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Children of the state

Scientism is no basis for sound education or a healthy society

Children of the state

Daniel Dennett (Rex Features via AP Images )

Last summer The Atlantic rounded up a cross section of writers and thinkers and asked an interesting question: What contemporary habit will be most unthinkable 100 years from now?

The answers, published in the June 2015 issue, may not be much use as prognostication, but they are very telling about the prognosticators. For instance, philanthropist Melinda Gates looks forward to the day when the birth control pill will be a quaint, tedious device nobody needs. She adds the well-worn quip “If men had to take the pill, there’s a good chance we’d have something better by now.” (Why were you waiting for the men to do it, Melinda?)

What does humorist Dave Barry see as unthinkable within a century? “Driving. Future humans will get around in cars controlled by Google, which will also own the roads and much of the solar system.” (Could happen!)

Dennett is recommending that scientists determine the content and rationale of education—not only the what but the why, and by extension, the ought.

Other current commonplaces destined for future head-scratching are email, fossil fuels, and depression. It’s all good fun until Daniel Dennett chimes in. Dennett is a philosopher and a founding member of the “new atheist” contingent that includes Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. He anticipates the end of “Unsupervised Homeschooling. When we come to recognize that willfully misinforming a child—or keeping a child illiterate, innumerate, and uninformed—is as evil as sexual abuse. …”

Whoa! That’s a lot of assumption to cram into a single dependent clause, professor. Putting aside the sexual abuse reference, which strikes me as a deliberate poke to rile up the rubes, what does he mean by willfully, illiterate, innumerate, and uninformed? Later in the paragraph he concedes that home educators might be left alone if they teach the “uncontroversial facts about the world’s religions”—but does he mean facts about a religion’s doctrine, history, or truth? He looks forward to the day when “we will forbid parents to treat their children as possessions whom they may indoctrinate as they please”—but who is “we”? And why should we have the right to indoctrinate as we please?

Somebody has to teach something, for “the human mind is something of a bag of tricks, cobbled together over the eons by the foresightless process of evolution by natural selection” (Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon). Now that we know, it’s past time to take charge of this bag of tricks and stop leaving its development up to individual whim and unexplored instinct. “Our future well-being—the well-being of all of us on the planet—depends on the education of our descendants” (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life). Obviously to Dennett, baseless ideas like the immaterial soul and the special creation of human beings have no place in the Brave New World of spiritual disenchantment.

His sacred cow—excuse the expression—of teaching is “incontrovertible” facts: what can be observed or reasonably deduced from the material world. Since observing and deducing has become so specialized only a relative few can engage in it, professor Dennett is recommending that scientists determine the content and rationale of education—not only the what but the why, and by extension, the ought. In effect that makes science a moral arbiter, and many scientists are fine with that. Some would love to pursue questionable projects, just because they can or because there’s a potential fortune involved. Among those projects, proposed or already underway: human cloning, human/animal “chimeras,” three-parent embryos, gene editing, and creating designer fetuses to be destroyed after they’ve served their turn for research.

This is not to trash science as a profession, only to acknowledge that scientists are human too. Yet it takes little imagination to foresee humanity becoming something other than humanity as a result of scientism run amok. In which case, the only thing standing between man and the Abolition of Man is the very education Dennett fears: parents teaching children out of their deepest-held beliefs. In a fallen world, some of those beliefs will be false, and even destructive. But better a democracy of scattered falsehoods than a tyranny of one gigantic lie.



  • Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    It is interesting that all social engineering theories seem to require that for real success they be foisted on the masses.  They seem never content to propose a small test plot but blame short comings and failures on the non-conforming renegades.  It is also interesting that God's chosen method of transforming lives is one person at a time.  And those individuals are not herded into conformity but choose to follow Jesus Christ in the way they grow to know Him.The track records of man's ways versus God's ways reveals that the non-forced foolishness of God is indeed more presently effective than the coerced wisdom of men.  We don't see politicians or scientism producing much love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  This is truly the domain of the Holy Spirit of God.  Politicians try to produce these things by community organizing and scientists seek it through statistical analysis and endless research.Trying to improve the lives of human beings without regard to their spirit (their image of God) is like trying to help dads and moms be better parents by reporting the most popular Christmas toy purchases.

  • Buddy's picture
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    The highly technical and beautiful process of your favorite
    flower opening to bloom witnesses for a beauty loving creator or creators. I
    know hybridizing has enhanced many flowers but each had its own starting
    flower. Our daughter and granddaughter got my wife and I into raising hybridized
    Iris and we have hybridized a few ourselves. The granddaughter has won many
    blue ribbons and a few best of show at our local Iris Show.

    Evolution has grown to dominance in our classrooms and
    carries with it the credibility of our education system even though evolution
    is highly illogical. With mankind being the highest lifeform we become as god
    and those that deceive the best have the greater following up to a point when
    truth is seen and the reward of being deceived is seen. Life has many influences
    biding for our favor but only one way, less traveled to true truth and fullness
    of life.

  • socialworker
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    What would be the point of having children at all if you are told how to raise them, what to teach them and they were a financial drain instead of a benefit anyway?  I think many people would take that stance.

  • MommynatorRN's picture
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    The arrogance is amazing. What makes him think his ideas are any better than a Christian or even a secular parent's ideas of what they want their children to learn about life and getting through it? Pride comes before a fall. It's going to take a lot of people with it.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is prophetic.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Tue, 05/10/2016 02:56 pm

    Daniel Dennett and the other "new atheists" want to be the ones arbitrating what will be taught to the youth. In other words, they are tyrants seeking absolute control! They are the ones to be feared, for they seek to stomp out all religions, but most importantly, Christianity! We should resist these devils in nearly all their efforts!

  • Paul B. Taylor's picture
    Paul B. Taylor
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    Concerning teaching our children about science and tackling scientism, we should educate them in Biblical science, not secular science.  I would rather consult Ken Ham about the science and anthropology of creationism than Darwin, about the pseudo-science of evolution, when deciding what to teach my children.

  • Richard H's picture
    Richard H
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    Dennet's desire for the world may be just around the corner if Democrats and RINOs gain a strong foothold on Congress and the White House.  They've been championing the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty for 2 decades.  That treaty will force the closure of homeschooling if not dictate the curriculum for homeschooling.  Then again, a Progressive supreme court majority would rule that the child's rights are violated by homeschooling parents.  We are just entering the era where the State owns the young human capitol.

  • Char's picture
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    So Dennett advocates (out of altruism of course) that the science elite take over education. Wait, he is (in his opinion) one of the science elite . . what a coincidence. His motto, "Trust me!" I say, "Not a chance."

  • SM
    Posted: Wed, 06/08/2016 11:33 pm

    As soon as I read the expression "uncontroversial facts about the world's religions" I was reminded of a dour teacher in a Dickens book.  “NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but
    Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out
    everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon
    Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the
    principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle
    on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”  Appropriately the book is titled _Hard Times_.  This man operated out of a sincere belief, but destroyed his children.  Nothing new under the sun.