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School science sacrificed to scripture: creationism trumps science in more private schools

High-profile physicist, Lawrence Krauss, has signed a Canberra petition to ban public funding for schools that promote creationism, reports Brian Morris. (Petition here).

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 some religious schools, children can be led to reject the very principles of science.

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 Change.org 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” as being superior to science!

About Brian Morris: World travel shaped Brian’s interest in social justice — wealth, poverty and religion in many countries. His book Sacred to Secular is critically acclaimed, including from the Richard Dawkins Foundation. It’s an analysis of Christianity, its origins and the harm it does. It’s a call for Australia to become fully secular. More information about Brian can be found on his website, Plain Reason.

 

27 comments

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  1. Matters Not

    It’s not only ‘science’ that can be corrupted by a constant reference to a Supreme Being. ‘History’ is another area which is subject to a like ‘infection. For example: What caused the fall of X? Discuss the rise of Y. Why did … Explain the … And so on. The answer to all of the previous can be – The Will of God or some variation of same. Of course it’s not ‘history’ to my mind but I am not marking every essay.

    Re:

    … it’s time for independent inspectors to verify what is taught in the private …

    Don’t think that would work. Inspectors make fleeting visits at best and these days schools that prepare their students for a certificate or a credential are forced to follow roughly the same, common curriculum. To do otherwise will have a profound negative effect on their students. No the problem isn’t usually with the ‘overt’ curriculum but with the ‘covert’ or ‘hidden’ curriculum. Not so much what is taught but the way it is taught. The values that are caught.

  2. silkworm

    Totally agree!

  3. stephentardrew

    Yes.

  4. Ken

    Another excellent article Brian

  5. helvityni

    Why do we have to have religious private schools; why not make all schools public. If we need to teach religion, the by all means talk to the kids about all faiths in the world, and leave it at that, no preaching, just informing…

  6. Zathras

    Bats are not birds, rabbits don’t “chew their cud”, the world is not flat with an angel standing at each of its four corners and stars are not the size of oranges that may fall to the ground.

    Are these further examples of the “science” that Biblical scholars wish to introduce after winning their creationism battle?

    Religion has been a poison as well as handbrake on scientific advancement for centuries so why should we now return to the blind acceptance of pre-Iron Age mythology?

    There are already more Theological colleges in the USA than Medical ones and religion is deeply embedded in politics so they claim some sort of victory already.

    Leave science to scientists and let the guilt-and-shame industry look after itself in other ways.

  7. Harquebus

    I agree and have signed the petition.
    Thank you Brian and keep ’em coming.

    “If this wave of “post-fact” thinking triumphs, the world will face a future dominated by pure ideology. “all the big challenges of our time are being mixed in disturbing ways: The crisis of the scientific method, the crisis of nature, and the crisis of humanism become one.””
    http://e360.yale.edu/feature/how_the_attack_on_science_is_becoming_global_contagion/3039/

    Cheers.

  8. Matters Not

    Looked at a few education systems around the world over time and I think the model for a good public education system was that as envisaged by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He believed that schooling was all about preparing future citizens to participate in a secular democracy. While he wasn’t against religion (everyone born in Turkey is assumed to be a follower of Islam), he saw no place in schooling for any religion. That is, religion was not essential to his secular democracy and therefore there was no place for it in formal schooling.

    Parents were free to provide religious instruction in their own time but religion (and religious symbols like ‘dress’) had no place in the compulsory years of schooling. Thus no religion and a common curriculum that all students would experience. A common socialisation for all future citizens. It had conceptual integrity.

    (Under Erdogan, that’s all changing – and quickly. Ataturk is turning in his grave as Erdogan attempts to recreate the Ottoman Empire.)

  9. pyriteglow

    Education is about exposing students to different ideas about the world, and helping them see things from within a different worldview. The above seems to run contrary to the goal of providing a good education.

  10. Simmo

    The ABS statistics show that religion is becoming less popular so why are they increasing funding for religious schools. So corrupt.

    Religion = Biggest con ever

  11. Möbius Ecko

    What must be a worrying trend for the private school sector, especially on the back of the concerted attack on the public system by all governments, but especially the Federal government, public school enrolments are increasing, reversing a 20 year trend.

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/public-schools-increase-share-of-enrolments-reversing-40-year-trend-20170202-gu42df.html

    In the ACT this trend has been especially strong, where public school enrolments have been increasing for some time, and recently reached record levels, causing problems for some public schools. http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-schools-record-enrolment-increase-20170222-guips8.html

  12. RonaldR

    At least it stops them being taught the Bullshit Green science – if we are going to teach science it has to be real science http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/

  13. diannaart

    @pyriteglow April 26, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Ideas are great, provided that have a rational foundation. Science has always been about questions and ideas.

    Public education is about teaching truth, not fairy tales.

    Religions already have the means through their temples, churches, mosques, to teach whatever their doctrine demands.

    Science is about exploring and looking for answers.

    Religion is about maintaining belief irrespective of change.

    Science helps us to adapt.

    Religion keeps us straight jacketed.

    Our taxes fund both – this is unsustainable and is why we have leaders who promote lies and (un)science.

  14. Win jeavons

    Genesis is not fraud, but neither is it science or history. It is one of many folk myths which attempt to make sense of the world and human life in pre science eras. Myths should NEVER be read as fact, but as story. I am a parson’s daughter and a retired science teacher, a church member all my life and I never was exposed to ” creation science” , always evolutionary theory. One of my students answered a test question in a creationist way, I gave her the chance to discuss, she refused and she failed the test. Literal scripture reading is immature, treating men’s records as inerrant, is to deify man.

  15. amethyst3009

    RonaldR, what do you mean? I went to your link, all the referenced were from 2013 or before. ‘Green bullshit science???’
    Little was suitable for primary or junior secondary science. Interesting article about Leibnitz.

  16. Freethinker

    amethyst3009, just have a look which political party RonaldR is following and you will understand his po

  17. corvus boreus

    Here is the take on anthropogenic climate destabilization from the ‘alternative science’ site linked to by RonaldR.
    http://www.21stcenturysciencetech.com/Global_Warming.html
    Their page on the topic is titled ‘The Global Warming Fraud’.
    Most articles date from last decade or before.
    Titles include such gems as ‘Carbon offsets are Genocide’ and ‘The Ice Age is Coming!’.
    Conspiracy theories and exclamation marks abound (!!!).

  18. guest

    RonaldR

    your reference (21stcenturysciencetech) is a fraud. It is one of those publications which is anti-science. It has a bad reputation. Two articles I read were trash and easily refuted.

    I heard a person from Texas saying that the Bible is scientific because the Creation story is about light and darkness, mass, biology, sea and land, etc. And the world is just 6000 years old.

    Utter bollocks.

    So we get people who question science on Climate Change, not just points here and there, but the whole thing. But whenever I have seen people try to refute points, they rely on some conspiracy hypothesis about altered data, being paid to lie, UN taking over world government, etc.

    And so with science generally, medicine (eg, vaccination), energy production (eg, burning coal), academics (all supposedly Marxist), historical events (eg, landing on the moon 1969 never happened), etc.

    What is the genesis of this strange folk-lore, mythological ignorance? Lack of education? Too much pie-in-the-sky religion?

  19. Matters Not

    Yes pyriteglow I agree that ‘education’ should be about exposing students to different ideas about the world, and helping each and every one see things from a different worldview. Or to put it another way – enabling students (intellectually) to escape the limitations of their backgrounds or even their existing circumstances.

    Traditional Islamic ‘education’ in many instances (but not all) was about a curriculum centred on the Qurʾān. The memorisation and subsequent recitation of same. By its very nature it did not value ‘critical’ thought. After all – how can one be ‘critical’ of a work that is perfect. Such is the word of Allah. (By the way that tradition of just accepting a ‘given’, broadly defined, and subsequent ‘rote learning’ of these truths is also in the Confucian tradition. One reason why certain Asian students do well in particular types of tests.) In my early years of schooling I too was subject to that type of ‘education’.

    In certain areas of the curriculum, it is impossible, and even highly undesirable, to disregard, or attempt to ignore the influence ‘religion’ exerts. What would any ‘history’ of the world be like if one would disregard the importance and crucial role played by religion. But that is not to suggest that the world should only be seen through a ‘religious’ world view. That is very limiting. And in my view – anti educational. That was Ataturk’s view as well I suspect. What about you?

  20. Connie Erlemann

    I am trained in Science and have worked for several researchers. I believe the scientific method is an incredibly important procedure but it is rarely followed nowadays by anyone, even ‘scientists’. I am also a Christian and was regularly told it was OK to doubt and question and research my faith. I think the article heading is misleading and describes specific streams of all religions but not all streams. I also think it could easily be reversed and the ‘science’ side could describe religions and the ‘religious’ side describe science (I have met blinded scientists who fabricated data to support their hypothesis). From this point of view, the article misleads, which is sad becasue it does contain good points that need to be discussed.

  21. wam

    a gentle piece brian.
    Pig-iron bob was grateful to the catholics and responded in kind to their indoctrinating schools. Where only the rich catholics high schools flourished before, in the late 50s they breed like their unprotected women. This century has seen a ridiculous proliferation in fund wasting private schools. My grand children had a terrible time in a qld school and we paid for them to attend a private school and wow what a wank and they had no problems rorting cash from every possible angle. They were over the moon with labor’s stimulus.
    It is testament to the rabbott and the labor catholic colleagues and the other ‘religious’ private school adherents that the NT has about 60 government private chools I know parents who pay less for their children to attend a catholic primary school than the public school fees in the same suburb.
    The main rorts revolve around Aboriginal students indeed one private school was gifted many millions in land and facilities of an Aboriginal boarding secondary school. It raced into into baccalaureate and matriculation. These were, at best, long term goals.
    The territory government has given the school $5m without checking the books on allocation of Aboriginal funds or checking enrolment, curriculum or attendance. Just trusting the word of mouth.
    As an old cynic I have not changed my mind from last cenrury that chiidren do not need a school to get educated from grade 3.
    It is not coincidence that such an end point has been the Australian government’s target for Aboriginal education for a hundred years.
    ps I have not met a teacher in primary or middle school that has an understanding of science and , not surprisingly “fewer”; with any maths background.

  22. Matters Not

    have not met a teacher in primary or middle school that has an understanding of science and , not surprisingly “fewer”; with any maths background.

    What surprises me is your claim(s) that you have not met a teacher (not one) – followed by … not surprisingly “fewer”; with any maths ..

    Please explain.

  23. Michael Taylor

    MN, reminds of those comments we used to see here stat started … “I used to be a Labor voter but … “

  24. Pingback: Opinion: Media Network: School science sacrificed to scripture | Plain Reason

  25. Mark Needham

    Spot on.
    Petition signed.

    Now where is the Petition, to remove churches from charity, tax exemption.

    The line that is oft reasoned, is to let the :preacher” have his way, then for the child over time to form his own opinions. Where does the “bullshite” stop. It really make no sense whatsoever.

    Mark Needham

  26. Pingback: Opinion: Daily Telegraph: Science vs Scripture in Private Schools | Plain Reason

  27. king1394

    As Win Jeavons said above, these students will not be passing their Science (or History) exams if they rely on Creationism, and ‘God wills it’ explanations. They may make it into a Science 101 course at University but their discussion points based on religion will only bring them criticism and ridicule. Many can, and do, limit themselves to their own closed society including the recommended reading only and the arrival of Christian groups on University campuses should also concern us.

    Having spent my time in a State High School, I met a few young people who had transferred out of Christian schools because they wanted to study science for career reasons. Often they had never before been in a properly equipped school library and their reactions as they read their way though orthodox science were often first horror at the ideas and then anger at how they had been so inadequately taught about reality.

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