The following comes from a July 24 posting on the website of Crisis Magazine.
After making tens of billions in the personal computer revolution, Gates has become a full-time cheerleader for leftist causes on a global scale—whether it’s reducing carbon emissions to zero by mid-century or reducing the world population by spending billions to pay for contraceptives in poor countries.
Now Gates is hoping to transform education. The Microsoft co-founder has recently made headlines here and elsewhere for backing a new nationalized curriculum known as the Common Core. But his ambitions for education are even bigger. Gates has recently teamed up with historian David Christian to launch the Big History Project, a free online curriculum piloted last year in 55 high schools—45 in the United States, including four Catholic ones, and ten in other countries, from China to the Netherlands.
Big History lives up only to the first part of its name. It encompasses a 13.7 billion year-timeline in a bold effort to tell the entire history of the universe.
But it is not really history in any recognizable sense of the word. History traditionally takes as its starting point recorded history beginning with stories of Egyptian mummies and pyramids, or perhaps in the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia. Big History, on the other hand, begins with the Big Bang. The ten-unit course devotes nearly half its time to covering the formation of stars and the solar system, then turns to the birth of life and the appearance of the earliest humans, before arriving at history proper, in the seventh unit. It’s tailor-made for the attention-challenged student of today, with the typical unit featuring minutes-long video lectures, interactive exercises, and floridly illustrated articles.
Big History is thus really a blend of cosmology, astrophysics, geology, evolutionary biology, and anthropology. None of these disciplines is inherently anti-faith: the Catholic Church has long taught that evolution, as a science and not a philosophy, is not incompatible with belief in God. And the Big Bang, declaring as it does that the universe had a definite beginning and therefore a cause, is rich with theistic implications. (Little wonder, then, that the first person to propose the earliest version of the Big Bang theory was a Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaitre.)
The problem arises in how these disciplines are stitched together to tell what its advocates describe as a sweeping history of everything. In the first unit of the course, students are introduced to six ancient “origin stories”: Australian aboriginal, Chinese, Greek, Iroquois, Judeo-Christian, and Mayan—in that order. For the Greek one, students read from Hesiod’s Theogony. For the Judeo-Christian perspective, they read Genesis 1.
Such “origin stories” are broached only as a foil to Big History. “Big History is a modern version of all these stories,” David Christian explains in a video introducing the course. Christian is more explicit about the secular design behind Big History in his book, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History. The author identifies the Christian account of creation as a “myth”:
Creation myths are powerful because they speak to our spiritual, psychic, and social need for a sense of place and a sense of belonging. Because they provide so fundamental a sense of orientation, they are often integrated into religious thinking at the deepest levels, as the Genesis story is within the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition. (Maps of Time, 2).
The perceived need for a modern origin story, as Christian sees it, points to the broader ambition of Big History. It is not merely an account of the origin of all things. It aims, rather, to answer the big questions of life, which, according to Christian, include the following: “Why do we find ourselves in this particular part of the universe on this tiny planet buzzing with life?” “What does it mean to be human?” “Who am I? Where do I belong? What is the totality of which I am a part?” (See his video introduction to Big History available here and Maps of Time, 1.) Such questions are normally asked and answered by a ‘worldview,’ which is what Big History ultimately is—entirely bereft, of course, of the supposedly mythic trappings of old traditions.
As such, Big History itself is the latest chapter in the decades-long story of the secularization of public education, beginning in the 1960s, when public-school prayer and Bible readings were ruled unconstitutional. In the ensuing decades, social conservatives and traditional humanists have sought other ways of helping students find their moral and metaphysical bearings as they embark upon the stormy seas of moral relativism and cultural pluralism—creationism, intelligent design, values curricula, and character education. (Some obviously have more merit than others.)
Big History is a secular counteroffensive. The curriculum provides an entirely materialist account of the origin of everything from stars to cells to cities—impersonal processes, often catalyzed by chance, brought each into being….
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