Monday, June 30, 2008

Comment on Copson piece

Andrew Copson has responded to Christina Odone's report on faith schools. Copson begins:

According to a pamphlet published today by the Centre for Policy Studies, penned by Cristina Odone, they [faith schools] are under threat as never before from "a government … aligning itself with a stridently secularist lobby".

Here's my comment [further developed 3/7/08] on Copson's excellent piece, which I just posted at comment is free.

The UK has seen a huge increase in the number of religious schools over the last decade. Having looked into how they are monitored, I was shocked to discover just how little monitoring there is. There are no national statutory requirements, not even for state funded schools; there are some non-statutory guidelines for state funded schools but they are toothless waffle (focused mainly on providing kids with knowledge of some other faiths). State funded schools are guided by the local Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education (SACRE) made up mainly of local teachers, religious folk and some council people. These SACREs set up an RE curriculum for schools in their area. This local curriculum typically reflects the waffly, non-statutory guidelines.

See here for those guidelines.

So state-funded schools have a "curriculum" set by the local SACRE, based on these guidelines. Generally, the SACRE requires schools teach kids about some other faiths (as the guidelines recommend). But there's invariably no requirement that e.g. children be encouraged to think critically about religion, etc. etc.

Independent schools are not even answerable to a local SACRE. Indeed, they cannot be faulted at all, whatever they do. Not even if they refuse to teach children about other faiths, as the guidelines recommend.

As a result of all this, even a state-funded school run as a religious brainwashing factory (perhaps chucking in, "Oh, and by the way, this is what Muslims and Jews mistakenly believe.") can often point to its glowing OFSTED report and say "But look at our wonderful inspection report!"

When I expressed concern on the R4 Today prog about the lack of standards and monitoring of what goes on in religious schools, a member of one of the Standing Advisory Comms. on Religious Education contacted me to say thank goodness I was bringing this issue up - and he was himself religious. On his, view, a significant proportion of religious schools are, so far as religion is concerned, functioning as little more than factories of indoctrination. He was particularly concerned about some Jewish, some Catholic, and many Islamic schools.

I speak regularly at schools, and have noticed that over the past decade or so there has been a shift towards more extreme religious views being expressed by pupils. And even by some staff. Most schools now seem to have at least a handful of children who believe that the entire universe is six thousand years old. Many schools have teachers who believe that too (I recently discovered that the supply science teacher at a very famous public school is such a creationist).

I don't deny there are some excellent religious schools. The problem is, we know far too little about what's going on in most of them. Many seem not to be fostering the kind of clear-headed independence of thought and robust critical defences that kids are going to need when they step outside the school gates and encounter people with wicked and dangerous belief systems. All children, whether in a religious school or not, need those kind of defences, and unfortunately many religious schools go about deliberately suppressing them. That, I think, is perhaps the most serious danger such schools present, no matter how well-intention such schools are, and no matter how noble the values they're promoting.

I think there should be robust minimum standards all schools should meet when it comes to RE, whether they be religious schools or not, state funded or not. The IPPR a few years ago recommended that all children should be encouraged to think critically about the religious views they bring with them into the classroom. The Telegraph and Melanie Phillips went ballistic. But the IPPR, it seems to me, is right.

If you think traditional religious education is still acceptable, try taking my faith school challenge.

[POSTSCRIPT: A couple of anecdotes.

A state funded school just down the road had until recently, a Muslim school within its grounds. The Muslim school was for girls only, and was based in the cricket pavilion. The Muslim school was organized so that the pupils never mixed with non-Muslims. Indeed, they had different start and finish times to ensure this. To what extent would these girls grow up feeling integrated into British society, I wonder?

A recent poll revealed that 36% of young British Muslims think that any Muslim who leaves the faith should be killed. Clearly, their schools, religious or not, did not do a very good job of explaining the importance of the value of freedom of thought and expression, and that it is the right of every individual to accept, or reject, the religion in which they are raised. This is the sort of value all schools should be promoting in religious ed., surely. Indeed, shouldn't promotion of this value be mandatory?]

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the link didn't work for me.
Possibly characters went missing when you pasted it in?

I have problems with people believing this young earth stuff. They just can't. Not really. It's a rather creepy social phenomenon, like gangs that pretend to be vampires, but harmless enough when its between consenting adults.

They surely can't be allowed to teach it from a position of trust though.

Stephen Law said...

omit the full stop and it should work....

Anonymous said...

No joy. Hmm.. the bit after "ProductId=" still looks mangled and the teachernet server doesn't like it much.

Anonymous said...

Found a plausible candidate. QCA/04/1336

I take it thats the one. Lets see if

QCA/04/1336 Religious education: The non-statutory national framework
is any better.

Looks good in the preview.

Anonymous said...

Depressing document though. Boiler plate and repetitious waffle mostly.

Q.SocNE said...

Would you prefer schools taught religious tolerance or critical thinking towards religion?

I would tend towards tolerance, though of course it's difficult if one half of the room think the other half is going to Hell.

John said...

"Would you prefer schools taught religious tolerance or critical thinking towards religion?"

I suspect the latter often leads to the former, and in some cases is a necessary prerequisite.

As an atheist who was formerly very sympathetic to the arguments against religious schooling (and still against state funded religious schooling) I am nevertheless very wary of the state dictating what every child should be taught. Sure, I would like to see everyone taught about evolution, critical thinking, philosophy etc, but what happens when the power to dictate what is taught is in the hands of those with whom we disagree?

Despite all the scare stories, I don't think we are stumbling in to a new dark age, but if we surrender our freedoms for security, or 'in the name of the children', we just might.

anticant said...

Well, we've been round and around this mulberry bush at tedious length with Ibrahim Lawson, haven't we? And then, having been argued into an impossible corner, he vanished like a puff of smoke!

See Tom Freeman's excellent post on Odone's drivel at:

http://viva-freemania.blogspot.com/2008/06/muslim-schools-and-stealth-crusaders.html

anonymous: adults who believe nonsensical rubbish [i.e. religious ones] are NOT harmless. Far from it.

q.socne and john: Critical thinking about religion does not - or should not - lead to more tolerance of religion, though it may incidentally promote more tolerance between religious believers of different stripes.

The problem with all religions, when taken seriously, is that each one claims its beliefs are the only "true" ones, and that everyone else who does not accept them is beyond the pale. Scarcely a recipe for social cohesion.

As for the state controlling what is taught, it has been monitoring educational standards for over 100 years, and we do, after all, have a national curriculum. But, as Stephen points out, the standards deemed acceptable for some faith schools are worryingly lax, and Muslim schools have successfully opted out of the broader inspectorate control.

I find this very worrying. 'Multiculturalism' would only work if it was accepted by all concerned as a two-way street, but it is not, never has been, and never will be. 'Faith schools' are a recipe for social divisiveness and, ultimately, for civil strife. If permitted to exist at all, they should not receive a penny of state funding [or be funded from non-British sources, such as Saudi Arabia].

Anonymous said...

Anticant -

I agree with you about "adults who believe nonsensical rubbish". The point I was trying to make is that I don't think for the most part that they do or (even can) believe any more than the gangs of Goths really believe they are vampires.

I don't think that vampirism as a way of life should be taught in schools either. This is where both the pseudo vampires and religious fundamentalists cross the line from being a mostly harmless group of hobbyists to being a serious social problem. Of course there is a basic problem with (as you pointed out) ideologies that proclaim any other view points as automatically not just incorrect but sinful. When you combine this with a inbuilt directives to proselytize by any means and recruit children to the cause, the problem multiplies.

I think state interference (in the UK) goes back much further. Running a Catholic school in Elizabethan times sounds a bit fraught.

I think the experiments of the past couple of decades have shown the flaws with multiculturalism. It seemingly leads to a zoo rather than an ecosystem.

John said...

Anticant wrote: "Critical thinking about religion does not...lead to more tolerance of religion, though it may incidentally promote more tolerance between religious believers of different stripes"

Er, yes, I believe that was what q.socne meant by religious tolerance - it was certainly what I meant.

"As for the state controlling what is taught, it has been monitoring educational standards for over 100 years"

Yes it has. Without getting too much into the genetic fallacy, we might care to ask ourselves what was the original purpose of state run schooling? State schools are modelled on the Prussian school system, itself a copy of Prussian Military Schools. Social cohesion and loyalty to the state were, and to some extent still are, core aims. What might seem commendably prudent in a state whose political outlook concords with yor own, becomes sinsiter and menacing when the state imposes views with which you disagree.

"we do, after all, have a national curriculum"

And what an unqualified success that has turned out to be!

No, much as I disagree with state funded religious indoctrination, I cannot support handing the state powers which would prevent parents from choosing the education they feel is best for their child, either through private school or home education.

One analogy I believe Stephen has used in the past is that of state funded political schools (Labour schools, Conservative Schools). The corrolary of that argument is that whilst a state should not fund such schools, neither should it have the power to force all children to undergo education in the political philosophy of the state (say Communism, Social Democracy, Fascism, Environmentalism etc). Yet greater and greater involvement by the state in the content of children's education is inevitable under a state run (as opposed to state funded) system.

John said...

Anonymous wrote: "I have problems with people believing this young earth stuff. They just can't. Not really. It's a rather creepy social phenomenon, like gangs that pretend to be vampires, but harmless enough when its between consenting adults."

No, really, they do believe this stuff (unlike people pretending to be vampires)

A quick trawl of creationist websites will disabuse you af the contrary notion, but just to add my own anecdotal experience:

I attended Edinburgh University in the early 1990s. One of my contemporaries (on an engineering course) was a young earth creationist. He was a very intelligent, genuinely committed young man, with whom I had a long and detailed discussion about the science behind evolution, geology, astrophysisc and so on: he had a 'scientific' refutation for every piece of evidence, as well as his own evidence (which I believe had something to do with copper deposits, but cannot clearly remember) that the earth coul ot be older than 6-7000 years old.

Of course the reason the memory sticks out was the rarity and utter conviction with which he held his (to me) utterly nonsensical beliefs. But what was once rare in British universities is now far more common (if still the minority opinion).

If you are still in doubt, I suggest the answers in genesis website:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/qa.asp

Anonymous said...

John - Sure there are some poor deluded individuals in both the Creationist and Vampirist camps. I think what I am trying to say is that a large majority of them (quite likely all of them) are just acting the part because it enhances their social position in some way, either by being seen to conform or by winning converts and hence being seen as a leader.

The problem of course is how to sort out a true believer from a social believer. It seems easier with the Vampirists - most of the true believers end up under lock and key or receive medical help.

Is there some sort of religious version of the Turing test I wonder? fMRI might do the trick these days I suppose...

Anonymous said...

A religious Turing test? The subject is seated before two computer terminals, and must decide which one communicates with God?

Anonymous said...

Religious Turing test:

I suppose this could go several ways. I was thinking of having the terminals comuniate with a genuine religious believer and an experienced atheist pretending to be a genuine religious believer. If you can rustle up a terminal with a cosms line to God so much the better! Don't think even Steve Jobs has one of those...

Perhaps I should have called it a "Religious Belief Turing Test".

anticant said...

Anonymous – I think you’re getting onto slippery ground when you start questioning whether people actually believe what they say they believe. Accusing them of conscious or unconscious hypocrisy doesn’t really resolve the issues. To have any meaningful debate, we need to take what people say at face value, and then to pay more attention to what they actually do, rather than what they say. Otherwise, you land yourself in the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

A friend and I once met an ostentatiously sanctimonious gentleman who solemnly assured us that he followed Christ’s teachings IN EVERY RESPECT. My friend opened his eyes wide and said “Really? I’m most impressed! You are the first person I’ve ever met who has actually sold all his possessions and given the proceeds to the poor.” End of conversation.

As a matter of historical fact, of course, in the 19th century the content and funding of education was a prime bone of contention between Anglicans [the State church] and Nonconformists, even after secular primary schools were introduced by the 1870 Education Act. The Conservative 1902 Education Act was one of the main reasons for the sweeping Liberal Victory in the 1906 general election.

The main point that Stephen and others of us have been making on several threads here over the past six months and more is that the type of indoctrination imposed upon children in ‘faith schools’ which teach that their version of religion is the only “truth” is tantamount to child abuse by inhibiting the development of critical thinking, and should certainly not be funded by the State.

John – While you are correct about Prussia, I don’t think loyalty to the State was a primary aim of early British educational regulation, which was much more concerned about standards of literacy and numeracy, as well as ‘sound’ religiously-based moral principles.

I am certainly in favour of parents providing their children with the type of education they consider is best for them - but if it is education along lines which inculcates unquestioning obedience to a religion [or a political doctrine], the parents should pay for it themselves – it should not qualify for a penny of public funds.

The flaw in the multiculturalist “all cultures and religions are equally worthy and deserving of respect” nonsense is that children taught along these lines will end up totally incapable – or fearful – of making value judgements as to what ideas are in fact better or worse, sensible or nonsensical. This is not education – it is insanity.

The historian A. L. Rowse once said: ”Those who believe nonsense must expect awkward consequences”. What he should have said is that those who believe nonsense all too frequently inflict awkward consequences upon others.

John said...

Anonymous wrote: "John - Sure there are some poor deluded individuals in both the Creationist and Vampirist camps. I think what I am trying to say is that a large majority of them (quite likely all of them) are just acting the part because it enhances their social position in some way"

To think so requires you to deny the caims made by creationists about their own beliefs. Surely some evidence is required beyond your inredulousness. The idea that 'the large majority, quite likely all' are merely professing belief in a young earth would of course beg the question - for whose benefit is this great fiction?

You really don't need to take my word for it - US polls consistently show that a majority of US citizens believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old. You might very well be justfied in claiming they are ignorant, but why would so many lie to anonymous pollsters?

John said...

Anticant,

like you I do not wish to see either religious or political indoctrination of children paid for by the state - at the moment I believe we have both (though admit the former is more of a problem).

"if it is education ... which inculcates unquestioning obedience to a religion [or a political doctrine], the parents should pay for it themselves – it should not qualify for a penny of public funds."

Well quite - except of course such people already pay for their children's education through their taxation.

I'm certainly coming round to Stephen's preference for an educational voucher system (though still can't agree on the restrictions he prefers, due to our different assumptions about the desirability of equality versus freedom).

"The flaw in the muliculturalist “all cultures and religions are equally worthy and deserving of respect” nonsense is..."

...quite obvious, I think, and hardly one I would defend.

But if you want a marketplace of ideas (and I assume that most champions of critical thinking do) then you have to allow diversity of approach in education.

anticant said...

"If you want a marketplace of ideas (and I assume that most champions of critical thinking do) then you have to allow diversity of approach in education".

Of course - but in a democratic society the majority opinion, as articulated by our elected representatives, has to decide which approaches merit State funding.

Eric said...

Anticant said "I am certainly in favour of parents providing their children with the type of education they consider is best for them - but if it is education along lines which inculcates unquestioning obedience to a religion [or a political doctrine], the parents should pay for it themselves – it should not qualify for a penny of public funds."

That's too easy going for me. I find it hard accept the right of Pentecostalist Christian sects to teach that children identified by their pastors as being possessed by devils should be beaten to death, of the right of Muslims to teach their children to kill apostates - even if it's funded privately or by another state.

anticant said...

Yes, I accept that. In his 1997 autobiography "Confessions of a Philosopher" [unfortunately withdrawn by the publishers after a libel action], Bryan Magee quotes Bertrand Russell as saying "Religious education is always an evil because it means teaching children to believe things for which there is no evidence." Magee himself says that even as a child, "the postulation of a God seemed to me a cop-out, a refusal to take serious problems seriously; a facile, groundless and above all evasive response to deeply disturbing difficulties; it welcomed the self-comforting delusion that we know what we do not know, and have answers that we do not have, thereby denying the true mysteriousness, indeed miraculousness, of what there is".

Both these remarks strike me as eminently sensible.

kyle s said...

Hi Stephen,

I'm a little unclear about what your stance is on faith schools.

Is it:

a) All faith-based schools should be banned on principle
b) You believe that there are lots of bad faith-based schools, so there needs to be more monitoring
c) You are not opposed to them in principle, but your experience leads you to believe that they are never good in practice, so they should be banned
d) some other view

The impression I'm getting is that you are opting for b. If that is the case, what are the keys things you would like to see changed? More regulation of what is being taught? More requirements to enrole pupils from other backgrounds? Less state funding/tax breaks?

John said...

Anticant said: "in a democratic society the majority opinion, as articulated by our elected representatives, has to decide which approaches merit State funding."

I agree that is currently the case, I question whether it should be. It is, after all a recipe for the tyranny of the majority. If (as was once the case) the vast majority of British people were christians, this would be a recipe for only funding schools which taught christian doctrine, whilst that funding was itself being taken from all taxpayers, no matter their denomination - this is exactly how we ended up with so many Anglican schools.

Anonymous said...

Anticant - John

Well yes being sceptical about peoples pronouncments matching their inner beliefs is slippery but in this case it is possibly more charitable than than some of the alternatives. If you are confronted with someone who (apparently) maintains something which is contrary to a huge body of evidence, logical argument and plain old "common sense" are they mad or lying?

anticant said...

John - Provided we have a democratic, proportionally fair representation system [which we don't at present], majority decisions taken by elected representatives after adequate debate are NOT "tyranny of the majority"! What's the alternative? Tyranny of minorities?

And do get your history straight. The reason why we had so many Anglican schools is that Anglicanism, as the State religion, had many legal privileges which were strenuously fought by dissenters for a couple of centuries to the extent of going to prison for refusal to pay tithes, etc. The Test and Corporation Acts excluded not only nonconformists, but also Roman Catholics and Jews, from the universities and many public offices. Most of these discriminatory laws were only repealed after sustained campaigns in which freethinkers played a prominent part.

Mad or lying? Certainly one - probably both.

John said...

Anticant

"And do get your history straight. The reason why we had so many Anglican schools is that ..."

Okay, a poor illustration. Can you deny that such a scenario is possible in a democracy?

"Provided we have a democratic, proportionally fair representation system [which we don't at present], majority decisions taken by elected representatives after adequate debate are NOT "tyranny of the majority"!"

Yes, they are. Democracy is a tyranny of the majority - it is only by placing restrictions on state power, usually by enshrining universally applicable personal liberties, that we defend individuals from that tyranny.

We could live in the most proportionately democratic nation on earth, but if 51% of the poulation voted to enslave the other 49%, it would still be an act of tyranny.

"What's the alternative? Tyranny of minorities? "

No. The alternative is not to coerce. Limit the power of people to collectively coerce others - it is the only guarantor of personal liberty.

anticant said...

The great practical difficulty of politics, of course, is always "who will bell the cat?". And how do you stop small tails wagging big dogs?

Anonymous said...

John said regarding my skepticism about Creationists' belief - "You might very well be justified in claiming they are ignorant, but why would so many lie to anonymous pollsters?"

Social pressures to conform still exist in this situation.

I seem to remember psephologists having to revise their models on the basis of the actual results of a UK election. Opinion polls prior to the event clearly suggested a Labour win. In the event this turned out not to be the case and they were forced to conclude that the electorate often did not want to admit to voting Conservative. How many Americans would not want to admit that the Earth might be rather older?

I might also ask why would anyone tell the truth on such an occasion? (I often throw in bogus answers to marketing surveys just out of devilment. If the poll is truly anonymous there is no comeback.) In the absence of any real pressure to tell the truth or reflect on evidence at length simple habit would probably give this sort of result.

Individuals who profess Creationist beliefs have strong social incentives to do so, and face strong social sanctions from their peers if they appear to stray.

Society at large gives them license through a general tolerance or even encouragement of beliefs presented as religious. Their professed beliefs are relatively rarely un-challenged partly because it is seen as a harmless eccentricity.

Does the non-Creationist part of society not tolerate them simply because, deep down, the majority of us are skeptical about the Creationists' beliefs?

John said...

Anonymous,

the exact same arguent can be (and is) used to claim that 'most scientists do not believe in evolution, but are merely pressured to conform to the materialist paradigm to save their careers'.

Why should I accept your claims about the inner beliefs of creationist, but not creationists claims about the inner beliefs of scientists?

Anonymous said...

john -

Regarding skepticism about Creationists' beliefs, I agree it's an uncomfortable position in some ways and it would be very convenient to be able to trust peoples expressions of belief.

I am not at this stage claiming absolute knowledge of the inner parts of Creationist minds, simply that I think there is a strong skeptical case to be made.

The body of evidence against Young Earth Creationism is I think overwhelming and has been discussed at great length elsewhere.

It is very difficult I would suggest for a reasonable person to maintain belief contrary to such a body of evidence unless they are deluded in some way, or are ignorant of the evidence or its implications. In the modern world does ignorance seem likely?

What about deliberate ignorance - simply discounting evidence one does not like?

This is possible but I would argue that because it is a conscious act it must result in some doubt in the mind of the person doing it. With each item of such disallowed evidence the list of unjustified assumptions stacked up against the person's belief grows. This form of ignorance therefore also seems unlikely.

As for Creationist claims about the inner beliefs of scientists I would be forced to agree that they have at first sight a case. Some academics do have vested interests which may well lead to pronouncements at variance with inner belief. (e.g. the various claims of human cloning). However science has, I think, some powerful self correcting mechanisms as opposed to Creationisms self re-inforcing ones.

John said...

Anticant wrote: "The great practical difficulty of politics, of course, is always "who will bell the cat?". And how do you stop small tails wagging big dogs?"

I'm not sure I understand your mixed metaphors.

If we "Limit the power of people to collectively coerce others" then small tails cannot wag big dogs.

And which cat do you refer to?

John said...

Anonymous wrote: "The body of evidence against Young Earth Creationism is I think overwhelming and has been discussed at great length elsewhere."

I don't want to start arguing the creationist case, but what is overwhelmingly obvious to you, with your starting set of assumptions, is not necessarily so to someone else, with their own.

Many, many people, who you might otherwise consider reasonable, genuinely believe that the 'Word of God' as transcribed in their holy book is the truth, and all other evidence to the contrary be damned.

I happen to believe that there are some people who know better, but maintain a fiction of being creationists, for various political ends. But your 'skeptical case' lacks the very evidence you should be skeptically insisting. Your theory has superficial plausibility, but falls down at the first hurdle - qui bono? If nobody (or at best a few sad deluded fools) believes this, why do so many claim they do?

Your incredulousness is neither an argument nor evidence against creationists holding the beliefs they claim to.

You also wrote: "In the modern world does ignorance seem likely?"

It certainly does, more so if you accept Stephen Law's own arguments about religious schooling, or for that matter are aware of the poor state of science teaching in the U.S., thanks to years of sustained pressure from campaigners.

You further wrote: "As for Creationist claims about the inner beliefs of scientists....science has, I think, some powerful self correcting mechanisms"

A non sequitur. The point was not about science or the scientific method, I was comparing (a) your claim about the inner beliefs of Creationists (in contrast with their stated beliefs) with (b) Creationists claim about the inner beliefs of Scientists(in contrast with their stated beliefs).

Neither you, nor they, have any evidence that "large majority of them (quite likely all of them) are just acting the part".

Your (or my) particular belief about the likelihood of which group (Creationist or Scientist) is correct, has no bearing on the likelihood that most members of a either group are honest about their stated beliefs.

anticant said...

What mixed metaphors?

"Who will bell the cat?" -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_the_cat

If you can produce an acceptable scheme to "Limit the power of people to collectively coerce others" you will have solved the perennial problem of politics, and will no doubt be hailed as a global genius.

Please tell me more!

John said...

Anticant wrote: "What mixed metaphors?"

I was light heartedly referring to your cat's bell and dog's tail.

"Please tell me more!"

I don't claim to be able to solve the world's ills - but I lean towards a more libertarian political philosophy than we currently enjoy.

anticant said...

So do I - as you'll see if you browse around 'anticant's arena':

http://antarena.blogspot.com/

Stephen Law said...

Hi Kyle, my answer is close to b. There's good reason to suspect that many faith based schools are offering a very porr, indeed, stunting, form of religious "eduction". We should be monitoring what's going on in schools, and insisting on certain minimum standards all schools should meet re. RE, be they religious or not. I suggest one such standard at the end: all schools should make clear to children that it is the individuals free choice whether or not to believe.

I also believe all children should be encouraged to subject religious, moral and political views to critical scrutiny.

anticant said...

Stephen: In your original post you say: "Many seem not to be fostering the kind of clear-headed independence of thought and robust critical defences that kids are going to need when they step outside the school gates and encounter people with wicked and dangerous belief systems."

Now you say:"There's good reason to suspect that many faith based schools are offering a very poor, indeed, stunting, form of religious education".

Surely the problem is that many of these schools are offering an even poorer and stunting form of general education, and because of the recently negotiated opt-outs, are not being as rigorously monitored as they should be.

And it is not only outside the school gates that pupils encounter people with wicked and dangerous belief systems. Some of these are, alas, teachers.

It's back to the old question of what constitutes education as distinct from indoctrination.

Stephen Law said...

Hi anticant - yes I agree...

Anonymous said...

John - You said "I happen to believe that there are some people who know better, but maintain a fiction of being creationists, for various political ends."

I think perhaps one of the things we are disagreeing on is the proportion who maintain this fiction. If we take the "political ends" to be of the party political winning elections variety then I would agree this is likely to be a smallish fraction. Anyhow we can agree on that bunch of people, and set them aside while we look at the rest.

What I am suggesting is that there is likely to be a (large) proportion of the remainder who adopt a similar fiction for other reasons.

a) Familial/cultural, being born into a Creationist environment where to voice doubt is to invite disapproval. Do you doubt that pressure to conform or to appear to do so in such a setting is very strong?

b) joining up and being identified with a group of similar people. (This I guess is where the Vampire Goth analogy comes in.) I think this is a slightly different setting because the group is defined by the belief, and social standing can be gained by being vocal in the profession of, or being seen as expert in that belief. This seems to occur in other walks of life so why not here? One difficulty is that in other groups it may be OK to express opinions that seem to go against the group, whereas here because of what defines the group this much harder. It is Ok to confess that you don't like playing golf that much but you like the social side - you will still be accepted at the club.

Cui bono? Well you've answered that for the "political" believers. I think that the "hereditary believers" and "joiners" also gain in social terms.

Pointing to similarities between Creationists and other sub-cultures is a start but is not really sufficient I agree.

Where to look for more concrete evidence?

a) Looking for ways of removing the peer group pressure and adding incentives to really say what you believe. A difficult balance to be struck here -there would be no value in skewing it so that the person felt under pressure to make a "false confession"

b) Looking for unconscious cues about the subjects belief or degree of certainty.

c) Looking for ways in which the subjects act which is at variance with their statements. Something like Anticant's anecdote about giving away possesions perhaps?


My incredulity is not an argument or evidence but it is a cue that to me that there is possibly something worth challenging. I must of course face the possibility that my incredulity is un-justified and wrong.


The comment about self correcting mechanisms in the science world was a bit of a non-seqitur. I retract it, but reserve the ability to redeploy it later in proper context.


Re the line you quoted that scientists are "merely pressured to conform to the materialist paradigm to save their careers".

Taking materialism to be "the theory that matter is all that there is", I think there are plenty of opportunities for scientists with non-material viewpoints.

Behavioral psychologists seem to do OK studying how the mind works.

Social scientists often concern themselves with issues of "well-being" or other emotional states.

The physics community sponsors a number of interesting cases from run of the mill quantum theorists, to people looking for dark energy, parallel universes and other wild stuff.

I think the science community encourages a degree of diversity which allows for people to champion wild or unorthodox ideas and still make a living.

Anonymous said...

Stephen, Anticant - If a school does not indoctrinate i.e by simply teaching about a particular faith does it still qualify as a faith school?

Stephen Law said...

No, obviously not. But it could qualify by e.g. saying we believe in Christianity, and we want you to believe it too, but not because we tell you to. We will explain why we believe, and ask you to engage with our arguments and points, but ultimately it is up to you whether to accept or reject." This school could also have a Christian ethos.

This is exactly what I'd like Christian schools to say, in fact. And Jewish and Muslim schools.

anticant said...

Anonymous - when speaking of 'faith schools' we are talking about schools sponsored and run by adherents of a religious denomination or belief-system, who's ethos is based upon the doctrines of that particular denomination or belief-system.

The issue is not whether or not
such schools should be permitted, but whether, and if so how, the State should fund and supervise them.

If you go back to our extensive discussion with Ibrahim Lawson you will see that this originated [November 27] because Ibrahim had said on Radio 4:

IL: The essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.

ER: You use the word "inculcate": does that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?

IL: I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really…

ER: Does that mean that Islam is a given and is never challenged?

IL: That’s right…...

If you have a few hours to spare, you will find a quite fascinating exploration of this thesis on the numerous threads which followed here.

The result after several months was inconclusive - not a draw, but Ibrahim adopted what Stephen termed "the nuclear option" and vanished in a puff of smoke.

I don't think Stephen, I, or anyone else who questions the social value of faith schools would object to a school, by whomever run, which teaches its pupils about religion in an intellectually open and enquiring manner, allowing them the freedom to decide for themselves.

But this, quite obviously, doesn't happen in Islamic schools if Ibrahim is to be believed.

Anonymous said...

At what point in a child's development are they deemed to be able to accept or reject religious or philosophical beliefs? Is there a minimum age below which all schools should be non-faith?

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