Faith is no substitute for Fact
By Tedd Emelianov
As a point of personal pride, I always attempt to place myself in the middle ground of almost all morally ambiguous arguments. At the very least, I can usually claim to understand any side contrary to my own opinion. But recently I have been reading some articles concerning laws and decisions regarding religious education in American public schools, and this is where my ability to be impartial seems to reach its limit.
Religion is one of those things that would be very difficult to explain to someone who had no prior experience with it. To them, it would seem a rather illogical phenomenon, and yet it makes perfect sense when viewed in a historical context. Our ancestors were boorish people by modern standards. They prayed to the sun, the moon, and the stars for a better harvest, longer lives, and protection from their enemies. These practices seem anachronistic to us, but have we really evolved past them?
Take pretty much any mainstream religion and you will see how similar they actually are, both to those long forgotten and to each other. They are usually a collection of stories or teachings passed down from generation to generation concerning important questions about the very nature of existence, with different variations depending on culture and outside influences. From a philosophical sense, religion is a very introspective and personal entity. It is used to make sense of life and to guide people through their own interpretations of the dogma. But from a practical standpoint, religion can and often is used as a tool of control. People are told what to think and how to behave all under the guise of faith. The basic faculties of human existence are surrendered to ceremony and custom, but this is an issue for later.
Let me state for the record that I completely understand why someone would choose to be religious. I myself was raised Jewish, and chose to leave the faith around the age of 14, but my own personal beliefs still contain some elements which wouldn’t gel well with staunch atheists such as Richard Dawkins. Furthermore, I don’t hate religion and I know that not everyone who is religious is being controlled by their respective leaders. My hatred of religious education is that it focuses far too much on the practical aspect of religion than the philosophical one.
I do not hope to argue against religious education on the basis of scientific fact. This is a hopeless argument as at the most basic level, even science is based on induction and has rules which we must simply take as red. I am even willing to grant any religious person who would argue against me that it is quite possible that all scientific knowledge is incorrect, and their chosen dogma is actually the truth. I argue against religious education because it is the exact opposite of true education.
When it comes to the topics taught in schools, their purposes are often lost on those who do not consider them properly. History is not taught simply for the purpose of teaching children how our nation was founded, we use it to learn to how analyze the past and learn from it. The same can be said for mathematics. Yes understanding basic arithmetic is necessary, but so logical thinking and pattern recognition, both of which are learned through the study of math. In short, we don’t just learn in order to learn specific things, we learn to learn. In school, we are given tools which have a much farther reach than the topics used to impart them.
The fundamental flaw with teaching religion in schools starts with the variety of religions that we have available to us. When it comes to what we should teach our children, the selection of the topic itself is a very delicate one. Why teach Christian fundamentals over those of Islam or Hindu? The answer to this is simple, because this is a Christian country and Christianity is the most prominent religion. This raises further questions. Would that mean that if Islam were to become the most prominent religion in the country we would change our curriculum? Or what if the majority of the country became atheists?
To choose a single religion to teach would mean forcing the government to admit that only one religion is correct, and this undermines the very idea of freedom which this country keeps claiming to herald. But for the purposes of this discussion, I will assume that we have actually found a compelling reason for teaching a single religion within our schools over all others.
The next issue is how do we reconcile teaching any religion next to science? The already implemented solution in some schools is to teach multiple theories; creationism and evolution being a perfect example. But this solution isn’t really one at all either. If we are to teach our children, it should be the truth. But we don’t know the whole truth right now; that is just the way it is. Teaching two pieces of conflicting material when one has a mountain of corroborating evidence while the other has none is counter-intuitive to the educational process. Since public school funds are limited, it makes logical sense to only teach the best theory, and in this case I mean the theory that has the most evidence.
But once again, I will grant those in favor of religious education the concession that there is evidence for the truth of their chosen religious texts. I will even assume a scenario where both scientific theories and religious dogma have equal amounts of corroborating evidence to their credit. Yet even in this scenario I would still be opposed to the previously mentioned solution of teaching multiple theories.
Religion is based on faith, it asks us to believe simply because that is what we should do. Faith is the abandonment of all logical faculties; it asks us to deny what we see and what makes sense. Scientific theories are all about advancement. They are constantly being revised and edited because of new information. Religious dogma rarely changes unless there is too compelling a reason not to change it, and even then it is more out of necessity than any real desire for progress. Teaching scientific theories would allow children to grow in ways that religion cannot. It would teach them to think and recognize patterns, to ask questions and seek to improve on what they already have. As a tool for education, this is invaluable.
The problem isn’t with examining religion in a scholastic setting; it is the teaching of dogma as fact. I know it is not my place to judge what people believe, and I understand why some of us believe in a god. But when it comes to learning, we have to understand why it is that we go to school. The building blocks of education start with questions. We have to ask questions in order to understand anything. If it comes to a decision between proof and faith, I will choose proof every time, regardless of what I believe.