“Faith schools”

15 February 2008

Many months ago, I signed a petition calling on the UK government to abolish faith schools. Tonight, I got an email telling me there was an official response.

Let’s start with the last line:

Many parents who are not members of a particular faith value the structured environment provided by schools with a religious character.

Now, why can’t state schools provide a “structured” environment? What is a structured environment anyway?

Parents like me want the best education for our children, and we’ll lie through our teeth about our beliefs to get it if we think the state-supported religious schools in our area are better than any others. I know lots of parents who have lied about their beliefs to get into such schools. I even know some people who have been asked to lie on their friends’ behalf.

Parents’ dishonesty has nothing to with any inherent superiority of faith schools, just the fact that these schools tend to have been around longer, have more money and, most of all, the pick of the best pupils.

It gets even worse:

Religious Education (RE) in all schools, including faith schools, is aimed at developing pupils’ knowledge, understanding and awareness of the major religions represented in the country. It encourages respect for those holding different beliefs and helps promote pupils’ moral, cultural and mental development.

I have no problem with teaching people about different religions. Teaching them to “respect” superstitious rubbish is another matter.

And the idea that “moral development” depends on learning about religion just makes me despair. We’re in real trouble if that’s true.

It get worse still:

In February 2006, the faith communities affirmed their support for the framework in a joint statement making it clear that all children should be given the opportunity to receive inclusive religious education, and that they are committed to making sure the framework is used in the development of religious education in all their schools and colleges.

Really? The faith communities support faith schools? Well I never.

They think children should be given the “opportunity” to receive religious education? Of course, they want the opportunity to spread their lies to impressionable young minds.

What is unbelievable, in this day and age, is that any government is sponsoring and supporting those lies, let alone the British government.

PZ Myers, I hope you’ll pick up on this on Pharyngula. You might think the US is behind Europe in terms of religion and evolution, but really, you’re way ahead of us in banning religion from state-sponsored education.

A flood but not Noah’s

20 November 2007

You just have to groan when you see headlines such as “Research backs story of the Ark“. It’s just wrong in so many ways, and yet you know some are really going to think it justifies their superstitions.

The actual story is that researchers have more accurately dated the flooding of the Black Sea by the Mediterrannean to around 8300 years ago, attributing it to the 1.4 metre global sea level rise caused by the melting of the ice sheets covering North America after the last Ice Age, and speculating that the peoples displaced by the Black Sea flood waters spread across Europe, taking their farming skills with them. (There’s no mention of any boats.)

They also speculate that the Black Sea flooding gave rise to the myth of Noah’s flood – one of several theories – but what they describe is of course very different to the biblical description. So if this was the flood, those who wrote the bible were either rather ignorant people retelling a much embellished and altered folk story, or some supernatural being was lying to us. Take your choice.

Not convinced? Check out this entry for an impressively comprehensive list of problems with the biblical flood myth.

Weak thinking

7 November 2007

New Scientist’s editorials can be very good but this one really irks me.

It starts by suggesting the Beyond Belief II conference went easy on religion. That’s not quite the impression I’ve got from other accounts, like PZ Myers’, though of course such things are very subjective.

It then mentions David Sloan Wilson‘s view that religions might have been an adaption that boosted group survival through, for instance, ensuring compliance with the group, and states:

To want to cleanse society of religion before understanding its evolutionary roots and purpose seems strangely unscientific.

Now I don’t think David would argue that just because religion might once have had an adaptive role, that the same is necessarily true in modern times. And I don’t think you need to understand religion’s evolutionary roots to see it is a) factually wrong, and b) often maladaptive in the modern world.

It may be true, as the article states, that replacing religion with science is fanciful. But what’s not fanciful is separating the state and religion. Prying the dying hands of the Anglican church from the British state is a long overdue move.

What’s also not fanciful is separating education and religion. I am appalled by the state funding of faith schools in Britain. It is child abuse, as Dawkins put it.

The point is that neither of these will be achieved as long as society continues to pay lip service to superstitious nonsense just because it’s old superstitious nonsense that lots of people still fall for, partly because of the links with the state and education. The “new atheists” should be feted for highlighting this insanity, not castigated for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.