Tuesday, 22 November 2011

About schools, faith and knowledge

How about a little bit of controversy for this Tuesday evening? It will change from the trivial posts, but don't worry, they will resume afterwards. I recently watched this (debate?) on the Channel 4 website, with people answering the question "Should creationism be taught in school?". Well, what to say? I was appalled that such a debate still has to be done, as the demonstration had been made more than a century ago: it should not. On the plus side, I found myself a new British hero in Stephen Law. But that in the country of Charles Darwin, where one could say modernity was born the forces of ignorance can still pull so much weight to have indeed creationism taught as a valuable htypothesis, illustrates pretty much how messed up (I was tempted to use the F word, but my mother is reading this) the educational system is here (and it doesn't even make the children know anything about religion, as I witnessed it myself).

I used to work in schools in England, I see how "secular" is pretty much a meaningless tag they stick on themselves to appear good. In so called "secular" schools, they have prayers in assembly, given by the head teacher or by a vicar of the Church of England. That they have prayers in schools, promoting faith, any faith is bad enough (to Hell with it, they are downright doing proselytism and being hypocritical about it), but teaching as facts, or even as valuable hypothesis claims that have been debunked a long time ago, using the excuse of free choice or freedom of opinion is plain wrong. It is unethical, it is obscurantist, it is immoral. One has the right to believe everything, but not to deny facts, not to willingly ignore facts and teach ignorance to children. The right to hold opinion is not the right to have your own reality. Because whatever your sacred book says, evolution is a fact, it has been verified and proven. You can believe in God all you want, it doesn't change anything about the reality of our origins as a species. It certainly destroys many claims of sacred books, but schools are here to educate, to give children knowledge, to have them exercise their critical thinking, not shut them from the world so they can feel safely safe in a make belief world.

And let's finish this by a neat little controversial statement: there are teachers who do teach creationism in those so called "secular" schools. They should be sacked. Plain and simple


Cynthia said...

Wow! Creationism (it rhymes with cretinism) taught in school? Lets teach how the Earth is flat and the sun revolves around it too!

Mantan Calaveras said...

Well, I think that you are taking maybe too hard a line on this subject, so let me offer you some alternative perspective on it.

Creationism is the idea that a god, most usually the Abrahamic god of the bible, created the universe. Intelligent design is the scientific equivalent of the idea.

Now, intelligent design is not a well-supported theory, but I do think that it is important that it not be dismissed outright. I have no problem with scientists going out and researching alternative models of reality. In fact, I think its essential. In science, nothing should be taboo.

Now, should it be taught in schools? Speaking in general terms is probably next to useless, we need to look at real individual students and their personal educational needs. If you have a community of creationist thinkers, then they are probably going to demand that their children get at least some education on intelligent design in their science class. personally, I think that it should be up to the student, their family, and their parents to decide what subjects they wish to pursue. It is their lives, and only they can decide. I should be clear that I don't think that ANYTHING should be taught as fact in school.

Now, I also think that more religion should be taught in school. I don't think you can understand history clearly at all, without an understanding of how historical peoples saw their world, and that includes world religions. I also think that in order to understand history you must have a grounding in psychology, and so I think that children should study psycho-history as well.

Now, the implication of your post, is that for thinking this way, I am unethical, obscurantist, and immoral. And you know, you would be partially right.

As a moral and epistemological nihilist, I recognize that due to "agrippa's trilemma" there are no foundational proofs, and thus no philosophy can be said to be objectively true.

Now, you said that "you can't ignore facts", and that "you can't have your own reality" but, as far as I can see, everyone DOES have their own reality, and no one reality is more justified than any another. We can rationalize why one model of reality is better than another, but remember that there is no foundational proof.

So, instead we talk about comparative realities, and hey that is what science IS, a methodology for working with comparative perceptions.

Talking about facts is very difficult, the term means something that is in accordance with reality, and reality means that which exists independent of human perception, and of course that it something that we can't ever reach, given the nature of our human faculties. We can't verify what is outside of us, because we are bound to a subjective human perspective, we can only speculate, and that sounds suspiciously similar to how god works doesn't it?

Now, when I see people inject a lot of emotion into something, like when Cynthia equates "creationism" with "cretinism", I tend to think that they are letting their insecurities bias their thinking. So that may also be something that you want to reflect on. It is kind of a "moral panic" as they say. But what is there really to fear?

Personally, I don't see much of a problem, humanity got along for milleniums with creationism as the dominant system of thought, and many of the most genius people in history were creationists by default.

Personally, I'd rather avoid contributing to the divisiveness. What's the point of progress if we're just going to supplant religion with science, when neither have any core justification? I'd rather admit I don't know, and let people do as they please, because if I'm honest with myself, I really DON'T know what's good or true for myself, let alone anyone else. I just have suspicions, Heh heh.

Hope none of this offends you. Just take it as food for thought.

Anonymous said...

@Mantan. Its beautiful food for thought. The world would be a much nicer place if we thought more along these lines. We can never claim to know 'the whole truth' That is simply untrue:-)

Guillaume said...

@Mantan-Thank you for your respectful comment. Creationism is the idea that God created the world in a way that was described in a sacred book, usually the Bible. Intelligent design is NOT the scientific equivalent of this idea, it is the same superstition sugar coated with pseudo-science. Creationism and pretty much the whole Genesis has not only been debunked by sciences (biology, geology, astronomy, you name them), but also by history, linguistics (the Tower of Babel does not hold ground when one knows about linguistic and indo-european), archeology, etc. If intelligent is not a well-supported theory, as you admit it yourself, then it has no space in the classroom. It is not a question of taboo: when one does research, he has to follow the evidence, not lead them. That a myth (because that's what it is) is popular by parents, pupils is irrelevant, an argument at popularity. Is creationism valid as history? It is not. Is intelligent design valid as science? It is not. You wouldn't teach children that the Earth is flat, that you can change lead into gold, that matter is made of four elements, that the sun revolves around the earth, no matter who thinks so.

And do not get me wrong: I think religion should be taught at school, because yes, one cannot udnerstand art and literature, and even culture, without having at least a basic knowledge in them. But as a system of belief, as faith, as a system that generated myths, among them creation myths. Not as something that has an intrinsec truth.

While we do have different perception of reality, we live in the same material world. Whether this world is an illusion or not, again, is irrelevant: I can think if all that surrounds me is just a figment of my imagination, I still cannot, however hard I try, walk through the wall.

Creationism was the belief system of many because they didn't know better, they didn't have then a model to compare it with. Aristotle was a very intelligent man, yet was wrong about the atom. I admire him, but I wouldn't say atoms don't exist because he thought they didn't. We have learned since then. Same thing goes here: there is substantial evidence about evolution. Either it is here because it did happened, or because God planted them there. But the evidence does not lead to God.

And I would add that this is not about supplanting religion with science: the main religions do accept evolution as a fact now. Another unrelated example: the Big Bang was even first theorised by a Catholic priest! Science does challenge particular claims about faiths, it can even lead to atheism (it played a minor role in my deconversion), but going against an hypothetical (and very likely unexistant) God is not at the core of it. Science, and I would add to this "human" sciences such as history, are about discovering, understanding our world better. If God exists then he should not be offended that we try to understand better his... creation. And that we are fascinated by it.