‘Induction over the history of science suggests that the best theories we have today will prove more or less untrue at the latest by tomorrow afternoon.’ Fodor, J. ‘Why Pigs don’t have wings,’ London Review of Books, 18th Oct 2007

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Review of Richard Dawkins on Faith School Menace?

On Wednesday 18th August (More4, 9-10pm) I watched the first of Richard Dawkins' new series ('Age of Reason' - what a cheek!). The programme was titled 'Faith School Menace?' For an earlier article on the same theme see Dawkins, 2001.

The programme contained nothing new – we have heard it all in previous Dawkins' programmes. It has the look and feel of a party political election broadcast. It entirely lacked balance or objectivity, whether historical or contemporary. Isn't it amazing (well, not really!) that he has seemingly endless TV programmes to promote his atheist faith. If Christians were allowed even one such programme today, all hell would break loose. It will be a test of liberal commentators to see how they review it.

We were treated to the arch-apostle of science making numerous statements for which he cited no scientific evidence. What ‘evidence’ he gave was anecdotal, selective and biased. “The programme was more interested in scaremongering than in what actually happens.” (Ainsworth, 2010) For example, Dawkins started by telling us how terrible it was that 1 in 3 British schools is now a faith school. Really? Clearly, like any good scientist, he needs to start by defining his terms – which he never does. What he should have said was 'schools with a church link' which is not at all the same thing as schools that really allow Christian faith (in particular a Christian worldview) to control what they do in education. Relatively, very few Church schools do the latter. Indeed Leslie Francis' research has shown that the majority of Church schools have no influence on a child's faith or even have a negative influence – i.e. compared to non-church schools (Francis, 1995; Kay and Francis, 1996). But throughout the programme Dawkins showed no interest in scientific evidence for his assertions.

Of course, for Dawkins, anything to do with (Christian) faith in schools is indoctrination and faith should be excluded from all schools (except Dawkins' faith of course). Evolution (undefined, but most will understand it as universal common descent) is a FACT. It is a FACT that we evolved from apes. In fact we ARE apes. He told a (state-funded) Muslim school that they can't win by questioning evolution, but must interpret the Koran to fit with evolution, just as Christians have done with their Bible. (He found that all of the Muslim year 10 pupils rejected evolution.)

He asserted that Faith schools prevent social cohesion (again contrary to the research evidence as regards most of them). We were shown Dawkins speaking to children in a (non church) primary school, telling them not to believe anything on the basis of tradition, authority or revelation, but only on the basis of reason and evidence. He is clearly inexperienced in engaging young children and they were visibly disinterested. But imagine the media reaction if a Christian was filmed doing that kind of assembly!

There's is lots more I could report, but hopefully that gives the flavour. If you have watched previous Dawkins' programmes then you have seen it all before. Only one person, an Irish educationist, was included putting the pressure on Dawkins and asking him to admit his illiberal position. However at least one commentator, Keith Watson in the Metro, regarded the Irishman’s persistence as evidence of a closed mind! Knowing what happened in his previous programmes (serious critique either not sought, or left on the cutting room floor – see blog on the second programme in this series) I wonder who else was filmed, but not included?

On the widespread practice of pretending to find God – which many parents do every year in order to secure their child a place in faith schools, which are often educationally outstanding – Dawkins (in an interview with The Times, available, at a price, at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/faith/article2690948.ece - see Sefton, 2010), has shown “an unsurprisingly evolutionarily adaptive attitude” (Sefton, ibid):

"I don't want to cast any blame on them," he said. "It's hypocrisy that is imposed on them by a ridiculous and unjust system."

Dawkins even said that if he were in the same situation, he might do the same. "Since I have absolutely no belief at all, I wouldn't be betraying anything." Commenters (at Sefton, 2010) rightly noted that this was a charter for unethical behaviour that could be used to justify just about anything (emphasis added). Dawkins is constantly going on about 'reason' and 'evidence', but when it comes to religion and faith, he ignores the evidence and abandons reason.
Janina Ainsworth, Faith School Menace? Church Mouse Blog, posted 20 August 2010 (http://churchmousepublishing.blogspot.com/2010/08/exclusive-faith-school-menace-by-revd.html#comments , accessed 27/8/2010)
Richard Dawkins, No Faith in the Absurd, Times Education Supplement (London) 23/02/2001, page 17, http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=343917 , accessed 29 August 2010)
Leslie Francis, Church schools and pupil attitudes towards Christianity: a response to Mairi Levitt, British Journal of Religious Education, 17 (3), 1995, pp 133-139.
William Kay & Leslie Francis, Drift from the Churches: Attitude toward Christianity during Childhood and Adolescence, Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1996, 266 pp.
Eliot Sefton, Dawkins: faith schools should teach all religion, The First Post [The Week], 18 August 2010
(http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/67378,people,news,richard-dawkins-force-faith-schools-to-teach-all-religion-education-atheism , accessed 28 August 2010
Keith Watson, Inside the Box: What Keith Watson Saw Last Night, Metro, 19/08/2010, page 36 (http://e-edition.metro.co.uk/2010/08/19/ , page 40, accessed 19 August 2010)

For other commentary on the programme or on Dawkins’ views on education, see:
Christian Institute, Dawkins calls for more interference in faith schools, christian.org.uk, posted 27 August 2010 (http://www.christian.org.uk/news/dawkins-calls-for-more-interference-in-faith-schools/?e270810 , accessed 27/08/2010
Huw Clayton (Doctor Huw), Dawkins, Myths and Dangers, Doctor Huw blog, posted 21 August 2010 (http://doctorhuw.wordpress.com/2010/08/21/dawkins-myths-and-dangers/ , accessed 27/8/2010)
Brian Hutt, Church educationalist rejects Dawkins’ ‘scaremongering’ over faith schools, Christian Today, posted 20 August 2010
(http://www.christiantoday.com/article/church.educationalist.rejects.dawkins.scaremongering.over.faith.schools/26547.htm, accessed 27 August 2010)
Phillip Johnson, Darwinism is Materialist Mythology, Not Science, Direction Magazine (Elim, UK), October 2004
Ben Leach, Richard Dawkins: 'faith schools should not be allowed to opt out of religious education', Daily Telegraph, posted 18 August 2010
(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7951358/Richard-Dawkins-faith-schools-should-not-be-allowed-to-opt-out-of-religious-education.html , accessed 27 August 2010)
Paul Melanson, Richard Dawkins and the Battle for Humankind’s Future, Dallas Blog, posted 19 August 2010 (http://www.dallasblog.com/201008191006959/guest-viewpoint/richard-dawkins-and-the-battle-for-humankind-s-future.html , accessed 27/08/2010)
David Robertson, David Robertson responds to Richard Dawkins – Faith Schools Menace?, You Tube, posted 26 August 2010 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIZdYgvah0Y )
By Dr Arthur Jones

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