Thursday, 16 July 2009

Michael Reiss: teach atheism in schools

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I'm sure you will all remember the Reverend Michael Reiss and last year's furore over his suggestion that science teachers should be ready to address questions about creationism if they come up in class. He outraged secularists throughout the land and lost himself his job as director of education at the Royal Society with those comments, but he could be about to anger the opposite camp with this article in this morning's Independent, in which he argues, alongside his colleague at the Institute of Education John White (who's a BHA philosopher), that atheism should become part of the national curriculum.

Of course it's a perfectly reasonable argument – if you're going to teach children all about comparative religion and belief, you should also teach them about humanism and non belief. Here's a snippet:
"What kinds of learning might be required? Young people should think about whether they live in a divine world or a godless one. This points to discussing the standard arguments for and against the existence of God and such questions as the likelihood of life after death. But they also need to discuss whether human lives can have any meaning or point outside a religious framework. And whether people can live a morally good life that is not dependent on religious belief. Historical perspectives are also important, especially the impact of non-religious ideas on intellectual and artistic life over the last 250 years."
This is hardly likely to cause as much controversy as Reiss's creationism comments, but we're sure some Christians out there will be shocked to read a Church of England priest arguing for the teaching of non-belief. To me, it seems to reinforce the view that Reiss was treated a little harshly last year. His views on teaching atheism, alongside his comments on creationism, suggest that he is a firm advocate for the free exchange of ideas – free thinking, you might say.


Anonymous said...

By the wording of that quote it sounds like he's promoting a biased system which will lead kids to reject atheism rather than a fair comparison and/or discussion. "Divine" being religion's views, "godless" being atheism's views. Whether kids want an afterlife or not. Can you be moral without religion. His wording seems to have religion as the "right" answer and atheism as the "ignorant challenger". Kids taught like this would come out biased.

Then again I'm probably just being very cynical.

mumfie said...

It's a fairly prejudicial snippet "And whether people can live a morally good life that is not dependent on religious belief."

How about also asking the question
"And whether people can live a morally good life that is dependent on religious belief."

Since I don't see that one having been proved yet!

valdemar said...

Surely banging on about 'godless' atheism is likely to interest kids in it? Teenagers will start dressing like Richard Dawkins and talk sense in a clear, measured way - totally disconcerting their poor parents. Before Reiss knows where he is, a gang of logical positivists will have surrounded him on a Tube train, quizzing him persistently about obvious contradictions in the Bible. It's a recipe for social beakdown I tell you.

Richard Eis said...

I would have thought discussing religion in a reasoned way would be the death of it.
Well handled I am all for it and can already answer that religion is unnecessary for morality. Nor is it necessary for a fulfilling life as evidenced by those people have just that without religion.