The Conflict Between Religion and Science Education

This is one of my pet rants.

Here’s the conflict. On the one hand, we attempt to maintain a level of education in our public schools, and in some of our private schools, designed to impart sufficient knowledge for the students to go out into the world upon graduation, and make a living. More than that, we hope that the best and the brightest of our students will actually help maintain the status of America as a leader in science and technology, a lead which has resulted in our country becoming the wealthiest and most powerful nation ever to grace this Earth.

On the other hand, in many of our churches, and in many of our private schools, not to mention now universities and law schools, the focus on education is to maintain a Christian viewpoint, to raise our future leaders to conduct themselves, and to advance society, in a Christian mold.

Some churches and schools are more “Christian” than others. By this I mean, that some religions don’t view any conflict between a religious education and a secular one. The Catholic Church, for instance, believes that biological evolution is not in conflict with the concept of a supernatural force behind it. Others, more evangelical and fundamental in their outlook, believe in the inerrancy and literal nature of scripture, and hence do not “believe” in any science that contradicts it, such as evolution. In effect, they discount facts in favor of beliefs and superstition.

But regardless, whether Christians are fundamentalists, or moderates in their approach to education, aren’t they setting our children up for failure, by allowing the schools to teach secular topics, such and science and history, in the public schools during the week, while their ministers, priests and rabbis teach something completely contrary on Sunday? Teaching children to assume that there is a supernatural explanation for anything, undercuts the actual education attempted in the schools. Children are children, and will become confused when confronted with alternative explanations.

I’d like to give credit to all children, and say that they could compartmentalize their secular and religious educations, and some might, but I tend to think most will ultimately pick and choose, and many otherwise brilliant children, may, and will, choose religion over science. Or, worse yet, they will devise a mish-mash of knowledge and belief that will not work in either realm. We can see that in society today by the common beliefs in various psuedoscience such as astrology, UFOs, parapsychology, biorhythms, ESP, and other oddly fascinating but unsupportable subjects for the supermarket tabloids. We should be categorically opposed to teaching anything supernatural as causative in fact, in church or otherwise, for these reasons.

Richard Dawkins relates the story of Kurt Wise, the geologist who, when confronted with his religious beliefs conflicting with the science he learned and practiced, after much anguish and soul searching, gave up his career in science. The God Delusion, p.284. The lure of supernatural belief is that strong.

Let us also not forget that it is adults – trained, educated adults – who push Intelligent Design into the schools, so that their children can be indoctrinated in the same beliefs they have. And not only their children, but yours and mine, too.

The problem goes deeper than this though. These children grow up to be teachers themselves. If they compartmentalize their beliefs from their education, those beliefs are likely to bubble to the surface at a time when we will have no control over it. For instance, religious science teachers who are required to teach something they don’t personally believe in will do so with little or no enthusiasm for the subject, or worse, as I mentioned here, will subconsciously or even consciously attempt to undermine the science teaching, so as to elevate their religious beliefs over the science. While it’s not legal in public schools, it can be done, and is being done every day. It’s human nature to downplay matters in which one has no interest, or that contradict firmly held beliefs.

So what we have to deal with is a natural conflict between teaching knowledge, facts, reality, science and teaching beliefs based on age old superstitions. 2000 years ago, running the world on superstition made a certain amount of sense. It brought to bear a unified world view, and imposed that on the population, which, while untrue, still provided stability in the course of human dealings. Now, we know that superstitious beliefs have no place in reality, and are actually in conflict with science, a discipline without which the world would stop running. Religion is hampering progress.

Studies have shown that America is losing it’s predominance in the areas of science and technology to countries such as Japan and South Korea. If religion continues to try to undermine secular education, this problem will get worse. This Fact Sheet underscores some of the problems.

  • By 2010, if current trends continue, more than 90 percent of all scientists and engineers in the world will be living in Asia.
  • In 2002, foreign nationals accounted for more than half of all engineering and math doctorates, and almost half of all computer science doctorates.
  • South Korea, with one-sixth of our population, graduates as many engineers as the United States.

It is axiomatic that if we downplay science (and what do we call students of science in the US? Geeks? Nerds? Does that not indicate a disdain for advanced knowledge?) in a world where the advancements in science have been so rapid over the past century, we will no longer be the leader. We will shortly be overtaken by countries who place more emphasis and importance on education and less on theology. We will become dependent on countries like Japan, South Korea and India for our technology. Instead of being an export nation, we will become an import nation.

Is that what we want?

[EDIT: I hadn't intended to comment on this, but it is relevant. Doctors, who are professionals significantly steeped in the sciences that a medical degree demands, are responsible for the latest terrorist attacks in the UK. One would think that, having received the taste that their education provides of reality, their religious indoctrination would not be powerful enough to override their Hippocratic Oath. In the case of Islam, apparently it is.


Scary thought.]

16 thoughts on “The Conflict Between Religion and Science Education

  1. The EDIT at the end of this post sums up very powerfully: People ultimately have to choose between religion and science, because the two cannot coexist.

    By the way, do doctors in Islamic countries take the Hippocratic Oath?

  2. I have already predicted this downsliding trend of America’s ability to produce quality scientists.

    If America insists on wasting children’s quality science classes with pseudoscience, then it is ultimately the nation who is going to suffer.

    Imagine, at the surgical table, the doctor administers prayers instead of anaesthesia.

    A chilling thought indeed.

  3. I just want to say that God is good. I am studying to be an Elementary teacher, and frankly do not look forward to teaching science in the classroom due to the false beliefs of evolution. This argument of science and religion could go on forever, and it will continue…but God has always been there and will always be there. I am simply writing this comment because I want anyone and everyone to know that God loves you. He loved you so much that he sent his own son to die for you…in your place. Jesus was mocked, spat upon, rejected. The idea of him being a savior was rejected in every way imaginable, just as many reject him today. But yet God has always been there, and he is still there…waiting for you to run to him. No matter how many times we deny him and run away from him, he will always be there to accept us and love us. Just as is says in 1 John, “God is love”. I know some of you may get frustrated with this post, but when you experience the love of God that surpasses all understanding, you realize that nothing else in this world matters. I encourage those of you who are set in the idea that God is this imaginary, supernatural character to rethink that. God loves you more than anything, and you will never do anything to mess that up.

    • I am studying to be an Elementary teacher, and frankly do not look forward to teaching science in the classroom due to the false beliefs of evolution.

      This, ladies and Gentleman, is why we need to get religion out of the secular world. You put people like this, who are, in their day to day lives, conflicted about the role their religious delusions play in the teaching of science, and it’s clear that there is no reconciliation between science and religion.

      This person will do a disservice to his/her students because of that conflict. It may be an unconscious process with no intent to harm, but harm will occur. His/her disdain for science will subconsciously be passed on to the students.

      Let’s only hope that those same students are exposed to science properly by other, better teachers, and that the harm inflicted by this person will be minimal.

    • Teej:
      Thank you for being honest about your opinion of science. You gave SI a great opportunity to explain the problem that religious beliefs pose when they clash with reality.

      Since you don’t accept evolution, I assume that you don’t get vaccines or take medications, nor do you bother visiting doctors about any medical issues. If you do, then you are unwittingly accepting the fruits of evolutionary theory, because medical science, in theory and practice, has benefited enormously from evolutionary theory. Doctors who prescribe medication, who inoculate against disease, who set broken bones and diagnose all manner of illnesses all base their work on the foundations set by evolutionary theory. What’s really cool, though, is that their work also continually tests evolutionary theory, pushes its boundaries, and helps correct and improve it. It’s an amazing process, really.

      As far as letting us know that God loves us, Jesus died for us, yada, yada, yada – do you honestly think that we haven’t heard it all before? Never mind, scratch that question. You know we’ve heard it, but you have to say it in order to gain brownie points with your god. Carry on, then; chalk up another point in your good works column.

      • Chap, just because one doesn’t accept a faulty view on man’s origins, doesn’t mean that one has to turn their back on technical or other advantages that science has to offer… especially since the science that you refer to, relies on the natural world created by God, Whom you STILL haven’t disproved.

        What, I should give up all of those things that I enjoyed in the years I was an agnostic, simply because I accepted the Christian view of creation? Are you a union member, by any chance? I’ve known some radical unionists, in my day, that were quick to crow about how great things were under their rule to anyone that criticized the union or their job actions. I work in a tough business, (trucking) and I’ve stood against groups of men that knew I can effing well take care of myself, yet still vilified me for daring to take the employer’s side – someone that they conveniently overlooked as providing them with a job in the first place!

        It’s that way with God, Who has provided man with all of the things he needs to live, yet presumptuous man goes and claims credit for ‘discoveries’ He has created, and then deem myself and others unworthy of them. Well, like in the previous scenario, I’d love to see anyone here or elsewhere TRY and keep me from those benefits!

        Physicians were setting bones and healing diseases long before any evolutionary theories came into being. In fact, in Semitic lands, the scriptures were a source of medical and health and scientific knowledge, long before anyone named Darwin happened along.

        Oh… and about those “Brownie points”… don’t need any! That’s only required in humanist-run systems. Christ paid the debt IN FULL! We only need accept!

        Better than any union shop, I’m tellin’ ya!
        ;-)

        • Gideon:

          …created by God, Whom you STILL haven’t disproved.

          I wasn’t aware that I’d ever set out to disprove god. Have you proven him/her/it yet?

          • Chap, I wasn’t sure for the longest time if God existed or not.

            Know what it was that finally convinced me? Besides the obvious and revealing complexity of life and the fumbling, unorganized and highly biased efforts of ‘experts’ to explain it? It was/is the practically universal, viral prejudice against God by those supposed to be neutral on the subject – so-called “atheists” like yourself. To hate something that hasn’t been proven to exist, (in your view) isn’t logical.

            Disproved? Sorry, let me change that… more like discredit!

            Simply put – thou just seemeth to protest too much!

  4. Giving this the “Frodo” test … Does this mean that hobbits exist too?

    “I just want to say that Frodo is good. I am studying to be an Elementary teacher, and frankly do not look forward to teaching science in the classroom due to the false beliefs of evolution. This argument of science and religion could go on forever, and it will continue…but Frodo has always been there and will always be there. I am simply writing this comment because I want anyone and everyone to know that Frodo loves you. He loved you so much that he sent his own son to die for you…in your place. Jesus was mocked, spat upon, rejected. The idea of him being a savior was rejected in every way imaginable, just as many reject him today. But yet Frodo has always been there, and he is still there…waiting for you to run to him. No matter how many times we deny him and run away from him, he will always be there to accept us and love us. Just as is says in 1 John, “Frodo is love”. I know some of you may get frustrated with this post, but when you experience the love of Frodo that surpasses all understanding, you realize that nothing else in this world matters. I encourage those of you who are set in the idea that Frodo is this imaginary, supernatural character to rethink that. Frodo loves you more than anything, and you will never do anything to mess that up.”

Comments are closed.