Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On 'creationist' schools

As an outside observer, I've been watching the free schools debate with some interest.  One of the developments that seems to have caused something of a stushie in the Twittershpere is this report that Gove has given the go-ahead for three schools to be run by creationists.

The 'church mouse' has responded with a piece in the same paper arguing that the belief that God created the world does not a creationist make.  In the narrow terms in which he poses his argument, I'm inclined to agree with him.  'Creationism' has to do with a literal interpretation of the creation story as outlined in Genesis and, consequently, a rejection of the theory of evolution.  But I was wondering more generally - what is it about creationism that matters so much?  We're only talking about a couple of (contradictory) chapters of Genesis here and believing these doesn't strike me as any more or less irrational than believing in the doctrine of transubstantiation, yet the Catholic Church already runs many more schools than 'creationists'.

So why get so excited?  It might be that people are concerned about the quality of science education that pupils will receive at these schools but I'm more inclined to think that 'creationism' is seen as indicative of an intensity of religious feeling.  This sense is more or less correct, in my view, but I'm wondering whether and to what extent those identifying it as such haven't fallen for what I've just decided to call the 'myth of the mainstream'.  Those belonging to ecclesia rather than denominations, sects or cults are more rational and moderate?  Arguably this used to be the case but one wonders if what we are seeing is the former increasingly behaving like the latter?  Organised religion is feeling rather defensive at the moment.  One wonders why, given the indulgence shown to them by the political class but perhaps they have an inkling that their time on this earth is short?  God is dead but there will remain, perhaps for ages yet, caves in which His shadow can still be seen.  So let's get some legal protection and institutional entrenchment for the aforementioned caves.

I appreciate I've posed a lot of questions in the above.  This is because I'm not sure about it myself but if people are concerned with the disproportionate influence that organised religion exercises in education, they would do better to address the general issue and advocate a separation of religion from the state, rather than getting exercised about what they see as the more egregious examples of the privileged position that the party of faith enjoys within the British state.


Lazarus said...

I suppose there are at least two possible answers to why belief in creationism is different from belief in transubstantiation.

1) There's a practical answer in that (even if you believed both are irrational) the extent of the irrationality of transubstantiation is much more limited than that of creationism. The latter (and of course it depends on precisely what sort of creationism we're talking about) makes it difficult to practise any sort of science, certainly not the life sciences or earth sciences. Belief in transubstantiation wouldn't have any impact here.

2) In principle, speaking as someone who does think most views described as creationist are irrational while transubstantiation isn't, you then would have to get down to detailed discussion about why belief in transubstantiation isn't irrational while belief in creationism is. That's not something that could be done in isolation from arguing about the rationality of theology -and particularly revealed (roughly, Biblical) as opposed to natural (roughly, theology based on unaided reason) theology- in general. But belief in transubstantiation isn't (apparently) irrational in the same way as creationism is irrational: roughly, creationism depends on regarding empirical evidence as misleading, while transubstantiation depends on the metaphysical possibility that what is undoubtedly shown by the empirical evidence (the bread/wine like accidents of the transubstantiated Host)is not relevant to the substance of the Host (the body and blood of Christ).

So if creationists are wrong, they're making a scientific mistake, whilst if Catholics are wrong, we're making a metaphysical one. (And how many people are entirely innocent of that?)

anna Sonata said...
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