This is one of the most controversial topics of the moment, since particularly in America the Creationists have been making a strong bid to force their world view into the curriculum. Sadly, the concept of Intelligent Design has been used as a cover for Creationism, which gives the latter an undeserved shade of scientific respectability and the former an undeserved shade of religious fundamentalism. ID is the basis of the case against atheism, but it is no more conclusive as an argument for the Creationists' God than Darwin's theory of natural selection is conclusive as an argument for the atheists' god of chance.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues against the religious indoctrination of children (though one suspects that he would have no problem if they underwent anti-religious indoctrination). Few would dispute Wordsworth's assertion that "the Child is Father of the Man", especially in the light of the Jesuits' notorious educational slogan ("Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man"). But without an Orwellian thought-police force, you cannot prevent parents from passing on their beliefs. Indeed if you tried to do so, where would state interference end? The histories of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and countless lesser dictatorships give us the horrendous answer to that question. Besides, even in a comparatively free society, any single-track approach to the so-called "deeper" questions could lead to conflict within the home if the domestic belief is different from that taught in the educational establishment. I am not talking here just of religious education. If a child is told at home that there is a loving God looking after him, and at school he/she is told that there is no such thing as God, and science alone can give us reliable answers, the result will be confusion and conflict rather than enlightenment and harmony.

This is where agnosticism comes into its own. Until there is universal recognition of the fact that no-one can claim a monopoly on truth, confusion and conflict are inevitable. Schoolteachers should not take it upon themselves to inculcate young minds with any one version, no matter how sure they may be of their particular beliefs. If religious indoctrination is a sin, so too is anti-religious indoctrination. Objectivity is all.

In view of the current dispute, however, let us be specific. The theory of evolution through natural selection is pure science. It is based on scientific observation, and is argued from a scientific standpoint. It should therefore be taught in science lessons. However, Creationism, Intelligent Design and atheism are emphatically not based on science and therefore should not be part of the science curriculum. If the question of origin comes up in class, no teacher has the right to push forward one of these faiths to the exclusion of the others. The answer has to be all or nothing: theist, atheist, and agnostic. When the child has been given all the information, it can mull things over for itself and, in due course, come to its own conclusions.

What about religious education as such? Again, there has to be objectivity. A single faith establishment can only breed prejudice, ignorance and intolerance. Religious instruction should encompass at least the most widespread faiths, including those that are not designer-orientated, such as Buddhism (the quest for human enlightenment) and atheism (belief in chance). But above all, what should be emphasized are those aspects of faith and religion that have common ground and that will lead young people to a greater understanding of human worth. Most religious systems encompass some form of social code that condemns sin and vice, and advocates neighbourly love and considerateness. The Jews have their Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 2-17), and Jesus, when asked which was the greatest of these, picked two: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart" etc., and "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22, 37-39). The Qu'ran is filled with similar precepts: "You shall not serve any save God; and to be good to parents, and the near kinsman, and to orphans, and to the needy; and speak good to men, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms" (The Cow, 75-80). The most famous Hindu of modern times, Mahatma Gandhi, preached and practised non-violence, self-sacrifice and reconciliation. For Buddhists, the path to Enlightenment entails "right views; right aspirations; right speech; right conduct; right livelihood; right effort; right mindfulness; and right contemplation" (from the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta). And let us conclude our section on religious education with a quotation from Richard Dawkins, himself quoting from an atheist website : "Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you. In all things strive to do no harm. Treat your fellow human beings, your fellow living things, and the world in general with love, honesty, faithfulness and respect. Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted. Live life with a sense of joy and wonder" (

Add your comment >>

16. A mad world

powered by my little forum