24 January, 2007

Dawkins in the curriculum, hell yeah!

From The Guardian, it seems that the British school system is getting at least half the story right:
Teenagers will be asked to debate intelligent design (ID) in their religious education classes and read texts by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins under new government guidelines.
I'm pleased that kids will be exposed to Dawkins' writing within the context of a so-called 'religious education' class, and particularly going head-to-head with so-called Intelligent Design. It's high time that educators took a strong stance against the insidious encroaching of religious fundamentalist mystical bullshit into classrooms.

On a related note, scientists have apparently come to the conclusion that the tendency towards magical thinking in toddlers is replaced by the tendency towards faith as the child grows out of believing in faeries and goblins. From the article in the NYT:

Children exhibit a form of magical thinking by about 18 months, when they begin to create imaginary worlds while playing. By age 3, most know the difference between fantasy and reality, though they usually still believe (with adult encouragement) in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. By age 8, and sometimes earlier, they have mostly pruned away these beliefs, and the line between magic and reality is about as clear to them as it is for adults.

It is no coincidence, some social scientists believe, that youngsters begin learning about faith around the time they begin to give up on wishing. “The point at which the culture withdraws support for belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is about the same time it introduces children to prayer,” said Jacqueline Woolley, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas.

Hm, the psychological space reserved for Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy becomes the psychological space reserved for faith in gods. Coincidence? I think not. Religion -and deism in general- are the most infantile of human emotional responses, after all. Also of note is the assertion in the article that conditioning towards religious faith begins at about the same time that magical thinking is beginning to lose its hold on the youngster. In other words- once a child is ready to move on from emotional dependence on a fictional, super-natural entity, society comes in and shoves another pacifier into its face.

It's no wonder people find it so hard to think outside of the paradigm of Judeo-Christian (or deist in general, I suppose) thought. This religious drivel is hammered into each and every one of us relentlessly, and we're expected to take it as fact, on faith. Anyone who thinks or says otherwise is immediately marked as a pariah, worthy of 'virtuous' people's pity. I'm happy to see this slowly changing, as atheists like myself can be more open about our convictions without having to constantly defend against or be offended by the religious hordes.

When I read Dawkins' The God Delusion, one of the sections that I had the most trouble with were the chapters where he equates the indoctrination of religious faith at an early age to child abuse. While at the time of reading I found this a little hard to swallow, in the time since, I've come to realize that Dawkins is absolutely right. We need to teach our children that our world, here and now, is real. That the consequences of our actions are visited upon us in this life, not in some made-up, post-mortem castle in the sky. That to live by the rule of some disembodied, omniscient being is a cop-out, and that one should take responsability for one's own actions, using as guidelines our own sense of right and wrong founded upon the real world: the golden rule and non-zero-sum relationships.

I hadn't really thought much about it before, but as I write this, it occurs to me that if many of the world's problems stem from the general attitude of entitlement, arrogance, and nonchalance that is prevalent amongst most of us, it is safe to assume that many of those values come from the belief that there's an omniscient, benevolent higher power who will make everything 'right' for us in the end.

Like my friend Phil over at Antisavior says: "Stop killing man, start killing god."

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