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Categorized | Personal, Religion, Science

Pisay and “Tolerance”

Reading the many reactions to my recently published piece on Pisay, I was not surprised that many have read too much on my criticism of religious content in Pisay operations and completely missed my central thesis.

A very lucid analysis of my piece was written by a teacher from Pisay that I cited, Martin Perez. I never had the pleasure of being in his class, but I have heard only good things from his former students. In fact, some of the critical and intellectual inquiry that I find lacking in Pisay in general, some fortunate alumni found in his classes. However, I feel that Mr. Perez has mistakenly joined the bandwagon of criticizing my article for decrying the perceived “tolerance” of Pisay for religious values. Mr. Perez’s point is that not only is Pisay’s tolerance “by design,” it is this very openness that “allowed for a rich intellectual culture to thrive.”

To be clear, I am not addressing Mr. Perez alone in particular, though since I take his views more seriously than random people on Facebook, I am likely to address his points in more detail than anyone else’s.

A more charitable reading of my essay would have obviated any accusation that I envision a Pisay devoid of religion. I was very careful to avoid any such suggestion. But it seems that this needs to be, like scientific values in Pisay, more explicit. Judging from what I read, I think I have to say it outright: religious people in Pisay should not be forced to be atheists.


Pisay "not" romancing sectarianism


It appears that people focused on my critiques of sectarianism and creationism, as if they were my central points. They were not. How I see it is that these symptoms will vanish with a focused instruction of scholars of the scientific values of skepticism, self-correction, and the use of evidence. I do not think it a worthy pursuit to treat these symptoms directly. I do not think that it would be productive or desirable to establish an inquisition against these ideologies.

I did not advocate, for example, that students be taught that creationism is dumb. I think its stupidity is quite self-evident and that to point this out to students in class is wasting too much time on an idea utterly devoid of intellectual content. When creationism exists inside the head of a scientist, this implies that that scientist does not value logical consistency or intellectual honesty. This person is simply science illiterate—this is the problem. Again, creationism is only a symptom. This claim seems to have been read by many as if people in Pisay should therefore be all atheists and avoid religious thought inside the premises of the school.

What I illustrated with creationist scientists was a clear example of where rote scientific instruction can maintain absurdities if it is not coupled with scientific values, but I understand that there is more nuance in more nebulous areas of debate. If some believe that consistency with science necessarily leads to atheism (like I do), then so be it. I recognize that some scientists, like Theodosius Dobzhansky, do not view atheism as the necessary conclusion of their scientific pursuit. While I think this is naive and mistaken given science’s methodological naturalism, the lack of falsifiability for the God hypothesis leaves (non-interventionist variants of) God out of the reach of science’s razor. Because of this, I did not say what many believe I said, that all religion in Pisay should be expunged in the name of science and secularism (just that no religion should be favored, whether or not it is represented in the student body).

What I advocated, which may or may not be toxic to religious values, is that there should be explicit discussion of such values in the light of scientific values. Is religiousness consistent with a scientific mindset? Perhaps not. But that’s exactly my point. A culture of critical inquiry will hash this out, and even if it doesn’t reach a conclusion, everyone comes away with more precise arguments and with diminished irrationality. What my critics seem to propose is that everyone should just keep to themselves and leave religion alone.

Mr. Perez addresses for me a direct question, which I will answer here. “[Does] our Values Education program (let’s say it is how it is characterized) in any way diminish or impair our students’ ability to discern or think critically about moral and spiritual issues?” Yes, I believe so. But this is not because the Values Education program teaches a Catholic viewpoint, but because it teaches a Catholic viewpoint alone. As I had mentioned in my piece, there are various moral systems that exist in philosophy, which are not given a moment’s consideration in class. There is genuine academic debate about these matters. How can students discern or think critically about things that are not there to discern or think critically about?

It serves little consolation that Values Education is merely one subject among others. While I agree that all classes each teach certain values, Values Education stands above the rest as the ethical guidelines sanctioned by the school. And it happens that the ethical guidelines are those of one religious sect, the Roman Catholic Church. How convenient.

A fundamental misunderstanding by my critics seems to stem from confusing “tolerance” and “respect” with mollycoddling and patronizing. There seems to be the misapprehension that a diversity of views entails the isolated and sectarian existence of each view from each other—all free from criticism and inquiry.

It’s a common call against freethinkers that we ought to respect religious ideas, as if ideas had feelings. On the contrary, it is due to our respect for the intellectual capacity of persons that we speak our minds. For, if we believe that we are right and we believe the people are not irredeemably irrational, is it not our moral imperative to point out where others are mistaken? And when we are wrong, our voicing out will cause our erroneous positions to be corrected. Everyone wins out.

This plea for “tolerance” and “respect” betrays an insecurity for one’s beliefs and an unreasonable (and unscientific) fear of correction. Criticisms of this type only strengthen my argument that scientific values are not institutionally espoused by Pisay. This pervasive desire for all views to remain hermetically sealed and unassailed, that it is assumed a priori that religious values can coexist with scientific values as separate issues, is indicative of exactly the culture in Pisay I am arguing against.

I recognize the necessity of the freedom to have a diversity of views. This, I agree, is integral to any intellectual community. Given that Pisay is a science institution, however, this diversity of views must be looked at and discussed openly under the light of scientific values, not coddled in the darkness of sectarian isolationism. If this is not desirable for my critics, why include “science” in Philippine Science High School at all?

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.