Guest Post by Jonny Scaramanga
I am very happy to welcome a guest post today by Jonny Scaramanga. Jonny’s blog, Leaving Fundamentalism, is a must-read for everyone interested in issues of conservative Christianity and education. Jonny and I have gone back and forth a little bit about the propriety of attacking creationism. Recently, I contributed a guest post to Leaving Fundamentalism about how to handle our fundamentalist neighbors. The following is Jonny’s rebuttal. What do you think?
Adam and I are bad at choosing neighbours. I too have had a bothersome neighbour. Unlike Adam, though, I found the law quite helpful in dealing with the antisocial Ned Flanders next door.
He let his dog bark all day and night for months, so I informed the city council. They served him with an abatement notice and then fined him £5,000.
He built a hideous extension on his house without permission. For this he faced a choice between removing the extension and paying a maximum fine of £20,000.
When he continually harassed and berated me for not sharing his worldview, he received an Anti-social Behaviour Order. And when he was caught persistently leaving his rubbish on someone else’s property, he went to prison for five years.
It is true that we can’t legislate against being an unpleasant person, but we can and do legislate against behaviour that harms other people.
Adam has argued on my blog that banning the teaching of Creationism would not make sense, in the same way that passing an anti-dick law would not make sense. But the two cases are not equivalent. For one thing, dickish behaviour is already covered by existing legislation, while teaching Creationism in private and home schools is not. For another, we are not talking about the right to be a Creationist. We are talking about the right to impose Creationist views on someone else.
Adam also argues that banning the teaching of Creationism probably wouldn’t stop people doing it. That might be true, but it’s a practical matter. I’m more interested in whether there’s a moral case for banning Creationism in education.
First, we need to get the misleading notion of parents’ rights off the table. Parents are humans, with human rights; children are humans, and they also have human rights. Parental rights are not human rights; they are rights that one human being has to exert control over another. Can you think of another instance where liberal democracies allow a person to act in this way? The only similar examples I know are slavery, imprisonment, and archaic ideas of marriage where ownership of a woman passes from her father to her husband. These do not seem like paradigms to emulate.
Children have rights, but they are not yet capable of exercising those rights wisely. Someone must make decisions on their behalf. Usually, the best-placed people to do this are parents. Generally, a child’s interests and her parents’ are aligned, and parents are best placed to act in the child’s interests. But – apart from a right not to be forcibly separated from her children without good reason – these are not rights. These are responsibilities. Other conceptions of childrens’ rights treat children as though they are the property of the parents.
The right to teach Creationism is not the right to practice religion. It’s the right to indoctrinate someone else. The only relevant question is whether teaching Creationism harms children. The answer seems entirely obvious to me. Teaching Creationism involves telling children blatant falsehoods, which have no practical application, which reduce the likelihood of their integrating with wider society, and which require the corruption of the ability to think logically. I think you’d struggle to argue this could be anything other than harmful.
The only exception I can see is that it is in children’s interests to have a good relationship with their parents. It’s also probably beneficial for children to have good relations with their parents’ community. If rejecting the theory of evolution is a requirement for this, then perhaps teaching Creationism serves the child’s interests.
This would ignore the list of possible harms caused by Creationism. If followed to its logical conclusion, the study of ‘scientific’ Creationism has devastating consequences for the life of the mind. It impacts not only on obvious areas like biology and astronomy, but also on areas as diverse as history, linguistics, and psychology. ‘Survivors’ of Accelerated Christian Education writing for my blog express bitterness at the educational opportunities they were denied. Creationism may have united their families when they were children, but now it has created rifts. Creationist children endured mockery and alienation from their evolution-accepting peers, for no obvious benefit. Now they complain of setbacks in their professional life, because their poor education failed to set them up for a real career.
I suspect Adam, along with the Sensuous Curmudgeon, is right that a petition to ban Creationism in schools is likely to be counter-productive. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for effective ways to get rid of it.
About the author: Jonny Scaramanga grew up as a fundamentalist and a student in Accelerated Christian Education. He is now a PhD candidate at the Institute of Education, University of London. He has written about creationism for the Guardian and Times Education Supplement, and discussed it on the BBC and Channel 4 (UK). He blogs about his fundamentalist experiences at Leaving Fundamentalism.