by Kiersten Remster
Kiersten Remster is a 2017 University of Dayton graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in art history. Following graduation from UD, Kiersten won the prestigious Austrian Federal Ministry of Education Teaching Assistant Award, which is administered by Fulbright Austria. Thankful for this opportunity, she has been working with students of all ages at two schools in the village of Hollabrunn –not far from the Czech Republic border. Upon finishing teaching, Kiersten is headed to New York University to commence graduate work in European and Mediterranean Studies.
Recently, a colleague who teaches biology mentioned that he was working with our 8th graders on a lesson about creationism. I immediately recalled many memories with the University of Dayton’s Core Integrated Studies Program, when we learned about Ken Ham’s provocative theories regarding a 6000-year-old universe, and we experienced first-hand both Bill and Sue Trollinger’s academic expertise on young Earth creationism.
Having visited the Ark Encounter last year, I asked my biology colleague if I might be able to join his class and offer a lesson to the eighth graders on the American culture surrounding young Earth creationism.
Since the main school I work at is a private Catholic “Aufbaugymnasium,” or secondary high school, I was unsure of how students might perceive the content. Certainly there is a wide spectrum of spirituality and religious practices among them. As part of the curriculum, students are required to take a religion class, in addition to reading a morning prayer together before beginning each school day.
I began the lesson with a brief introduction on the Catholic Church’s position regarding evolution and some Pope Francis quotes that acknowledge the reality of evolution while not confronting evolutionism/creationism controversy in a direct manner.
We then discussed the beliefs of young Earth creationists: the Earth is only a few thousand years old; the “apparent age theory” that justifies their dismissal of fossils and geology as evidence of an old Earth; human beings lived alongside the dinosaurs.
The students were astonished to learn that a considerable number of Americans align themselves with young Earth creationism, or at least are skeptical of evolution.
Constantin, an eighth grader who grew up in a Catholic family and is active in church mission trips across Europe and the Middle East, explained his perspective of hearing about this extreme side of creationism.
In religion we already heard something about it [creationism]. However, I didn’t know the dimensions of young Earth creationism. I think as well as the Catholic Church that religion does not exclude science and the other way around. They discover reality from different perspectives. I think God doesn’t want to hide himself through the apparent age theory, but he wants that we discover him through the complexity and beauty of nature!
After going through some of the statistics regarding how far young Earth creationism has spread across the US, I showed the students the budget, design, and layouts for the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.
Something that is always a highly controversial topic in our class is how Americans are generally less concerned with being eco-friendly, yet seemingly might be paying the most in the future for their commodity-driven lifestyles. Thus when I informed the class about the amount of wood used in order to build this fantastical Ark, many found it unbelievable.
Marie-Teres, another eighth grader in this class, commented on this notion of environmental friendliness:
I was a bit mind-blown at first because it is against everything we have learned our entire lives. Comparing it to Austria, being really encouraged from a young age on to recycle, save water, electricity, etc., this ark construction is nothing that would ever be considered building here. It sure is something else and not comparable to our Austrian standards.
We ended the lesson reviewing some of the text and placards that occupy the walls throughout the Ark Encounter’s exhibits. I was quite proud when my 8th graders quickly recognized that the same font type used to describe the days of creation is seemingly identical to the infamous Lord of the Rings font.
Overall, the lesson came as quite a shock for most of the class in regards to how we (as Americans) are educated, given that many Austrians believe that the US has an advanced education system. Many students look up to the United States; most listen to American music, watch American shows on Netflix, or have shown a recent interest in the future of American politics.
I think it was valuable for them to learn about this young Earth creationist minority in American culture. Perhaps they learned that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.