In an Age article a couple of days ago, one of the government's most senior education advisers was quoted as saying that faith-based schools isolate religious groups and create divisions in society.
While I think there's some merit to this argument, that's not actually what I wanted to talk about. The article also raised the point that in some of these faith-based schools, creationism is being taught alongside evolution in science classes.
This is of real and genuine concern.
I can accept that when a school is funded by a religious group, they can claim the right to teach their theology to the students. When parents sign their kids up to these schools it's understood (or should be) that that's part of the deal.
What I can't accept is that something like science, so integral to our operation as a society, can be watered down for the convenience of a religious elite.
Faith-based schools may teach creationism, by all means. But they must do it only in the context of religious and theological instruction. Not in the science class.
To my mind, a school has two basic functions. The first is to develop a child's social, emotional, analytical and academic skills so that they have the best possible opportunity to succeed in whatever they choose to do. In a faith-based school, religious instruction will form part of this, which is perfectly fine if that's what the parents wish.
The other equally important function is to ensure that, as a society, we pass on from one generation to the next the skills required (to put it crudely) to keep the place running.
These functions are not mutually exclusive. They both go towards ensuring that each generation has a mix of people who will happily be engineers, checkout operators, doctors, cleaners, accountants, small business owners, rock stars, deep-sea diving instructors, etc. etc. Even ministers of religion.
But absolutely fundamental to the running of our society is an understanding of science. Science is what has advanced us from the stone age. Science underpins our agriculture and medicine. Science is essential for our understanding of the environment and the challenges of climate change. Science is what we use to build roads and computers and houses. Science touches every aspect of our lives.
When creationism is taught as if it were science, it devalues science. Being taught that theological dogma is science serves to remove the power of science, which is that it is open to being questioned.
All scientific claims must be backed up by observable evidence, or they will be quickly discarded. History is littered with the relics of scientific theories that were passed over for lack of evidence, or replaced with more plausible and supportable theories. (Here's a fun list to get you started).
In any science class, a student must be able to ask the question "where is the evidence?" with full confidence of receiving a satisfactory answer. Evolutionary theory can provide this. Creationism can not.
To say that creationism is science is to say that science does not require evidence. Such thinking undermines the very foundation of scientific thought.
If it were to become widespread in our society, so reliant on science for its survival, we would soon find ourselves in a very vulnerable position.