Category Archives: belief

Religious instruction scrapped from school curriculum in Victoria

Coverting
Religious instruction scrapped from curriculum – what a great headline to see in the newspaper.

Unfortunately, it is just for the Australian state of Victoria. But it could well happen here, considering the opposition to religious instruction in state schools we are seeing in New Zealand.

Victorian schools are scrapping special religious instruction from class time to make way for new content on world histories, cultures, faiths and ethics. The changes to the state’s curriculum raise doubts about the future of the controversial religious instruction program.

The state government said “Extracurricular programs should not interfere with class time when teachers and students should be focused on the core curriculum.”  And curriculum changes mean that classes addressing domestic violence and respectful relationships will also become compulsory for all prep to year 10 students from 2016.

I certainly consider these subjects that are a far more important and necessary use of school time.

The changes mean that he weekly 30 minute religious instruction program will move to lunchtime and before and after school in 2016. Mind you, that opens up the possibility that other religious sects (and, heaven forbid, non-religious ones) may demand equal time for their own presence on school property for lunchtime and before and after school indoctrination opportunities.

These changes are welcomed by teachers – and no doubt by many parents. Lara Wood, a spokeswoman for Fairness in Religions in School, a group that has spent the past four years campaigning against SRI, claimed victory. “We won, we got what we wanted.”

She said religious instruction providers were proselytising in primary schools while students missed out on learning. This has been a common complaint from parents because the chaplaincy organisation involved is well-known for its evangelical orientation and attempts to convert children.

But, predictably, this move is opposed by some religious organisations – including the chaplaincy organisation Access Ministries, the main provider of religious instruction.

In New Zealand, the Secular education network (NZ) is working towards the same ends as the Australian Fairness in Religions in Schools. I hope we can see similar successes here in the near future.

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What is life?

Feynman-life

I am being purposely provocative here – and who else provokes better that Richard Feynman.

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Rapid change in attitudes to marriage equality

marriage-equality

Click the image to go to the video (unfortunately I can’t embed the video here).

The video demonstrates “The Stunning 15-Year March to Marriage Equality Around the World.” And it certainly shows how rapid this change in community values has been.

I suppose many people will look at the map and feel they occupy the moral high ground because we are citizens of a country that has accepted marriage equality. The map certainly differentiates between those who have accepted and those who haven’t.

But the very rapidity of this change in community values is also a lesson. We should expect more countries to accept marriage equality in the near future. and secondly, we should be a bit humble and not make judgments on people and countries who have not yet accepted marriage equality.

After all, we were in that position a very short time ago.

Thanks to:  Same-sex marriage world map: Countries where gay unions are permitted after Supreme Court (VIDEO)..

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

Progress in removing religious instruction from public schools?

god162

Image credit: rethinking schools

Looks like we might be making a bit of progress in attempts to establish a genuine secular education system in New Zealand.

There are reports that “secular education advocates have had a win in their fight against the Bible in Schools programme.”

The Secular Education Network has been asking for months for removal of sectarian religious instruction classes from public schools. They have now been given access to guidelines the Ministry of education may suggest to resolve the problem.

Network spokesman David Hines said schools would be encouraged to end religious instruction during class time.

“And instead have it at lunch, or after school. Parents would also have to give written permission before they could get put in these classes. They are suggested guidelines. But these are both problem areas, so it’s good that they’re addressing those,” he said.

Apparently the suggested guidelines would also make it clear religious instruction is not part of the New Zealand Curriculum and would discourage religious observances in school assemblies. The Ministry will also consider how to raise awareness about the difference between religious instruction and religious education.

So this is progress. Religious instruction will be relegated to an out-of-school-hours activity like sport. Hopefully, there will also be changes to make this an opt-in choice and not the current opt-out system where parents requests are often ignored.

I agree with the Secular Education Network that there is a place for religious education (and education of other belief systems) in schools but this is very different to religious instruction which is a form of dogmatic brainwashing.

Clearly this is an ongoing process of negotiation by of the Education Ministry with concerned parents and schools. I just hope this progress is confirmed and there is no backsliding.

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How to change your Mind – and why it is good for you

It’s funny how we all recognise confirmation bias in others but a loath to see it in ourselves.

Yet it is only human – and in fact the desire to fit new evidence into existing models in our mind does play an important role in attempts to understand the real world. At the same time, one must realise that our mental models do not correspond exactly to reality, no matter how good they are, or we think they are.

That is why it is important to develop the skills to recognise when our mental models really are out of step with new evidence, with reality.

Julia Galef trains people to do this. To learn to change their mind. She described the process in her talk at TAM 2014.

TAM 2014 – Julia Galef – How to Change Your Mind -TAM 2014.

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Science and belief

IMG_0616As long as it agrees with, or can be interpreted to agree with, one’s beliefs.

 

Losing trust in religious leaders

I recently reported the data from our last census showing the decline of the numbers of Christians in New Zealand, and the associated increase in people declaring they have no religion (see Census 2013 – religious diversity). It’s interesting to consider the consequences if the trend continues. As the graph below shows, the”crossover point” (when the number of Christians = the number of No religion) will occur in 2016 – only 2 years away. Christianity itself will decline even further so that in about 20 years it will likely have only  20% of the census responses.

census-trend

I think most people now accept that secularisation in the modern pluralist, democratic societies is a fact. (Although Christian apologist WL Craig still clutches at straws to deny this – see Philosopher reveals his predictions for the future of Christianity in America). Only the reasons for this are debated.

Of course, there is not going to be just one factor – life is never that simple. But one that interests me is changes in the way we perceive the representatives of religion. In my younger years I was quite happy to respect religious leaders – and give to religious charities. Despite my rejection of their beliefs I still held a certain amount of trust in those leaders. But not any more – and I think I am not alone in this.

Gallup recently released results of their latest poll of American’s attitudes towards professions (see Honesty and Ethics Rating of Clergy Slides to New Low). The poll asks people to rate the honesty and ethics of people in different fields. Gallup reported:

“Americans’ rating of the honesty and ethics of the clergy has fallen to 47%, the first time this rating has dropped below 50% since Gallup first asked about the clergy in 1977. Clergy have historically ranked near the top among professions on this measure, hitting a high rating of 67% in 1985.”

The graph below demonstrates this decline of trust in clergy.

honesty

Again, the decline in rating of the honest and ethics of religious clergy will probably have multiple causes. Sex abuse in the church will be a significant cause. As will attempts to promote outdated and inhumane attitudes on moral issues.

For me another strong cause of declining trust is the way that prominent Christian leaders and their news media will flagrantly misrepresent science –  particularly evolutionary science .  I agree, those specific leaders  might not be representative of all Christians (who is), but these other Chrsitians seem unwilling  to criticise them.

How can one maintain trust in people who knowingly misrepresent well established scientific facts and ideas? And how can one maintain trust in their associates who remain silent about that misrepresentation?

Credit: The honesty of clergy, car salesmen, and politicians.

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Jon Stewart interviews Richard Dawkins

I always enjoy the Daily show and this is another classic. Jon Stewart interviews Richard Dawkins (who is on a tour for his latest book An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist).

Can’t embed the daily Show videos, but go to September 24, 2013 – Richard Dawkins | The Daily Show With Jon Stewart – Full Episode Video | Comedy Central.

The whole show is 36 min long – but if you just want to the interview it starts at 13.33 and goes to the end.

Stewart is an amazing interviewer.

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The Galileo fallacy and denigration of scientific consensus

Statue of Galileo outside the Uffizi, Florence

It’s one mark of the significance of Galileo to scientific progress that many myths about him exist even today. He seems to still be a focal point in  present day debates between science and religion, pseudoscience and magical thinking.

But one of the most cynical myths is the opportunist interpretation of his promotion of the Copernican heliocentric solar system as being simply a David vs Goliath struggle. And that Galileo was correct because he was standing up to the “orthodoxy,” or consensus, of the then “establishment.”

A recent example is that promoted by British playwright Richard Bean “who reckons  climate change science is junk, the findings alarmist, data frequently tortured into submission and the mainstream media not in a position to confront the complexity of the issue and question whether it’s really happening” (see Herald article Beyond belief). He said in his interview:

“Orthodoxy closes off thinking and if you can’t express an opinion or question an idea, well, Galileo is the perfect example of what happens.

“He declared that not everything revolves around the Earth and paid the price for his beliefs [he was tried by the Inquisition as a heretic, threatened with torture, was forced to recant and spent the rest of his life under house arrest] while human thinking and endeavour were held back.”

But this is wrong on 2 counts:

  1. It relies on the fact of being in the minority, of opposing the consensus, as being “proof” of correctness.
  2. It implies that because the user of the fallacy is in the minority and opposing the consensus then the user is correct. In  other words – “bugger the evidence, I must be right because I am coming out against the consensus.”

As Rational Wiki puts it:

“The Galileo gambit, or Galileo fallacy, is the notion that if you are vilified for your ideas, you must be right.”

It’s a favourite argument used by creationists, by climate change contrarians/deniers/ pseudosceptics (see the egregiously named Galileo Movement in Australia) and, as I have found lately, anti-fluoridationists. A way of claiming superiority while at the same time discounting, even denigrating, the wealth of scientific knowledge with which the user disagrees.

Being vilified doesn’t make you right

And, it didn’t make Galileo right in everything he advanced. Classically he made a big mistake with his theory of tides where he tried to use tides to “prove” the movement of the earth. He was wrong there, and probably wrong in many other places, like all great scientists . Those people comparing themselves to Galileo are opening themselves up to the charge that they are “proving” themselves wrong, and not right.

It’s about evidence, silly

The real lesson from Galileo is not to oppose the “establishment” or current scientific consensus – but to rely on evidence. It was this argument of his, which today most of us accept and see as almost self-evident, that describes Galileo’s real contribution to the progress of science.

His argument for the heliocentric solar system, and against a geocentric solar system, was really an argument of evidence against dogma, prevailing philosophy and the Church’s use of scripture. he expressed it very well in a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina in 1615. He said:

“I think that in disputes about natural phenomena one must begin not with the authority of scriptural passages, but with sense experiences and necessary demonstrations.  . . . and so it seems that a natural phenomenon which is placed before our eyes by sense experience or proved by necessary demonstrations should not be called into question, let alone condemned, on account of scriptural passages whose words appear to have a different meaning.”

He was arguing against the idea that science should be a handmaiden to, or slave of, religion. That for matters of the natural world, in astronomy for example, science trumped scripture (or its specific interpretation). And it did so because it was derived from experience, from interrogating reality, rather than relying on dogma and preconceived “revelations.”

So what about the “scientific consensus?”

Scientific authority no longer rests with the Church and religious philosophers, as it did in Galileo’s time. When we talk about scientific consensus today we usually refer to the widespread acceptance of a scientific idea, theory or facts based on evidence. The consensus on climate change represented by the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for example, are not dogma typical of Galileo’s time. It can in no way be compared with the consensus of theologians who rejected the Copernican heliocentric model of the solar system (see Consultant’s Report on Copernicanism (24 February 1616). It is in fact a consensus on the facts and conclusions based on an extremely thorough review of the scientific literature.

It is actually those people who use the Galileo gambit to support their own dogmatic, contrarian or pseudoscientific views who are not using evidence. They are relying on personal beliefs, religious ideas or magical thinking and not evidence. Their use of the Galileo gambit is a substitute for interrogating reality.

Of course, none of what I have said means that new ideas in science are never in the minority. obviously they often are – and must be fought for. But new ideas don’t win credibility by using the Galileo gambit, by arguing that just because they oppose the scientific consensus they must be right. They win credibility because their proponents gather the evidence that supports them, and evidence which conflicts with the prevailing ideas.

A minority viewpoint can and does win credibility because its proponents provide evidential support. The Galileo gambit is for losers.

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Source of moral authority has shifted

A recent poll in the UK confirms a trend I have noticed elsewhere – the movement of younger people away from organised religion, and to a slightly lesser extent, from religious beliefs. But also to a decline in respect for religion and its leaders.

The YouGov poll for the Sun  shows a decisive turn against religion among 18 – 24 year olds. And a very low belief in a god (see Poll: Young people turn decisively against religion).

Fifty six% of people in this age group say they have no religion while 38% don’t believe in a god.

Religion-2

In common with other polls there is still substantial support for not believing in a god but believing in “some sort of spiritual greater power” – the halfway house.

religion-4

Only 12% said religious leaders have any influence on them – lower than for politicians, who scored 38%, brands, which scored 32% or celebrities, who scored 21%. Eighty two% declared religious leaders have no influence.

religion-what

Finally, a high 41% told pollsters ‘religion is more often the cause of evil in the world’ while only 14% said it was a cause for good.

religion-3

I think we might find the same attitudes in this country.

But it does raise some important questions about the public perception of the role of religion in today’s society. It’s commonly described as a source of good. But Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association and first vice president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, won’t have it. In a commenting article, Religion is in decline – so why are people so well behaved?, he says:

 

“One of the most mystifying aspects of recent governments’ emphasis on religion as a source of individual and social values has been its total mismatch with reality. Survey after survey has shown the population as a whole, and young people in particular, increasingly turning away from religious beliefs and influences entirely – and yet there has been no detrimental effect on the wellbeing of the nation.”

He concludes “there has been a change in recognised moral authority away from religion and towards secular influences.” And asks “when a government is going to realise this change and accept the implications for public policy.”

With polling like this it is about time that we all recognised that religion is not the source of our morality and public utterances claiming it is should stop.

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