Lawrence Krauss says a necessary thing. He starts from a campaign argle-bargle by Rick Santorum saying that higher education is bad because it kills faith.
Mr. Santorum views this apparent facet of higher education as a danger, and his proposed solution is simple-less higher education and more faith.
As a faculty member at an institution of higher education, and as a scientist, however, I question the basic premise that loss of faith is a bad thing. If it is true that those who are more educated have a greater tendency to question their religious faith, shouldn’t we consider that this might be telling us more about religious faith than about how harmful getting a college degree can be?
Yes, we should.
It’s an obvious riposte, but it’s not “respectful,” so respectful types don’t make it. That’s why we outspoken types are always quarreling with respectful types. It’s not “respectful” to say that learning more tends to erode religious faith because religious faith is not based on reliable knowledge and is in fact its opposite. It’s not “respectful” to say that the more you learn about the real world, the less sense religious faith makes. It’s not “respectful” to say that religious faith is more compatible with ignorance than it is with knowledge.
Why do we so readily accept in our society the claim that blind religious faith is a virtue, and the lack of faith as a defect?…
Surely in no other area of human activity do we place such great value on accepting claims without seeking to establish their veracity. One of the purposes of education is to teach young people how to question pre-conceived notions and to base conclusions on evidence in order to more capable of performing in their jobs and in their role as citizens.
Except for religion.
That’s why the “respectful” palaver is so annoying when it comes from scholars and educators. It’s annoying because it’s a betrayal of their fundamental job, which is to teach everyone (because scholarship spreads and informs more public forms of discourse) how to question pre-conceived notions and to base conclusions on evidence. The job of scholars and educators is not to teach everyone how to believe things for no genuine reason. That means they shouldn’t go to great lengths to be “respectful” of ideologies that do just that.
Santorum’s own choice of faith over empirical knowledge provides perhaps the best example of why blindly accepting faith as virtue is misplaced. When decrying colleges as indoctrination mills, he also described how hard he had to resist the pressures in college to question his faith. In so doing, he also resisted the opportunity to learn about how the world actually works.
As a politician on our national stage, his professed ignorance about the natural world is almost unprecedented. His statements on issues ranging from evolution to the evidence for human induced global warming, and most recently about contraception and birth control only serve to demonstrate that a worldview based on closed-minded faith rather than empirical evidence can result in nonsense as a basis of public policy.
Respect for “faith” equals respect for ignorance and dogmatic refusal to question. What’s to respect about that?