This is the (only slightly edited) text of an October 2008 speech by a New Zealander standing for election in New Zealand under the banner of the Kiwi Party. CMI does not endorse political parties or the like, but we think supporters will see why we think this speech deserves wide circulation (see also live presentation below).

The elephant in the room

Education: on what foundation?


Photo by Sanja Gjenero, sxc.hu Despair hopelessness

The Kiwi Party believes that parents are responsible for their children’s education, and therefore wide-ranging competition is required in the education sector so as to recognize both parental responsibility and choice. This would be achieved through funding following the student [i.e. funding the parents who will choose the education they want for their children rather than paid into the schools directly].

Education in New Zealand is suffering from a deep malaise which, like an elephant in the room, is seldom if ever acknowledged.

Usually, we teach what we think is important, and don’t teach things we consider unimportant. But what is important and by what standard is this determined?

Education is never religiously or philosophically neutral but always built on a religious philosophical foundation. It’s on the basis of this foundation that what is and is not important is determined. Not all foundations however are sufficient to carry a vibrant and coherent educational enterprise.

And this is precisely why there needs to be competition in the educational sector—so parents can choose the religious/philosophical foundation on which their children’s education will be built.

One of the very bottom-level philosophical questions that confront all human beings is the question: Was life the universe and everything made or was it not made? Was it designed or is it the result of random processes? Is it a product of thought or non-thought? Was it Created and thus had a Creator, or did it evolve as the result of properties and processes inherent in the stuff it consists of?

Photo Wikipedia Arrest

These two alternatives are polar opposites.

One provides logically consistent grounds for meaning, purpose, morality, and worth.

The other for meaninglessness, purposelessness, and amorality.

In 1990, I attended a lecture at Victoria University [Wellington, NZ] in an auditorium that was jammed full and overflowing. It was given by the world-renowned evolutionist, the late Dr Stephen Jay Gould. Gould was in NZ as a ‘Living Treasure’ to give three lectures as part of New Zealand’s Sesquicentennial Celebrations. His lecture was titled, ‘The Darwinian Revolution in Thought’. [Ed: The Creation magazine article Darwin’s real message: have you missed it? was based on the recording of this lecture, supplied courtesy of Renton.]

Afterwards I had a letter published in the Evening Post regarding the lecture.

I said:

Gould was applauded long and loud at the end and thanked profusely for presenting such a stimulating and thought-provoking lecture, one which gave insight into the breadth of his scholarship, his reading, and his cultural appreciation.

What did this man say that brought such praise?

He told us that the truly radical thing Darwin said (which he agreed with) was that nature was purposeless and amoral. He said very few followers of Darwin over the past 150 years have had the guts to acknowledge this. Most had naively believed in ‘progress’ and ‘meaning’, ideas totally foreign to Darwinism, rather than being ‘liberated’ by realising there was no purpose to anything. Man, as much a part of nature and as much an accident as anything else, was also without meaning and morals.

I asked:

How could anyone applaud such nonsense? It amounted to applauding one’s own meaninglessness and amorality. And yet the university hierarchy was there and applauded!

I said:

If Gould is correct (and given his starting point there is no doubt he is) what is the point of universities and their stringent rules and regulations?

Or in the context of today, what is the point of any educational enterprise?

Gould pointed to the elephant in the room, not to resolve it but to gain ‘brownie points’ for being brave enough to talk about it—and was applauded for his courage.

Are there any other braves out there? A few.

William Provine, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, said in a debate in 1994 at Stanford University:

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Let me summarise my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear and I must say that these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods. No purposive forces of any kind. No life after death. When I die I am absolutely certain that I’m going to be completely dead. That’s just all-that’s going to be the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans either.

Richard Dawkins said:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Despite this, the charade goes on.

At a lecture by Richard Dawkins I attended—again at Victoria Uni—someone asked him, ‘Professor Dawkins, given what you’ve said tonight, could you please tell me why I should get up in the morning!’ Included in his reply was a comment that a teacher from New Zealand had written to Dawkins and told him that after reading one of his books, one of his students had decided life was not worth living.

Given that the majority of New Zealand’s educational system is built on ideas indistinguishable from those of Dawkins, the rate of teen suicide in this country should not surprise. Teach kids they’re nothing but warmed-over pond scum and when the chips are down, no wonder they decide life’s not worth living. It’s a wonder more don’t! Perhaps it’s because they just resign themselves to live with the deadening weight of nagging, persistent, background despair, whether identified or not.

And given that in this country, a pregnant schoolgirl can be taken straight from school to an abortion clinic to have her child killed without her parents even knowing about it, an abomination on two counts that the educational establishment endorses and participates in, is it any wonder that kids put two and two together and conclude they have no intrinsic worth and are just as expendable? Why should their life be any more valuable than the one they just destroyed?

Virtually all universities were founded on the presupposition that life, the universe and everything was the result of the creative genius of a personal Creator. And so was modern science founded on this. One could study the world because it was the product of a faithful Creator who did not play fast and loose with his creation, but made it to function predictably according to laws: laws which could be discovered and were consistent throughout time and space. And seeing the Creator was separate and distinct from his creation, the world could be studied, taken apart, and analyzed without Him being tampered with in some way. Study of the world was a deeply meaningful activity—exploring the handiwork of the Creator, thinking His thoughts after Him, and offering Him praise for the beauty of His character expressed in the things He had made.

But in the last 150 years, that religious/philosophical foundation has slipped away, leaving educational establishments in a state of cognitive dissonance—an apparently meaningful structure built on a foundation of meaninglessness.

And this is the malaise. Taught in various ways from the bottom to top of the educational system is the idea that life, the universe and everything is the result of blind, impersonal, purposeless, and amoral forces. That we are not the Creation of a personal moral Creator and thus are not subject to any rules such a Creator may have set for our behaviour. There is no higher law or higher Lawgiver. We are the lawmakers, and we will make any law we like.

On this basis, Parliament legalized prostitution, making it just another service industry—like selling hamburgers, or teaching. In fact, a teacher up north understood that seeing prostitution was legal, she could legitimately do it as a second job.

For four years at Onslow College I did woodwork and tech drawing, and then the Careers adviser arranged for me to visit a number of building outfits to see if I liked the idea of becoming a builder. Building is a valid service industry for students to train and find employment in. So now that prostitution has joined building as a valid service industry, why shouldn’t prostitution classes be run at high schools like technology classes are, and why should career advisers not arrange trips to brothels for aspiring prostitutes?

In a Darwinian world, the type of world presupposed throughout most of the educational sector in New Zealand, and explicitly promoted by Gould and other such luminaries, no valid objection can be raised.

On talkback radio after the teacher-prostitute story broke, discussion of the morality of the situation was, on at least one occasion that I heard, explicitly excluded. This is not unusual. Talk of morality is excluded from the table in virtually all public discussion in our culture. Why? Because as soon as you allow morality in, you acknowledge a higher law, and thus a higher Lawgiver. But as evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin said, ‘We cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door’.

With ‘a Divine Foot in the door’, the room is turned upside down and everything is different, including education.

It’s as though winter has broken, spring has arrived and the sun is shining on a world vibrant and pulsating with meaning and purpose, and in stunning Technicolor.

Parents who have higher aspirations for their children than for them to be taught on a religious/philosophical foundation of meaninglessness, or for them to be guinea pigs in politically motivated social engineering experiments, or subject to fraudulent environmental propaganda, or exposed to child abusers peddling the corrupting ideology of sexual pervert Alfred Kinsey, should not be compelled to accept lower standards than they desire. They should be free and enabled to choose an education consistent with their aspirations for their children. Kiwi Party policy is for this freedom of choice in education and would make it available to parents in the Mana electorate. Thank you.

Published: 31 October 2008