Field of Science

US judge says religion is no substitute for proper education

In the US, kids who get unlucky with their parentage can easily end up in a school so obsessed by religion that it gets in the way of a good education. Schools like the Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, for example. The quality of education provided by this private, religious school is so abysmal that the University of California refuses to accept some of the qualifications that it hands out, on the grounds that they are worthless. So kids subjected to the school's teaching stand no hope of getting into their local university.

The school litigated, of course. And, as the LA Times reports, the case (which has been grinding on for 3 years) has just been flat rejected. This is more significant than it might sound to British ears. The main plank of the case was the school's complaint that the University was violating Free Speech. Now, to do that the school had to show that the University either had no reason to reject the courses, or that they rejected them because of animus (i.e. the University is anti-religious).

In rejecting the school's claims, Judge James Otero lays out in pretty painful detail just how shoddy is the quality of education provided by these religious schools (full judgement here). For scientists, the most interesting bit is the the school's biology text book, Biology: God's Living Creation. According to one of the academics who reviewed it, the problem with it is not that it contains religious viewpoints, or even that it talks about creationism as if it was plausible, but rather that it "would not adequately teach students the scientific principles, methods, and knowledge necessary for them to successfully study those subjects at UC." According to Judge Otero:
Professor Kennedy determined that "[b]y teaching students to reject scientific evidence and methodology whenever they might be inconsistent with the Bible . . . both texts fail to encourage critical thinking and the skills required for careful scientific analysis." (Kennedy Decl. Ex. A, at 8.)
Professor Ayala found that the texts "reject the methodology generally accepted in science, which relies on observation and experimentation and on the formulation of laws and theories that need to be tested rather than accepted on the basis of the Bible or any other authority.
It sounds like an extraordinary book to be giving to school kids, let alone giving it to them with the consent of parents and teachers. But the book is more bizarre than even the bitterest critic of malignant religion would imagine. Questionable Authority gives some quotes, and this one's a humdinger:
The people who prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science any point God's Word is not put first, the authors apologize.
And BlueGrassRoots gives several more, including this one from the preface:
Life is God's most marvelous and complex creation. Biology: God's Living Creation presents life as God created it and now controls it. Historically, biology was the first major area of assault in the American classroom as evolution permeated the schools in the 1920's. Even today, evolutionism poisons biology textbooks and distracts from God's glory in creation. High school students need to understand God's living creation from a Biblical perspective, as God created it, and as man has learned of it.
Frankly, I find all of this rather disturbing. Not that these kinds of books are produced, But that parents are willing to pay money to subject their kids to it. And worse, when they complain that their kids are too badly educated to get into university, they actually get taken seriously rather than laughed at.

The cheek of the archbishop

Recently New Scientist carried a series of articles called “7 reasons why people hate reason” (26 July 2008). The one by the Archbishop of Canterbury was called “Reason stands against values and morals”. What a cheek!

In his article Rowan Williams criticised the enlightenment by saying:

Revolutionary America and France lost no sleep over slavery. Humanity had to wait for [a] more traditional … vision of what human beings were in the eyes of God and in the frame of the cosmos, to see the slaves finally emancipated.”

Indeed, their tolerance of slavery does the revolutionaries no credit (though it’s a fault they shared with most of their contemporaries).

But it is the most extraordinary cheek for Williams to criticize the enlightenment for failing to abolish slavery in its first century when Christianity’s own failure to do so lasted 18 times as long!

Williams signally fails to explain why European Christians began to oppose slavery in the 18th century after so many centuries of tolerating or even applauding it. The historical record shows that abolitionist campaigning, following a change of sentiment amongst Christians, played a major part. It can hardly be coincidental that this change followed the enlightenment and that some leading abolitionists were liberals in matters of theology. Consider, for instance, the Reverend Elhanan Winchester, an American abolitionist who moved from the USA to the UK, from Baptist Christianity to Universalism, and who helped to found South Place Ethical Society. South Place later became one of the first UK humanist organizations.

In fact reason supports morality. It is democratic and undermines traditional beliefs about the inferiority of foreigners, women and ethnic and sexual minorities. Thus it expands the circle of people to whom moral consideration is due. It causes us to question and makes us cautious about our beliefs. Thus it protects us against absurdities and, as Voltaire warned us, many atrocities have been committed in the name of absurd beliefs.

Reason alone can never motivate moral commitments which derive from our social existence. But it’s an invaluable tool and guide to moral thinking. Though he may not mean to Rowan Williams’ article encourages irrationality and immorality alike.