These students are part of a large, well-organised movement that is empowering parents to teach their children creationist biology and other unorthodox versions of science at home, all centred on the idea that God created Earth in six days about 6000 years ago. Patrick Henry, near the town of Purcellville, about 60 kilometres north-west of Washington DC, is gearing up to groom home-schooled students for political office...
Now evangelical home-schoolers can also opt for a college like PHC. The school was founded in 2000 to "prepare leaders who will fight for the principles of liberty and our home-school freedoms through careers of public service and cultural influence".
It worked. By 2004, PHC students held seven out of 100 internships in the White House, a number even more striking when one considers that only 240 students were enrolled in the entire college. Last year, two PHC graduates worked in the White House, six worked for members of Congress and eight for federal agencies, including two for the FBI. "Patrick Henry is something to worry about because these kids end up in the administration," says Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California, which campaigns against the teaching of creationism as science.
Home-schoolers are drawn to PHC partly because of its political connections and partly because, unlike most Christian colleges, it boasts high academic standards. Besides the focus on creationism, much of the curriculum is dedicated to rhetoric and debate, preparing students to fight political and legal battles on issues such as abortion, stem cell research and evolution. The technique is effective. For the past two years, the college has won the moot court national championship, in which students prepare legal briefs and deliver oral arguments to a hypothetical court, and has twice defeated the UK's University of Oxford in debating competitions.
Biology is not the only science being rewritten in home-schooling textbooks. Other sciences are also being modified to suit the creationist perspective that God created Earth about 6000 years ago. Take for instance this advice on climate change in the book Science Order and Reality published by A Beka Book: "Because most environmental scientists see the universe and even life itself as mere products of chance, it is easy for them to visualise potentially catastrophic changes occurring on the Earth. As Christians we must remember that God provided certain 'checks and balances' in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists." For those who still worry about global warming, another A Beka book, Science of the Physical Creation, flatly denies it is happening: "All of the scientific evidence gathered indicates that there is no danger of a global warming disaster."
Chemistry textbooks argue that radiometric dating is unreliable and therefore not a concern for those who believe in a 6000-year-old Earth. And geology books claim that the Grand Canyon in Arizona - a gorge carved by the Colorado river, exposing 2 billion years of Earth's history - was formed rapidly during the worldwide Biblical flood, and all the sedimentary strata visible in the canyon walls were deposited then.
Even astronomy is being rethought to address what many creationists consider their most difficult challenge: explaining how starlight from billions of light years away has reached the Earth in only a few thousand years. Books like Taking Back Astronomy by Jason Lisle suggest possible explanations: maybe God created the light already en route; or maybe the Milky Way sits in a large gravitational well where the time-stretching effects of general relativity can explain the anomaly; or - the creationists' favourite - maybe the speed of light was much, much greater in the past.
This would, of course, be a return to the dark ages. I guess one could argue that it might have been better if we had stayed there. Then the population would not have increased as quickly as it has, so we wouldn't be having as much environmental destruction yet. But, since the population was increasing even then, we would have had many of the same problems eventually.