Creation in the classroom – what you are really afraid of

Creation in the classroom – what you are really afraid of April 6, 2015

An interesting week in the CIE blogosphere – a week full of people with opinions. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, except when people think that their opinion is the only acceptable truth and that what they believe, everyone else must also believe. Well, just because you have an opinion, it doesn’t make you right.

On March 31, I posted a blog titled ‘Creation in the classroom – what are you afraid of?’ The footnote was quite clear – a request to address the point of the blog, and to do so without provoking the creation v evolution debate. The propensity of readers for wilful misunderstanding and assumption was bemusing, although not unexpected. One commentator didn’t even bother to get my name or gender correct, so intent was he on making his various points – none of which, incidentally, related to the key point of the blog.

The point was that students should be given the opportunity to consider both evolution and creation as explanations for the origins of the universe. In the UK, the law states that creation cannot be taught in the science curriculum – I have no problem with this, despite the assumption from many commentators that I do. What I do have a problem with is the 89% of teachers in a survey who want creation removed from the classroom completely, even from RE lessons, on the grounds that allowing critique of belief is indoctrinatory. On the basis that everyone who commented has had the opportunity, during the course of their education, to consider both viewpoints and form their own conclusions, why would they deny others the same opportunity? The answer, of course, is because they have decided that their opinion is valid not only for themselves, but also for everyone else.

Then there was the groundless assumption that I am a young earth creationist, because I am a Christian. I’m not, but beyond that I have no intention of saying where I stand on the issue, because the blog isn’t about my view. It’s about giving students balanced access to the canon of human knowledge and understanding in order to decide for themselves what they believe. Even though Christians represent a very wide range of views on the issue, many readers assumed my position based on nothing other than personal prejudice. Read with an open mind, and don’t write a subtext which fits the writer into your particular viewpoint so that you can then feel justified by your putdowns.

Which brings me to methods of persuasion. I have never taught or met anyone who has been convinced by sneering, sarcasm or ridicule. If you want to persuade others to your way of thinking, courtesy and respect will go much further. Using words and phrases like ‘idiot’, ‘crazy stuff for tiny minds’, ‘take the tin foil off and have a nap’, ‘zombies’ or ‘zealots’ doubtless makes you feel superior, but it isn’t going to win anyone to your worldview. I’ve written about the abandonment of courtesy and respect in ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all’ and the effect of trolls on our young people. It would be great if everyone could set an example of reasoned debate without resorting to posturing through mockery and sarcasm when they run out of valid intellectual points.

But here’s the thing. What people are really afraid of is open minded discussion- as Andrew Smith, observes: ‘People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer’. Nobody has full understanding of the universe or its origins, but hating the version of it which you can’t conquer is not a civilised way to learn. As Andrew Smith also wrote, in ‘The Marbury Lens’:

‘What if the world was like one of those Russian nesting dolls? What if we only saw one surface of it, the outside, but there was all kinds of other stuff going on, too? All the time. Underneath. But we just don’t see it, even if we’re part of it? Even if we’re in it? And what if you had a chance to see a different layer, like flipping a channel or something? Would you want to look?’

Many wouldn’t, for fear that what they assume to be the truth turns out to be just one small part of it, or maybe not any part of it. You have nothing to fear in allowing students to examine creation belief. If you’re right, they will all agree with you and creation will be discarded. What you actually fear is that you are not the gatekeepers of total truth; that there might be truth somewhere beyond your knowledge.

So, on the basis that nobody has exclusive, full and empirically provable knowledge about the origins of the universe, and on the basis that the existence of God and his role in it cannot be proved or disproved (which is why it’s about faith), let’s try again, accepting that two worldviews conflict and that neither one has the right to impose itself on the other. The point under discussion is whether students should be able to learn about evolution in science, and also explore other explanations for the origin of the universe in religious education. It’s about whether students should be allowed to decide for themselves, or whether just one worldview should be taught, leaving students deprived of the opportunity which we have all had – to use our minds for ourselves.

And above all, it’s about showing respect for each others’ views. If you want to sneer, mock, ridicule or employ sarcasm in your attempt to gain ground, please go and do so somewhere else. As I said in many of my responses, we also have a law in the UK which mandates teachers to actively promote respect for belief. Beliefs are held by people and to ridicule and sneer at their belief is to ridicule and sneer at people – people who, just like you, are entitled to believe whatever they wish. I don’t like the law particularly, because I think respect is a character attribute which we should model in our relationships with others and nurture in our students. However, it’s clear from the responses to my previous blog that there are people who need to be mandated to show respect.

So, please be respectful. Please be courteous. And please show humility in the way you discuss your views. Accept that just because someone doesn’t agree with you, it doesn’t make them wrong. It just makes them a fellow human being with a different view from yours. Persuade nicely or take yourself off to the naughty step. The choice is yours.

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