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Just because you have an opinion, it doesn’t make you right

Just because you have an opinion, it doesn’t make you right

posted by Gill Robins   Friday 24th January 2014

Professor Alice Roberts, newly appointed president of the  Association for Science Education,  has started her presidential tenure by suggesting in a TES interview that the teaching of creationism in schools should be  banned.  According to her argument, it amounts to ‘indoctrination’ (dictionary definition: teaching someone to accept something uncritically) and she calls for a new law banning its teaching in all schools, including faith schools. She states: ‘it is indoctrination; it is planting ideas into children's heads. We should be teaching children to be much more open-minded.’

Her views raise some serious questions. Firstly, equating the teaching of religion to indoctrination shows a lack of understanding of, and respect for, our professionalism. It also seems that she may have allowed personal prejudice to colour professional statements - a poor academic practice which we shouldn’t leave unchallenged.

Secondly, it is suggested that we should be teaching children to be much more open-minded. Well, in my experience, dialectic outweighs prohibition every time, and allowing the free and open discussion of any belief (even a dangerous political one) is much the best way to achieve balance. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out in his book The Great Partnership, the task of science is to take things apart to see how they work and the task of religion is to put things together to see what they mean.  Her proposed ban would deny students any opportunity for open-minded and balanced discussion: a neatly self-defeating viewpoint.

Professor Roberts goes on to say that science is about teaching people to say: 'I don't believe it until we have very strong evidence'.  I find the use of the word ‘believe’ curious (dictionary definition: accept that something is true, especially without proof) because it is the language of religion. I know that 2+2=4 because I can prove it. I know when I get up in the morning that gravity will hold me onto the earth, because science has proved it, irrefutably.  I don’t believe these things, I know them. I do, however, believe in God. I can’t prove His existence. There is no irrefutable evidence. I simply believe, as an act of faith. Science deals in evidence and knowledge. Religion deals in faith and belief. In the minds of some, science and religion are mutually exclusive. In the minds of others (including some eminent scientists) they are mutually inclusive. So, allow students to consider this dichotomy for themselves.

In the midst of the many responses that the article provoked, there was this:

‘there will always be one kid who raises the idea that God did it all! So I have about a dozen creation myth websites ready. Once we have had a look at the various creation ideas from a range of religions I ask him which one does he/she think is the real one.’

A clear example of a teacher imposing a personal worldview on a pupil.  Where is the open-mindedness?  Where is the balance?  Just because this person holds an opinion, it doesn’t make him right. 

Perhaps the last, and most effective, word should rest with an unnamed spokeswoman for the DfE: ‘Only countries like North Korea ban the teaching of religion in schools.’   


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