Religious views threaten knowledge

2012-03-07 14:28
Cape Town - Conservative views that forbid the study of modern scientific concepts threatens understanding of knowledge, particularly for school students, a mathematical behaviourist has said.

"Yes, I would say so, but I wouldn't be alarmist, but it is most certainly a threat because people are being taught something which, to the best of our knowledge, is not correct," psychohistorian Auke Slotegraaf told News24.

It has emerged that some schools actively discourage teachers from teaching concepts like evolution by natural selection.

Conservative commentators in the US have argued that because evolution is regarded as a theory, other theories such as creationism should also be taught in science lessons.

"When people hear that [caution] they interpret that uncertainty as being some mistake or something fundamentally missing," Slotegraaf said.


He said that science communicators and the media should do a better job of educating the public about scientific concepts, but insisted that factual content could not be disputed.

"Everybody's entitled to their own opinion, but not everybody's entitled to their own facts. I believe my wife may be pretty - that's my opinion, but if the fact I believe is that everybody in the world must think that she's pretty - that ain't going to happen," said Slotegraaf.

Some argue that teachers who are believers do no harm to the children they teach because they impart a balanced world view, despite the lack of evidence in the content they teach.

Slotegraaf took a dim view of this argument, saying that teachers, in particular, were entrusted with ensuring they taught the facts, not their beliefs.

"It is very difficult to measure in a number the 'badness' of the outcome of being taught this nonsense, but it is very difficult to see how it could be good. Nothing particularly positive could come from this kind of indoctrination.

"That teacher should be held to a high standard. This is not a matter of opinion."

A science teacher who was reprimanded for teaching evolution in an upmarket Cape Town school said that the religious mindset in education was worrying.


"What worries me is a whole mindset. There's nothing included in the curriculum that allows understanding of evidence; of how to weigh up evidence, of what counts as evidence," the teacher told News24 on condition of anonymity.

The South African constitution guarantees freedom of religion and permits observance of religious services at state institutions, on condition that attendance is "free and voluntary".

"There should be a disconnect between state and religion. If you look into the laws how you should run a school, therefore that means you should not be able to enforce any worship as part of the school. Every state school I worked in has had assembly with hymns and prayers.

"As far as I'm concerned that's illegal, and yet nobody is questioning that," the science teacher said.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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