CRITICAL ANALYSIS

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SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

This article appeared in THE JOURNAL OF CRITICAL ANALYSIS, Vol. 9, No. 2, 1992

There are two fundamental concepts upon which is woven the fabric of the human mind:
      1) a personal god to whom we are responsible for our thoughts and actions,
      2) the synonymity of schooling and education.
As to 1, no greater crime is being foisted on the human mind than continuing to condition it with the concept of an untestable anthropomorphic deity and its concomitant theistic concepts.
      It is under such circumstances when knowledge is used for evil purposes with ignorance as its underlying force.
As to 2, when ideas and symbols of academic subject matter such as mathematics, physics, history, and English, as well as non-academic subjects, are absorbed, promulgated, parroted, and manipulated with little or no examination of their underlying assumptions, we have a process of learning that is HARDLY OTHER THAN "SCHOOLING."
We may question, even if we don't, the real existence of "entities" for mathematical words such as "points," "numbers," "geometrical figures," and the like whether or not they are defined to be without dimensions or incorporeal.
      But, we are forbidden to question the real existence of "entities" for words such as "gods,"souls," "angels," "heaven," "hell" and the like even though the "objects" of such terms are defined to be no more corporeal than mathematical "entities."  Yet, in our social fabric and in classrooms, hardly a conversation or a piece of literature does not repeatedly make reference to theistic euphemisms, such as:
"God help us"
"God's in His Heaven"
"Thank God"
"God bless you"
"God has his reasons"
"God willing"
"God damn it "
"It is God's will"
"God saved me" (but not the other 300)
"My God!"
"It's an act of God"
"Good Heavens"
"Trust in God"
"In God We Trust"
In war; "God is on our side" (ours and the enemy's).
Such theistic language constitutes a formidable ubiquitous force shaping an uninquisitive and unquestioning mindset of our young.
      It permeates their mental environment from birth.
A solution to this problem might be found if philosophers, literary critics, and the rational voices of the world had the courage to confront the irrationality of theistic authorities and their deceptive verbiage such as "revealed truths" for "untestable" and "unverifiable," and "have faith" for "accept blindly," or "beyond faith," implying that knowledge supported by evidence is not enough as a basis for our beliefs.
One need only sit in a freshman college classroom to discover how lacking students are in their critical/analytical thinking skills.
      Yet, "critical thinking" is the educational shibboleth of this decade.
      It usually means "teaching students to ask questions," but not fundamental questions about underlying assumptions and conditioned concepts.
In a nation and an "educational" system well imbued with unexamined theistic language, in prose, poetry, and music, in which our politicians and the majority of teachers, administrators, and students believe in a personal god, it is impossible to develop citizens capable of fundamental critical and analytical thinking.
      They have not been trained to examine language--even scientific or arithmetical and mathematical language.
To understand the complexities of "language," "truth," and "knowledge" requires at least as much effort as learning baseball, a trade, a profession, or playing a musical instrument.
     There are certain ideas, facts, and methodologies of thinking so fundamental that ignorance of them presents a barrier to a proper development of young minds.
      But the abuse of language and the constant misuse of the terms 'truth' and 'knowledge,' reinforced in the media and by our so-called "educational" system, give rise to the use of language as a regulatory device controlling the thinking and the behavior of the many by a few.
      Moreover, the euphemisms of theism, religion, and politics encourage and regulate blind acceptance.
      To paraphrase George Orwell, in his book, 1984, whoever controls the media and our use of language controls our minds and our beliefs.
Even in the sciences we often confuse expansion of language with the expansion of knowledge.
      For instance, there are some scientists who ask theological questions. Paul Davies in his book, THE MIND OF GOD, is a case in point. In it he confuses his metaphysical and emotional yearning for knowledge as to why mind exists with man's yearning to know facts that can be tested.
In the case of questions like:
      "Why was the universe created?"
      "Why was there something instead of nothing before the universe was 'created'?"
      "Why does mind exist?" and the like,
      "Why?" is a teleological question.
      It assumes a purpose, a goal.
      This in turn assumes a mind, hence, a god.
      Answers to such "Whys" cannot be tested.
      That is why the theological assertion, "Science deals with the how of things and not the why," is such epistemic (relating to truth and knowledge) nonsense.
      Davis does not seem to realize that to keep one's mind "open," to such metaphysical questions is gullibility unless, of course one is seeking a scientific answer.
      In this, his musings are not far from those of cave men.
We are limited in our ability to think analytically by the language we have acquired.
      Students, before reaching the college level (and in most cases after) are seldom introduced to the questions and concepts that would undermine the false or unfalsifiable (cannot be shown to be true or false) beliefs that burden them throughout their lives.
      Few of them realize that words have no inherent meanings and are only kinds of names for things, ideas, and feelings.
      Most of us do not understand that there is an infinite difference between language (giving meanings to symbols/words/things) and reality.
      This lack of understanding enables religious and political authorities to maintain proprietary and territorial rights over terminology which functions in both theistic and secular domains.
If education is to broaden the whole person, then it is imperative that belief claims compete "for their place in the sun."
      How we deal with the conflict of belief claims is as important as the beliefs themselves.
      Believers thrive on psychological certainty and a sense of security.
      Lacking is a questioning inquisitiveness.
      Such states of mind are continually reinforced by language, secular and theological.
      The result is that most of us are 1) quite satisfied with our reasoning abilities, superficial and minimal as they may be and
      2) socially indoctrinated not to offend people by questioning their beliefs, particularly religious and political.
Until we acquire the ability to learn and the willingness to use the critical and analytical skills needed to examine the language of beliefs imposed upon us, little in educational reform will be of real significance.
      Consequently we will always be victims of linguistic tyranny.
Even non-believers and scientists resort to theistic language, expletives, and metaphors.
      NASA's chief scientist, John Mather, is reported in the media to have said, "This is the universe that God gave us...."
      Einstein, too, is reported to have said "I want to know how God thinks."
      Even Stephen Hawking, has said he wants "to know the mind of God."
      One cannot deny the persuasive power of such language even though the "god" of these scientists is not a personal one:
      "If scientists believe there is a (personal) god, surely there must be one."
      It is rarely noted, for instance, that Einstein said, "I am a deeply religious non-believer."
      These scientists are reinforcing the theologians' grist for their mills of irrationality and blind acceptance.
      Such language encourages a host of other theistic hypostatizations (assigning substantive, existence, to abstract terms) and untestable claims.
The media and the entertainment world aid and abet unfalsifiable beliefs of the most diverse kinds without critical examination.
      Aside from reporting the news, they appeal to the lowest common denominators: trivia, sensationalism, and reinforcement of what we already believe.
      It is not difficult to keep us unenlightened because we are inclined to follow those we trust.
      We are ill equipped to disbelieve what they foist upon us.
Consider why this is the case:
Trillions of dollars have been spent over the centuries by religious authorities, not only for social causes such as helping the poor but, for propagating doctrines and proselytizing theistic "truths."
Politicians cave in to the demands of powerful lobbyists, particularly the Fundamentalist Right.
Even when there was a liberal Congress, President, and Supreme Court, "critical thinking" was, as it still is, hardly more than a vaguely-understood, mouthed phrase.
The military/industrial/business complex requires that students be trained as good soldiers, workers, and technologists.
Most students have a family background that conditions them to accept unexamined theistic concepts expressed in language that predisposes them to a non-critical and non-analytical mindset.
Parents' lack of education and use of theistic language have an indelible effect on their children.
Too many teachers do not bother to acquire the knowledge and skills to understand what critical thinking is.
As students we are minimally encouraged to develop our analytical potential.
Consequently, most of us do not understand the depth of our ignorance.

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

Article I of The Bill of Rights states: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech. . . ."
     We are presumed to have freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, and academic freedom.
     Why is it, then, that in the classroom, we do not exercise that freedom to examine theistic terminology that is commonly used in the secular realm, such terms as 'Hell,' 'Devil,' 'God,' 'Heaven,' 'angel,' 'faith,' 'soul,' and 'life after death'?
The problem lies largely with the principle of "separation of church and state."
      It protects our theistic/religious diversity but interferes with and hinders our educational process.
      Is it a teacher's responsibility to ignore or to encourage a student to maintain, unquestioningly, theistic or emotional attachment to meanings of words?
      Or, should the teacher be required to help the student to be objective and to distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive definitions?
In our critical thinking and logic texts, examination of theistic language is essentially avoided.
      Most philosophers, scientists, and teachers evince little interest in pressing the issue in relation to pre-college education.
      Or, is it lack of spine and will to test the meaning of "separation of church and state" relating to theistic/secular language?
Rational thinking citizens rightly demand separation of church and state.
      Should we, however, be denied our constitutional right to freedom of inquiry in the schools' curricula?
      Unfortunately, students learn quickly that there are limits imposed upon their questioning.
      Thereby, that most important of all human abilities, the ability to inquire, must too often be excised (for believers, exorcised), not exercised.
      Of course, freedom of inquiry entails risk.
      But that is the cost of freedom.
Examining theistic concepts in no way establishes a "law regarding religion."
      Therefore, it poses no abrogation of Article I of the Constitution.
      Religion is not synonymous with theistic language or with theism.
      There are, after all, non-theistic religions.
      Examination of language, theistic or secular, is the domain of education in the truest sense of that word.
Analytical thinking involves a discriminating attitude, the methods, the conceptual tools, and knowledge of fundamental facts about the world without which free inquiry would become no more than an atmosphere of confusion.
      Denial of them in the classroom portends little progress in the far-foreseeable future.
      For those who insist that students apply the logic they have learned, it must be explained why, at the end of the semester, believers still accept untestable claims.
      It is partly because of a lifetime conditioning process against which a mere semester of logic is hardly sufficient as a deconditioning tool.
Students have not been taught to examine the epistemic limits of language nor to recognize its misuse and abuse.
      A contributing factor is that critical thinking texts are written in a needlessly complex manner.
      They emphasize the technicalities of logic rather than broad concepts and the changing of attitudes.
      However, general concepts can easily be conveyed.
      And, unless students can "think on their feet," there will be little practical application of their studies.
      Such application requires instant recognition of linguistic and epistemic gobbledygook.
      One must be able to distinguish between analytic statements (1 + 1 = 2) that aid in predicting events as opposed to analytic statements (God is the Supreme Being) that cannot.
      According to the Bible, God is supernatural, not physical, and cannot be known.
      One must be able to discuss, spontaneously, questions like:
      "If God is spirit, i.e., not matter and not energy (they are interchangeable), how, since He has no brain, can He know anything?"
      "How can God defined to be incorporeal cause anything to happen?"
      " How can anything be said about something defined to be 'unknowable'?"
Such discussions should appeal to analysis of language.
      The answers do not lie in fact or experience.
      Being able to distinguish between claims that are true by appeal to the physical world (synthetic statements) from those, as in mathematics and in theology, that are true by definition, prescription, or deduction from unexamined or untestable premises (analytic statements), is absolutely necessary for analytical thinking.
It must be emphasized, however, that students and teachers should, concern themselves with all unfalsifiable claims, not merely those that are theistic.
      If we wish to call ourselves educated, knowledgeable, informed citizens, we must insist that our educational institutions teach us to recognize which kinds of claims and language uses are or are not testable or epistemically significant.
      Students should be taught to accept or reject them accordingly.
      This cannot be accomplished given our interpretation, and prohibitions under the aegis, of separation of church and state.

CHURCH AND STATE: EPILOGUE

Courses in critical thinking have become common electives in colleges.
      On the pre-college and pre-high school levels, there has been some small progress in its advancement.
      Nevertheless, it still remains true that the forces arrayed against accepting critical analysis on the pre-college level have not diminished since I introduced such a course at Port Jefferson High School in 1960, founded the National Council For Critical Analysis in 1968, and subsequently personally communicated with many of the nation's high schools.
      Given the above, it is not likely that teaching critical analysis will advance appreciably for hundreds of years to come unless the American Philosophical Association, Boards of Education, Associations of School Principals, Boards of Regents, the NEA and other education associations, and their members are more willing than they have been in the past to demand that our students be taught to think critically and analytically.
In 1954 and 55, I accepted teaching assignments on the pre-college level, including 6th and 7th grades, and immediately put to use my training in analytical thinking skills.
      In reviewing my 53 years of effort and those of other organizations and individuals who became involved, it is apparent that to date we have failed.
      The miniscule progress in developing critical and analytical acuity is witness to that failure.
It is a failure that was guaranteed by:
the enormity of the effort required,
lack of funding,
the diverse concepts as to what constitutes critical analysis and critical thinking,
lack of cooperation and support from, or resistance of those from whom acceptance was expected,
the degree of calcification of anti-rational and blind beliefs,
the anti-intellectual and conservative mindset of the nation,
the forces: financial, social, political, religious, theistic, and "educational" arrayed against critical analysis being accepted as a necessary part of schooling and the DEFINITIVE definition of "education."
The task is daunting.  But to concede no possibility of success is to surrender mankind to destructive forces greater than anything most of us bother, or care, to give thought to.

AT STAKE IS THE HUMAN MIND AS AN "INSTRUMENT" OF INQUIRY OR AS AN "OBJECT" FOR MANIPULATION.

SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella