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Opinion: Daily Telegraph: Science vs Scripture in Private Schools

Published in the Daily Telegraph:  short version to the previous AIM article:  28.4.17

Science vs Scripture in Private Schools:  Brian Morris

Education and science could not be more compatible, one might think.  Kids learning about the natural world, how we are all made of atoms, and studying the ‘scientific method’ — how theories are tested repeatedly to prevent human error (or manipulation), and to arrive at factual conclusions.  Well, that’s the objective.

But science has been under attack since Copernicus discovered the Earth orbits the sun — which has led to 500 years of conflict between religion and science.  And there is disconcerting evidence that religion still has more clout than science, in some private schools.

We are living through a new era of ‘post-truth’, with an upsurge in public acceptance of pseudoscience — from the anti-vaxxers, the clean-coalers, and climate deniers.  There are people who still swear by horoscopes, the magic of crystals, homeopathy to cure cancer, and a raft of similar anti-science fixations.

Finally, the science community seems to have had enough.  On the 22nd April 500 cities around the world held ‘March for Science’ rallies — flooding the streets to push back against those who denigrate science for purely commercial, religious or political gain.

And there is a sound argument that this ‘fake news’ and pseudoscience mindset is once again associated with religion — as it was with Copernicus and Galileo.  Private schools have grown rapidly since the 1960s — when federal funding was introduced.  They now enroll 40 per cent of all secondary students, with 94 per cent of these institutions being private religious schools.

Giving so many children a daily diet of Christianity or Islam is one thing — but instilling in them the anti-science of Creationism is an entirely different issue.  Clearly, there are increasing numbers of Australian religious schools teaching the Old Testament as the “infallible and inerrant Word of God“.  A recent New York Times feature explains how this evangelical “worldview” of creationism turns children against the very principles of science.

If science is being maligned — even within a narrow sector of the private school system — then it builds within those children a mindset that distrusts science.  It aligns them with those who denigrate the medical value of vaccinations, who deny global warming, and who regard human evolution as a “hoax”.

Celebrity physicist and cosmologist, Lawrence Krauss, headlines a national petition to stop taxpayer funding to schools that promote creationist views — a literal interpretation of the Bible.  But science — through biology, geology, and a score of other disciplines — show that Genesis is not a factual account of evolution.

The petition ends with a link that lists more than 400 private schools whose websites include “statements of faith” that have a clear literalist and Bible-centred approach to education.  For impressionable children to be told by ‘authority figures’ that these stories are true, it instils in them an acceptance of pseudoscientific ideas.  

The petition, supported and signed by Lawrence Krauss, calls on the federal government to “stop funding schools that teach creationism”.  It has been listed on from mid-April and has gathered almost 1500 signatures in two weeks.  It will run until Science Week, in mid-August, before being presented to parliament.

The issue of concern goes beyond schools promoting anti-science — whether taught as ‘science’ or in some other class.  Such schools derive substantial taxpayers funding from the $12 billion allocated each year for private education.  It is unconscionable to fund pseudoscience, in private institutions, and with public money.

Where are the education authorities responsible for overseeing the national curriculum?  One might expect greater accountability to ensure public funds are not allocated to institutions that denigrate science.  Perhaps we need independent inspectors to verify what is taught in the private sector, and for federal grants to be withdrawn from those institutions teaching creationism.

Brian Morris:  Plain Reason:

Plain Reason:  Promoting science, reason and critical thinking: