Critical Thinking: Dangerous Nonsense (Why We Need Atheist Schools)


P191

Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, they say.

My students insist on it. Not so, I say. If an opinion is racist or bigoted or dangerous or even just plain stupid, you are not entitled to it. For your opinion to count, it must be well reasoned and well supported. Otherwise you could just be spewing any kind of insubstantial nonsense and be ‘entitled’ to it. Said G.K. Chesterton: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

Put it this way: if, as a teacher, I believe a secret society controls the world and I put forth that opinion in class, without inviting critique, should I be censured? Of course I should! You cannot simply claim that I have a right to my opinions… whatever they are. (And yes, that includes this entire blog post!) How can I claim to be teaching critical thinking or preparing young minds for life in the twenty-first century if I can get away with spewing such dangerous nonsense? If my opinion is questioned and argued against and I have to take it back, and replace it with something closer to the truth, then it is obviously a good thing… mainly because I am no longer ‘entitled’ to a false opinion.

I think it’s that word ‘entitled’ that annoys me the most. I am not entirely sure where it comes from, but after pondering a few options, one suspect stands out for me: ‘religious tolerance’. It is the new vogue to be ‘okay with’ anyone else’s ‘vibe’. This means that many ‘progressive / liberal institutions’ call themselves ‘multi-faith’ or ‘non-religious’ – to mean that they are accepting of a variety of religions. (It is even protected by South Africa’s very progressive constitution.)

But behind the politically correct surfer-speak lies something insidious… that we ‘accept’ or are ‘okay with’ religion in the first place. This means that these mouldering institutions are placed beyond interrogation, and consequently are saved from a more catastrophic slide into irrelevance – simply because it is not ‘cool’ to attack someone’s beliefs. By muddying the waters and preaching ‘tolerance’ of all sorts of mumbo-jumbo, religions escape being questioned themselves. It is practically sinful to be ‘intolerant’ of anything these days, no matter how silly or delusional, much less of something as seemingly respectable as religion. By reinforcing the outer perimeter of hogwash, the inner core remains protected.

This is a double-edged sword as not only does saying ‘everyone’s entitled to their own opinions’ protect the sacred cows from attack, it also reduces science to ‘just another opinion’. It is a source of utter dismay to me, for example, that we still have to even fight about giving proper weight to evolutionary theory in South African schools! Many of our private schools are overtly religious, and consciously teach evolution as ‘just another theory’. In so doing, they reduce its importance and simultaneously give their creationist agenda more credence. Even the early evidence of the Higg’s (or ‘God’) boson is, in some opinions, evidence of God! This is perverse and deeply worrisome.

There must be enough of us out there who want to teach our children to distrust opinions and ‘entitlements’ of others? I am sure that a growing number of parents and teachers alike see that we don’t need religion to teach morality. The ability to think deeply and critically must not be tempered with an ‘except about that’ clause. We must teach our children that everyone is NOT entitled to their own opinions, no matter who they are, and everyone has the right to think for themselves, and to form their own well-reasoned conclusions. Imagine an entire school with these principles at its heart…

“By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” ― Richard Dawkins

“Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.”  ~Clarence Darrow

(If you live in sub-Saharan Africa, I have to thank you for being brave enough to read this blog post. Research suggests that less than 1% of us are atheists. And that the majority who aren’t, see atheism as synonymous with devil worship. This is not true. And you are not entitled to that opinion.)

Please add your critiques / comments below. (But know that they will not all be given equal weight!)

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3 Responses to Critical Thinking: Dangerous Nonsense (Why We Need Atheist Schools)

  1. MS says:

    I teach at one of the few openly multifaith schools in my town. Great! Great?

    But multifaith in my town means remembering to wish the Hindus on Diwali and the Muslims on Eid. There isn’t a single Hindu, Muslim or Jewish teacher at the school. I know of multiple teachers who teach their kids that evolution is just another theory, or that God created evolution. It’s a battle I’m too scared to start, because I won’t win and will get branded as evil along the way.

    But at least I don’t teach at the school at which the teachers pray during the morning school meeting that Jesus helps the kids to be well-behaved during the day…. It really offends me when teachers use “God” and “prayer” to blackmail the kids into doing THEIR bidding.

    • Thanks for your frank comments. It still amazes me that this should be a battle at all. Especially in places where we are supposed to be enlightening young minds. Especially so many years into the twenty-first century.
      In South Africa, less than two percent of the population classify themselves as free-thinkers and our education system is in crisis. I’m convinced there is a causal link. We call our current graduates the ‘born frees’ (born on the year South Africa became a democracy) – but instead of being the guiding light of social upliftment, these young people are part of a stagnant, floundering system. One where teachers putting up Christmas trees is more important than trying to bring about a better world.
      But when I ask our kids how many of them are atheists, and how many are convinced by evolution, and any similar questions and I am very encouraged. There are more and more of them.

  2. JJ says:

    Great write up! Thanks :)

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