Are Public Schools Teaching a Stealth Religion?

According to the account by educational authorities, there is no teaching of religious doctrine in United States public schools. We are told that such a thing is strictly forbidden, because it would be a violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which holds that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This has been interpreted to mean that taxpayer funds should not be used to support any particular religion, and since public schools receive taxpayer dollars, it is held that such schools cannot be supporting any type of religion.

But while it is widely believed that teaching of a religion is forbidden inside public schools, it may be that exactly such a forbidden thing is actually occurring in almost every public high school. This is because a substantial case can be made that a particular belief system spoon-fed to our children throughout high school is itself a religion or a religious position or a faith-based ideology.

The particular belief system I refer to is what we may call Darwinist materialism. Below is one way to describe the tenets of this creed:

  1. "Earthly biology can be explained entirely by naturalistic explanations such as natural selection and random mutations."
  2. "The human mind can be explained entirely by brain activity."
  3. "Charles Darwin provided some brilliant insight that eliminated the need to postulate any design or purpose in nature."
  4. "Life appeared on our planet purely because of lucky random combinations of chemicals."
  5. "Everything is pretty-well explained by science professors who assume there is just matter and energy; so there's no need to believe in anything like souls, spirits, or the paranormal."

Although constantly marketed and branded simply as “science,” Darwinist materialism seems to involve a very large element of faith. In particular, it has never been proven that any one complex visible organism or any of its organs or appendages or cell types has ever appeared mainly because of natural selection, or natural selection and random mutations. We can imagine no mathematically credible scenario under which natural selection could produce the fine-tuned protein molecules upon which life depends. An average protein molecule has a length of about 375 amino acids, and getting an arrangement of such amino acids by chance to produce the functionality of the protein molecule requires an arrangement with a chance likelihood of less than 1 in 10 to the two-hundredth power (even if you assume only half of the amino acid sequence has to match the actual sequence of amino acids in the protein). It would seem such molecules cannot appear through any gradually rewarded "each step yields a benefit" kind of process, because half-versions or quarter-versions of such molecules are useless. Yet Darwinist materialism wishes us to accept natural selection as an explanation for most or almost all biology. Since there seems to be a very large article of faith here, it would seem that we should at least be calling Darwinist materialism a kind of faith-based ideology.

But would it be correct to go even farther, and brand Darwinist materialism as a kind of religion? A supporter of such a belief system would immediately dismiss such an idea as an absurdity. He would vigorously argue: religion is some belief in God, and Darwinist materialism does not entail that.

But such a definition of “religion” is too narrow. Let's consider Eastern religions. These include Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. There are certainly major forms of each of these religions that do not require any belief in a deity. One can be either an atheist or a theist, and still follow either Taoism, Confucianism, or Buddhism. In a religion such as Buddhism, there are some sects that pray to some entity that might be called a deity or the equivalent of a deity, but there are other sects that do not do that. Consider also a modern American religion such as Scientology. Again we have a religion which does not have any belief in a deity at the core of its teachings. As a Scientologist, you can be either an atheist or a theist.

It seems, therefore, that defining religion as some belief in a deity or some system of worship is too narrow a definition of the word “religion.” Scholars have offered many conflicting definitions of “religion,” some of which are too narrow to cover some of the known religions such as Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. We need a definition that seems to cover almost all cases of religious belief.  One such definition was given by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz. He defined a religion as " a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic." 

Here is another rather similar definition: we can define a religion as  a set of beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality and life, or a recommended way of living, typically stemming from the teachings of an authority, along with norms, ethics, rituals, roles or social organizations that may arise from such beliefs. This definition covers Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Scientology, religions which stem from authority figures such as Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, the writers of the Bible, Lao-Tzu, Gautama Buddha, Confucius, and L. Ron Hubbard. Interestingly, using the same definition of religion, it seems we should also classify Darwinist materialism as a religion. It is a fundamental way of looking at the nature of life, stemming from the teachings of an authority figure (Charles Darwin).

The idea that Darwinist materialism may be a religion should not seem unreasonable when we consider the activities of two young men, Rod and Bill. Rod decides to become a minister in a church. He is indoctrinated for years in a regimented minister-schooling environment in which complete allegiance to the belief system of his teachers is demanded. He then spends lots of time standing before assemblies of other people (parishioners), preaching the teachings of his belief system. Using lots of specialized jargon, Rod may also spend a lot of time in scholarly writing to advance the beliefs of his church, contributing to things such as religion journals and theological books. If a heretic arises in his church to dispute the accepted teachings, Rod may chasten such a person by criticizing his belief deviance.

Bill, however, decides to become a professor of evolutionary biology. He is indoctrinated for years in a regimented professor-schooling environment in which complete allegiance to the belief system of his teachers is demanded. He then spends lots of time standing before assemblies of other people (university students), preaching the teachings of his belief system. Using lots of specialized jargon, Bill may also spend a lot of time in scholarly writing to advance the beliefs of his scholastic tribe, contributing to things such as science journals and science books. If a heretic arises to dispute the accepted teachings, such as someone suggesting there may be purposeful design in living things, Bill may chasten such a person by criticizing his belief deviance. 

Given all these similarities, it seems both Bill and Rod are kind of spear-carriers for a particular belief tribe, products of a sociological structure that encourages regimentation of belief and strongly sanctions deviations from its orthodoxy of belief norms. In this light, the idea that Darwinist materialism may actually be a religion does not seem too far-fetched. Darwinist materialism has a sociological and authoritarian structure strongly resembling the sociological and authoritarian structure of a religion, with evolutionary biology professors and neuroscientists acting like some new priesthood, and members of the National Academy of Sciences or Nobel laureates having a higher authority (just as bishops or cardinals have a higher authority than priests).

It may be argued that we should not call Darwinist materialism as a religion, because its proponents are very level-headed people who don't get all emotional and carried away about their teachings, in the way that religious people do. But that's not always true. Let us consider the following quote from page 93 of the book The Origins of Creativity by biologist Edward O. Wilson:

"The preeminence of this universal process was nicely expressed in 1973 by the great geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky and often quoted since: 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.'  This claim should now be boldly expanded: Nothing in science and the humanities makes sense except in the light of evolution. As the philosopher Daniel Dennett has put it, evolution by natural selection is the acid that burns through every myth about ordained purposes and meanings."

The quote by Dobzhansky is very often quoted, but is not at all correct. For example, the thirtieth edition of Harper's Illustrated Biochemistry is an 800-page textbook describing cells, genes, enzymes, proteins, metabolism, hormones, and biochemisty in the greatest detail, with abundant illustrations. The book makes no mention of Darwin, no mention of natural selection, and only a single mention of evolution, on a page talking only about whether evolution had anything to do with limited lifespans. So it is clearly not true that nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution. As for Wilson's claim that nothing in science or the humanities makes sense except in the light of Darwinian evolution, it is just nonsense. Darwin's theory of evolution has no appreciable place in cosmology, astrophysics, chemistry, physics, meteorology, computer science, poetry, mathematics, music, painting, sculpture, architecture, and most forms of literature.

Clearly Wilson feels the same way about his Darwinist materialism as a fervent fundamentalist feels about his Bible, and we can compare Wilson's statement to a fundamentalist's claim that nothing in science or nature makes sense except in the light of the Bible. When a prominent figure of Darwinist materialism speaks with this type of over-the-top seething fervor about Darwinism, it seems to support the suspicion that Darwinist materialism is a kind of surreptitious religion. And when, in the next sentence, that prominent figure enthuses about some supposed theological effect of his doctrine, we can again take note of the very strong religious motivations here. Given a choice between categorizing such runaway gushing as science or religion, the latter term seems more appropriate.

In the book The Inflamed Mind by Edward Bullmore, we have another example of the same type of zealotry.  Referring to biological explanation on page 158, the book says, "Ultimately the answer must always be Darwin."  This reminds us of a Christian saying that the answer to everything is Jesus. The Royal Society may have the slogan of Nullius in verba or "Take nobody's word for it," but the  authorities of scientific academia seem to be following quite the opposite, a motto of, "Always take Darwin's word for it."  This smells more like religion than science.  The authoritarian structure of a university is very suited for the propagation of a religion, and the first universities were created largely to propagate Christianity. Over the centuries, authoritarian universities seem to have gradually switched from propagating an ancient religion to propagating the more modern religion or belief system of Darwinist materialism. 

For many decades there have been many groups such as the ACLU ready to "scream bloody murder" if anyone tried to teach in public schools any religion that was called a religion by its adherents. But throughout the same period there was a little-known backdoor allowing infiltration of religion into our public schools: the possibility that a religion-in-all-but-name could infiltrate our public high school curriculum under the guise or branding of "science education."  If you think it is incredible that the state has imposed on our children a kind of stealth religion, under the cover of “science education,” simply consider that it is widely admitted that such a thing did happen elsewhere for decades. Between 1920 and 1990, the Soviet Union force-fed a Marxist-Leninist ideology to its students, something that was followed in such a regimented and authoritarian way that it was essentially a religion. But such indoctrination was never called religious indoctrination. When students were taught the catechism of Marxism-Leninism, they were told that they were simply being taught “economic science.”

The main objection you could make to the claim that Darwinist materialism is a stealth religion is to say that it can't be a religion, because it is science; and something cannot be both science and religion. But using a strict definition of science, Darwinist materialism isn't science. Although science can be loosely defined in terms of scientific activity, a strict definition of science is "facts established by observations and experiments."  None of the core tenets of Darwinist materialism is a fact established by observations or experiments. 

Although we know that evolution defined merely as "gene pool change over time" does occur, we absolutely do not know that Darwinian evolution is the correct explanation for the most impressive wonders of complexity and organization we observe in biology.  There are actually very strong reasons for suspecting that Darwinian evolution cannot possibly be the correct explanation for such wonders. One such reason is that the theory of evolution by natural selection is not even a theory of organization, but is something much less, a mere theory of accumulation. Another such reason is the speed at which biological innovation can occur (which in the case of the Cambrian Explosion was an explosive speed). Another such reason is the fact that  DNA does not actually store the body plans of organisms or a specification of how to make them, meaning that no conceivable random DNA mutations could explain one species evolving into some other species with a very different body plan.  As for claims that the brain is the cause of all mental activity, there are very strong scientific reasons for doubting that the brain is the cause of the leading mental activites such as intelligence or memory retrieval.  You can read about some of those reasons at this site.  As for claims that life arose naturally from mere chemicals, there is zero scientific evidence for it. Both the  enormous information complexity of the simplest living thing and the very meager results of scientific experiments trying to produce some of the most important building blocks of life (in conditions simulating the early earth) are scientific reasons for disbelieving in such a thing.  As for the denial of the paranormal that is part of Darwinist materialism,  such a thing is not at all "science," and is actually inconsistent with a huge amount of observational evidence for the paranormal, a good deal of it collected in controlled scientific experiments.  

It is true that the adherents of Darwinist materialism constantly try to brand their belief system as "science," and deny that such a system is a religion.  A religion which positions itself as "science" can be called a stealth religion or a surreptitious religion. 

The average person may regard the claims of Darwinist materialism to be science, because he has been taught them in a science class or read them in books written by scientists.  Similarly, if it were taught in physics class that the Shroud of Turin proved the resurrection of Jesus, and we were taught this again and again in science books, we would regard such a claim as being science, and would look strangely at anyone suggesting that this was a bit of religion that had been sneaked into our science textbooks. And if we were taught in our history textbooks that Noah had saved all the earth's animals, and if such a claim was frequently repeated by historians, we would regard such a claim as simply being an example of history, and would look strangely at anyone suggesting that such a claim was a bit of religion that had been sneaked into our history textbooks. Over the years very much has been sneaked into our science textbooks that is not science (defined as facts established by observations and experiments), but merely belief dogmas that have become popular among scientists who belong to a belief community with its own sociocultural speech customs and speech taboos. 

In 1993 comments to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Darwinist philosopher of science Michael Ruse confessed the following:

"Certainly, historically, that if you look at, say, evolutionary theory, and of course this was brought out I think rather nicely by the talk just before me, it's certainly been the case that evolution has functioned, if not as a religion as such, certainly with elements akin to a secular religion.... And certainly, there's no doubt about it, that in the past, and I think also in the present, for many evolutionists, evolution has functioned as something with elements which are, let us say, akin to being a secular religion."

Many of the adherents of Darwinist materialism are trying to give this creed new features similar to features of Christianity: a world-transformation eschatology (in which the current world-order will be radically overturned by genetic engineering and intelligent robots), and a kind of afterlife eschatology based on ideas such as mind uploading (the uploading of minds into computer systems or robots).  The materialists saying "soon the robots will take over everything" may be compared to millenialist Christians saying "soon Jesus will take over everything." And the materialists saying "one day I will upload my mind into a robot or computer" are like millenialist evangelicals saying "one day Jesus will lift me and other true believers way up into the sky, when the Rapture happens."  Such transhumanist ideas (stemming from materialist assumptions) haven't yet made it into the high school curriculum, but it should be noted that Darwinist materialists are busy building what seems to be a belief system with all of the main features of modern religions.  In this essay, I list nine characteristics of modern religions, and I discuss how transhumanist versions of Darwinist materialism have all nine of these characteristics. 

Like a Catholic school controlling what its students are exposed to, the modern public high school makes sure to double-indoctrinate students in the creed of Darwinist materialism, and to exclude any teachings that might challenge such a doctrine. Our high school students receive not just one year of materialistic biology, but two years of such study, with the same subject matter being repeated in a different year. In the biology course it will be taught dogmatically that thoughts are created by brains, and that memories are stored in brains, even though scientists have no understanding of how a brain could generate a thought, no credible detailed theory of how a brain could encode human learned information in synapse states or neuron states, no credible theory of how brains could store memories for decades given rapid protein turnover, and no credible theory explaining the instantaneous retrieval of old memories (such as when you remember facts about a name you haven't heard mentioned in many years).  

The high school biology student will not learn about any of the many very substantial reasons for rejecting the dogma that the brain stores our memories and generates the mind, reasons that are mainly just neuroscience facts such as the low transmission reliability of synapses (which in the cortex transmit signals with a probability of less than 50%), and the short lifetimes of synapse proteins (only a few weeks). The student will be given the false impression that human biology has been largely figured out, even though everywhere there are still the most gigantic mysteries. The student will be go away with no understanding of how enormous are the unsolved mysteries of biology such as the origin of life, the origin of biological complexity, the source of human consciousness and cognition, protein folding and morphogenesis (how a newly fertilized egg manages to progress to become a full baby). In his textbook the student will see no chart showing almost all animal phyla appearing in one rather sudden burst of the Cambrian Explosion, lest his faith in the power of gradual random evolution be shaken. The student will probably go away with the false idea of DNA as a blueprint for the human form, when DNA is actually just a list of human chemical ingredients that does not even specify how to make any of the 200 types of cells in a human body. The student will not be well educated about the complexity of protein molecules, and will probably leave high school with no idea that in his body are some 20,000 complex inventions, the roughly 20,000 different types of protein molecules in his body, most of them about as complex as a 100-word computer program.  Education in such facts clashes with the causal ideas that our biology teachers are trying to foster. 

It's kind of like this in a public high school

Such students will also receive two years of physics studies. The physics courses will teach all kinds of mathematical calculation algorithms that 95 percent of students will very soon completely forget, but the courses will completely fail to teach the students something that they might remember the rest of their lives: an explanation of how the laws of nature and physical constants of our universe are very fine-tuned to allow for our existence. This is perhaps because teaching such a thing might conflict with the thrust of Darwinist materialism. Similarly, the high school student will also probably never be taught about the Big Bang, the baffling sudden origin of the universe, from what scientists say was a point of infinite density. Such a topic is conveniently omitted from the high school physics curriculum.

No course in psychology is normally required for high-school students. If the student takes such a course, there will be no discussion of any of the huge amount of evidence suggesting that the mind is something that cannot be explained purely by the brain. There will be no discussion of near-death experiences or accounts of apparitions or a discussion of very high-scoring subjects in ESP tests or people who managed to function well after half or 75 percent of their brains were surgically removed or replaced with fluid by hydrocephalus. The “we can't teach about anything spooky” rule will be followed.  In psychology courses and biology courses, there will be no discussion of biology facts that contradict the dogma that brains store memories, such as the extremely short lifetime of synapse proteins.  When the biology courses discuss morphogenesis, the growth of a human body from a tiny fertilized egg, the student may be given the false notion that such a growth occurs because of a reading of a body blueprint in DNA. There does not actually exist any such blueprint or recipe in DNA, which merely stores low-level chemical information, not high-level structural information, nor does there exist in a human womb anything sophisticated enough to read and execute a blueprint or recipe for making a human, which would be a set of instructions 1000 times more complex than a building blueprint (given all the incredibly complicated dynamics of cells).  The student may be given the impression that scientists understand how a fertilized egg progresses to become a full-sized human, even though such a progression is actually a thousand miles over the heads of scientists, being unexplained by any known biochemistry. 

The student enduring such a very dogmatic and one-sided course of study at his high school on a weekday such as Monday may rightfully wonder whether he is being religiously indoctrinated every bit as much as if he were attending a Sunday school class at a church.