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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Reason Makes a Difference"

I urge my Australian readers (and others, if interested) to look at the new Reason Makes a Difference site, which attempts to inject a reason-based approach into grassroots political lobbying here in Australia. It's at an early stage yet, but I expect that its campaigns will appeal to many secular people ... and probably to many reasonable religious people as well.

Its first and current campaign relates to the trial of secular ethics classes as an alternative to taxpayer-funded religious education in NSW state primary schools. (In case you're wondering it's in favour of the trial ... while the Sydney churches have come out strongly against it.) You might be persuaded to support this campaign (there's a link to help you email NSW politicians about the issue).

Reason Makes a Difference has chosen as its philosophical basis a declaration made by the International Ethical and Humanist Union back in 2002. I can quibble about almost any such declaration or manifesto, but I have no significant problems with this one, which also has the virtue of brevity ... and it's not like we're being asked to sign our names to it.

Do have a look. This site could provide a great contribution to public debate.


Robert N Stephenson said...

I agree, good public debate is needed on many issues, just don't think the one presented at the moment is beneficial to anyone other than the intellectual or barrow pushers.

The removal of religious teaching is public schools is the aim here, not the introduction of an equally contentious ideal - that is like saying two bads make a good

In SA religious education has been removed, and even as a Christian I see that as a good thing, religion is at it very core a personal experience, not something to be pushed at others like some kind of club.

The main contention comes to the point of what is ethics? Politicians act ethical to the law of the parliament, but is what they do ethical in the eyes of the people? Many religious groups act in an ethical manner, but does logic based ethics surpass other ethics, which then brings into question the histrionics of those ethics -- do we alter history to avoid historical development of ethics based reason?

Can you see the contentiousness the introduction of a counter measure creates?

I think the site itself has great potential for all walks of life, though I do agree the free evangelicals and fundamentalists would not agree.

Remove the religious teachings from public schools, don't inject another mess in its place.

Nathan said...

Hi, Robert. The course doesn't provide logic based ethics, or any other sort of ethics. It introduces the language of ethics and encourages dialogue as a means of resolving ethical issues.

Being ethical is not about which set of rules you live by, no matter how good they might be. Being ethical requires a thoughtful agent, one who reflects on their own motivations, and can defend their actions and ideals in rational argument.

A trained teacher who is presenting the trial classes told me. "All the teachers aim to finish the lesson with the students having no idea where the teacher sits on an issue." It's not just a different set of ethics (which could provoke conflict as you say) but a way of thinking. A flexible way of thinking. I have no doubt these students will be able to act well, no matter what social environment you place them in.

Russell, thanks for the plug :-)

Robert N Stephenson said...

Thanks for that Nathan -- of course I still have my concerns, not least of these being the concept of learned thinking, or in this case geared thinking.

Complexities exist and perhaps greater ones than many would happily consider.

Without a set context in relation to any type of belief system - in Australia that is a generalist atheistic system anyway - it still run an intellectual course rather than a practical one.

At worst the religious studies did deliver some history within some of the hubbub of faith mix issues; so it isn't a total waste.

True, I am reserved on this, but that does not mean I am not open to something like this being developed and explored.

Harvard.Student said...

I thought that religion was out of public, gov't run schools. You know, illegal since the late 60's.

What's up with that?

If religion and God have been taken out of schools, then there's really no chance for secular alternative-type classes to vie for.

What's the point?

Nathan said...

I wish,

In fact it's illegal for gov schools NOT to offer religious education, there is 1 hour a week guaranteed by law.

The point is, if you opt out of religious indoctrination, your children are forbidden by law to do anything useful in that time. Does that seem fair?

See here for more information. http://www.ethics.org.au/content/ethics-based-complement-to-scripture