Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Science is Inherently Atheistic

Sure enough, as predicted back here, the Quebec Government is now moving with regards to the "Evangelical Schools" that they have been quietly ignoring, and sure enough we find the freedom of religion card being played by advocates for these schools.

This annoys me on a dozen different levels. First of all, science in general is inherently atheistic. That is not to say that it denies religion, but rather it ignores religion in its pursuit of knowledge. The common misconception is that atheism is specifically a denial of religious faith, but in the case of science it is in fact closer to NonTheism. There is a tradition in the english language that was adopted from either Greek or Latin where prepending an "a" onto certain words generates a logical negation of the term. (e.g. Theism as the belief in the supernatural, Atheism as the non-belief in the supernatural - which may well be simply a matter of ignoring it)

The second part of this that really begins to irritate me is the following assertion made in the Lifesite article:

“Darwin’s theory of evolution is an issue about which many Christian parents are very concerned,“ said Dr. Epp Buckingham. “They don’t like the way [the theory] is taught in a very atheistic way. That’s one reason parents send their children to private Christian schools, so that they’re not subjected to public school teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution as being not only fact, but in a way proof that God is not involved in creation.”

For crying out loud, there's absolutely nothing stopping a teacher from discussing evolution with respect to theology. Outside of a broad framing of the topic itself "with respect to scripture", it's hard to imagine how any primary, or even secondary, level course would discuss much that would be "anti-religious". To me, it's like trying to talk about physics or advanced mathematics - the school courses simply don't go into enough detail to get into metaphysical arguments about the correctness or validity of specific theories - and most parents are ill-equipped to adequately debate at that level, come to that.

The second part of the "freedom of religion" argument comes out here:

Dr. Epp Buckingham said parents’ right to educate their children in accordance with their religious beliefs is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled that although an Alberta pastor who was running a school out of the basement of his church did have to license the school, the provincial government had to provide reasonable accommodation for religious belief.

The court ruled that the province must “‘delicately and sensitively weigh the competing interests so as to respect as much as possible the religious convictions as guaranteed by the Charter,’” Dr. Epp Buckingham quoted.

“That makes it pretty clear that when the Quebec government is licensing schools they have to respect religious beliefs.”

“We have seen a number of religious freedom cases coming out of Quebec where the government hasn’t been respecting religious freedom. So we would hope they are aware that this is a Charter right, parents do have the right to educate their children in accordance to their religious beliefs, and that they will negotiate on that basis.”

Around about the time I run into this little piece of excremental reasoning, I get quite annoyed. This is complete nonsense. Demanding that schools stick to provincial standards in order to be recognized is not a matter of "disrespecting freedom of religion". Nobody is stopping these schools from teaching their particular view on sex education or evolution (or whatever other freaking topic they've got their knickers in a twist over), just that they are obliged to teach to the provincial standards.

BTW - I think this is the case that is referred to in the above quote. Note that it is a two sided ruling, and is not absolute victory for either side of the conversation. (Something which is often ignored by people trying to use these cases as part of their "talking point" arguments)

Nobody is saying they cannot teach their beliefs, but there are minimum standards set down by the provinces - for damned good reasons. I cannot "home school" children without complying with provincial standards, no matter what my faith is, why the hell should these "evangelical" schools be any different?

Of course, the standard talking point argument made about evolution is that "it's just an unproven theory", which completely misrepresents how science today uses the term Theory:

In scientific usage, a theory does not mean an unsubstantiated guess or hunch, as it often does in other contexts. A theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from and/or is supported by experimental evidence (see scientific method). In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations that is predictive, logical and testable.

In other words, an explanatory model has to meet a very high standard before it will be "generally accepted" within a field. The mountains of evidence that have piled up to support evolution as a scientific theory have only continued to grow over time, with new evidence tending to support existing inferences.

As I said before, I have no problem with people teaching evolution in a science course, and then turning around in a parallel discussion of theology bringing up whatever religious viewpoint about evolution they want. I may disagree with them, but I won't argue against their right to do it. I will, however, argue that they do not have a right to keep their children "in ignorance" by failing to teach to curriculum standards that are (IMO) bare minimums (and pretty minimalist at that!)

I'm sure, if there's a real freedom of religion case here, the Charter Challenge Program would be quite an applicable agency to engage to help with the legal costs - oh waitasec, HarperCreep cut that program didn't he?


The Bungle Lord said...

Based on the definitions below, an agonistic can not say
whether or not there is a God, and neither can science.
An atheist says there is no God, which science can not
and does not say.

You are using the wrong terminology.
The word you are looking for here is agnostic, not atheistic.

From Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary:

Atheism: a: a disbelief in the existence of deity
b: the doctrine that there is no deity

Agnostic: a: one who holds the view that that any ultimate
reality (as God) is unknown and prob. unknowable

Grog said...

My use of the term "atheistic" was quite intentional.

Unlike agnoticism which is a rather complex concept, modern science simply ignores the notion of theism.

It is, in my mind, significant to call it "without theism" - atheistic, rather than the somewhat more ambiguous "agnostic".

For example, when an unexplainable phenomenon is observed in physics, no claim is made about its origins that is theistic, the origins are simply "unknown".

Were I talking about things from a more philosophical standpoint, I would adopt the term "agnostic", but for my purposes, agnostic implies a possibility that I believe arguably most practitioners of science do not introduce into their theoretical foundations. (Unless, of course, they are Dr. Behe)

The Bungle Lord said...

Yes, I see by that article
that agnosticism is starting to suffer from ambiguity.

However, your redefinition of atheism, does not match the common definition of a disbelief in deities.

I do agree, however, with your statement:
>> That is not to say that it [science] denies religion, but rather it ignores religion in its pursuit of knowledge.

I just don't agree with the idea of redefining words when one wants to present a concept.

Grog said...

Definitions change all the time. In recent years, atheism has been redefined considerably - especially by its routine abuse by evangelical apologists.

I'm using it in the form that I came to understand it in University, where one of my history professors was very careful to frame it as "the absence of theism", rather than the "denial of theism" that has become the "popular" use.

(However, I don't think we have a significant disagreement here - we're quibbling over one word ;-)