Religious fanaticism into schools on a false premise

Apr 19, 2013

Discussion by: StuM

The Australasian school in which I work has offered to host a presentation by Academy Conferences that will be attended by some of my school's students and others from around the city.  This is an organisation based in the UK and I am wondering if others here have any experience or insight into their reputation or motives. 

I did attend their presentation last year and while it was billed as a conference for gifted and talented students I was left with the impression that they just wanted access to students to push their social conservatism and a kind of ID creationism. One of the speakers made some snitty remarks about Richard Dawkins, and it appears that in some of their presentations they include sessions where they claim that "the challenges of Professors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are dealt with."

Does anyone know about this?  Are there other groups in the UK who use similar tactics to get into schools to peddle their doctrines?

11 comments on “Religious fanaticism into schools on a false premise

  • 1
    Alan4discussion says:

    @OP – Professors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are dealt with.”

    @link – Professor Keith Ward will explore some themes from a recent DVD of this title, in which, with Professors Alister McGrath and John Lennox , the challenges of Professors Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett are dealt with. Keith will help students to understand the arguments, as well as the complex historical and philosophical issues that lie behind them. **Topics covered will include quantum theory, creation and intelligent design, miracles, freedom and determinism, the soul and life after death.

    The emphasis will be on getting the issues clear and assessing strengths and weaknesses**.
    Keith Ward (born 22 August 1938) is a British philosopher, theologian, pastor and scholar. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and (since 1972) an ordained priest of the Church of England. He was a canon of Christ Church, Oxford until 2003. Comparative theology and the relationship between science and religion are two of his main topics of interest.

    So a theologian / priest is going to mediate on the arguments! ! ! ?

    Alister Edgar McGrath (born 23 January 1953) is a British Irish theologian, priest, intellectual historian and Christian apologist, currently Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education at Kings College London and Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture.[1] He was previously Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, and was principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford until 2005. He has also taught at Cambridge University. McGrath holds two doctorates from the University of Oxford, a DPhil in Molecular Biophysics and a Doctor of Divinity in Theology. He is an Anglican and is ordained within the Church of England.
    Lennox has been part of numerous public debates defending the Christian faith, including debates with Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, and Peter Singer. The debate in 2007 against atheist Richard Dawkins, on the topic of Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, was broadcast to millions worldwide and was described by the Wall Street Journal as “a revelation: in Alabama, a civil debate over God’s existence”.

    …So the plan is to look at a debate between Xtian theologians/apologists and Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and then “The emphasis will be on getting the issues clear and assessing strengths and weaknesses” as explained by a theologian philosopher priest“. “Keith [the philosopher-priest] will help students to understand the arguments,” (allegedly) !!

    Any way:- Here is some information which should “be on getting the issues clear” about who is “assessing strengths and weaknesses” and from which positions they are approaching those issues.

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  • 2
    refuteist says:

    One of the protagonists listed for this organization is one Julie Arliss who is billed on their website as a lecturer at Kings College. This is misleading as the Kings College in question is a private school in Taunton and a highly religious foundation to boot. She has in the past led these conferences with a Doctor Peter Vardy (no relation to Reg?), who amongst other things was, for 10 years, a vice Principal of Heythrop College (UL) a Catholic College founded by Jesuits.. Together they have written several books including The Thinkers Guides to God and Evil.

    It is also worth noting that the only address for the organisation is a Post Office Box number in,huh, Taunton!

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  • Glad you picked up on this one StuM and refutist.

    I work in this field and have been worried about this organisation for a while. From what I have been told by teachers, these events are often disrupted by people walking out in disgust. This has happened in both Yeovil and Oxford to my knowledge. In my opinion, providing evangelical propaganda under the guise of events supporting Critical thinking or Philosophy is wrong whether or not you believe in God. Advertising, particularly advertising aimed at young people, should not give a false impression. Quite a lot of the biographical claims made about Arliss, whether online or on leaflets, do not check out. She stopped working with Vardy about 4 years ago. Before that she was working as a conference-organiser for Richard Huish College in Taunton, who then ran Vardy’s events. Since 2010 she has started making more and more ambitious claims for herself – presumably to add credence to her meteoric rise from conference-organiser to keynote speaker – ranging from being the “principle examiner in Cambridge” (laugh) to having given the Hobhouse lecture. Being the suspicious sort, I followed these up and discovered that she is indeed a part-time RE teacher with no higher academic qualifications to support lecturing on topics such as nanotechnology and string-theory. She has been in the Australian press advertising herself as a representative of “English Education Group” Academy Conferences – when the company is solely owned and directed by her from her back-bedroom and has no employees according to Companies House. She claims to work in close association with “ivory league” universities – come on! I even went so far as to contact her host schools to put them in the picture, but surprisingly nobody wants to know when they have made a mistake. Some big-name institutions are advertising these events as if they feature lecturers from Oxford or Cambridge – when they are actually self-organised by a nobody – and nobody gives a damn. What does that say about the state of our schools and ethics within the educational arena? Apparently one can say just about anything about oneself without having to prove qualifications or anybody caring enough to make a correction when one is found out… Hitchens, you were right when you said that exceptional claims require exceptional evidence – but don’t ordinary claims require at least some evidence in any ordinary person’s book? This whole saga is just embarrassing to anybody who cares about society full stop – whether or not one is religious.

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  • Thanks Alan, refuteist, Nodhimmi and lotte for your contributions, and particularly the points you have researched. Indeed the upcoming presentation at my school promises to include a session on nanotechnology but I wonder why our students are paying for an RE teacher to come tens of thousands of kilometers from Taunton to tell us about that topic when our local university has at least three world-class research groups working in nanotechnology and has already been kind enough to supply an excellent speaker for our students, for free.

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  • On her Australasian tours Julie Arliss works with an Australian “performance consultant” called Jeffrey Hodges. His website claims:

    “Everybody knows the BEST RESULTS come from consistent, sustained effort and training – and this is what Sportsmind provides – using the most up-to-date motivational techniques and high achievement processes from elite performance coaching and NEURO-LINGUISTIC PROGRAMMING (NLP)”.

    He also claims to be:

    “…one of the most experienced NLP practitioners in Australia , having been among the first NLP graduates in Australia in the early 1980’s.

    It goes on:

    “In addition he has a proven track record of success with clients from all walks of life over the past 30 years of NLP consulting, and his graduates have likewise benefitted significantly from their NLP studies. Further, Sportsmind NLP has worked with the most challenging, demanding and competitive field of human endeavour – sport and athletic performance. Sportsmind NLP clients have time and again demonstrated the success of the Sportsmind NLP approach by outstanding achievements, time and time again. Olympic medals, national & world championships, winning performances, world records – all as a result of the Sportsmind NLP approach.”

    I’m sure he does have other techniques that do work for athletes but my understanding is that NLP is discredited and has been widely considered pseudoscience since the late 1980s.

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  • I don’t comment about whether Hodges is or is not an effective performance coach for elite athletes – I just find it surprising that he does not even stick to this field when addressing gifted kids. He has, in the past, lectured on topics as varied as the philosophical concept of truth and the ethics of pornography at these events. I can understand that Arliss would find it difficult (physically and from the point of view of credible pedagogy) to lecture for a solid 5 hours to hundreds of 15 year old kids, and there would therefore be a legitimate argument for offering some light relief from time to time, but surely this should be billed as what it is rather than being advertised as additional academic sessions. In the UK she hires a range of populist academics to share her platform and liven things up by playing the electric guitar or doing magic tricks etc, while they are all likely to peddle the sort of social conservatism referred to by StuM, at least their credentials sort of stack up. When Hodges has been to the UK he has been tasked with promoting his brand of positive psychology or whatever, and at least that is what he has experience doing. Nevertheless, in Australasia Arliss economises by running all the sessions given by academics herself. Never a thought of hiring an Australian Philosopher or Physicist – why bother when she can “borrow” a PowerPoint, read a Wikipedia article and bluff?

    It irks me that she is selling snake oil in the colonies and giving the whole of UK education a bad name in the process. Why do people just accept that Arliss is a “world renowned ethicist and author from King’s College London” (look her up in the Sunshine Coast Daily for this one) without checking – and why do newspapers, universities and schools fail to investigate or correct their facts when this sort of blooper is brought to their attention? ANSWER: Because they just don’t give a damn about the truth, all they care about is comfort and appearances. This is the real enemy of science – not religion but a much more widespread apathy about the truth, a general unwillingness to think anything different or uncomfortable.

    Apparently, when Arliss was ditched by Richard Huish College she needed somebody “on the ground” in Australasia to take bookings etc. and seized upon Hodges, who she knew as a neighbour in Noosa (where she spends 10-12 weeks a year funded by the conference business). He has been doing her admin, and who knows what else, ever since – though the reciprocal arrangement she seems to have offered him in terms of organizing his coaching events in the UK has really failed to get off the ground. Brutally, I wonder whether being in the right place at the right time, being a friend of the organizer and being used to addressing groups of people is sufficient qualification to lecture gifted children. He bills himself as a conservative Catholic, which means that he is an ideological fit as well I suppose, though this does not seem to have stopped him from engaging in some questionable business practices in the way of trying to expand Arliss’ business for her. Apparently he has a BEd, and Arliss sees this as being sufficient qualifications for him to lecture on academic topics at a conference for the academically gifted. I suppose, when you compare his qualifications to hers to do the same job then they don’t fall that far short, but that is a rather relative standard!

    She was at Cranbrook School in Sydney today – where the deputy head is far better qualified to speak than she is (he is the author of popular book 101 ethical questions to address with your kids – perhaps this case could be a good example for the next volume of that book…) – and is shortly heading to New Zealand where at least one school outside Christchurch is under the impression that they are paying to listen to a Professor from the University of London who is an expert in Nanotechnology and String Theory. Haven’t they suffered enough?

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  • 8
    Alistair Blackhill says:

    Have a look at their stuff and see if there is anything there which is contrary to anti-discrimination principles. A speaker was banned from USQ last year for anti-gay comments on their website (see Toowoomba Chronicle)

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  • 9
    marktegan says:

    I work in a RC school, where the majority of teaching staff are either atheist, agnostic, or just heretics. The rest are religious and have some fundamental psychiatric issues. Yet, we are ordered to stop lessons, to say prayers, not to raise funds unless the church gets its slice, and dog forbid if you question the Principal or AP on dogma. I see religious fundamentalism taking control, creationism entering the science classes, and free speech is non negotiable with respects to sound scientific method. The school keeps crying “poor”, but belongs to one of the richest organisations in the world. So, for a school that prides itself as being part of 21st Century thinking, it’s attitude is firmly rooted in the 12th Century. I’m finding it harder by the year to maintain my pretence for the sake of employment. Or should I just undermine the system from within?

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  • Mark, I think you could get comfort from the fact that RC schools provide the best inoculation against being religious in adult life. Research carried out by the Diocese of Sydney about 5 years ago indicated that the number of graduates of RC schools attending Mass more than 3 times per year a year after leaving school was only 3 in every 100. Given the entry requirements for Catholic schools in that area, this suggests that children of positively churchgoing Catholic families are being actively put off involvement with their faith, despite (because of?) the up to 5 hours per week of compulsory Religious Instruction they are given throughout their educations in addition to the endless assemblies, retreats, World Youth Days etc. I suspect that your colleagues are already “subverting the system from within” and that you could, probably even in conscience, join them…

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