Original conversation occurred in the Biblical Concourse Yahoo Group, September 8-11, 2005 . First published as an article in the Keystone Journal by the Home Education Foundation of New Zealand in January 2007.
A Conversation on the Neutrality of University Engineering Courses
With Jim Bartlett and Peter Allison
But upper level secular engineering courses are neutral right?
Jim Bartlett: I certainly understand the view that upper level engineering courses don't contain the spiritual dangers that humanities courses do. I have taught many upper division courses in that "neutral" status quo manner. Christian engineering educators are doing better than secular schools in incorporating the Christian faith in the subjects and through mission focused service learning. But, from my view and experience, it is possible to incorporate the Christian faith even further...in every formula, phrase, and design decision, only limited to the amount of time or emphasis desired. On the design side, "Responsible Technology" by Monsma is helpful. There is a plan among Christian engineering educators to rewrite this book to make it more useful. A student could glean a principle and apply it to a specific design and publish a paper for excellent learning and bringing in his faith. Further consideration of design and its industrialization influence and the subsequent influence of industrialization on the family and church and home school can also be studied to change the way engineering is aimed. Aimed to serve corporations and governments or aimed to serve the family, including a Christian view of sustainability and local community without environmentalism. A machine design course could include an analysis of how various machines affect people in thought, daily life, as a society and implementation of Christian principles. I am not thinking of one reference on this but several. 1,2,3,4,5
Christians are called to occupy, subdue, take dominion, redeem, conqueror and more through though Christ. To me the Scriptures behind those thoughts give me a clue that Christian engineers just might be called to do something that non-Christians cannot or would not do. The motivations are different, the end is different, and likely the educational means to the end will be unique for some. Just as few curriculums were available for home schools 20 years ago, today home engineering curricula are not available, but need to be written with thoroughly Christian themes. An easy place to start would be to use the style of Mathematics: Is God Silent by James Nickel and rewrite a statics text for Christian engineers or machine design or finite element modeling. This probably sounds crazy unless you have read books previously mentioned or others like Foundations of Christian Scholarship by North or A Comprehensive Faith by Sandlin. Francis Schaffer was pointing to these ideas in 1984 via his Great Evangelical Disaster book. The PEERS test via Nehemiah Institute provides me another data point for these thoughts. Looking at the PEERS worldview testing results over 16 years shows me that the time spent learning a secular view of a subject is time not learning a Christian view of the subject, and that this learning is hard to shake, and takes years of diligent effort to unlearn. Secular Humanism is religion opposed to Christianity. Based on an understanding that secular humanism is an atheistic religion opposed to Christianity, 6, 7 the process of secularization 8 and the myth of neutrality, 9 I am seeing that God blesses where His people choose to not promote or follow the religion of secular humanism in education (Hebrews 4:12, Proverbs 22:1). God doesn't promote neutrality (Matthew 12:30 , Joshua 24:15, 1 Kings 18:21 , Colossians 2:8) and therefore accepting neutrality impedes Christian family and church maturity (2 Corinthians 10:5). Since what and how Christian leaders and young people teach through their example is important (James 3:1), helping people avoid the secularization and neutrality traps of humanism is seen as an important contribution. Neutrality is a key myth of secular humanism which promotes the idea that the mind of man can be neutral with regard to facts and ideas. In advertising, the promotion of "neutral" products and services is stating or implying and encouraging and teaching that these products and services have no religious influence, while in fact they do promote the religion of secular humanism.
May God richly reward your diligence (Hebrews 11:6).
1. Howard Douglas King, “Industrialism: Rooted in Greed,” Patriarch Magazine, 39.26-27.
2. Howard Douglas King, “Machines and Families: A Christian Agrarian Looks at Ralph Borsodi's Critique of Industrialism,” Patriarch Magazine, 38.8-9.
3. Howard Douglas King, “The Cult of Efficiency: How Industrialism Destroyed the Traditional Family,” Patriarch Magazine, 40.28-35.
4. Howard Douglas King, “Tradition vs. Technological Society: Stephen B. Clark’s Analysis of Technological Society and its Effects on the Family, Part I,” Patriarch Magazine, 41.24-30.
5. Howard Douglas King, “The Family in the Modern World: Stephen B. Clark’s Analysis of Technological Society and its Effects on the Family, Part II,” Patriarch Magazine, 42.25-30.
6. David A. Nobel, Understanding the Times (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1991).
7. Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1946).
8. James P. Bartlett, Secularization by the Christian Educator ( Bottineau , ND : Biblical Concourse of Home Universities, 2003).
9. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1981), 165-168.
Dr. James Bartlett attended college for automotive technology (AAS, NH Vocational Technical College, 1979), mechanical engineering (BS General Motors Institute & Purdue University, 1983 & MS, North Dakota State University, 1989), and Engineering (PhD, North Dakota State University, 1992). For 17 years (1987 to 2004), Dr. Bartlett taught mechanical, industrial, and manufacturing engineering subjects while performing related research at North Dakota State University . As Dr. Bartlett began to understand how western culture had been secularized by Christian educators, he chose to depart the secular university to pursue implementation of a thoroughly Biblical philosophy of education in teaching, research and service. This led to the launch of a national support group for families developing their own college experiences called the Biblical Concourse of Home Universities ( BiblicalConcourse.com). He and his wife Lynn see the Biblical worldview (Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 1:27 ) as foundational for Christian education at all levels of learning and for maturity in the Body of Christ. The Bartletts began home educating in 1994 after observing the good fruit in many home educating families. Dr. Bartlett is also the Executive Director of the North Dakota Home School Association ( NDHSA.org).
Could you give me an example of how an engineering course could teach secular humanism?
Peter Allison: When I was a professor in an engineering department of a public university, secular humanism was taught in many ways. Secular humanism was “baked” into nearly everything. One could not have a lunch or hallway conversation without encountering this mindset.
I'm assuming that by secular humanism you mean the religion which teaches that God is a creation of men’s imagination, that the world that exists today arose by chance, that the only source of knowledge and truth is found through man's observation of the natural world, that right and wrong is based on the consensus of a majority, that the problems of society exist because of a lack of knowledge, and that rational science could bring a paradise on earth if all children were taught these ideas from the birth.
Given that as the definition of secular humanism, here is an example of how it is taught in university engineering courses: at the university at which I taught, the law of gravity was presented as a law of Nature instead of a work of God's providence in which He is personally acting and governing the world he made, thus robbing God of the glory due His name.
The cosmos was routinely presented as being billions of years of old contrary to the clear teaching of God’s Word, thus establishing man as the source of Truth over God and His Word.
There was no explanation for why the mathematical manipulations with which they covered the blackboards had any relevance to, or predictive ability in, the physical world outside the classroom.
The scientific method was presented as the source of truth instead of the Scriptures. All knowledge and wisdom was not acknowledged to be hid in Christ.
God’s name was routinely taken in vain in class through minced oaths.
Relatively was not presented as arising from the fact that we are creatures of time, subject to it, and therefore not able to know things instantly. As long as any velocity differences are much less than the speed of light, we don’t face the consequences of this limitation. As soon as we have to deal with relative velocities near the speed of light, our being creatures of time presents huge implications.
God was not presented as the Ruler of creation - able to control the winds and sea by the power of His word, able to pass through solid walls and locked doors. Creation was presented as a product of chance and considered its own master.
Hurricanes and tsunamis were not presented as Acts of God, but the unpredictable forces of Mother Nature.
The proper reasons for studying physics were never given - namely, because God commands us to rule over the earth and subdue it for His glory. In pursuing knowledge of the physical world we are just continuing the scientific study begun by Adam at God’s direction when He named the animals.
Instruction was student centered instead of bringing the student to kneel before the beauty, order, structure, and complexity of the world God made. The unspoken sentiment was that given enough time Nature would reveal all her secrets to us, instead of acknowledging that God’s thoughts and ways are far higher than our simple knowledge.
I could go on, but these are a few of the ways secular humanism was routinely taught in most engineering courses.
I had a good friend who was considered the rising star of our engineering department who ended up being denied tenure because he was a Christian and taught like one. He was a first rate scientist. After being denied tenure, he started his own engineering company. Ironically, many of his former colleagues turned to him for their summer work. (Professors were paid 10 months salary and were expected to bring in 2 months pay in the summer through contract work.) For the last 8 years, his company (a company of one) has had the NASA contract to do all the cryogenic controls for the Hubble telescope. It was certainly not lack of ability, peer reviewed publishing, or service that cost him his tenure. It was his Christianity in the “scientific” classroom.
Peter Allison is an electrical engineer and author of the book titled Dollar Non¢ents. Mr. Allison is an elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His previous work has included running a large Christian school, driving nuclear submarines, and teaching engineering at his alma mater, the US Naval Academy . He and his wife homeschool seven children.