Mathematical Insanity

Over on the ICR website is an article of such crazy logic it just beggars belief (http://www.icr.org/article/7098/). I’m not the first to comment on this item; so far two of the blogs I follow have commented already, but the path that the item takes is just so mind bogglingly insane I wanted to have my own say too.

In fact when I read this article I couldn’t help but be reminded of an item by AiG on light which I also commented on (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/magical-light/).

In summary the item on maths says that because numbers are not physical entities (the numbers we write down are but a temporary representation of the actual number) yet they are real, and since those numbers have always represented the same value, God exists. There is a bit more jumping around before getting to the final point, but that’s the basic gist once the fluff is taken away.

The author makes several statements and leaps of logic that are tangential of best and downright idiotic at worst. For example there is the assertion that numbers have not evolved; 7 has always been 7. Well duh! That’s true, but what’s the point being made here? The author knows this of course, but he elegantly steps from that to the assertion that complex mathematical laws discovered by man always existed, mankind did not invent them and nor did they evolve. True and obvious, but is there a point? Well apparently it’s a problem for secularists, but I’m not sure what that problem is and nor does the author because its not clarified. He jumps neatly from the human concept of numerical representation to the fact that numerical values are constant to the fact that the maths of planetary motion existed before man to therefore God.

Apparently anything that predates man must be of God. Great hypothesis, now let’s see a testable theory.

There is plenty more juice in the item and many more sentences of juicy sarcasm that can be squeezed out in comment. Go have a field day, if you dare …

 

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There Should be no Need to Legislate Against Creationism

There is currently a bit of noise going on in the UKabout a move to stop the teaching of creationism in science classes. Currently the guidance from government is that creationism should not be taught, this latest move is an attempt to firm up that guidance and make it enforceable. See http://evolutionnotcreationism.org.uk/position-statement/ for some information.

While I wholeheartedly agree that creationism should not be taught at all, anywhere, not even in religious classes, let alone science classes. Yes it can be referenced as an idea that is proven to be false and an example of the progress of science, it should not be taught anywhere as a fact.

My problem is legislation making the teaching of it mandatory. I have a problem with the micromanagement of every little detail of our lives and education. The science in the classroom should stand on its own, and the science of evolution does indeed stand on its own. It should not, and indeed does not, need specific legislation to put it there.

Where is Creationism Taught in theUK?

This report from 2008 (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/7426) says that there are 40 schools in theUK that teach creationism. I have no idea how accurate that is today. What I am more confident about is that the guilty school will be towards the extreme or fringe end of the religions represented.

I am not certain on the best answer to the problem of stopping extreme religious teachers putting forth creationism as fact and on the face of it, banning them might be the single most effective way. What concerns me is the follow on affects of this. The affected teachers will have further cause to fly the religious persecution flag and the teaching of evolution by them will be disgruntled.

My opinion is that this call is short sighted at best and it targets to specific an issue. Any legislation on the science that is taught is schools should be more general and specify that the science should be supported, this will cover creationism, and anything else that might creep in.

The cynic in me also wonders if there is also a motive to try and flush out staunch creationists. Get them to stick their heads up so that they can be specifically targeted. That is not that way science should be defended, its nefarious and low and not at all necessary.

Science can and should stand on its own evidence, the use of legislation or underhand tactics to prop it up or defend it only serves to distract people away from the message of the evidence.

Where does a Child’s Theology Come From?

The most obvious answer would be, from the parents, but who else could have such an impact on a child in those early year that they shape the child’s beliefs for so long?

As part of the process of moving from Christian to Atheist, I spent much time pondering on where my firmest beliefs came from and what triggers, if any, there were in seeding them.

Since my entire school life was spent at boarding school, many of the beliefs I formed and were influenced, not by my parents, but by my teachers and the other children I went to school with.

Sowing Seeds

I have already mentioned that the first seeds of creationism were planted when we were told to cross out a paragraph referencing evolution in our text books (https://confessionsofayec.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/let%E2%80%99s-start-at-the-very-beginning/). This event aside, I can remember no other moment when either creationism or evolution was specifically spoken about by a teacher, either at missionary school in Zambia or at secondary school in the UK. Conversations with fellow pupils I can remember, but no specific teaching on either subject.

One specific conversation I can remember was as a young teen at school in the UK and asking a friend to try and explain where we came from and where our ancestors came from etc.. we ended up at fish in the sea, at which point I burst out laughing. So its clear that by this point I was utterly sold on creationism. What puzzles me is that I am fairly sure that evolution should have come up in science classes at some point in the UK curriculum of the 1980s. Yet I can not remember any references. This could be because the school in question was a Church of England Secondary school. However, I doubt very much that any curriculum specification would have been ignored. So I wonder if any evolution references were too mild to cause my creationist values any problem and so they were simply forgotten.

Certainly I never had any discussion with my parents on the matter, in fact school work of any description very rarely came up with my parents due to the boarding school life.

What about other theological points?

Given that I went to two boarding schools which had a major emphasis on Christian teaching. What other things in my life come from those roots?

It would be too much to try and list Christian theological points and try and find the source for each on in my upbringing.

I recall very few specific theological points being taught as a young child away at school. Though, there was a very real Christian ethos everywhere, story time was often in a parable style, with the story and then how it referenced Christian teaching. There was a weekly walk to the local church. Daily assembly had prayers, songs and other Christian anecdotes. All this extra curricular Christian teaching was done by the school teachers, with occasional guests from the local area, or another students parent. When at home, I would of course go to the Sunday School, while my parents remained in church. So again basic Christian teaching and theology was being planted in my young mind by people other than my parents. The only decision my parents made was who was doing it, due to their decision on where they sent me to school or where we went to church.

All these lessons would form the background to my later beliefs. By the time I was old enough to be able to pay attention to a sermon, many of my Christian values were already in place. A sermon would either reinforce those early opinions, where they matched or cause some confusion, where they didn’t. Confusing messages would be ditched and that usually meant the longer held belief won over.

This is something I would see in later life when I spent time as a youth volunteer working with teenagers and giving them information that conflicted with their already held views.

Cause for concern?

When put in this context and looking back, its concerning, that my early and impressionable mind was fed important information that led to me forming incorrect opinions that would take years to undo. Objections about the truth of Christianity aside, should people, untrained in Christian theology and teaching, be left to tell young children the stories that lead to them forming their opinions, before they get the chance to hear the authoritative versions in a sermon?

I think specifically about my own child, going to Sunday School while my wife and I sit in Church. I am an adult and can make my own decisions; I can choose to filter out what I hear from the pulpit. My child does not have that same ability and is too young to be able to determine the questionable from the acceptable. The Sunday School teachers are enthusiastic church volunteers with no training other than the mandatory child protection training that the government has mandated. Even if I were still a Christian, how do I know that my child is learning what I want them to? Do I even know when questionable theology is being fed to my child?

Throw out the Baby with the Bath Water?

One thing I certainly am thankful to my early teachers for is the respect and consideration for others that has been so ingrained into me. This is something that my parents certainly backed up and something I would want my child to have as well. Okay, good behaviour does not require Christian teaching to enforce and encourage, but it does come as part of the package.

Now I need to be careful what I say here so as not to be misunderstood, ‘Christian behaviour’, as an ethos is a very desirable thing in people. The ‘doing onto others as you would have done unto you’ way of behaving is something I still strongly hold as an attitude that people should adhere to they interact with others. This specific policy, though, is only something I have encountered in Christian circles. Now I am not saying that non-Christians have lower standards of behaviour or poor morals, just that this specific message of behaviour is succinctly put and one I think Christians do a good job of promoting.

Yet despite those good points, the sad fact remains that in our Churches (and in my case schools too) young children are getting a basic grounding in Christian theology by people who could be unwittingly seeding ideas that in the future could become platforms for incorrect belief that could prove hard to correct. This is not just because I now reject the Bible and the concept of God, but also because I have a lot of friends who are Christians and I see their children going to Sunday School and I wonder, do they actually know what their child is getting told in there? I know I don’t

 

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

I certainly don’t consider my upbringing typical. In fact I know its not typical, but it does go a long way to explaining my early beliefs.

I grew up in the Central African country of Zambia, my parents having moved there a few years after independence, taking me with them as a small child. The environment I grew up in was therefore as a white minority, the whites we knew were pretty much all involved in the missionary arena . My mother came from a very strong Brethren tradition but my father came from a less religious background so I am not entirely sure how he came to be involved in such a strong Christian movement.

Missionary School

School was a boarding school in the far North Western province of Zambia. A school with all white teachers, all Christians of course and a very heavy Christian missionary ethos. Discipline was strict, some kids didn’t like it there at all, I don’t recall having any strong feelings either way, I just got used to the routine and dealt with it.

Getting to and from school was always an adventure. For the first few terms I flew in a small 6-seater Cessna plane. Flying through rain was interesting; flying over bush fires could be somewhat concerning, especially when the rising heat caused the plane to loose height due to the reduced lift. One particular large fire I remember caused a very alarming and prolonged period of height loss. Needless to say, most flights involved me heaving up my guts at some point.

The Teachers

Given that this was a boarding school and at that time, the only school I had attended (Sunday school and nursery school excluded) it would be fair to say that the teachers had a huge impression on my life. In fact, from those very early years, I remember more about the school than I do about my home life.

To a large extent, the teachers were very caring and loving. They had to be. They were not just our teachers, they read us stories at night, they comforted us when we needed it, they looked after us when we were unwell, they sat with us at meal times, they watched over us at play time, they taught us to swim, they taught us to play games. For children of that young age, they served a purpose as important as parents and were looked to as parent figures as well as teachers.

These are teachers whose names I still remember and who I would recognise in the street today. Not something I can say about all the teachers I knew at secondary school. Such is the impact they have on children so young.

Teaching

Generally the teaching was good. Specifically I remember enjoying Maths and French and the quality of this education was reflected in my class placements when I started secondary school in the UK.

Exploration of the world around us was actively encouraged. After all, we were living in the remote African bush, how could you not look around and not be amazed at the wonders of nature. The insects, wild fruit, trees and plants that were all around us were of a huge variety.

When it came to asking questions about these things, it was invariably the teachers who we asked and it was the teachers who we looked to for wisdom on these things. Of course the answers always fitted with a creationist perspective as that was all that was known.

Due to the environment we all lived in, no one questioned the existence of God. The teachers were all Christians, as far as I can tell all the parents were Christians too, Christianity was part of life and there was utterly no need or reason to question that.

Crossing out in the Text Books

One specific event I remember is when new biology books were delivered to the school and my class was the first to get them. On being handed out, our first instruction was to turn to a certain page and cross out a single paragraph. Of course we all read the paragraph before doing so, we were curious kids. I remember it talked about how fish, needing to find resources that were no longer available in their pond or pool would flap out of the water in search of other bodies of water. They would use their fins to help them move on the land and eventually, over many years and generations, these fins developed into legs.

I’ve paraphrased the content because, while I can remember the essence, I can’t remember the exact wording. We all laughed at the silly people who wrote than and crossed out the words with relish.

Now, in hindsight I can see that this is an inaccurate description of evolution and if I saw it in a text book today I’d be dismayed because evolutions does not work in response to animals using their limbs in a different way every now and then, that’s a incorrect description of the process of evolution. However, the reasons for crossing this paragraph out were not because it was evolutionarily wrong, but because it dared to suggest evolution at all. We were taught that everything is as it was created by God in the beginning.

Explore the World

As I have already said, the education received was not all bad, in fact quite the opposite; much of it was a very high quality. Its only the creationist elements that were very wrong.

Specifically I remember the encouragement to explore and examine the world. We were taught that medical discoveries were good because they came from the human desire to seek, to learn and to experiment. This desire was God given and is a good thing. I don’t remember much of science lessons but the explore and discover ethos was also there. If God had given us a wonderful world to live in, why shouldn’t we explore it for all the beauty that had been put there? It would be wasteful not to.

The school always had National Geographic magazines in the library and these were especially my favourite things there to look through. Other kids were reading Lord of the Rings or other great children’s literary novels. I just wanted to read the adventures in NatGeo and wonder at the fabulous pictures there. Specifically I loved the Kids Did It series. I remember the features of the Mount St Helens volcano, the awesome photos and the huge destruction.

I still am in awe of nature all these years later and its this hunger, started all those years ago, that has fuelled my journey from Creationist to atheist. Fuel that was placed and ignited by a desire to see the wonders of Gods creation.