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Opinion: Media Network: School science sacrificed to scripture

Published in the Australian Independent Media Network:  26.4.17
Published in the Daily Telegraph:
shorter version 28.4.17
Articles by Brian Morris:

School Science Sacrificed to Scripture:  see petition top right:

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.  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 school classrooms.

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 more 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 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 current ‘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 to support them; by Liberal prime minister, Robert Menzies.  For 100 years prior, education was “free, compulsory, and secular” — with only a handful of church schools that were self-funded.

But private schools now enroll 40 per cent of all secondary students — with 94 per cent of these institutions being private religious schools.  Annual government funding for private education currently stands at $12 billion, and rising, with a Liberal Party agenda to down-size public schooling.

Consequently, the upshot of all this is a growing influence of religion in education.  In public schools the issue of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) continues — but in private institutions the problem is more serious.

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.  There are increasing numbers of Australian private schools teaching the Old Testament as the “infallible and inerrant Word of God“.  By any measure, this is code for creationism.

A recent New York Times feature explains how and why this present “post-truth” era has its roots in evangelical Christianity.  Fundamentalism has been battling scientific discovery since the Copernican bombshell that exposed Genesis as fraud.  But it has served only to deepen their cognitive bias towards “biblical truth”.

And in the closed environment of most religious schools — where religion proclaims the bible as infallible — children can be led to reject the very principles of science.  This form of delusional religious bias is just one example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

If science is being maligned — even within a narrow sector of the Australian 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”.

It’s time we knew exactly what is going on . . .!

And that is the vexed question — we don’t precisely know what pseudoscience is being taught in all the different religious schools; Christian, Islamic and other faiths.  And to what extent are they publicly funded?  It seems entirely appropriate that we challenge government on this — based on reliable research already conducted.

Professor Marion Maddox first signaled this was an area of concern in her 2014 book, “Taking God to School: The end of Australia’s egalitarian education?”  The inevitable questions are; to what extent is this a serious problem;  who is responsible for administering the national curriculum; and should taxpayer funding go to finance any schools teaching the pseudoscience of creationism?  A call on government to provide answers was inevitable.

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 whole Bible.  Science — through biology, geology, and a score of other disciplines — has conclusively shown 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 instills in them an acceptance of pseudoscientific ideas.  

Signed also by Lawrence Krauss, the petition 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 goes well beyond schools presenting a biblical alternative to evolution — whether taught as ‘science’ or in some other class.  It is unconscionable for a federal government — under a secular constitution — to fund the teaching of pseudoscience, in private institutions, and using public money.

Where are the education authorities responsible for overseeing the national curriculum?  What is the level of accountability to ensure public funds are not allocated to institutions that denigrate science?  Perhaps it’s time for independent inspectors to verify what is taught in the private sector — and for federal grants to be withdrawn from those institutions that teach the “infallible and inerrant Word of God” is being superior to science!

Brian Morris:  Plain Reason

Plain Reason:  Promoting science, reason and critical thinking: