but rather to disclose differences from an agreed upon reference.
  • An important application of this guideline is that our primary criterion for selecting science curriculum reviewers will be that they are qualified scientifically and academically. Even for materials contributed by our own ASA members, we will seek to provide “objective” reviews of their contents.

3. Basic Christian belief will be the context for discussion and exploration of the implications of natural science.

  • Basic Christian belief means an affirmation of the Christian gospel as succinctly articulated in the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. We will regard everyone who affirms this gospel as “Christian” and those who expressly disavow it as “non-Christian”. We will promote, defend and affirm this basic Christian belief, and we will not give any particular attention to other religious or “world” views.
  • Context for discussion and exploration means that we will encourage our audience to learn about and evaluate how established science might properly relate to Christian belief, faith and practice. We will attempt to identify and describe how various theological traditions and denominations react to science. However, we will not endorse particular views, except to esteem those that attempt to embrace and find consistency with established science.
  • It may seem backward that I have prioritized “established science” before “basic Christian belief”. Although it is true that we in the ASA highly esteem the value and legitimacy of the process called science, we do not intend this order to be taken as a universal statement about the authority of science over scripture. Instead, the priority is appropriate for the context of this project, which is first about science education and secondarily how that topic relates to Christian belief.

4. Christian homeschool parent-teachers seeking to evaluate and supplement their science curriculum (and obtain additional teacher training) will be the primary target audience.

  • That our focus is Christian homeschool parent-teachers means that all our content will be crafted and presented with this group’s needs in mind. This is not in any way intended to exclude other, slightly different audiences: Christian or secular school teachers, non-Christian homeschoolers, youth workers, Sunday school teachers, self-learners, etc. Rather, it ensures that our main audience is always served. Besides, resources that are accessible to non-scientist parents will also be useable by trained school teachers and others.
  • Seeking means that our goal is to provide helpful information to those who already have some interest in learning more about established science and the broader Christian dialogue. It is not our purpose to convince people that they should take established science seriously. Rather, we will mostly assume that our visitors are ready and willing to do so.
  • Evaluate and supplement their science curriculum means that we want to provide our audience with (1) sufficient review data to compare available curricula with respect to a variety of metrics and (2) helpful materials to supplement their existing curricula. It is not our aim to produce and publish our own complete curriculum.

“Our purpose is to inform” is the key statement of our mission. The guidelines suggested above merely set some boundaries on what that information should be and how it should be presented.

Humbly submitted for your review,

DH

17 comments to Embracing our mission and purpose

  • Kimberly Dawes

    For curriculum and resources reviews, I suggest some way (checkmarks?) to disclose conflicts of interest. example:
    0 publisher, manufacturer, seller, or other business or financial relationship with product
    0 review copy sent as a gift to reviewer
    O no potential conflict of interest

    Can we submit reviews for books that are not “Science textbooks”? Where? Some home educators prefer to use biography, original works, and popular books such as the *Scientist in the Field* series. The latter secular books are (mostly) engaging, and a few mention help received from Christian missionaries that benefitted the scientists, local people, and local wildlife.

  • Merv Bitikofer

    This is exciting. I have no problems with how the ASA is represented in the more general ‘about the ASA’ page. And the page specific to this project does a good job of spelling out to reviewers where the bar is that we must clear (& terms of leaving out personal diatribes that we can make free with in the blogosphere) as well as clarifying to seekers what they can expect from the ASA site so that they aren’t caught by surprise if they had been hoping to find more anti-evolution ammunition here.

    I think it will be tricky to navigate the waters of giving critical science-based evaluation without seeming to some to be taking sides and promoting an agenda that it sounds like we’ve promised not to promote.

    You wrote: “As an organization, the ASA does not make official statements about particular scientific claims. As such, we do not officially endorse any one viewpoint with regard to evolution or other “hot topics” currently discussed in scientific and popular culture. (It should be noted…”

    This may seem a contradiction to some who will view our refusal to dismiss evolution out-of-hand as being nothing short of an endorsement. So your ‘it should be noted’ parenthetical addition is more than just an aside. We may not make ‘official statements’, but will it be possible to disentangle our personal views from ‘established science’ views so as to showcase the latter while avoiding the former. This may be where we reviewers may need some help & guidance. What if a curriculum is ‘theologically erroneous’ (in our view?). Do we remain silent on that and speak only to specific science addressed in it. It is possible to navigate the waters of “here is what this curriculum presents” leaving the judgment on that content up to the individual readers & parents. We teachers have plenty of practice at that. Would that be an acceptable approach in this context?

    –Merv

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Good points and questions, Merv. You are correct that some will not be happy with our “endorsement” of evolution and other aspects of consensus scientific opinion, but that is where it is important to remember who our primary audience is. We are writing for those who are interested in considering the broader view. And we’re not forcing “our” view on anybody; we’re just providing information. There are plenty of resources and curricula that propagate the standard Christian view, so we’re wasting our time unless we are intentional about providing a critical evaluation of that view and about “recommending” resources that articulate the alternatives, especially those that hold established science in highest regard.

    For the reasons I gave, we will start with the science (benchmarked to established science), but we will also critique and review the theological quality (internal consistency, conformity to historical doctrine, implications, etc.) of each piece we review. Part of the task of providing information is to tease out and reveal how authors’ theologies (e.g., denominational affiliations) affect their views and acceptance of established science.

    How we can accomplish this will be more clear as we consider the specific format for writing reviews. I’ll be writing about that in the next couple of weeks.

    –Doug

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Hi, Kimberly. Yes, full disclosure is the goal. In general, I suggest that reviewers be from outside the denominational affiliation of the Christian textbook author, or at least that they be aware of the larger theological landscape and can write objectively about it. Reviewers will be asked to provide a brief “bio” that provides a context for understanding their particular reaction and rating of the piece they review. Describing and discussing the review process and format is the main subject of the blog posts I plan to write in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

    And, yes, it is my intent that we will review other resources besides core science textbooks. This is exactly what is meant by the category called “Resource Reviews”. In a sense, that is the main purpose of the project: to suggest non-traditional and lesser known resources to supplement and enrich a more holistic consideration of science in Christian perspective. In fact, the only reason for reviewing core science textbooks is to highlight where their “deficiencies” lie, and thereby to highlight areas where supplementary reading and lessons are appropriate.

    –Doug

  • Kimberly Dawes

    The RSS feed link is not working today (6/15/10).

    Merv Bitikofer: >>What if a curriculum is ‘theologically erroneous’ (in our view?). Do we remain silent on that and speak only to specific science addressed in it.<< I would prefer reviews to include both "Christian-fundamentalist" and alternative texts and to itemize areas of theological debate that appear in these texts…matter-of-factly, without "judgment" , sometimes as general comments- the approach on fossil dating, sometimes specific claims- "man walked with the dinosaurs…" or "Your pet will see you in heaven." or "Ill health occurs when Ch'i energy is interrupted or becomes unbalanced."

    Purchasers any kind of text also want to know if the books are sufficiently up-to-date and scientifically accurate, although some care must be taken to differentiate minor errors, areas in which recent research has caused a important shift in knowledge since publication, and seriously erroneous writing. My daughter will be taking Apologia Biology as a part of a co-op next year. Most reviews I found on this book are brag fests ("My kid passed an AP exam") or gushy. I would love to know if it is scientifically sound. Previous texts we have used (from Singapore) are constantly are being evaluated for scientific accuracy. Christian" homeschool texts do not seem to have the same external oversight.

    Douglas: Denominational affiliation is not relevant and may lead the reader to the wrong conclusion of the reviewer's bias. I would omit. Many denominations are still debating issues, and even if the denomination declares a point of view, constituent churches and parishioners don't always concur. Although a member of an Episcopal church, I am the opposite of a Unitarian and this church is orthodox and evangelical in teaching and witness. Many readers might conclude otherwise.
    -Kimberly

  • Kimberly Dawes

    Ummm…in re-reading my post, I see that I made an error in my plea for no “judgments” to be made. I don’t think there is any scientific basis for Ch’i energy adjustments, although many practitioners do not care. New Age beliefs ARE creeping into some books. The “judgments” issue is tough. -Kimberly

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Kimberly,

    As you noted in your clarification message, many issues where an author’s theology “trumps” the science will be taken care of by using established and consensus science as our standard and benchmark for evaluations. Answering the type of questions you have about the Apologia textbook is exactly the goal of our reviews. Where that book might balk or deviate from established science as a result of the author’s theological commitments is then the basis for reviewer analysis, which I believe can be made with a good degree of objectivity. Taken together (critique of the science plus analysis of the underlying apparent theology), these will provide parents with the information needed to make truly educated choices.

    As for denominational affiliation, I believe that this is very important, although I don’t mean that to be taken in isolation from other ways of describing a publisher’s theological persuasion. Many curricula are officially part of a denomination’s publishing division. This is an important piece of information to describe. Even those publishers who are independent can be encouraged to disclose their Christian affiliation. It is extremely insightful to know whether a publisher/author is “reformed” or “arminian” or some other tradition of theology. If you carefully read the description of each menu bar item on the website, you’ll see that “Publisher Reviews” are separate from individual textbook reviews, and that they will be based as much as possible on the self-assessment that publishers themselves provide. Each publisher is free to tell us (or correct us about our assessment of) exactly where their theological allegiances are.

    –Doug

  • Ted Davis

    This is a great start to a very important project that is close to the heart of the ASA. I like everything I have seen, thus far.

    Ted

  • Merv

    Thanks, Kimberly, Doug.

    I suppose when the rubber meets the road and reviews start being produced, we will probably get the benefit of each other’s (or at least the moderator’s) proofing wisdom before material is published to the site?

    –Merv

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Yes, Merv. As I mentioned in the post, until we actually produce and post some reviews, supplements, lessons and other pieces of content, it’ll be difficult to completely dispel all confusion about certain details. It’s all pretty clear in my own head, so I’ll probably edit and moderate the first reviews. Then, once we have a good set of examples in place, it will be much easier to spread the work around (both for writing and for editing-managing).
    –Doug

  • Kimberly Dawes

    Doug and everyone else- my June 15 comments on denominational affiliation was referring to the affiliation of the ASA reviewer. Your comments were referring to the affiliation being listed on the publisher reviews. Naturally the affiliation of the publishers MAY shape (but not always) the content of the books they publish, and that IS very relevant. As for ASA reviewers, I would wonder if affirmation of the core beliefs listed on the site is sufficient without adding exact church affiliation. After all, many of us are science and biblical missionaries in our denomination.

    Herein lies some need for careful use of descriptive adjectives on the site and in comments when writing “reviews” or “reviewers.” I am sorry I was not clear in my own post. I forwarded to you examples where the website could be clearer. -Kimberly

  • BA Poteat

    This project seems promising so far, although I also have a concern that the burden of “promoting” or normalization to so-called established or consensus science not run roughshod over these very important conversations among Christians. The establishment or consensus of anything in the sciences is in some sense provisional and has much to do with the relevant community of discourse in addition to the very profound dynamics of faith and reason. Consensus is very often a matter of who participates in the discussion.

    In pursuing a “broader view” or expanding the conversation for our intended audience, we must be careful not to simply establish a fort on the other side of the battle line some have already drawn. It would be tragic if over time the HSR project represents little more than the “standard scientific view” in contrast to the “standard Christian view.” Doing so would run the risk of driving away the very audience we hope to engage.

    My concern is in large part with my ability to participate in this project with a clear conscience. I became an ASA member on the basis of my agreement with particular statements of faith. None of these SoF involved the promotion of any particular scientific conclusion. In fact, it was the ASA’s commitment to “not take a position when there is honest disagreement between Christians on an issue” that signaled a safe haven to me as a Christian in the natural sciences. If as a HSR reviewer I would be called upon to “promote” the “adoption” of a particular position on the likely debatable issues involved whenever Christians of varying opinion discuss science, then it would be very difficult for me to proceed. I fear the situation might even imply an alteration of the SoF to which I agreed in joining the ASA.

    I am confident that I am not alone in these misgivings. The recent ASA member survey revealed a fairly coherent minority of members who did not affirm either “standard view” concerning a variety of statements concerning origins or the interpretation of early Genesis. Even excluding the “I don’t know” answers, there were many responses centered on issues that represent the active engagement of ASA members with an even broader dialogue than we seem to be pursuing with the HSR project. In addition, PSCF is not naive to the questions and struggles of Christians in science regarding these issues.

    I would like to know what others are thinking about this idea of “promoting” established or consensus science. Can we broaden the dialogue with Christians generally without adopting a particular position on the issues other than one that proceeds by way of the very difficult road of “reasoning together”? That seems more like the ideal underlying the ASA in the first place.

    I realize that risks throwing the doors open to opinions that may be less than well considered, but that really does seem like a major purpose of the life of Christian faith in the context of the natural sciences. To use a physiologic analogy, the presence of conflicting signals within the body or even a given cell, far from representing inefficiency or wasted effort, is actually a sign of the Creator’s fine tuning. As physiologic “decisions” are made, signals inconsistent with the resulting state or process are attentuated or suppressed organically, not eliminated from the beginning. In the same way, perhaps the community of Christian faith would be better served by the ASA’s intended purpose of participating in that decisive process without the adoption or promotion of a particular tentative perspective.

  • BA Poteat

    The comments concerning Ch’i energy are among possible cases in point of the kind of thing I am referring to in my comments. While I am not a proponent of the view of physiology that holds Ch’i energy to be a reality in a sense that can be known by the anatomic view of the classical Western tradition, I cannot say that I am wholeheartedly behind that classical Western tradition. That which is distinctively Christian is not the same as any given physiologic and anatomic perspective on humanity, yet there is established consensus among Christians who are Western and those who are non-Western medical practitioners. I am open to comments, please.

  • Douglas Hayworth

    BA Poteat,

    Thank you for sharing your concerns about the mission and goals of the HSR as stated in this post. If you have these misgivings, I’m sure others do also. This indicates to me that I should devote another blog post to this topic to better clarify certain points. Perhaps the best way for me to do this is to provide several examples, describing how I would apply these guidelines in a review of a textbook or resource that touches on various kinds of “hot topics”. For the moment, let me assure you that my intentions for how these guidelines should be implemented are not as far from your apparent “comfort zone” as you think. Remember, above all else, our purpose is to inform.

    –Doug

  • BA Poteat

    Doug, thanks for the preview of that upcoming direction. Modeling what you mean may be a good place to start. However, I also think that my own tentative positions on a variety of scientific issues are in many cases more closely related to fundamental presuppositions than to conformity or deviation from established or consensus science, “standard Christian” or otherwise. Much of the need for something like the HSR project stems from the use or abuse of language. Hence my concern over the use of the promotion and standardization langauge in this blog post. I eagerly await the model review(s).

  • Gerry Clarkson

    Doug and others, sorry about being late to the conversation, I’m just now catching up on things. I too am looking forward to this project and think that it can be very valuable. I was comfortable with the About pages, but since the instructions were to put ourselves in the place of a non-scientist homeschooling parent I decided to recruit one of those to look at the pages as well. My wife is a well-educated (MA degree) non-scientist (definitively) and until recently a homeschooling parent (last one just graduated). I would summarize her comments after reading the pages as being that the style seemed a bit technical and she wasn’t sure that she was seeing enough at the beginning to keep her reading the rest. I believe there was some missing context due to my just showing her the pages, nevertheless, I am passing those comments along for what they are worth. Along those same lines, as we seek to reach out to a variety of people, we should keep in mind that things like creedal statements may not mean much to some folks.

    I would share the concern about some of the terminology. Words like “promote”, “consensus”, “standard Christian view” could be taken in various ways. I can give them meanings that I am comfortable with but others may have something else in mind. I think it’s a good idea to give examples in order to lend clarity to the discussion.

    Gerry

  • Douglas Hayworth

    Gerry,

    Thanks for the comments. That was a good idea to have your wife review those pages. I plan on asking some of my homeschooling friends do the same. It’s tough to compose these About pages in such a way as to be both precise (using terminology correctly) and plain (not too technical). A few tweaks are probably warranted.

    I know what you mean about using the Creeds. Many “nondenominational” traditions don’t like the idea of creeds. Obviously, the ASA does not appeal to the Creeds as authoritative; we use them as concise statements of basic Christian belief. Perhaps I’ll add some qualifying statement to clarify that fact.

    –Doug