Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Dawkins On Faith Schools

Professor Dawkins was on the TV last night talking against faith schools. He's a nice man and I largely agree with him but he's out of his depth. He was in Northern Ireland talking to a couple of dumb bigots  representatives of the catholic and protestant churches and they had him on the floor- not because they were right and he was wrong but because there was so much passion behind their arguments. You don't talk people out of their inherited tribal identities by being all nice and reasonable and English with them

And is it really such a terrible thing that kids come out of school questioning evolution? I'm inclined to take the Sherlock Holmes line- that information that doesn't have a direct bearing on my life is irrelevant and can be dispensed with. The earth goes round the sun? So what? How does that help me catch criminals? Same with evolution. Unless I'm intending to become a naturalist or a palaeontologist does it really matter what my opinions are?

In the final sequence he was taking an assembly in a primary school and telling the children how they shouldn't believe things simply on the word of grown-ups, but should demand evidence. You could see their attention wandering. "Ooh look a bird" "I wonder what's for lunch."

The most intriguing thing in the programme was a little experiment  where kids were asked to choose between explanations for natural phenomena- one scientific, the other teleological. For example: Why are rocks pointy? Is it because of sedimentation, or is it so that animals can scratch their backs on them? Most kids went for the Just-So answer- which seems to suggest they're hardwired to find purpose in the world. "Does this mean they're born creationists?" asked Dawkins. "Yes," said the experimenter. This might have caused him to go away and rethink his assumptions- to dig a little deeper- but it didn't.

Dawkins objects to religious education as indoctrination, but all education is indoctrination.  Every curriculum has a philosophy behind it- and at least with a religious school you know what that philosophy is.  Dawkins wishes to replace religion with secular humanism- only he doesn't have enough distance on it to call it that but presents it rather as "scientific truth".   So much for scepticism. He is attempting- as Eliot said of Matthew Arnold- " something which must be austerely impersonal... in which reasoning power matters, and it fails him."
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