Double Dutch

Students at Augustinus College probably didn't see it coming. Most of their teachers certainly didn't. The school's head, Peter Boon, told the local newspaper that he wouldn't tolerate the unqualified teaching of the theory of evolution. Boon's comments ignited a controversy that quickly spread beyond the school and even the town. Within a day, people across the country were talking about how best to teach the subject of human origins. Well, this isn't another story about Kansas. The country I'm talking about is the Netherlands. Boon's insistence that teachers must "explain how evolution theory relates to Christian belief" makes sense when you consider that Augustinus is a Protestant, not public, school. Yet, objections to his comments were so strenuous that he felt obliged to declare a "cooling off period." While the situation at Augustinus may have "cooled off," it quickly heated up in the rest of the country. In a newspaper interview, the Dutch Minister of Education, Marie Van der Hoeven, called for a "re-opening" of the debate over the theory of evolution. According to Van der Hoeven, exploring other people's "beliefs about the origins of the universe" is an important part of education. Especially since "the theory of evolution is not yet complete, and . . . new discoveries are still being made." On her website, the minister cited intelligent design as an example of how such an exploration might take place. The response in Holland was pretty much the same one you would have received here if she were an American leader. She was grilled in Parliament and ridiculed in the press. One Member of Parliament asked her if she thought the Earth was flat. Dutch Radio compared her actions to that of "undesirable neo-conservative religious tendencies in the U.S." But wait a minute. There's an aspect of the Dutch controversy that cannot be compared to the American one, one that became Van der Hoeven's trump card: Holland's Islamic population. Recent events have heightened Dutch concerns about that community's lack of assimilation into Dutch society. Van der Hoeven believes that incorporating the Islamic perspective of creation, which resembles the Christian one, into the curriculum could further the process of integration. As she put it, "Religious feelings are very deep-seated, [and] you need to make allowance for that . . ." -- causing Muslims to seek education which she believes is the key to assimilation. Dutch commentators doubt that the Minister's proposal will have its intended effect or be carried out. But what can't be doubted is that no other group in society would be entitled to such an "allowance" as she made for Muslims. If the controversy had been limited to Christian objections to evolution, the controversy would have been over long ago. Muslim objections to evolution, however, on the grounds of the Koran warrant serious consideration. Why? Because, as Canadian writer Kathy Shaidle says, "Christians don't do fatwas," that is, declarations of Islamic law. For all the glib comparisons of Christians to Muslims, we seek to persuade, not to intimidate. Our replies to provocations are just that, replies. That means that our "deep-seated" convictions are sometimes ignored, while Muslims' are not. And that's a reflection of the double standard in the Netherlands, not unlike the one we have here.


Chuck Colson



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