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Tony Grist

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Dawkins On Faith Schools [Aug. 19th, 2010|10:49 am]
Tony Grist
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."

[User Picture]From: michaleen
2010-08-19 10:30 am (UTC)
When anti-enlightenment forces rise to power in the US, people tend to die in large numbers abroad and basic human rights are trampled at home, so there tends to be a lot less navel gazing on the issue.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-08-19 02:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, in the USA the whole evolution/intelligent design debate is part of a much bigger cultural war. In Britain we are under less pressure to take sides.
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2010-08-19 12:33 pm (UTC)
I didn't see the programme, as I was afraid it would be bad for my blood pressure (I don't like faith schools, but find Dawkins own assurance over such things irritating, so it looked like a bad combo). But when I've argued with people over this in the past, the thing that has tended to get to me isn't so much whether or not they teach evolution (I rather had the idea that in Britain they did, which is maybe why!) as a) the tendency faith schools have to perpetuate the "othering" of people of different beliefs and races* simply through isolating children from them, and also b) the tacit encouragement of corruption so nicely illustrated in that programme you recommended, Rev: "Get on your knees and avoid the fees." I really can't see why my council tax should go to fund a state school that would exclude my children living next door because of my beliefs, while bussing in co-religionists from different districts. The Americans have it right on this one. If state-funded faith schools, why not state-funded faith doctors, dentists, opticians, social workers...? Or, as Spike Milligan put it:

"Now what's this?" said the fire chief,
"Is this church C of E?
It is? Then we can't put it out -
My lads are all RC!"

Unless I'm intending to become a naturalist or a palaeontologist does it really matter what my opinions are?

I'd say it does. We ought to prefer truth to error. That's not to say the truth is easy to pin down, or even that there's only one truth, but if we start saying it doesn't matter whether what we've been taught is a bag of shite, then I don't see the point in education other than as an instrument of social control.

* Race ought not in theory to be a factor, but it is in practical terms, especially where we're talking about Jewish and Muslim schools rather than Christian denominational ones.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-08-19 03:04 pm (UTC)
Dawkins took us to an Islamic school where they taught evolution- as they're bound to do by law- then allowed the kids "to make up their own minds" about it. Oddly enough, they all concluded it was nonsense (or at least said they did on camera).

As a Church of England vicar I had people coming to my church simply so they could get a place at Oldham's Bluecoat School. I hated it.

Yes, truth matters- but I feel evolution is a less important and central truth than Dawkins wants to make it. I think he's trying to import the American culture wars.
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[User Picture]From: endlessrarities
2010-08-19 06:04 pm (UTC)
Dawkins being reasonable??? What's happened to him?

I dislike him because I find him just as bigotted as the religious extremists...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-08-19 07:25 pm (UTC)
I don't think he's up to the job he's set himself. Not clever enough, not informed enough, not imaginative enough.
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From: jorrocks_j
2010-08-19 09:54 pm (UTC)

It's the "zombie-bite" theory of pedagogy...

...that is, one little uncontrolled exposure to your opposition's beliefs will turn your children into fanatical believers.

We tend to think of this as being something religionists do to each other and to secular cuture. But a few years ago, when the first Narnia movie came out, we saw secularists behaving the same way.

Overall, I think bigotry is not something religion creates. It exists at a more basic level of behavior and can express itself in any power structure, secular or religious. The Soviet Union was a grand experiment in which religion was very succesfully edited out of all aspects of public life, and out of most people's private lives as well, yet it produced bigotries and inquisitions bigger than anything seen before.

When you eliminate what you think causes the disease and the disease still occurs, you've learned that you haven't found the case afterwards.

--Skarl the Drummer
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From: jorrocks_j
2010-08-19 09:55 pm (UTC)


"case afterwards" = "cause anyway." Good lord.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-08-20 09:11 am (UTC)

Re: It's the "zombie-bite" theory of pedagogy...

That's it. That's it exactly. You let one burkha onto the street and in no time at all we'll all be wearing them. Religion is infectious, catching- "ware leper!"

The USA bans religion from public classrooms and we admit it- and yet the USA is a much more religious country than Britain. Something doesn't compute.
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[User Picture]From: trixibelle_net
2010-08-20 05:18 am (UTC)

Agreeing with you...for a change!

Ha! Your second paragraph - I never thought of it that way before, but I love it. That is exactly how I feel.
Dawkins pisses me off, to be honest. Last paragraph = well said, absolutely.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-08-20 09:21 am (UTC)

Re: Agreeing with you...for a change!

Dawkins is an ideologue. Secular religion is like a religion to him- and Darwin is its prophet. It bothers me how Darwin has been turned into this Mohammed of secularism. Yes it's interesting that we're descended from apes, but is it really that important? Is it- as Dawkins seems to think it is- the central truth about humanity? Darwin himself would, I think, be shocked by the use that is made of his name and his theory.
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2010-08-20 01:23 pm (UTC)
Isn't it indoctrination to teach kids to disbelieve what they are told by parents and clergy and to believe what they "learn" in school? We had the conversation about evoloution being taught in grammar school a while ago, and both agreed that our own education did not deal with evolution when we were in lower grades. In fact, we barely touched on it in high school biology. By the time I got to college in the 1980's a sociology professor, of all things, was demanding that everyone in her class accept evolution as a first premise, while the biology professor simply taught us about life on earth and said nothing about evolution per se, allowing us to see for ourselves and draw our own conclusions. I stated before and will state again, I have no problem with either faith or science and do not find them incompatible unless one is so terribly biased as to possess a completely closed mind. However, I do have problems with school systems that would brainwash children into trashing the values system their parents - and yes, clergy - are teaching them. Some of the stuff that is going on in kids' classrooms over here, at least, makes my head spin!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-08-20 01:42 pm (UTC)
I've never seen there was any conflict between Evolution and Theistic belief. Most of the more intelligent Victorian Christians who had to cope with Darwin when his ideas first came out took a deep breath, adjusted their beliefs a little- and carried on as before.
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[User Picture]From: qatsi
2010-08-20 09:15 pm (UTC)
I broadly agree with Dawkins, but I have always found his "if you don't agree with me you must be thick, how can you entertain such rubbish?"-approach tiresome, to say the least. Michael Shermer writes in a more convincing style (especially with regard to the "just-so" observation).
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-08-20 09:52 pm (UTC)
I'd like to see the back of faith schools too, but Dawkins can convince me of the merits of anything he opposes.

Shermer looks interesting.
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