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.